It was a dark and stormy night at Wrigley Field and the result was nothing but rain clouds for the Cubs 2017 season. The Washington Nationals beat the Cubs 5-0 in game 4 of the NLDS to force a game five tomorrow back at Nationals Park.
The Cubs only managed three hits today and even more concerning, Kris Bryant was 0 for 4 with four strikeouts and Anthony Rizzo was 0 for 3 with a walk. If those two don’t hit better tomorrow night, the Cubs 2017 season will likely end.
The story coming into today’s game was that Stephen Strasburg would make the start after all, although I doubt that this was any sort of gamesmanship on the part of the Nationals. Remember: never attribute anything to cleverness that can be just as easily attributed to stupidity.
But that turned out to be a gift from the gods for the Nationals. Strasburg was terrific. Maybe not as terrific as he was in game one when he no-hit the Cubs for 5 2⁄3 innings, but terrific enough. His changeup was crazy good. Ben Zobrist got the first hit of the game early in the second inning with a double and then Addison Russell crushed one that was only kept out of the left field bleachers by a fierce wind blowing in. That was the Cubs biggest threat of the game.
Meanwhile, Jake Arrieta was making his first start in 15 days and he struggled with his control, but otherwise kept the Nationals in check. But the Nats broke through in the third inning when Trea Turner broke out of his funk and doubled off Arrieta with one out. It was the first time Turner reached base the whole series.
Arrieta then struck out Jayson Werth and pitched carefully to Bryce Harper, walking him and putting runners on the corners with two outs. Facing Ryan Zimmerman, Arrieta got ahead with an 0-2 count when Zimmerman checked his swing on an outside slider. Catcher Willson Contreras appealed, but the first base umpire ruled he didn’t swing at the pitch. On replay, it certainly looked like Zimmerman went around but it was very close and that’s a judgement call anyway. Either call would have been correct and this one unfortunately went against the Cubs.
Of course, we all saw what was coming. Zimmerman hit a slow bouncer to shortstop on the next pitch that should have gotten Arrieta out of the inning with no damage. Instead, Russell made two errors on this play, one physical and one mental, although he was only charged with one error. The physical error was easy to see—he bobbled the ball for an error, allowing Turner to score. The mental error was that the physical error was due, in part, to Russell aggressively charging the ball. But Zimmerman is a slow runner and Russell should have been able to take his time on it.
Arrieta loaded the bases in the fourth inning with two outs but got out of the jam by striking out Werth. But after four innings and 90 pitches, Arrieta was done. He gave up just one unearned run and two hits, but he walked five and struck out four.
Arrieta gave way to Jon Lester, making his first relief appearance since game 7 of the World Series. Lester was just as terrific as Strasburg was. He retired the first ten batters he faced before walking Zimmerman.
Then we got a minor miracle. As everyone does against Lester, Zimmerman took a huge lead at first. Lester can now throw over to first—not well, but he can at least get it over there sometimes. His first time he bounced one over to Rizzo and Zimmerman got back safe. The second time, Lester’s throw got there over on the fly but way off the bag on the second base side. But Anthony Rizzo caught it and tagged Zimmerman in the ankle before he got back to the bag. The umpires had to go to replay, but Zimmerman was clearly out.
That was the big deal that wasn’t. The next hitter, legendary Cubs-killer Daniel Murphy, singled to center field. That was it for Lester, who exited for Carl Edwards Jr. Edwards then walked the next two batters to load the bases and then threw ball one to Michael Taylor.
With the game on the line, Joe Maddon went to Wade Davis. You know what happened then. Somehow, with the wind blowing in, Taylor managed to tack the ball up into the air and deposit it into the right field basket for a grand slam. A nail-biter turned into a rout.
The Cubs got a couple of baserunners off of Ryan Madson in the eighth inning when Ian Happ walked and Jon Jay was hit by a pitch, but Bryant and Rizzo went down meekly, as did the Cubs in the ninth inning against Sean Doolittle.
This just ties the series 2 games to 2 with an elimination game 5 tomorrow night in DC. It’s going to be a zoo there, but no worse than Progressive Field was last year. The Cubs have won in DC once already and they can do so again. Tomorrow night’s game will be at 7pm Central time on TBS.
Try not to suck.