We have our teams for the National League Championship Series — the Dodgers and the Cubs.
No matter who wins, a drought is going to end at the conclusion of this series — the Dodgers haven’t won a pennant in 28 years, the Cubs, well, it’s been quite a bit longer than that.
The Cubs, by virtue of winning 103 games and having beaten the pesky San Francisco Giants in four games in the NLDS, are logical favorites to win their first pennant since 1945.
But these Dodgers are battle-tested and star-studded, and they have the best pitcher in baseball in the midst of a postseason that’s erasing a narrative.
This has the makings of a classic, but here are the five reasons the Cubs will win the National League.
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Chicago dominates lefties
A lot of this dominance has to do with the Cubs’ preposterous defense, but on the year, Cubs’ pitchers held left-handed hitters to a .212 average and .354 slugging percentage — their wOBA of .287 against southpaw hitters was the best mark in baseball.
The Dodgers started six left-handed hitters in Game 5 of their NLDS against the Nationals — while that lineup is hardly set in stone, it stands to reason that it was the Dodgers’ preferred batting order.
Furthermore, Cubs hitters led baseball with a .346 wOBA against lefties this year. The Dodgers are likely to start a lefty in at least five games of a seven-game series (and perhaps more, if Kershaw pitches on short rest, again).
The Cubs’ defense is otherworldly
What are the keys to winning in the playoffs? Starting pitching, hitters who put the ball in play, and great defense. The Cubs can certainly boast that last trait. In fact, they might be the best defensive team ever.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Cubs’ boasted the single-greatest defensive season in the history of baseball — their 6.38 park-adjusted defensive efficiency rating this year was nearly a full point higher than the previous record-holder, the 2001 Seattle Mariners (the team that tied the major-eague record for wins).
The Cubs are going to steal runs from the Dodgers in this series — that’s not even close to debatable — and those stolen runs could well be the difference in the series.
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The Dodgers are taxed
Clayton Kershaw is probably not limited for the NLCS — his impressive performance out of the bullpen Thursday night in Game 5 was essentially his regular between-start bullpen session (with seven high-intensity pitches added).
But what about closer Kenley Jansen? He threw 51 pitches in an even more impressive performance Thursday. Will he be able to go? The Dodgers threw it all against the wall in Game 5 and it worked. You can’t hold anything back in that situation, but you have to wonder if they jeopardized their chances — even in the slightest way — in the NLCS.
Kershaw might be turning around his narrative, but he has a ways to go to be Jon Lester, one of the premier postseason performers in the sport. Lester’s eight-inning, five-hit, no-run performance in Game 1 of the NLDS was just another example of his postseason mastery.
Lester is the last player the Dodgers want to face in Game 1 of the NLCS. While Lester is the only lefty in the Cubs’ four-man rotation, it’s possible that he sees three starts in the series.
[That said, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrietta, two righties, have been excellent against lefties this year, posting .269 and .278 wOBA’s against them this season (Lester had an .237 wOBA against lefties).]
The Cubs are battle-tested
That Giants series might have ended in four games, but they were tough games. The Cubs had to prove that they had the mettle to be successful in the postseason — they were facing an imposing boss — and they did just that.
You need a little magic in the postseason — the Cubs have been on the wrong side of that for a century — but that near-miraculous rally against the Giants in Game 4 has to make you believe that the Cubs won’t self-inflict wounds.
The Cubs should have every advantage heading into this series, but the postseason is all about who doesn’t defeat themselves — Chicago can believe that’s not the case with the Cubs now.