The Los Angeles Dodgers will visit the Chicago Cubs on Saturday to begin a best-of-seven National League Championship Series. The outcome of 2016 NLCS will be historic, as neither team has seen the World Series in a long time. The Dodgers will compete for the National League pennant for the first time since they beat the New York Mets in seven games back in 1988. The Cubs will vie for the NL crown for the first time since 1945, long before the implementation of the Wild Card Game, National League Division Series, and the National League Championship Series.
2016 NLCS Preview: Dodgers vs Cubs
How Both Teams Got Here
The Cubs and Dodgers are two very different teams. The Dodgers are not new to postseason action. They have now made the playoffs in four consecutive years. In those seasons, the Dodgers have lost twice in the NLDS and twice in the NLCS. This marks their first return to the NLCS since they beat the Atlanta Braves in the 2013 NLDS.
Though the Dodgers have been good enough to make the playoffs in the past four years, they were never really strong favorites to win it all. Each year they finished as the second- or third-seeded team, but never the first-seed team. They finished this season with a record of 91-71, good for third best in the National League. They beat the Washington Nationals in five games to advance to the NLCS. That series victory did not come easy, however. They were down in the series 2-1 before forcing a Game Five. They had to pitch Clayton Kershaw in his third game of the series to get the final two outs.
The Cubs are the new kids in town when it comes to the playoffs, but it doesn’t feel that way. Last year, they finished 97-65, beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Wild Card game, beat the 100-win St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS, but then were swept by the Mets in the NLCS. They built up even stronger in the offseason and won 103 games this year. They already defeated perhaps the best postseason team of this decade in the San Francisco Giants, the team that won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014. The Cubs got out to a quick 2-0 series lead, but the Giants won Game Three. They followed up with a three-run lead in the top of the ninth of Game Four, making a Game Five look inevitable. However, the Cubs rallied, took the lead, and Aroldis Chapman closed things out, sending the Cubs to a second-straight NLCS appearance.
Dodgers Path to Victory
The Dodgers must rely on Kershaw to win the series. Kershaw is one of the best regular season pitchers of all time. That does not hold true for the postseason, however. In 16 postseason games, Kershaw is 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA. That includes this postseason; he is 1-0 with a 5.84 ERA. He was still reliable enough to get the last two outs in Game Five after 100+ pitches two days before. He is their best pitcher and his success gives them the best chance of winning the series.
The key for the Dodgers is to give Kershaw some rest. Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill have to step up and win some games early on so Kershaw doesn’t have to pitch on short rest. Ultimately, the pitching will win or lose the series for the Dodgers. Against Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and John Lackey, the Dodgers won’t be able to easily tee off on offense.
Cubs Path to Victory
The Cubs are easy favorites to win this series, but that means little. They were favorites to win last year against the Mets. They had seven more wins on the season than the Mets and swept the seven-game regular season series against them. Ultimately, it was the Cubs who got swept. Having said that, this is a new year against a new team. The Cubs have bulked up and the Dodgers no longer have Zack Greinke. The Cubs have to continue doing what they’re doing on the mound right now to win. Lester and Arrieta pitched great and kept them in games.
The Cubs have room for improvement on offense. While Kris Bryant and Javier Baez have played terrific baseball, the same can’t be said for Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Anthony Rizzo, all hitters who carried the Cubs in the regular season. If they start hitting with regularity, the Cubs will be that much better and cruise to a series victory.