When the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs met in last year's National League Championship Series, it was easy to envision both rising powerhouses writing the first chapter of a rich postseason feud.
For all of MLB's volatility, they will once again battle for the NL pennant.
This time, however, the Dodgers wield home-field advantage and the larger title drought. After the Cubs and Dodgers respectively won 103 and 91 games last season, they entered this postseason with 92 and 104 victories.
The NL Central champions boast a healthy Kyle Schwarber, but the NL West conquerors welcome runaway NL Rookie of the Year favorite Cody Bellinger to the fold. Midseason acquisitions Jose Quintana and Yu Darvish also bolster each squad's rotation.
Will the Dodgers make their first Fall Classic since 1988, or will the Cubs become the first back-to-back NL pennant winner since the 2008-2009 Philadelphia Phillies? Let's break down their NLCS rematch after looking at the preliminary schedule and updated playoffs odds, courtesy of OddsShark.
2017 NLCS Schedule: Los Angeles Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs
Game 1: Saturday, Oct. 14 at 8 p.m. ET (at L.A.)
Game 2: Sunday, Oct. 15 at 7:30 p.m. ET (at L.A.)
Game 3: Tuesday, Oct. 17 at 9 p.m. ET (at CHI)
Game 4: Wednesday, Oct. 18 at 9 p.m. ET (at CHI)
Game 5*: Thursday, Oct. 19 at 8 p.m. ET (at CHI)
Game 6*: Saturday, Oct. 21 at 4 p.m. ET (at L.A.)
Game 7*: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. ET (at L.A)
All games will be televised on TBS. *= if necessary
Updated Odds to Win World Series
Los Angeles Dodgers: 39-20
Houston Astros: 9-4
New York Yankees: 14-5
Chicago Cubs: 15-4
For the second time this postseason, the Dodgers have watched a future opponent exhaust its starters to set up a showdown with the NL's elite club.
Using Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray in the NL Wild Card Game caused the Arizona Diamondbacks to open the National League Division Series with Taijuan Walker, who allowed four runs in the first inning. Zack Godley pitched five innings in relief, forcing Ray to start Game 2 two days after his relief outing.
Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester pitched a combined 7.2 innings in Game 4, which was delayed to Wednesday because of inclement weather. Quintana made a brief appearance in Thursday's Game 5, started by Kyle Hendricks.
So who's left for Saturday's NLCS opener?
Cubs manager Joe Maddon may have to counter a fully rested Clayton Kershaw with John Lackey, who did not pitch in the NLDS. Although the 38-year-old sports a career 3.27 ERA in the playoffs and has played for three different World Series champions, he surrendered a 4.59 ERA and 36 homers during the season.
Per CBS Chicago, team president Theo Epstein said Quintana remains under consideration because he threw just 12 pitches on Thursday.
"We'll talk to Q," Epstein said. "He's a candidate. It wasn't much more than a side (session) today. We'll see. If he's feeling good, he might be a candidate. We'll figure it out on the plane before we start drinking."
Maddon said during Friday night's press conference, per Sirius XM's Jim Bowden, that he is still deliberating his choice between Lackey and Quintana.
It won't matter if the Cubs don't start hitting. They scored nine of the series' 17 runs in Game 5, finishing with a .180/.285/.280 slash line. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo each went 4-for-20 with one walk, and the reigning NL MVP compiled 10 strikeouts.
Both squads ended the season with a .437 team slugging percentage, but the Dodgers posted an NL-best 3.38 ERA. Their lefty-heavy staff limited the high-powered Diamondbacks—fueled by right-handed superstars Paul Goldschmidt and J.D. Martinez—to 10 runs in a three-game sweep despite Kershaw relinquishing four homers in Game 1.
Kershaw nevertheless gives Los Angeles an edge to commence the NLCS. As long as manager Dave Roberts doesn't overextend him again.
MLB.com's Mike Petriello detailed the ace's seventh-inning playoff woes after he yielded two blasts to Arizona during the problematic frame:
Having followed a dominant season by allowing one run over three relief outings, Brandon Morrow provided the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen that Los Angeles missed during past playoff shortcomings. A deep rotation with Darvish, Rich Hill and Alex Wood also means Kershaw will not need to pitch on short rest.
Now the lineup must help. Last year, the Dodgers mustered 17 runs in a six-game series loss to the Cubs. Justin Turner holds a career 1.105 postseason OPS, but the Cubs contained him to one extra-base hit (a homer) in his only NLCS appearance.
Along with Turner, Yasiel Puig powered them past the Diamondbacks by reaching base seven times in 13 plate appearances. The 26-year-old unlocked his star upside after the All-Star break, when he batted .278/.374/.533.
A productive Puig will not be Chicago's friend.
The Dodgers have improved since last year's encounter with help from a deeper pitching staff. The Cubs, meanwhile, have backtracked because of regressed pitching.
Arrieta and Lester can't absorb all the blame. After posting MLB's worst second-half walk rate (4.70 per nine innings), courtesy of FanGraphs, the bullpen's control problems persisted into the playoffs.
Carl Edwards Jr. relinquished four of the team's 25 NLDS walks in 2.1 innings. A reliable reliever during the season, he surrendered six runs and failed to record an out in each of his last two outings. At this rate, Maddon might need to eschew him entirely against Los Angeles.
That means Chicago will continue to tax closer Wade Davis, who yielded two hits and two walks in Game 5's seven-out save requiring 44 pitches. The same pitcher who did not cede a long ball in 2014 or 2016 watched Michael Taylor hit a go-ahead grand slam the previous day.
Superior pitching sends the Dodgers to the World Series, reversing last year's script with a six-game triumph.