The 2016 Major League Baseball playoffs are nearing an end, and the Chicago Cubs are seeking to clinch their first World Series berth since 1945 with a victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday. 

The Cubs are on the cusp of fulfilling the promise they showed during the regular season when they won an MLB-best 103 games, though they will have to do something no one has been able to do this postseason: beat the Dodgers in a game started by Clayton Kershaw.

Fortunately, the Cubs have the luxury of playing at home in front of what’s sure to be a raucous and passionate crowd in Wrigley Field and the knowledge they have two chances to win one game. 

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Indians sucked some drama from the American League by reaching the World Series with a 7-1 combined record against the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays. They wrapped up the AL title on Wednesday, giving them five days to rest before hosting the Fall Classic on Tuesday. 

Before moving ahead, let’s look back at how the three teams still playing for a championship have arrived at this point. 


LCS Results


Cleveland’s Unique Path

It’s fitting that this Cleveland team has overcome injuries and adversity in October because the season started with significant questions about the offense as a result of All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley’s shoulder. 

Brantley was limited to 11 games during the regular season before his shoulder flared up, requiring another surgical procedure in August.

September looked like a nightmare month for the Indians, despite them never losing their grip on first place in the American League Central. Danny Salazar’s arm flared up, and he hasn’t pitched since September 9. Carlos Carrasco’s season ended on September 17 due to a broken pinkie following a liner off the bat of Ian Kinsler. 

Yet that September 17 game helped set the stage for what MLB fans saw in Game 3 of the ALCS. On that day against the Detroit Tigers, eight relievers combined for 10 shutout innings in a 1-0 win. 

Trevor Bauer was forced out of Game 3 against the Blue Jays after recording two outs due to the stitches breaking on his pinkie. Manager Terry Francona used six pitchers to get the final 25 outs in a 4-2 win for a commanding 3-0 series lead. 

Cleveland made history in that game, with ESPN’s Cristian Moreno providing this statistical nugget:

While Cleveland’s entire relief corps has opened a lot of eyes this postseason, the unit is being led by the dominating effort of ALCS MVP Andrew Miller. 

Richard Justice of provided Miller’s final stat line from the ALCS:

Because of the injuries to the Indians’ rotation, Francona has often relied on Miller and Cody Allen to record nine outs this postseason. 

Per Jared Carrabis of Barstool Sports, the combined numbers for Miller and Allen in eight playoff games for the Indians have been incredible:

They have needed the pitching staff to be that good because the lineup isn’t putting up gaudy numbers. In five games against the Blue Jays, Cleveland’s offense scored 12 runs on 25 hits, and seven of those runs came on six homers.

It’s easy to get away with little offensive production when the pitching staff has three shutouts in eight games, but the Indians will likely need more of a spark with the bat if they hope to capture the franchise’s first World Series since 1948. 

Of course, if Miller and Allen remain unhittable, the Indians could keep doing exactly what they have done through two playoff series. 


Dodgers vs. Cubs

The story of this year’s NLCS boils down to what the Cubs have done against Dodgers pitchers not named Kershaw, Rich Hill and Kenley Jansen. 

Los Angeles’ Big Three has combined to allow five hits, three walks, no runs with 18 strikeouts in 16.1 innings this series. In three games the Dodgers have lost thus far, their pitching staff has given up 35 hits and 26 runs. 

Kershaw continues to change the (ludicrous) narrative about his inability to pitch in the postseason based on what he was able to do against the Cubs in Game 2.

Unfortunately for Kershaw, because the Dodgers are staring elimination in the face, no one will remember that brilliant effort if he doesn’t duplicate it on Saturday night. 

When the Cubs went down 2-1, there was talk of an offensive slump that were nearly as ludicrous as those previous narratives about Kershaw. Everything gets heightened in the postseason, but judging baseball teams on any two-game stretch is insane because it’s a game built on peaks and valleys. 

Peter Gammons of also helped illustrate why the Cubs were unable to hit in Games 2 and 3:

They didn’t hit against Kershaw and Hill because no one hits against that duo. That’s not an exaggeration, as both left-handers hold opponents to a sub-.200 batting average, per FanGraphs.

The Cubs aren’t lacking in the pitching department. Jon Lester gave them the edge in the series with seven brilliant innings of work in Game 5, in which he allowed five hits and one run with six strikeouts. 

Of course, as noted by Christopher Kamka of Comcast SportsNet Chicago, Thursday’s outing from Lester has been par for the course since the All-Star break:

The Dodgers don’t figure to see Lester again in this series, though Cubs manager Joe Maddon could opt for an all-hands-on-deck approach if it goes to a seventh game on Sunday. 

Kyle Hendricks will start Game 6, with Jake Arrieta ready for Game 7 if necessary. Hendricks was the hard-luck loser against Kershaw in Game 2, with his only mistake in 5.1 innings being a solo homer from Adrian Gonzalez. 

Hendricks didn’t look sharp in that outing with four walks, but he worked around them by allowing just three hits and striking out five. 

One thing that works to the Dodgers’ advantage is they don’t have to face a left-handed starter. Their team OPS was 150 points higher against right-handed pitching (.772) than left-handed pitching (.622) this season, per

With Kershaw on the mound in Game 6, the Dodgers don’t have to light up the scoreboard to keep their season alive. They just need to find a way put the Cubs in an early hole that leaves them searching for runs against the best pitcher in baseball. 

Odds are firmly in the Cubs’ favor right now, but the Dodgers’ pitching lines up perfectly to give them a shot at challenging Cleveland for the World Series. 

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