RECORDS: Cubs 25-21 Dodgers 28-20
GAMETIMES: 9:10pm Friday, 6:15pm Saturday, 3:10 Sunday
TV: ABC Friday, Fox Saturday, CSN Sunday
THINK BLUE: True Blue LA
After the complete state fair ride from hell that was the World Series, you might have forgotten about the glory finally found in Chavez Ravine last fall. Wiping out the nightmare of 2008, Addison Russell and Javy Baez slapped around the Dodgers for a couple games after a brief, Rich Hill-induced panic had gripped Nation Blue. The Cubs return for the first time tonight, where they’ll find an arguably stronger Dodgers team.
The Dodgers are eight games over .500, but that only finds them third in the NL West thanks to the hot starts from Arizona and Colorado. They’re only 2.5 games back of the Rockies, and no one expects Rocky Top to stay there. And looking at the numbers team-wide, it probably will happen quite sharpish, as the Dodgers boast one of the league’s best offenses, rotations, and bullpens. It’s what everyone thought it would be before the season.
We’ll start with the offense as normal. It won’t be the full-strength one this weekend, as Mad Sweeney Justin Turner is on the DL with hamstring problems. But Cory Seager is still here. Yasmani Grandal is belting it from behind the plate. They’ve been aided that Cody Bellinger has come up, and found a permanent home in left field thanks to Andrew Toles season-ending injury. Chris Taylor is standing in for Joc Pederson, and Taylor has been able to ride a .443 BABIP into productivity. They still have a sucking sound at first base as Adrian Gonzalez has lost the fight with age, and Chase Utley has to play far too much with Logan Forsythe having to fill in for Turner at third. And Yasiel Puig has seriously cooled off since his start to the season that threatened competency again. When Turner and Pederson return and they finally figure out what to do with Puig and right field, they’re going to be a real problem.
The rotation has been picking up whatever slack is needed, though it’s somewhat built on a sand-foundation. Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy have been doing serious work, and the Cubs will see both, but as we know both are constructed out of Kleenex and the fantasies of small children. Rich Hill has sucked, which absolutely no one, including this charming and handsome writer, could have ever predicted. Kenta Maeda hasn’t been any better, and Ryu became his own nuclear site. Urias is still waiting down in Triple-A in case McCarthy and Wood return to their natural form on the DL. But there’s always Kershaw. He is the constant.
And that might be enough considering how good the pen has been. Kenley Jansen has a 0.09 FIP. Just take a moment to look at that and wonder what it means for life in general. 0.09. In front of him, all of Stripling, Fields, Avilan, have sub-2.00 FIPs. Throw in Chris Hatcher and all five are striking out over 10 per nine innings. Only Avilan is walking more than average. Pedro Baez even has a 1.40 ERA as hitters die of calcification when facing him. There is no shelter out there.
And even if something goes haywire, the Dodgers have the stocked system to go get another starter, or even two, if they need it. Or if they want to finally replace Puig. Or they could send Gonzalez to a farm upstate, move Bellinger to his natural first base slot, and put someone else in left. It’s a little frightening.
Sunday’s Lester-Kershaw matchup is clearly the headliner for this one, but how a Cubs lineup will do against the best the Dodgers have to offer should make for good viewing as well. Because if you don’t get to the starters, the game gets awfully short awfully quickly against the Dodgers.
A nice additive to your holiday weekend.