The first pitch of the 2016 NLCS is less than five hours away as the Chicago Cubs play host to the Los Angeles Dodgers for game 1 at Wrigley Field. Yes, it’s an even year, and my beloved San Francisco Giants aren’t extending their even year streak after the bullpen meltdown of all bullpen meltdowns killed the magic rather than setting the stage for another Giants comeback/Cubbies collapse in game 5.
And how more appropriate can it get than having the Dodgers simultaneously win a playoff series while the team that won three in five years went home? Pretty fitting if you ask me. Now the Dodgers and Cubs face eachother for just the 2nd time in playoff history, and the first time ever with a trip to the Fall Classic on the line.
All the talk entering this series of course is on the Cubs. 103 wins. 108 year World Series drought. 4 wins away from heading back to the series for the first time in 71 years. 8 wins away from murdering the the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all.
But the Cubs didn’t look like the team we saw during the regular season in the NLDS. More than a third of their runs scored came off the bats of pitchers. Arodis Chapman couldn’t record a save to finish the sweep. And the Giants were a mediocre bullpen away from forcing a game five after the Cubbies jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Who knows if it’d be a Giants Dodgers NLCS had the series gone five games.
The Dodgers on the other hand are here because they overcame adversity and won two straight facing elimination, including a game five comeback that ended with one of the most memorable save situations in recent memory. Los Angeles was able to best Max Scherzer twice on the road, and the unlikely heroes provided offense at just the right time. And of course, they faced the fortunate prospect of going up against Dusty Baker in an elimination game. He’s now lost 9 of such games in a row.
They may be banged up. They may be under a first year manager. They may be riding some good luck if you will.
But you should be scared of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yes, you should be really really really scared, and that’s something that I don’t want to admit, but I won’t sacrifice my journalist integrity for the sake of throwing my least favorite team under the bus. Not when they’ve found a way to make it this far among all the adversity they faced. Here’s why the boys in blue are not to underestimated as crunch time approaches.
The Dodgers can hit, and I mean they can really, really hit
Though they’re obviously aided by playing in a hitter friendly ballpark, the Dodgers offense can be as explosive as anybody else in the majors. From after the All-Star Break to August 22nd, Los Angeles led the National League with a .464 slugging percentage and had the second highest run total with 195. The only team they trailed was none-other than the Cubs. Joc Pederson, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Yasmani Grandal all knocked at least 25 balls out of the park this season, and newcomer Adrew Toles is batting .314. In a series where four games could be played at Wrigley Field (and yes the wind is blowing out today), it could be field day after field day for the Los Angeles bats.
Corey Seager is not human
Corey Seager is having one of the best rookie years that we have seen from any player in recent memory. He hit 26 homers and led the team with a .308 batting average and .365 on base percentage in the regular season, knocking in 72 runs in the process. In the NLDS, he went yard in the first inning each of the first two games, and added on to his out-of-the-gate heroics with an RBI double in the first inning of game three. Seager is dangerous, and if he keeps on finding a way to solve ace after ace as he’s done all year, the Cubs could be in some trouble.
Los Angeles proved they could win without their stars
Clayton Kershaw was gone for two months this season. More than 20 Dodgers were sent to the DL over the course of the entire season. Usually that would translate to disaster. Nope. The Dodgers went 30-20 in the time that Kershaw was absent, and them led them to their 4th consecutive NL West Division title. New guys including 19 year old phenom Julio Urias, rookie Ross Stripling, and veteran Rich Hill shined on the mound, while Seager, Toles, Gandal and Kike Hernandez produced at the plate. They also did it under the leadership of a first year manager in Dave Roberts. Now that the team is largely healthy again, sky is the limit.
Clayton Kershaw has seemingly exorcised his playoff demons
Though the Kershaw 7th inning happened once again in game four this series, the blown lead didn’t cost Kershaw the game. He was brilliant in the first sixth innings, and in game one he was able to limit the damage despite a rocky start. And then game five happened. On one day of rest, Roberts sent Kershaw to the mound with one out and two on in the ninth after closer Kenley Jansen failed to get the job done. And what did Kersh do? He became the third starting pitcher in the history of the game to record the save in a winner take all postseason game on less than one day of rest. Kershaw’s confidence is sky high, and that’s not what any opponent wants to hear.
No. Pressure. At. All.
I’m probably one in a million for writing this article. Heck, probably one in a billion considering I loathe Los Angeles above all others. But seriously, nobody is picking the Dodgers to do anything in this series. The general conensus is they will get bounced in five games. Maybe even swept. And I get it. Everyone wants the Cubs to break the curse. This is their year after all, right? Well, take of your red white and blue colored glasses my friends. Then you might see the truth – that the Dodgers can compete with the Cubbies. They were a blown save away from sweeping them over the summer – without Kershaw. Let’s not forget either that the Cubs offense struggled tremendously last series against San Francisco.
Believe me, I would love nothing more than seeing the Cubs sweep the Dodgers and advance. But that’d be naive to expect that. Not when the Cubs struggled to put away a Giants team they probably should have swept. All but one game that series came down to one run. Aroldis Chapman was a generous check swing away from blowing two saves, and the Cubs were a 40 year worst bullpen away from being pushed to a game five. And the offense only put up 5 runs without the Giants bullpen or a Cubs pitcher being involved. That’s not something to be proud of, my friends on the North Side.
Time after time we see this narrative, a team enters as the heavy favorite in an LCS, only to get stunned by that one team that nobody gave a chance. It happened in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with my boys from the bay. It happened in 1988 with the Dodgers. And while I want to vomit at these words, I think it’s going to happen again in 2016.
The Cubs are a good team, but all the pressure is on them. The Dodgers have none, and if you took away the regular season, there’s no reason to believe Chicago is the far superior team compared to Los Angeles in this series. The Cubs offense isn’t itself. Even the starting pitching hasn’t been superb. And the Dodgers just keep finding a way to survive every time math says they should be dead.
I wouldn’t be saying this if I didn’t believe it. Take it from a Bay Area fan whose hopes and dreams have been murdered this October. But within a week, Los Angeles is going to be one step closer to partying like it’s 1988.
Call me crazy, until it happens and I can say “I told you so.” The Dodgers keeep on looking like dead meat, and yet they always find a miracle to stay alive – Carlos Ruiz, Dusty Baker miscues, you name it. So why should I believe it will stop at this rate?
And then the curse. Last year I thought Chicago would sweep the Mets, and looked what happened. I’m not going to not believe in the curse of the Billy Goat until I actually see it come to an end.
Which leaves me to arrive at the conclusion I hoped I would never come to, except my conscious can’t let me say otherwise…….
The Dodgers complete the upset in five games and advance to the World Series.
You’re welcome, tinseltown.