National League Championship Series
Los Angeles Dodgers (104-58) vs. Chicago Cubs (92-70)
In what sure seems to be a growing rivalry between two National League powerhouses, the Los Angeles Dodgers will face the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series for the second consecutive year. The Cubs, making their third consecutive NLCS appearance in as many years, will look to repeat history and return to the World Series in back to back years for the first time since 1907-1908 (winning both). The Dodgers are hoping to advance past the Championship Series for the first time since 1988.
LA made quick work of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NLDS, slugging their way to a three-game sweep. Clayton Kershaw pitched well enough to win in game 1, but his October struggles continued as he was roughed up a bit in game 1. Kershaw allowed 4 home runs (all solo) against the Diamondbacks. Closer Kenley Jansen displayed his usual dominance to the tune of 3.2 innings pitched, 2 saves, and 0 earned runs in 3 appearances. Justin Turner led the way for the Dodgers’ offense with a .462 batting average, 1 home run, and 5 RBIs in 14 plate appearances. Its’ tough to draw conclusions from such a small sample size that a short 3-game series provides, but the Dodgers’ seem to have reclaimed some of the swagger that they lost during their second half struggles. Honestly there’s not really a whole lot else to say about the Dodgers other than the fact that they looked like the best team in baseball during their first three games of the playoffs.
With the Dodgers relaxing at home after sweeping the D-Backs, the Cubs fought and clawed their way to the NLCS after defeating the Washington Nationals 3 games to 2 in the NLDS. The storylines for Chicago were inconsistent hitting and struggling relief pitching. Star sluggers Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were kept in check by the Nationals pitching staff, as each were only able to muster up a .200 batting average, although Rizzo did go deep once. Bryant was particularly painful to watch as at one point he struck out in six consecutive at bats, including earning the dreaded Golden Sombrero (4 strikeouts in a single game) during game 3 (which I had the distinct pleasure of witnessing in person). Rizzo and Bryant weren’t the only Cub hitters to struggle in the series. Nationals’ starting pitchers Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer both took no hit bids into the 5th inning (and beyond) in Games 1 and 3, respectively. Interestingly enough, the Northsiders managed to squeak out wins in both of those games. Despite their troubles stringing hits together, the biggest concern with the Cubs right now is their bullpen. Joe Maddon has clearly lost some trust (and rightfully so) in Carl Edwards Jr. (6 earned runs in only 2.1 innings pitched) and Mike Montgomery (3 earned runs in 1 inning pitched), both key pieces of the bullpen that the Cubs could rely on during last year’s championship run. Even the normally reliable closer Wade Davis has struggled, although he was able to convert a 7 out save opportunity in game 5. It’ll be interesting to see how Maddon manages his bullpen from here on out, especially since he used all 4 of his playoff starters in the last two games of the division series. If the Cubs are going to have any chance in the upcoming series, the bats REALLY need to get going and someone in the bullpen needs to step up provide a reliable option late in games.
As much as it pains me to say, I think I have to go with the Dodgers on this one. The Cubs’ usage of their starting pitchers in relief roles in the NLDS will force them to go to the bullpen early, especially in the first two games. If the bullpen has shown anything in the past 5 games, it’s that the next few games are going to be extremely stressful for Cub fans. I really hope I’m wrong, but I think the Dodgers win in 6.