NLCS Preview: Cubs seem to have the advantages over the Dodgers—but these are the Cubs

The Chicago Cubs seem to have all the advantages this year as they enter the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers:

  • They have a stellar starting pitching staff that can even match up with Box-Toppers Player-of-the-Decade-So-Far Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers.
  • They rank higher in team Box-Toppers points and have held that lead among all teams virtually the entire season.
  • They have an All-Star batter and possible NL Most Valuable Player in Kris Bryant.
  • They are rested having won their Division Series against the Giants in four games, while the Dodgers were pushed to five games against the Nationals, using their star pitcher Kershaw in all three wins.

So the clear edge would go to the Cubs. But these are the Cubs, the team that hasn’t won the World Series since 1908 and hasn’t been to the Fall Classic since 1945.

The Cubs rank first in Box-Toppers team rankings with players accumulating 139.5 Box-Toppers points in 2016. They ranked first nearly the entire season—in 24 Box-Toppers weekly team rankings reports, they were ranked first in 22 of them, missing only April 14 and July 21.

But the Dodgers have been right up there all season and finish with the second-highest Box-Toppers point total among NL teams, 125.2, which ranks third overall (behind the now-eliminated Red Sox’ 128.3).

The Dodgers have the highest-ranked remaining player in the postseason—Clayton Kershaw, with 24.4 Box-Toppers points, ranks second among all players in 2016, behind Max Scherzer of the Nationals (25.7), who the Dodgers just eliminated in the NL Division Series.

Kershaw took the Dodgers a long way in the NLCS against Washington, having a role in each of the team’s three wins, often pitching on short rest. But can he single-handedly beat the Cubs the same way he beat the Nationals? Given his postseason struggles in which managers often tend to leave him in the game an inning beyond his limit, it will be difficult to beat a team as stacked as the 2016 Cubs.

The Cubs have five starting pitchers among Box-Toppers top 20 players. They are so rich in starting pitchers that their “fifth” starter, Jason Hammel (13.0 Box-Toppers points, ranked 20th among all players and 13th among NL pitchers) did not even make the series roster for the Cubs.

The four who made the roster:

  • Jon Lester, 22.1 Box-Toppers points, ranked fourth among all players, third among NL pitchers.
  • Jake Arrieta, 15.7 Box-Toppers points, ranked ninths among all players, sixth among NL pitchers. Arrieta led all players in Box-Toppers points in 2015 with 29.1.
  • John Lackey, 13.4 Box-Toppers points, ranked 16th among all players, ninth among NL pitchers.
  • Kyle Hendricks, 13.4 Box-Toppers points, ranked 17th among all players, 10th among NL pitchers.

In addition to Kershaw, the Dodgers also have one other in the top 10 among NL pitchers—Rich Hill, 14.4 Box-Toppers points, ranks 13th among all players and eighth among NL pitchers.

The Cubs also have the edge among closing pitchers, though both the Cubs’ Aroldis Chapman and Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen are leaders among NL closing pitchers. Chapman’s 7.4 Box-Toppers points ranks second and Jansen’s 6.0 points ranks third. (Leader among NL closing pitchers is Jeurys Familia of the Mets with 8.0 Box-Toppers points.)

The Dodgers are hurt by the absence of pitcher Scott Kazmir (8.7 Box-Toppers points) who is out with injury. As previously mentioned, Hammel is not on the roster for the Cubs, which affects their depth.

The Dodgers have a slight edge among starting batters in the chart below. At the eight defensive positions, Dodgers batters win head-to-head against their Cubs counterparts, 5-3. Yet, the Dodgers have no batters among the top 100 players in Box-Toppers points. The Cubs have one—third baseman Kris Bryant, with 10.5 Box-Toppers points, ranked 46th among all players, and second among NL batters (behind Nolan Arenado of the Rockies with 10.7).

The Cubs have more season Box-Toppers points than the Dodgers and they also have more points among the 14 key players listed in the chart below. If you add up all the Box-Toppers points on each team among those 14 key players, the Cubs have 105.0 and the Dodgers have 97.1.

The Dodgers have two players who will be on Box-Toppers 2016 end-of-season NL All-Star team:

  • Catcher Yasmani Grandal, 7.2 Box-Toppers points.
  • Pitcher Clayton Kershaw, 24.4 points, second among starting pitchers.

The Cubs will have two players on that team:

  • Bryant as an outfielder, 10.5 Box-Toppers points.
  • Lester as third-ranked starting pitcher, 15.7 points.

One final note: In March, Box-Toppers somehow made the correct preseason forecast that the Indians and Blue Jays would face off in the American League Championship Series and the Cubs and Dodgers would face off in the National League Championship Series.

Really, nothing more to say about that, just tooting my own horn since it’s unlikely ever to happen again. Honk.

About Box-Toppers—Box-Toppers tracks who most helps their team win the most games. Using standard box score statistics, Box-Toppers uses a simple formula to determine a Player of the Game for each Major League Baseball game played. That player is the person who contributed most to his team’s win. In regular season games, players earn 1.0 Box-Toppers point for being named Player of the Game and can earn bonus points for being Player of the Day or top player or batter in their league for the day.

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NL Championship Series player comparisons

Likely starting players for the Dodgers and Cubs listed by position with their Box-Toppers point total (BTP) for the 2016 regular season and their overall rank among all players:

Pos Dodgers BTP Rank Cubs BTP Rank
1B Adrian Gonzalez 5.7 174 Anthony Rizzo 3.0 306
2B Chase Utley 1.0 644 Javier Baez 2.0 455
SS Corey Seager 4.0 266 Addison Russell 3.5 298
3B Justin Turner 2.5 376 Kris Bryant 10.5 46
CA Yasmani Grandal 7.2 106 David Ross 2.5 389
CF Joc Pederson 4.0 277 Dexter Fowler 1.5 511
LF Andrew Toles 4.0 279 Ben Zobrist 4.0 269
RF Josh Reddick 3.5 290 Jason Heyward 1.0 649
SP Clayton Kershaw 24.4 2 Jon Lester 22.1 4
SP Rich Hill 14.4 13 Jake Arrieta 15.7 9
SP Kenta Maeda 10.0 54 John Lackey 13.4 16
SP Julio Urias 5.7 179 Kyle Hendricks 13.4 17
CP Kenley Jansen 6.0 163 Aroldis Chapman 7.4 104
PI Ross Stripling 4.7 229 Mike Montgomery 5.0 206