Cubs vs. Dodgers: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 3
The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers split the first two games of their National League Championship Series matchup, and the series now shifts to Dodger Stadium for a pivotal Game 3.
Miguel Montero delivered the big blow with a pinch-hit grand slam in Game 1 as the Cubs picked up a thrilling 8-4 victory in front of the home fans.
They ran into a buzz saw in Game 2, though: Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen combined for a two-hit shutout, and the Dodgers earned a 1-0 victory behind a solo home run from Adrian Gonzalez.
Now it's on to Game 3, where Rich Hill will take the ball for the Dodgers, and the Cubs will turn to Jake Arrieta.
Before the action resumes Tuesday night, let's take a look at some keys to victory for both teams.
Los Angeles Dodgers: More Thunder from Adrian Gonzalez
If there's one player in the Dodgers lineup who the Cubs need to be extra careful with, it's Adrian Gonzalez.
The slugging first baseman is off to a 3-for-7 start in the NLCS with a home run and three RBI, and he comes into Game 3 with solid career numbers against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.
No one in the Los Angeles lineup has faced Arrieta more than Gonzalez, who's gone 6-for-21 with a double and a home run in his career against the reigning NL Cy Young winner.
Gonzalez went deep in Game 2 for the Dodgers, which wound up being all the offense the team would need as Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen combined for the shutout.
Runs could be at a premium once again Tuesday with two more top-flight starters on the hill, so keeping Gonzalez at bay will be a priority for the Cubs pitching staff.
Chicago Cubs: A Lineup Shakeup?
Being shut out by Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen is less than ideal, but it's no reason for the Cubs to panic and get away from what has worked all season offensively.
Still, manager Joe Maddon could look to change things up a bit in Game 3 as he searches for a spark.
"You have to try to make your best guess right now to take advantage of the moment," Maddon told reporters while talking about potentially shaking up the lineup. "There are certain things we may attempt to do, certainly, but they won't be wholesale."
As left-handed Rich Hill takes the ball for the Dodgers, giving Albert Almora Jr. a start in right field over Jason Heyward (.207 BA, .586 OPS vs. LHP) could be one option.
Jorge Soler could also get a look in the outfield after he batted cleanup in Game 3 of the NL Division Series against another lefty, Madison Bumgarner.
Again, there's no reason to panic about one quiet night from the offense against the best pitcher on the planet, but expect to see a new name or two on Tuesday's lineup card.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Strong Work from Pedro Baez and Joe Blanton
The bullpen carousel the Dodgers have employed all season got the night off Sunday, as Kenley Jansen was the only reliever needed for Clayton Kershaw.
Jansen threw just 18 pitches in his two innings of work. After an off day, everyone should be fresh and ready for action out of the Los Angeles pen heading into Game 3.
Considering that starter Rich Hill lasted just 4.1 innings and 2.2 innings in his two NLDS starts, it's fair to assume the relief corps will be a factor once again Tuesday.
Pedro Baez (73 G, 3.04 ERA, 10.1 K/9) and Joe Blanton (75 G, 2.48 ERA, 9.0 K/9) were the two most reliable setup options on the roster this season, and they've each appeared in five games so far this postseason.
However, it was Blanton who served up the grand slam to Miguel Montero in Game 1, allowing four hits, two walks and five earned runs in just two-thirds of an inning.
Meanwhile, Baez has been nearly untouchable in October, allowing just one hit and three walks over 5.2 scoreless innings of work.
Those two will need to be on their games if the Dodgers get an early lead and are looking to bridge the gap to Jansen.
Chicago Cubs: Another Night to Remember at Dodger Stadium for Jake Arrieta
Cubs fans might remember the last time Jake Arrieta took the mound at Dodger Stadium.
It was Aug. 30, 2015, and the right-hander was at his best, twirling his first career no-hitter while allowing just one walk and striking out 12.
"I'll use some of the experience from my last time out here," Arrieta told reporters. "It's a completely different game, obviously, with being in the postseason. It's going to have a little different feel. But it's just about the same lineup. You try to tackle them accordingly and use some knowledge that I have from the past."
The 30-year-old was sharp while earning the no-decision in Game 3 of the NLDS, allowing six hits and two earned runs in six innings of work and launching a three-run home run at the plate.
Arrieta went 8-for-23 with a double and a triple against left-handed pitching during the regular season and then hit that bomb off lefty Madison Bumgarner in the NLDS, so Rich Hill would be wise to treat him like any other hitter when he digs into the box.
Los Angeles Dodgers: An Unfamiliarity with Rich Hill
Tenured Cubs fans are plenty familiar with Rich Hill, who was drafted by the team back in 2002 and spent the first four seasons of his career pitching for the team.
The same can't be said for the current Cubs lineup.
Of the current 25-man roster, only the following four players have faced the 36-year-old left-hander:
- David Ross: 1-for-13, 1 2B, 7 K
- Chris Coghlan: 1-for-3, 1 2B, 2 K
- Ben Zobrist: 1-for-2, 1 RBI
- Miguel Montero: 0-for-1
Ross and Coghlan will likely begin Game 3 on the bench, so Cubs hitters won't have much in the way of experience to draw from when they step to the plate Tuesday night.
For what it's worth, Hill won't be treating things any differently facing his former team.
"It could be any team, right?" he told reporters of squaring off against the Cubs. "I don't look at it any differently than any other team."
Chicago Cubs: A Strong Body of Work Against Left-Handed Pitching
It may seem strange to point to the Cubs' success against left-handed pitching as a significant factor for Game 3 after they were dismantled by a southpaw in Game 2, but Clayton Kershaw is a different animal.
During the regular season, the Cubs knocked around lefties to the tune of an .807 OPS, good for second-best in the majors behind only the Arizona Diamondbacks (.820).
That impressive production was a team effort too.
Here's how the projected Game 3 lineup fared against lefties:
- CF Dexter Fowler: .876 OPS
- 3B Kris Bryant: 1.060 OPS
- 1B Anthony Rizzo: .832 OPS
- LF Ben Zobrist: .856 OPS
- SS Addison Russell: .801 OPS
- 2B Javier Baez: .850 OPS
- C Miguel Montero: .439 OPS
- RF Albert Almora Jr.: .827 OPS
Outside of Montero, that's above-average production across the board, with David Ross (.946 OPS), Willson Contreras (.854 OPS) and Jorge Soler (.812 OPS) also solid options off the bench if the team decides to go a different route.
Cubs hitters are unfamiliar with Rich Hill but have success against left-handed pitching—whichever scenario prevails could be the determining factor of Game 3.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.