The Cubs are four wins away from playing in their first World Series since 1945 and are eight away from winning it all for the first time since 1908. The opening-day favorites took three of five from the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series by using a dominant rotation and late-inning heroics to advance to play the Los Angeles Dodgers in the best-of-seven NL Championship Series.
The Dodgers are also looking to end a World Series drought. The NL West champions haven't been to the Fall Classic since Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser led the underdog club to a ring in 1988. This time around the Dodgers will be long shots yet again, not only because they are facing the Cubs but because of the use of key pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, whom pitched past their comfort zone in the Game 5 NLDS clincher over the Washington Nationals. Their availability and effectiveness will be a question mark early in the series beginning Saturday in Chicago.
Here's what you need to know about the NLCS.
Game 1: Dodgers at Cubs, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 — Kenta Maeda (16-11, 3.48 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44 ERA).
Game 2: Dodgers at Cubs, Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 — *Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69 ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA).
Game 3: Cubs at Dodgers, Tuesday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 — Jake Arrieta (18-8, 3.10 ERA) vs. *Julio Urias (5-2, 3.39 ERA).
Game 4: Cubs at Dodgers, Wednesday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1 — John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) vs. *Rich Hill (12-5, 2.12 ERA).
Game 5 (if necessary): Cubs at Dodgers, Thursday, 8 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1
Game 6 (if necessary): Dodgers at Cubs, Saturday, Oct. 22, time TBA on Fox Sports 1
Game 7 (if necessary): Dodgers at Cubs, Sunday, Oct. 23, time TBA on Fox Sports 1
Players to watch
The heart of the order for the Cubs has been flat line thus far in the playoffs as 3-6 hitters Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Addison Russell, and Jason Heyward are a combined 6 for 58 (.103) with 13 strikeouts. Rizzo, along with fellow MVP candidate Kris Bryant, are the first Cubs duo with 75 extra-base hits in the same season since 1930.
Chicago's Game 1 starter Jon Lester hurled eight shutout innings in his lone start against the Giants in the NLDS, retiring his final 13 batters. The southpaw will face a Dodgers lineup that ranked last in batting average (.213) against left-handed pitching. Lester held the Dodgers to one run in 15 innings over two starts this season, including a four-hitter in June. Game 2 starter Kyle Hendricks was 9-2 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 home games this year.
Did Clayton Kershaw finally have his signature October moment when pitching a two-out save in Game 5 of the NLDS? The Dodgers hope the save helps buck a negative playoff trend for the three-time Cy Young Award winner. Kershaw is 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 playoff games (12 starts). Julio Urias (and his sneaky pickoff move) are since 5-0 with a 1.90 ERA since the All-Star break.
Yasmani Grandal, Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Joc Pederson gave the Dodgers four players with 25 or more home runs during the regular season for just the fourth time in franchise history. Turner and Pederson went a combined 2 for 44 against Chicago in this year, however.
This will be the third overall meeting of the season between the Cubs and Dodgers and first playoff meeting since the 2008 NLDS (Dodgers won 3-0). Chicago took the seasons series from Los Angeles this year, 4-3, although did not face Clayton Kershaw in any of the seven games.
The Cubs hit just .200 in the NLDS, the lowest of the eight MLB teams to complete in that round. The Dodgers hit .226.
In addition to setting a new MLB record with 1,510 strikeouts during the regular season, Dodgers pitchers finished among the major league leaders in ERA (3.70, 5th), opponents’ batting average (233, 2nd), WHIP (1.19, 2nd) and shutouts (15, T-1st).
The Cubs won a MLB-best 103 games in the regular season. Of the last 27 teams with at least 100 wins in the regular season, only two went on to win the World Series (Yankees in 1998, 2009).