MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Cubs are 1 Wrigley W shy of historic WS

Maddon's club on World Series' doorstep as NLCS shifts back to Chicago

Cubs are 1 Wrigley W shy of historic WS

LOS ANGELES -- In their most famous summer ever, the Cubs lost their crack at the National League pennant because the rival Mets cornered the market on young talent and had a manager who kept their arms and legs fresh for September.

That was 1969, when four Hall of Famers weren't enough to get the job done.

NLCS Game 6: Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1

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

The Cubs are back on the doorstep of the World Series after an 8-4 victory over the Dodgers in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series on Thursday, and this time they're the impetuous team with a manager worth his weight in spreadsheets and stopwatches.

Maybe what goes around really does come around, even if it takes a lifetime to do it.

But you know the Cubs won't get ahead of themselves. They'll take it one day at a time, as advised by Joe Maddon, the manager who says his players should treat October like June or July.

No team knows better than the Cubs that the clinching win can be the toughest to get in a Championship Series. They fell short after taking a 3-1 lead over the Marlins in 2003 and a 2-0 lead over the Padres in 1984, when the format was best-of-five.

The fact that the Cubs haven't won the World Series since 1908 is the most infamous drought in sports, but their NL pennant dry spell is just as unrivaled. It's been 71 years since Chicago appeared in the World Series in '45, which is also by far the longest drought of its kind. No team has had a longer period of absence from the World Series, and among the current franchises, the next two on the list are the Nationals (and that's only if you include their years in Montreal), who haven't appeared in a World Series since entering the league in 1969 (48 seasons) and the Mariners, who have never been to the Fall Classic since joining the AL in 1977 (40 seasons). 

To add to the degree of difficulty this time, the Dodgers will turn to Clayton Kershaw on Saturday night.

"Obviously, [this] feels good," Maddon said Thursday night. "You'd much rather go home under those circumstances than any other, and you want to get it done as quickly as possible. It's going to be a formidable event. Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment, I promise you that. It's great. The city of Chicago has got to be buzzing pretty much right now."

Kershaw on Hendricks' season

Yet if Kershaw can beat Kyle Hendricks for the second time in the series, the Dodgers will force the NLCS to an epic seventh game, with the weight of other generations' struggles becoming an uninvited guest in the storyline. The Dodgers were outscored by 12 runs in Games 4 and 5, ending the roll they were on after the Kershaw and Rich Hill masterpieces in Games 2 and 3, but the series is far from finished.

"We'll get a day away from this to reset, and we've got Clayton going Game 6," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "So that's a game we expect to win."

Since Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell came alive in the fourth inning of Game 4, the Cubs have shown why they were World Series favorites after winning 103 games.

Jon Lester pitched with the concentration and toughness of a bull rider Thursday night, but it was the backing of his young teammates that put the victory away, flashing the team speed, range and fielding panache that has made Wrigley the place to be.

In Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Russell, the Cubs have baby-faced stars who contribute in every way a player can. Russell homered for the second game in a row -- joining Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Francisco Lindor and Derek Jeter on a list of the youngest shortstops to hit multiple homers in the postseason -- and Baez charged in from the outfield grass to deny Adrian Gonzalez of a bunt single in the seventh inning, when the Dodgers only trailed 3-1.

Statcast: Baez's charging play

Lester, who has battled issues throwing to bases since joining the Cubs, stared down the Dodgers' dugout after Joc Pederson tried to bunt his way on base in the second inning. Lester says he was thankful Gonzalez was still trying to exploit that weakness of his late in the game.

"I'd prefer Adrian Gonzalez and Joc Pederson to try to bunt," Lester said. "They're home run guys. They hit 30 homers, so I'd rather them put the ball on the ground and let these guys try to field it and take my chances that way."

Both Rizzo and Bryant drove in runs, raising the Cubs' record to 21-1 in games when that happens. Rizzo ripped a double to right field in the first inning. Bryant -- who many thought was too big to play third base (6-5, 230 pounds) -- raced down the line for an infield single in the eighth -- just another athletic moment in a night full of them for the team constructed by Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod.

So here they are, one win away from meeting the Indians in a World Series where the winning team will end a championship drought. There's just one little detail to complete -- a victory over Kershaw on Saturday or Hill on Sunday.

"We all know what we have in front of us with Kershaw going into Game 6," Lester said. "And we're going to do the same thing we've done all year, show up on -- what is it? I don't even know what today is -- show up on Saturday and be ready to play and give it our best. Hopefully he's not the good Kershaw, and we get kind of the mediocre guy that gives up a few runs and we're able to hold them where they're at."

Lester's advice to teammates

While Kershaw is the leading man in the Game 6 cast, it's the Cubs' Ivy Leaguer from Dartmouth, Hendricks, who will take the mound after leading the NL in ERA (2.13) this season. Sure, he may only have won because Kershaw's lower back didn't allow him to throw enough innings to qualify, but Hendricks is more than capable of stealing the show. 

Hendricks' style of keeping hitters off balance might be the exact right formula on a night when the Dodgers are desperate to regain the momentum that was lost to the Cubs, who seemed to feed off each other like a basketball team breaking an opponent with a full-court press.

"Well, they're very athletic," Roberts said. "They've got a nice mix of youth and some veteran players. But under Joe, his leadership, those guys play the game the right way. It's a fun team to play against. ... I wouldn't say that their speed or athleticism kind of flustered us. It's just more they made plays when they needed to, and Baez has made some very nice defensive plays."

There's a part of Roberts that appreciates Bryant flying down the line for a single or Dexter Fowler diving for balls or into bases. It's the way he played the game, and he's instilling that in his own team.

"Fowler in Game 1 made some great plays," Roberts said. "Bryant plays the game the right way, gets down the line, legs infield singles out. And, again, I think our guys did the same thing. This series certainly isn't over, but it's fun to compete against guys like that."

Leo Durocher rarely complimented the Mets back in 1969. But surely he knew what Roberts is feeling, whether he expressed it or not.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.