Playoff Prospectus: Lessons Learned and Bullpens Burned

The piece previewed here, written by Baseball Prospectus’s Trevor Strunk, forms part of the main site’s comprehensive coverage of the playoffs, “Playoff Prospectus.” Additional Game Five coverage, exclusive to BP Wrigleyville, can be found here, under the name “Second City October”.

The Cubs have had a not-so-quiet concern this postseason, an unsure refrain that has been repeated by analysts, fans, and (we can only assume) the team itself, an anxiety to characterize the flipside of baseball’s best regular-season team–namely, what if they can’t hit good pitching?

This question, simple as it seems, was built over two years of high expectations, disappointment, and near-constant media scrutiny, but the fear behind the question is as old as the Cubs’ postseason frustrations. And that fear, uh, it’s pretty old. In short, the question of whether or not the consistently elite quality of pitching that you only see in short-season baseball would prove to be too much for the 2016 Chicago Cubs has been the story of the team, despite their 103 wins, their own elite pitching, and their incredibly productive lineup.

And, tied 2-2 in the NLCS against a Dodgers team with perhaps the best pitcher this generation, the Cubs had yet to put this question to bed. Then they went ahead and won 8-4 last night, taking a 3-2 series lead back home to Chicago. And this after winning a 10-2 drubbing the night before. So suddenly, the question seemed to have its answer, right? The Cubscould hit good pitching! Well, as the motivational poster said to the office worker, hang on.

The Cubs certainly punished the Dodgers over the past two games, but whether they punished the elite pitchers of the league is up for debate. On Wednesday, they got to Youngest Postseason Pitcher Julio Urias, who is as precociously talented as he is unpolished; on Thursday, they weren’t able to get to starter Kenta Maeda, but they beat up the Dodgers’ pre-Kenley-Jansen bullpen to earn seven of their eight runs. They may have put up 18 runs in the past two days, but the Cubs haven’t quite hit their way past the specter of the two shutout losses that Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill doled out the previous two games.

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Lead photo courtesy Gary A. Vasquez—USA Today Sports.

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