Posted on October 15, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
A controversial play at the plate and the sequential ejection of Cubs manager Joe Maddon were the highlights of an intense Game 1 of the NLCS, a game the Dodgers took 5-2. In part because of that play at the plate, the Cubs were unable to hold onto their lead, losing out on an opportunity to take an early series lead on the road. But today is another day and another chance for the Cubs to earn a split of the first two games before the series shifts back to Chicago.
Battle of the Bullpens
With both starters leaving after only five innings, Game 1 turned into a battle of the bullpen that the Dodgers won, even after having to lift Clayton Kershaw for a pinch-hitter in the 5th inning. Los Angeles was able to get a scoreless inning from starter Kenta Maeda and then a dominating four-out save from Kenley Jansen. Meanwhile, the Cubs were less fortuitous with their relief pitchers. Hector Rondon, who was just added to the roster after sitting out the NLDS, gave up the tie-breaking home run to Chris Taylor, while Mike Montgomery allowed the game-sealing home run to Yasiel Puig. Chicago’s bullpen has shown some vulnerability during the postseason, and so the Cubs may need to start getting more out of their rotation in this series.
The Cubs will hope to get a strong performance from Jon Lester in Game 2. Lester pitched well enough to get the win in Game 2 against the Nationals, allowing one run in six innings, only to bee the bullpen spoil it. He then came back to throw 3.2 innings in relief during another losing effort in Game 4. Lester has had three days of rest since that outing, so he should be good to go Sunday night. Of course, the veteran lefty has plenty of postseason experience, so the Cubs should feel good about him pitching in a big spot. However, in a trip to Los Angeles in late May, Lester lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up six runs, so his recent history against the Dodgers is not great.
The Dodgers will also send a veteran lefty to the mound in Game 2 in Rich Hill. The 37-year old Hill only lasted four innings in Game 2 of the NLDS, and his postseason history is unspectacular, posting a 4.50 ERA in five starts. However, he’s capable of tossing a gem anytime out, and he knows that he has a good bullpen behind him to pick up the slack, so the Dodgers may be happy with only four or five innings out of Hill. Of course, Hill also threw six scoreless innings against the Cubs during last year’s NLCS, so he has a chance to match or exceed anything Lester produces.
The Dodgers infield may be the X-factor in Game 2. Both Logan Forsythe and Justin Turner have both had great success this postseason. However, the two are a combined 1 for 27 against Lester. If Lester can keep those two players in check, he has a chance to survive this potent Dodgers lineup. Meanwhile, the rest of the Los Angeles infield, Cody Bellinger and Charlie Culberson, each have just two at-bats each against Lester, so they are unfamiliar with the veteran, potentially giving Lester an edge.
The Cubs need this game, and they’ll come out fired up, especially with Lester on the mound. But the Dodgers are too deep offensively and have too good of a bullpen. Even if Lester can out-duel Hill for a few innings, the Dodgers will have the edge in the later innings, especially at home. Los Angeles wins 6-4.