Go inside the numbers and matchups that will decide the showdown Saturday night between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, and then vote for which team will win at the bottom of the page.
What we learned in Game 5
The Cubs took a 3-2 NLCS lead by blowing open a 1-1 game via Addison Russell's two-run homer off Joe Blanton in the sixth inning; the Cubs later tacked on five runs off Pedro Baez before settling for an 8-4 victory. Cubs starter Jon Lester fired 80 fastballs out of his 108 pitches during seven strong innings, although closer Aroldis Chapman had another shaky outing, allowing two runs in the ninth. -- David Schoenfield
Inside the pitching matchup
When Clayton Kershaw is on the mound: If this game has a déjà vu feeling for Dodgers fans, it's because they were in this same spot in the 2013 NLCS against the Cardinals. Kershaw went out and had the third-worst game of his career by game score, giving up 10 hits and seven runs in four innings as the Cardinals cruised to a 9-0 victory to move on to the World Series.
As in that game, Kershaw will be working on five days' rest, as manager Dave Roberts refrained from pitching him on short rest in Game 5. Kershaw is coming off the first scoreless start of his postseason career -- he limited the Cubs to two hits in seven innings in Game 2. Pitch efficiency was a key in that start as he threw just 84 pitches and the Cubs took 18 pitches for strikes. It's noteworthy that Kershaw's two highest rates of fastballs thrown this year have come in the playoffs. He hit 61 percent in NLDS Game 4 against the Nationals and then again versus the Cubs.
In the regular season, his fastball rate was 51 percent as he threw his slider more than ever, 33 percent of the time. What makes that pitch so tough is that it ends up in the strike zone over 50 percent of the time. Hey, there's a reason he walked just 11 batters in 21 starts. Batters hit just .138 against his slider, and if he's commanding it to the inside part of the plate against right-handers, you may as well call it a night.
Is there any advantage for the Cubs, who will see Kershaw for the second time in the series? As Ben Lindbergh reports at The Ringer, the answer is no (at least since he's not pitching on three days' rest).
When Kyle Hendricks is on the mound: The major league ERA leader at 2.13, Hendricks ranked near the bottom of all starting pitchers in average fastball velocity, but nobody had a higher rate of first-pitch strikes than Hendricks' 68.4 percent. He pounds the zone and expertly changes speeds with a sinker, curveball, cutter and changeup. Everything is to the corners -- away to lefties, away to righties. No starter had a higher percentage of pitches on the outer half of the plate than Hendricks, with 62 percent of his pitches on the outer third of the strike zone. As a result, he led all starters in limiting hard contact (batters hit just .207 against him overall).
Hendricks' two postseason starts haven't gone quite as smoothly. Against the Giants in the NLDS, he had to leave after allowing two runs in 3⅔ innings when he was hit in the forearm by a batted ball. In NLCS Game 2 against the Dodgers, he worked around four walks in 5⅓ innings to escape with just one allowed. After throwing his fastball nearly 50 percent of the time in the regular season, he has cut way down on fastball usage in the playoffs, throwing it 27 percent of the time against the Giants and 39 percent against the Dodgers. Don't be fooled by the lack of velocity. His strikeout rate ranked 24th of 74 qualified starters, and batters hit .135 against the changeup and .164 against the cutter, as both had K rates of about 25 percent.
How will Joe Maddon manage this game? As good as Hendricks was in Game 2, the Dodgers are so bad against left-handers that Maddon may have a fairly quick hook and rely on southpaws Travis Wood and Mike Montgomery out of the bullpen. -- Schoenfield
Player in the spotlight
Player in the spotlight: Kris Bryant. The likely National League MVP is crushing it in the postseason (.343 AVG/.425 OBP/.571 SLG) with five doubles and one home run. He went 0-for-4 in Game 4 but does have one hit off Kershaw in his career -- a home run. -- Schoenfield
Did you know ...
In Game 2, Kershaw joined Jon Lester and Rick Sutcliffe as the only pitchers to toss seven scoreless innings in the postseason at Wrigley Field, with the Dodgers' ace the only visiting pitcher in that trio. -- ESPN Stats & Info
What will decide the game Saturday night
Can Kershaw continue his dominance? Kershaw recorded 14 straight outs to begin Game 2. The last Dodgers pitcher to record 14 straight outs to begin a postseason game was Sandy Koufax, in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series. Keep an eye on Kershaw's fastball usage. He threw a fastball on 60.7 percent of his pitches in Game 2, his second-highest rate this year (including the regular season). Cubs hitters went 1-for-16 with five strikeouts versus Kershaw's heater. During the regular season, the Cubs hit .293 vs left-handed fastballs, fourth-best in the NL, and slugged .520. But they have struggled vs. lefty heaters so far in the playoffs, hitting just .152 and slugging .266 against lefty heat. -- ESPN Stats & Info
Choosing sides: Who will win?
You want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That's what we say, anyway. I actually think a more common path is to avoid playing the best. The Cubs don't have that option: Kershaw is the best pitcher in the Alpha Quadrant. This postseason has given us every indication that he's on top of his game. Behind him, the Dodgers will have a rested Kenley Jansen. As great as Kyle Hendricks has been at Wrigley Field, I just don't see how you can pick against L.A. in this one. Whatever happens, Game 6 is going to be epic. -- Bradford Doolittle
The Cubs face the toughest of tasks Saturday as there is no better pitcher on the planet than Kershaw. The home team has a pretty good pitcher too, in the form of Kyle Hendricks, who led the NL in home ERA among qualified pitchers. The first matchup between the two in Game 2 lived up to its billing, but this time the script will be flipped as the Cubs will squeak out a run -- and prevail -- in another 1-0 affair. Next up: the World Series. -- Jesse Rogers
Clayton Kershaw is positioned perfectly to help the Dodgers stop some Cubs momentum in Game 6. Expecting him to deliver another scoreless outing is a little much, so support from his offense will be critical. If this has a familiar ring to it, it's because Kershaw helped stave off elimination in the NLDS to get his team to a winner-take-all contest. This time, he will pitch on regular rest and then some. -- Doug Padilla
Where the series stands
Where the series stands: Oh, nothing on the line here except the Cubs' first trip to the World Series since 1945. Roberts would probably prefer to go from Kershaw straight to closer Kenley Jansen and avoid a Joe Blanton situation. Maddon may empty his entire bullpen. I think the extra days of rest are going to help Kershaw. We're going seven. -- Schoenfield