After a monumental game five win against the Washington Nationals, the Los Angeles Dodgers shift their attention to baseball’s best team, Chicago Cubs. The Cubs finished the regular season with an MLB best 103 wins and got past the Giants in four games. It’s been a while since either team has been to the World Series (Dodgers 1988 & Cubs 1945), but this year marks the second consecutive NLCS appearance for the Cubs.
Despite riding high on momentum, the Dodgers find themselves as underdogs to advance to the World Series. The Cubs are currently a 60 percent favorite to advance including being a 7/5 favorite to win the World Series according to CBSSports. But that’s not unfamiliar territory for the Dodgers as the Dodgers have been counted out all season long.
Many of you may recall when Clayton Kershaw went down and missed two months of the season, every analyst on TV was counting the Dodgers out to make the playoffs, let alone advance to the NLCS. So the Dodgers are comfortable with being underdogs and the club embraces playing in the underdog role.
This season has been a series of adversities with injuries, starting pitching woes, and has meant mixing and matching starting lineups. After all that, what everyone expected to be a disastrous team turned into MLB’s most versatile team that is now playing with a chip on their shoulder.
Players we’re asked about being underdogs in the NLCS and the clubhouse showed a great deal of veteran presence and poise.
- “Listen, we’re going to be underdogs this whole playoffs. Nobody believed that we were going to be winning the division. People forgot about us. When Kersh went down, everybody thought the Dodgers were out. So we’re going to fight, I like being the underdog.” – Kenley Jansen
- “We have a good chance with this team. We’ve persevered through a lot. We’ve put ourselves in a very good position. The Cubs are one of the best lineups in baseball but we’re down to the final four teams. We’re one of the teams, a team that has something to prove everytime we go out.” – Rich Hill
The fact is Hill is right. The Dodgers are one of the final four teams left to win the World Series and not one of the other teams have persevered through the season the way the L.A. has. Which gives the team extra motivation to continue to shock teams. In a sense, after the tumultuous season the Dodgers have had, they have become the true definition of an underdog. Something that wasn’t expected from a team with a 200 million dollar payroll.
In baseball, being an underdog doesn’t necessarily count you out. The fact that the Cubs were the best regular season team is only an advantage for them because they get home field advantage until the World Series. But research suggest that the team to finish with the best regular season record only has a 19 percent success rate of reaching the World Series. With the 2013 Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals being the latest outlier in which both No. 1 teams advanced to the World Series.
The Cubs come in as favorites because they’re MLB’s sexiest team with young star-power talent and MLB’s most legendary curse. Their NLCS roster is very young, the team only has five (positional) players over 30 years old. Although the Cubs got through the NLDS in four games, their star powered offense really struggled hitting a mere .200 with an OBS of less than .300. Their pitchers accounting for 6 of the 17 RBIs and the series could have gone to game five should the Giants bullpen had been able to maintain a lead. This is the team’s second consecutive playoff appearance so where they have an excess of talent, lack experience. The Dodgers are fortunate to have a good mixture of both young talent and veteran clubhouse presence.
The two teams are hungry to advance to the World Series so motivation is there for both teams. During the regular season the Cubs won four of seven games, but also managed to avoid facing Maeda, Kershaw and Hill, three of our four prospective starters. Both teams have top bullpens and have a surging offense since the All-Star break so it’s tough to see why everyone has the Cubs as such large of a favorite. The truth is, this is baseball and October baseball is unpredictable.
Andrew Friedman has familiarity with the Cubs manager, Joe Maddon. Maddon was the manager when Friedman was working in the front-office in Tampa Bay. So there’s an edge to be had with the Dodgers front office in terms of game management. Friedman now has Dave Roberts, who in his first-year as a manager looks to follow Tommy Lasorda’s footsteps when he led the underdog Dodgers to the World Series in 1988. Both managers love to utilize all players on the roster so we may be in store for a long series with several double switches and pitching changes.
Let’s not forget that history is on the Dodgers side. The Cubs 108-year World Series drought is something the Cubs haven’t been able to shake for, well 108 years. So while many “experts” may proclaim this series to be one sided, the Dodgers actually prove to be more of a competitor than given credit.
Dave Roberts has said it multiple times this season, this team has the grit to make a deep postseason run. Roberts has proven in the NLDS, he’ll make the necessary controversial moves it takes to win. Friedman has produced a team that has a good balance of young talent and veteran leadership to overcome the crowd on the road and situations when trailing. The Dodgers clubhouse is poised to make an upset because the city need for success out weights the media expectation.
This team has seen it all from a 20-year old making his playoff debut to a 67-year legendary broadcasting career come to an end. Through all that’s happened this season, the Dodgers will show enough resiliency to prove doubters wrong if not for all that has happened this season, but to not be an asterisk in a season that could end a 108-year curse.