Human perception is a funny thing. Most Cubs fans would have been very happy being up 2-1 in the series after facing postseason legend Madison Bumgarner. Today Cubs fans find themselves in that exact position, but lack of sleep is not the only reason why Cubs fans are not happy with this turn of events. It’s understandable, though, because the Cubs prevented Madison Bumgarner from pitching a quality start, and their all-world closer merely had to retire the Giants left-handed hitting 6 and 7 hitters.
There is no need to further relive being five outs away from advancing. This team is different than all previous incarnations of the Cubs. The Bryant game tying blast right after this collapse should be all the proof you need of that. Yes, the Giants were able to win the game against a tiring Mike Montgomery, but this team has shown a resilience all year that allowed them to rack up the most wins by a Cubs team in a century. And the Cubs do still find themselves in the exact position most of us hoped for at this point of the series.
The fear though is what is lurking if the Cubs do not manage to win tonight. Johnny Cueto with Madison Bumgarner backing him up is a daunting task, and it would be nice to not give the Giants the chance to perform any more acts of Even Year Magic. However, the Giants have to make it through Big Jo(h)ns first. This series has been everything we thought it could be and probably more than some wanted it to be. The Cubs will look to be on the opposite side of a classic game tonight.
The Pitching Matchup: John Lackey vs Matt Moore
10 months ago the Chicago Cubs signed John Lackey for exactly this moment. John Lackey signed with the Chicago Cubs for exactly this moment. The Cubs certainly need him with a depleted bullpen after last night’s 13-inning affair. John Lackey has a reputation for performing well in the spotlight. He has been in this position frequently, having thrown 127 1/3 innings in the postseason and his performance has been largely exemplary. He played a critical role in Boston’s run in 2013, and made 3 good starts for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014 and 2015. Unfortunately, one of his worst performances came in 2014 against the Giants, but to be clear he did only give up four runs over six innings, a fairly standard poor outing for Lackey. None of that really matters as much as how he is performing now, but it interesting to note given Lackey’s reputation.
Lackey went on the disabled list in the middle of August, and returned in early September with solid results while knocking the rust off. Last season Lackey got stronger as the season wore on with his velocity increasing. This year his velocity has been trending downward since May with noticeable dip since returning from injury. Lackey has sat below 92 mph on his average four seam fastball in three of his final four starts.
Lackey has also not been pushed very hard in the month of September. He throw over 100 pitches in just one outing and over 90 pitches in just one other outing. Some of that was clearly about preserving Lackey’s arm for now, but it will be interesting to see how he responds once pushing past 85 pitches. He has no shown a drop of velocity in game as he pitches deeper in games so far.
Matt Moore has had an up and down season. He started the year on the Tampa Bay Rays and threw 130 IP with a 4.08 ERA and a DRA- of 109.7. He was traded to the Giants and he began to show some of the promise that made him listed with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout as top prospects in the game so many years ago. Moore then had a rough September and found that his ERA in San Francisco matched his Tampa Bay ERA, but his DRA- actually increased to 113.5.
Moore’s penchant for home runs dropped precipitously in San Francisco. His HR/9 fell from 1.4 to 0.7, but his command failed him at times with BB/9 jumping from 2.8 to 4.2. His strikeouts also went up as well from 7.5 to 9.1 per nine in San Francisco. Moore has changed his pitch selection in San Francisco. He is using a cutter far more than any point in his career at the expense of his sinker. His curveball remains his most frequently used secondary pitch, but the usage of it and the change up has dropped. Moore’s velocity ticked up towards the end of last year, and he has been able to maintain that increase throughout the season.
Moore had a rough September looking at the splits. The only month he allowed more runs to cross the plate was in May, but it is deceptive. Moore had two extremely poor starts in the month. He started the month in Coors Field and was shelled for 6 runs in 2 2/3 innings. He had two decent outings and then the worst outing of 2016 in Los Angeles. He was victimized for six runs in just one inning of work. He has had two outings since the disaster in LA and he looks like the guy in August again. Pitching at home against the same Rockies and Dodgers he threw 15 2/3 innings allowing two runs to score. He walked only two hitters and struck out 17.
What to Watch For
The pitching situation is an interesting wrinkle for both teams managers. The two clubs played 13 innings with their aces unable to provide the length seen earlier in the series, and with the quick turn around tonight it will be interesting to see who answers the call when and if relievers are needed in this one. Joe Maddon allowed Aroldis Chapman to throw 21 pitches last night. He struggled when being asked for more than three outs. If Chapman is available it will probably be asking for a clean ninth inning. The only other reliever to throw more than ten pitches last night was Mike Montgomery. He is certainly not available today after his 57 pitch 4 plus inning outing. The rest of the staff should be available.
The Giants pitching situation is perhaps more precarious than the Cubs. The Giants cannot lose again of course, but their bullpen was a bit more taxed since they lack a capable long man like Mike Montgomery. Derek Law, Sergio Romo, and Ty Blach were all tasked with throwing two innings. Law and Romo each threw over 30 pitches, and in most normal situations would probably be unavailable. As the Giants most effective relievers, Bochy might have no choice but to use them. Ty Blach threw 28 pitches. Not listed is George Kontas, but he warmed up several times last night as well. The effectiveness of the Giants bullpen was an open question heading into the series, and it is more so after a long game last night.
This series has featured two offensive performances that we expected from the regular season. The Cubs have hit four home runs which have accounted for 7 of the team’s 11 runs. The Giants have scored eight runs without hitting a single home run. The Cubs inability to cash in scoring chances haunted the team later in the game. The Cubs revamped lineup being less one dimensional in the big ballpark in San Francisco would be a huge boost. Or the Cubs could just hit five home runs and make it an easy night on everyone.
Lead photo courtesy Charles LeClaire—USA Today Sports.