The National League Division Series begins Oct. 7, with the Los Angeles Dodgers at the Washington Nationals and the Chicago Cubs hosting the San Francisco Giants. Nine of the 10 NLDS games can be seen on FSI, with Game 2 of the Giants-Cubs series only available on MLBN. Game 3 of both series is also available on MLBN.
Game 1, Oct. 7
5:30 p.m. Los Angeles (Clayton Kershaw) at Washington (Max Scherzer)
9 p.m. San Francisco (Johnny Cueto) at Chicago (Jon Lester)
Game 2, Oct. 8
4 p.m. Los Angeles (Rick Hill) at Washington (Tanner Roark)
8 p.m. San Francisco (TBD) at Chicago (Kyle Hendricks)
Game 3, Oct. 10
TBD Washington (Gio Gonzalez) at Los Angeles (Kenta Maeda)
TBD Chicago (Jake Arrieta) at San Francisco (Madison Bumgarner)
Game 4 (if necessary), Oct. 11
TBD Washington (TBD) Los Angeles (TBD)
TBD Chicago (John Lackey) at San Francisco (TBD)
Game 5 (if necessary), Oct. 13
TBD Los Angeles (TBD) at Washington (TBD)
TBD San Francisco (TBD) at Chicago (Lester)
Los Angeles Dodgers Vs. Washington Nationals
As stark a contrast as you can find in this series comes down to the opposing managers. Nationals manager Dusty Baker, who has never won a World Series, is a veteran, grizzly, players-first manager. His team will be ready to play and at ease mentally. The same couldn't be said about former Nationals skipper Matt Williams when he took his team to the 2014 playoffs. On the other side, the Dodgers are managed by first-year skipper Dave Roberts, who has done a masterful job with his brief managerial experience in the big leagues. He's had to navigate more than two months without ace Clayton Kershaw, and he's dealt with the continuing saga of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. His players will run through proverbial walls for him
The matchup on the field is just as intriguing, and it might be the most competitive of all the playoff series, if not for a couple key injuries to the Nats, as well as the fact second baseman Daniel Murphy is returning from a muscle problem in his buttocks.
But the two big losses for Washington are significant, as right-handed starter Stephen Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos are out. Perhaps the biggest wild card in this division series comes down to which form of outfielder Bryce Harper the Nationals get. For many, 50 extra-base hits (24 doubles, two triples and 24 home runs) and 86 RBIs would be fine. But for Harper, his .243 batting average and .441 slugging percentage are way down from years past, with the slugging percentage down from a league-leading .649 in 2015.
Facing a fresh, and looking-for-postseason-redemption Kershaw and trade deadline acquisition starter Rich Hill is likely not the time for Harper to suddenly pull it all together. Ditto for Murphy, who has been down and out through the past two weeks.
If Harper is the Nats' wild card, then Puig is the Dodgers'. He did earn a September call-up, and his behavior and play won him a spot on the postseason roster. Perhaps he is ready for redemption as well; he still has the tools to be a huge difference maker.
The Dodgers should win the first two games and win this series in four.
San Francisco Giants Vs. Chicago Cubs
On paper, this doesn't look like a fair fight. That is until you look at the Giants' starting pitchers. And until you realize the Giants, under manager Bruce Bochy, have won three World Series during the past five years.
This is about now, not the past five years. Cubs general manager Theo Epstein has assembled a pretty special team. Can they lose in any of these short series? Absolutely. But the San Francisco Giants are not the team equipped to beat them.
The Giants have scored 4.41 runs per game, and their pitching staff has allowed 3.89 runs per game. The Cubs have the largest run differential in baseball -- and it's sure not close between these two teams. Chicago has scored 252 more runs than they've allowed; the Giants only have a plus-84 differential. The Cubs have scored 808 runs, which is an average of 4.98 runs per game, and they have only allowed 556 runs, just 3.43 per game.
Yes, the Giants top two starters Johnny Cueto (Game 1) and Madison Bumgarner (Game 3) are capable of stymieing the Cubs' big-time bats and maybe garnering a lead late. But, therein lies the rub: the Giants bullpen would have to perform flawlessly. I just don't see that happening.
At the same time, should the Cubs build a lead, the bridge to 100-plus mph closer Aroldis Chapman is equally superb, with the likes of Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, Travis Cahill, Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery and Travis Wood. That batch of relievers allows skipper Joe Maddon to mix-and-match with anything Bochy throws his way from the sixth inning on.
The Cubs' young lineup may struggle at times, but if they can make the Giants' starters throw a lot of pitches, that will do San Francisco in late.
The Giants may squeak out a win in Game 3 with Bumgarner on the mound. But the likelihood of Bumgarner's team responding to his greatness down 0-2 in the series is dubious. This very well could be a sweep.