Posted on October 15, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers will make up what is certainly one of the most anticipated playoff series in recent memory. Much like last year when the Cubs faced the New York Mets, both are teams in large markets with plenty of star power and recognizable names on their roster. For fans of either team, there is undoubtedly a lot of nervous excitement, while the rest of us can sit back and enjoy what should be an exciting and compelling series. Let’s take a closer look at how the Cubs and Dodgers matchup against one another.
Offense – Advantage Chicago
With two legitimate MVP candidates in Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in the middle of the order, it doesn’t get much better than the lineup the Cubs will put on the field in the NLCS. Of course, the Cubs haven’t exactly been firing on all cylinders in the postseason. Bryant has been great, while Javier Baez has also stepped up with several key hits. However, the rest of Chicago’s regulars are slumping. Outside of Bryant, Baez, and Willson Contreras, all of Chicago’s position players are hitting under .200 in the postseason. Of course, it’s hard to imagine that remaining the case in the NLCS, as the Cubs have too many offensive weapons.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, have fared a little better in the postseason, but not by much. Justin Turner and Joc Pederson have led the charge, but Los Angeles needs more out of the likes of Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal, Adrian Gonzalez, and Corey Seager. One edge the Dodgers may have that played a role in Game 5 of the NLDS is a deep bench. Los Angeles can mix and match as well as any team left in the playoffs. However, while that depth is an advantage for Los Angeles, the Dodgers don’t have nearly as much firepower as the Cubs.
Rotation – Advantage Chicago
Despite Clayton Kershaw’s heroics in Games 4 and 5 of the NLDS, the Dodgers have to be more or less disappointed with their starting pitchers thus far in the postseason. Rich Hill made a valiant effort by pitching on short rest in Game 5, but opposing hitters are batting .310 against him in two postseason games. Kenta Maeda also struggled in his postseason debut, giving up four runs and lasting just three innings. Both Hill and Maeda will be expected to make two starts against the Cubs, and both have to be much better than they were against the Nationals. Kershaw also got hit around a little bit in his two starts against Washington. He needs to step up and deliver an ace-like performance against the Cubs.
Of course, Chicago maintains a deep rotation with four reliable starters. Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey both got hit around a little bit in the NLDS, but both are capable of bouncing back in the NLCS, particularly Lackey, who brings so much playoff experience to the table. The Cubs should not have to worry too much about Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta either. Lester was as good as it gets against the Giants in the NLDS, giving the Cubs great confidence in him and the rest of their rotation.
Bullpen – Push
This is a tough call. During the regular season, Los Angeles had the lowest bullpen ERA in the National League. But the Cubs weren’t far behind, and they didn’t have Aroldis Chapman the entire season. Kenley Jansen had a rough outing against the Nationals, but he more than made up for it with the 2.1 innings he threw in Game 5. The Dodgers also have to feel good about the way Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez have thrown the ball in the playoffs, so there’s some depth beyond Jansen.
Of course, the Cubs have plenty of depth beyond Chapman with Hector Rondon, Travis Wood, and others. Like Jansen, Chapman did have a hiccup in the NLDS, but he’s still among the best closers in the game, and there’s no reason for the Cubs not to have confidence in him during the NLCS. Ultimately, both team’s bullpens are solid and neither should be a huge concern at this point in the season.
Prediction – Cubs in 6 Games
On paper, the Cubs have way too much talent to lose this series. There are some concerns about how sluggish Chicago was offensively in the NLDS, and another three-day layoff may not help, but there’s too much talent in the lineup for that to last seven games. On top of that, the starting pitching from the Dodgers has been rather unimpressive during the playoffs. During the postseason, Kershaw and Hill have not looked like pitchers who are going to shut down the Cubs the way the Mets did in last year’s NLCS.
On top of that, Chicago’s pitching is in a lot better shape than a year ago. To have four starters that you can trust, not to mention a shutdown closer, is a huge luxury to have this time of year. The Dodgers are capable of getting going offensively, but Chicago’s pitchers are good enough to keep them more or less contained over the course of the series. Los Angeles is good enough to take a couple games, but ultimately, the Cubs will do what they couldn’t do in 2003: clinch a World Series birth at Wrigley Field. Chicago wins in six games.