A rematch of 2008’s NLDS awaits as the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers meet for what will be just the second time in the long postseason history of the two teams, starting this weekend in the NLCS (Series begins Saturday at 8:08pm ET on FS1).
So here is our NLCS preview and predictions, concluding as always with our betting picks, between two teams who know each other. During the regular season, they met seven times, with the Dodgers taking three games off the Cubs, two of which came at Dodger Stadium. Between these seven games, the teams were pretty evenly matched, at least more so than most everybody else that had the displeasure of facing baseball’s best and only 100-win team this year. In all, Chicago scored 17 runs to Los Angeles’ 14. Perhaps most impressively, the Dodgers shut out the Cubs twice, making them the only team able to make that claim this season.
Chicago booked their trip to the NLCS after defeating the San Francisco Giants in grand fashion in four games in their NLDS matchup. Looking like a fifth and decisive game would be needed, the Cubs completed the greatest rally in postseason history as they scored four runs from five Giants’ pitchers to take both the lead and the series. Their formula for success came off both the gloves and the bats of their Cy Young pitchers, who up until game four had led the team in RBI and a tie for home runs.
The Dodgers, winners of the NL West, earned their way to the next round after coming back from a two games to one deficit against the Washington Nationals. LA needed their comeback magic all the way into the seventh inning of Thursday night’s game, when they took their first lead and scored all four of their runs.
The script is playing out similarly to the first matchup, something the Cubs would like to see reversed as in 2008, despite being winners of an MLB-high 108 games, they were swept out of the division series by the Dodgers. A lot has changed since then but for a team looking to avoid yet another losing year, they’d be wise to keep what happened eight seasons ago not far out of mind.
Who Has the Edge?
Starting Pitching and Bullpen – The Cubs
Anytime you can throw out a starting rotation which features five 10+ game winners, four of them 15+ game winners, three of them bona fide Cy Young candidates, then you’ve got a great rotation. Fortunately for the Cubs, this is exactly what they have as from starters 1-5, there’s not really a bad apple in the bunch.
Leading the way is the veteran and playoff-tested Jon Lester (pictured), who won 19 games this season, struck out 197 batters, and allowed just a 2.44 ERA. He is expected to be the go-to guy and is scheduled to pitch game one of this seven game series after going eight scoreless in his one previous outing.
An innings eater, Lester should be expected to go deep and the Cubs hope he will get them off to a good start. But if he doesn’t and Chicago does lose game one, it’s not the worst thing in the world as behind Lester is Jake Arrieta (18 W, 190 SO, 3.10 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks (16 W, 170 SO, 2.13 ERA). This might be the best threesome in baseball right now but, as if that wasn’t enough, Chicago’s bullpen is nothing to sneeze at either.
Anchored by closer Aroldis Chapman, whose fastball touched 103 on the gun against the Giants, the Cubs pen is formidable and reliable even if they were responsible for two of the team’s regular season losses to the Dodgers. But, this is the playoffs and with the exception of Chapman’s one blown save in the NLDS, have looked rock solid. In addition, they match up well against the Dodgers left-handed heavy hitting lineup.
Of course the Dodgers are no slouch in the pitching category either with closer Kenley Jansen and ace Clayton Kershaw, but both have been pretty well worked compared to their Chicago counterparts. Not to mention, because he pitched in relief in last night’s game, Kershaw won’t oppose Lester in game one, setting up the starting rotation to favor the Cubs as they go down the order.
Offense – The Cubs
If we were to go just by the results of the divisional series, the Dodgers would have the edge as they scored more runs than the Cubs in their first series and looked all the more impressive while doing so. However, the Cubs are stacked from 1-9 and yes that includes the pitchers, who were responsible for about 1/3 of the team’s runs against the Giants.
During the regular season, guys like Kris Bryant, an MVP favorite (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI, 121 R), Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI, 94 R) led the way with power and consistency at the plate. Other guys with significant at-bats in Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez and Dexter Fowler all hit over .270 as well. So far in the playoffs, only Bryant and Baez have really done much as far as run contribution.
If Chicago hopes to win the NL pennant and advance to the World Series they are going to need more production from the rest of the starting nine, Rizzo especially. If game four was any indication, when the Cubs scored four runs in the ninth after being held to two hits for the game, this team might be clicking at absolutely the right time.
The Dodgers meanwhile could use some help too as aside from Justin Turner (.400 BA, 11 TB, 5 RBI) and Joc Pederson, this postseason, all of the usual suspects have been quiet. Loaded with lefties, this could pose a problem as the Cubs pitching is more than equipped to feast on these match-ups just like they did during the regular season. If LA can find its own bats, they might be able to make a series out of this. If not, Chicago could very well return the favor from the 2008 NLDS.
Our NLCS Preview’s Chicago Cubs vs LA Dodgers Betting Picks & Predictions
Now it comes to considering our betting predictions and picks, it’s really hard for this preview to pick against a team that won 103 games during the regular season and that could beat you in any number of ways. Offensively, defensively, on the mound, the Cubs have strength all across the lineup and rotation. They’re a better team than the one that got swept in 2008 and they’ve got, no disrespect to Joe Torre, a manager better suited for the task ahead.
If game four against the Giants was a sign of more to come, this could be the Cubs finest hour yet. Like the Boston Red Sox in 2007, I see this Chicago team getting better as the rounds go on, all the way to winning their first World Series title in 108 years.