How Cubs plan to regroup and take control of NLCS at Dodger Stadium

How Cubs plan to regroup and take control of NLCS at Dodger Stadium

This time, the Cubs wouldn’t set off any late-inning fireworks or jump around in a mosh pit at home plate. A Los Angeles front office overflowing with current/former GMs and a first-year Dodgers manager (Dave Roberts) didn’t have to overthink this one. Just get out of the way and let Clayton Kershaw show why he might be the best pitcher on the planet.

The equation became pretty simple on Sunday night at Wrigley Field, seven innings of Kershaw plus six outs from closer Kenley Jansen equaling a 1-0 victory in Game 2 and a tied National League Championship Series that now shifts to the West Coast.

But the Cubs played music in the postgame clubhouse as they got dressed and packed up for the overnight flight, showing no signs of panic or frustration, knowing who they have lined up for Games 3, 4 and 5 on the road. That would be Jake Arrieta, the Cy Young Award winner who’s already thrown a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium, followed by two two-time World Series champions in John Lackey and Jon Lester.

“We have a luxury,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “We’ve been spoiled this year (with our pitching). It’s pretty cool to have someone like that – with that kind of experience and that mindset – to know how to go in and attack.”

The reality is the Dodgers had to win this one, because they can’t be sure what they will get from ex-Cub Rich Hill in Game 3 and what might happen with the blisters on his left hand. Their Game 4 starter is listed as TBA, probably Julio Urias, assuming the 20-year-old lefty isn’t needed on Tuesday night in an emergency situation.

The Dodgers used 15 different starting pitchers during the regular season, while the Cubs had four 15-game winners, including one (Jason Hammel) who hasn’t made the playoff roster in either round yet.

The Dodgers will have to ride Kershaw, already beating the Washington Nationals twice during his two starts in their best-of-five NL Division Series. Two days after throwing 110 pitches, Kershaw notched the last two outs and the save in Thursday night’s Game 5, getting Mr. October Daniel Murphy to pop up with two runners on and rewrite his own playoff legacy.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Kershaw retired the first 14 batters he faced at Clark and Addison, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning before Javier Baez and Willson Contreras drilled back-to-back singles, the only hits the three-time Cy Young Award winner would allow.

“We just chased a lot of pitches,” Baez said. “With him pitching on a couple days’ rest, (I didn’t think) he was going to be that nasty. But obviously he came ready for us. He just did his job.”

Jansen struck out four of the six Cubs he faced, mowing down Dexter Fowler (swinging) and Kris Bryant (looking) in the ninth inning before Anthony Rizzo lined a 95-mph first pitch out to second baseman Chase Utley to end the game.

“It’s easy to get used to good stuff, right?” said Miguel Montero, who followed up his pinch-hit grand slam in Game 1 with a pinch-hit four-pitch strikeout against Jansen. “When you fly a private plane and then you got to go in coach, that’s tough, right?

“So if you hit a homer, and then you come up the next day, people expect you to go again in the private plane. No, you strike out, so you go back in coach.

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. You just got to move on.”

The Cubs have their offensive issues. Fowler is getting on base 23 percent of the time during these playoffs. Combined, Rizzo and Addison Russell are 2-for-45 in the postseason. Pitchers Arrieta and Travis Wood and backup catcher David Ross have generated three of the team’s seven homers through six playoff games overall.

But this still doesn’t look or feel or sound like the rattled team the New York Mets swept out of last year’s NLCS. This time, the Cubs are in position to win the arms race.

“We like our chances,” Montero said. “We like where we’re at. And Cubs fans, they deserve the best in the world, because they’ve been so patient and so supportive. Believe me, we’re going to do everything in our power. We’re going to give it our best every single day out there. Because we want the good stuff, for ourselves and for the whole city.”

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

Javier Báez joins Cubs All-Decade Team at second base, where El Mago was born

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

There may not be a player in baseball more exciting to watch than Javier Báez.

Whether at the plate, in the field or on the bases, Báez is a human highlight real. He’s one of the most powerful hitters in baseball; he has a cannon for an arm, exemplary defensive range and is a tagging maestro. He’s a dynamic baserunner who uses his elite baseball instincts to go station-to-station while magically avoiding tags along the way.

Yeah, there’s a reason Báez is known as “El Mago.” It’s not a matter of if he’ll make an incredible play each game, but a matter of when. Things come easy for the 27-year-old full of flair who makes the most difficult plays seem routine.

Báez is a career .270/.310/.484 hitter who’s hit 110 home runs in parts of six big-league seasons. One of those long balls came in his big-league debut (Aug. 5, 2014), a go-ahead blast against the Rockies in the 12th inning. The legend of El Mago was born.

Báez is the Cubs starting shortstop, though that hasn’t always been the case. Starlin Castro was the starter in 2014; Addison Russell claimed the title from Castro in the second half of 2015, holding it down until late in the 2018 season. Russell hit the injured list that August as the Cubs simultaneously acquired Daniel Murphy in an attempt to jump-start the offense.

By the time Russell returned, Báez was a clear-cut NL MVP candidate. The latter still bounced around the infield from time-to-time, but with Murphy entrenched at second, shortstop became Báez’s primary position. He’s been the starter ever since.

Báez has played 2,646 2/3 career innings at shortstop compared to 1,856 at second base (and 629 1/3 at third). He’s exclusively a shortstop these days, but the El Mago second base days aren’t forgotten.

Báez was the co-recipient of the 2016 NLCS MVP award (along with Jon Lester) and has started back-to-back All-Star Games (2018 at second, 2019 at shortstop). He was the runner-up for the 2018 NL MVP award, posting career highs across the board: .290/.326/.554, 34 homers, 111 RBIs, 129 OPS+.

And yet, it feels like Báez is only getting started. Nevertheless, his career to date has more than earned him a spot on our Cubs All-Decade Team at second base. With that, we'll leave you with this:

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair