Frederick Krauss, Ph.D.
The Cubs are heading to Los Angeles for Games 3-5 in the National League Championship Series tied 1-1. The Dodgers have played the Cubs tough all season, so it should not be a surprise that the series is tied. However, the cause for concern is that a major portion of the Cubs offense has gone cold and they need to get the bats going in Game 3 if they ever want to entertain the hopes of making it to the World Series. It is most likely that Joe Maddon will need to work some of his magic to put together a lineup that will produce. Still, if anything is like the first two games of the series then Game 3 is going to be memorable.
NLCS Game 1
The Cubs keep giving their fans so unforgettable moments in this postseason and the end of Game 1 was added to that list. After an astonishing four-run ninth inning to comeback and beat the San Francisco Giants to move on to the NLCS, the Cubs produced an even more thrilling victory in Game 1 against the Dodgers at Wrigley Field. Miguel Montero delivered the biggest hit in the playoffs by hitting a two-out two-strike pinch hit grand slam to break a tie at three and send the Cubs to a 8-4 victory.
Jon Lester was cruising in the game thanks to amazing defensive plays. The only blemish was giving up a pinch hit solo wind-aided home run to Andre Either, which cut the Cubs lead to 3-1. Although, Lester largely kept the Dodgers off the board for most of the game it took a couple of amazing defensive plays, including an incredible catch by Dexter Fowler in center to maintain the lead. Joe Maddon felt that Lester gave everything he had by the end of the sixth inning and decided to turn the game over to the bullpen. Lester finished the game with six innings pitched, one earned run, and only three strikeouts.
The pitching change eventually set up a wild eighth inning. The Dodgers loaded the bases with no outs down 3-1. In response, Maddon went to Aroldis Chapman early to hold the lead. Chapman got the first two outs, but gave up a single to Adrian Gonzalez, which tied the game at three. The Cubs came back and loaded the bases with two outs against Joe Blanton. Maddon sent Montero to pinch hit and with two strikes on him he hit a hanging slider into the right field bleachers, which sent shockwaves throughout the North Side. Dexter Fowler stepped up while the fans demanded a curtain call for Montero and hit home run to put the Cubs up 8-3.
The victory put the Cubs on the right track as they got great performances by Lester, Montero, and, once again, Javier Baez. The electrifying Baez showed how special he is by stealing home to become the first Cubs player to steal home in the post season since 1907. Baez hit a double in the top of the second, took third on a wild pitch, then made a break for home on Kenta Maeda, which caught Carlos Ruiz off-guard. Sensing the Ruiz was going to throw to third, Baez to home and beat the throw to the plate. This was yet another play to add to Baez’s 2016 highlight reel.
NLCS Game 2
Clayton Kershaw came to the Dodgers rescue once again as the Cubs could only gather two hits off of the ace pitcher. The Dodgers beat the Cubs 1-0, which was the team’s third shutout loss of the season to Los Angeles. Kyle Hendricks pitched well, but his one mistake to Adrian Gonzalez in the second inning was the difference in the game as he was able to lift a ball that barely cleared the basket in centerfield for a home run. Still, there is a concern that the Cubs offense has largely been ineffective all postseason besides a few big innings.
Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell have struggled significantly this postseason. Rizzo is now 1-for 23 and Russell is 1-for-22. However, the real question mark of this game, though, was Maddon’s handling of Jason Heyward. The right fielder continues to provide zero offensive support for the lineup as he is 2-for-18 in the playoffs. Moreover, he has not been able to hit left-handed pitching. This brings up the question of why Maddon would start Heyward against Kershaw, the most dominate left-gander of this era? Maddon dropped Heyward to eighth in the lineup, which showed the little confidence he had in him and is troubling that a player making $21 million a year is batting that low in the playoffs, but that’s beside the point.
Maddon had two right-handed bats in Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, Jr. who could’ve given the lineup the extra punch it needed. However, Maddon opted for Heyward and it went as expected as he did nothing against Kershaw. Maddon compounded the issue when Heyward came up in the bottom of the fifth inning with two on and two outs and he once again opted to stay with him instead of bringing in a pinch hitter. Heyward meekly fouled out to third and allowed the Dodgers to escape with the one-run lead intact. That was pretty much the ballgame as they would never get s better chance to score off of Kershaw.
Managers get themselves into trouble when they give deference to a veteran or player with a big contract over common sense. It made little sense to have Heyward starting the game and made even less sense to not pinch hit for him. However, Maddon stuck to blind loyalty by playing Heyward and the result was the Cubs coming up empty and head to Los Angeles with the series tied 1-1
NLCS Game 3
Jake Arrieta will be making the biggest start of his career in Game 3. He will need to summon his best stuff as there will be little room for error. Arrieta faced the Dodgers once this season and pitched seven scoreless innings of two-hit ball in a 5-0 Cubs loss. The Dodgers had the second-best home record this season behind the Cubs. So Arrieta will need to set the tone early by hitting his spots and keeping Dodgers off of the bases. Walks have got Arrieta into trouble this season, so he will have to make sure he does not give up any free bases. Arrieta has to be careful as a few Dodgers have hit him pretty well throughout their careers. Adrian Gonzalez is 6-for-21 with a home run and two RBI, Josh Reddick is 4-for-9 with a home run, and Yasiel Puig is 2-for-3 with a double. He’ll need to keep those guys from beating him.
The Cubs will be facing former Cub Rich Hill. The Cubs have struggled against left-handers this postseason from Madison Bumgarner, Kershaw, and Matt Moore, but there will be no reprieve as Julio Urias will be pitching in Game 4 and most likely will see Kershaw in game 5. As a result, the Cubs will need to solve their issues with lefties on the fly. Hill had a great year split in between Oakland and Los Angeles. Overall, he went 12-5 with 2.12 ERA. Being the Hill was a former Cub the players have had limited experience hitting against Hill. David Ross is 1-for13, Ben Zobrist is 1-for-2, and Chris Coghlan is 1-for-3. The unfamiliarity of hitting against Hill might work as a detriment to the Cubs hitters, but it is something that they will need to overcome quickly.