Dodger Stadium should be rocking this weekend as the Dodgers play the Chicago Cubs in a possible first round playoff series matchup. The Cubs boast baseball’s best record while the Dodgers are riding high on the coattails of their run to the division lead. Let’s break down the upcoming series position-by-position (all stats are heading into Wednesday’s action).
The Dodgers starting staff has become the “who’s who?” of Major League Baseball. The only real consistent starting hurler has been Kenta Maeda, who has gone an impressive 13-7 with a 3.37 ERA for the club in 2016. However beyond him, there isn’t much to look forward to. Scott Kazmir has been wildly inconsistent and is now headed to the DL to join a slew of other starters including Clayton Kershaw. And speaking of Kershaw, with the ace still out the Dodgers are missing a significant piece to make this a closer battle.
The Cubs staff on the other hand has become the best in baseball. The quartet of; Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammels and Kyle Hendricks have won a combined 54 games, which is by far the most in the majors. Perhaps the Dodgers one saving grace is that the Cubs starters aren’t quite as good on the road as they’ve been at home. Even still, this one isn’t close.
The Dodgers have asked a lot of their relief core all season, and with the injuries piling up they will continue to do so. Fortunately, the bullpen has responded like champions. Dodgers all-time saves leader Kenley Jansen (1.89, 36 saves) anchors a staff that have the second lowest bullpen ERA (3.25) in the National League. Adam Liberatore (1.50), Joe Blanton (2.43), Pedro Baez (3.64), and Louis Coleman (3.70) have been major contributors to pen’s success.
Not nearly as much has been asked this year of the Cubs’ relief pitchers, as the Chicago relief core has thrown 84 fewer innings than the Dodgers. Their bullpen is a respectable 3.71 which is the middle of the pack in the National League. The acquisition of Aroldis Chapman (1.88, 28 saves) to anchor the bullpen was a huge plus, but still not enough.
After a slow start due primarily to injury, Yasmani Grandal has really come alive and is putting up some impressive offensive numbers. His 21 home runs lead all National League catchers and his .826 OPS ranks second.
The Cubs have divided time between David Ross (.239, 8, 27) Wilson Contreras (.270, 7, 25) and Miguel Montero (.197, 5, 24). The trio has done an adequate job, with Contreras taking over the bulk of the action lately. However they still don’t come close to the production provided by Grandal.
Perhaps Adrian Gonzalez is finally showing signs his power numbers are improving with the offensive output he provided in Cincinnati on Monday. His numbers (.326, 8, 29) post all-star break are significantly better than his production in the first half. Gonzalez has gotten hot at the right time and is a major reason the team has climbed into first place.
Anthony Rizzo (.298, 25, 87) has quickly vaulted himself into one of the top offensive players in baseball, and is going to garner major consideration for National League Most Valuable Player (MVP). He and Gonzalez have similar batting averages, but Rizzo has the advantage in all power categories.
Chase Utley has done far more than the Dodgers could have ever expected. His leadership on and off the field has been vital to the team’s success this season. His .266 average leading off is a huge improvement over the team’s .231 average from the same spot in the lineup a year ago.
Similar to Utley, Ben Zobrist was an important offseason signing for the Cubs because of the veteran leadership he provides. His offensive numbers (.282, 14, 64) are slightly better than Utley’s (.262, 11, 41), so Zobrist gets the nod here.
Corey Seager (.324, 22, 61) is having the best offensive season of any shortstop in Dodger history. The 2016 all-star is the favorite for Rookie of the Year honors and will reap some MVP consideration with the dynamic season he has delivered to the injury plagued Dodgers.
Cubs’ all-star shortstop Addison Russell (.251, 19, 82) is putting up comparable power numbers to Seager but doesn’t have quite the batting average. His impressive 80 RBI total is highest among Nation League shortstops. The advantage still goes to Seager, but this battle is a lot closer than people think.
Justin Turner’s post all-star break numbers (.333, 10, 29) are extremely impressive. Turner’s 1.051 OPS after the break leads all major league third baseman. The imposing redhead has provided the Dodgers with a much-needed right handed bat to sandwich in between Gonzalez and Seager.
Kris Bryant (.300, 33, 86) boasts some pretty significant offensive numbers, and like Rizzo, will garner some consideration for league MVP. Although Bryant’s overall stats are better, Turner’s numbers after the break makes this one a little too close to call.
The Dodgers current outfield of Howie Kendrick (.273, 8, 34), Joc Pederson (.249, 18, 52), and Josh Reddick (.265, 8, 28) have done an adequate job with Dodger fans still expecting Reddick’s bat to come alive any day now. Similar to most Dodger hitters, Kendrick and Pederson have done much better after the break.
The Chicago outfield has been the team’s biggest disappointment this season. The trio of Dexter Fowler (.275, 10, 39) Jason Heyward (.225, 6, 34) and Jorge Soler (.238, 9, 24) have performed way below expectations.
The Dodgers have been able to plug in reserves in the wake of all the injuries almost seamlessly. A.J. Ellis, Trayce Thompson, Kike Hernandez and Scott Van Slyke are just a few of the many bench players who have made major contributions to the team’s success.
The Cubs have relied far more on their starting lineup than have the Dodgers. Chris Coglan, expected to be a huge contributor off the bench, has had an abysmal season and currently finds himself on the DL. Unlike the Dodgers, Chicago doesn’t have the quality reserve players to fill the void should one of their superstars go down.
Dave Roberts has taken the most injury plagued team in the history of baseball and guided them to the division lead in late August. And he has done this in his first year of managing. For this, he is the front-runner for 2016 Manager of the Year.
Joe Maddon is arguably the best manager in baseball. When managing the Rays he led the team with the lowest payroll to the division championship over juggernauts like the Red Sox and Yankees. Now he has one of the most talented teams and has guided them to the league’s best record. Roberts might be the Manager of the Year this season, but Madd0n has been one of baseball’s best skippers for the past ten years.
It will be a playoff type atmosphere at Chavez Ravine this weekend as the Dodgers embark on a true test to see if they can compete with the team with baseball’s best record. Both clubs were ousted in last season’s playoffs by the New York Mets and are seeking redemption.