Second City October: NLCS Game Five, The Climb

In what was likely Jake Arrieta’s final start as a Cub, he managed to stave off elimination for one more day. It was a fitting sendoff for a guy whose last four years have rivaled Greg Maddux’s best four years with the Cubs. Without Javier Baez’s pair of dingers and leaping catch on an errant throw, it might have been another tough-luck loss for the hirsute right hander. But the Cubs hung on with an exceptional outing from Wade Davis at the cost of sidelining him for tonight’s game. If the Cubs are going to win tonight, they’ll have to do it without Wade Davis.

While last year’s championship helps to stomach the very real possibility of elimination, no one wants to go home. Extending the series to Game Six will be no easy task, however. After Davis threw 48 pitches last night, Joe Maddon has said he’ll be unavailable tonight. Davis, Justin Turner’s homer against him notwithstanding, has been one of the only reliable arms coming out of the bullpen this postseason. Brian Duensing would be the other, and even he has pitched the last three games with just one day of rest. The Cubs will likely rely on Carl Edwards Jr. for the hypothetical save (because saves still matter to Joe Maddon for some reason), and he’s been erratic to say the least. Edwards has always had control issues, and they’ve been worse this postseason.

Not to mention, the Cubs haven’t forced Kenley Jansen into a lot of high stress situations thus far. In the series, Jansen has thrown six fewer pitches than Davis did last night. It was a bit of a moral victory to get him in the game at all during Tuesday night’s drubbing. Jansen will be well rested, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Kershaw went seven just to hand the ball to Jansen for the eighth and ninth.

With how erratic the Cubs’ bullpen has been this postseason, the pressure on the starting pitcher will be even greater. Jose Quintana will have to go deep tonight without Davis in the bullpen, which he’s more than capable of doing. The key for Quintana will be how well he commands his curveball. The times he has been hit hard this season have been largely due to his hook not being there. With as patient as the Dodgers have been this series—they’ve drawn twenty-six(!) walks in four games—Quintana will have to be able to throw his curveball for a strike. If he can do that, should be able to take the ball into the six or seventh.

Even with Jose Quintana going for the Cubs tonight, they’re still at a disadvantage because he’ll have to beat Clayton Kershaw, who will be starting the game on full rest. If (and that’s a pretty big “if”) Kershaw has a weakness, it’s that he’s been slightly more susceptible to the home run, but you could say that of any pitcher in the rabbit ball era. His HR/FB ratio rose from 7.5 percent last year to 15.9 in 2017, and he’s given up three homers in his two postseason starts. This would seem to play into the Cubs’ strength who have been playing like they’re trying to get an XBOX trophy for only scoring with dingers. Their seven runs in the NLCS have all come via the long ball, and of the six homers they’ve hit, only one came with a runner on base.

The Cubs have to be better at getting on base if they want to have any hope of taking the series back to Los Angeles, and to do that, Anthony Rizzo has to turn things around. Rizzo, who had an OBP of .392 in the regular season, has an OBP of .222 in the postseason, and much of that production came against the Nationals. He’s gotten on base just twice against the Dodgers, and he’s struck out eight times following last night’s hat trick. He’s been chasing bad pitches, and even when Rizzo gets a pitch to hit, he’s not getting his bat head on the ball. Really, I could write a similar paragraph about anyone in Cubs lineup. Kris Bryant has been ineffective, Willson Contreras hasn’t gotten things going, Addison Russell has fallen off the table. These are all guys who can’t be replaced.

Even if, somehow, the Cubs can come alive against Kershaw or Quintana can shut down the Dodgers, they’ll run into the same problems in Game Six since Rich Hill will likely start, and there’s not much of a difference between the two southpaws in terms of quality. Coming back from 3-0 was already going to be an uphill battle, but with the ways things are going it might as well be a vertical climb.

But the Cubs can’t give up and allow for a Dodgers-Yankees World Series. That’s good for no one.

Lead photo courtesy Dennis Wierzbicki—USA Today Sports

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