LOS ANGELES — Cubs manager Joe Maddon arrived at Dodger Stadium on Friday not in his uniform and cap, but in a conspicuously stylish jean jacket that bordered on hipster. He apologized for his grogginess. He had good reason.
The night before, the Cubs punched their ticket to their third straight trip to the National League Championship Series with a 9-8 Game 5 win over the Nationals. It took 4 hours, 37 minutes — most of them packed with wild swings of emotion — to solidify a rematch from last year with the Dodgers.
Then, the Cubs’ late-night charter flight from Chicago to Los Angeles was diverted to Albuquerque, New Mexico when a member of the traveling party fell ill. The team was grounded for nearly five hours when another complication arose: the pilots had reached their mandated flight time maximums and had to be replaced.
Not until 10:30 a.m. on Friday morning did the Cubs finally take off for Los Angeles. Only Maddon made it to the ballpark, with his players taking some time to rest.
“It was unusual,” said Maddon, who had yet to piece together his starting rotation.
The Dodgers, by contrast, have been sitting pretty. They completed an NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks on Monday. They’ve been resting ever since, allowing manager Dave Roberts to slot his rotation however he wished.
Clayton Kershaw will pitch Game 1 on Saturday, followed by Rich Hill, Yu Darvish and Alex Wood, an alignment that Roberts said allows the Dodgers to keep their arms in turn.
“It was kind of fun yesterday watching them duke it out while we were kind of sitting around,” Kershaw said. “It was great.”
Indeed, Kershaw hasn’t pitched since Oct. 6. He had to throw an extra bullpen just to stay sharp. Meanwhile, the Cubs were forced to use a pair of starters — Jon Lester and Jose Quintana — in relief just to get past the Nationals.
“We’re well-rested and ready to go,” Kershaw said. “But that doesn’t mean we’re going to win the game. We’ve got to go play.”
Kershaw downplayed the impact of fatigue, insisting that adrenaline has in his experience been enough to get over that hurdle.
“I don’t know how you do that in baseball,” Kershaw said when asked how to exploit fatigue. “In football, you can run faster, you can do plays faster. Basketball you can run up and down the court. I don’t know what you do in baseball. Try to play faster?”
Of course, there has already been one clear advantage. The grueling nature of the Cubs’ NLDS victory has turned putting together the rotation into a thankless task, with a Game 1 starter yet to be determined. John Lackey, who did not appear in the NLDS, is among the primary candidates. Quintana could also get the call. The lefthander started the Cubs’ Game 3 victory on Monday before throwing 12 pitches in two-thirds of an inning of relief in Game 5 on Thursday.
“We haven’t decided yet,” Maddon said. “Honestly, as soon as this is done, I’ve got to go back to the hotel.”