With Cleveland putting a bow on the American League pennant in five games last night, the NLCS moves to the center of attention with a best two out of three set up to determine the Indians’ World Series opponent. Before last night’s game, everyone was all worked up, not about the possibility of the Cubs being eliminated, but just pushed to the brink. They’re all relieved this morning, of course, but it does go to show you how sensitive the baseball world is about this team and how much pressure Joe Maddon’s players must be under.
But they’re good. They’re really, really good. And now Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta line up to face Maeda, Kershaw and Hill in what should be an emotional ride to the World Series. Game five is tonight from California.
The bookies have made the Cubs a considerable favorite to win on the road and take a lot of the drama out of the series tonight. A Chicago win would make the series 3-2 in favor of the team that goes home for the last two games of the series. An LA win would put the Cubbies on the brink of elimination for game six and a possible game seven back at Wrigley. But it isn’t the job of an oddsmaker to project drama.
No doubt, Jon Lester is the biggest reason why Chicago has a decided advantage tonight, regardless where the game is to be played. The big lefty had one of the finest seasons of his career in 2016 and he’s only been better in two playoff starts. Lester has allowed ten base runners in 14 innings that combine two game one starts – against the Giants and then these Dodgers. Opponents have hit .188 against him in those 14 innings and he’s struck out nine. Most importantly, Chicago has won both of the games he’s pitched. He only threw 77 pitches in game one five days ago, so fatigue shouldn’t be a problem for Lester. It would be surprising if he were anything but very good tonight.
Kenta Maeda and his rookie eligibility had people talking early in the regular season. But he began to decline, and then eventually plateau, as his workload mounted. As is often talked about, the work of a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball differs from one in Japan and more than a few observers wonder whether Maeda has had enough left down the stretch to succeed in the postseason. So far, he’s struggled in two starts – giving up seven earned runs in as many innings. He’s been hittable and has even walked five batters. The Dodgers entertained bringing Kershaw back in this spot, but they’ll save him for Wrigley Field and roll Maeda out one more time in the biggest game of their season. He’ll need everything he can muster tonight.
Consider this one a lean:
YTD: 36-25-1 +5.17
2015: 31-25-5 +1.09
2014: 45-28-3 +9.02