The Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers won their openers, putting us a little closer to a rematch of last year’s National League Championship Series. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The Washington Nationals and Arizona Diamondbacks will come back in Game 2 with two of the better left-handers in the game.
The most important thing of the day: The Cubs and Nationals combined for seven hits in Game 1, the only game this postseason in which both starting pitchers fared well. Of the eight games played so far, eight of the 16 starting pitchers didn’t even last four innings.
If you’re going to watch only one game, tune in for: Cubs-Nationals. Can Jon Lester continue his postseason dominance? Can Dusty Baker and the Nationals overcome their postseason horror stories?
NLDS Game 2: Cubs at Nationals (Cubs lead 1-0)
Jon Lester (13-8, 4.33) vs. Gio Gonzalez (15-9, 2.96), 5:30 p.m. ET (TBS)
The stakes: The pressure is on the Nationals after getting shut out in Game 1, as they try to avoid their fourth Division Series loss in four appearances since 2012.
If the Cubs win: They’d love to be up 2-0 heading back to Wrigley Field, especially given that Game 4 starter Jake Arrieta has thrown just 10 innings in September after suffering a hamstring strain.
If the Nationals win: The series will be tied and they’ll hand the ball to likely Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, who tweaked his own hamstring in his final regular-season start. He threw a bullpen session Friday, but we’ll see how careful Baker will be with him.
One key stat to know: Lester had an eight-start slump from August through mid-September when he walked 19 batters in 39 innings and had a 6.18 ERA. His final two starts were much better, however, and the Cubs hope he can step up at the right time. He has a 2.63 career ERA in the postseason over 133 2/3 innings, and the Cubs won four of his five playoff starts last year.
The matchup that matters most: Bryce Harper versus Lester. Harper was aggressive against Kyle Hendricks in the opener and ended up seeing just 11 pitches in four plate appearances. He has only faced Lester nine times and is 1-for-7 with five strikeouts and a home run (0-for-5 with four K’s this year). That’s a small sample size, but Harper was much better against righties this season (1.087 OPS versus .802 against lefties). Let’s see if he attacks early in the count or tries to get into a 1-0 or 2-0 fastball count (batters slugged .460 against Lester’s fastball this season compared to .378 last year).
The prediction: As good as Lester has been in October in the past, this wasn’t his best year, and it’s hard to see the Nationals’ offense getting shut down two games in a row. The Nationals even the series with a 5-4 win.
NLDS Game 2: Diamondbacks at Dodgers (Dodgers lead 1-0)
The stakes: The Dodgers did what they had to do, winning the Clayton Kershaw game against Arizona’s third- or fourth-best starter. The pressure entering Game 2 would have been immense if they’d lost, shifting the series to Arizona’s advantage. Instead, they’re now heavy favorites to advance, although Arizona may have the edge in starting pitching matchups the next two games.
If the D-backs win: They’ll be happy with a split, knowing they’re going back home with Zack Greinke ready in Game 3 and then Ray ready in Game 5 if the series goes that far.
If the Dodgers win: They’d love to be up 2-0 to put less pressure on Game 3 starter Yu Darvish, who served up four home runs in his playoff start last year for the Rangers.
One key stat to know: Ray went 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five starts against the Dodgers this season. Most impressively, he fanned 53 in 31 2/3 innings.
The matchup that matters most: Ray versus Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger. Ray is a power lefty who throws up in the zone with his fastball. He struck out 40 percent of all left-handed batters he faced, but Seager and Bellinger handled lefties very well this year. Seager hit .500 and slugged .792 against fastballs from lefties in the upper half of the zone (where he likes the ball). Bellinger slugged .686 against fastballs from lefties in the upper half.