Cubs ready for Nationals or Dodgers in NLCS

Cubs ready for Nationals or Dodgers in NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO -- OK, so who's next? Now that the Cubs have advanced to the National League Championship Series (Game 1 Saturday on FS1, 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT), they will face the winner of the other NL Division Series between the Dodgers and Nationals, which is slated for a decisive fifth game on Thursday (8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on FS1).

The Cubs rallied for a 6-5 win over the Giants on Tuesday night at AT&T Park to clinch their NLDS. Last year, Chicago was swept by the Mets in the NLCS.

Does it matter who the Cubs play?

Postseason gear

"I don't think so," second baseman Ben Zobrist said on Tuesday night. "I have to look at those particular teams and the matchups, but for us, right now, all we care about is the confidence our team has. To us, it doesn't matter who we play. We'll feel confident going into that first game."

Game Date Matchup Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 15 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 2 Oct. 16 LAD 1, CHC 0 video
Gm 3 Oct. 18 LAD 6, CHC 0 video
Gm 4 Oct. 19 CHC 10, LAD 2 video
Gm 5 Oct. 20 CHC 8, LAD 4 video
Gm 6 Oct. 22 CHC 5, LAD 0 video

In the regular season, the Cubs went 5-2 against the Nationals, sweeping a four-game series at Wrigley Field on May 5-8, that was capped by Javier Baez's walk-off home run on Mother's Day in the 13th inning. Chicago also lost two of three in Washington on June 13-15.

In those matchups, the Cubs' lineup had a different look as Jason Heyward was batting second. On May 6, Anthony Rizzo, Zobrist and Tommy La Stella homered off Max Scherzer, with Zobrist hitting a pair in an 8-6 win.

In June, Scherzer got some revenge, striking out 11 over seven innings, and giving up two hits, including a home run to Addison Russell. The Cubs also dropped a 5-4 decision in 12 innings on June 15 when Adam Warren gave up a walk-off RBI single to Jayson Werth.

Both teams knew they could meet again.

"It was a hard-played series on both sides -- maybe an October preview," Cubs starter Jason Hammel said after the game on June 15. "They're the two best teams in baseball going at it, exchanging punches. It was exciting."

Said Hector Rondon of the series finale in Washington: "It felt like a playoff game. It's good for us to get that mentality, especially against those guys. We know later in the season, when we're there, we have to figure out how to win against those guys. ... Next time we see those guys in the playoffs, we'll try to beat those guys."

Baez on clinching NLCS berth

Scherzer is set to pitch on Thursday, and will likely be unavailable in the NLCS before Game 3, while Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who started Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday, will likely be unavailable until Game 2 of the NLCS.

The Cubs went 4-3 against the Dodgers, taking three of four at Wrigley Field on May 30-June 2, and winning the opener of a three-game series in Los Angeles on Aug. 26. At Wrigley Field on May 30, Hammel, Travis Wood, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Rondon combined for a one-hit shutout, scoring on an RBI single by Heyward and an RBI double by Rizzo.

Jon Lester threw a four-hit complete game on June 1, striking out 10, and got support from Kris Bryant, who hit a two-run homer. The next day, Dodgers rookie Julio Urias made his second big league start and took the loss, serving up homers to Bryant, Heyward and Baez. Kyle Hendricks picked up the win in the 7-2 victory, striking out six.

The teams didn't meet again until August, and Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning to give the Cubs a 6-4 victory on Aug. 26. But Urias won in a rematch the next day, a game in which Hammel was pulled after throwing 39 pitches over 2 1/3 innings.

On Aug. 28, the Dodgers won, 1-0, in a game notable for some defensive miscommunication between Baez and Zobrist. Baez threw to second and Zobrist was late covering on the play.

"It's going to be a tough series no matter what," Lester said on Tuesday night about the Cubs' next opponent. "Both teams are going to be very tough. They've got great pitching. Their lineups are pretty well stacked. We'll figure it out as we go."

Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.