Los Angeles Dodgers: (91-71) NL West Champions
Chicago Cubs: (103-58) NL Central Champions
Home-Field Advantage: Chicago Cubs
How They Advanced: The Dodgers won the best-of-five Division Series three games to two against the Washington Nationals; the Cubs beat the Giants three games to one in their Division Series
The Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in the game, have a little streak of their own when it comes to winning a World Series. You have to go back 28 years, to Kirk Gibson's momentum-shifting home run against Hall of Fame Oakland Athletics closer Denis Eckersley in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series to find a Dodgers series win. Tommy Lasorda was still manager of Los Angeles; Rick Dempsey was splitting time with an aging Mike Scioscia at catcher and Orel Hershiser was still atop the Dodgers' rotation.
But clearly, if we are judging by which team has more invested in getting a monkey off of its back, it would be the Chicago Cubs, who have not won a World Series in 108 years. The Cubs have not even been to a World Series since 1945 -- 71 years ago.
With the weight of so much history upon them, the Cubs, while clearly the favorites, have all the pressure on them. One man in the Cubs' organization, in particular, has been there and done this before -- the team's president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein. After a falling out with the Red Sox in 2011, Epstein left and was hired by the Ricketts' family to run the Cubs and lead them to this moment.
It's a compelling series between two teams that, like their American League counterparts, had one team (the Cubs) win the regular-season series four games to three.
The Numbers Don't Lie
Everything has come to Epstein so easily that, sometimes, I want to see a guy like that have to sweat more to get his next success. Well I guess hiring and firing former managers Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria, while finding the perfect fit in current manager Joe Maddon, will just have to suffice. I guess getting swept by the upstart New York Mets a year ago will also count as some form of suffering. The bottom line is, as much as the Dodgers would be a feel-good story of a very different variety, it's simply hard to overlook that this could be the Cubs' time.
Chicago's pitching staff has held opponents to a combined .212 batting average, while finishing the season with the best ERA in the all of baseball (3.15) and the lowest WHIP (1.11). The Dodgers are not exactly hurting in the pitching department, with their staff's 3.70 ERA good for fifth-best in the majors and 1.19 WHIP the second-lowest (tied with Washington).
Offensively, there is a lot to like about the Cubs. From a statistical perspective, they have outscored the Dodgers, 808 to 725, a plus-83 run differential. The home runs are much closer, with the Cubs at 199 and the Dodgers 189. The Cubs have a .343 team OBP, while the Dodgers sit a .319. Neither team figures to have much of an edge on the basepaths.
It Could Come Down to Superior Starting Pitching
For the Cubs, starters Jon Lester, Kyle Hendrick, Jake Arrieta and John Lackey form an enviable quartet. All four are rested and ready, and one might argue Lackey, who has a history of being a big-game hurler, has been thrown off by being at the backend of his team's rotation. While it would be easy to focus on Lester's incredible numbers against the Dodgers in 2016, combine the three top starters (Lackey did not pitch against the Dodgers in 2016) and you find, collectively, Lester, Hendricks and Arrieta have pitched 30 innings against Los Angles with a 0.90 ERA and 0.73 WHIP in 2016.
In The Pens
Both teams have power arms for closing time. But the pen, beyond the closers, is the one area in which we might have to give the edge to the Dodgers.
If The Intangibles Play Into This
It seems like the Dodgers routinely have to rearrange their pitching and are always up against the wall, figuring out just how to maximize one pitcher's place -- that being Clayton Kershaw. However, there is no doubt the starting pitching edge in this series is all on the Cubs' side. The tandem of Dodgers starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill seems like just the type that could work well against a lineup with all the pressure against it. An X-factor are the two new arms this year: Japanese import Kenta Maeda, who will start Game 1 (the Cubs have not seen him all year, which should give him some edge), and 19-year-old Julio Urias, who could start a game in the series. But the latter also might factor in as a secret relief weapon in Dodgers manager Dave Roberts' chess match with the Maddon. Offensively, Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig and utility man Howie Kendrick need to add something to the mix.
If The Dodgers Win
The stars must be lined up exactly right. If the Dodger win, it will be partly because of the incredible pressure building on the Cubs, a team that might not think it only has to win baseball games, but instead may feel like it is on a Don Quixote quest to fight the curse. But it will also be because Kershaw and Hill both bested their rivals in Games 2, 3, 6 and 7, with Kershaw truly measuring up to Dodgers great Sandy Koufax in primetime. Relievers Joe Blanton, Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan, Grant Dayton and Kenley Jansen will all be on lockdown mode from the sixth to ninth. The Dodgers will also shut down perennial postseason-hero, catcher David Ross.
If The Cubs Win
Maddon does not have a single tough decision to make. They must beat an unknown in Game 1 in Maeda, who'll more than likely pitch seven to eight innings and allow one to two runs, if that. Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler will have an OBP higher than .350 (for the season, he was at .393). It would also help if first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who slugged 32 home runs and drove in 109 RBIs in the regular season, gets in gear. The Cubs cannot depend solely on third baseman Kris Bryant. Shortstop Addison Russell and right fielder Jason Heyward have to contribute, too.
If Karma Predicts
While the Dodgers, Kershaw and the fact they have not even been to the World Series in 28 years make a great story, I am sorry, the Chicago Cubs have all the karma on their side.
Who Will Win
Maybe if Dodgers legend Vin Scully were broadcasting the games, it might make a difference, but he isn't, and as great as Kershaw is, I need to see him do magic on the biggest stage. I'm not sure yet if the Cubs will win their World Series this year, but they should have enough to take care of Los Angeles in five or six games.