MLB: NLDS-Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals

Second City October: NLCS Game Two Preview, Cubs (1-0) vs. Dodgers (0-1)

While baseball offers the great therapy of returning to action the very next day after a loss, that same quality allows little time for reveling in remarkable victories like Saturday night’s. All that needed to go well for the Cubs went well, and they overcame even issues such as small bullpen failures and cold bats in the heart of the order in a way that’s probably not familiar to members of the Cubs fanbase that’re of a certain age.

Tonight, the Cubs enter somewhat unfamiliar territory, at least in recent history, with a win in the NLCS. 2015 came to an abrupt stop at around this point last season, so this is already a refreshing change. The Dodgers came in with a little magic of their own, with Dave Roberts masterminding his pitching staff to secure the division series in Game Five against the Nationals on Thursday night. He pulled many of the right switches last night, but Miguel Montero found his moment on an 0-2 slider from Joe Blanton that hung just a little bit too high in the zone, so Roberts was left to answer questions about his decision making rather than bask in a well-executed comeback victory.

In Game Two tonight, the Dodgers will have their best chance to leave town with a split, which conventional wisdom says is the best approach when faced with a two game set on the road to start the seven game series. (Though, wouldn’t a sweep be better?) Three straight nights in Los Angeles starting on Tuesday can make this a very different series than it feels right now.

The Pitching Matchup: Kyle Hendricks vs. Clayton Kershaw

And if anyone is going to make that happen for Los Angeles, it’s Clayton Kershaw. He was already their miracle worker on Thursday night and has been used on short rest just to get the Dodgers this far, and their obvious hope is that the heavy use won’t impede his pitching tonight. It’s probably speculation, but it seems fair to say that he might not be as crisp as usual, and the Cubs should be ready to pounce if that’s the case.

On the other side of the ledger, Kyle Hendricks is as fresh as possible. The Cubs used an extended rotation to finish out the season and then did not need to play in a Wild Card game a week and a half ago, so he was already well rested before last Saturday’s very short night on the mound. All of this to go with the fact that Hendricks is a worthy Cy Young candidate himself, by the way, so both offenses are going to be challenged. Here’s how the two pitchers stacked up against each other in the regular season, keeping in mind that Kershaw missed about two months with a back injury:

IP oppTAv K/9 cFIP DRA
Hendricks 190 .262 8.1 92 3.34
Kershaw 149 .263 10.4 56 2.03

What to Watch For:

First, the bats of Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell. They’re both struggling rather mightily in the postseason, and thank the great depth of this team that it has not affected things so far, but a glaring hole at the third spot in the lineup will cause a problem eventually. Rizzo is 1 for 20 in the postseason so far, and while he’s gone through stretches like this before, the playoffs don’t offer the luxury of being patient through a stretch of games like the regular season does. That said, the team is thoroughly deep, and even if he is not hitting, experience has shown that it will come, and can do so at an instant.

Like Rizzo, Addison Russell has just one hit in the postseason thus far. He’s 1 for 19 since the NLDS started. Russell has hit poorly for the past several weeks, and during the regular season September was his worst month with an OPS of .659, so he didn’t come into the playoffs hitting all that well.

Aroldis Chapman’s usage is developing a trend as well. For the second time this week, he was called upon in the 8th inning, and for the second time, he gave up runs. There is reason to believe that he’s not meant for coming into the game during an inning, but take the following with a grain of salt:

w/ Inherited Runners .333 (5 for 15) .450 (9 for 20)
Starting an inning .118 (11 for 93) .180 (18 for 100)

It’s hard to be overly conclusive about numbers like this, because the sample sizes are so much different, but with a bullpen of the strength that Chicago has, perhaps Joe Maddon is trying to hard to nip something in the bud and is asking Chapman to perform in a role that he’s not comfortable with.

The Dodgers offense is potent and struggles mightily against lefties, so a matchup against Hendricks tonight is more favorable. For them, Corey Seager has been surprisingly quiet (4 for 27) since the postseason started, and Yasiel Puig has essentially ceased to exist. He is 0 for 9 in the playoffs thus far.


Tonight the Cubs can go up two games to none and put themselves in an ideal position going to Los Angeles for Game Three, a spot that ultimately worked out in the NLDS against San Francisco, though things were precariously close to turning out differently. But the Dodgers can push the reset on the series and claim Game Two, making three consecutive games in Los Angeles look far more daunting for the Cubs.

 Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports.

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