It’s finally official. The best team in the National League will face the defending World Champions in the NLCS.

With the Los Angeles Dodgers waiting, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Washington Nationals in a epic Game 5. This forced the rematch baseball has been waiting for since Chicago clinched their first pennant since 1945 this time last season.

Dodgers, Cubs Rematch in Epic Battle in the NLCS

The Dodgers Are Back to Being Dangerous

In the month of September, the Dodgers went through one the worst stretches in baseball. After a four-month stretch where they won 85 out of 107 games, they would lose 20 of their next 25. With the Arizona Diamondbacks surging towards October and the recent history of Los Angeles in the playoffs, doubts crept in about how dominant the mighty Dodgers really were.

Those disparaging thoughts were dropped quickly after their performance over Arizona in the Division Series.

The Dodgers amassed 31 hits and 20 runs across three games and they did it with smart hitting. They destroyed Arizona’s rotation in all three games, but the mental teardown of Zack Greinke in Game 3 is what defines this team’s offensive approach. They only put across one run in the first two innings, but forced Greinke to throw 54 pitches. Greinke needed to go the distance for Arizona to regain balance in the series, and Los Angeles made it clear early that all hope was lost. This offense will wear down any pitcher it faces.

The Dodgers rotation is as ready as ever. Clayton Kershaw and the resurgent Yu Darvish are set to pitch in four of a possible seven games. With that said, the emergence of the Los Angeles bullpen in the Division Series brings promise.

The bullpen was a major part of the Dodger slump in September. No pitcher apart from Kenley Jansen could throw strikes. Manager Dave Roberts was praying for his starters to reach the eighth inning with the lead. Against the Diamondbacks, the bullpen went from questionable asset to their major strength of the series.

Kenta Maeda has been unhittable since his October move to the bullpen. So has Brandon Morrow and Tony Cingrani, who were the definition of unreliable for the majority of the season. Those pitchers’ consistency, along with the unflappable Jansen, should provide enough comfort for the starters, especially when Kershaw and Darvish are pitching.

Cubs Grind Out Grueling Series to Play for Pennant

The Cubs exhausted all efforts to defeat the Nationals in five games. Both clubs left every ounce of energy on the field, but Chicago still has games to play.

Overall, the Cubs weren’t spectacular against Washington. The offense looked inept for long stretches. The bullpen was shaky at best. However, when the moments arrived, Chicago was prepared and came through in the clutch.

The Chicago bullpen almost blew the series, giving up thirteen hits and thirteen runs across 15 1/3 innings in the series. This almost offset the brilliant of the Chicago starting rotation, which apart from Kyle Hendricks‘s disappointing start in Game 5, did not allow more than two hits in any start. Joe Maddon obviously did not have faith in his bullpen against the Nationals. Yet, he does have Wade Davis, whose retro seven-out save in Game 5 shut the door on what seemed an inevitable Washington comeback.

As streaky as the Cubs offense was in the Division Series, they kept their team in the game and capitalized on their opponents’ mistakes. Whether it was Anthony Rizzo‘s bloop single to win Game 3 or Addison Russell coming through in Game 5 against Max Scherzer, the Cubs know how to put across runs at any instant. Facing the Kershaw/Darvish juggernaut along with the Dodger bullpen will be a daunting challenge. But if any team knows how to combat the Los Angeles pitchers, it’s the Cubs.

It’s tough to explain how Chicago was able to advance through the bizarre series over Washington. But when all is said and done, the defending World Champions have advanced and are four wins away from back-to-back pennants.

What to Expect

In a bizarre way, this series feels written out. Los Angeles has been the best team in the National League and have their stars fully rested. Chicago has been ferociously fighting all season, whether it’s the World Series hangover, a shaky rotation, or an even shakier bullpen.

With that said, the Cubs aren’t an underdog team. They are the defending World Champions appearing in their third consecutive NLCS. They also know how to defeat pitchers like Kershaw and Jansen, as well as any powerful Dodger hitter to step up to the plate.

Then there’s Los Angeles, the best team in baseball, striving for their first pennant in 30 years. Expect a close series full of intensity in this NLCS rematch.

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