Dodgers get their wish for a postseason rematch with the Cubs
Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw talks about facing the Chicago Cubs once again in the National League Championship Series.
During the 357 days between then and now, from the end of one Dodgers season to the apex of another, the players have not forgotten the details.
The night of Oct. 22, 2016, the sixth game of the National League Championship Series, looms large in the story of the 2017 Dodgers. They remember waiting. They remember feeling wounded. They remember vowing to return.
On that night, the Cubs eliminated the Dodgers from the postseason and subjected them to an extended celebration at Wrigley Field. For several hours, the traffic around the ballpark prevented the Dodgers’ team bus from leaving the premises. The players huddled inside the antiquated visitors clubhouse and stewed and commiserated — and plotted to retake this stage a year later.
“That wasn’t fun, to sit around and wait for that long,” ace Clayton Kershaw said as he prepared to start Game 1 of this October’s NLCS on Saturday at Dodger Stadium.
“It was a little salt in the wound,” pitcher Alex Wood said. “It was terrible, because our season was over.”
Closer Kenley Jansen said: “It was tough, man, to see how the fans got on us.”
After that evening, the Cubs went to the World Series and ended a 108-year wait for a title. The Dodgers devised a strategy to end a 28-season championship drought of their own. The front office re-signed the team’s top three free agents: Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and pitcher Rich Hill. The team ran away with the NL West for the fifth consecutive season in 2017, and clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
“If you want to win a championship, why not take down the champs?” Jansen said. “That’s the team to beat. They did it all, they’re the world champs. We want to beat on them.”
The teams enter this series in a reversal of positions from 2016. The Dodgers have not played since Monday, when they finished a sweep of Arizona. The Cubs expended themselves to defeat the Nationals — much like the Dodgers did last season.
The Cubs experienced an unexpected travel snafu while flying to Los Angeles; an ill member of the traveling party forced an emergency landing in Albuquerque. The plane sat on the tarmac for five hours before resuming its trek to L.A. The players did not work out at Dodger Stadium on Friday.
Given the travel tumult, the Cubs remained unsure of how to line up their pitchers. Chicago manager Joe Maddon declined to name a starter for Game 1, though Jose Quintana and John Lackey appear the most likely options. Maddon used Quintana, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta in the final two games of the division series.
Maddon acknowledged the challenge ahead of his club, and said that winning two games at Dodger Stadium would be “incredibly difficult, but possible, of course.” He expected his team to recharge Friday.
“When you’re in the dugout with our guys and in the clubhouse, or on the airplane like last night, and [you see] how they dealt with all that — these are young men — it’s pretty impressive,” Maddon said. “So a couple less hours of sleep, the fact it’s so exhilarating to win the way we just did, I think that will supply the energy, hopefully, for the next two days.”
Maddon has maintained confidence about his club despite a series of lulls during the regular season. In late August, as the Cubs were still wrestling for control of the NL Central, Maddon insisted he would not mind a rematch with the Dodgers.
“Listen, I’m very confident playing against them too — absolutely,” Maddon told the New York Times. “As we continue to get well, we need to finish this off strongly, which we’re very capable of doing. But I like the way we match against them — a lot, not a little bit.”
“He’s getting his wish,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers competed gamely with the Cubs last season. They took a 2-1 lead in the series after sterling performances from Kershaw and Hill, only to get brushed aside over the next 27 innings.
“We were two wins away from getting to the World Series, and they just manhandled us for the next three games,” outfielder Enrique Hernandez said. “To sit here and talk about what we’ll do this year; we know what we did last year.”
Jansen insisted that the Dodgers are “more complete” in 2017. Cody Bellinger provides an electricity on offense that Adrian Gonzalez lacked. Yu Darvish has replaced Kenta Maeda in the rotation, with Maeda now a force in relief. Kershaw will take the baseball on seven days of rest.
For the first time in five Octobers, Kershaw did not pitch on short rest in the first round. He planned to watch both his starts from last October against the Cubs: his seven-inning gem in Game 2 and his five-inning bludgeoning in Game 6. Like his teammates, he has not forgotten how 2016 ended.
“I’m glad we get another chance,” Kershaw said. “For sure.”
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