While the Cleveland Indians won the American League Championship Series in a quick five games, there is plenty of drama remaining in the National League showdown between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Chicago evened things up at two games apiece with a 10-2 victory in Wednesday’s Game 4, which means Thursday’s Game 5 is a crucial contest that will leave the victor a single win away from a World Series berth.

The Dodgers will want to avoid a 3-2 hole before the series shifts to Wrigley Field for Games 6 and possibly 7, while the Cubs will want to prevent a scenario where Los Angeles holds a 3-2 lead and gives the ball to the dominant Clayton Kershaw.

According to MLB.com, Thursday’s Game 5 starts at 8 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium and will feature Chicago’s Jon Lester squaring off with Los Angeles’ Kenta Maeda. The live stream is available on Fox Sports Go.


Game 5 Preview and Prediction

The Cubs bats woke up in Game 4 after finishing without a single run in their losses in Games 2 and 3. In fact, Chicago’s four runs in the fourth on Wednesday snapped a scoreless streak of 21 innings dating back to the eighth inning of Game 1.

Two key figures led the charge in a much-needed way.

Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell had a combined three hits in the entire playoffs before Wednesday’s contest, but they each blasted home runs in Game 4. Rizzo tallied three hits, three RBI and two runs, while Russell added three hits, two RBI and two runs.

Considering Rizzo was an MVP candidate almost all season with slash numbers of .292/.385/.544 with 32 home runs and 109 RBI, the Cubs need him to be a catalyst in this series. Mark Schanowski of Comcast SportsNet Chicago pointed out how important the slugging first baseman is to the Cubs’ title chances:

Rizzo, Russell and the rest of the Cubs offense will face Maeda in Game 5, but there was some question about whether Kershaw would start in the swing game. Manager Dave Roberts ended that speculation after Wednesday’s contest and said he would stick with Maeda, especially since “tomorrow is not an elimination game or a deciding game,” per Arash Markazi of ESPN.com.

However, Maeda has been a disaster in the playoffs for the Dodgers. He allowed four earned runs, five hits and two walks in three innings in his division series start against the Washington Nationals and followed that up with three earned runs, four hits and three walks in four innings in Game 1 of this series against the Cubs.

Chicago’s pitching situation is much more favorable for Game 5.

Manager Joe Maddon will go with Lester, who was one of the best pitchers in all of baseball this season with a 2.44 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 197 strikeouts in 202.2 innings. The Cy Young candidate has been even better in the postseason with just one run allowed in 14 innings and a 0.71 WHIP.

He should also be fresh after throwing just 77 pitches in six innings of work in Game 1 of this series. He allowed four hits and a single run and was a critical figure in Chicago’s 8-4 victory even though he didn’t get credit for the win after the bullpen blew his lead.

Pressure-packed moments are nothing new for Lester after pitching for the Boston Red Sox from 2006-14. He has 18 career postseason appearances in all with a sparkling 2.57 ERA and 1.03 WHIP.

The Cubs also have a fresh Aroldis Chapman after he wasn’t needed in Wednesday’s blowout victory.

The Dodgers may still win the series with Kershaw likely to start Game 6 and Rich Hill as the most realistic option for a potential Game 7, but Thursday’s matchup significantly favors the Cubs. Look for them to get to Maeda early once again and take a 3-2 lead to Wrigley Field with a chance to earn their first spot in a World Series since 1945.

Game 5 Prediction: Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

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