Early on, the NLCS between the Cubs and Dodgers should play heavily towards pitching with the potential for some sneaky offense if it drags into five or six games. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up on Twitter: @DerekCarty. Things to Watch For and Consider
The Dodgers have strong pitching, but they’ll be easier to attack on days when Carlos Ruiz is catching instead of Yasmani Grandal. Grandal is the best pitch-framer in baseball while Ruiz is one of the worst.
Dodger Stadium is far and away the best pitchers’ park left in the playoffs
You’ll notice that Games 4 and 5 will boast summertime temperatures around 90 degrees in Dodger Stadium, but don’t let that fool you. Yes, it’s good for hitting, but this park will still play toward pitchers. That being said, on a two-game slate, it’s possible you can find some sneaky offense here.
There may be double-digit Wrigley winds ahead for each day this series will be in Chicago and, unlike in the NLDS, it appears that they will be influential. Forecasts call for strong winds blowing in for Games 1 and 2, and blowing out in Game 6. Wind forecasts can change, but the former should be great for pitching and the latter great for hitting.
The Cubs carried three catchers for the NLDS and will likely do the same again here. Pay attention to who is behind the plate on any given day. Miguel Montero and David Ross are great pitch-framers (Montero is actually elite) and would make Chicago pitchers more appealing, whereas Willson Contreras is below-average and would do the opposite.
The Dodgers have a good offense, but they’re extremely left-handed, which will bode well for a southpaw like Jon Lester. He’ll also have the benefit of favorable Wrigley winds in Game 1, which means he should be a great option -- and perhaps a sneaky one. As an added bonus, the Dodgers don’t have much speed to take advantage of his stolen base issues. A Game 2 starter hasn’t been announced yet, but it’s looking like it will be Kyle Hendricks if he’s healthy.
You prefer lefties like Lester against the Dodgers, but the strong winds blowing in from dead center in Game 2 will make him a viable option, regardless. As with Hendricks, Jake Arrieta doesn’t match up particularly well with the Dodgers offense, but he’ll get to face them in Dodger Stadium, which will be far preferable to the Rogers Centre, which is where two of the other pitching options will be working that day. Plus, he’s a legitimate ace getting paired up on a slate with Cleveland and Toronto’s fourth starters. I’ll say what I said in the NLDS: Even after six months of the season, I’m still a bit skeptical of John Lackey. Simply put, 37-year-old pitchers just don’t post career years and sustain that level of success. They just don’t. Dodger Stadium will help, but righties struggle against the Dodgers, and Lackey is no Arrieta or Hendricks in terms of talent. Plus, this will be when the ALCS wraps back around to Game 1 starters.
You won’t really want to attack Dodgers pitching too much, but given how many lefties they have, Kris Bryant could prove to be a sneaky option (and perhaps the only Cubs hitter in play on those days). Despite having “a good wOBA against lefties this year” -- something many refer to, but is actually a terrible way of evaluating this sort of thing -- Anthony Rizzo does not profile well against the Dodgers lefties. However, you could make a case for him against Kenta Maeda. Dexter Fowler will be an intriguing option, in GPPs at the very least, against Rich Hill. As much as I love Hill as a pitcher, he really struggles to prevent stolen bases. In a game that should project to be very low-scoring, I’d expect Joe Maddon to try and squeeze out runs any way he can.
Clayton Kershaw has a 4.79 ERA in 77 career postseason innings. If anybody tries to use that as reasoning for fading Kershaw in cash games, feel free to mock them endlessly and never listen to any advice they give about MLB ever again. The sample is tiny compared to the larger sample of dominance throughout his career, not to mention the 11.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in those same playoff innings. He’s the best pitcher in baseball, and it’s not close. Between favorable Wrigley wind and Dodger Stadium, whenever Kershaw ends up starting -- his status is a bit up in the air after he closed out Game 5 of the NLDS -- he’ll be a must-play in cash games.
Rich Hill didn’t get the long leash in the NLDS that I expected, so we’ll have to factor that in, but he’s still one of the top options from a talent standpoint left in the playoffs, especially when throwing to Grandal. His already huge strikeout upside gets even larger facing the Cubs. Kenta Maeda’s less-than-elite strikeout rate will be boosted by the Cubs, and he could be a viable SP2 option if his price slips under $9,000. The Dodgers have been willing to go to their bullpen early in games this postseason, but on a two-game slate, that’s a risk you may have to take, especially when the environment tilts so heavily toward pitching. It’s unclear who the Dodgers fourth starter will be, but the smart money is on Julio Urias, who was discussed as an option for Game 5 of the NLDS before Hill ultimately got the nod. He has big swing-and-miss stuff and usually comes with an affordable price tag, which means he could be a lock as your SP2 in whichever game he starts.
On whatever day John Lackey pitches, you’ll want to load up on Dodgers bats. Corey Seager will be close to a must-play as the most talented shortstop in the playoffs, perhaps in all of baseball, and he’ll be worth whatever you have to pay for him. Yasmani Grandal is the most talented hitting catcher left in the playoffs, and it’s not even close. Conditions won’t be favorable for hitting, but if he’s at all reasonably priced, he’ll be a guy to consider frequently.
The Cubs have a bunch of pitchers who are horrible at preventing steals (Lester, Arrieta, and Lackey) and two catchers (Montero and Ross) who are favorable to run on as well. Unfortunately, the Dodgers don’t have much speed to take advantage, but Andrew Toles could be sneaky in this regard. If either draws a start, perhaps Yasiel Puig or even Howie Kendrick could be sneaky as well. Even against strong right-handed pitching, Chase Utley could be a solid second base punt on a two-game slate. He’s still a decent enough hitter and is often listed at dirt-cheap prices in these types of matchups.