In sports there is no such thing as a do over, but for the Dodgers this is as close as it gets. One year after being defeated by the eventual World Champs, the Dodgers get a chance to exact revenge on the Chicago Cubs.
While the Cubs are the defending champions, the script is flipped a bit this October. Last year the Cubs had the best record in the National League and ended up winning their first championship in over 100 years. This year the Dodgers finished with the best record in the National League and are trying to end their own championship drought that is closing in on thirty years. While they can’t erase what happened last year, this is a chance for this year’s Dodger team to show they are better than the Cubs and win their first NL pennant since 1988. While the Dodgers swept their way past the Diamondbacks, the Cubs went the distance with the Nationals, winning the series in five games.
Pitching Matchup: Clayton Kershaw (1-0, 5.68 ERA) Vs. Jose Quintana (0-0, 0.00 ERA).
Clayton Kershaw got the win in his lone post-season start this year and looked like the Cy Young version of himself until the seventh inning where he let up back to back home runs and ultimately was charged with four earned runs in 6 1/3 innings. In the regular season Kershaw faced the Cubs once and was tagged for 11 hits and 4 earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings.
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After running through their entire pitching staff, the Cubs with Jose Quintana. Quintana pitched on Thursday but didn’t even throw 15 pitches so he should be good to go. Lackey has been a Dodger nemesis for a long time and was an option with the number of pitchers used in the NLDS, but it’s yet to be seen if he’s even on the roster. In Quintana’s lone playoff start this post-season he allowed just three hits and one unearned run in 6 1/3 innings. Despite playing both the Cubs and White Sox this season the Dodgers did not face Quintana in 2017. For his career, Quintana has an 0-1 record in two starts against the Dodgers with no earned runs and five unearned runs.
Keys to the game
Work the Count – The biggest theme of the brief first round for the Dodgers was that their hitters set the tone from the very first inning that they were going to work the count and put up tough at-bats. Their tough at-bats mentality appeared to wear on both Robbie Ray and Zack Greinke as both were gone by the seventh inning and neither appeared to have any easy innings.
Deliver with RISP – There is no doubt that Jose Quintana is a very solid big league pitcher but unlike the Kershaws and Scherzers of the world, Quintana is not going to overpower many hitters. He is going to sit in the 91-93 miles per hour range and try to mix in his change-up and off-speed pitches to keep the Dodger hitters honest. The Dodgers will get their base runners on and when they do it will be up to them to deliver when there are runners in scoring position. Even though they swept the Diamondbacks, they did leave a ton of runners on base. They won’t be able to get away with that against the Cubs.
The Seventh Inning – For whatever reason, Clayton Kershaw seems to run into a wall in the seventh inning of playoff games. As my colleague Kevin Shacter pointed out, Kershaw has an ERA close to 20.00 in the seventh inning of playoff games. The Dodgers need to keep a very short leash on Kershaw if he makes it to the seventh inning, or they need to pull him after six innings and let the bullpen try to nail down the last nine outs. Whether its fatigue, lapses in focus, or just a mental block, the Dodgers need Kershaw to get over his seventh-inning struggles in order to win game one.
Prediction: I believe much like game one of the NLDS, the Dodgers are going to come out strong in game one and string together tough at bat after tough at bat and get Quintana out of the game by the sixth inning. Kershaw will deliver seven strong innings allowing three earned runs. Justin Turner will carry over his strong NLDS performance to the NLCS and deliver a big three run home run off Jose Quintana. Jansen will come up clutch as usual and nail down a 5-4 win for the Dodgers.