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MLB roundup: Examining Rizzo's, Russell's postseason struggles

The last time the Cubs' Game 3 starter, Jake Arrieta, pitched at Dodger Stadium, he fired his first career no-hitter (on Aug. 30, 2015). AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Setting the tables for Tuesday's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers:

As it stands now, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw is penciled in to start Game 6. The Dodgers are ready for Rich Hill, or somebody else, to be the hero for a change, writes Bill Plunkett.

Cubs veteran Ben Zobrist laughed off the Dodgers' allegation of sign-stealing.

The stakes are very high for the Cubs today, writes Steve Greenberg.

The middle of the Cubs' lineup has been struggling, and manager Joe Maddon might tinker with it, writes Paul Sullivan.

From ESPN Stats & Information: Jake Arrieta will take the mound Tuesday for the Cubs in Los Angeles, facing the Dodgers' Rich Hill. Arrieta has given up just two hits, both singles, and no earned runs over 16 innings in his two starts against the Dodgers over the past two seasons, including a no-hitter in his last start at Dodger Stadium back in 2015. The Dodgers posted just a .040 slugging percentage against him and .167 OPS in the two starts.

Dodgers reliever Kenley Jansen's success has depended on his ability to find the outer third of the strike zone and beyond it. Batters are 1-for-9 in his past three relief appearances, whiffing on 42 percent of their swings on pitches to the outer third. In his first two appearances, batters were 2-for-4 (both were extra-base hits), with a 22 percent miss rate.

Sarah Langs of ESPN Stats & Info sent this along:

The Dodgers' narrative entering the postseason was centered on their .214 batting average versus lefties this season, the worst in the majors and worst by a playoff team in the divisional era.

It didn't figure to be an issue for the Cubs, who hit .267 against lefties, seventh-best in the majors.

But in the postseason, it has been the Cubs who have struggled against southpaws. They're hitting .157 in 70 at-bats against left-handed pitching. This will need to get fixed -- and fixed fast.

Key bats: Addison Russell and Anthony Rizzo

The two Cubs with the most noticeable struggles in the postseason are Rizzo and Russell. Rizzo hit .292 with 32 home runs and 109 RBIs in the regular season. Russell hit .238 with a .738 OPS, 21 homers and 95 RBIs. They're a combined 2-for-45 this postseason, including 2-for-21 versus lefties. Both were struggling prior to the postseason, too. Since Sept. 20, Rizzo's slash line is .203/.261/.297, while Russell's is .075/.169/.113.

What has changed for Russell: In the regular season, 55 percent of Russell's hits came on fastballs, and 70 percent of those hits came on fastballs in the lower half of the strike zone.

But in the postseason, he has been pitched differently. After seeing fastballs 53 percent of the time in the regular season, he has seen them just 42 percent of the time in the postseason. The biggest change is an increase in breaking balls, which he saw at a 29 percent rate in the regular season, but a 46 percent rate in the postseason.

Of the fastballs he has seen, fewer of them have been in his comfort zone, with 53 percent being in the lower half of the strike zone, a slight drop from 58 percent of the fastballs being in that location in the regular season.

Of Russell's 21 home runs, 14 of them came in the middle-third of the strike zone, height-wise. He hit .282 and slugged .550 against pitches in that area during the regular season, but he is hitless against the 30 pitches he has seen there during the playoffs (10 of which ended at-bats).

What has changed for Rizzo: Rizzo's struggles are a bit more baffling. He had a clear hole in his game during the regular season: He can be pitched inside (as long as the pitcher avoided hitting him).

Rizzo hit .328 with a 1.003 OPS and a 21 percent hard-hit rate on pitches on the outer half, compared to just .221 with a .787 OPS and 15 percent hard-hit rate on pitches in the inner half.

With him struggling in the postseason, the logical conclusion is that he is being pitched inside a lot. But he is actually seeing fewer pitches on the inner half this postseason (28 percent) than in the regular season (37 percent). In the NLCS, the Dodgers have pitched him inside 37 percent of the time, the same as in the regular season. His one hit this postseason was on a pitch on the outer half.

Also, Rizzo hit .243 with two strikes in the regular season, 15th in the majors and ninth in the NL -- and by far the best mark of any Cubs regular (Kris Bryant and Jason Heyward were next at .209).

But Rizzo has struggled with two strikes in the postseason (.071 batting average, with his only hit). Teams are trying to coax him to chase, and he is obliging. His chase rate, both overall and with two strikes, is up about 10 percentage points from the regular season.

Who they'll face: Rich Hill could present a problem for Russell; Hill's 35 percent whiff rate on his fastball is the highest among pitchers to make at least 20 starts. Russell, meanwhile, had a 25 percent whiff rate against fastballs this season, which ranked 137th of 146 qualified hitters.

The Dodgers' projected Game 4 starter, Julio Urias, could be just the pitcher Rizzo needs to see, however. He threw 31 percent of his pitches to the inner half to lefties, and those hitters hit .333 on those pitches, with a 1.222 OPS. That plays right into Rizzo's usual heat map split.

The NLCS underscores the current need for depth, writes Joel Sherman.

Notables

• Major League Baseball is pushing for an international draft, and there are a whole lot of folks on small-budget and mid-level budget teams who would love for this to happen.

• On Monday's podcast: Jayson Stark on the Cubs and Dodgers, and the dominance of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen; Bud Shaw of the Cleveland Plain Dealer; and Todd Radom's uniform and logo quiz.

And here is Monday's Scoreboard podcast.

• Mike Hazen was introduced as the new Arizona Diamondbacks' VP of baseball operations, and he's eager to get started, writes Nick Piecoro.

Tony La Russa is staying, but in a lesser role. One source says La Russa got a new contract with his new role.

Within the industry, the expectation is that Amiel Sawdaye, Boston's director of amateur scouting, could move to Arizona if he doesn't become the Red Sox GM, and it's taken as a fait accompli in many corners in baseball that Red Sox coach Torey Lovullo will be the next manager of the Diamondbacks.

Moves, deals and decisions

1. The Orioles are prepared to adjust their 40-man roster.

2. Eddie Perez has been linked to two manager jobs.

Dings and dents

1. Some Mariners players had surgeries, and reliever Steve Cishek might not be ready for the start of next season.

AL East

• The Orioles' positional roundup continues.

• Mike Hazen had a huge impact on the Red Sox, writes Alex Speier.

• The Red Sox may hire their next GM from within.

AL West

• The Rangers need to pay starting pitcher Yu Darvish, says Evan Grant.

NL West

• With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, here's a review of the Craig Kimbrel trade.

NL Central

• When it comes to outfield positioning, Cubs manager Joe Maddon listens to the data.

• There is pressure on the Cardinals to rebuild the bullpen, writes Jeff Gordon.

• There are forthcoming changes with the coaching staff and roster in St. Louis, as Derrick Goold writes.

NL East

• The Mets should go after Kenley Jansen, writes John Harper.

Lastly

• The Indians can use their logo and their name in Toronto, a judge ruled.

• Major League Baseball made a new jersey deal.

Zach Britton's "game-used" jersey sold for $2,650.

Adrian Gonzalez is drawing scrutiny for his decision to not stay in a Trump hotel.

Giancarlo Stanton honored his late friend, Jose Fernandez.

And today will be better than yesterday.