Two years ago, the Chicago Cubs were perhaps the biggest underdogs in baseball, the team that rarely sniffed the postseason and perpetually had their hearts broken when they got there. Now they're in their third consecutive National League Championship Series. (It's worth noting that the NL Central has had a team in the NLCS for seven consecutive seasons; the Cardinals made four in a row before the Cubs took their place.) The Cubs are now the establishment.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers have made the postseason five consecutive seasons, and nine times in the past 13 years. And still, somehow, they have not reached the World Series since 1988. They've had a historic season, winning the most games since the franchise moved to Los Angeles. But they've won a bunch of games in the regular season before. This season will be deemed a failure or a success solely based on what happens from here on out. It's World Series or bust.
It's a rematch of last year's NLCS, which went six games (and which, at one point, the Dodgers were firmly in charge of). This one feels closer than that one. And the stakes could not be higher. The pressure is on the Dodgers, rather than the defending champs. But it's history either way.
- Game 1: 8 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 14, on TBS (Jose Quintana vs. Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium)
- Game 2: 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 15, on TBS (Jon Lester vs. Rich Hill at Dodger Stadium)
- Game 3: 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, Oct. 17, on TBS (Yu Darvish vs. TBD at Wrigley Field)
- Game 4: 9 p.m. ET Wednesday, Oct. 18, on TBS (Alex Wood vs. TBD at Wrigley Field)
- Game 5 (if necessary): 8 p.m. ET Thursday, Oct. 19, on TBS (TBD vs. TBD at Wrigley Field)
- Game 6 (if necessary): 4 p.m. ET Saturday, Oct. 21, on TBS (TBD vs. TBD at Dodger Stadium)
- Game 7 (if necessary): 7:30 p.m. ET Sunday, Oct. 22, on TBS (TBD vs. TBD at Dodger Stadium)
CF Jon Jay
3B Kris Bryant
1B Anthony Rizzo
C Willson Contreras
LF Kyle Schwarber
SS Addison Russell
RF Jason Heyward
2B Javier Baez
Los Angeles Dodgers
SS Chris Taylor
3B Justin Turner
1B Cody Bellinger
RF Yasiel Puig
C Austin Barnes
CF Joc Pederson
LF Curtis Granderson
2B Chase Utley
Three questions for the Cubs
1. How many innings can the rotation give them? The Cubs nearly ran out of pitchers in Game 5 of the NLDS; Wade Davis ended up having to throw more than two innings. They'll need some longer starts in this series, considering their bullpen doesn't have the depth of the Dodgers' 'pen and this series, being a best-of-seven, will require more innings. John Lackey somehow didn't appear in the NLDS. He'll be needed for this one, one way or the other.
2. Can the lineup get going? The Cubs hit .180 against the Nationals, and slugged .280, which is lower than their OBP, at .285. In other words, they were extremely fortunate to get out of that series. Bryant, in particular, is someone who needs to get going. But top to bottom, the Cubs' bats need to wake up; Jay can't be their best hitter like he was in the NLDS.
3. Do they still have all the kismet? The Cubs, by all accounts, could have easily lost to the Nats, particularly in that Game 5, in which everything that could have gone wrong for Washington somehow did. Like last year, Chicago continues to look like a team that had 108 years of pain and is making up for it with every bit of good luck landing their way. This is a team that carries itself like the champions they are. They're underdogs against the Dodgers … but despite what some might consider a down year, they keep winning.
Three questions for the Dodgers
1. How's Kershaw? The Dodgers-D-backs series was on so late, and over so quickly, that you might have forgotten or missed a few things. Well, know that the "Clayton Kershaw is a different pitcher in the postseason" narrative still has some juice: He gave up four runs in 6 1/3 innings in a Game 1 win, including an uncharacteristic three walks. Much of Kershaw's postseason "struggles" in the past have been more because the Dodgers pushed him too hard than because he wasn't effective … but that doesn't change the fact that he'll be hearing about his 4.63 lifetime postseason ERA every time he gets the ball. A Game 1 shutout would be an excellent way to get everybody off his back.
2. Can Puig stay hot? Puig has been one of the most widely discussed players in the sport over the past half-decade, which is why it's so surprising that no one seems to be noticing he's playing like a superstar right now. He hit .455 in the NLDS and is a nuisance to opponents at the plate, in the field and on the basepaths. The Dodgers have a deep lineup and tons of bench depth, but having Puig play like an MVP, like he has been of late, turns them into something even more terrifying.
3. Can they finally do it? So, here we are again. The Dodgers have been chilling for a week while the Cubs and Nationals beat up on each other in the NLDS. Their rotation is rested and ready. They have multiple options at every position. They have their best players playing as well as they have all season. They have a bullpen that can come at you from every direction. They have home-field advantage. They have the best team they've had in a decade, a decade in which they've had some outstanding teams. They will never have a better chance than right now. Now's the time. This is all they could have asked for.
The Dodgers have a better rotation, a deeper lineup and a much better bullpen. They have home-field advantage. They have Kershaw. It is bizarre that all of these things seem potentially offset by the postseason poise of the Cubs, but that's the new reality. The Dodgers should win this series. But will they? Can they? Here's to picking them one last time. If they don't pull it off this year, I won't be fooled again.
Dodgers in six.