A look at the best-of-seven National League Championship Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs:
Schedule: (All times EDT) Game 1, Saturday, at Chicago (8:08 p.m.); Game 2, Sunday, at Chicago (8:08 p.m.); Game 3, Tuesday, Oct. 18, at Los Angeles (8:08 p.m.); Game 4, Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Los Angeles (8:08 p.m.); x-Game 5, Thursday, Oct. 20, at Los Angeles (8:08 p.m.); x-Game 6, Saturday, Oct. 22, at Chicago (TBA); x-Game 7, Sunday, Oct. 23, at Chicago (TBA). (All games on FOX or FS1).
Season Series: Cubs won 4-3.
Dodgers: 2B Chase Utley (.252, 14 HRs, 52 RBIs) or Charlie Culberson (.284, 1, 7, in 34 games and 67 ABs), SS Corey Seager (.308, 26, 72), 3B Justin Turner (.275, 27, 90), 1B Adrian Gonzalez (.285, 18, 90), RF Josh Reddick (.258, 2, 9 in 47 games with Dodgers; .296, 8, 28 with Oakland) or Yasiel Puig (.263, 11, 45 in 104 games), CF Joc Pederson (.246, 25, 68), C Yasmani Grandal (.228, 27, 72), LF Howie Kendrick (.255, 8, 40) or Andrew Toles (.314, 3, 16 in 47 games).
Cubs: CF Dexter Fowler (.276, 13, 48), 3B or LF Kris Bryant (.292, 39, 102, 121 runs, 176 hits), 1B Anthony Rizzo (.292, 32, 109, 170 hits), 2B or LF Ben Zobrist (.272, 18, 76), SS Addison Russell (.238, 21, 95), RF Jason Heyward (.230, 7, 49), 2B or 3B or SS Javier Baez (.273, 14, 59), C Miguel Montero (.216, 8, 33) or Willson Contreras (.282, 12, 35 in 76 games) or David Ross (.229, 10, 32).
Dodgers: RH Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA, 179 Ks in 175 2/3 IP), LH Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 Ks in 149 IP), LH Rich Hill (3-2, 1.83, 34 1/3 IP with Dodgers; 9-3, 2.25, 76 IP in 14 starts with Oakland), LH Julio Urias (5-2, 3.39, 84 Ks in 77 IP).
Cubs: LH Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44, 197 Ks), RH Kyle Hendricks (16-8, MLB-best 2.13), RH Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10), RH John Lackey (11-8, 3.35).
Dodgers: RH Kenley Jansen (3-2, 1.83, career-high 47/53 saves), RH Pedro Baez (3-2, 3.04), RH Joe Blanton (7-2, 2.48), LH Luis Avilan (3-0, 3.20), RH Ross Stripling (5-9, 3.96), LH Grant Dayton (0-1, 2.05, 39 Ks, 26 1/3 IP in 25 games), RH Josh Fields (1-0, 4.63, 42 Ks, 35 IP in 37 games for Astros and Dodgers).
Cubs: LH Aroldis Chapman (4-1, 1.55, 36/39 saves, 90 Ks, 58 IP for Yankees and Cubs), RH Hector Rondon (2-3, 3.53, 18/23 saves), RH Pedro Strop (2-2, 2.85), RH Carl Edwards Jr. (0-1, 3.75, 2 saves), RH Justin Grimm (2-1, 4.10), LH Mike Montgomery (4-5, 2.52, 49 games, 7 starts for Mariners and Cubs), LH Travis Wood (4-0, 2.95).
One of these big-market teams is going to end a substantial drought. While the Cubs are looking for their first pennant since 1945 and World Series title since 1908, the Dodgers haven’t been to the Fall Classic since winning their 1988 championship. … Series features two of baseball’s oldest and most popular ballparks in Wrigley Field and Dodger Stadium. … Chicago took three of four from Dodgers in a low-scoring series at Wrigley from May 30 to June 2, getting wins from Lester and Hendricks. Los Angeles won two of three meetings at home in late August, dropping the opener 6-4 in 10 innings before winning the final two games 3-2 and 1-0. … Cubs avoided Kershaw and Maeda during the regular season. They also never faced Hill, who was acquired from Oakland on Aug. 1. … Blanton had two wins out of the bullpen against Cubs this season. … Second-year Chicago manager Joe Maddon was the skipper in Tampa Bay under front-office executive Andrew Friedman, now the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. … Cubs wanted to make sure Hendricks was healthy before committing to him in Game 2. Hendricks left Game 2 of the Division Series against San Francisco when a comebacker went off his right forearm in the fourth inning. He had a bullpen session Thursday. Hendricks was 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 home games this year. … Cubs led the majors with 103 wins in the regular season, 12 more than Los Angeles. … Cubs have power arms on a staff that ranked third in majors with 1,441 strikeouts this season. … Third in majors in runs (808) and second in on-base percentage (.343) during the season, Chicago had a tough time at the plate against Giants in the Division Series. Cubs hit .200 with a .247 on-base percentage, and a big chunk of their offense came from pitchers. Arrieta and Wood combined for two of Chicago’s five homers, and those two along with Hendricks accounted for six of team’s 17 RBIs. Rizzo, a contender for NL MVP, and Russell each went 1 for 15 in series. Baez, however, made one slick play after another at second base and delivered two of the biggest hits - an eighth-inning homer off Johnny Cueto for the lone run in Game 1 and the go-ahead single in the ninth inning of Game 4. … Dodgers went 53-28 at home and 38-43 on the road this season. But they won two of three games at Washington in Division Series, including Game 5 clincher. Kershaw came out of bullpen to get final two outs for his first major league save, two days after throwing 110 pitches in Game 4 on short rest. So he almost surely won’t start until Game 2 or Game 3 against Cubs. … A tiring Jansen was pushed to career-high 51 pitches in Game 5, so his availability - and effectiveness - will be a question mark early in NLCS. … Dodgers have struggled against left-handed pitching all year and figure to face Lester twice if series goes five games.
Dodgers: With a $234 million opening day payroll, highest in the majors, Los Angeles (91-71) reached the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year in Dave Roberts’ first season as manager. The Dodgers have won four straight NL West titles, a first for the storied franchise, and surpassed 90 wins for the fourth season in a row. But they are still looking for their first trip to the World Series since Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser & Co. won it all as big underdogs in 1988. Los Angeles was beaten in the NLCS three times from 2008-13, then lost in the NLDS each of the past two years. They just squeezed by Washington, though, with a trio of one-run wins. … Roberts and Tom Lasorda (1977) are the only rookie managers to lead the club to a division title. … Gonzalez had 90 RBIs for the 10th consecutive season, becoming the only major leaguer to do so. … Grandal, Seager, Justin Turner and Pederson gave the Dodgers four players with 25 or more home runs for the fourth time in franchise history and first since 1997. … The Dodgers put 28 players on the disabled list this season, the most for any team since at least 1987. … Roberts used a franchise record-tying 55 players, including 31 pitchers. … Seager’s 193 hits were the most by a big league rookie since 2001. … Dodgers pitchers recorded 1,510 strikeouts, a major league record.
Cubs: Is this the year the Cubs at long last win the World Series? Favorites since opening day, Chicago (103-58) entered the playoffs with a large, excited fan base hoping against hope that the first championship in more than a century was finally around the corner. The Cubs jumped out to a 25-6 start on the way to a runaway title in the NL Central, then knocked off San Francisco in a thrilling NLDS. They rallied for four runs in the ninth inning of Game 4 to eliminate the pesky Giants and secure their second straight trip to the NLCS - a first for the franchise. Swept by the New York Mets last season, they’re hoping for a better result this time. … Bryant, a favorite for NL MVP after winning Rookie of the Year last season, was 6 for 16 with a homer against the Giants. During the regular season, he joined Rogers Hornsby (1929), Hack Wilson (1930) and Derrek Lee (2005) as the only players in franchise history with at least 120 runs, 35 doubles, 39 homers and 100 RBIs. … Hendricks and Lester became the first teammates to run 1-2 in the majors in ERA since Houston pitchers Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte in 2005. Both figure to get strong consideration for the NL Cy Young Award, which Arrieta won last year. … Lester matched his career high for wins. … Cubs pitchers led the majors with a 3.15 ERA. They gave up the fewest runs (556) and hits (1,125).
- The Target. Well aware of the club’s 108-year championship drought, the Cubs showed up for spring training bolstered by the additions of Heyward, Zobrist and Lackey, and with a neat new slogan coined by Maddon: “Embrace the Target.” The phrase went on a T-shirt, and the Cubs could not have worn it any better during the regular season. They won the division by 17 1/2 games and finished with eight more wins than any other team. They had the depth and versatility to withstand injuries and the poise to pull out 14 wins in their final at-bat. Then they added two more in the NLDS against playoff-tested San Francisco. But the Cubs are still chasing that target, and the postseason pressure remains.
- Ace In The Hole. As sensational as Kershaw has been throughout his career, he’s struggled in the postseason. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP is 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 playoff games, 12 starts, over eight series since 2008. Kershaw again was far from his best in two NLDS starts against Washington, but he won the opener and saved the finale. Maybe coming through in that signature moment will finally get him going in October - if he’s not worn out. The left-hander missed more than two months with a back injury before returning in September. While he was sidelined, the Dodgers surged into first place past slumping San Francisco.
- Top That. Lester will have a hard time even approaching his performance in the playoff opener, when he went toe-to-toe with Cueto in a 1-0 win. Lester dominated over eight innings and retired his final 13 batters. He held the Dodgers to one run in 15 innings over two starts this season. The lefty tossed a four-hitter in a June 1 win and went six scoreless innings but did not get a decision on Aug. 28.
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