This year’s NLCS will be a rematch of last year’s matchup, when the Chicago Cubs outlasted the Dodgers in six games to win the N.L pennant, and eventually went on to claim their first World Series Championship in over 100 years.
This year, the Cubbies will be looking to repeat. The Dodgers will be looking for revenge.
Revenge can be sweet… if you get it.
After getting eliminated by the Philadelphia Phillies in the 2008 NLCS, the Dodgers had their chance at revenge a year later, when the two teams squared off again in the 2009 NLCS. They failed, however, getting knocked off in five games.
Five years later, the Dodgers had another chance for payback. This time, it was against the St. Louis Cardinals, who had beaten them in the 2013 NLCS. But once again, the Dodgers couldn’t avenge their previous year’s loss, going down to St. Louis in four games in the 2014 NLDS.
On Saturday night, the Dodgers will begin another potential “revenge” series against the Chicago Cubs. And once again, they’ll be looking to avoid back-to-back post season losses at the hands of the same opponent.
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Surely, most Dodgers fans wanted this. A shot at redemption against the team that eliminated you the year before just seems right. And even though no player would dare admit it, I’m sure some of the Dodgers also wanted to see the Cubs again. And not just for revenge, but for the challenge. Chicago is the reigning champions, and if you really want to be the best, there’s no better way than to dethrone the champs yourself.
Why this year could be a lot different
Although many players remain from last season, neither the Dodgers nor the Cubs are the same team this year.
The general consensus last year was that the Cubs were simply a better team. Yes, it was still frustrating and disappointing to see the Dodgers lose, especially after being up 2-1 in the series. However, if there were any comfort to take in the defeat, it was knowing that they lost to a superior team.
This time around, the tables are turned. It’s the Dodgers who were the better team all year long, not the Cubs. It was the Dodgers who won over 100 games, and came into the playoffs with the best record in baseball. And it’s the Dodgers who will come into this NLCS well rested, with their starting rotation set up perfectly. The Cubs, on the other hand, will be coming off of a grueling five game series with the Washington Nationals, where they were forced to bring starters in for relief multiple times and tax their bullpen arms, all before traveling across the country to get ready for Game 1 on Saturday.
That’s an advantage to the Dodgers.
Last year, the Cubs had the edge in most aspects of the game, at least on paper. This season, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find many areas that they’re clearly better than L.A.
The Dodgers had the best starting rotation in the league (1st in ERA, WHIP, K/BB, & 2nd in FIP.) They also had the best bullpen in the league (1st in ERA, WHIP, & BAA.) Their offense was also one of the top units (1st in WAR & wRC+.) While the Cubs were still a very good team themselves, they didn’t put up the same overall numbers that the Dodgers did in 2017.
More specifically, we can see tangible areas that the Dodgers have clearly upgraded this season, and how it could benefit them in this rematch with Chicago.
The Dodgers have an improved, deeper lineup this year. Cody Bellinger has provided the biggest power threat they’ve had since Matt Kemp in his prime, and maybe longer. Chris Taylor is perhaps the best all-around leadoff man since Dee Gordon or Rafael Furcal. Yasiel Puig is a better version of himself this year, and Austin Barnes could be an upgrade to Yasmani Grandal. Also, the Dodgers don’t suck against left-handed pitching anymore, which was a huge thorn in their side last season.
The Dodgers’ rotation is better too. Yu Darvish provides them a solid #1-#3 to go along with Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. And for Game four, they won’t be starting a young, inexperienced rookie as they did last year. This time around, the Dodgers will have an All-Star, who’s coming off a career year, going for them when Alex Wood gets the ball.
Last year, Kenta Maeda was the Dodgers 3rd best starting pitching option. This year, he can’t even crack the post season rotation, and instead, seems to have become a key piece in the bullpen. The Dodgers have also improved their left-handed relief options with Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson at their disposal.
It’s the depth of this year’s Dodgers club that has made them so good.
The Cubs, meanwhile, have regressed in some areas. They lost some key players like Dexter Fowler and Aroldis Chapman in the off-season. They acquired Jose Quintana before the trade deadline this year, but even that addition hasn’t made up for the declines by practically everyone else in the starting rotation.
Baseball is weird
The expectations for each team may have flip-flopped this year, but that doesn’t guarantee anything when it comes to the outcome of this series. Sure, the Dodgers seem to have the advantage at this point, but this is the playoffs, and baseball is weird. Anything can, and usually does, happen.
The Dodgers have put themselves in much better shape for this year’s NLCS. They are a better team than they were a year ago, and far more equipped to beat the Cubs. Making their first World Series appearance since 1988 would certainly be a thrill no matter who the Dodgers beat, but doing so against Chicago would be a bit nicer after last year. After all, revenge can be sweet… if you ever get it.
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