If last October was a treat, this October the tricks have all been on the Cubs. The Cubs looked sloppy and the Dodgers looked terrific as Los Angeles beat the Cubs 6-1 to take a 3 games to none lead in the best-of-seven National League Championship Series.
You’d be forgiven if you’re having flashbacks to the 2015 NLCS, but in that series, the Cubs never led. In this series, the Cubs have lead in every game with an early home run, but every game went south after that.
The wind was blowing out tonight and the Cubs jumped on Dodgers starter Yu Darvish early. Kyle Schwarber crushed one to the opposite field and the wind carried into the stands. Although to be honest, it just carried it farther up the stands. In truth, Schwarber’s blast was going out against anything but the strongest wind blowing in. Kris Bryant and Willson Contreras both singled in the first inning after Schwarber, but the Cubs failed to cash in.
But the Cubs lead was short-lived. Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks got a fastball up and over the plate against surprise starter Andre Ethier, who hit a line drive off the scoreboard in right field to tie the game at 1-1. Then Hendricks put another fastball down the middle of the plate to surprise shortstop Chris Taylor, and he crushed it into the center field batter’s eye. (Gameday lists both pitches as “sinkers,” but I think that’s just the movement of Hendricks’ fastball combined with his low velocity. They both looked like a Hendricks fastball to me.)
The Dodgers tacked on another run in the fifth inning when Dodgers batters decided to play the foul lines. First, surprise starter Joc Pederson (and really, Dave Roberts threw out the biggest surprise lineup against the Cubs in the postseason since Howard Ehmke started game one of the 1929 World Series) led off the inning with a fly ball down the right field line that either hit the foul line or came really close. It was behind the wall where the cameras don’t see well. After a terrific defensive play by Anthony Rizzo kept Darvish from bunting Pederson over to third, Taylor came to the plate again and lined one down the left field line that kicked up chalk. When all was said and done, Pederson had scored to make it 3-1 and Taylor ended up on third base. Once again, a terrific play on defense by Anthony Rizzo on a Cody Bellinger grounder with the infield in kept Taylor from scoring. Rizzo gunned the ball to Willson Contreras at the plate and the ball beat Taylor by a good ten feet.
Not much has gone right for the Cubs in this series and the sixth inning was a great example of that. Yasiel Puig hit a bouncer to third base to lead off the inning and Kris Bryant simply misplayed the ball. It was a hard hit grounder that Bryant decided to charge and it clanked off his glove on the short hop. Puig runs well, but you have to wonder if Bryant wouldn’t have have been able to make the play had he stayed back.
Ethier was the next batter up and he singled, which was the end of the night for Hendricks. Carl Edwards Jr. has been a Jekyll and Hyde this postseason, with more “Run and Hyde” than Dr. Jekyll. In this inning, he was both. Edwards got a ground ball from Chase Utley that moved the runners to second and third and then he lost the strike zone and walked Austin Barnes to load the bases. But Edwards jumped out to an 0-2 count on Pederson and then got him to hit a shallow fly to right field. Puig decided not to challenge Jason Heyward and it looked like Edwards was going to get out of the inning when Darvish came to bat for himself with two out and the bases loaded.
I don’t have to tell you what happened here. Edwards lost his confidence again, or at least lost the strike zone, throwing four straight to a pitcher whose entire MLB career had been in the American League before August. That forced in Puig, making it 4-1. Edwards came back and threw three great pitches to strike out Taylor, but by that point, who cared? The run was in and the Cubs would have to come back against the Dodgers bullpen.
Mike Montgomery hasn’t been any better than anyone else in the Cubs bullpen, so it was his turn in the top of the eighth inning to try to find the strike zone. He couldn’t, of course, and in fact, he couldn’t even find Contreras’ glove. Montgomery walked Logan Forsythe to lead off the inning and then he gave up a single to Barnes to put runners on first and second with no outs. Then he threw a wild pitch to Charlie Culberson to put runners on second and third with no outs and he needed a strikeout to keep the Dodgers in check. He got one, but a passed ball by Contreras allowed Culberson to reach and Forsythe to score. A sac fly by pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer made it 6-1, which might as well have been 100 to 1 with the way the Cubs have hit against the Dodgers bullpen.
If you want to add injury to insult, Contreras exited the game the inning after being hit in the wrist on that passed ball.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts did the Cubs a favor and put Ross Stripling in to pitch the ninth. Alex Avila, who came on for Contreras, led off the inning with a single and then pinch-hitter Albert Almora Jr. lined one into left field that Kiké Hernandez dived for and then landed into the ivy. Hernandez fished the ball out of the ivy, but the umpire had thrown his hands up for a ground-rule double. It looked like yet another screwup for the Cubs as both Almora and Avila ended up on third base, but the umpires sent Almora back to second.
That brought on Kenley Jansen, who handled the next three Cubs hitters with ease, striking out two of them. That’s what he does and it shouldn’t surprise anyone.
The story has been the same in all three games of the NLCS: The Cubs break out to an early lead with a home run and then the bats go silent as the Dodgers chip away at the lead and then feast on a Cubs bullpen that can’t throw strikes.
They’re going to play game four tomorrow, but it’s hard to see how the result is going to be any different unless the offense starts to hit and the Cubs bullpen learns to throw strikes. They’ve got about 20 hours to figure it out. I’m not counting on it, but I’m not going to throw in the towel. Coming back down 3 games to none is only one game more difficult than coming back down 3 games to 1.
I hope if the Cubs lose this series, they at least make the Dodgers earn it. Not to take anything away from the Dodgers who have been terrific, but so far, the Cubs haven’t put up much of a fight. We know this team is better than this, but maybe they’ve run out of gas. If so, we’ll always have 2016.