Last season, many Chicago Cubs fans wanted the Mets in the NLCS over the Dodgers. The thinking? Avoid Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. That didn’t work out. But this team isn’t intimidated by him this year.
The Chicago Cubs enter the NLCS riding a wave of confidence. After being limited to just two hits through nine innings by the Giants Matt Moore, they rallied to clinch a trip to the LCS with a four-run ninth. The win didn’t just help avoid an extra game, it allowed the Cubs to set up Jon Lester for Game 1. The Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw struggled in his starts, although he did close out the series against the Nationals with a seven-pitch save a day later.
With that save, the Dodgers hopes were raised that Kershaw can turn the corner in a postseason history that has been less than spectacular. Overall it’s not been pleasant (3-6 with a 4.79 ERA overall), but it gets worse in the NLCS. He’s 0-3 in six games, three of those being starts. His ERA? A whopping 7.23. Dodgers’ fans are hoping to ride that Game 5 save to something more, but I doubt it.
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Kershaw’s good, but not untouchable
Kershaw has been one of the best pitchers in the game for the last six years. An All-Star in each of them, and twice a 20-game winner. The back issues this year kept him to just a 12-4 record, but he still posted a 1.69 ERA. But he’s just 5-3 against the Cubs in his career, and they missed him this time through. He’s beatable. Just like Madison Bumgarner.
It’s said–and should be–that baseball isn’t played on paper. There’s no telling who the next Bumgarner is going to be. But if I had to favor someone, it’s Jon Lester–not Kershaw. He’s been brilliant this season. And his Game 1 start against the Giants was one of his best. For every conversation about how Lester can’t hold runners, that’s been a non-issue all year. And against this Dodgers team that struggles to hit lefties? Potential greatness awaits.
No Greinke this year
With the “Kershaw factor” minimized, there’s less intimidation with the rest of the Dodgers staff. Kenta Maeda has only pitched seven innings once all year. A patient Cubs team could drive him out of the game early. Advantage Cubs. Julio Urias faced the Cubs twice this season, finishing 1-1 against him. In the first game against him, the Cubs touched him up for six runs (five earned) in a 7-2 win. He fared much better the second time around in a 5-2 win. He allowed just one run in six innings.
And then there’s Rich Hill. I always liked Hill. He won 11 games for the Cubs back in 2007. That still stands as the most in his career. He’s bounced around a lot in the last few years, but he seems to have found a niche to fill. In his last 24 games with three different teams, he’s posted a 14-7 record with a 2.00 ERA. He’s faced the Cubs once in his career. 2/3 of an inning, two strikeouts.
Whichever game Kershaw happens to start, most will look at it as a “turning point” in the series. But here’s what Cubs fans need to remember. Whether it be Game 2 or 3, Kershaw will be facing one of the best pitchers over the last two years. It’s Kyle Hendricks in Game 2 or Jake Arrieta in Game 3. Kershaw who?