Cubs vs. Dodgers: Position-by-position NLCS look

First postseason matchup between the clubs since 2008 NLDS

October 14th, 2016

The Nationals have been vanquished, and so have the Giants, the Mets and everyone else in the National League. All that's left is the Dodgers and the Cubs, meeting in what should be an exciting NL Championship Series for the right to snap one of two long title-free streaks (Game 1 is at 8 ET tonight on FS1). The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since 1988, and the Cubs, well... you know all about their history.

It's clear that the Cubs are the most talented in the Majors this season, and you don't get to that point without having a ton of talent. That doesn't make it a clean sweep, however, because the Dodgers have their strengths, so let's break this down position-by-position. Remember, this isn't just about "who has been good in the Postseason." Not entirely. A full season's worth of production has to outweigh a few games of good performance.

:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage :: 


This is a lot closer than you'd think, because Cubs rookie had himself quite the nice debut after taking 's job by hitting .282/.357/.488 (126 wRC+, where 100 is league average). He also showed a strong arm and played some outfield. , meanwhile, batted .228/.339/.477 (122 wRC+) while also ranking as the No. 2 framing catcher in the big leagues. We'll give the Dodgers the slight edge here because of Grandal's longer track record and superior framing, and because has been doing exactly what the Dodgers acquired him to do -- hit lefties. But it's by a razor-thin advantage.

Small advantage: Dodgers

First Base

Remember when we said not to worry too much about small sample postseason stat lines when putting a judgment on who gets the edge? That's welcome news for , who batted only .067/.176/.067 against the Giants in the NL Division Series. He's still one of the sport's true stars, coming off a .292/.385/.544 (145 wRC+) season that represents his third straight elite year, and he doesn't even come with the same platoon weaknesses that many lefty sluggers have. Rizzo is basically what (.285/.349/.435, 121 wRC+ in 2016) once was. And while Gonzalez has a streak of 11 straight above-average hitting seasons, his career-worst slugging percentage gives this one to Rizzo.

Advantage: Cubs

Second Base

In our Cubs/Giants NLDS preview, we had as the starter here, but it quickly became clear that this is the show now. He has started each game at the keystone, while Zobrist roamed the outfield. Baez has an argument to make as the game's most exciting infield defender, but you'll also remember that he hit the go-ahead home run off to win Game 1 of the NLDS, and that it was Baez who drove in the winning run in Chicago's wild Game 4 comeback. Add to that a career line of .279/.343/.458 (114 wRC+) against lefties (he faces a Dodgers team that may start three southpaws), plus the fact that  batted .238/.283/.422 (90 wRC+) in the second half and not at all so far in October, and this is a clear call.

Big advantage: Cubs


is one of the Majors' most promising young shortstops, so it should tell you a lot about that this one isn't really close at all. Russell is a plus defender who tapped into some power to hit 21 homers as part of a .238/.321/.417 (95 wRC+) line, but Seager is the near-certain NL Rookie of the Year Award winner who clearly outperformed Russell at the plate (.308/.365/.512, 137 wRC+). He was also better than expected on defense, was the best overall shortstop this year and collected three times as many postseason extra-base hits (3) as Russell had hits (1). Russell is very good; Seager is better.

Advantage: Dodgers

Third Base

This one ought to be a slam dunk, because (.292/.385/.554, 149 wRC+, 39 homers) is extremely likely to win the NL Most Valuable Player Award. But we also saw how valuable (.275/.339/.493, 124 wRC+) has been to the Dodgers both in October and over the last three years. Both are among the most elite third basemen in the game. Bryant still wins here, because he's Bryant. Turner's value keeps it from being a rout, though.

Advantage: Cubs

Left Field

This is where Zobrist (.272/.386/.446, 124 wRC+) has landed, mostly, and that's a step up over a group led by and . It's a testament to the great depth and versatility the Cubs have that they can move their second baseman to the outfield to add Baez and lose nothing in the transition. The Dodgers' tandem of (.314/.365/.505, 132 wRC+, strong arm that averages 97.5 mph per Statcast™) and (.255/.326/.366, 91 wRC+, weak arm that averages 85.5 mph) has its uses and doesn't match Zobrist.

Advantage: Cubs

Center Field

Do you prefer the 129 wRC+ fueled by the strong on-base skills of (.276/.393/.447)? Or do you prefer the 129 wRC+ that comes with the superior power of (.246/.352/.495)? They both recorded one Defensive Run Saved, which means advanced stats considered them to be roughly average and equal outfielders. Pederson did have a huge home run to knock out of Game 5 of the NLDS, but that's not enough to break this tie. Both clubs are pretty happy with their situations here. 

Advantage: Push

Right Field

This spot looks like a job share on both sides, because Zobrist will probably replace against lefties, and and will probably have a straight platoon arrangement. Heyward remains an elite defender, though his offensive struggles (.230/.306/.325, 72 wRC+, one hit in the postseason) have been well-chronicled. Puig hit well after his Minor League demotion (.281/.338/.561, 137 wRC+) and even walked three times in the NLDS. This is a tiny edge for Los Angeles because both sides of its platoon can do some damage, while it's less certain Heyward can -- though it's by the slimmest of margins.

Small advantage: Dodgers


This is where the Cubs shine, because manager Joe Maddon can mix and match Baez, Coghlan, Soler, , , Montero, and (Ross' ability to limit the running game is an underrated skill) as needed. It's not that a bench with Puig, Kendrick (or Toles), , Ruiz, and is a weakness, it's just that this kind of depth is exactly what the Cubs were built for.

Advantage: Cubs

Starting Pitchers

Any imagined concern over whether could "handle the playoffs" ought to be well out the window after his 11 strikeouts in Game 4 and relief heroics in Game 5. That said, Kershaw can't start until Game 2 (or maybe Game 3), Game 1 starter wasn't nearly as effective in the second half (4.25 ERA) as he was in the first (2.95 ERA) and in a seven-game series, manager Dave Roberts may not be able to back up with again if both are needed to start. might even get a start, and he began the year in Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga. The fully rested Cubs rotation of , , , and might be better even if both sides were at full strength, and the Dodgers -- for understandable reasons, of course -- aren't.

Advantage: Cubs


You know by now all about the flamethrowing dominance of , who was somehow even better with the Cubs (1.01 ERA, 45.1 strikeout percentage) than he was with the Yankees (2.01 ERA, 36.7 strikeout percentage). You should have already known about , who has had the best season (104/11 K/BB in 68 2/3 innings) of what's shaping up to be a historic career, but if you didn't, the 2 1/3 innings he gave the Dodgers in Game 5 certainly made up for that. There are very few closers who can match up with Chapman. Jansen is one of them.

Advantage: Push

Relief Pitchers

The Dodgers' bullpen was very good this year --'s Bullpen of the Year, actually -- though it flew somewhat under the radar much of the time. has done more than enough to make it clear that the relief version of him is far different than the unimpressive starter version, and arms like and have their uses. But the Cubs have built up a stunning collection of non-Chapman arms, from former closer (58/8 K/BB in 51 innings) to (60/15 K/BB in 47 1/3 innings) to the electrifying , who was the most difficult pitcher to contact inside the zone. It's a good Dodger bullpen; it may be a great Cubs bullpen.

Small advantage: Cubs