Scrambling to win the division series leaves the Cubs with a less-than-ideal setup. Jake Arrieta lacked the stamina to pitch five innings in Game 4 against the Nationals, necessitating 32/3 innings of relief from Jon Lester, and Jose Quintana was needed to throw 12 pitches in relief Thursday night in Game 5. Expect Lester to make some changes after the Dodgers hit him hard in a May start in Los Angeles. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw appears healthy and more effective than when the Cubs tagged him in May. One scout noted that Yu Darvish labored during many of his starts in August and September. But Darvish stepped up Monday to finish off the Dodgers' sweep of the Diamondbacks. The Cubs haven't seen many left-handers with a big curve like Rich Hill's. Fellow lefty Alex Wood throws from an effective three-quarters arm slot.
Carl Edwards Jr. will need to rebound because the Dodgers have an effective mix of left- and right-handed hitters. This could be an important series for Mike Montgomery after Lester was needed in relief Wednesday. Pedro Strop's slider will be needed to keep the likes of Yasiel Puig off balance. This could be another series in which closer Wade Davis is asked to get more than three outs. Midseason acquisitions Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson upgraded the Dodgers bullpen tremendously. Brandon Morrow has pitched so well that the Dodgers haven't needed Pedro Baez. Kenta Maeda has adjusted well after making 25 starts. Kenley Jansen's cut fastball is the best among all relievers.
The Dodgers successfully teased the Cubs with high fastballs during their three-game sweep in late May at Dodger Stadium. Look for the Cubs to take an aggressive approach against Kershaw. Willson Contreras needs a big series. Kris Bryant will see plenty of high fastballs and changeups. Production from Javier Baez is essential at the bottom of the order. The Cubs were tied with the Rockies for the NL's highest on-base percentage (.338), while the Dodgers were tied for third with the Cardinals (.334) despite batting only .249. The Dodgers batted better against left-handers (.253) than right-handers (.247). Third baseman Justin Turner batted .380 against lefties and .300 with runners in scoring position. Rookie of the Year favorite and left-handed hitter Cody Bellinger golfed a home run off Lester in May and hit 12 of his 39 homers against lefties. Chris Taylor invigorates the Dodgers lineup at the top. One scout marveled at the depth of the lineup, noting that Puig bats eighth on occasion. Austin Barnes is solid as a complement to switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal and as a pinch hitter (9-for-31).
Look for more of the same from the Cubs, with Ben Zobrist switching between left and right field. The Cubs are better than the sevenerrors they committed in the NLDS, but there's no room for error against an opportunistic Dodgers offense. Manager Joe Maddon might have to stick with some defensively challenged players if they fall behind early. The Dodgers display the same versatility as the Cubs, with Kike Hernandez able to play five positions adequately. Corey Seager committed only 11 errors at shortstop. Puig doesn't sail throws from the outfield with the same frequency as in the past.
Dave Roberts' habit of quickly charging onto the field during disputes amused a few opposing coaching staffs, but Roberts has performed a commendable job of sticking with the Dodgers' strengths while massaging suggestions from the front office, according to multiple sources. Maddon has achieved one of his goals by playing the Dodgers in the postseason, and he might have a trick or two up his sleeve to make things uncomfortable for a Dodgers team that hasn't faced pressure all season.
Mark Gonzales' pick: Dodgers in five.