Jon artist: Ace, bats have Cubs on cusp

Jon artist: Ace, bats have Cubs on cusp

LOS ANGELES -- Since he took over as manager, Joe Maddon has downplayed the Cubs' long championship drought, ignored any talk about curses, and focused on the present. So, here's where the Cubs are today: One win away from their first World Series appearance since 1945 after an 8-4 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday night. With the win, Chicago has a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

"It'd be foolish for us to get ahead of ourselves, because any time you think like that, it never goes the way you want it to," the Cubs' Kris Bryant said, echoing his manager's mantra. "We'll be ready to go for Game 6."

NLCS Game 6: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET on FS1

So will Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who will start when the NLCS shifts to Wrigley Field on Saturday night. 

The previous 52 times that an LCS has gone to five games, the winner of Game 5 has gone 34-18 in the series. The odds are in the Cubs' favor. How did they get there?

Maddon on Game 5 win

Addison Russell broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning with a home run (for the second consecutive game) -- the third home run allowed in the series by reliever Joe Blanton -- as Jon Lester won his Game 1 rematch with Kenta Maeda. The 22-year-old Russell is the third-youngest shortstop with multiple career postseason home runs, behind the Astros' Carlos Correa and Dodgers' Corey Seager.

Russell's two-run home run

"Right there, that situation, just trying not to do too much," Russell said. "I was just trying to find some gaps. I was looking for something up in the zone to drive. First-pitch slider a little bit low. Second pitch was a slider, but it was elevated and I put the barrel on it, and it kind of went.

"But just rounding the bases, it was pretty exciting. Pumped up. Not only for myself, but for the team, and that little cushion that Jonny had to go forward from that, and I felt really good."

• Did you know? NLCS Game 5

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

On Wednesday, Anthony Rizzo borrowed Matt Szczur's bat, and had three hits, including a home run. Apparently, Szczur also lent Russell his leggings on Wednesday and again on Thursday.

"[Ben Zobrist] was like, 'Hey, [Matt], what have you got for me?" Szczur said.

Maeda allowed one run on three hits with six strikeouts, but was removed in the fourth inning two outs after allowing a double to Javier Baez and hitting Jason Heyward with a pitch to begin the frame. Each of Maeda's three postseason starts have been four innings or less.

Lester allowed one run over seven innings in his eighth career postseason victory.

"It's certainly a credit to [Lester]," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I thought that when we did get a little bit of traffic, I thought that we put a little pressure on him. But he's a great pitcher. He's a great pitcher who competes and finds ways to get outs when he needs to. So we had some opportunities, but those guys got the hit when they needed."

The Cubs started fast against Maeda, with a single by Dexter Fowler leading off the game, a one-out RBI double from Rizzo followed by a walk to Zobrist. But Maeda battled back to strike out Baez and Heyward.

Roberts on taking Maeda out

The Dodgers had runners in scoring position three of the first four innings and tied it in the fourth. Howie Kendrick doubled with one out. Following club strategy to play mind games with Lester on the bases, Kendrick was awarded a steal of third on a replay overturn after originally being called out. With the Cubs' infield in, Adrian Gonzalez's one-out tapper was fumbled by first baseman Rizzo, who settled for the out at first while Kendrick scored.

Blanton, who served up a tie-breaking pinch-hit grand slam to Miguel Montero on an 0-2 slider in Game 1, came on for the sixth inning. He allowed a single to Baez, who stole second base. Heyward struck out, but Russell homered to center on an 0-1 slider to open a 3-1 lead.

Roberts on Blanton's struggles

"Obviously, our backs are against the wall, but we feel like we've been there all year, from Day One until the end," said Blanton. "We got down in Washington [in the NL Division Series], and everybody wrote us off then. I'm sure everybody is doing the same now, which is fine. That's maybe where we need to be.

"We lost Game 1 in Chicago and everybody probably wrote us off then, saying we were going to be swept, but we came back and won the next two. We fight. We showed that in the ninth, we put up some runs when we were down a whole bunch. That's the character of this team."

Blanton on Game 5 loss

The Cubs tacked on five runs (four unearned) in the eighth on infield singles by Fowler and Bryant and a three-run double by Baez. Chicago had runners on base every inning but the third, and went 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position. But the Dodgers scored twice in the ninth off Aroldis Chapman.

Baez's three-run double

Now the stage is set for Game 6.

"You can run into a guy making a spot start on any given day and he could be the best pitcher in the world on that day," Rizzo said. "Kershaw is just the most consistent, best pitcher in the world." 

That's why the Dodgers aren't in panic mode about momentum shifts as they head back to Wrigley Field, where the last time they played, you-know-who beat the Cubs.

"We can grab back that momentum with one name: Kershaw," Gonzalez said.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Sloppy again: After committing four errors in a Game 4 loss, the Dodgers made two misplays in the eighth inning as the Cubs blew it open. Pedro Baez dropped a flip from Gonzalez to open the inning with an error. Three batters later, with the infield in, Gonzalez went to his right to stop Fowler's smash but couldn't throw home, and with pitcher Pedro Baez not covering first base, Gonzalez was beaten to the bag by Fowler's head-first dive as one run scored. A second run scored on Bryant's infield single to third base, and three more scored on Baez's double.

Bryant reaches, call confirmed

Vroom, vroom: The Cubs stuck to their plan to score first. Fowler singled to lead off the game, and eventually scored on Rizzo's RBI double. The offense then stalled, and the Cubs went 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position before Russell launched an 0-1 pitch to center with one out and one on in the sixth for his second postseason homer. According to Statcast™, the home run had an exit velocity of 104.4 mph and was projected at 419 feet.

Must C: Russell's two-run homer

"I feel like my at-bats haven't been that bad this whole postseason, but you stick to your work ethic and you believe in yourself and you stay confident," Russell said. "You want to help produce for your team and for your offense."

Batting cleanup? That's where the Dodgers put catcher Carlos Ruiz, even though he entered the game 0-for-14 against Lester, and the game found him quickly. In the bottom of the first inning, the Dodgers had runners on the corners with one out, but Ruiz flied out to right field and Kendrick grounded out to third. Ruiz also flied out to left and fouled out to the catcher before driving a two-out RBI double in the eighth.

Ruiz's RBI double

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Russell joined Kyle Schwarber as the only Cubs players age 22 or younger to hit home runs in consecutive postseason games. Schwarber hit three last season, in the NL Division Series Games 3 and 4 and Game 1 of the NLCS.

Statcast: Russell's 419-ft HR

UPON FURTHER REVIEW
The Dodgers challenged third-base umpire Eric Cooper's out call on Kendrick's attempted steal of third base with one out in the fourth inning. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that the runner contacted third base prior to the fielder applying the tag. The call was overturned, and the runner was safe.

Kendrick steals third

Gonzalez bunted to lead off the Dodgers' seventh, and second baseman Javier Baez retrieved the ball and made an acrobatic throw to Rizzo at first. Gonzalez was called safe but the Cubs challenged the ruling. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that the ball contacted the interior of the fielder's glove prior to the runner's foot touching first base. The call was overturned, and the runner was out.

Baez throws out Gonzalez

The Dodgers also challenged a safe call at first base by Ted Barrett on Bryant's infield single in the eighth inning, but the Dodgers challenged the ruling. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that the runner's foot touched first base prior to the ball contacting the interior of the fielder's glove. The call was confirmed, and the runner was safe.

In the Chicago eighth, Rizzo lined out to second baseman Enrique Hernandez, who flipped to Seager for a force of Fowler at second. Fowler was called out, but the Cubs challenged the ruling. After viewing all relevant angles, the replay official definitively determined that the runner's hand touched second base prior to the ball contacting the interior of the fielder's glove. The call was overturned, and the runner was safe.

Fowler gets back to second

QUOTABLE
"Yeah, I do believe in momentum, but I also believe that the next day's starting pitcher has a lot to do with momentum. So I like our guy." -- Roberts, referring to Kershaw

Previewing NLCS Game 6

WHAT'S NEXT
Cubs: Kyle Hendricks will start Game 6, back in the comforts of Wrigley Field at 7 p.m. CT on Saturday. The right-hander led the Majors with a 1.32 home ERA in 15 games (14 starts). The Majors' ERA leader, Hendricks took the loss in Game 2 of the LCS, giving up one run on three hits over 5 1/3 innings. He walked four, and needs better fastball command.

Dodgers: Here's something different: Kershaw in the postseason on extra rest. Kershaw will be working on five days' rest -- instead of the usual four days and occasional three days -- when he starts Game 6 on Saturday at 5 p.m. PT. He'll be returning to Wrigley Field, where he beat the Cubs in Game 2 six days earlier with seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

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.