After going 21 straight innings not scoring any runs against the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Chicago Cubs have busted out for 18 runs and 26 hits in their last 15 innings of NLCS play.
The Dodgers turned to righty Kenta Maeda to start Game 5 versus the Cubs ace Jon Lester on Wednesday night instead of starting their ace Clayton Kershaw on 3 days rest. Maeda is a far cry from Kershaw in terms of pitching skill and that decision may come to haunt manager Dave Roberts going forward.
“Well, I think that (Thursday) isn’t a deciding game,” Roberts stated prior to the crucial Game 5. “It’s not an elimination game, and I think the accumulation of (Kershaw’s) usage over the last 10 days plays a factor in our decision. So, I think that for us thinking through it, the best thing for us is to have him pitch Game 6 and have Kenta go Thursday.”
Meade took the mound and got into trouble early on giving up a leadoff single to Dexter Fowler. Kris Bryant flied out and then Anthony Rizzo came to the plate. Rizzo was mired in a horrible postseason slump until he broke out of it in Game 4 with 3 hits and he didn’t stop there. Rizzo doubled to right, scoring Fowler and giving the Cubs an early 1-0 lead.
Lester kept the Cubs in the lead until the Dodgers half of the 4th inning when he gave up a double to Howie Kendrick. Due to Lester’s deficiency of holding runners on base, Kendrick quickly stole third. The next batter was first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who grounded out to first, scoring Kendrick for the Dodgers first run of the game and tying the game at 1-1.
The game remained tied until the top of the 6th as the Dodgers brought in reliever Joe Blanton. Blanton if you remember, gave up the grand slam to Miguel Montero and a solo home run to Fowler in consecutive batters in game 1 when the game was tied at 3-3. Blanton once again didn’t have his marksmanship as he gave up a single to the hot hitting Javy Baez. Baez stole second base and saw Jason Hayward strike out before Addison Russell strolled to the plate. Russell who broke out of a nasty slump the night before collecting 3 hits blasted a pitch 425 feet to center field for a two run home run and a 3-1 lead.
Lester kept the lead for the Cubs as he ate up valuable innings and lasted till the end of the 7th. He pitched out of jams and wasn’t his usual dominant self but that wasn’t needed on this night since the bats came to life again.
The Cubs then poured it on in the 8th as Russell led off by beating out a play that ended up being an error on Dodgers pitcher Pedro Baez. Willson Contreras pinch hit for David Ross and abruptly singled. Rookie Albert Almora, Jr sacrificed Russell and Contreras up one base each. Fowler was the next batter and beat out an infield single to first base, scoring Russell. Bryant was next and hit a ball to third base but he also beat out the throw to first, scoring Contreras. Rizzo made an out, Ben Zobrist walked to load the bases which then drove the Dodgers Baez out of the game in favor of Ross Stripling. Javy Baez came to the plate and smacked a pitch the opposite way to deep right and clearing the bases for an 8-1 lead.
The final two innings for the Cubs relievers weren’t the best as Pedro Strop gave up a run in the bottom of the 8th and closer Aroldis Chapman gave up a pair of runs in the bottom of the 9th but with the big lead the Cubs built, those 3 runs in the final innings made the game a little closer than it actually was.
It was great watching the Cubs offense come to life for a second game in a row. The top 3 hitters in the Cubs lineup with Fowler, Bryant, and Rizzo combined for a 6 for 15 night, 3 RBIs, and 3 runs scored. Baez was 3 for 5 with 3 RBIs, Russell was 2 for 5 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. They seem to have clicked on all cylinders though the one issue i saw was the lack of production with runners in scoring position. For the night I think the Cubs were 3 for 16 with RISP. Manager Joe Maddon despite the 8-1 lead wanted to get Strop and Chapman work out of the bullpen since each pitcher haven’t seen much action in the series and he wanted to keep them fresh going into Game 6 on Saturday night.
Game 6 will be another showdown between two of the best in baseball with the Dodgers Kershaw and the Cubs Kyle Hendricks. Both pitchers will be on full rest and the atmosphere at Wrigley Field will be electric with a potential NLCS clinching game. Expect the temperatures in Chicago that evening to be chilly and with that cold it could factor into potential issues with Kershaw and his back surgery he’s had early this season. The Cubs will need to get to Kershaw early in the game and make him work, make him throw more than 12 pitches per inning and get guys on base anyway possible. The earlier you put pressure on him the better chance to get runs on the board against probably the best pitcher of this generation.