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Three things to watch in the Dodgers-Cubs NLCS

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago Cubs Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — The 2017 National League Championship Series will feature a playoff rematch from 2016, with the Los Angeles Dodgers facing the Chicago Cubs for the right to go to the World Series. Here are a few story lines to watch heading into the best-of-seven series, which begins Saturday night in Los Angeles.

Starting rotation scramble

This is the third trip to the NLCS in five years for the Dodgers, but in each of the last two trips they used ace Clayton Kershaw on short rest during the Division Series and had to wait until Game 2 of the NLCS for his start. This year, the Dodgers swept the Arizona Diamondbacks and will have four days off before Saturday’s Game 1. They have the luxury of setting up their rotation exactly how they want it, beginning with Kershaw on Saturday.

“Being able to set your rotation, not having to travel the first two games of the series, I think they’re huge advantages,” manager Dave Roberts said on Wednesday. “That’s the byproduct of having the season that we had.”

Meanwhile, the Cubs needed five games to defeat the Nationals and used starters Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana in the final two games to do it. Chicago might have to turn to John Lackey for one of the first two games of the NLCS or maybe have Lester start Game 2 on three days rest after his 55-pitch relief outing in Game 4 of the NLDS. Quintana, who started on Monday, threw only 12 pitches in relief on Thursday, so he seems likely to pitch one of the first two NLCS games for Chicago.

Dynamic duo

The Cubs beat the Dodgers last year in the NLCS thanks in large part to Kyle Hendricks and Lester shutting down the Los Angeles offense. In their four starts in the 2016 NLCS, that duo allowed three runs in 25⅔ innings for a 1.05 ERA, with 20 strikeouts and six walks.

Lester has a 2.57 ERA in 24 postseason games, including 20 starts, and had a 1.86 ERA in his two appearances against the Cubs in the NLDS. His 143⅓ postseason innings lead all active pitchers.

Cubs look like the Cubs

Chicago looked like a juggernaut after winning 103 games and the World Series in 2016, and the Cubs returned this year loaded with young talent. But they struggled out of the gate and entered the All-Star break under .500 (43-45) and five games back in the NL Central.

But since the break, Chicago has looked like world beaters again. The Cubs are 49-25 (.662) since the midsummer classic, the best record in the National League, and second only to the Cleveland Indians during that span. The Cubs in the unofficial second half of the season averaged 5.72 runs per game to lead the majors, after scoring 4.53 runs per game before the break.

Chicago hit .273/.352/.459 as a team after the break, led by this quintet:

Cubs leading hitters after the All-Star break

Willson Contreras 150 6 10 20 33 .305/.407/.586 .993 .415 157
Kris Bryant 302 21 11 54 35 .325/.421/.548 .968 .408 152
Anthony Rizzo 305 15 12 47 53 .290/.400/.506 .906 .384 136
Kyle Schwarber 209 4 17 34 30 .253/.335/.559 .894 .373 129
Javier Baez 246 9 13 43 42 .291/.340/.511 .851 .349 113
Source: Baseball-Reference & FanGraphs

This is the first NLCS rematch between two teams since the Philadelphia Phillies beat the Dodgers to get to the World Series in both 2008 and 2009.

Game 1 of the NLCS is Saturday night at 8:08 p.m. ET at Dodger Stadium. TBS will televise the series, with Brian Anderson, Ron Darling, and Sam Ryan on the call.