NLCS Preview / Prediction

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers

This one is going to be good. Two classic National League teams in two iconic venues going at it starting Saturday night playing for the Pennant and a trip to the Fall Classic.

The Dodgers were able to grind out a 5 game series win against the Nationals overcoming a 2-1 deficit. The Dodgers haven’t been back to the World Series since they won it in 1988. They haven’t even made it to a NLCS since 1988.

The Dodgers showed they can grind out wins in the NLDS. Dave Roberts threw the book on managing out the window and went with what was considered right. He’s been great in his first year as manager and in his first Postseason.

The Cubs are ready to win. They haven’t won a Pennant since 1945 and we’ve all heard about the 108 year dread that the Cubs have faced since their last World Series victory. They aren’t afraid of a goat. The Cubs are back in their 2nd straight NLCS and they to redeem themselves after being swept by the Mets last year.

The Cubs were a lot people’s pick to win the World Series before the season started. It’s great to have that kind of hype, but easy to let it get to your head before playing the game. Joe Maddon has done a great job keeping the team hungry for the big prize.

The Cubs led the National League and all of baseball with a record of 103-58 this year, clinching home field. A seat at Wrigley Field will be a hot ticket. Check out my review of the classic home of the Cubbies here.

 

Game 1: Saturday, October 15. Wrigley Field

Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Game 2: Sunday, October 16. Wrigley Field

Kyle Hendricks vs. TBD

Game 3: Tuesday, October 18. Dodger Stadium

TBD vs. Jake Arrieta

Game 4: Wednesday, October 19. Dodger Stadium

TBD vs. John Lackey

Game 5: Thursday, October 20. Dodger Stadium (If necessary)

TBD vs. TBD

Game 6: Saturday, October 22. Wrigley Field (If necessary)

TBD vs. TBD

Game 7: Sunday, October 23. Wrigley Field (If necessary)

TBD vs. TBD

 

Los Angeles Dodgers

The series with the Dodgers and Nationals was easily the best division series of the 4. You could’ve decided the winner based on a coin flip. It just happened that the Dodgers had a coin named Clayton Kershaw.

Starting Rich Hill in Game 5 wasn’t the first choice for Dave Roberts, but it was what he had to work with. The Dodgers were given a beautiful bullpen game with the combination of Hill, Joe Blanton, Julio Urias, Kenley Jansen and Clayton Kershaw. Grant Dayton was in the mix as well, but all he did was walk a guy and give up 2 hits while recording 0 outs.

I thought Julio Urias looked fantastic. Great command. Plus secondary stuff. The kid was shaky first in the big leauges, but he’s going to figure it out. Game 5 was a preview. The kid can pitch.

I praised Terry Francona in my ALCS preview (click here to view) for his wonderful job of managing the bullpen in the ALDS against the Red Sox. Dave Roberts did the exact same thing. Use your best guys or go home. It’s that simple.

Kenley Jansen is one of the best closers in baseball. So instead of hoping to get to the 9th with a lead, Roberts gave him the ball in the 7th and got 2.1 innings out of him. Jansen walked 4 batters, but he also struck out 4 and didn’t allow any runs. Perfect. Surely they could find a guy to get the final 2 outs in a tough situation.

Oh, they did. Clayton Kershaw. The best pitcher in baseball. Coming out of the bullpen for the first time in years. ON ONE DAY OF REST. And it worked. Kershaw popped up the first batter he faced and then struck out Wilmer Difo for the Dodgers to advance.

Before the game Roberts said there was no chance that we would see Clayton Kershaw pitch in Game 5. That was before the game was close in the late innings and he went to his best reliever in the 7th. I sound like a broken record. Use your best guys.

Kenta Maeda is getting the ball to start Game 1. Maeda is 28 and came over to the MLB this year from Japan. Maeda had a great first year with the Dodgers. He finished 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA throwing 175.2 innings. The Cubs haven’t seen his this year, but he did struggle in his first Postseason start at home against the Nationals.

The Dodgers said Clayton Kershaw is preparing for a Game 2 start in this series, which probably puts Rich Hill in line for Game  3 and Julio Urias for Game 4.

Kershaw has dominated most of the Cubs hitters in the few times they have faced each other, but has struggled to get Dexter Fowler out. Fowler is a career .409 hitter going 18-44 off him.

Kershaw has been known to not be himself in the Postseason, but so far he has been great. 3 appearances in a 5-game series feels similar to 2014 Madison Bumgarner.

Rich Hill is another pitcher who the Cubs haven’t faced. Dexter Fowler, Chris Coughlin, David Ross and Ben Zobrist are the only Cubs to face the former Cub.

Julio Urias faced the Cubs twice this year in his rookie season. They hit him pretty well. If he throws the way he did in Game 5 of the NLDS, Cubs hitters will definitely be challenged.

Offensively, Justin Turner is red hot. He’s hitting .400 this Postseason with a timely triple and a home run. He is a career .157 hitter against the Cubs pitchers. Him staying hot will be key for the Dodgers this series. He has never gotten a hit off Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta.

The bullpen was worked in the NLDS, but they prevailed. Kenley Jansen said he was fatigued in his legs after his 2.1 inning outing in Game 5 throwing over 50 pitches but he will be ready. I’ve stated that Dave Roberts will use the bullpen as needed, so they better hope the one day off was enough time for everyone to regroup and rest up. The Cubs won’t take them lightly.

Chicago Cubs

What else can you say about the Cubs this year? They want to win and they’re playing to win on every pitch of every game. They’re tired of falling short each year. The culture has changed on the North Side of Chicago and everyone can feel it.

The Cubs won their NLDS series against the Giants 3-1. Game 1 was a pitcher’s duel between Johnny Cueto and Jon Lester which was capped off a Javier Baez bomb that barely got out. If there is no wind that night in Chicago, that ball might go over Waveland.

In Game 2 they jumped on the Giants early and didn’t look back. That game included a home run from relief pitcher Travis Wood who entered in the 4th inning for Kyle Hendricks and picked up the W.

Wood was the first relief pitcher to homer in a Postseason game since 1924. Things are going alright in Chicago this year.

They lost Game 3 in a battle between Arrieta and MadBum but Arrieta hit a 3-run home run off of Bumgarner. The best hitters in the game can’t even hit balls out off Bumgarner. Man. The Giants won that one in extras, but both teams orchestrated beautiful comebacks in that one.

Everyone knows how the Cubs won Game 4 by now. Check that recap here. They are happy to be back in Chicago for Game 1 with the Dodgers tonight.

For Game 1 of the NLCS Jon Lester is ready to go against a Dodgers line-up he has dominated throughout his career. Dodgers’ hitters are hitting a combined .174 against Lester. I’m looking forward to his dominance matching up with the Cubs facing Maeda for the first time.

Kyle Hendricks had 1 start against the Dodgers in 2016 in which he dominated in Chicago going 8.0 innings and allowing 2 runs on 3 hits. Adrian Gonzalez hit a home run that game off Hendricks.

He will more than likely match-up with Clayton Kershaw for his Game 2 start in Chicago. That is the game I will look forward most. Hendricks was a surprise for the Cubs this year. He was the number 5 starter out of Spring Training and had a remarkable season going 16-8 with an ERA of 2.13 and a WHIP of 0.98. Not bad for your 5th man in the rotation.

Shocking news here, the Dodgers don’t hit Jake Arrieta very well. Arrieta had 1 start against the Dodgers back in May where he didn’t receive a decision. He struggled a bit down the stretch, but he looked sharp in his 6.0 innings during the NLCS.

Lackey didn’t start against the Dodgers in 2016. Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner have both hit him well in their careers, but Turner only has 3 AB’s against him.

The offense of the Cubs is ruthless. A big key for them will be Dexter Fowler and his success he has had in his career against Clayton Kershaw. As a .409 hitter against the best pitcher in baseball, he can set the tone against him for the rest of the team as the lead off hitter.

Likely NL MVP Kris Bryant had a great NLDS against the Giants hitting .375 with 2 doubles and a game tying home run in the 9th inning of Game 3.

Anthony Rizzo only had 1 hit in 15 NLDS AB’s. I don’t see him being held down like that any longer.

I have no concerns whatsoever with the Cubs bullpen. Madden knows who he has and trusts everyone in any situation. Having Aroldis Chapman doesn’t hurt either.

This team has everything they need in every aspect of the game and they know how to win. They don’t try to do too much and they don’t let all the hype get to their head.

Prediction

The Cubs and Dodgers played each other 7 times in the 2016 regular season with the Cubs winning that series 4-3. I like this match-up better than the ALCS personally. I think it’ll be interesting to see if the Cubs pitchers can continue their dominance against hitters they’ve faced before, and how the Cubs come out against a couple guys they have seen.

I’d love to see either of these teams in the World Series, but I think the Dodgers win in 7 and Clayton Kershaw leads it. I want to see him turn into a Bumgarner-like Postseason monster. Their NLDS win showed the resilience as a team that you need in October. I would love to see it come down to a Game 7 where these teams use every arm available to advance.

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