When the Chicago Cubs began their NL Division Series clincher in Washington on Thursday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers watched it on their stadium video boards during an upbeat team workout in Chavez Ravine.
By the time Wade Davis got the final out in Chicago’s 277-minute victory , the Dodgers were long gone home. They all could have been fast asleep by the time the Cubs’ plane left Washington on its 10-hour delayed trip across the country, only arriving midmorning Friday.
Whether the rested, hungry Dodgers can use these advantages in any meaningful way against the possibly bedraggled World Series champions will be decided when they get together this weekend to play for the NL pennant again.
“The Cubs are the defending world champs, so there’s a lot to be said for having been there and done that,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s virtually the same group.”
The Cubs and Dodgers are back for a rematch of last season’s NL Championship Series when Los Angeles ace Clayton Kershaw takes the mound for Game 1 on Saturday night, but these well-loved powerhouses’ circumstances are somewhat reversed.
After the Cubs finished far ahead of the Dodgers in the regular-season standings last year to earn homefield advantage, Los Angeles won 18 more games than the Cubs this year. Chicago had to sweat through a marathon series against the Nationals to reach the NLCS — the same route taken by the Dodgers in 2016.
And after four straight failures to win the pennant with high-priced NL West championship teams, the Dodgers have the confidence of a 104-win campaign heading into a chance to get back at the Cubs, who eliminated them in six games last October.
As the whole world knows, Chicago ended its 108-year championship drought last fall. The Cubs are in their third straight NLCS, their reputation as lovable losers thoroughly buried.
The Dodgers’ World Series drought is a paltry 28 years, but it looms large in LA.
“It does help when you’re the winningest team for that current year, and we’ve showed how good we can be when we play our type of baseball,” Roberts said. “We’re a confident group, and understand that we still have a lot of work to do.”
Los Angeles rolled into the NLCS with a sweep of Arizona , while the Cubs were stretched to the limit by the Nationals. Chicago manager Joe Maddon used seven pitchers in Game 5 of the NLDS, but the Cubs likely have the pitching depth to get through the weekend.
“It’s very interesting once again,” Maddon said of the rematch. “(The Dodgers) are different, because they really overcame the inability to (hit) against lefties. They are better. They made some nice moves. ... They always have a good bullpen. They have Mr. Kershaw, obviously, and now they have (Yu) Darvish. Listen, we just went through Strasburg and Scherzer. I mean, that’s no day at the beach, either. When you get to this time of the year, you really have to be prepared to beat good pitching, which they have.”
More to think about this weekend at Dodger Stadium:
Chicago’s charter flight didn’t leave the Washington airport until 4 a.m. Eastern time, and it was diverted to Albuquerque due to a medical issue with a family member of an unnamed player. The flight had to take on a new crew during its stop, which meant the Cubs weren’t expected to get to LA until shortly before 12 p.m. Pacific time.
Los Angeles took a 2-1 lead on Chicago in last year’s NLCS before losing the final three games, failing to hit a homer in all three defeats. The Dodgers think they’re better equipped to counter the Cubs this season with additions include rookie cleanup hitter Cody Bellinger , a much-improved Yasiel Puig and an extraordinarily deep group of pitchers, including starter Kenta Maeda as a right-handed specialist in the bullpen.
EARLIER THIS YEAR
The Cubs and Dodgers haven’t faced each other since late May, when Los Angeles swept a three-game series at Dodger Stadium despite facing Jon Lester, John Lackey and Jake Arrieta in consecutive starts. The Dodgers won four of six overall during the regular season against Chicago.
The Cubs outlasted the Nats despite batting .180 in the series and getting outscored 20-17. They scored nine runs on only nine hits in the Game 5 clincher. That level of production probably won’t cut it against the Dodgers’ deep pitching staff and resourceful lineup.
START ME UP
Roberts announced two decisions on starting pitchers before he knew the Dodgers’ opponent. Kershaw is on the mound for the opener, and All-Star left-hander Alex Wood will pitch Game 4. Roberts hadn’t decided whether Darvish or Rich Hill would pitch Game 2, but the other will pitch Game 3. Darvish has faced the Cubs only once in his big-league career. Wood went 16-3 in the regular season, but didn’t pitch in the NLDS thanks to the Dodgers’ sweep, which means he’ll hit the mound in Chicago on 21 days’ rest.