Oct. 13-- Now that the pesky Nationals are out of the way, the Cubs can exhale and continue on their merry way in the postseason and ... uh-oh.
The next hurdle for the Cubs looms significantly larger than the one they just cleared after edging the Nationals 9-8 on Thursday night in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.
The defending World Series champions now must face a Dodgers team that led baseball with 104 victories in the regular season and is coming off a sweep of the Diamondbacks.
Oh, and the Dodgers are well-rested and have home-field advantage.
Here are some key storylines heading into Game 1 on Saturday at Dodger Stadium:
-Here's the pitch
By going the distance with the Nationals, the Cubs' starting rotation is in flux. One thing for certain is that ace Kyle Hendricks, who started against the Nationals on Thursday, won't be on the mound for the Cubs in Game 1 and Jake Arrieta can be ruled out as well after pitching four innings Wednesday night.
Jose Quintana was next in line to start before manager Joe Maddon used the left-hander in a relief role to help close out the Nationals. That likely leaves Maddon to decide between Jon Lester, who threw 55 pitches in relief Wednesday, and John Lackey.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers' starters are locked and loaded with Clayton Kershaw leading the way, likely followed by Rich Hill and then Yu Darvish.
This isn't the same Dodgers team the Cubs eliminated in the 2016 NLCS. While some of the same characters remain, including Yasiel Puig, Corey Seager and Justin Turner, the Dodgers added some firepower to their lineup and pitching staff. The biggest addition is rookie first baseman Cody Bellinger, who burst onto the scene with 39 home runs and 97 RBIs and anchors the Dodgers lineup.
Darvish came to the Dodgers at the trade deadline and was masterful in the clinching game against the D'backs. The veteran right-hander threw five strong innings and allowed one run on two hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. Darvish will be a formidable opponent, especially against right-handed hitters.
-Home is very sweet
No team had more wins at home than the Dodgers, who were 57-24 at Dodger Stadium during the regular season and won the first two games of the NLDS there.
The Cubs can be buoyed by the fact that they won two games in Los Angeles during the '16 NLCS, outscoring the Dodgers 18-6, but the defending champions must hope their offense is cooking before heading west.
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