The 2016 NLCS got off to a rousing start Saturday night as the Cubs blew a 3-1 eighth inning lead, only to go back up on a dramatic, two-out pinch-hit grand slam by Miguel Montero. Fireworks have already started in this matchup of regular-season powers, but expect less of that in Game 2.
In case you live under a rock, here is Montero’s home run from Saturday night:
Game 2 Pitching Matchup:
Clayton Kershaw vs. Kyle Hendricks
Kershaw has been a star for a while now. Hendricks is just bursting onto the scene but is a legitimate Cy Young candidate after posting the league’s lowest ERA this season at 2.13. While Hendricks pitches well at home, he could struggle against the Dodgers’ lefty-heavy lineup.
Meanwhile, the Cubs have enough depth to match up well against the Dodgers’ lefty ace. Outside of Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward, Joe Maddon will employ a lineup full of righties/switch hitters.
What’s At Stake:
Generally, Game 3 and Game 5 represent the biggest swing games in any series, because series’ are often tied 1-1 or 2-2. However, this game has the feel of a swing game given the fact the Dodgers have Kershaw going on short rest.
This puts pressure on both teams, because if the Cubs can’t get to the Dodgers ace, they will go on the road for three games in Los Angeles in a tied series, effectively taking away their home-field advantage. On the other hand, if the Dodgers come up short, they used Kershaw once and will have their backs up against the wall, down 2-0 in the series headed back home.
Every game is important in the playoffs, but this one has the feeling of a swing game. The winner has a distinct advantage in the series.
What We Learned in Game 1:
First of all, we learned this is going to be a great series. These two teams refuse to quit and one has to go home while watching the other go on to the World Series. That always makes for an intense, drama-filled series.
We also learned that Maddon should stop using closer Aroldis Chapman in the eighth inning. This season and postseason, he has allowed 10 of 17 inherited base runners to score. When he enters a clean inning, he is lights out. When he enters an inning with runners on base, not so much.
What really killed Maddon is the fact he used a pinch hitter for ace Jon Lester in the sixth inning. With a runner on second and two outs, the Cubs skipper decided to pull Lester in order to hit Jorge Soler. He failed to cash in and the Cubs were forced to go to their bullpen.
Due to that, Maddon had to use lefties Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery before the eighth inning. When Pedro Strop faltered and loaded the bases with nobody out, Maddon didn’t have many other lefty options outside of Chapman.
Rob Zastryzny was the only other lefty in the pen and he is not experienced enough for that high-leverage situation.
We also learned this series is going to be a managerial chess match. Maddon and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts were mixing and matching pitching match ups all series and made it truly feel like a National League contest. Expect more of the same going forward.
The Dodgers are desperate and they have their ace on the mound. Chicago also has a great pitcher on the mound, but they better hope the wind is blowing in. Hendricks pitches to contact and if the wind is blowing out, that could mean a few long balls.
Despite the fact each lineup matches up relatively well against the respective starters, their pedigree this regular season tells us it is likely to be a low-scoring game.
At the end of the day, the more desperate team generally wins games like this. That team is the Dodgers and they have the best pitcher on the planet on the mound. They barely outlast baseball’s best regular season team and head back home with a tied series.
Dodgers 3, Cubs 2.
[Featured Image by David J. Phillip/AP Images]