NLCS has become a fascinating best-of-3 battle, with the Cubs regaining the home-field advantage and recapturing their offensive form with a 10-2 win in Game 4 on Wednesday. Tonight’s Game 5 obviously is critical for both teams, but Chicago is more desperate to take control. Five reasons why the Cubs must win Game 5:
Their ace is on the mound
Jon Lester is among the majors’ best big-game pitchers, and this will be his last start in this series. The Cubs cannot waste it and must treat it like a Game 7. In other words, don’t expect Joe Maddon to lift Lester after just 77 pitches -- as he did in Game 1 -- unless the Cubs are way ahead. Kyle Hendricks is no sure thing in Game 6, and Jake Arrieta doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence if the series goes to a Game 7.
Clayton Kershaw is lurking
The big lefty is the guy responsible for putting the Cubs’ bats into a funk in this series with a dominant win at Wrigley Field in Game 2. Nothing is a given in October, but the odds of beating Kershaw are certainly slimmer than the odds of suddenly solving him, especially now that he has shed his postseason stigma. This isn’t the guy you want to face with your season on the line.
Chicago can’t surrender the momentum
The entire series shifted back in the Cubs’ favor thanks to a four-run fourth inning in Game 4 when the bats abruptly awoke and the breaks finally started to go their way. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are rolling, and all the dangerous doubt that had crept in was instantly replaced by the confidence the team played with during its 103-win regular season. Chicago can’t give that back.
This is by far the most favorable matchup remaining
The Cubs knocked Game 5 starter Kenta Maeda out of Game 1 after only four innings and have done their best hitting against right-handers this postseason. Not only is Kershaw a lefty, so is Aaron Hill, whom they’d face in a potential Game 7. Plus, the Dodgers’ bullpen was taxed in Game 4, with five relievers throwing 5 1/3 innings. There’s blood in the water, and the Cubs must attack.
They can’t face two must-win games at Wrigley Field
The Cubs were eliminated at home in their past two trips to the NLCS (2015, 2003), so their fans have seen this movie before (some of them saw it back in the days of silent films). Although those were different teams in different circumstances, the pressure to end the World Series drought is even greater this season. We’ve already seen what happens when this offense presses, and it’s not pretty.