CHICAGO -- When Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier this week that his club and the Los Angeles Dodgers were "pretty evenly matched," this was not a tactic, or a smokescreen. It was an honest call.Of course, Maddon believes that his club will get the best of this pretty evenly
CHICAGO -- When Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier this week that his club and the Los Angeles Dodgers were "pretty evenly matched," this was not a tactic, or a smokescreen. It was an honest call.
Of course, Maddon believes that his club will get the best of this pretty evenly matched competition. The Cubs won 103 games in the regular season. They were baseball's best team. The Dodgers won 91 games. They were the best team in the National League West.
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But the 2016 NL Championship Series has been, overall, a highly competitive event. The Cubs will take a 3-2 lead into Game 6 tonight at Wrigley Field, and they will have a chance to advance to their first World Series since 1945. But the Dodgers will try to stretch the series to seven games, going with their ace of aces, Clayton Kershaw.
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Both clubs have the potential for outstanding pitching on a given night, although the Cubs have a deeper rotation. Offensively, the difference seems greater. The Cubs ranked second in the NL in runs scored this year, while the Dodgers were seventh.
But acquisitions the Dodgers have made, Maddon says, have given them more versatility, and made them more formidable offensively. In that regard, the Cubs' manager points to outfielder Josh Reddick giving the Dodgers another left-handed batting alternative in the outfield, and catcher Carlos Ruiz giving them an improved option over Yasmani Grandal against left-handed pitching.
"The way they're set up right now, what they've done in the latter part of the season with the addition of Reddick, and the addition of Ruiz, and their ability to go back and forth, to me, that's where I think -- I call them switch-hitters," Maddon said. "Like Ruiz is Grandal; [Howie] Kendrick is [Chase] Utley [at second base]. They could go back and forth. So they're really strong from both sides of the plate if they can put you in the right spot for them.
"So what I'm saying is offensively they got better just through their acquisitions. Had they not made those particular moves, I don't think I would view them nearly as formidable as they are. Right now I'm sitting up there going over my sheet, you know, their lineup, and looking at our bullpen matchups vs. them. The moment you put your righty down, here comes the lefty, and it's a good lefty. So up and down the lineup, they're pretty formidable, I think, right now.
"On our side of it, we're still really young, too. We're still counting on a lot of young guys. We're very athletic, and when that top part of the order goes, we're in pretty good shape. I still believe a lot of our success depends on Dexter [Fowler] getting us going quickly.
"But to answer your question specifically, I think [over the course of the season] what they did to their team has made them more formidable."
The Dodgers have proven their worth to themselves. When Kershaw was out for more than two months with a herniated disk in his back, they moved up in the standings, to first place. More recently, they were down, two games to one in the NL Division Series to Washington, and they came back to win two straight, including the final game on the road facing Nationals ace Max Scherzer. So the Dodgers aren't awed by the Cubs.
"They're beatable, just like we are," first baseman Adrián González said. "They're a great team and we're a great team. There's nothing to think about in that regard."
If the Cubs were heavy favorites coming in, the Dodgers stopped them cold, shutting them out in Games 2 and 3. The Cubs' offense reawakened to regain the series lead. Now the final act draws near. The Cubs are at home for Game 6 and, if necessary, Game 7. The Dodgers have Kershaw going in Game 6, and Rich Hill, who pitched superbly against the Cubs in Game 3, ready for Game 7.
It should be a fascinating finish to what has already been a compelling competition.
"It's just an interesting baseball series, man," Maddon said. "I think it's great. I think it's great for baseball. I've talked about this the other day. 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."
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com.