What You Need to Know: Jon Lester reprised Kyle Hendricks’s great performance from Friday night, and Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo added home runs to put the Cubs ahead early. A hung curveball and assist from the wind resulted in a five-spot for the Nationals in the eighth, however, and Washington evened the series at one as it heads to Chicago.
Next Level: Lester came out dealing in this one, and he exhibited his veteran guile to escape a bases-loaded jam in the fifth. A weird home run off the bat of Anthony Rendon in the first—just inside the foul pole, carrying the whole way—gave way to ten straight outs, as Lester found his rhythm and worked quickly. The efficiency with which Lester worked kept Nationals hitters off balance, especially Bryce Harper, and all of his pitches got swings and misses.
Importantly, Lester induced a ton of weak contact in the form of groundballs and popups. With the wind swirling at Nationals Park, it was imperative that Lester keep the ball down and off the corners, and the lefty succeeded in that game plan. Because he only struck out two hitters, Lester kept his pitch count low enough to engender trust in Joe Maddon when Lester ran into trouble in the fifth. Once he started to work from the stretch, Lester’s mechanics unwound. Suddenly, all his pitches were up, and he fell behind several hitters, eventually loading the bases. A gutsy strikeout of Trea Turner silenced the threat. In the end, it was a masterful outing from Lester in his 20th postseason start.
Top Play (WPA): It was all Cubs early on, though. Kris Bryant laced a double over Jayson Werth’s head to lead off the fourth against Gio Gonzalez, and Anthony Rizzo swatted a 2-1 offering into the outstretched right hand of a Bryant-jerseyed Cubs fan in right to give the Cubs a 3-1 lead (+.158).
Bottom Play (WPA): And it all unraveled in the eighth. In his first postseason game in twelve seasons, Adam Lind hit a cue shot to left to lead off the inning versus Carl Edwards, Jr. A key Trea Turner strikeout couldn’t set Edwards on the right path, though, and the looming threat of Bryce Harper proved salient. A long battle in which Edwards failed to locate his fastball—several times the righty tried to jam Harper inside—gave way to a meatball of a curve, and Harper banged it a long way to right to tie the game (-.388). A walk, single, and wall-scraping homer from Ryan Zimmerman gave the Nationals a 6-3 lead (-.300) and the Cubs failed to mount a rally against Sean Doolittle in the ninth.
Lead photo courtesy Brad Mills—USA Today Sports