Series 42 Preview: Cubs at Dodgers
Clayton Kershaw and the streaking Dodgers have opened up a 9.5-game lead in the NL West. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty)
No team in baseball is as hot—or as dangerous—as the Cubs’ next foe, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Winners of 46 of their last 58 games, the Dodgers’ meteoric rise saved the City of Angels from having two giant busts in 2013. In fact, LA has emerged as the National League’s most feared team, with a lineup and pitching staff that is at peak performance right now. All of this despite their superstar, Matt Kemp, having played only 62 games because of various thigh, ankle and shoulder ailments. In fact, it would be fair to say center field has been the Dodgers’ weakest position this year—with much credit due to the rest of the roster.
HITTING: 4.0 Runs Scored/Game (6th in NL)
Despite some initial concerns, the Dodgers have struck gold with a pair of 31-year-old stars acquired from the Red Sox just over a year ago: left fielder Carl Crawford and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Crawford has managed to play 91 games this year and has a .300 average and .352 on-base percentage from the leadoff spot, far surpassing his two disappointing seasons with the Red Sox. Gonzalez isn’t a big bopper anymore, but he should clear 20 homers with roughly a .300 batting average and a decent amount of walks. Neither has matched what shortstop Hanley Ramirez has accomplished this year, a striking turnaround after a precipitous three-year decline with the Marlins. In 65 games, Ramirez has hit for a .339 AVG/.390 OBP/.613 SLG line that recalls his age 23-25 seasons. And of course there is right fielder Yasiel Puig, the 22-year-old Cuban defector whom Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully calls the “Wild Horse.” He’ll slug (to the tune of .342/.402/.547 in 73 games), he’ll launch some missiles from the outfield, and he’ll run through any stop sign. Puig also will chase any fastball up in the zone, so Cubs pitchers face the delicate task of getting some whiffs up without leaving a pitch out over the plate. So far, that looks like it’s much easier said than done.
PITCHING: 3.6 Runs Allowed/Game (4th in NL)
For all the balance in the field, the Dodgers may be able to match it on the mound. The Cubs will see three of the Dodgers’ best in this series, starting with Zack Greinke tonight. The right-hander is a true six-pitch pitcher, who will mix it up with a fastball he can sink and cut, a couple of breaking balls, and a change-up. The 29-year-old has lost a little bit of velocity over the years, but he has always had very good command and feel for his fastball. His 2.91 ERA this season would be the second-lowest of his career, behind only his Cy Young-winning season with the 2009 Royals. The Dodgers will then send 2013 Cy Young frontrunner Clayton Kershaw to the mound on Tuesday night. The 25-year-old is rumored to be on the cusp of agreeing to a massive contract worth more than $200 million—and he might just be worth it. The left-hander has established himself as one of the game’s best pitchers, with an remarkable 1.72 ERA that could garner him his third ERA title in a row. Kershaw has not only mastered his own mechanics—an off-balance delivery that created consistency issues in his younger days—he also has taken off with the increased use of a slider the last few years. He’ll overpower with a deceptive mid-90s fastball, a hard slider and a hammer curve that is one of the game’s best. The Cubs wrap up the series against Ricky Nolasco, a veteran right-hander acquired midseason from Miami. He has reinvented himself as a groundball pitcher over the last three seasons and is having the best success of his career. The bullpen closes out with a pair of live arms: Sinkerballer Ronald Belisario sets up the nasty natural cutter of closer Kenley Jansen.