Brief Dodgers Cubs Series Preview

Aug 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) crosses the plate past Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 27, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras (40) crosses the plate past Los Angeles Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal (9) in the seventh inning at Dodger Stadium. Dodgers won 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The reward for the gutsy Dodgers performance last night is a date with the best team in baseball.

Alright. I think my heart rate is back to normal and I’ve stopped shaking. The Dodgers won game five of the NLDS on the road with a bullpen game against Max Scherzer, with Clayton Kershaw picking up the save. Cool, cool.

When the Dodgers started Kershaw in game four, their plan was “figure out game give when we get to it”. That seems to be their plan for the NLCS, as lord knows who’s going to start these games and who’s going to be available out of the bullpen. But they’re here and they have to beat one team four times before losing four times to get to the World Series.

That team is the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs were really good in the late 2000’s, but as those players aged, the Cubs faltered. They finished in fifth place in the NL Central every season from 2010-2014. In three of those years, the Central had six teams, but the Cubs came in last or second to last in five straight seasons.

That helped them in their rebuild, as did some awfully random trades panning out like gangbusters. They traded Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman to Baltimore in exchange for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop. In fairness, Arrieta was awful with the O’s. They traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland for Addison Russell and Dan Straily, and then signed Hammel back. They traded Andrew Cashner and a minor leaguer for Anthony Rizzo (thanks, Padres).

Their trades have overwhelmingly worked, and they went for it last offseason. After winning 97 games (and finishing in third in their own division???) last year, the Cubs won the Wild Card game and beat the Cardinals in the NLDS, only to lose to the New York Daniel Murphy‘s in the NLCS. Clearly unhappy, they went out and signed Jason Heyward, Ben Zobrist and John Lackey.

Cubs Pitching

As a team, the Cubs had the lowest ERA in all of baseball at 3.15. Their starters’ 2.96 ERA was by far the lowest in baseball (second place was the Nats and 3.60) and their bullpen’ 3.56 was the eighth-lowest. Their team FIP is 3.77, meaning they definitely got some help from their defense.

Cubs pitchers allowed a BABIP of 2.55, which is nearly .30 lower than the next-closest team. It’s a good combination of pitcher-friendly ballpark, extremely windy ballpark and exceptional defense. Javier Baez and Russell are an insane double play combo, and Heyward is arguably one of the best defensive players of this generation.

The Cubs could very easily carry five starters in the CS, but four is more likely. It’ll probably be Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Lackey and Arrieta (in no particular order). Among them, Lackey’s 3.35 ERA is the worst. Both Lester and Hendricks outperformed their FIPs by about 1.00, and Lester’s .256 BABIP was the highest.

The Cubs bullpen was already pretty good, and then they went out and traded for Aroldis Chapman. Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill were phenomenal this season, and Hector Rondon has filthy stuff. Carl Edwards is the really interesting arm in their pen, as his stuff is electric when he locates it.

The Cubs will likely have three lefties in the bullpen. Chapman, Wood and Mike Montgomery will all likely be there. With the Dodgers’ struggles against lefties, they might bring Rob Zastryzny to the party (because Marc Rzepczynski wasn’t annoying enough). Lester is their only left handed starter unless Montgomery or Wood make a start, which they won’t.

Cubs Offense

With such a short turnaround time, I didn’t have time to put together a position-by-position slideshow for this series. However, the Cubs probably have the advantage at every position other than shortstop (and catcher, if Yasmani Grandal remembers how to hit).

WAR is a really broad way to rate players, but every scenario here passes the eye test (all WARs are from Fangraphs)

Rizzo’s WAR is 5.2, the second-best among first basemen. Sidebar: we need to talk about Freddie Freeman‘s season more. Good lord

Zobrist’s WAR is 4.0, only 11th-best among second basemen. However, he’s a very rich man’s version of Enrique Hernandez and can play anywhere.

Russell is below-average offensively, but still put together a 3.9 fWAR. That’s bizzaro Matt Kemp, who is a monster offensively and still barely had a positive WAR. However, Russell is not Corey Seager, so the Dodgers actually have an advantage here.

Kris Bryant‘s WAR is 8.4. He’s going to win the MVP award. He also moonlights as a left fielder.

Heyward was one of the worst offensive players in baseball this year. He still finished with a 1.6 WAR (higher than Jose Bautista and just behind Carlos Gonzalez) because he’s that good on defense.

Dexter Fowler‘s WAR was the fourth-highest among center fielders. Dodger fans should be familiar with him from his days in Colorado, he can be a game-changer.

Much like the Dodgers, the Cubs can mix and match a lot of guys. Javy Baez is going to be on the field in some way and Chris Coghlan is a solid bench piece. The Cubs also had three catchers on their NLDS roster (Miguel Montero, David Ross and Willson Contreras).


In the regular season, the Dodgers and Cubs met seven times. The odds were stacked against the Dodgers to start the first series, which started on a Monday afternoon after a Sunday Night game in New York. Predictably, the Dodgers were flat and got one hit in that game.

Game two of that series saw arguably Scott Kazmir‘s best start of the season, as he held the Cubs to one hit in six innings. The Dodgers score five runs in the eighth and ninth innings to take that one.

Mike Bolsinger started game three of that series, and Julio Urias made his MLB debut in game four. They lost both of those games, surprisingly.

It was a different story at Dodger Stadium, as the Dodgers took two of three there. They lost game one with Bud Norris on the mound (thanks to a Kenley Jansen wild pitch), but earned two straight wins with Urias and Brock Stewart on the mound. They finished the season 3-4 against the Cubs, which would get them eliminated if they do that in the next seven games.

Next: Predicting the NLCS Roster

The Dodgers are underdogs, and rightfully so. The Cubs have an incredible roster with a phenomenal manager. On paper, the Cubs should win this series rather easily. The Dodgers just showed how much fight they have with a dramatic game five in in Washington, but the Cubs pulled off a three-run comeback in San Francisco to eliminate the Giants. It should be a tight series, but I can’t say I’m too confident in it.