Wow, the NLCS is starting already? It feels like Game 5 just ended.
But, alas, the Cubs have more work to do in their title defense and that work begins in earnest Saturday in Los Angeles with Game 1 against Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.
Theo Epstein and Joe Maddon didn't have set answers for who their Game 1 starter Thursday night after that epic Game 5, instead taking time to enjoy the moment after what may be the craziest non-World Series postseason game in Cubs history. After much discussion, they've settled on Jose Quintana to oppose Kershaw and battle all those Dodgers lefties in that lineup.
Quintana appeared in relief in Game 5, but only threw 12 pitches. He shut down the Nationals on Monday in Game 3, allowing only an unearned run in 5.2 innings in his first career postseason appearance.
Epstein promised the rotation and roster discussions would begin on the Cubs' plane to L.A. (that eventually had to be rerouted to Walter White's fictional home state), and the powers that be have come up with an NLCS roster:
No surprise here. Contreras caught every inning of the NLDS, solidfying the cleanup spot in the Cubs lineup. He was a huge part of Game 5, beginning that crazy fifth-inning rally with a two-out single off Max Scherzer and also snatching the momentum back from the Nationals in the eighth inning.
Avila was one of only two Cubs players (John Lackey was the other) who did not appear at all in the NLDS and doesn't figure to draw any starts in the CS if Contreras is healthy. But it's nice depth for Joe Maddon to have just in case.
Tommy La Stella
Rizzo and Bryant shared identical .200 batting averages and .238 on-base percentages in the five-game series against the Nats. The two franchise cornerstones carried the Cubs' offense in the first few games, but combined to reach base just one time in Game 5, though they did each drive in a run with a groundout.
Baez, meanwhile, was hitless in the NLDS, though he scored the team's first postseason run in Game 1 after reaching on an error. He also flashed with his glove - and arm - in the field, which should come as absolutely no surprise to anybody on the planet.
Russell finished with just a .222 average in the LDS, but he made his hits count, driving in four runs in Game 5, including the go-ahead two-run double in the first pitch he saw from Max Scheerzer. He also *just* missed a two-run homer off Stephen Strasburg in Game 4.
With the Cubs about to face a whole heap of lefties from the Dodgers, expect Rizzo, Bryant, Baez and Russell to be manning the infield for almost every inning in the NLCS.
Albert Almora Jr.
Once again, this will be the most complicated part of Maddon's everyday lineups, deciding who to play and who to bench. But at least they aren't providing anywhere near the same stress as the bullpen.
The Cubs outfield was a huge driving force against the Nats, as Almora, Schwarber and Zobrist all came up with big hits while Heyward and Jay made several impact defensive plays across the five games. Jay also posted a .429 on-base percentage while emerging as the Cubs' best option at leadoff right now.
Almora figures to play a lot with the Nationals throwing three left-handed starters in the first four games, though that also means Schwarber will be relegated to bench duty for much of the LCS. But he can still have an impact from there, as he proved Thursday night in D.C. when he lined a 114 mph single off the scoreboard in right field and came around to score what was ultimately the game-winning run.
Happ has not had much playing time this postseason, but with Maddon acknowledging Zobrist's struggles from the right side of the plate, Happ may be ine line for some starts against the Dodgers' southpaws.
These four guys all pitched in the last two games of the LDS, with Quintana and Lester combining to get 13 outs out of the bullpen.
Quintana did not allow an earned run against the Nationals and figures to be a good matchup against Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager and all the left-handed hitters the Dodgers roll with.
While the bullpen struggled mightily (more on that later), the Cubs starting staff combined for a NUMBERS HERE
With the Cubs advancing, it ensures Arrieta will make at least one more start in Cubbie blue before hitting the free agent market.
Carl Edwards Jr.
The Cubs somehow got past the Nationals despite a bullpen that was held together by a thread. Actually, a thread is too strong of an indicator to describe the Cubs bullpen. They were held on by one single atom.
Maddon took a lot of heat for his bullpen decisions, but it's not his fault Edwards has seemingly forgotten how to throw strikes after throwing just one bad pitch in the first three games of the series against the Nats.
Duensing wasn't tasked with much in the LDS - surprisingly, given he was the team's most consistent reliever besides Davis all year - but did not allow a run and picked up the win in Game 5. Strop also pitched out of jams enough to post a 2.70 ERA.
Davis certainly put his "balls on the line" in the LDS, to borrow a phrase from Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. Davis' longest career relief outing - and longest outing since 2013 - came in Game 5, when he put the team on his back and saved the season with one of the gutsiest performances of all time.
Lackey was never utilized in the LDS, though he may get some run with everybody's arms taxed on the way to the LCS.
The only change Maddon made to his bullpen was swapping out Wilson for Hector Rondon. Wilson was only used to record two outs in the NLDS.
In a surprising move, the Dodgers left two-time All-Star and last year's Rookie of the Year Corey Seager off the NLCS roster after he suffered a back injury in the team's NLDS sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Infielder Charlie Culberson will replace Seager on the roster. Seager finished the regular season second on the Dodgers in WAR (5.6) and slashed .295/.375/.479 in 145 games.
The absence of Seager, who bats lefty, could be why Maddon elected to swap out the left-handed Wilson for the right-handed Rondon as he could provide a bigger impact out of the bullpen against the Dodgers' right-handed bats.
Who knows how Maddon will piece this bullpen together or even how much confidence anybody besides Davis will have down there. But I'll tell you one thing: If they pitch like they did in the LDS against the Dodgers, the Cubs will not advance to their second straight World Series.