Sunday, October 9, 2016

Rich Hill: LA's Last Best Hope

Danville, Kentucky -- In his 1949 treatise titled The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell forwarded the concept of the monomyth. In Campbell's estimation, all human storytelling follows a universal narrative. An every-man hero abandons his mundane, familiar lifestyle to embark on a mysterious and dangerous adventure. Eventually, the hero discovers within himself strength and might beyond his imagination, culminating in the ultimate defeat of his nemesis.

But every hero requires a mentor: Obi-Wan Kenobi, Gandalf, Doc Brown, Optimus Prime, or the biblical John the Baptist. Baseball teams hungry for postseason glory are no different. Show me a World Series champion, and I'll show you a wizened, grisly old veteran who taught the team how to rub dirt on their wounds and never stop fighting. Just take a look at the rosters of the past three World Series Champions. The 2013 Boston Red Sox had David Ortiz, John Lackey, and Jake Peavy as its emotional anchors. The 2014 San Francisco Giants had the aging finesse pitcher Tim Hudson, and also Jake Peavy. The 2015 World Series Champion Kansas City Royals™ didn't have Jake Peavy, but they did have the towering Chris Young and consummately professional Ryan Madson.

Folks, Rich Hill can be the Los Angeles Dodgers' Jake Peavy.

In this Danville man's expert opinion, a showdown between the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series is looking increasingly likely. The over-hyped Bryce Harper has been in hibernation for several months, clearing a path for the Dodgers to defeat the Washington Nationals. Meanwhile, the Cubs hold a commanding 2-0 series lead in the NLDS over the seemingly un-killable Giants. Don't count out the Giants until their pulse is gone and the corpse has gone into rigor mortis, but I like the Cubs' chances to win that series too. The real question is: do the Dodgers have the veteran presence of mind to get past this historically excellent Cubs team?

I know nerds are getting hot and bothered about the Cubs. They're the odds-on favorites to win it all this October and ride back to the North-Side of Chicago atop a celebratory parade. Nate Silver and company, the folks who have continually bungled 2016 presidential election forecasts, have all but crowned the Cubs as World Series champs.

 We've all seen the saberphiles drool about their run differential.
But don't sleep on the Dodgers. The Cubbies may have David Ross and Ben Zobrist to provide veteran leadership; but don't underestimate what sagacious slugger Adrian Gonzalez brings to the table for the Trolley Dodgers, especially when combined with the supernatural phenom talent of ace Clayton Kershaw.

The Dodgers' true ace-in-the-hole is Rich Hill, a 36-year old left-handed pitcher who is craftier than the lawyers who keep getting Hillary Clinton acquitted for manslaughter and purgery. Rich Hill seemed to be destined for the glue factory after hitting free agency last off-season, consigned to irrelevance like the Randy Wolfs of the world. But then he did something that the spreadsheet gazers didn't expect: he had a career season with the Oakland Athletics, pitching like some sort of 'Clayton Kershaw-lite' when he wasn't battling blisters and other random health issues. After being snubbed by most MLB teams last offseason, Hill is now poised to make bank when he hits free agency this offseason, especially in a market mostly devoid of good pitchers.

Now, 'Clayton Kershaw-lite' and the real Clayton Kershaw have an opportunity to lead the Dodgers to their first championship since the heroic Kirk Gibson wore Dodger blue. A 1-2 punch of lefties Kershaw and Hill can match anybody in the league.

Old Richard Hill doesn't overpower hitters; he has what old-school scouts would call a 'Bugs Bunny' curveball that loops and droops across the strike-zone as if he's pulling it with a string. Velocity alone doesn't get it done in the postseason. You need grit, skill, and wiliness, like Mr. Hill has.

Rich has been around the block: been there, done that. He's played on the East Coast with the Red Sox, and on the West Coast with Billy Beane's team. He's peed on his blisters, like all men of a certain age eventually do. And at age 36, he isn't getting any younger. He wants a ring, and he wants it now. Clayton Kershaw, a mythic hero in the Campbellian sense, may be the team's spiritual leader. But to accomplish his mission and discover his own inner powers he will need a mentor, just like Luke Skywalker and Marty McFly did. Kershaw needs Rich Hill. The Dodgers need Rich Hill. He's their only hope.