Second City October: NLCS Recap—Cubs Advance To The World Series

71 years have passed between the Cubs’ last appearance in the World Series, and their latest, which will begin on Tuesday. A full, productive and (relatively) happy life could have been lived in between these two events. The Anno Catuli counter has another set of zeros on the sign this morning, and employers throughout Chicagoland rejoice at the idea that the series finished on a Saturday night as opposed to Sunday. Here is how we got here.

Joe Blanton had been a surprisingly effective reliever for the Dodgers all season. He entered the eighth inning to a newly tied ballgame. A lead off double, two intentional walks and two outs was the situation when Miguel Montero pinch hit for Aroldis Chapman. Blanton threw three sliders over the plate. The final one was the lowest and Montero launched it into the seats at Wrigley to give the Cubs a 7-3 lead in game 1.

Jon Lester started the opening game of the series for the Cubs against Kenta Maeda. This pitching matchup was the most slanted in the Cubs’ favor of the four seen in the six-game series, and the Cubs took advantage early. The Cubs jumped out to an early 3-0 lead after two innings capped off by Javier Baez’s improbable steal of home. Lester would pitch seven innings of one-run ball, but trouble began for the Cubs once the bullpen took over.

Maddon went to Mike Montgomery first who gave up a single to Andrew Toles. Pedro Strop was then summoned to face Howie Kendrick and Justin Turner. Kendrick was pulled for Chase Utley who drew a walk, and Turner hit a groundball to Kris Bryant who could not get single out while trying to turn what would have been spectacular double play. Aroldis Chapman was the third Cubs reliever of the inning facing a now-bases loaded, no out situation with a precious two-run lead. Chapman struck out Corey Seager and Yasiel Puig, but Adrian Gonzalez managed to make contact, hitting a game tying two run single back up the middle. Chapman would get a Grandal groundout to end the inning, but the damage had been done with the score tied at 3-3. That was until Joe Blanton gave up a five spot off the Montero grand slam and the Fowler solo shot right after. Hector Rondon gave up a meaningless run in the ninth, but the Cubs had a 1-0 series lead.

Kyle Hendricks faced Adrian Gonzalez to start the second inning of a tie ball game. Hendricks threw a low cutter for a ball call. He tried again with the cutter, but this one was a bit higher and middle of the plate. Gonzalez launched the ball 384 feet to left center to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead

That was it for Game 2. That was the only run given up by Kyle Hendricks in over 12 innings in the NLCS. It was the sum total of the Dodgers’ offense that night. A nifty play or two by the Cubs defense kept the score at 1-0. The Cubs managed a grand total of three base runners against Kershaw and Jansen, but the series was now tied at one apiece.

Jake Arrieta is pitching in the fourth inning while the Cubs offense was still in hibernation. He had given up a run in the previous inning, but the game was still a single blast away from being made anew. Reddick singled with one out, and had reached third on two stolen bases around a Joc Pederson strike out. Yasmani Grandal was all that stood between Arrieta and a scoreless frame. Grandal worked a 3-2 count, but was able to golf a low 93-mph four-seam fastball for a two run shot.

Rich Hill was not invincible, but the Cubs could never break through against the former Cub southpaw. The frustration was starting to build as it looked like Game One was going to be the anomaly in the series. There were many whispers and a few shouts that this team was still vulnerable to elite pitching in the way that the 2015 version was. There was not much evidence to the contrary in the postseason to this point.

The Cubs were facing their third lefty in a row against Julio Urias in Game 4. Urias had kept the Cubs’ bats quiet through three innings, and the angst had been growing. A slumping Ben Zobrist dropped a sneak attack bunt to start the fourth inning. Zobrist beat the play to give the Cubs a lead off hitter. Baez and Willson Contreras singles gave the Cubs their first lead since Game 1 and Addison Russell turned it into a laugher with his two run shot capping off a four run inning.

John Lackey did not have a great game. He kept the Dodgers off the board for four innings while the Cubs offense built a five run lead, but not without controversy as Gonzalez was thrown out at the plate to end the third inning. Replays made it look an awful lot like Gonzalez tagged home plate before being tagged by Contreras, but it was ruled to be inconclusive as the call stood. Back to back walks to start the fifth inning ended Lackey’s night. John Lackey thought that was fun. Mike Montgomery took over after Lackey as many expected. He pitched well striking out Seager, and then getting a ground ball from Justin Turner. But what would have been an inning ending double play became a two run single when it deflected off of Montgomery’s glove and away from Addison Russell.

The Cubs made it a laugher with a 5-spot against Ross Stripling and Luis Avilan. The Cubs cruised to an easy 10-2 win and guaranteed that the series would return to Wrigley.

Joe Blanton again came into a game started by Kenta Maeda. This time it was a 1-1 tie and the sixth inning. Baez singled to start the inning and stole second before Jason Heyward struck out for the millionth time (that might be an accurate figure). Russell jumped on an early hanging slider to hit his second home run in as many games. The blast gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead that they would never relinquish.

Game 5 featured the first of two pitching rematches to end the series. Jon Lester was again very good for the Cubs, and the Cubs again were able to get to Kenta Maeda early. Josh Fields entering the game in the fourth inning prevented the game from getting out of hand early. The Dodgers managed to tie after Kendricks produced a one out double in the fourth inning. He managed to keep Lester’s throwing to bases woe narrative going with a steal of third base. Gonzalez then drove him in with a groundout, but the Dodgers were never close to taking the lead or even tying it again.

After the Russell blast, the Cubs were able to get to the human rain delay in reliever form that is Pedro Baez. The Cubs scored five runs in the eighth inning to break open the game. The Dodgers would get three runs against Pedro Strop and Chapman, but the game was already in hand at that point. That meant that Kershaw was again going to be needed to save the Dodgers’ season. The Cubs had two chances to win at home, but would need to score at least a run against the two starters that had blanked them earlier in the series.

The Cubs had two hits in two batters against the mighty Clayton Kershaw. Hendricks had a 1-0 lead to work with, and Rizzo stood at the plate. Rizzo made contact but it was a routine fly ball out to Toles in left field. Bryant was dancing around second base as the ball was falling toward Toles’s waiting glove. Then the ball hit the heel and bounced harmlessly to the ground. Bryant and Rizzo scampered to third and second base with no outs. That play would set up another fly ball by Ben Zobrist to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead

That would be all the runs that Kyle Hendricks would need. He gave up two hits and another reached on an error, but every base runner was wiped out by either a double play or pick off throw. The Cubs would pile on a very mortal looking Kershaw. The Cubs had four extra base hits, and each one scored. The Cubs played a stress-free evening of baseball to advance to the World Series for the first time in, well you know by now.

Aroldis Chapman came on to face Howie Kendrick in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Cubs again stood five outs away from the World Series after their young, right handed starter had pitched seven and a third innings of shutout ball. Hendricks had given the Dodgers the tiniest breath of life in allowing his third base runner of the night when Josh Reddick singled. Chapman came in firing his typical 100 plus mph heat but Kendrick managed to hit a ball hard. The ball went to Baez who fired to Russell and then onto Rizzo to complete the inning ending double play.

Chapman pitched a near-perfect ninth inning. The Cubs won the pennant while facing the minimum amount of batters in a game. That was just the second time in postseason history that a team sent just 27 batters to the plate in a game.

Lead photo courtesy Jon Durr—USA Today Sports.

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