By Bruce Levine–
CHICAGO (CBS) — In the beautiful world of baseball symmetry, Saturday night presents the best team in baseball trying to advance to its first World Series in 71 years against the best pitcher on the planet.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Rain Tapers Saturday Night, But More Scattered Showers Sunday
As Cubs fans hold their emotion and collective breath, their team must find a way to beat Dodgers ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. As Vin Scully often would say in his broadcast, “On the mound tonight for the Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, the best they have.”
At stake for Kershaw is staving off elimination and buying his team a chance to advance to the World Series in a winner-take-all Game 7 on Sunday night.
“You do everything you can to keep this one like any other start,” Kershaw said. “After that the magnitude and situation of the game kind of raises everyone’s adrenaline. Trying to keep things the same to start.”
In Kershaw, the Cubs have the ultimate challenge. In the Dodgers’ 1-0 win in Game 3, he limited the Cubs to two hits in seven shutout inning. With ballpark conditions expected to be chilly Saturday night, Wrigley Field should be an advantage for the pitchers and play big.
Trying to penetrate the three overpowering pitches Kershaw features will be the task at hand for the Chicago hitters. The Cubs see the most pitches in baseball, but Kershaw strikes early and often and rarely walks a batter. This often leads to a more aggressive approach as a way to beat him.READ MORE: At Least 16 People Shot, 1 Killed In Gun Violence In Chicago This Weekend
Kershaw throws first-pitch strikes 69 percent of the time, nine points higher than the league average. Of those pitches, 78 percent are fastballs.
“What I liked was feeding off of the aggressive hitters in postseason,” Fox television analyst and Hall of Famer John Smoltz said.
“There are different ways to do that. In the case of the Cub,s they will have to do that. They will have to adjust their style of hitting in order to give them a chance against Kershaw. Like most great pitchers, they only get better as the game progresses. If he gets you in a two-strike mode, you can’t really do much with his three pitches. The discipline they show must be in the first two pitches. The Cubs must search for something to hit. You only hope he is not as perfect as he can be.”
Jumping on Cub right-hander Kyle Hendricks is the Dodgers’ goal. Hendricks allowed only a solo home run to Adrian Gonzalez in Game 2. That run held up for the entire nine innings as the game-winner.
How do the Cubs win? You must beat Kershaw on his fastball. The league hits .235 on his fastball, .163 on his slider and a mere 1.26 on his curveball.
If the Cubs advance Saturday night, they will have earned it.MORE NEWS: At Bond Hearing For Man Authorities Say Was With Him, Prosecutors Say 13-Year-Old Adam Toledo Had Gun In Hand When He Was Fatally Shot By Police
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.