The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs return to action on Sunday for Game 2 of the National League Championship Series with a stellar pitching matchup featuring Clayton Kershaw against Kyle Hendricks. 

Kershaw has been a true horse for the Dodgers so far in the postseason, pitching three times against the Washington Nationals in the division series. 

The Cubs got back to work on Saturday night in front of a raucous Wrigley Field crowd hoping to see the franchise make its first World Series appearance since 1945. 


Dodgers Key to Game 2: Ride the Horse

The narrative around Kershaw in October has been one of failure in the past, though his postseason resume doesn’t jive with that convenient story. He’s had bad games that have ballooned his ERA, sure, but virtually every other stat looks like what you’d expect from the best pitcher in baseball. 

Kershaw has already given the Dodgers everything they could possibly hope for this postseason. He threw a total of 211 pitches in two starts against the Nationals on just three days of rest, then came in for a two-out save in the decisive Game 5 with one day of rest. 

The good news for the Dodgers is Kershaw will essentially be starting this game on regular rest. He only needed seven pitches to close out the game on Thursday, which basically equates to a light bullpen day. 

Even though Kershaw‘s injured back during the regular season likely cost him a shot at the Cy Young Award, it may have indirectly been beneficial for the Dodgers in the postseason. He was only able to make 21 starts covering 149 innings in the regular season. 

In those previous years when Kershaw has struggled in the postseason—most notably 2013 and 2014 against the St. Louis Cardinals—he made a combined 60 starts covering 434.1 innings. It’s hardly a surprise that he hit a wall by mid-October. 

Per ESPN Stats & Info, there was one common denominator in the Dodgers’ three victories against the Nationals:

The Dodgers pitching staff is a mess right now. Kershaw is the one sure thing. Rich Hill is an effective starter, but continuing to start him on short rest with his long injury history is asking for trouble. Everything behind those two is essentially manager Dave Roberts praying for four solid innings. 

It’s a formula similar to what the Cleveland Indians are working with, except Roberts doesn’t have the bullpen depth Terry Francona has to play with. Closer Kenley Jansen is brilliant, but the gap to get from starter to him has been a problem in the playoffs. 

For instance, Kershaw was charged with five runs in Los Angeles’ Game 4 win over the Nationals. He left the game with a 5-2 lead and the bases loaded before Pedro Baez and Luis Avilan allowed those three runs to score and tie the game.

Ultimately, the Dodgers will have to keep using Kershaw as much as possible if they want to shut down a Cubs team that led all of Major League Baseball with 103 wins during the regular season and features a relentless offensive attack that can strike at any time. 


Cubs Key to Game 2: Patience is a Virtue

There are really no weaknesses to the Cubs in 2016. They finished in the top three in runs scored, OPS, ERA, shutouts, opponent batting average, opponent OPS and WHIP. 

Per Sam Miller of, this year’s Cubs have a strong claim as the best defensive team in MLB history:

The Cubs have converted 74.5 percent of balls in play into outs this year, which is what Baseball Prospectus calls Defensive Efficiency. (Rephrased: Opponents are hitting .255 on balls put in play against the Cubs.) That’s not just the best in baseball this year. Adjusted for era, it might be the greatest defensive season ever, with the gap between the Cubs and the second-best team this year topping the spread between the next best and the 27th best.

That defense is a big reason why Hendricks will at least end up in the Cy Young conversation, if not become the second straight Cubs pitcher (Jake Arrieta) to win the award. His stuff doesn’t intimidate anyone with a fastball that averages 89.7 mph, per

But Hendricks is able to get away with the lack of velocity because his changeup is so good and the defense is able to convert so many of the ground balls hit into outs. 

Looking at all of those factors, there really doesn’t have to be one specific key for the Cubs to win any game in this series. 

Yet going up against Kershaw, the easiest way to earn a victory is knocking him out of the game early to get into that Dodgers bullpen. 

Taking pitches against Kershaw can lead to a lot of quick outs because he pounds the strike zone so well, but the Nationals were able to make him work in his two starts against them. He needed 101 pitches to finish five innings in Game 1. 

Roberts stuck with Kershaw for 110 pitches in Game 4 because he didn’t want to use his bullpen. The Cubs faced a similar situation in the division series against the Giants. 

Matt Moore held the Cubs in check for eight innings in Game 4, leaving with a 5-2 lead and seemingly on the verge of forcing a winner-take-all fifth game. But after Moore threw 120 pitches, Giants manager Bruce Bochy turned to his shaky bullpen and the Cubs woke up with four runs for a 6-5 win. 

Jansen is a vastly superior closer to Sergio Romo, but the Dodgers relievers and setup men have not given Roberts many reasons to feel confident so far this postseason. 

The sooner the Cubs can get Kershaw out of the game, the easier their path to victory will become. 


Series Prediction

Until the Cubs show that they aren’t the best team in baseball, there is no reason to bet against them. Fans and analysts can play up curses and 108 years of history all they want, but none of that is relevant to this collection of talent.

Most teams have one or two ways, at best, you can specifically point to for why they will win a game or series. The Cubs can win games in any fashion. They can win a slugfest with their offensive talent, a bullpen game with their deep stable of relievers or a low-scoring battle between two starting pitchers. 

The Dodgers’ formula is to get at least 25 great innings out of Kershaw, which will only happen if the series goes seven games, and hope Corey Seager, Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez hit like All-Stars. 

Prediction: Cubs in six

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