Game 5 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals wrapped up late Thursday night. The Dodgers defeated the Nationals 4-3, earning a trip to the NLCS to play the Chicago Cubs.
The Chicago Cubs have known for several days that they will play in the 2016 NLCS. Just Thursday, the MLB announced that first pitch of Games 1-5 will be 7:08p.m. CT. At long last, though, the Cubs know who they will play for the right to advance to the World Series.
The Dodgers and Nationals split the opening four games of their five-game NLDS series. Because of this, a fifth and final game were necessary to decide which team would advance to the NLCS. As it turns out, Game 5 proved to be the most intense game of the series.
Dodgers’ manager Dave Roberts was in full playoff managerial mode early. Roberts decided to remove starter Rich Hill from the game after just 2 2/3 innings. Hill had only given up one run on three hits and 55 pitches. However, the Nationals had runners on the corners with two outs with the Dodgers trailing 1-0.
Later in the game, Roberts made several unconventional moves that wound up playing a deciding factor in the game’s outcome. Beginning the 7th inning, reliever Grant Dayton surrendered a two-run home run, cutting the Dodgers’ lead to 4-3.
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With the Dodgers’ lead down to just one run, Roberts decided to bring in his team’s best reliever. Closer Kenley Jansen was inserted into the game, needing nine more outs to clinch a Dodgers’ victory.
Jansen would give a more than admirable effort, holding the Nationals scoreless for 2 1/3 innings. Seemingly out of gas after walking consecutive batters, Roberts brought in his team’s best pitcher to close out the game: Clayton Kershaw.
Although he had pitched just two days prior, Kershaw told Roberts he was available to pitch if needed. Surely enough, Roberts went to his ace starting pitcher to clinch a series victory. Kershaw retired Daniel Murphy and his .438 series average for the second out. Immediately after, he struck out Wilmer Difo to clinch the victory.
With the victory, the Dodgers will head to Chicago for Saturday’s Game 1 of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. By far the biggest question the Dodgers must answer before Game 1 is which starting pitcher will take the mound.
Roberts had to use Hill, Kershaw and Julio Urias in Game 5. While Urias was a starter during the regular season, Thursday’s game was his first appearance since starting on September 29th. It seems unlikely that Roberts will stretch him out now, especially after pitching two innings in Game 5.
Had Kershaw not pitched in Game 5, he could have been available for Saturday’s Game 1 on three days rest. However, assuming Kershaw’s availability on short rest is a stretch because he was on the DL from July 1st-September 9th. Stretching him out without full rest so soon could be detrimental to his health.
With Kershaw, Hill and Urias all likely unavailable, all signs point to Kenta Maeda starting on Sunday. Maeda pitching just three innings (63 pitches) during the Dodger’s Game 3 on Monday. Although he gave up four runs that outing, he will have had five days off in time for Game 1.
Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon announced Thursday that the Cubs will start Jon Lester Saturday night. Lester hasn’t pitched since Game 1 of the Cubs’ NLDS series (Friday, October 7th). When he takes the mound, it should be expected that he will be more than well-rested.
During the 2016 regular season, the Cubs went 4-3 against the Dodgers, outscoring Los Angeles 19-16. The Cubs took three of four games from the Dodgers at the end of May/beginning of June. The Dodgers would return the favor, though, taking two of three from the Cubs at the end of August.
While playing one another this season, the home team went 5-2, outscoring the visitors 25-16. Three of the seven games were decided by just one run, including two Dodgers’ victories during the August series. All in all, two solid squats will be facing off for a right to advance to the World Series.
As most people know, the Cubs haven’t been to a World Series since 1945 and haven’t won one since 1908. The Dodgers have had a painful handful of years themselves, however. The last time they advanced to a World Series in 1988 when they defeated the Oakland A’s 4-1.
The Cubs have had an excruciatingly painful number of years as a franchise when it comes to winning, clearly. At the same time, the Dodgers haven’t tasted victory in nearly thirty years themselves.
The NLCS will be a battle between two championship-hungry squads. Expect a fantastic series over the next week, with one team, finally ending their NL pennant drought.