Maeda (0-1), and not ace Clayton Kershaw, will get the baseball in a crucial contest of the series, which is tied at two games apiece. Games 6 and 7 (if necessary) will be at Wrigley Field this weekend.
Maeda gets the call despite his inability to deliver so far in the postseason. Although the 28-year-rookie from Japan received a no-decision in Game 1 of the NLCS, he allowed three runs on four hits in four innings, walking three and striking out two.
Maeda lost his other playoff start in Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals, serving up four runs on five hits in three innings in his second-shortest start of the season.
It's one reason some in the media speculated Roberts might go to Kershaw again on three days' rest.
"Well, I think that (Thursday) isn't a deciding game," Roberts said, insisting he's sticking with Maeda.
Roberts also said Kershaw wasn't available for Game 5 of the NLDS against the Nationals. However, Roberts surprised many in the baseball world by bringing in Kershaw to close the series clincher and record the final two outs after closer Kenley Jansen worked the previous 2 1/3 innings.
"It's not an elimination game," Roberts continued. "And I think the accumulation of (Kershaw's) usage over the last 10 days plays a factor in our decision. So, I think that for us thinking through it, the best thing for us is to have him pitch Game 6 and have Kenta go Thursday."
Maeda realizes he needs to deliver.
"I'm not going to be too careful even though I haven't been pitching well in the postseason," Maeda said of his approach for the game. "What I'm going to be really focused on is just pitching well (Thursday) and not worry too much about what I have done in the past."
Jon Lester (1-0, 0.64), who didn't factor into the decision in Game 1 against the Dodgers, will get the nod for the Cubs. Lester allowed a run on four hits with three strikeouts and a walk in six innings in the series opener. However, manager Joe Maddon lifted him for a pinch-hitter despite Lester throwing only 77 pitches (47 strikes).
Lester wasn't pleased with Maddon's decision initially but said he calmed down once he got in the dugout.
"I knew it was a grind, even though the pitch count wasn't as high as it could have been with how I was throwing the ball," said Lester, who served up a pinch-hit home run to Andre Ethier in what turned out to be an 8-4 win by the Cubs. "But like I said then, I don't get paid to make decisions. I pitch as long as he tells me to pitch."
Said Maddon, "The other day at home, he wasn't the sharpest but still gave us a strong opportunity to win that game, and we eventually did. So, I like his mound demeanor right now."
In his last start at Dodger Stadium, Lester, who finished the regular season 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA in 32 starts, threw six scoreless innings in a 1-0 win by Los Angeles.
After giving up a loss to the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS, and struggling in Game 1 against the Cubs, Maeda knows he has to step up and send his team back to Chicago with a 3-2 lead in the series. But the Dodgers will find it difficult to strike early against Lester, as they have all season against left handed pitchers. Coming off a massive win in Game 4, the Cubs will take it to Maeda early while the Dodgers left heavy line-up will find it hard to gain momentum against Lester
Pick to win:
Chicago Cubs 5 - Los Angeles Dodgers 2