By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — As the Cubs ready to get the National League Championship Series started against the Dodgers, they’re preparing for a handful of pitchers they haven’t faced this season.
In the seven regular-season games the teams played, the Cubs didn’t face Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, left-hander Rich Hill or right-hander Kenta Maeda. Add in left-hander Julio Urias — who could get a start early in the series — and the Cubs could face left-handers as many as five times in the series.
Maeda will start Game 1 on Saturday at Wrigley Field against left-hander Jon Lester. The Cubs were better against left-handed pitching than right-handed in 2016, but that didn’t stop Giants left-hander Matt Moore from shutting them down to the tune of two hits in eight innings in Game 4 of the NLDS, which the Cubs rallied to win with a four-run ninth inning. Chicago had an .807 OPS against left-handers for the season, the second-best mark in baseball. (The Cubs had a .772 OPS against righties.)
On the flip side, the Dodgers were the worst offense against left-handers in the big leagues, with a .622 OPS. That would seem to bode well for the Cubs in Game 1 with Lester on the mound. Lester had a 0.60 ERA in 15 innings across two starts against the Dodgers this season.
“A pitcher that is pitching well should have an advantage over a team that has not seen him to that point,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Kershaw, we have seen in the past. We certainly know how good he is. Hill, I have not seen in person. Maeda, I have seen on TV a little bit. Of course it’s something different. This time of year, you are going to see good pitching. That is what this time of the year means.”
Kershaw has had a big workload lately after starting Tuesday and coming on in relief Thursday in a series-clinching win against the Nationals, but he could start Game 2 on Sunday. Kershaw didn’t throw his usual side session Thursday, instead saving his bullets for the bullpen and a two-out save.
“I honestly believe our guys will be equal to the challenge,” Maddon said. “I know they are going to be ready. We are feeling pretty good about ourselves. We will continually work the moment, and we should be fine. The ninth inning from the other night would help any team with confidence and a moral boost.
“That said, the next game that all could be squelched by a good starting pitching performance on the other side .I am all about starting pitching. When I saw Moore warming up the other night, I did not like it. He was throwing strikes early, and the ball was coming out of his hand great. I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it. Normally he is a little more shotgun (overthrowing) 100 pitches after five innings. Tuesday, I didn’t get that vibe from him. The starters early on create my feel for what the game will be like. That happens for me early on in any game.”
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.