NLCS Series Preview: Dodgers at Cubs, October 15 - October 23, 2016

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NLCS Series Preview: Dodgers at Cubs, October 15 – October 23, 2016

Chicago Cubs

dodgers logoDeep.Breaths.

With just four more wins, the Chicago Cubs can do something they haven’t done since the end of World War 2 – appear in MLB’s World Series.

But before they get there, they’ll have to get through the Dodgers first.

Indeed, the Dodgers battled back (in dramatic fashion) from a 2-1 deficit in the NLDS, to beat the Washington Nationals and progress on to the Cubs and the NLCS.

And although we’ve long suggested that the Nationals are a better match-up for the Cubs than the Dodgers (because of an injury-weakened rotation), things might be a little different now that each of Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill made two starts a piece in the Divisional Round. We’ll get into more of this later on, but the Cubs should still have the advantage in this upcoming seven-game series.

Please, don’t let this be the last Series Preview of the year. 

We’re Going Streaking

The Chicago Cubs (3-1) beat the San Francisco Giants in dramatic fashion during Game 4 of the NLDS, and now sit just four wins away from their first World Series appearance since 1945. You know the last time they won.

The Los Angeles Dodgers (3-2) needed five games to progress onto the NLCS, but here they are with a chance to ruin our collective winter.

Game Times and Broadcasts

Wrigley Field

  • Saturday, October 15 at 7:08 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
  • Sunday, October 16 at 7:08 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio

Dodger Stadium

  • Tuesday, October 18 at 7:08 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
  • Wednesday, October 19 at 7:08 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
  • Thursday, October 20 at 7:08 CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio

Wrigley Field

  • Saturday, October 22 at TBD CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio
  • Sunday, October 23 at TBD CT on FS1, 670 The Score, ESPN Radio

Expected Starters and Lineups

These lineups are likely to be pretty close to what actually gets fielded, but you’ll want to check each day’s Pre-Gamin’ post for the actual lineup.

Chicago Cubs

Starters (regular season stats):

  • Jon Lester (2.44 ERA, 3.41 FIP, 3.47 xFIP; 3.79 K/BB)
  • Kyle Hendricks (2.13 ERA, 3.20 FIP, 3.59 xFIP; 3.86 K/BB)
  • Jake Arrieta (3.10 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 3.68 xFIP; 2.50 K/BB)
  • John Lackey (3.35 ERA, 3.81 FIP, 3.80 xFIP; 3.40 K/BB)
  • TBD –
  • TBD –
  • TBD –

Approximate Lineup*:

  1. Dexter Fowler, CF
  2. Kris Bryant, 3B
  3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
  4. Ben Zobrist, LF
  5. Addison Russell, SS
  6. Jason Heyward, RF
  7. Javy Baez, 2B
  8. David Ross, C
  9. Pitcher

*The Cubs will very likely use three different starting catchers in games 1, 2, and 3 once again, so the personnel and order will be different each time. The lineup above, however, is most likely it for Saturday night.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Starters (regular season stats)*:

  • Kenta Maeda (3.48 ERA, 3.58 FIP, 3.70 xFIP; 3.58 K/BB)
  • Clayton Kershaw (1.69 ERA, 1.80 FIP, 2.28 xFIP; 15.64 K/BB)
  • Rich Hill (2.12 ERA, 2.39 FIP, 3.36 xFIP; 3.91 K/BB)
  • Julio Urias (3.39 ERA, 3.17 FIP, 3.69 xFIP; 2.71 K/BB)
  • TBD –
  • TBD –
  • TBD –

*We should find out the Dodgers’ actual rotation shortly.

Approximate Lineup:

  1. Chase Utley, 2B
  2. Corey Seager, SS
  3. Justin Turner, 3B
  4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
  5. Josh Reddick, RF
  6. Joc Pederson, CF
  7. Yasmani Grandal, C
  8. Andrew Toles, LF
  9. Pitcher

Hot or Not and Whom to Watch

Chicago Cubs – Pitching

The Cubs starters threw us for quite a loop in the NLDS, didn’t they?.

1) Jon Lester kicked things off with a brilliant start against the Giants, allowing just five hits and no walks through eight scoreless innings, but things bounced around from there. 2) Kyle Hendricks followed that up with what looked like the makings of a solid start, before he was removed in the fourth inning after taking a liner off his forearm (he should be good to go for the NLCS). 3) Jake Arrieta flashed both sides of his season, but ultimately provided 6.0 innings of two-run ball. And 4) John Lackey got smacked around a bit (7 hits, 2 walks, 3 earned runs) in just four innings of work on Tuesday.

But they weren’t the only ones. The Cubs bullpen had an uneven series, as well. Aroldis Chapman started things off with two nice saves in Games 1 and 2, before blowing an eighth-inning, six-out save in Game 3 (0.1 IP, 2 H, 1BB, 1 earned run) – I doubt he’ll be coming in for anything more than a traditional last inning save any time soon. And Travis Wood tossed 1.1 scoreless innings in Game 2 and 1.2 scoreless innings in Game 4, but allowed a hit and a run while recording just one out in Game 3.

That said, they collectively got the job done and that’s all you can ask for.

Chicago Cubs – Offense

When BN’er Josh (@TheHeroesJourney), pointed out to me that Dexter Fowler has had some success against Clayton Kerhsaw in the past, I expected to find some fine, but not great offensive numbers (or an exceptionally small sample size) … boy was I wrong on both counts.

In just under 50 plate appearances (not the worst sample at all), Fowler has hit .409/.458/.500 against Kershaw, with an 8.3% walk rate and just a 20.8% strikeout rate. Those are excellent marks off any pitcher in baseball, let alone one of the best in MLB history. “You go, we go,” will never be more true. Rizzo, for what it’s worth, has also hit a single, a double, and a homer off Kershaw in his 12 plate appearances (good for a .970 OPS).

You already know what Javy Baez did at the plate and in the field in the Divisional Series, but you can relive his performance right here.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Pitching

Alright, here we are: the Dodgers pitching staff.

Like I said in the intro above, this has always been the reason we’ve preferred the banged-up Nationals starting staff over Los Angeles. Clayton Kershaw is probably the best pitcher in baseball right now, and is clearly having a hall-of-fame caliber career, Rich Hill has had a renaissance beyond belief in 2016, Julio Urias has some serious upside as one of the best young starters in baseball, and Kenta Maeda (the presumed Game 1 starter) had an excellent debut season with the Dodgers in 2016.

BUT (don’t you love it when there’s a but), Kershaw did miss some significant time this season with a back injury (ultimately making just 21 starts), before returning in September. He also made two starts (on short rest) AND a relief appearance in the NLDS, resulting in 12.1 innings pitched and 218 pitches in just seven days. At best, he’ll be able to go in Game 2 (and he’s said as much so far), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pushed back to Game 3.

Similarly, Rich Hill, who has admittedly had a fantastic season at age 35, is a beatable pitcher, who might be wearing down as his season continues. In his first NLDS start, Hill lasted just 4.1 innings, allowing four earned runs on six hits and two walks. And in Game 5, he was removed before completing the third.

We’ll get into the presumed Game 1 starter, Kenta Maeda, with greater detail tomorrow.

Los Angeles Dodgers – Offense

Before we get into any specific performances, let’s examine the Dodgers offense as a whole in 2016:

  • wOBA: .314 (20th in MLB)
  • wRC+: 98 (14th)
  • BB-rate: 8.5% (10th)
  • K-rate: 21.4% (21st)
  • AVG: .249 (22nd)
  • ISO: .160 (18th)

The stats above are just a surface scratch, but they do tell us a few things. First and foremost, the Dodgers’ offense is not their strength. Although they are patient enough and take their walks, they strikeout at an above average clip, they don’t hit for a ton of power, they don’t hit for average, and their overall profile is something in the 15-20 range. If the Cubs’ pitchers do their jobs and attack the zone (forcing the Dodgers to do all of the damage) I like their chances.

That said, there obviously some serious bats to look out for.

First and foremost, the presumptive 2016 Rookie of the Year (and possibly Kris Bryant’s biggest competition for MVP), Corey Seager. The things Seager did this season as a 1) rookie, 2) 22-year-old, 3) shortstop are downright terrifying. That said, aside from two home runs, he was very quiet in the Divisional Series overall, slashing .130/.130/.435.

Also, there’s Justin Turner – the Dodgers second best offensive contributor. Unlike Seager, Turner was dialed all the way up in the NLDS, slashing .400/.591/.733 with a home run, a triple, and five walks. These two bats in the middle of the lineup will be tough.

Author: Michael Cerami

Michael Cerami covers the Chicago Cubs, Bears, and Bulls at Bleacher Nation. You can find him on Twitter @Michael_Cerami