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Cubs 6, Dodgers 5: Sweep!

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This was one of the most improbable series sweeps in recent franchise history.

Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

It took four hours and 23 minutes, three different comebacks from being down a run and a game-winning hit from a guy who was supposed to be getting the night off, but after all of those things happened, the Cubs had a thrilling 6-5, 11-inning win over the visiting Dodgers and a three-game series sweep just at the time they needed one. They’ve also won five of their last seven games.

Fun fact about the last two games:

Also, per Eric Stephen at our SB Nation Dodgers site True Blue LA:

The last time the Dodgers were swept in a series was April 8-11, 2019, a four-game set in St. Louis.

This recap’s gonna be a long one, so strap right in and let’s get started.

Adbert Alzolay and Walker Buehler nearly matched each other for the first three innings. The Cubs had just one baserunner through three, a leadoff double by Matt Duffy in the third. He reached third, but was stranded. Alzolay was just as stingy, allowing only a two-out walk in the first. Both starting pitchers struck out five through three.

Then hitters started getting busy. Max Muncy homered off Alzolay with two out in the fourth. I had this feeling at the time that one run might win the game, thankfully wrong, as it turned out. The Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in the fifth on a single by Chris Taylor and double by Gavin Lux. That lead seemed a bit more insurmountable the way Buehler was pitching.

The Cubs, though, had lots of comeback in them. With two out in the bottom of the fifth, Duffy singled for his second hit of the game and Jake Marisnick tied it [VIDEO].

Marisnick and Duffy, Duffy and Marisnick. Two guys the Cubs signed as more-or-less afterthoughts this past offseason have been key performers this season, and both especially in the series against the Dodgers. Duffy went 3-for-8 in the series with a double and Marisnick was 2-for-6 — both home runs — with three runs scored. They’ve both performed better than some Cubs who were in the Opening Day lineup.

So now we’re tied 2-2 heading to the sixth. Alzolay, lifted for a pinch-hitter, had another pretty good outing — two runs in five innings with seven strikeouts. Look at the movement on some of his early pitches:

Alzolay’s going to be a good one. You can see his confidence grow with every start.

Kyle Ryan, though, did not have a good night, not at all. Two hard-hit balls and a walk loaded the bases before David Ross could go get him after the three-batter minimum rule forced Ross to leave Ryan in to issue that walk. I am not a fan of this rule, which takes decision-making out of managers’ hands.

Ryan Tepera, though, got out of this bases-loaded, nobody-out jam pretty well. He allowed a deep fly ball that scored a run, but no further damage.

In the bottom of the sixth, Joc Pederson led off with a perfectly-placed bunt single down the left-field line. It is remarkable how much room defenses are leaving Cubs LH hitters like Pederson, Rizzo and Jason Heyward on the left side this year. I’m not saying they should bunt all the time, but... why not take advantage of this more often? Unfortunately, despite a one-out double by Javier Baez, Pederson was stranded.

Tepera threw a 1-2-3 seventh. This was an outstanding outing from Tepera, who recorded six outs on just 16 pitches.

The Cubs couldn’t score in the seventh and Rex Brothers threw a scoreless eighth.

That’s when the Cubs offense got a huge break. Pederson led off with a walk. Kris Bryant hit a ball to Corey Seager that should have been an easy double-play ball, but Seager threw the ball away and both runners were safe, Pederson taking third.

Baez then hit a ground ball to second that could have been a double play, but he beat the relay to first and the tying run scored [VIDEO].

Craig Kimbrel, fresh off his blown save in Tuesday’s nightcap, entered the tie game in the ninth. He went 1-2-3 through the bottom of the LA order with two strikeouts. But the Cubs could not score against Dennis Santana and on we went to extras, again.

Here’s a bit of an aside that came into play in this game.

You might have heard about White Sox manager Tony La Russa’s gaffe that might have cost him the game at Cincinnati Wednesday, when he put reliever Liam Hendriks on base as the placed runner in the 10th. You don’t have to do this when the pitcher’s spot made the last out and would thus be the placed runner. If that situation occurrs you can use the player in the previous batting order spot. This is all spelled out clearly in MLB’s Operations Manual for this year. I’ve read it, the relevant portion says:

The runner placed on second base at the start of each half-inning shall be the player (or a substitute for such player) in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter. By way of example, if the number five hitter in the batting order is due to lead off the tenth inning, the number four player in the batting order (or a pinch-runner for such player) shall begin the inning on second base. However, if the player in the batting order immediately preceding that half-inning’s leadoff hitter is the pitcher, the runner placed on second base at the start of that half-inning may be the player preceding the pitcher in the batting order.

Now if I know this and can easily read it, wouldn’t you think a MLB manager would make it his business to know this? I sure would. Instead, La Russa had to be told about this by James Fegan of The Athletic.

The reason I bring up TLR’s mistake is because this exact situation happened to both managers in the Cubs/Dodgers game. The pitcher’s spot made the last out in the top of the ninth for L.A. (via a pinch-hitter), so Gavin Lux, the No. 8 Dodger hitter, was the placed runner. Alec Mills was the Cubs’ new pitcher. He got two ground balls and Lux could advance no farther than third, but then Mills walked Justin Turner and Muncy smacked a ball into the gap in left-center [VIDEO].

A run scored to give the Dodgers a 4-3 lead, but a relay from Bryant to Baez to Willson Contreras nailed Turner at the plate. The Dodgers asked for a review based on Contreras not giving Turner a lane, but the ruling was “call stands” based on this:

catcher’s setup was illegal prior to securing possession of the ball but did not hinder or impede the progress of the runner attempting to score, runner is out.

Onward to the bottom of the 10th with the Cubs trailing 4-3. The Cubs had flipped Mills into the batting-order spot that made the last out in the ninth, so they were able to use Duffy as the placed runner, with Rizzo leading off. He walked, so now the tying and winning runs are on base. A wild pitch by Kenley Jansen moved both runners up, and Pederson tied the game yet again with a sac fly [VIDEO].

Joc clearly thought that ball was gone off the bat for a three-run walk off homer, but it fell short, caught on the warning track. Now it’s 4-4 with Rizzo moving up to third. The Dodgers intentionally passed both Bryant and Baez to pitch to Contreras. Personally, I thought that was a good matchup for the Cubs, Contreras vs. Jansen, but the Dodger closer got Willson to hit into an inning-ending double play, and so an 11th inning began.

Mills walked the first hitter he faced, putting runners on first and second. He struck out Chris Taylor and Matt Beaty hit into a force play with a ground ball to first. At first that looked like one of those plays where Rizzo steps on the base and throws to second for a double-play tag, but:

So only one out was recorded on the play and now runners are on first and third, and Lux singled in a run to make it 5-4 L.A. After another walk, Mills got out of the inning with another ground ball.

Could the Cubs come back again?

Well, you already know the answer, but here are the details.

Contreras was the placed runner in the 11th. Garrett Cleavinger, who was the pitcher the Cubs beat in extras in Game 2 Tuesday, took the mound for the Dodgers. He struck out Heyward and David Bote.

Duffy time! [VIDEO]

That gave Duffy a 3-for-4 night. He’s now hitting .308/.429/.365 (16-for-52) and over his last eight games: .391/.517/.478 (9-for-23) with eight runs scored and six walks. He’s been really, really good since a slow start.

Tony Wolters was sent up to bat for Mills. Rewinding for a moment to Duffy’s at-bat:

Wolters doesn’t do much well with the bat, but one thing he can do is draw walks. That’s exactly what he did off Cleavinger, his fifth walk of the year in 25 PA. That gave Wolters a .333 OBP despite a .158 BA. During this at-bat Duffy had stolen second base, though that became moot when Wolters walked.

That set up Rizzo’s heroics [VIDEO].

That game certainly was worth the entertainment dollar, to be sure, and the Cubs over the last three days have found ways to win. You can see in the video clip that Rizzo was down in the count 1-2, but found a way to bounce a ball through a hole on the left side for that game-winning base hit:

I have been telling you this all year and I am going to tell you again: Do not count this Cubs team out from contending. Every team I have seen the Cubs play so far in 2021 has serious flaws. Look at the defending champion Dodgers, for example — a team that got off to a 13-2 start that is now 4-13 over its last 17 games. They’ve got bullpen issues, same as the Cubs do. The entire National League is only six games from best (Giants and Cardinals, 18-13) to worst (Rockies, 12-19), and the Rockies are clearly in rebuild mode.

The Cubs have issues they’ll have to resolve, including injuries to key players. Nevertheless, I’ll repeat this one more time, with emphasis:

Do not count this Cubs team out from contending.

One last note on this series: Despite two scheduled games in this series being seven-game affairs as part of a doubleheader, the two teams did wind up playing 27 innings, an average of exactly nine per game. (Actually, technically three outs short of 27 total innings with the Cubs’ two walkoff wins.)

The Cubs will certainly enjoy their off day today. The Pirates come to town for the second time this year for a three-game set beginning Friday afternoon. Zach Davies will take the mound for the Cubs, and former Cub Trevor Cahill will start for the Pirates. Game time Friday is 1:20 p.m. CT and TV coverage will be via Marquee Sports Network, and also on MLB Network (outside the Cubs and Pirates market territories).