Both clubs entered the season with sights set on winning World Series title
By Ken Gurnick and Carrie Muskat
CHICAGO -- If the Cubs are going to get to the World Series, they're going to have to beat the Dodgers and their ironman pitcher, Clayton Kershaw.
Los Angeles beat Washington, 4-3, on Thursday night as Kershaw picked up the save after starting Game 4 on Tuesday on short rest, to advance to the National League Championship Series. Game 1 is scheduled for tonight at historic Wrigley Field (8 p.m. ET/7 CT/5 PT on FS1). The Cubs and Dodgers last met in the postseason in the 2008 NL Division Series, which Los Angeles swept.
This will be the second straight trip to the LCS for most of the Cubs players, who were swept last year by the Mets. The Dodgers' last LCS trip came in 2013, when they lost in six games to the Cardinals. Los Angeles' last pennant came in 1988, Chicago's in 1945.
"Experience matters," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said Thursday. "Last year, a lot of us were doing it for the first time. We have a couple guys who are new, but we have a wonderful support group. At the end of the day, you learn how to win. What does that mean? It's something you have to participate in daily, and there's a support system in the group."
Although the roster has turned over considerably with a change in front-office regimes, this is the Dodgers' fourth consecutive postseason appearance.
"We've still got to win eight more games, and I think we realize that," Kershaw said after Game 5 of the NLDS.
"We're going to celebrate tonight and have a lot of fun doing it, but tomorrow we're going to Chicago and our mind is completely shifted to beating the Cubs. They are a pretty solid team, from what I understand, and so I think we've got to really enjoy this one for, I mean, shoot, what is it, 1:30 already? We've got to enjoy this for a few more hours and then we've got to get on that plane and change our mindset for sure."
"Last year, to get here was a little bumpier," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, noting the difficulty of having to win the Wild Card Game, then deal with the powerful Cardinals in the Division Series. "We knew our guys were young and didn't know what to expect. It was totally uncharted waters.
"This year is different," Hoyer said. "Most of our guys have played in the postseason before. There's a little more idea of what to expect and there are higher expectations."
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been known to shuffle his probable starting pitchers as late as game day, but he said his initial intentions are for Game 3 losing pitcher Kenta Maeda to start Game 1 and Kershaw Game 2, although Kershaw's relief appearance on Thursday could disrupt that. It was announced Friday that Maeda will start Game 1, while Rich Hill is lined up to start Game 3 in Los Angeles on normal rest.
The Dodgers figure to be underdogs, and they seem to like that role.
"We're going to be underdogs this whole playoffs," closer Kenley Jansen said after pitching 2 1/3 innings Thursday night. "Nobody believed that we were going to win the division, everybody focused on different teams and forgot about us. When Kersh went down [with a herniated disk], everybody thought the Dodgers are done. We never quit. We're going to keep fighting."
Finishing with the Major Leagues' best overall record helped secure home-field advantage, and the Cubs have enjoyed extra days at home during the postseason. Last year, they were headed to the airport one day not knowing who they would be playing.
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, Julio Urias made his second big league start and took the loss, serving up homers to Bryant, Heyward and Javier Baez. Kyle Hendricks picked up the win in the 7-2 victory, striking out six.
The two 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 the next day in 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 miscommunication between Baez and second baseman Zobrist. Baez threw to second and Zobrist was late covering.
"This time of year, it's all about pitching, and you have to pitch better than good pitching to win," Maddon said.
The Cubs batted .164 against the Mets in last season's LCS, and hit .200 against the Giants in the NLDS this year.
"I'd like to believe getting to this next moment might chill everybody out a little more," Maddon said. "I'd like to believe the experience we had last year combined with what we're doing this year will help us."
The way the Cubs rallied for four runs in the ninth inning in Game 4 against the Giants also could help.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, hit only .226 to Washington's .251, were outscored in the series, 24-19, and the team ERA was 4.91 to the Nationals' 3.89. But they keep finding a way.
"We fell a little short the last two years, and that wasn't a good feeling," said Justin Turner. "This is a different bunch of guys here. It feels good. It feels good right now."
There will be workout on Friday at Wrigley Field in preparation for the start of the NLCS.
"The goal of this team is obvious," Hoyer said. "We had a wonderful regular season, we played well against the Giants. Obviously, we want eight more wins. I don't think anyone in that clubhouse is the least bit satisfied. We want to have two more celebrations, and that's been the focus of this team all along.
"We're not going to be satisfied with one Division Series win," he said. "We're going to face a good opponent and have to play well to get there. Eight more wins is the goal."
Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was equally tempered in his analysis.
"For me this is a necessary step for us to reach the ultimate goal," he said after the Dodgers eliminated the Nationals. "Talking to a number of guys that have been part of devastating Division Series losses and they are really enjoying themselves right now, as they should be."
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.