With ace on tap, Dodgers still in good spot

Cubs' victory to avoid sweep could end up helping Los Angeles

October 19th, 2017

CHICAGO -- To fend off the Dodgers on Wednesday night, the Cubs had to use their closer for six outs (well, seven if you count possibly striking out twice in one at-bat) and 48 pitches. They had to get a game-ending double-play ball to prevent the possibility of , who was looming on deck, doing what he had done an inning earlier when he continued his majestic month with a scorching solo shot off Davis.

In other words, the Dodgers' ridiculous run of six straight postseason victories wasn't easy to stop, and it won't be any easier when this National League Championship Series resumes with Game 5 on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, where Davis almost certainly won't be available and, notably, will. It wasn't difficult for the Dodgers to shrug off their 3-2 loss, even as reporters asked the inevitable questions about momentum and whatnot.

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"Worry? No," Turner said. "We're going to show up tomorrow and prepare to play a baseball game, just like we have all year."

The champagne might have stayed on ice Wednesday, and a moment 29 years in the making remains a win away. But it says here the Dodgers, up 3-1, still have a stranglehold on this NLCS presented by Camping World. And for all we know, given recent trends in the Fall Classic, they might have even done themselves a favor with Wednesday's loss.

Had the Dodgers clinched on this night, they would have had a five-day layoff before the World Series presented by YouTube TV. Among the last eight teams to endure a layoff of five days or more following the LCS, only the 2008 Phillies went on to win it all. The last five such teams (the '09 Phillies, the '12 Tigers, the '14 Royals, the '15 Mets and the '16 Indians) all lost.

The Dodgers might have avoided a sweep stigma. Since the LCS went to a best-of-seven format in 1985, eight teams have swept through that round on their way to the World Series, and, among them, only the 1995 Braves went on to win the title. In fact, three of the eight -- the 1990 A's, the 2007 Rockies and the '12 Tigers -- were themselves swept in the Fall Classic.

Furthermore, of the three teams to win their first seven games of a single postseason (1976 Reds, 2007 Rockies and 2014 Royals), only the Big Red Machine finished the job.

Of course, the Dodgers weren't celebrating their avoidance of this obscure statistical terrain in the wake of Wednesday's loss. But they certainly didn't seem rattled by the result.

The Cubs got a vintage start from , three booming blasts off the bats of and and the aforementioned double-duty from Davis, and the Dodgers still had the tying run on the bases in the ninth. While the Cubs will be trying to make do with a compromised bullpen beyond starter , the Dodgers will have Kershaw on regular rest and relief studs and coming off a day off.

"I wouldn't say the pressure is on us," manager Dave Roberts said. "I think that we're in a pretty good spot."

This October has had a different air about it for the Dodgers than others of recent, painful past. They haven't had to ask Kershaw to carry them by pitching out of the 'pen or pitching on short slumber. Heck, the guy's only had to throw 11 1/3 innings since Sept. 30, so, if anything, he's over-rested.

There are worse fates in life than handing the ball to Clayton Kershaw with a chance to clinch the NL pennant, but that doesn't mean the Dodgers are assuming anything right now.

"It's not like the Cubs are just going to lay down and die because Kershaw's on the mound," Curtis Granderson said.

These Cubs, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit in last year's NLCS against the Dodgers and a 3-1 hole against the Indians in the World Series, seem to be at their best when pushed to or near the mathematical limit. That does make them dangerous, no doubt.

"I love the word pressure. I want there to be pressure," Cubs skipper Joe Maddon said. "I want there to be a carrot at the end of the stick… This is a good thing. I want our guys to respond properly and utilize that word for motivation as opposed to becoming cowardly."

But while Maddon's words carry weight in his clubhouse, there's a reason 33 of the 36 previous teams to take a 3-0 lead in any best-of-seven series have finished it off without even needing a Game 6 (two more, for the record, won it in six, with the 2004 Yankees the only team to lose it in seven). The Dodgers are fundamentally, mathematically and mentally in a good spot. It took an awful lot to beat them in Game 4, and it's going to take a heck of a lot more to knock them off completely.