The Chicago Cubs sit tight in the heart of middle America, their ticket to baseball’s National League Championship Series already punched. After disposing of the rival St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Division Series, all there is to do now is wait to find out which coast they will be visiting. Joe Maddon’s squad will learn the answer on Thursday night when the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets square off in a decisive Game 5 on Thursday night at Chavez Ravine.
The burning question: who would the Cubs rather face in the NLCS?
"It doesn't matter," Cubs ace Jake Arrieta told the Chicago Tribune. "Two great cities. We know the energy is going to be great either in LA or New York, and obviously in Chicago."
On the surface, it would seem obvious that Chicago would rather face the Mets. Although it’s a small sample, the Cubs won all seven matchups during the regular season, outscoring New York 27-11. And Chicago had their way with rookie Noah Syndergaard and ace Jacob deGrom in their two starts against them.
But a deeper look suggests the Cubs shouldn’t be so eager to play Terry Collins’ squad. The most obvious reason is rotation depth. With New York boasting deGrom (14-8, 2.54 ERA), Syndergaard (9-7, 3.24 ERA) and Matt Harvey (13-8, 2.71 ERA), along with either Steven Matz (4-0, 2.27 ERA) or Bartolo Colon (14-13, 4.13 ERA), there won’t be a starter for the Cubs bats to feast on. “The Big Three” could start six of a possible seven NLCS games. Capable arms sit in the Mets bullpen and in the back end. Closer Jeurys Familia, who tied the Mets record for saves in a single season with 43, is joined by Tyler Clippard, and Sean Gilmartin.
While Chicago’s dominance over New York may provide confidence, both series took place before July 4, when the Mets were suffering through hard times with their bats. The additions of Yoenis Cespedes, Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Conforto, David Wright and a bolstered bench have reversed the Mets run production. The Mets, who were 41-41 on July 4, would win 49 of their next 80 games. Indeed, this is a much different Mets roster.
On the other side, the Cubs were 3-4 against Los Angeles. Zack Greinke, a frontrunner for the Cy Young, will have no choice to pitch on Tuesday for Game 3 since he pitches on Thursday night against the Mets. Greinke had one outing against the Cubs, and shut them out over six innings. Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young winner, looked sharp against the Mets, and appears to have shaken off his postseason demons. Against Chicago this year, Kershaw gave up four runs over 15 innings while striking out 23 batters. He would have to pitch on three days of rest to start Game 1.
While the Mets have pitching depth, the Dodgers are thin beyond Greinke and Kershaw. The Dodgers would need to rely on the likes of Brett Anderson or Alex Wood, who were both beat up by the Mets in Game 3. Don Mattingly may have no choice but to bring on Mike Bolsinger or Carlos Frias – two pitchers that didn’t make the 25-man NLDS roster. It may be a crucial advantage to Chicago to play the Dodgers considering Maddon can set starters however he chooses, while Mattingly would be forced to use spare parts in Game 2 and have Kershaw pitch on short rest. Since Los Angeles has won games more with their arms than their bats (second fewest runs of any playoff team), it’s imperative that Mattingly gets the most out of his staff. Beyond Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, and perhaps the resurgence of Chris Hatcher, the bullpen is a weak spot.
The Cubs are probably better off playing the Dodgers simply due to a lack of a reliable No. 3 and No. 4 starter, and questionable depth in the pen. But the Dodgers are not exactly a pushover, as the Mets have learned after four games.
NLCS Game 1 – Saturday, Oct. 17 Cubs @ Dodgers or Mets @ 6:30 p.m. CT
NLCS Game 2 – Sunday, Oct. 18 Cubs @ Dodgers or Mets @ 6:30 p.m. CT
NLCS Game 3 – Tuesday, Oct. 20 Dodgers or Mets @ Cubs (Wrigley Field) (Time TBD)
NLCS Game 4 – Wednesday, Oct. 21 Dodgers or Mets @ Cubs (Wrigley Field) (Time TBD)
NLCS Game 5* – Thursday, Oct. 22 Dodgers or Mets @ Cubs (Wrigley Field)
NLCS Game 6* – Saturday, Oct. 24 Cubs @ Dodgers or Mets
NLCS Game 7* – Sunday, Oct. 25 Cubs @ Dodgers or Mets