After the first two games of the NLCS, the Dodgers head to Chicago with a 2-0 series lead against the Cubs. They were in a similar situation last year, also needing only two more wins to advance to their first World Series since 1988, but Chicago won games 4, 5 & 6 to take the series.
So far, both games have been very competitive. The Cubs have come out and taken the early lead in each game, only to see the Dodgers rally and tie it up before eventually taking the lead themselves. As the scene shifts to Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be hoping for a change of fortune, while the Dodgers will look to keep their momentum going.
Thus far, here are five takeaways from the first two games of the NLCS.
- The Dodgers bullpen continues to dominate
Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in the 9th inning of Game 2, and up until then, the Dodgers bullpen had retired 22 straight hitters (a record for any bullpen to start a post season series.) After a great regular season, and strong division series against Arizona, their success shouldn’t shock Dodgers fans who’ve seen them do it all year. Although, it may come as a surprise to some national media, who may not follow the Dodgers as close (hi Ron Darling!)
Through two games, this group has dominated the Cubs’ hitters. Kenta Maeda looked good again in limited action during Game 1. Brandon Morrow has been as shut down as you can get in his setup role, throwing a perfect 2 2/3 innings so far. And, of course, there’s Jansen, who continues to show why he’s the best closer in baseball right now.
With Dave Roberts being comfortable allowing Jansen to go multiple innings, it really shortens the game for the starters. Both Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill were removed after five innings in each one of their starts. Some of that had to do with not wasting a scoring opportunity in a tight game, as there were runners on each time their spots came up in the batting order. However, some of that decision also had to do with the faith Roberts has in his bullpen. They’ve been lights out so far.
- Justin Turner could carry the Dodgers this post season
I don’t think there’s any question about who the Dodgers would want up in a key situation this post season. Justin Turner is flat-out good, and has taken his already great regular season play to another level in the playoffs. After his heroics in Game 2, Turner is now hitting .377/.478/.636 in 92 PA for his post season career. He’s also 13 for 18 (.722) with RISP.
The Dodgers have a deep lineup. Rookie phenom Cody Bellinger has more pop than anyone, and can go yard at any time. When healthy, Cory Seager has been consistently great, though he is not on the roster at the moment. Yasiel Puig seems to have unlimited potential at times. But overall, Turner could be their best all-around hitter, and he may be the one that puts this team on his back throughout the playoffs.
- Yasiel Puig looks locked in
Along with Turner, Yasiel Puig has helped lead the Dodgers offense so far this post season. He’s hitting .438 with a .571 OBP over their first five games. Additionally, Puig leads all players in style point with his renowned bat-licks & bat-flips.
More important than any numbers though, is how comfortable Puig looks at the plate right now. He’s being patient, taking his walks, and when he does get his pitch, he’s not missing.
During the regular season, Puig had pretty noticeable reverse splits, hitting only .183/.317/.275 against left-handed pitching. However, so far this post season, he’s hit them well, albeit in a small sample size (4-6 w/ 3 BB and a HR.)
It may be time for Dave Roberts to think about moving Puig up in the order, regardless of whether it’s a righty or lefty on the mound. He could provide some needed protection behind Cody Bellinger, and with how dialed in he is right now, it could generate more scoring opportunities for the Dodgers.
- Seager’s absence hasn’t hurt… yet
There’s no doubt the Dodgers are not the same team without Corey Seager. You can’t take away one of a team’s best players, and not see a difference. With that said, the Dodgers offense has done just enough in this NLCS to make his absence a little less worrisome.
Charlie Culberson has got the start at shortstop for the first two games and has played well, going 1-2 with a key sac fly in Game 1, and 1-3 with a run scored in Game 2. It remains to be seen whether Roberts will stick with him against the upcoming right-handed starters they’ll face in Games 3 & 4.
Of course, Culberson is not going to replace Corey Seager on his own. No one is. The Dodgers are going to need players other than the “first four” (Taylor, Turner, Bellinger, & Puig) to step up offensively.
Guys like Curtis Granderson, Kike Hernandez, and Logon Forsythe, must start producing. And as a team, they’ve got to hit better with RISP. Before Turner’s game-winning homerun, the Dodgers were 1-8 with RISP and had left 8 runners on base in Game 2. They seemed to have Jon Lester on the ropes several times during the course of the game, but weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities. If that continues, it could hurt them going forward.
- Dodgers must take their show on the road
The Dodgers had the best home record in baseball this year, and we all know that they play well in the friendly confines of Chavez Ravine. However, going on the road in the playoffs is a different story, particularly in previous NLCS’s.
In last year’s matchup, the Dodgers went 1-2 in Chicago, including the deciding Game 6. Going back to their previous three NLCS appearances before that (2008, 2009, & 2013) the Dodgers record is 0-8 on the road.
That won’t cut it.
With their beloved Cubs’ backs against the wall, Chicago fans will surely be pumped up and ready to go on Tuesday night. The Dodgers may have to deal with crowd noise, home field calls going against them, and everything else that comes with being on the road. They’ve been here before though. They just need to play their game and, hopefully, carry that same intensity they had in L.A. If they can do that, the Dodgers are more than capable of ending the Cubs season in Chicago.
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