LOS ANGELES -— The Dodgers will never set themselves up with as good a chance to go to the World Series as they have right now. They face a formidable opponent in the defending champion Cubs, but the Dodgers are well rested, healthy, and have the scales tipped in their favor to exact revenge in this NLCS rematch.
The Dodgers didn’t have home field advantage in the 2016 NLCS. They do this year.
Clayton Kershaw pitched in three of the five NLDS games in 2016, throwing 218 pitches, and had to wait until Game 2 of the NLCS to pitch again. In 2017, he starts Game 1, eight days after his only NLDS start, a 100-pitch effort against the Diamondbacks.
The Dodgers swept the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, and had four days off before the Cubs came to town. Chicago needed all five games to beat the Nationals, and as of Friday night have yet to name a Game 1 starting pitcher — that will either by Jose Quintana or John Lackey, by the way.
“Yeah, it’s a different position for us,” Kershaw said. “In years past, it’s been Game 5s and a lot of travel and not having home field. So it’s definitely a different spot for us.
“It was kind of fun [Thursday] watching them duke it out while we were kind of sitting around. It was great.”
Behind Kershaw, the Dodgers have their deepest starting rotation during this run of five straight NL West titles. Last year, with a 2-1 lead in the NLCS, the Dodgers started 19-year-old rookie Julio Urias, who was only used intermittently down the stretch, and a gassed Kenta Maeda in Games 4 and 5, losing both after getting 3⅔ innings from the starter in each game.
This year, Maeda is now a setup relief pitcher and death on right-handed batters, part of a fortified bridge to Kenley Jansen in the back end of the Dodgers bullpen.
Jansen, who threw 107 pitches in his four NLDS appearances in 2016, threw 50 pitches in this year’s Division Series. Did I mention the pitching staff was well rested?
“Being able to set your rotation, not having to travel the first two games of the series, I think they’re huge advantages,” manager Dave Roberts said. “That’s the byproduct of having the season that we had.”
The Cubs, meanwhile, need the weekend to regroup, something they are more than capable of doing. But the opportunity is nigh for the Dodgers to take advantage at home.
Should the Dodgers continue their patient approach that worked for them in the NLDS, they can capitalize on a taxed Chicago pitching staff this weekend at home. The Dodgers saw 530 pitches from Diamondbacks pitchers in three games. LA would do well to make the Cubs pitchers work that hard, especially in these first two games at home.
“The day off [Monday] is going to be important. We have to really maintain this -- again, I always talk about the mind, but it’s true,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon, denim jacket and all, said on Friday. “The adrenaline will be supplied. You walk out there, you get your handshake and on the lines, all the people in this ballpark that you’re playing for. The adrenaline’s going to be there. The guys are going to show up.”
The Cubs offense is one to be reckoned with, one that averaged 5.7 runs per game after the All-Star break. But the Dodgers offense can score, too, especially if they take advantage of the Cubs pitching staff while they can.
“They were the best team last year, and until somebody beats them, they're the best team,” Kershaw said. “So we've got to go get them.”
These two clubs haven’t played since May, but back in August, Maddon told reporters he liked how the Cubs matched up with the Dodgers, who at the time were running away with the best record in baseball. On Friday, he updated that status.
“I guess I like it equally as much,” Maddon said. “I think when I was posed with that question we were kind of ascending, not quite where we needed to be yet.”
The Cubs are 49-25 since the All-Star break, the best mark in the National League. The Dodgers won 104 games on the entire season — including 43-29 since the break — 12 more than Chicago.
“He's getting his wish,” Roberts said of Maddon’s comments. “He has a lot of confidence in his guys, as much as I have in our guys, so it's going to be a great series.”
The Dodgers haven’t been to — or won — a World Series in 29 years. This year, they are primed to accomplish at least that first part.
Dodgers in six.