2017 NLCS Preview: Dodgers vs. Cubs, the rematch

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Just like we were all hoping, right? The Dodgers are getting another shot at the defending world champion Cubs.

This is a Cubs team coming off a grueling 5-game series with the Nationals that ended less than 36 hours ago. Let’s see how the two clubs stack up against one another.

By The Numbers

Offense Dodgers Cubs
Runs/Game 4.75 5.07
AVG .249 .255
OBP .334 .338
SLG .437 .437
wRC+ 104 101
HR 221 223
SB 77 62
BB% 10.5 9.9
K% 22.3 22.3
Exit Velo 87.6 86.5

These offenses are quite evenly matched. The Dodgers have a slight edge in stolen bases, walk rate and exit velo, while the Cubs hit a couple more dingers and got a few more hits. Both lineups are deep and have players to be concerned about.

Unfortunately, the Dodgers will have to forge on without Corey Seager, who was left off the 25-man NLCS roster due to back tightness. With Seager out, the Dodgers will turn primarily to either Charlie CulbersonChris Taylor or Enrique Hernandez to play shortstop. They also added Joc Pederson to the roster, giving them some depth in center field.

Chicago has the reigning MVP in Kris Bryant, who struggled mightily in the NLDS. In fact, many of the Cubs’ stars struggled in the Division Series against the Nationals. They scored eight runs in the first four games before exploding for nine runs in the deciding Game 5.

Cubs Hitters In NLDS

Baez: .000/.067/.000
Bryant: .200/.238./.300
Contreras: .214/.450/.429
Heyward: .167/.333/.167
Jay: .273/.429/.455
Rizzo: .200/.238/.400
Russell: .222/.300/.333
Zobrist: .235/.278/.353

I wouldn’t expect normally good-to-elite-level hitters to continue struggling as much in the NLCS, but the Dodgers do have one of baseball’s top pitching staffs.

The Dodgers scored 20 runs in their 3-game sweep of the Diamondbacks, and they had contributions from many of the prominent players.

Dodgers Hitters In NLDS

Barnes: .500/.556/1.000
Bellinger: .214/.267/.429
Forsythe: .444/.500/.444
Granderson: .125/.125/.125
Puig: .455/.538/.727
Seager: .273/.467/.455
Taylor: .231/.333/.308
Turner: .462/.533/.692

Much like the Cubs, I don’t expect all these guys to continue hitting this well in the upcoming series, but that could also mean some of the guys who didn’t perform as well might step up.

Starting Pitching Dodgers Cubs
ERA 3.39 4.05
FIP 3.74 4.27
xFIP 3.74 4.10
K% 25.2 21.9
BB% 7.1 7.7
SwStr% 11.7 9.3
BAA .229 .244
HR/9 1.16 1.27
Exit Velo 86.0 86.2

With starting pitching becoming a little less important than in years past (and it’s still very important), the Dodgers’ edge here might not be as pronounced. The Dodgers’ top 4 — Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood — are as formidable a quartet in the game as you’ll see and certainly one of the best of the remaining four teams. The Cubs can counter quite well with their quartet — Jose Quintana, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta — but even with the question marks surrounding Wood, the Dodgers have an advantage here.

Cubs Starters In NLDS
Arrieta: 4 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 5 BB, 4 K
Hendricks: 11 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 13 K
Lester: 9 2/3 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K
Quintana: 6 1/3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 7 K

The Cubs had to dip into their rotation to throw in relief in Games 4 and 5, with Lester throwing 3 2/3 innings (55 pitches) in Wednesday’s Game 4. He’d be ready to go on full rest come Monday, but there isn’t a game scheduled Monday, so there’s a chance Joe Maddon runs Lester out there for Game 2 on short rest after a shortish outing. Quintana threw in Game 5, but he threw just 12 pitches, so he’ll start in Game 1. We’ll see if it has any impact on the outing, similar to Robbie Ray in Game 2 of the NLDS, though Ray threw more pitches in the Wild Card game than Quintana did on Thursday night. Arrieta is set to start Game 3, but he isn’t the same pitcher he was two years ago, and the Dodgers beat him in last year’s NLCS in Game 3. John Lackey also exists, but it appears the Cubs would prefer to save him for a potential long-relief outing. Hendricks is the low-key ace of the staff, but he won’t throw until Game 4 on full rest.

Dodgers Starters In NLDS

Darvish: 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 7 K
Hill: 4 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 4 K
Kershaw: 6 1/3 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 3 BB, 7 K

A combined 15 1/3 innings from the Dodgers’ starters in three games — not ideal, but not horrible, either. Kershaw will get the ball in Game 1 and it looks like Hill will get Game 2, with Darvish throwing Game 3. That leaves Wood ready to make a start in Game 4. There’s a little concern (from me) about him not pitching competitively since Sept. 26. If he doesn’t throw until Game 4, that’ll be 22 days between starts. While the rest is, in theory, good for his ailing SC joint, the concern is he might be rusty. So, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he got into Game 1 for an inning or two because there’s no way Kershaw will throw a complete game in October. Much like the first round, don’t expect these guys to throw more than 4-6 innings in any particular start.

Relief Pitching Dodgers Cubs
ERA 3.38 3.80
FIP 3.55 4.08
xFIP 3.64 4.11
K% 27.7 26.3
BB% 8.0 11.2
SwStr% 14.2 12.3
BAA .220 .222
HR/9 1.13 1.11
Exit Velo 86.0 85.5

A couple numbers surprised me here, like the Cubs’ relievers allowing a league-low exit velocity against. It didn’t completely translate to positive results, but it’s still a bit surprising. The Dodgers hold the edge in every other non-HR/9 category, and hold distinctive leads in FIP, xFIP, BB% and swinging strike rate.

Cubs Relievers In NLDS

Davis: 4 1/3 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 3 BB, 5 K
Duensing: 1 1/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Edwards: 2 1/3 IP, 2 H, 6 R, 4 BB, 4 K
Montgomery: 1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 1 K
Strop: 3 1/3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K
Wilson: 2/3 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K

Davis did his best Kenley Jansen impression by throwing 44 pitches in the clinching game of the NLDS. As a former starter, Davis throwing 44 pitches isn’t that eye-popping, but it probably limits his availability for Game 1. Trade deadline pickup Justin Wilson was called on to get just two outs in the series after struggling with his command/control after the deal (20.9 BB%). Some wondered if he’ll be removed in favor of a guy like Hector Rondon, which indeed is what happened. Andre Ethier and Chase Utley could benefit from the Cubs leaving Wilson off the roster. Carl Edwards pitched in all five games and his run total is inflated because he was charged two runs on the Michael Taylor grand slam in Game 4, but his Game 2 performance was worse as he allowed three runs (including a Bryce Harper dong) and ultimately cost the Cubs the game. But he has premium stuff and could find it at any time.

Dodgers Relievers In NLDS

Cingrani: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 0 K
Fields: 1/3 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K
Jansen: 3 2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 4 K
Maeda: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 K
Morrow: 3 2/3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 1 K
Watson: 1 IP, 3 H, 2 R, 0 BB, 0 K

In the previous four postseasons, the Dodgers haven’t been able to rely on any non-Jansen relievers in October. It seems things are different now. Brandon Morrow is the second-most trusted reliever, but Kenta Maeda might be right behind him after his NLDS performance. And they have two solid lefties with Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. They also added Ross Stripling to the bullpen in favor of Pedro Baez to everyone’s delight.

But this might be the biggest statistic to consider for this series:

Remember how gassed some of the Dodger pitchers were in last year’s NLCS? This is the reason why. Almost 400 fewer pitches for the Dodgers’ pitching staff. On paper, it’s already better than the Cubs’ (though, Chicago has guys capable of coming up big in October) and the fact they pitched so much in the NLDS gives the Dodgers a clear edge on the mound.

Head-To-Head

The Dodgers won the season series, 4-2. They dropped 2-of-3 in Chicago in mid-April (which spawned this bad column) before sweeping them in a 3-game series at the end of May.

The first meeting of the season also happened to be the Cubs’ home opener in which they received their World Series rings. There was a ceremony, a rain delay and, believe it or not, a baseball game. It didn’t end well for the Dodgers.

Sergio Romo pitched a scoreless eighth, and rather than use Kenley Jansen in a tie game, Dave Roberts elected to try and get outs from Romo in the ninth as well. Unfortunately, a hit and a grounder led to a runner on second with the heart of the order coming up. Roberts then brought Jansen in, who promptly struck out Kris Bryant for two outs. However, he was allowed to face Anthony Rizzo, which one could argue was questionable with Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell behind, and Rizzo flared a jam shot down the left-field line for the walk-off.”

Oh right, Romo was a Dodger at one point. Incredible. And that wasn’t the best game Roberts ever managed. In Game 2, Andrew Toles (!) homered and McCarthy turned in six shutout innings in what Chad described as an “ugly win.” They dropped Game 3 by a 4-0 score.

In LA, the Dodgers took the first game behind Wood, Baez and Chris Hatcher (srsly) throwing a combined shutout. In Game 2, McCarthy threw another six shutout innings. Perhaps he should find his way onto this roster…? Anyhoo, Game 3 was supposed to be a matchup of aces in Kershaw and Lester. Naturally, the final score was 9-4 behind three home runs — one by Bellinger, one by Seager and a 450-foot monster by Puig. Of course, none of this really matters for this series in mid-October.

Rosters

Dodgers

Starting Pitchers (4): Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Yu Darvish, Alex Wood

Relief Pitchers (7): Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields, Kenley Jansen, Kenta Maeda, Brandon Morrow, Tony Watson, Ross Stripling

Catchers (3): Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal, Kyle Farmer

Infielders (6): Cody Bellinger, Logan Forsythe, Justin Turner, Chase Utley, Charlie Culberson, Chris Taylor

Outfielders (5): Andre Ethier, Curtis GrandersonEnrique Hernandez, Yasiel PuigJoc Pederson

The Dodgers made some significant roster changes, the biggest being the exclusion of Seager due to back tightness. Culberson and Pederson were added, and Seager and Baez are out. This gives them 14 position players and 11 pitchers.

Cubs

Starting Pitchers (4): Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jose Quintana

Relief Pitchers (7): Wade Davis, Brian Duensing, Carl Edwards, John Lackey, Mike Montgomery, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop

Catchers (2): Alex Avila, Willson Contreras

Infielders (7): Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist

Outfielders (5): Albert Almora, Jason Heyward, Jon Jay, Kyle Schwarber, Leonys Martin

The Cubs made a couple of change here, swapping out Leonys Martin for Rondon. Justin Wilson didn’t make the cut, giving the Cubs 14 position players and 11 pitchers as well.

Likely Lineups

Dodgers vs. RHP

Taylor SS
Barnes 2B
Turner 3B
Bellinger 1B
Puig RF
Granderson LF
Grandal C
Pederson CF

Dodgers vs. LHP

Taylor CF
Barnes C
Turner 3B
Bellinger 1B
Forsythe 2B
Hernandez LF
Puig RF
Culberson SS

Cubs vs. RHP

Jay LF
Bryant 3B
Rizzo 1B
Contreras C
Zobrist 2B
Schwarber LF
Heyward RF
Russell SS

Cubs vs. LHP

Jay LF
Bryant 3B
Rizzo 1B
Contreras C
Almora CF
Russell SS
Heyward RF
Baez 2B

X-Factor

Who’s the one player on each side — not a superstar — who could help determine the outcome of this series?

Logan Forsythe

Forsythe showed signs of breaking out of a seemingly season-long slump late in September and, so far, it has carried into October. He’s one season removed from being one of the best second basemen in baseball, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see his October success continue.

Jon Jay

The man tasked with replacing Dexter Fowler has worked out quite well for Chicago. He started the deciding Game 5 in Washington and performed, so he’s not just a platoon player at this point. He has a chance to be a thorn in the Dodgers’ side.

——

Everything is lining up perfectly for the Dodgers, minus Seager’s bum back.

The Dodgers have the advantage in seemingly every category, are more rested and are a deeper overall team. Combine that with the Cubs’ travel problems and an arduous 5-game series with Washington and the Dodgers could not have asked for a better script (sans Seager). If they don’t advance this time, it’ll be because they were outplayed by a weakened opponent.

Having said that, the Cubs are the defending champions and should give the Dodgers quite a fight. If this series doesn’t go at least six games, I’d be surprised.

About Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler

Dustin Nosler began writing about the Dodgers in July 2009 at his blog, Feelin’ Kinda Blue. He co-hosts a weekly podcast with Jared Massey called Dugout Blues. He is a contributor/editor at The Hardball Times. He graduated from California State University, Sacramento, with his bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in digital media. While at CSUS, he worked for the student-run newspaper The State Hornet for three years, culminating with a 1-year term as editor-in-chief. He resides in Stockton, Calif., and has yet to be shot.