What You Need to Know: After over 24 hours of confusion, hand wringing, and conspiracy theories about mold and cold hotel rooms, Stephen Strasburg finally got the call to pitch Game Four for the Nats. And did he pitch. The Cubs’ hitters looked helpless against the righty’s curveball the first time around and his changeup subsequent times, failing to scratch across a run. Jake Arrieta pitched with abandon and succeeded in being effectively wild before being removed due to five walks and a high pitch count. In surprise relief, Jon Lester tossed 3 ⅔ innings, and picked off Jeff Zimmerman to much fanfare, but it wasn’t enough, as Michael Taylor capped the night with an eighth-inning grand slam off of Wade Davis.
Next Level: Beyond Strasburg, there’s not much ink to spill on other stories. No Cubs hitters came up big when they did find baserunners, and Strasburg dominated with his changeup. Kris Bryant in particular looked foolish versus the right-hander, striking out four times overall. Bryant’s night was like the rest of the Cubs’ nights: falling behind early in the count, flailing at offspeed below the zone. But for Bryant, the failure to even put a ball in play with runners on base is inexcusable. The reigning MVP has quelled many accusations of his “un-clutchness,” as he’s come up big in quite a few spots both in last year’s playoffs and down the stretch this year, but this series has not been kind to Bryant. Since the Cubs absconded from D.C. for the green pastures of Wrigley Field, Bryant has tallied six strikeouts in eight plate appearances. If the Cubs are to win the series on Thursday, Bryant must find a way to make contact.
Top Play (WPA): As evidence of the Cubs’ failure to make a dent in this game, the top play of the evening was Jake Arrieta’s fourth-inning strikeout of Jayson Werth to escape a bases loaded jam (+.072).
Bottom Play (WPA): The eighth inning of this game felt more like the 2015 NLCS, when the Mets steamrolled the Cubs, than a game from the 2016 or 2017 postseason. After Lester struck out Bryce Harper on a beautiful 3-2 breaking ball, and then picked off Zimmerman after walking the righty, Lester surrendered a single to Daniel Murphy—the villain of that 2015 NLCS. Joe Maddon had seen enough from Lester, and rightfully so.
The manager called upon Carl Edwards, Jr., for the fourth time in four games, to finish the inning, but Edwards couldn’t find the zone. Walks to Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters, followed by a single pitch to Michael Taylor, roused Maddon from the dugout again. This time, he brought in Wade Davis to put out the fire. After a quick foul ball to even the count at 1-1, Taylor drove a flyball deep to right field, just out of reach of Ian Happ, and into the basket for a grand slam (-.214).
It was an endlessly frustrating game that ended with deflated emotions. The good news, though, is that the Cubs have Kyle Hendricks toeing the rubber opposite Gio Gonzalez in Game Five on Thursday. Wednesday’s loss only counts once; the winner on Thursday faces the Dodgers in L.A. on Saturday. Hope lingers.
Lead photo courtesy Jerry Lai—USA Today Sports