After splitting games 1 and 2 of the National League Championship Series with the Chicago Cubs, the Dodgers looked to come home to finish them off, or at least win 2 of 3. They were unable to accomplish either. Now the series shifts back to Chicago with the Cubs having a 3-2 series lead. The last two games have become must wins for the Dodgers. While the odds are definitely against them, they are still in a good position to win the National League pennant. The team needs to be firing on all cylinders in game 6 and 7.
To put themselves in the best position to win the series, the team needs do all of the following:
Kershaw and Hill need to throw at least 6 innings of quality baseball
It is obvious who the two best starters are on the Dodgers. Luckily for the team, both of those men will be throwing in the two must win games. While of course, the Dodgers must win game 6 to even get to a game 7, it is crucial that both men perform to their maximum potential. The team is yet to win a playoff game that was not started by Kershaw or Hill.
In games 2 and 3 (both Dodger victories), Kershaw and Hill performed phenomenally. Each holding the best team of the regular season scoreless. A repeated performance in games 6 and 7 would put the Dodgers in the drivers seat on the way to their first World Series in 28 years.
Clayton Kershaw has come up huge multiple times during this postseason. Whether it be dominating from the first pitch of the game, or coming out of the bullpen to finish it, the man is willing to do whatever it takes to win. He has shown he has no fear of pitching at Wrigley. He tossed 7 shutout innings in game 2 of the NLCS and at the time, completely threw the momentum toward Los Angeles. After tossing out the “Kershaw sucks in the postseason” narrative, another amazing start should completely destroy it.
If Rich Hill is in fact given the chance to send the Dodgers to the World Series, he will have to come up with a start just as good, if not better than Kershaw’s.
The offense has to score off of Hendricks and Arrieta early
All season long, the Dodgers offense has had periods of time where it goes missing. Obviously, they cannot afford for that to happen at any time over the next two games The Dodgers showed those struggles against Jon Lester in game 5. The team was the worst team in baseball in almost every offensive category when it came to facing left-handed pitching. The good news for games 6 and 7 is that both of the Cubs starters are right-handed. More good news is that the Dodgers have already beat BOTH of them in games 2 and 3. So in terms of starters facing the opposing team’s offense, the Dodgers have the obvious advantage.
The most important thing that the Dodgers can do in games 6 and 7 is to get their starters an early lead. The team has shown all season that they can hit right-handed pitching. It has carried over into the playoffs as they have managed to take down Scherzer twice, Hendricks, and Arrieta. If the Dodgers can attack the Cubs’ starters early and force Joe Maddon to have to make tough decisions on whether or not to use his bullpen, they will be in the best possible position.
The Cubs bullpen has been loaded with four left-handed pitchers. Joe Maddon specifically added another due to the known Dodger weakness. The Dodgers’ best opportunities to score will come against Hendricks and Arrieta, so they need to make sure they are taking advantage of it.
Do not be afraid to use Kenley Jansen at any point during the game
Kelley Jansen has already done way more than anyone could have expected this postseason. He appeared in four of the five NLDS games against the Nationals. Game 5 included his unbelievable 7th inning entrance where he pitched all the way into the 9th. With only two appearances in the first five games of the NLCS, Jansen will be well rested and ready to take the ball for as long as Dave Roberts will allow it.
Roberts has not yet shown hesitation to use Jansen at the most important times during a game, even if it is before the 9th inning. Sometimes the biggest at-bat of a game happens in the 7th or 8th. As long as Jansen is healthy and willing, he should be pitching as early and as long as possible for his team. He has shown that he is ready to take the role as relief ace, and drop his closer identity to get his team to the World Series.
Trust Dayton and Blanton to bridge the gap to Jansen
Before you get too angry after reading that headline, it must not be forgotten that Joe Blanton was the unsung hero of the entire Dodgers team this season. He finally gave the Dodgers a consistently good setup man that could get the ball to Jansen while holding a lead. He has been asked to completely jump out of his comfort zone this postseason, just like Jansen. And aside from two hanging sliders that he threw in games 1 and 5, he has not been bad at all. Roberts needs to hold trust in Blanton, or else he will be forced to use the less reliable Avilan, Stripling, and Baez.
Another extremely important asset to the bullpen is the left hander, Grant Dayton. Andrew Friedman did extremely well to acquire Dayton for such a little cost. He came up during the regular seasoned and performed better than anyone else in the bullpen for a good portion of the summer. He has continued to be a quality asset for Dave Roberts in the postseason. Aside from Jansen he is probably the most reliable relief asset that Roberts has to choose