Cubs will face Dodgers in NLCS after L.A. knocks off Nats
WASHINGTON — Nationals manager Dusty Baker said he spent Thursday morning packing for a late-night trip to Chicago.
Turned out to be a waste of time for the former Cubs manager dreaming of a postseason reunion at Wrigley Field.
The Dodgers — getting a two-out save from rotation ace Clayton Kershaw — ruined Baker’s plan by rallying for four runs in the seventh inning en route to a 4-3 victory in a wild Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday, setting up a battle with the Cubs for the NL pennant.
Game 1 of the NL Championship Series is Saturday night at Wrigley, where Cubs left-hander Jon Lester is expected to face Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.
The Cubs will face a Dodgers team with a rotation that might require some introductions.
Maeda and left-hander Rich Hill, a former Cub, have never faced the Cubs before. Kershaw, who escaped a one-out jam with runners at first and second in the ninth inning, missed the Cubs during the teams’ seven meetings during the regular season.
“It’s the same way for [both sides],” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Although I believe a pitcher that is pitching well should have an advantage over a team that hasn’t seen him to that point, normally. Kershaw we’ve seen in the past, we know how good he is. Hill I’ve never seen in person, Maeda I’ve seen on TV a little bit.
“I wouldn’t worry about that. … This time of year you see good pitching. I honestly believe our guys will be equal to the challenge. I know they’re going to ready, we feel pretty good about ourselves, we’ll continue to work the moment and we’ll be fine.”
The Cubs and Dodgers last met in the postseason in 2008, when the Cubs were swept in the NLDS.
Asked about being the immediate underdogs against the Cubs, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts shrugged.
“That’s OK,” he said, still soaked in champagne. “We’ve been the underdogs all year.”
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez had the same reaction.
“Whoever plays the best game in the field wins,” Gonzalez said. “And we like our chances.”
Just like the Cubs’ experience against the Giants in the NLDS, the Dodgers-Nationals NLDS was a thrilling adventure, with Los Angeles winning the final two games.
After a quiet night at the plate for both teams, the game turned in a 1-hour, 6-minute seventh inning that featured eight pitchers and six runs from the two teams.
Four of those runs belonged to the Dodgers, who took the lead for good.
Joc Pederson launched Max Scherzer’s first pitch of the seventh for a home run, ending the 20-game winner’s outing and pumping new life into the Dodgers. That home run chased Scherzer and set the stage for a rally off the Nats’ bullpen that put the Dodgers ahead 4-1.
The Nationals rallied for two runs in their half of the inning, prompting Roberts to summon closer Kenley Jansen with no outs. The creative move paid off as Jansen eventually escaped a bases-loaded jam to preserve the Dodgers’ 4-3 lead.
Jansen escaped another jam in the eighth and ran out of gas in the ninth, throwing a career-high 51 pitches before turning it over to Kershaw with one out and runners and first and second.
The only save of his major league career in the books, Kershaw’s arms were raised and teammates were rushing to celebrate with a guy whose postseason performances have never carried the luster of his regular-season success.
Kershaw worked two days after throwing 110 pitches over 6 2/3 innings in Game 4, when he had the benefit of only three days’ rest following his win in Game 1 against the Nationals.
Several hours before Thursday’s game began, Dodgers first-year manager Dave Roberts was asked whether Kershaw might be available at all — maybe just for one out, say?
“No,” came Roberts’ reply. “Absolutely not.”
Turned out the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner would get a pair of outs in his first relief appearance since the 2009 playoffs.
The Nationals, meanwhile, still have never won a postseason series.