2017 NLCS Preview: Comparing Cubs, Dodgers Pitching Staffs
Dodgers News: Kiké Hernandez Explains Difficulty In Stealing Bases Off Jon Lester
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The National League Championship Series begins Saturday, which gives the Los Angeles Dodgers an opportunity to avenge last year’s loss to the Chicago Cubs. While it is an NLCS rematch, the clubs teams are seemingly in opposite positions entering the showdown.

As you may be aware, Dodgers pitchers were atop the NL in WAR (FanGraphs) as well as ERA and FIP. Meanwhile, the Cubs regressed from last season and placed seventh in the NL in WAR, though they were still fourth in ERA and fifth in FIP.

The Cubs’ starters had a cumulative 4.05 ERA, good for fourth in the league, and a 4.27 bullpen ERA, which ranked sixth.

In 2016, Chicago had four pitchers with a WAR of over 3.0. This season, they had none. Perhaps the most surprising downturn came from Jon Lester, whose ERA rose by nearly two runs and his WAR dipped by 1.7 wins.

However, unlike last year, Lester has learned to throw to first base again, so don’t expect to see many 15-foot walking leads from Dodgers’ baserunners.

Another surprise was Jake Arrieta, who has taken significant steps backward since his Cy Young win in 2015. Arrieta’s ERA this season was a respectable 3.53, but he posted a FIP of 4.16 and a 2.4 WAR.

The Dodgers hit him hard in his lone NLCS start last year, plating four runs in five innings to hand him the loss in Game 3.

Less surprising were the regressions of Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey. Hendricks worked his magic to post a 2.13 ERA and a 4.5 WAR in 2016, and he was still productive this season but saw his WAR drop by two wins.

Lackey’s fall was more drastic, going from a 3.1 WAR to a 0.5 WAR. Hendricks dominated the Dodgers last postseason, while Lackey had a forgettable performance in a Game 4 blowout win.

A difference-maker for the Cubs this year has been Jose Quintana, acquired from the Chicago White Sox a few weeks prior to the trade deadline. While he appeared in relief during Game 5 of the NL Division Series, Quintana is the likely starter for NLCS Game 1.

The Dodgers haven’t seen too much of him, with Franklin Gutierrez having faced the southpaw 12 times. That of course is a moot point as Gutierrez has long been shut down for the year. Logan Forsythe has hit Quintana well in the past, while Curtis Granderson has homered off him.

After losing Aroldis Chapman in free agency, the Cubs pursued top closers on the free-agent market before finally trading for Wade Davis. He pitched well as the team’s closer, posting a 2.30 ERA and 32 saves.

Setting up Davis are Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. Both throw very hard, both are a bit wild but both can shut hitters down late in the game. Edwards pitched in all five NLDS games and struggled, allowing six runs and four walks in 2.1 innings, while Strop allowed a run in 3.1 innings.

Justin Wilson, a deadline pickup from the Detroit Tigers, struggled with the Cubs during the regular season and only made one appearance in the NLDS. Brian Duensing was solid in the regular season and recorded four outs in the previous series without allowing an earned run.

Overall, the Dodgers have a pretty clear advantage in their rotation. Lester and Arrieta have pitched like aces in the past and Hendricks and Quintana have been very productive over the last few seasons.

But it’s hard to compare to the Dodgers’ depth and excellent production from their starters. The bullpens are probably a little closer than they appear on paper. Though, Kenta Maeda’s emergence as a real late-inning option and the probable return of Luis Avilan give the Dodgers a solid edge.

Bottom line, it should be a competitive series.