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Dodgers 2, Cubs 0: Where’s The Offense?

The Cubs got their 2016 rings, and then couldn’t score.

This was a common sight Wednesday — a Cubs runner erased on the front end of a DP
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

I won’t blame the ring ceremony for the Cubs’ lack of scoring Wednesday night.

I will blame, at least in part, a strong wind blowing in off Lake Michigan over the right-field wall, because it knocked down at least two fly balls (one by Willson Contreras, one by Anthony Rizzo) that would likely have landed in the bleachers on other Wrigley Field days or evenings.

The Cubs thus didn’t score at all and got shut out by the Dodgers 2-0.

You didn’t think repeating as World Series champions was going to be easy, did you? Remember that there were times last year where the Cubs offense looked kind of feckless, and in fact they got shut out three times in the final two rounds of the 2016 postseason. They’ll be just fine.

The ring ceremony (a full article on the ceremony and the rings will post at 10 a.m. CT) delayed the start of the game by about 10 minutes and then John Lackey’s first-inning pitching dragged things out even longer.

Lackey threw 32 pitches in what seems like a pattern for him, a bad first inning. Andrew Toles led off the game with a home run. Corey Seager then doubled and Lackey walked Logan Forsythe.

Eventually, even though he wound up loading the bases with another walk, Lackey struck out the side. I wouldn’t have given him much chance to have made it six innings after that dreadful first, but he made whatever adjustments were necessary after that bad inning. The Dodgers had just three more baserunners off Lackey and he retired 14 of the final 15 hitters he faced.

Meanwhile, the Cubs had chances in the early innings, but Dodgers starter Brandon McCarthy kept getting them to beat the ball into the ground with runners on base. L.A. turned three double plays in the first four innings, taking the Cubs out of potential rallies.

But Lackey and the bullpen kept the Cubs in the game. Mike Montgomery threw two scoreless innings, even though his command and control still weren’t what they need to be. He loaded the bases on two walks and a single with one out in the eighth, but got out of it with a double play.

The Cubs appeared to have a fine chance to score in the bottom of the eighth. Albert Almora Jr. sent a routine ground ball to shortstop, but Adrian Gonzalez dropped the throw from Seager. Almora, whose baseball instincts are outstanding, never stopped running and took second base. Most runners would have pulled up, happy to be safe at first.

So there’s a runner in scoring position with one out, but Ross Stripling struck out Jon Jay after an epic 11-pitch at-bat, and Luis Avilan was summoned to face Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber also struck out to end the inning.

With a runner on first in the ninth and two out, Hector Rondon struck out Toles, but the ball got by Contreras, who then threw wildly to first base. The ball got far enough away that Chase Utley never stopped running:

As you can see at the end of that GIF, Utley and Rondon had an awkward collision at the plate and Hector walked off the field with the trainer. This is not good news:

Justin Grimm ended the Dodgers ninth inning with another strikeout, Cubs pitchers’ 14th of the night. Overall, in most games when your pitchers allow five hits and strike out 14, you’re going to win. (The six walks Cubs pitchers issued Wednesday night is another story, though.)

I suppose the bottom of the ninth might have been a bit different if it’s 1-0 instead of 2-0. Anthony Rizzo singled with one out and took second on defensive indifference, but Kenley Jansen retired Ben Zobrist on a foul popup and Addison Russell on a fly to left to end it, disappointing another sellout of 40,844. Many folks left around the seventh inning, as it was again a cold night, especially on the third-base side of the stands. That side took the full brunt of the wind blowing off Lake Michigan.

Bottom line here: The Dodgers are a good team and McCarthy, when healthy, is a very good pitcher. The Cubs had chances but couldn’t cash in on them. It happens. We got used to the Cubs winning very easily at this time a year ago, and that spoiled us to some extent. Even good teams usually don’t blow through the opposition that easily.

The Cubs trail the Reds (!) in the N.L. Central by 1½ games. That’s the farthest the Cubs have been out of first place since 2015. Do not expect this to continue. The Reds might be 7-2 now, but that isn’t going to last.

I’ll have another article about the Cubs’ World Series rings and the ceremony later this morning.

The Cubs still have a chance to win this series, as they’ll turn around quickly and play the Dodgers again Thursday afternoon at 1:20 p.m. CT. Former Dodger Brett Anderson will go for the Cubs and Hyun-Jin Ryu for the Dodgers. The game preview will post at 11:30 a.m. CT.