Dodgers vs. Cubs: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 2
The National League Championship Series kicked off with a bang on Saturday night, as the Chicago Cubs plated five runs in the bottom of the eighth en route to an 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Miguel Montero delivered the big blow with a pinch-hit grand slam, and Hector Rondon was able to slam the door after the Cubs turned to Aroldis Chapman earlier in the game.
Jon Lester gave the Cubs six strong innings in a no-decision, but Kenta Maeda lasted just four innings for the Dodgers, forcing them to go to the bullpen early.
Now it's on to Game 2, where Clayton Kershaw will take the ball for the Dodgers, and the Cubs will turn to Kyle Hendricks.
Before the action resumes on Sunday night, let's take a look at some keys to victory for both teams as the Cubs aim to take a commanding lead and the Dodgers hope to even things up before the series shifts to Los Angeles.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A Light Workload for the Middle Relievers
With Maeda going just four innings in Game 1, the Dodgers were forced to use Pedro Baez for two innings, and Joe Blanton threw 28 pitches in his two-thirds of an inning en route to serving up the grand slam to Montero.
The rest of the Dodgers' relief corps has been hit-or-miss, with Grant Dayton and Ross Stripling getting the job done in Game 1 and Josh Fields, Luis Avilan and Alex Wood also options in middle relief.
They'll ride Kershaw as long as they can, but given his workload over the past week, it's fair to assume he won't be going the distance.
So while Blanton and Baez have been leaned on heavily all season in bridging the gap to closer Kenley Jansen and have been rock-solid for the most part, ideally those two could both take the day off on Sunday.
After being taxed on Saturday, they might not have their best stuff in Game 2.
Chicago Cubs: Production from the 3-4-5 Hitters
Time and again this postseason, the Cubs have gotten big hits from unexpected sources.
The pitching staff stepped up big at the plate in the NLDS, Javier Baez has been the breakout star of October, and Montero delivered the defining blow in Game 1 of the NLCS with a pinch-hit grand slam.
However, the team is still waiting for the middle of the order to start producing.
Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell have gone a combined 6-for-58 (.103) with just two RBI hitting 3-4-5 in the lineup this postseason. They're going to need to get going at some point.
Rizzo has a double and a home run in 12 career plate appearances against Kershaw, while Zobrist turned in some solid at-bats in Game 1, including a double and a walk. The trio's breakout could be coming.
Los Angeles Dodgers: More Success from Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez
The Dodgers roster has not seen much of Kyle Hendricks, as just two players have more than five career plate appearances against the young right-hander.
However, those two players are capable of making a significant impact.
Justin Turner and Adrian Gonzalez have both taken Hendricks deep before, and they may be the two hottest hitters in the Los Angeles lineup right now.
Turner has a team-high seven hits so far this postseason, including a triple and a home run, while Gonzalez is fresh off a solid Game 1 that saw him go 2-for-4 with two RBI.
Those small sample sizes don't guarantee success in Game 2, but those two sluggers look like a good bet to come up with the big hit for Los Angeles.
Chicago Cubs: Dexter Fowler Setting the Table
Among active players with at least 20 career plate appearances against Kershaw, no one has enjoyed more success than Dexter Fowler.
The Cubs' leadoff man has gone 18-for-44 (.409) with two doubles and a triple against the left-hander, and he's looking to build some momentum after a 4-for-20 start to the postseason that includes seven strikeouts.
Fowler's importance as a table-setter was abundantly clear when the team slumped as he missed time heading into the All-Star break.
The Cubs were 85-40 (.680) in games that Fowler played this season, compared to 18-18 (.500) without him penciled in atop the lineup.
He shined on defense in Game 1 with a pair of diving catches in center field while going 2-for-5 with a home run at the plate.
Now the 30-year-old will look to keep swinging on Sunday night with a solid track record against the opposing hurler.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Quick Innings from Clayton Kershaw
After piling up 110 pitches over 6.2 innings in Game 4 of the NLDS, Clayton Kershaw came back on just one day of rest to pick up the save in the decisive Game 5.
Now set to toe the rubber in Game 2 of the NLCS just three days later, it's been an unusual an likely taxing workload for the left-hander over the past week.
Kershaw is capable of racking up strikeouts when he's at his best, but look for him to pitch to contact a bit more in this one as he tries to keep his pitch count down.
Considering he missed nearly two months with a back issue in the second half, the Dodgers have no choice but to be somewhat cautious with their ace.
He won't go deep into this start unless he can string together some 1-2-3 innings while getting a patient Cubs lineup to swing at pitches early in at-bats.
Chicago Cubs: A Quality Start from Kyle Hendricks
Kyle Hendricks was one of the breakout stars of 2016, emerging as a legitimate front-line starter after opening the season as the clear-cut No. 5 in the Cubs' rotation.
The 26-year-old finished the season at 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA, 0.979 WHIP and 170 strikeouts over a career-high 190 innings.
He's still searching for success in the postseason, though.
Hendricks made a pair of starts last October, took the ball in Game 2 of the NLDS last week and failed to make it out of the fifth inning in any of those games.
- 2015 NLDS Game 2: ND, 4.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 K
- 2015 NLCS Game 3: ND, 4.0 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 4 K
- 2016 NLDS Game 2: ND, 3.2 IP, 4 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 0 K
The right-hander recorded a quality start in 20 of his 30 starts during the regular season and pitched at least five innings every time out, so he's more than capable of a stellar outing.
The Cubs will need him to match Clayton Kershaw to keep them in the game, and giving the team six or seven strong innings would put them in a good position to win and set aside lingering concerns about the health of his elbow after he was hit with a line drive and forced out of his previous start.