The Cubs are not to the promised land yet, but they can see it in the distance. It’s five wins away.
Behind a terrific start by Jon Lester and a two-run home run by Addison Russell, and a five-run eighth inning, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 8-4 to take a 3 games to 2 lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
The pitching matchup in this game looked good for the Cubs as the Dodgers faced Kenta Maeda, who hasn’t gone more than five innings since September 11. The Cubs also beat him in Game 1 in the same matchup. It looked like tonight would be no different as Dexter Fowler led off the game with a single and two batters later, Anthony Rizzo doubled him home.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who have always had trouble with lefthanders, came out with a plan to try to exploit Lester’s yips in throwing to bases. But it looked to me (and many others) as if the Dodgers did nothing but take themselves out of their own game. They were continually showing bunt and taking huge leads, but they didn’t follow through all that often.
The one time the Dodgers did stick to the plan, however, they managed to tie up the game. In the fourth inning, Howie Kendrick doubled with one out and then stole third, after a replay review correctly overturned the “out” call. Then with the infield in, Adrian Gonzalez hit a weak grounder to Rizzo, but Rizzo couldn’t make the barehanded play.
And there is sat, tied 1-1. The Cubs had lots of other chances against Maeda, both before and after the Dodgers tied it up, but they were never able to cash in. Still, Maeda left the game with two outs in the fourth inning as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts went to the pen instead of letting Maeda face Jon Lester. I give Roberts credit here as it was the right call to go to the pen. Lester would have been Maeda’s last batter anyway, and while Lester is a bad hitter, he had a better chance of getting a hit off of Maeda than Josh Fields. Sure enough, Lester hit a fly to left field to end the inning.
Then came the moment that is the latest biggest home run in Cubs history. (Don’t worry, there will be more.) After Javier Baez led off the sixth inning with a single, Addison Russell connected two batters later for his second two-run home run in as many nights. I could have just recycled the photo from last night’s game for this story, but I wanted to let someone else have the spotlight tonight. But without a doubt, Russell has snapped out of his slump in a big way. I don’t think there will be many calls for him to sit the rest of the way.
It’s an axiom that big free agent contracts given to pitchers in their thirties rarely work out. Jon Lester is beating those odds. Tonight, Lester was terrific, allowing just that one run on five hits over seven innings. He struck out six, walked only one and even threw out Joc Pederson at first base on a bunt. Even though the throw got to Rizzo on a bounce, it was still good enough for the out.
The Cubs blew this game open in the top of the eighth inning through terrific baserunning and bad defense by the Dodgers. Pedro Baez, who is the new Human Rain Delay, came on to pitch the inning. Russell led off and reached when Baez couldn’t handle a throw covering first base. Willson Contreras pinch hit and singled. After a terrific bunt by Albert Almora Jr., Dexter Fowler singled home Russell when Pedro Baez failed to cover first base on a ground ball to first. Then Kris Bryant got an infield single to score Contreras.
With the bases loaded, Javier Baez unloaded them with a 3-run double to turn the game into blowout. Baez is a guy who has always loved the spotlight, even going back to his days in high school. Up until now, there weren’t many people outside of Cubs fans who have noticed what a terrific player he has become this year. Now, everyone in the country is talking about Javier Baez. Three years ago, this might have gone to Baez’s head. Now, he takes it all in stride. This new, improved Javier Baez is one of the best players in the game.
Pedro Strop gave up a run in the eighth inning, but it hardly mattered. Aroldis Chapman pitched the ninth and unfortunately looked very hittable. The Dodgers scored two runs in the ninth inning to make the final score 8-4. Chapman’s performance in the postseason has been unsettling. But a four-run win counts as much as a seven-run win or a one-run win, and Chapman closed it out.
No matter what the final score was, the Cubs now have a three games to two lead in the NLCS.
So here’s where we stand. The Cubs are now just one win away from going to their first World Series since 1945. Most of us have never seen the Cubs play in the World Series. None of us have seen them actually win one. But it’s not going to be easy. The Dodgers are going to throw Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill against the Cubs in the final two games of the NLCS. Those two pitchers completely shut down the Cubs in games two and three. The good news is that both of those games will be at Wrigley Field, and I can guarantee that the Dodgers will think they’re back in California because the earth will be shaking so much from the fans.
The Cubs know they didn’t come here for a haircut. Let’s fly the W.