CHICAGO -- In the National League Championship Series last year, Mets pitchers stifled the Cubs and swept the series. Now that the Cubs have ousted the Giants in the NL Division Series, they need to regroup for the next round, which starts Saturday vs. the Dodgers (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m.
CHICAGO -- In the National League Championship Series last year, Mets pitchers stifled the Cubs and swept the series. Now that the Cubs have ousted the Giants in the NL Division Series, they need to regroup for the next round, which starts Saturday vs. the Dodgers (8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1).
The Cubs will likely hear more talk about the franchise's long drought since the last World Series championship -- 1908, in case you didn't know. They'll just shrug it off.
:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage ::
"I think the biggest thing is nobody really cares in there about a curse or a goat or anything else," Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. "If we make a mistake, we're not going to blame it on a curse or anything else like that. We're going to blame it on ourselves and be accountable for it and move on to the next play or the next moment.
"Plus, I think we've got too many young guys in there that don't even know what that stuff is," Lester said. "It's almost better to play naive and just go out and worry about us, worry about the Cubs, and not anything else in the past or, like I said, any animals."
The Cubs finished with a franchise-record 57 wins at Wrigley during the regular season. The crowd dances to each player's walk-up music. There are "W" flags all over town. In Spring Training, there was talk about how they wanted to win this for catcher David Ross, 39, who is retiring at season's end. They hope his retirement party never ends.
What do the Cubs need to do to advance to their first World Series since 1945? Here are three things to consider:
1. Keep Javier Báez in the lineup
Baez, who began the season without a starting job, started at second base in all four games of the NLDS, primarily for his glove. He has contributed at the plate, batting .375 with two RBIs, including a go-ahead RBI single in the ninth inning of the 6-5 win Tuesday in Game 4. The Cubs need to catch the ball, and Baez will likely provide more web gems in the next series.
2. Let's get some runs
Pitchers drove in six of the Cubs' 17 runs in the NLDS. They will need to find offense somewhere else. Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell each went 1-for-15 in the four games. Maddon pinch-hit for Russell for the first time this season in the ninth of Game 4. Maddon was encouraged by Rizzo's at-bats on Tuesday, because the first baseman was more patient and walked twice. But pitcher Jake Arrieta is tied with Kris Bryant for the most RBIs in the postseason (three). The position players need to step it up.
3. Pitching, pitching and more pitching
Cubs starters had the best ERA (2.96) in the Majors this year, and they need to continue that trend. Lester will be happy to start Game 1 of the NLCS at Wrigley, where he was 10-2 with a 1.74 ERA. The lefty had the best outing so far among the starters, throwing eight scoreless innings in Game 1 against the Giants. If he gets the go ahead, Kyle Hendricks could start Game 2 at home, which would also be a good thing. Hendricks was struck on the right forearm by a line drive in Game 2 of the NLDS, knocking him out after 3 2/3 innings. He posted a 1.32 ERA at home. Arrieta delivered at the plate, smacking a three-run homer in Game 3, and he held the Giants to two runs over six innings.
The difference for the Cubs this season is the addition of Aroldis Chapman. Mets closer Jeurys Familia overwhelmed the Cubs in last year's NLCS. Chapman pitched in all four NLDS games, and he struck out the side in the ninth inning of Game 4 for his third save.
Carrie Muskat has covered the Cubs since 1987, and for MLB.com since 2001. She writes a blog, Muskat Ramblings. You can follow her on Twitter @CarrieMuskat and listen to her podcast.