LOS ANGELES -- Fasten your seatbelts.The National League Championship Series has become exactly what it should be. This is a meeting of two franchises with rich histories, progressive front offices and ultra-talented players, many of whom we're just getting to know. What fan wouldn't want to wring as much out
LOS ANGELES -- Fasten your seatbelts.
The National League Championship Series has become exactly what it should be. This is a meeting of two franchises with rich histories, progressive front offices and ultra-talented players, many of whom we're just getting to know. What fan wouldn't want to wring as much out of this as we can?
• NLCS Game 5: Tonight at 8 ET on FS1
:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage ::
With Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell among the Cubs wearing the biggest smiles after the 10-2 victory in Game 4, the Dodgers' dream of a short series is gone. The NLCS is tied, 2-2, and that means it will end this weekend at Wrigley Field, before the walls that have been covered in ivy since Bill Veeck had the idea to dress up the brick, which only seems right.
"It's just an interesting baseball series, man,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I think it's great. I think it's great for baseball. I think if you're looking to garner new fans, this is a great venue for that. Kids are watching on TV, and it's very exciting. It's very exciting stuff.''
We're talking a best-of-three scenario to see who advances to face the Indians in the World Series, and the stars have aligned to deliver drama at such a level that it might approach the anticipation in Chicago, where a Cubs' championship hasn't been celebrated since 1908.
The Cubs last played in the World Series in 1945, and the franchise has suffered through a cruel series of close calls. The Cubs have a chance to get back to the doorstep tonight in Game 5, with Jon Lester due to face Kenta Maeda, the Japanese right-hander who led the Dodgers with 16 regular-season wins but hasn't been very effective over the last month.
But it's the Dodgers who would seem to have a pitching advantage in Game 6, with the best-in-the-business Clayton Kershaw set to face Kyle Hendricks, who isn't bad himself. In fact, he benefited from Kershaw's extended injury absence to claim the ERA title, which no Cub had done in 71 years.
There's no predicting what's going to happen in baseball. That's one of the beauties of the sport. But let's say form should hold. Lester beats Maeda, then Kershaw wins at Wrigley, as he did with seven shutout innings in Game 2.
That would take us to Game 7 at the Friendly Confines, with the Dodgers throwing Game 3 winner Rich Hill against Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young Award over the Dodgers' Kershaw and Zack Greinke in 2015.
For the Cubs, winning tonight is imperative. The last thing they want to do is have to beat a fully rested Kershaw to avoid elimination. The Dodgers are 4-0 in games their ace has appeared in this postseason, and the Texas lefty most recently held the Cubs to three baserunners in seven innings, even though his trademark curveball wasn't sharp.
"[Thursday] will be a pretty nice day to come out on top, and going back home having to win one of two,'' Maddon said. "We've been pretty good at Wrigley all year.''
The Cubs built their 103-58 record around their success at Wrigley, where they were 57-24. They've won four of six there against the Dodgers, including the split last weekend.
Second-year third baseman Kris Bryant is the favorite to win the NL's Most Valuable Player Award, but Arrieta says Rizzo is "pretty much our MVP every year.'' Rizzo and Russell, the All-Star shortstop, were a combined 3-for-50 in the postseason before they both went 3-for-5 with a home run in a game when the Dodgers were uncharacteristically sloppy.
The Cubs wound up with 13 hits, and six Cubs (including lefty reliever Mike Montgomery) came through with runners in scoring position. It looked like the kind of tide-turning evening that could wind up counting for more than one win, but baseball is always far more complex than that.
"I think that this is a big win, for sure,'' said Rizzo, whose success at the plate followed a switch to teammate Matt Szczur's bat. "With Lester going tomorrow, [we know] what he's going to bring to the table. … Now we have a chance to take another one here tomorrow and go home with a 3-2 lead.''
For three innings, 20-year-old lefty Julio Urías was dealing for the Dodgers. But Ben Zobrist's bunt single started a four-run fourth inning that was capped by Russell's two-run homer off Urias, and before the game was over, every Cub in the lineup either scored or drove in a run.
Maddon had considered lineup changes after the Cubs were shut out in Games 2 and 3, the biggest of which no doubt would have been sitting Russell and moving Javier Báez to shortstop. Instead, Maddon danced with the ones who brung him, as Darrell Royal would say, and the Cubs just might be dancing all the way to the World Series.
Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com.