Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 NLCS preview

By Rick Morris

Chicago Cubs vs. Los Angeles Dodgers.  October curses have held up strongly through the LDS, with Cleveland and Washington left to lick their wounds for yet another winter.  Now the LA Dodgers try to add an exclamation point of legitimacy to what has been their only good stretch outside of the admittedly monstrous 1941-1988 run that compassed two cities, 16 of their 21 pennants and all six of their World Series titles.

Those Dodgers never went more than eight years without a pennant.  These Dodgers are in the NLCS for the fifth time in a decade and are still looking for their first pennant in that bunch.  That’s harder to do than you might think.  In the LCS era dating back to 1969, 10 teams went to the LCS five times in a decade or less, including the Dodgers.  NONE of them failed to not only make the World Series during that run, but failed to win it – so the stakes are high for Los Angeles to avoid becoming the first team ever to suffer that dubious distinction.  For the record, here are the previous teams that went to the LCS five times within a decade or less:

^ Orioles (1969-74)

^ Pirates (1970-75)

^ As (1971-75)

^ Reds (1970-76)

^ Dodgers (1974-81)

^ Yankees (1976-81)

^ Phillies (1976-83)

^ Blue Jays (1985-93)

^ Braves (1991-96)

^ Yankees (1996-2001)

The 2008-09 Dodgers admittedly seem distant from this team, with Andre Ethier serving as the only connective tissue, underscoring that this team has turned over significantly during this time period.  The 2009-13 years that bookended LCS losses saw an incredible amount of turnover, but at least to the fans and the media, the losses short of the World Series (including those in the LDS in 2014-15) all blur together.

As for the Cubs, their third consecutive NLCS appearance marks this as the greatest run in team history, especially with the ultimate achievement of that elusive world championship last fall.  With a still-young nucleus, even off of a year that was blanketed by a championship hangover until midseason, they would be considered more talented and deeper and thereby be favored over most other teams – but not the Dodgers, who have upgraded substantially since last fall’s loss – even without the loss of star shortstop Corey Seager for this round.

Almost all of the Dodger advantage in depth comes in pitching, in equal measure the starting rotation and the bullpen – although don’t rule out Chase Utley, who tormented this squad in 2008-09, sneaking in an impact moment.  They must fight the negative ripple effect of losing Seaver that plagued the Indians without Edwin Encarnacion in the ALDS (and a hobbled version of him in Game 5).

The best players on each team – Clayton Kershaw for LA, Anthony Rizzo/Kris Bryant for Chicago – will be challenged to step up, with Kershaw alone among the three really needing a great effort here for his legacy.  He’s undoubtedly the best pitcher of his generation, but no previous greatest hurler of a generation had to deal with a goose egg in terms of pennants.

Los Angeles does have the advantage of being well-rested against a disheveled foe coming in to meet them on short rest – the very scenario that helped them to surmount Arizona relatively easily in the LDS.  Just as importantly, their three lefty starters will put Kyle Schwarber on the pine quite a bit – just ask the Indians how important that can be.  The Dodgers have got to grab one of their first two, if not both of them, to avoid that “here we go again” feeling.  The guess is that they will, advancing to their first World Series in 29 years.  Dodgers in 6 (2-2 record through two rounds).

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