Pitching matchup set for NLCS Game 1 at Wrigley Field
By Jack Baer
The Dodgers and Cubs will open the National League Championship Series on Saturday (8 p.m. ET, FS1) at Wrigley Field. Los Angeles comes off a thrilling Game 5 win over the Nationals in their NL Division Series, while the Cubs took down the Giants and even-year magic in four games.
Since the Dodgers used their two top starters in Rich Hill and Clayton Kershaw on Thursday, they will trot out Kenta Maeda, the stalwart of their rotation this season. The Cubs will start Jon Lester, who did his job in the team's NLDS Game 1 by throwing eight scoreless innings against the Giants.
Maeda against the Cubs Career: Has never faced Chicago
Why he'll win: Maeda's .291 on-base percentage allowed ranks 11th in the NL and makes him suited to stopping the Chicago offense, which leads the NL with a .343 team mark. The Cubs also lead the Majors in walk rate with a 10.4 percent mark.
Pitcher beware: Maeda is certainly not peaking at the right time. His last two starts, including Monday's loss to the Nationals (3 IP, 4 ER), are his two shortest outings of his big league career. He allowed a total of nine runs in 5 2/3 innings.
Pitch repertoire: Maeda uses his slider, which averages 88.2 mph as measured by Statcast™, more than any other pitch. He loves to pitch backwards and can do so with a slider, curveball and changeup in his arsenal.
Bottom line: This is not the first time the Dodgers have had to rely on Maeda because Kershaw and Hill were unavailable. The Dodgers' rotation went through 2016 under a constant barrage of injuries, ultimately starting 15 pitchers on the mound. But they never had to replace Maeda, who was the sole player to stay in the rotation from start to finish. He's definitely not the top option on a team with a healthy Kershaw, Hill or even Julio Urias, but he has proved this year that he is a quality component for a postseason team's rotation.
Why he'll win: Lester is facing a team that he carved up this season and is composed of players he has dominated in his career. Seven Dodgers have seen Lester more than five times and none are hitting above the Mendoza Line. He's also left-handed, which is something that is pretty good to be against a Dodgers team that was last in the Majors this season in OPS against southpaws. And Lester is throwing at Wrigley Field, where he compiled a 1.74 ERA over 103 1/3 innings in the regular season.
Pitcher beware: Lester has some well-publicized struggles with throwing to first, and he's facing the Dodgers, with a management team more than willing to come up with an unorthodox game plan to exploit a weakness. Case in point: Its pitcher usage on Thursday.
Pitch repertoire: Lester uses mostly his fastball, cutter and curveball, but he's able to mix up that arsenal enough to work deep into games while still getting strikeouts.
Bottom line: Lester has been one of the elite pitchers in the Majors since the All-Star break, posting a 1.76 ERA in the second half and improving his postseason ERA to 2.63 after his eight shutout innings against the Giants. The Cubs have last season's NL Cy Young Award winner in Jake Arrieta and this season's ERA champion in Kyle Hendricks, but they went with Lester for Game 1 because he is their most dependable option and carries a large list of advantages into the Dodgers' matchup.
Jack Baer is a reporter for MLB.com based in Los Angeles. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.