Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.
NLDS Game 4
By the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS Matt Moore had single-handily deflated the best team in baseball. The Cubs looked like a shell of a team, only garnering two hits and two RBI thanks to David Ross off of the Giants lefty. They were down to their final three outs staring down a barrel of an elimination game back at Wrigley against Johnny Cueto and with the possibility of Madison Bumgarner coming out of the bullpen. However, despite their backs being against the wall, Joe Maddon always instilled in this team to play the game through all 27 outs. Then, like a miracle from above, Giants manager Bruce Bochy did them a huge favor and took Moore and his 120 pitches and 10 strike outs out of the game and decided to go to his bullpen up 5-2–a misplaced faith in the worst playoff reliving corps since 1969.
Instead of being sullen and packing their bags to head home, the Cubs licked their chops and jumped on the Giants relief pitching like a pack of ravenous dogs on a ribeye. Derek Law was the first victim as Kris Bryant led off the inning with a single. Next, lefty Javier Lopez was brought in by Bochy to pitch to Anthony Rizzo. It did not turn out as expected as Rizzo forced a walk. Bochy came back out and brought in embattled part-time closer Sergio Romo who promptly gave a up double to Ben Zobrist, which brought in Bryant to make it 5-3 and left two runners in scoring position with no outs.
At this very point is where Maddon outsmarted Bochy. Maddon did not want the righty Romo to face the right-handed hitting Addison Russell. Maddon decided to replace him with left-handed hitting Chris Coghlan, which Bochy responded by summoning the lefty Will Smith. Maddon burned Coghlan and went with rookie right-hander Willson Contreras. The series of moves worked out to perfection as Contreras singled up the middle to score both Rizzo and Zobrist to tie the game at five.
With the go ahead run at first, Maddon had Jason Heyward lay down a sacrifice bunt. However, Heyward’s poor execution almost led to a double-play. Instead, his bunt right back to Smith induced a force out at second and then a throwing error by sure-handed shortstop Brandon Crawford. This allowed Heyward to take second base with one out and set the stage once again for Javier Baez to win the game. Bochy went back to his bullpen to get Hunter Strickland. Still, Bochy’s attempt to slow down the now red-hot Cubs offense went for naught as Baez calmly singled to score Heyward and send the Cubs dugout and collective fan base into pandemonium. The Cubs once down 5-2 20 minutes earlier was now up 6-5 and three outs away to return to the National League Championship Series.
The top-half of the ninth ended with a Ross double-play groundout, which gave way to Aroldis Chapman who was more than ready to fix the wrongs from the previous night’s performance. Chapman came in and quickly dispatched the Giants in 13 pitches of pure heat. After he struck out Brandon Belt, his third of the inning, the Cubs rushed to him to celebrate.
In four games over just five days the Cubs were not only able to re-establish that they are the best team in baseball, but they were able to be put through the fire that all championship teams need to go through. The Cubs and Giants played seven games in the regular season and five were decided by one run, so it was no surprise that three out of four of their postseason games ended were also decided by one. These tests of hard fought victories can only benefit the Cubs going forward as it reminds them that they are the team to beat in these playoffs regardless of past histories. Moreover, it is evident that teams are going to have to play to the Cubs level every inning of every game if they have a chance to upset them.
NLCS Game 1
And now on to the Los Angeles Dodgers who came out of their five-game battle with the Washington Nationals with not much left in the tank. They are an exhausted team, so to speak, but a dangerous one nonetheless. To the Cubs benefit, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw pitched in three of the games. He started Game 4 on Tuesday, giving the team seven-plus innings and 110 pitches, and then was summoned by manager Dave Roberts in Game 5 to close out the series with the final two outs. Kershaw’s appearance in the clincher makes him unavailable to start Game 1 of the National League Championship Series. Although Game 2 on short rest is a strong possibility. These teams matched up evenly during the regular season as the Cubs won four out of the seven games they played. However, both teams struggled offensively against each team’s superior pitching. The Dodgers shutout the Cubs twice, which is certainly a concern.
The Cubs will have Jon Lester going again to start the series. Lester was superb in Game 1 of the NLDS having pitched 8 shutout innings with no walks. Lester went 1-0 with a no-decision this season against the Dodgers, but in both games he pitched exceptionally well. In his win on June 1 he pitched a complete game leading the Cubs to a 2-1 victory. Moreover, he struck out 10 while not walking a batter. In the no-decision on August 28 he pitched six shutout innings while striking out six and walking two. Lester has had overall success against the current Dodgers roster. They have had a total 115 at-bats against him and Lester has only given up 20 hits with no homeruns. Only five players have had more than ten career at-bats against him and the Dodger with the highest batting average is Howie Kendrick with a .226 average.
The Dodgers will be sending out rookie Kenta Maeda for Game 1. The Cubs have not faced Maeda yet. Overall, he had a good season going 16-11 with a 3.48 ERA. Maeda got one start in the National League Championship Series against the Washington Nationals. He struggled in his first playoff game, only making it through three innings after giving up four earned runs off of five hits. Maeda ended up taking the loss. If the pressure of pitching in the playoffs got to him then he will have an even more difficult time pitching in the hostile environment of Wrigley Field.