2016 National League Championship Series
Ok, I understand I am a bit late to post this in a seven game series but with the ALCS moving so fast, I figured the National League Championship Series, no matter how exciting it has been, had to wait until today.
Since pretty much the entire world already knows about Games 1 and 2 of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers due to all the action, I’m just going to quickly recap the highlights of both games. Beginning with Game 3 things will be back to normal with a daily recap and a bit of analysis.
Los Angeles Dodgers @ Chicago Cubs (@ symbol denotes the team with home field advantage)
Game 1: Dodgers 3, Cubs 8 – Well as you may have already heard pinch-hitter Miguel Montero hit a grand slam in the eighth inning to ensure the Cubs 8-3 win. He is just the third pinch-hitter to ever hit a Grand Slam in MLB postseason history. Jon Lester went six-full innings allowing just one fun on four hits, while walking only one batter and striking out three. Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda made it through just four innings, allowing four hits and three runs, while allowing three walks and collecting two strikeouts. The Dodgers used four relievers to finish the game, neither were named Kershaw or Jensen. Montero’s historics grand slam came off of a poorly located slider by a guy who has already been a starter and been retired. Now, however, the 35-year-old right-hander Joe Blanton pitches out of the Dodgers’ bullpen and for awhile, he’ll be known as the guy who gave up that grand slam to Montero (perhaps even with “the year the Cubs finally broke the curse” added on but that is yet to be determined).
Another important thing to note is that Aroldis Chapman had been called in to pitch in the eighth inning and get the Cubs a six-out save, something he’d never done before. Chapman blew the save and Hector Rondon was called in to pitch what ended up a scoreless ninth. The usually lights-out Chapman, who can throw the ball faster and harder than anyone in MLB history, blew the save after just two outs. To have him try to get a six-out save for the first time on such a big postseason stage, the National League Championship Series, might have been a bit much for the flamethrower. They probably should save him for the ninth in the future. Manager Joe Maddon‘s decision to put in Chapman with six-outs left in a one-run game makes sense. A lot of guys can get you a six-out save and especially in this situation you pick your best pitcher to do it. Logical but not always the case. Most likely Chapman will go on to pitch in this series (and possibly the World Series) and strikeout pretty much every batter he faces – just remember to ask him for three outs not six.
Game 2: Dodgers 1, Cubs 0 – Game 2 of the National League Championship Series featured Clayton Kershaw on a form of short rest. He pitched Game 4 of the NLDS last Tuesday already on short rest and been victorious, throwing 110 pitches. Two days later he came in and pitched the ninth. Teammate and team closer Kenley Jansen was looking too fatigued; Kershaw took the initiative to basically tell manager Dave Roberts that he was going in to close out the game and ensure the Dodgers win over the Washington Nationals. Kershaw got the second save in his big league career, the first one coming back when he was still pitching in the Gulf Coast League. He pitched Game 2 on five days rest, but it was really more like short rest given it was the third time he’d been on the mound in six days.
Kershaw dominated the Cubs on Tuesday and many weren’t sure what to expect. He was masterful, going a full seven innings while giving up just two hits and a walk while striking out six Cubs’ batters. He gave way to Kenley Jansen, who this time was able to get the six-out save. The only offense in the game came on a solo home run from Adrian Gonzalez.
Cubs’ starter Kyle Hendricks did his job going 5.1 innings, allowing three hits and four walks while striking out six. His only mistake was the pitch to Gonzalez. He was followed on the mound by Carl Edwards Jr, Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop and Chapman. The Cubs offense really needs to start moving if they want to win this series.
Game 3: Dodgers 6, Cubs 0 – The Cubs were shut out for the second time in this year’s National League Division Series. It’s odd as their offense never seemed to be any trouble during the regular season. They ranked third overall in the majors in hits, behind just Boston and Colorado, with 1409.
The Cubs were dumbfounded by lefty starter Rich Hill‘s killer curveball, considered one of the best in the majors, and like so many teams before them couldn’t figure him out for six innings. Hill struck out six batters in six innings, while allowing just two hits and two walks. The Dodgers’ bullpen was very good as well. Right-hander Joe Blanton, left-hander Grant Dayton and right-handed closer Jansen allowed just two more hits between them to finish up the game for Los Angeles.
Meanwhile LA’s offense was on fire. Rookie of the Year candidate Corey Seager had three hits, Yasiel Puig had two hits and Justin Turner, Josh Reddick, Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal and Andrew Toles each had a hit of their own with Seager (1), Grandal (3), Turner (1) and Pederson (1) all driving in runs.
Reigning Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta started for the Cubs and he didn’t exactly bring his A-game. He pitched fairly well, into the sixth inning allowing four runs on six hits while striking out six. He was replaced by veteran Travis Wood after giving up a home run to Josh Turner with one out in the inning. Justin Grimm pitched a scoreless seventh and Montgomery allowed two runs on two hits to finish out the ballgame.
The Cubs lineup needs to step up. Specifically, first baseman Anthony Rizzo who is just 1-11 in the series. Where have their bats gone?
Game 4: Dodgers 2, Cubs 10 – The Cubs offense showed up to the yard on Wednesday evening. However, Dodgers’ starter 20-year-old Julio Urias cruised through the first three innings and suddenly the fourth inning just got away from him. He allowed three straight singles to start off the inning to Ben Zobrist, Javier Baez and Wilson Contreras. He was able to get two outs in the fourth, getting Jason Heyward and Cubs’ starter John Lackey both to ground out. However, in between those two guys in the lineup was shortstop Addison Russell. Russell’s bat had been as non-existent as Anthony Rizzo‘s until that fourth inning. Urias allowed a two-run shot to Russell who finally got to remind everyone how good he can be as good at the plate as he is playing defense. Pedro Baez replaced Urias. He successfully got out of the fourth but he allowed a lead-off homer to start the fifth. He gave up the solo-shot to the one Cubs’ player whose bat has been most notably absent in this year’s postseason, Rizzo’s.
Los Angeles started a comeback in the bottom of the fifth. Lackey issued two walks to start the second half of the inning and was replaced by Mike Montgomery who immediately allowed a single to Howie Kendrick, loading the bases. He got Corey Seager to strikeout but allowed a two RBI-double to Justin Turner. Those would be the Dodger’s only runs of the night.
The game went into the top of the sixth inning with the Cubs leading by three runs but by the bottom of the sixth the Cubs would lead by eight runs after a five-run top of the sixth. The scored remained that way for three more innings and the National League Championship Series is now tied at two games a piece.
One play worth noting, although it most likely would not have changed the game’s outcome, came in the bottom of the second inning when the Dodgers’ Adrian Gonzalez was thrown out at home plate for the inning’s final out. The Dodgers could have gone on a two-out rally, now we will never know. Instant replay was used and while according to almost everyone who saw or has since seen the play – have to question the judgment of the umpires in New York (everyone knows you can’t trust a game when Angel Hernandez is calling balls and strikes from behind the plate – or you know when he calls an obvious home run – a ground rule double and it causes your team to lose! See video below of what I consider to be the worst call of all time and it was also reviewed but that happened before extended replay so there weren’t any guys in New York, anyway…) because it is really hard to deny that Gonzalez was safe. Even saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field is wrong. He was clearly safe. I’m glad there is replay but then there are days when you have to wonder — what’s the point?! See the following videos as evidence:
May 8, 2013: Athletics @ Indians
October 19, 2016: Cubs @ Dodgers
Game 5: Dodgers 4, Cubs 8 – This recap may have to be short and sweet as Game 6 is scheduled to start in about 15 minutes (lol) but the main point of this game was that it proved that both the Cubs’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo, also a candidate for NL MVP this season, and shortstop Addison Russell have found their bats. It appeared that they had in Game 4 and they reappeared in Game 5, which led to another Cubs win. Rizzo ended the night with four RBI and Russell hit his second two-run home run in two days, giving the Cubs hope and the advantage in the series.
Dodgers starter Kenta Maeda didn’t even make it through four innings mainly due to his pitch count, and relievers Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez gave up the remainder of the Cubs runs. Cubs ace Jon Lester pitched a full seven innings allowing five hits, one walk and one run while striking out six and was relieved by Pedro Strop and Aroldis Chapman. While Chapman can throw the ball harder and faster than anyone in the league, he has been surrendering runs at a discomforting rate – at least if you are the Cubs. Strop allowed a run but it was Chapman who allowed the Dodgers to score two runs in the top of the ninth inning. This is not the first time that Chapman has allowed late inning runs in this series. He blew a save opportunity in Game 1 of the NLCS, his second blown save of the postseason. It should be interesting to see if Joe Maddon goes with Chapman if the game is close in the late innings.
The Cubs are now stuck once again in the one place they have most often been stuck in their 45 year drought since last appearing in the World Series and their 108 year drought since last winning the World Championship.
In 2003, for example, they were up three games to two on the then-Florida Marlins, but a on a foul ball to left off the bat of the Marlins Luis Castillo, a fan in bleachers interfered with Cubs’ outfielder Moises Alou‘s catch of that foul ball. It wasn’t what actually caused the Cubs to lose the game. They ended up surrendering eight runs in the inning to lose 8-3, however that fan incident, better known now as the “Steve Bartman incident“, has long been considered the pivotal point that cost the Cubs the game. The Marlins won Game 7 and ultimately the World Series in 2003.
Tonight the Cubs have another chance but can they do it against Clayton Kershaw? Or more likely, could it be Kershaw who forces the Cubs to a dreaded Game 7 in the 2016 National League Championship Series. It’s only been 13 years since they’ve been in this position ….keyword: “only” …. Can they break the curse in Game 6?
Game 6: Dodgers 0, Cubs 5 – more on this in another post, perhaps two! William Sianis’ 1945 Curse of the Billy Goat is no more and the Chicago Cubs are four wins away from breaking a 108-year-old World Championship drought!!! Cubs win the National League Championship Series while facing Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw! Fly the W! History is made and Theo Epstein REALLY IS the curse breaker!! Congrats to the Chicago Cubs on their first National League Pennant in 71 years!!!