I'm sure I don't need to tell anyone that the Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. And if they don't win it this year, I really do think that franchise is cursed because this is clearly the best team in baseball on paper. The Cubbies are +245 favorites at 5Dimes to win the Fall Classic and +115 to win the pennant -- honestly, many aged Cubs fans would be happy enough just to see them get to the World Series. While Chicago had easily the best record in the majors, only four times since the playoffs shifted to the divisional era has the top regular-season team won it all. The Los Angeles Dodgers, with their suddenly healthy pitching staff, are the +350 second-favorites to win the pennant even though they don't have home-field advantage in the NLDS vs. Washington (+365). The winners of Wednesday's wild-card game, the San Francisco Giants, are +500 to win the pennant. Here's a look at Friday's NLDS openers. Both are on Fox Sports 1.
Dodgers at Nationals (+136, 6)
First pitch of 5:30 p.m., meaning it's nearly opposite of the ALDS Game 2 on TBS. Los Angeles won the season series 5-1, with the most recent game on July 21. Washington is banged up entering the playoffs. Stephen Strasburg, the one-time NL Cy Young favorite, will not be available in the series because of elbow troubles. Second baseman Daniel Murphy, who finished one point shy of sharing the NL batting title, hasn't started a game since Sept. 17 due to a strained left glute but he should be in there even if not 100 percent. Remember how good he was in last year's NL playoffs for the Mets? Bryce Harper has been battling reported injuries for months but will start. Catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL late in the regular season and is obviously out.
The Nationals are starting a guy who will likely join a very rare club most likely this winter when the MLB awards are announced in ace Max Scherzer (20-7, 2.96). He led the NL in wins, innings (228.1), strikeouts (284) and WHIP (0.97) and should win the Cy Young Award to go with his 2013 AL award. Only Gaylord Perry, Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Roger Clemens and Roy Halladay have won the award in both leagues. Scherzer wasn't all that sharp in his regular-season finale on Sunday vs. Miami, but he really didn't have any reason to care. Scherzer gave up five runs and nine hits over five innings but did get that 20th win to likely clinch the Cy. Scherzer managed to avoid the Dodgers this season. Josh Reddick is 5-for-11 career off him with two RBIs. Chase Utley is 2-for-10 with two doubles. Adrian Gonzalez is just 5-for-26.
It's three-time Cy Young winner and lefty Clayton Kershaw (12-4, 1.69) for Los Angeles. He would have won the ERA title again and probably another Cy Young if not for missing more than two months with back troubles. He's the greatest pitcher of this era yet is 2-6 with a 4.59 ERA in 13 postseason appearances. Kershaw ended the regular season Saturday in San Francisco and took the loss (7 IP, 2 ER) but has given up just four earned runs combined in five starts since returning from the DL. Kershaw faced the Nationals on June 20 in L.A. and got the win, allowing a run and six hits with eight strikeouts over seven. That was his second-to-last start before landing on the DL. Harper is just 1-for-15 career off him with 10 strikeouts. Jayson Werth hits .313 against Kershaw with two homers in 32 at-bats. Murphy is 4-for-13.
Key trends: The Dodgers are 8-1 in Scherzer's past nine road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The Nats are 5-0 in Scherzer's past five at home. The "over/under" has gone under in eight of Kershaw's past 10 on the road. The under is 8-2 in Scherzer's past 11 at home.
Early lean: Can't remember the last time Scherzer was a home underdog -- if he ever has been with Washington. I have to take advantage of that. Go under.
Giants at Cubs (-175, TBA)
Start time of 9 p.m. ET. The Cubs players would never admit publicly which team they would have preferred to play in the NLDS, but I assure it would have been the Mets. New York is missing several key guys due to injury and its rotation staff after ace Noah Syndergaard (who would have only been available for Game 3) is 85-year-old Bartolo Colon and a bunch of no-names. But San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner continued his amazing postseason career domination with a complete-game shutout in New York on Wednesday night in a 3-0 win as the Giants kept their hopes alive of another even-numbered year World Series this decade. Cubs fans will be freaking out in a big way if Chicago only splits the first two games because Bumgarner is sitting there for Game 3. But at least they can take solace in that he only can pitch once in the series -- presumably. The Cubs won the season series 4-3.
In Game 1, San Francisco goes with Johnny Cueto (18-5, 2.79), who will get some Cy Young votes. He closed the season strong with four straight wins and allowing just six total runs over those starts with 30 strikeouts. Cueto pitched at Wrigley Field on Sept. 4 and took a no-decision in allowing one run and five hits over seven innings. Addison Russell is 3-for-6 off him with two doubles. Anthony Rizzo is 3-for-25 with eight strikeouts. Jason Heyward is 4-for-18 with two doubles. Kris Bryant is 3-for-5. Cueto had two shaky outings with the Royals last postseason but also two excellent ones.
Chicago lefty Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44) likely finishes second in the NL Cy Young voting behind Scherzer. Lester was 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA over his final 12 starts. However, in trying for his first career 20-win season Lester lost in Cincinnati on Saturday, giving up five runs and six hits over five innings. It was his worst outing of the second half by far. Lester had two very different results vs. the Giants this season. On Sept. 2 against them at Wrigley, he threw a complete game with a line of one run and three hits in a victory. On May 21 in San Francisco, he was roughed up for five runs and six hits over 2.2 innings in a loss. Keep in mind that Lester's personal catcher is David Ross, so the Cubs are better defensively behind the plate but worse offensively. Buster Posey is 5-for-16 career off Lester with a homer. Denard Span is 8-for-28 with three RBIs. Hunter Pence is 3-for-15 with a homer. Will the Giants have third baseman Eduardo Nunez? He was left off the wild-card roster as he's dealing with a hamstring injury. So naturally his replacement, Conor Gillaspie, hit the winning three-run homer in the ninth. Lester has a ton of playoff experience from his Red Sox days and last year with the Cubs. He's 6-6 with a 2.85 ERA in 98.0 innings.
Key trends: The Giants are 13-4 in their past 17 road starts. The Cubs are 7-0 in Lester's past seven at home vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 6-1 in Cueto's past seven road starts vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 9-1 in Lester's past 10. The Giants are 1-7 in their past eight at Chicago.
Early lean: Cubs and under -- regardless of number. It will be chilly at first pitch and I don't see wind blowing out this time of year. Total likely 6.5.
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