The Dodgers head to Chicago sitting pretty with a 2-0 series lead after taking care of business at home. It would be unusual for a team up 2-0 to label a game a ‘must win,’ but that could be the case for the Dodgers.
The Dodgers are playing the best baseball out of the remaining teams in the postseason. They have yet to lose a game and are dominating on the hitting and pitching aspects of the game. They have their best players stepping up at big-time moments (Justin Turner). And they’ve gotten production from the unusual suspects like Charlie Culberson and Kenta Maeda. These Dodgers have marked themselves as the team to beat this October.
Dave Roberts and the Dodgers have a chance to demoralize the Cubs even more than they currently are. They’re the defending champs, so they’ve dealt with their fair share of adversity. Let’s not forget, they came back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series. Today the Dodgers have the chance to put the Cubs in an insurmountable position of coming back from a 3-0 deficit, which has only been done once before.
A critical part that gets overlooked is the NLCS format. Despite having home-field advantage in the series, the Cubs could have had the upper hand if they had won a game in Los Angeles. Fortunately, they didn’t, and the Dodgers guaranteed themselves another game in LA. The Cubs get games 3, 4, and *if necessary* 5 at home.
This 2-3-2 format emphasizes the Dodgers need to win at least one game in Chicago. The MLB enforces this format to cut down on travel days, and that’s respectable. But I fail to see how this gives the higher seeded team an advantage. The lower seeded team could win the series at home if they escape with one win on the road and by sweeping at home. That’s not the case here, but it’s a little worrisome to think the Dodgers could return home down 3-2. Hence, my imperative claim that the Dodgers have to win at least one in Chicago.
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Kyle Hendricks will face Yu Darvish in game 3, and Jake Arrieta will pitch game 4 against Alex Wood. Hendricks has started the biggest games for the Cubs this postseason. In two starts (game 1 & 5) in the NLDS, Hendricks has allowed 4 earned runs in 11 innings, while striking out 13. During the regular season, Hendricks pitched better on the road than at Wrigley Field. Hendricks allowed 11 home runs in 13 starts at home and had a 3.20 ERA. Of course, Dodger fans won’t forget Hendricks’ dominant performance against the Dodgers last season when he allowed one earned run in 12 2/3 inning pitched, including a 7 1/3 scoreless inning gem to eliminate the Dodgers. But Hendricks regressed this season and the Dodgers should still have the upper hand, particularly with Darvish.
Yu Darvish sets up as the perfect guy to continue mowing down the Cubs hitters. With a 29.7% career strikeout rate, Darvish has the stuff to keep the Cubs off balance. Darvish has pitched in Wrigley once in his career and only went 4 1/3 innings and allowed 2 earned runs, but did accumulate 9 strikeouts. Darvish looked excellent in his start against the Dbacks, throwing 64% of his pitches for strikes and striking out 7 in 5 innings. The Dodgers went out and traded for Darvish for this moment, and they have to feel confident with him on the mound.
I view game 3 as a favorable game than game 4 for the Dodgers because I don’t know what we can expect from Alex Wood. By tomorrow, Alex Wood would have 21 days since his last start. The last time Wood pitched was on September 26th against the Padres. Rest could be a good thing for Wood especially considering his velocity was down to end the season; I just worry that 3 weeks is too much rest. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.
Tonight is more about continuing to set the tone for the series. This isn’t quite a ‘must win’ yet for the Dodgers as they’ll still have chances. But that should mean taking their foot off the gas and giving these Cubs life. We saw the Astros let their guard down last night and the Yankees promptly exploded for 8 runs. The Dodgers can’t look at the Cubs this way. They need to continue to work the pitch counts and attack the Cubs hitters. The wind is blowing pretty hard (13 mph as of 11 am today) to center field so Darvish will need to bring his swing and miss stuff tonight.