4 Takeaways from the National League Championship Series
After nearly 30 long years, the Los Angeles Dodgers have finally returned to the Fall Classic.
L.A. destroyed the defending world champs in the National League Championship Series in five games, out-pitching, out-slugging, and out-everything-ing the Chicago Cubs. As Dodgers hitters worked long counts and Dodgers pitchers silenced Cubs' bats, the team with the most balanced roster in baseball moved on to its first World Series since 1988.
There were heroes (and goats) aplenty in this series, but here are four big reasons why the Dodgers are getting ready to play more baseball, and the Cubs are getting ready to go home.
L.A.'s Stars Shined
The Dodgers' best players performed at a high level in the NLCS, particularly Yasiel Puig, who resurrected his career this season and continued his improved play in the postseason. He went 7-for-18 with 4 walks and 2 strikeouts and batted .389/.500/.611, good for an OPS of 1.111. His plate discipline in this series ran contrary to his career numbers, but showed how good he can be when he's not chasing everything within a five-mile radius of the plate.
But his wasn't the only Dodger bat to make noise this series. NLCS MVP Justin Turner, whose October prowess is well-documented already, had an even better OPS (1.145), as did Chris Taylor (1.248) and Charlie Culberson (1.235). Cody Bellinger was tied with Puig for the team-lead in hits (7) and batted .318/.348/.545.
If you're going to go the distance in the MLB postseason, your best players have to play well, and the Dodgers' stars did just that.
That the Dodgers dominated the Cubs without their best player (according to fWAR), Corey Seager, is pretty incredible. Seager missed the NLCS with a bad back, but manager Dave Roberts indicated after last night's Game 5 win that he will be ready for the World Series. That is, of course, great news, but it should be noted how well Culberson played in his absence, batting .455/.417/.818 with 2 doubles and a triple in the five-game series.
And then there is the big hero from Game 5, outfielder Kike Hernandez, who became just the 10th player in postseason history to hit 3 home runs in a single game. (Jose Altuve also did it earlier this postseason in Game 1 of the ALDS against the Boston Red Sox.) One of those blasts was a grand slam, and his 7 RBIs tied a postseason record.
Splash! @kikehndez puts his name in the record books with THREE homers. pic.twitter.com/BKUtuXqYvn
— MLB (@MLB) October 20, 2017
Clayton Kershaw Isn't Alone Anymore
It seems as though in previous postseasons, the Dodgers' chances of going anywhere in the playoffs rested primarily on the shoulders of the incredible Clayton Kershaw. As he went, so did the Dodgers, and going into Game 5 last night, Kershaw's career postseason ERA of 4.40 in 106.1 innings of work were not up to his established regular season norms.
This year, Kershaw hasn't had to be superman, yet he has been very good. In his two NLCS starts, he went 11 innings with an ERA of 2.45, striking out 9 batters and walking 2. But this time around, the other Dodger arms in the rotation pitched in, too.
Yu Darvish, acquired at the trade deadline in late July, went 6.1 innings in his NLCS start and gave up just 1 earned run with 7 strikeouts and 1 walk. Rich Hill lasted five innings in his outing and gave up 1 run on 3 hits with 8 strikeouts and 1 walk. Only Alex Wood wasn't terribly effective in his start, lasting 4.2 innings and giving up 3 home runs, although he did strike out 7.
And the Dodgers' bullpen routinely shut the door on Chicago. Kenley Jansen, Kenta Maeda, and Brandon Morrow all helped stabilize the late innings for L.A, proving Kershaw didn't have to be superman. He just had to be Clayton Kershaw.
The Cubs' Offense Disappeared
Dodger pitching was excellent in this series, but the main reason the Cubs are done for the year is because they lost their ability to hit the baseball.
In this series, Chicago batted .156/.193/.299 and went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position. All 8 of their runs scored came via the home run, and unlike the Dodgers, their best hitters struggled.
Kris Bryant went 4-for-20. Anthony Rizzo was 1-for-17. Addison Russell went 2-for-16, and Javier Baez, despite his 2-homer game in Game 4, went 2-for-12. No Chicago regular batted above .222 in the series, a shocking development for a team that slugged its way to the title last season.
All of these items were a recipe for an early Chicago exit and a Los Angeles coronation.