8:00 PM EST, FS1 – Money Line: Cubs -122, Run Line: 6.5
After a pitching gem in Game Two, the National League Championship Series shifts to the City of Angels, as the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Chicago Cubs in a pivotal matchup at Dodger Stadium. On the precipice of advancing to their first World Series since 1945, the Cubs (103-58, 1st in NL Central) look to get back on track after leaving Wrigley Field with a series split. On the heels of Game One’s dramatic Miguel Montero Pinch-Hit Grand Slam to take the lead, Joe Maddon’s charges received a splash of cold water to the face as Clayton Kershaw proceeded to neutralize their powerful Lineup. In Sunday Night’s 1-0 shutout loss, the hosts simply couldn’t find a way to hit a guy who has claimed three Cy Young Awards in a four-year span. The Lefty breezed through seven innings of labor, tossing just eighty-four pitches in that timeframe, yielding just a pair of hits with six strikeouts and a lone walk. However, it wouldn’t get any better for Chicago after the Ace left the mound, as the visitors went straight for the jugular as Closer Kenley Jansen arrived an inning early, throwing two scoreless innings relinquishing no hits or walks, while racking up a quartet of strikeouts. On the night, the home side was a miserable 2-for-29, striking out ten times and walking just once. That includes the powerful middle of the Order, consisting of Kris Bryant (.292 BA, 39 HR, 102 RBI), Anthony Rizzo (.292 BA, 32 HR, 109 RBI), Ben Zobrist (.272 BA, 18 HR, 76 RBI) and Addison Russell (.238 BA, 21 HR, 95 RBI), which combined for a whopping 110 home runs this season, was silent, going 0-for-13 from the plate with three strikeouts. With that said, Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.12 ERA) did his best to trade blows with the maestro, going 5.1 innings in which the Righthander struck out five, walked four, while serving up the game’s lone run, a solo homer to Adrian Gonzalez. However, their is plenty of optimism on the North Side of the Windy City, for after all, Kershaw can’t pitch every game, right? Indeed, the Cubs’ Rotation is one of the deepest in the Majors, with 2015 Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) headed to the Bump in this rubber match. After a dominant showing last season, in which he won twenty-two games with a miniscule 1.77 ERA, the 30-year old veteran has come back to the pack a bit, as his averages across the board have increased; experiencing problems with his control at times this season, Arrieta’s WHIP (1.084), Hits per Nine Innings (6.3), and Walks per Nine Innings (3.5) have all increased dramatically from 2015, while he threw a league-leading sixteen wild pitches through the course of his thirty-one starts. Granted, if it appears that we’re nitpicking we are, for quite frankly after last season, there was nowhere for him to go but down. Fortunately, he’s had no such problems in the Postseason of late, earning a No Decision as he went six solid innings in his only start of these Playoffs, yielding a pair of earned runs on six hits, with five strikeouts and a walk in what ended up being a 5-6 loss to the San Francisco Giants in the NLDS. The Righthander fared rather well against the Dodgers in his only meeting with them this season, allowing no runs on a pair of hits with eight strikeouts and four walks in seven innings of labor, though Los Angeles would have the last laugh in the end, rallying to a 5-0 victory way back on May 31st.
Meanwhile, with the NLCS shifting venues to the West Coast, the Dodgers (91-71, 1st in NL West) have to like their chances as they host the next two contests. They have proven (particularly in Game One) that they can hit Chicago’s pitching, and if not for a collapse in the Eighth Inning of that outing, Dave Roberts’ charges could very well be holding a two-game lead heading into tonight’s tilt. After all, there is plenty to be optimistic about in Los Angeles, even with the aforementioned Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA) resting after yet another herculean performance. Simply put, this particular team has been a peculiar one, for on paper they have left many scratching their heads. Coming into the season there was plenty of uncertainty; Don Mattingly was relieved of his duties as Manager, while they lost a major piece of their Rotation, Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA in 2015), in Free Agency. The majority of the 2016 campaign wasn’t much better, as Roberts and his Staff had to continuously tinker with their roster, as a whopping twenty-eight players landed on the Disabled List for various stretches (most by any team over the past thirty years), chief among them Kershaw, who missed over a month. As a result, the Dodgers made 216 roster transactions and fielded fifty-five players, which is tied for the most in franchise history. Hell, they even deployed fifteen different starting pitchers this season, prompting some to proclaim whether or not they even had a Rotation in the traditional sense, which is not indicative of a team knocking on the door of a World Series appearance. No, the best way to describe this group is that they’re survivors, who have somehow managed to sustain blow after blow over the past five months, but have nevertheless clawed their way to this point. Indeed, Roberts deserves a PHD in Crisis Management, for this team has actually been better since Kershaw initially went to the DL; Los Angeles was 41-36 before the Ace’s injury, but a much-improved 41-36 afterward. Another reason for optimism is Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA), who was one of the many starters to take the mound for the Dodgers in 2016. After being acquired from the Athletics at the trade Deadline, the veteran Lefthander needed some time to get healthy, but once he did he never looked back; in six starts with Los Angeles, the 36-year old quickly established himself as the team’s top Starter NOT named Kershaw, going 3-2 in six starts with a 1.83 ERA, while posting a 0.786 WHIP, and averaging 10.2 Strikeouts per Nine Innings with a sterling 7.80 Strikeout/Walk Ratio. He’s also come on in the Playoffs after a less-than-auspicious start; after yielding four earned runs on six hits over 4.1 innings in a Game Two loss to the Nationals in the NLDS, Hill redeemed himself in the decisive Game Five, striking out six Nationals and relinquishing a run in a brief 2.2 innings on short rest in the a game that featured practically every pitcher to ever put on a glove. If the Dodgers are going to return to the World Series for the first time since 1988, then this guy needs to continue to be the perfect complement to their ace, because if these two can pitch four to five times in a series, then maybe they don’t need a Rotation after all… in a traditional sense that is.
Predicted Outcome: Dodgers 4, Cubs 2