Two things are perfectly clear as the Cubs and Dodgers head back to Wrigley for Game 6 of the NLCS. First, the Cubs hitters are no longer in a slumber. They are back. They are dialed in and they aren’t missing mistakes. Second, the Dodgers bullpen, the unit that helped propel this team past the Giants to win the National League West, is spent. They have nothing left. The chamber is empty. Aside from Kenley Jansen the Dodgers pen looks and is pitching like a tired bunch.
The signs are all there. Missing with strike one. Missing with location. Hanging breaking balls, leaving sliders up. Almost everyone in the pen is doing it. Grant Dayton, Baez, Stripling, Avilan and most importantly, Joe Blanton. The Dodgers are getting beat on 0-2 counts way too much and it has resulted in the biggest hits of the series for Chicago.
The Dodgers starters in Games 4 & 5 only lasted three and two-thirds innings. The result is a lot of work for the Dodgers pen. While we couldn’t expect the 20 year-old Julio Urias to go deeper than the three-plus he went, the mistakes he made in giving up back-to-back hits on 0-2 counts were debilitating. No Dodger fan is worried long-term about Urias. He started the game out of necessity since the Dodger brass felt Brett Anderson and Brandon McCarthy were the answers to the Dodgers rotation woes, but we’ll get to that much later at a different time.
Kenta Maeda pitched well tonight, but throwing 76 pitches in only 3.2 innings isn’t ideal. His stuff really doesn’t play if his command and location isn’t impeccable. Against an average team he can survive, but these are the 103-win Cubs. They don’t have weaknesses and they pound mistakes. So, when Maeda misses a spot, or falls behind, its curtains.
The Cubs have found their stroke. The slumps of Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell are now a thing of the past. Javier Baez is getting good swings and the Cubs don’t seem to have weaknesses heading to Game 6. But, the Dodgers do have hope.
That hope rests on the shoulder of Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, pitched 7 innings of 2-hit shut-out baseball in Game 2. The Dodgers will lean on Kershaw to keep them in the game, try to grind out some runs and get them to a Game 7. If the Dodgers can get the series to Game 7 they would send Rich Hill to the mound against Jake Arrieta. This is the match-up where the Dodgers scored six runs, chased Arrieta after five innings and won the game going away 6-2. It seems inconceivable but the Dodgers would be happy with this match-up, even on the road, and even against the reigning Cy Young Award Winner.
The Dodgers and Kershaw have been here before. In 2013 they were down 3-games-to-2 to the Cardinals and had Kershaw on the mound. He struggled and was eventually lit up against the Cardinals. This feels so much different. Kershaw is throwing the ball better. he is better. He will pitch with a full complement of rest and this Dodgers team is tougher. There isn’t a better guy Dodger fans would want on the mound with the season hanging in the balance.
As rough as Games 4 & 5 were for the Dodgers, Dave Roberts made the right decision making sure Kershaw and Hill were fully rested. Here we go, either the Dodgers will upset the heavily favored Cubs, winning two at Wrigley to keep this amazing ride alive, or the Cubs will win the National League pennant for the first time since 1945.
I need rest. We all need rest. Saturday will be here soon