When the March Madness picks are set each season, it's never surprising to see the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the shortlist of potential NCAA Tournament champions.
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Los Angeles vs Chicago: NLCS Championship Series Predictions
Series Odds - Cubs (+155) @ Dodgers (-190)
Strip away the pomp and ceremony and we have one well-rested squad (Dodgers) taking on a well-battled squad (Cubs).Â The Dodgers made quick work of the Dbacks, winning the divisional series in three games, and haven't seen action since October 9. But baseball is a game where rhythm and routine are paramount, so will LA benefit from the rest, or show signs of rust?Â
Meanwhile, the Cubbies are fresh off a knock-down, drag-out series with the Nationals that forced overnight travel for Game 5 and taxed the pitching staff to its limits.
Will Chicago benefit from the recency, or will they show signs of fatigue?
It shouldn't take long to get a read on these teams early in the series. In Game 1, The Dodgers will roll with lefty ace Clayton Kershaw, who has been the best pitcher in the game everywhere except for the playoffs. The Cubs will likely counter with their number 5 starter John Lackey after Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana were all effectively burned in the Washington series.Â
The Cubs were fortunate to survive the Washington Nationals in Game 5 as an unlikely chain of events unfolded in D.C. including a fifth inning where a routine fly ball and dropped thirdÂ strike both led to runs. The Dodgers have had their share of postseason woes in the last few years and are overdue to advance to the World Series.
While I think the Cubs pick up a win or two in this series, the deck looks stacked in LA's favor. I say Dodgers in six.Â At -190, there's nothing exciting about picking the favorite in this spot, but these odds aren't exactly prohibitive either. I look for a number of these games to go over the posted total, including the game one over/under of 8.
Here are some other keys to this series.
1 versus 5
It's hard to see any benefit for Chicago in starting a series on the road with a number 5 starter opposing arguably the best pitcher in baseball. If there's any silver lining for the Cubs, however, it's that Kershaw has yet to be effective in the playoffs over the course of his otherwise brilliant career. The Dodgers star lefty faltered against the Cubs in last year's NLCS and surrendered three home runs in his lone playoff start this year. Clearly, the playoffs are in Kershaw's head, so he could be pressing with the bright lights on him once again.
If the Cubs can avoid being swept in the first three games in LA, then they will have a solid chance to even the series in Chicago as the pitching staff returns to full strength. To do this, the Cubs will have to get quality innings from Lackey in Game 1 even if the result is a losing one. They simply cannot dig further into their bullpen or entertain the idea of a starter eating up innings.Â
Of course, good offense - or at least a productive one - is a prerequisite for winning playoff games. LA lost this series last year because their bats went into hibernation against Lester and Hendricks. If the Dodgers hitters are able to put together a representative effort, then all the pressure will be on the Cubs overworked pitching staff early in the series.
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