Before I get to the question of whether Wade Davis should have been pitching in the ninth inning of Sunday’s 4-1 Cubs loss to the Dodgers in Game 2 of the NLCS, let’s make one thing clear: The Cubs are not going to win this series if the offense doesn’t show up. Addison Russell’s home run provided the only scoring and the Cubs had just four other baserunners, two hits (one by Jon Lester!), a walk and Anthony Rizzo being hit by a pitch.
That’s just not going to do it, not in a regular-season game and certainly not in a postseason game.
Unless I’m recalling incorrectly, Davis was warming up along with John Lackey before the ninth inning began, or maybe during it. Was this a serious warmup, or was he just getting loose?
The bottom line here is that Joe didn’t really have many good options. Presuming you agree with the choice to not use Davis (and I’m sure most of you don’t), who else was going to be in the game in the ninth inning? Hector Rondon, who had served up a home run to Chris Taylor in Game 1? Mike Montgomery, who was similarly bad in Game 1 and as a lefthander, isn’t probably the guy you want facing Justin Turner.
Here’s how most of you probably felt:
As usual, Gary Sheffield makes sense. On the not-using-Davis issue, he said "You gotta give yourself another chance to swing the bats." Yes.— Tyler Kepner (@TylerKepner) October 16, 2017
The Cubs’ bullpen has been suspect at many times this year, and this was one situation where they needed a real lockdown guy and simply didn’t have one. Lackey, for all his toughness and wanting to take the ball in any situation, is 38 years old (in fact, turns 39 a week from today), had never pitched in back-to-back games in his major-league career, and led the National League in home runs allowed this year (36).
The result was almost inevitable.
Now let’s rewind this game to the beginning. Lester, going on three days’ rest, matched Rich Hill quite well over the first five innings.
Except for the walks. Lester walked five; he’d done that only one other time this season and never in a postseason game. That’s the primary reason he ran up a large pitch count (103) and had to be lifted before the fifth inning was over. He managed to retire two hitters in the fifth after Charlie Culberson had led off the frame with a double, but then Turner singled past a diving Rizzo to score the run. That tied the game 1-1.
Here, have a look at most of the Cubs’ offense from Game 2:
The only run of the game to date: An Addison Russell fifth inning homer. pic.twitter.com/xv3ZL3R5ek— Today in the MLB (@TodayintheMLB) October 16, 2017
As I noted earlier, the Cubs had just two other hits. Jon Jay led off the game with a single, but never got past first base. After Russell’s homer, the next two hitters were retired before Lester singled. He, too, stayed put at first base. Javier Baez walked in the third, and an attempt by Lester to sacrifice him to second failed. Javy then stole second — the only Cubs runner besides Russell to get to second base all night. Rizzo was hit by a Kenley Jansen pitch with one out in the ninth. He, too, left the field after that inning having not been advanced.
You can’t win games that way, no matter how good your bullpen is. And the Cubs’ pen simply pales in comparison to what the Dodgers run out there every night. The Dodgers are a multi-faceted good team, but that bullpen... you’ve got to get to L.A. early to defeat them, or you’re simply not going to. This is why Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did not hesitate to pull Rich Hill after five innings and only 79 pitches. The Dodgers bullpen has faced 25 batters in this series and retired 24 of them — the Rizzo HBP is the only baserunner off L.A. relievers.
That about sums up the result of this game, and perhaps series. If the Cubs don’t hit, they will not win. Period. Oh, and stop walking so many hitters! You’re not going to win many games when your pitchers issue nine walks. That makes 38 walks issued by Cubs pitchers in seven postseason games this year. That’s... not optimal.
Meanwhile, the Cubs’ bullpen... well, you probably don’t want or need to hear too much more about that. I will say this: Carl Edwards Jr. had a fine outing in this game, facing four batters and retiring all of them, three by strikeout. He looked like the CJ from the first half of the season. This could turn out to be important later in the series.
Now let’s look at some Javy defense, shall we?
And this one, which also featured an incredible throw by Willson Contreras [VIDEO].
This is an exaggeration, but not by much:
Javier Baez is better at tagging people than anyone else is at anything.— Joe Posnanski (@JPosnanski) October 16, 2017
Madness! - this postseason:#Cubs 0-3 when they hit at least one HR— Christopher Kamka (@ckamka) October 16, 2017
3-1 when they don't hit a HR
We have seen in this series why the Dodgers kept winning, and winning, and winning, during the regular season and during their sweep of the Diamondbacks in the division series. They have so many weapons — bats, relief pitching, bench players. It will certainly not be easy to come back and win this series.
And yet. Many teams have lost the first two games of a seven-game postseason series on the road and done just that. The off day will certainly help the Cubs get some needed rest, and reset the starting rotation and bullpen. They’ll be playing at home, where they beat the Dodgers two of three back in April, and the weather forecast is spectacularly good for late October, so there won’t be any issues with that.
It will not be easy. But then, last year’s World Series run wasn’t easy, either, and the Cubs came from behind against the Dodgers last year, too. Of course, that wasn’t quite as good a Dodgers team and the Cubs had home-field advantage in that series.
Still, I think the Cubs will make this a competitive series, assuming the bats show up starting Tuesday. Kyle Hendricks, who seems to save his best pitching for situations like this, will go for the Cubs against the Dodgers’ Yu Darvish.