Ryan Bukowiecki is a student at the Illinois Media School and a contributor to The D & Davis Show
Wow, what a game played by the Cubs against the Nationals in the NLDS.
Many people, including myself, went through about as much of an emotional rollercoaster as a person can take in that win or go home elimination game. The Cubs coming into the game had very very little offense in the series, managing to meekly get eight runs in four games. In short, the Cubs offense was something to be very concerned about.
The positive for the Cubs was the pitching matchup between their starters and Washington’s. Kyle Hendricks, the professor, took the mound and based off his previous three postseason appearances, the Cubs seemed to be alright.
The pitching overall might have been in the favor of the Nationals since they had arguably the best pitcher in Max Scherzer in their bullpen. This series had been so close it seemed that Game 5 truly was a roll of the dice, a pick ‘em type game — Thursday night’s contest was certainly that and more.
- First inning defense by Baez — A key play that is probably forgotten (I mean its easy to, the game was 5 hours!!) was Baez gunning down Trae Turner in the bottom of the first to perceive the 1-0 lead. A very difficult play that maybe only Baez could have made and a great tag by Contreras. Without that play the game might have been tied in the ninth.
- Max Scherzer surprise — The Cubs were facing a challenge when the score was 3-4 Nationals and Max Scherzer was brought in in the top of the fifth with 15 outs to go. Things looked bad after both Bryant and Rizzo were the first two outs in the inning. Willson Contreras worked his AB to an infield single. Ben Zobrist came in and singled moving Contreras into scoring position. Then Addison Russell rifles a double down the third baseline, plating both Contreras and Zobrist. And if that wasn’t crazy enough, Heyward was intentionally walked to put Baez at the plate with Russell at second. Baez struck out by swinging at everything but the third strike went past catcher Matt Wieters. The ball should have been called dead because the runner at first wasn’t stealing. Wieters went through with the play and HP umpire Jerry Layne ruled it a live ball. The throw to first went into RF and Russell was able to score to put the Cubs up two and scoring three runs off Scherzer with two outs in the inning. It wasn’t over yet, things had been very crazy so far in the inning to say the least but more was about to come. Tommy La Stella pinch hit for Kyle Hendricks and swung at a 1-1 pitch but La Stella’s bat hit Wieters glove and the catcher interference was called. La Stella was awarded first and now the bases were loaded with the top of the order due up. Jon Jay at the plate in a 1-1 count gets hit by Scherzer to force in a run and make the lead seven to four. The Cubs wouldn’t score again in the inning but Scherzer’s night was over after just one inning.
- Jayson Werth misses the ball — One inning later, Ben Zobrist was up to bat against Brandon Kintzler. Zobrist was the third batter in the inning and two outs had already been recorded, Zobrist worked the AB to draw a walk. Addison Russell came up to bat after hitting a double that gave the Cubs the lead in the inning prior. On Russell’s first pitch, he ripped a liner to the left fielder, Jayson Werth, who lost the ball in the air and the ball proceeded to sail past Werth’s diving attempt and go to the wall. Zobrist rounded all the bases to score and the Cubs took a eight to four lead.
- Near Schwarber bomb — The Nationals were able to plate two runs in the bottom of the sixth after Mike Montgomery threw a wild pitch with Werth and Harper on third and second. Then a double by Zimmerman plated the second run to end the sixth. The top of the seventh had the Cubs up two and Kyle Schwaber up with one out. On the fourth pitch of the AB, Schwarber clobbered a line drive shot that almost was a HR but the liner wasn’t elevated enough, instead the ball bounced off the wall and turned into a long single. Jon Jay came up and singled to move Schwarber all the way to third. Then Kris Bryant came up and hit an RBI fielders choice after beating a near double play. The Cubs were able to extend the lead back to three. This would be the last run for the Cubs offense.
- The seven out save — In the bottom of the seventh and with one run in after Quintana gave up a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded, Joe Maddon went to his last pitcher of the night…Wade Davis. Davis came in with two out and a runner on first and second. Davis was attempting to get a seven out save even though he had never had a save of more than three outs. Davis finished the seventh by striking out Ryan Zimmerman. In the bottom of the eighth, Davis walked the first two batters before getting a double play. A runner was on third but with two outs it looked like Davis might be okay. The Cub killer, Michael Taylor, got his fourth RBI of the game by singling up the middle and scoring the runner from third. The next batter, Jose Lobaton, singled and suddenly runners on first and second with Davis looking tired. Davis now had to face the top of the order and Turner up to bat. Things were looking scary but out of nowhere after the third pitch, Willson Contreras threw a strike down to first base and picked off Lobaton at first. The call was that Lobaton was actually safe but replay review showed that his foot came off the bag for an instance and Rizzo kept the tag on him. Moving to the bottom of the ninth, Cubs are up by one run and again Davis had to face Turner since Lobaton was the last out in the inning prior. Turner hit a pop out to deep center field and Davis looking tired already thrown 33 pitches (his high on the season was 34) Jayson Werth stepped to the plate. After a 5 pitch AB, Davis was able to get the strikeout and then baseball as it so often does got romantic on us. The scene was two out in the bottom of the ninth and Bryce Harper at the plate with Davis having thrown a season high 38 pitches. It was an intense battle and after a full count…Davis struck out Bryce Harper swinging.
Other notes and thoughts
The Cubs had a wild game and it took every bit of everything to hold off the evenly matched Nationals. It was a great series but things could have been even better. Maddon perhaps failed in managing game four by going to Lester in the bullpen instead of using Lester in the must win game of Game 5.
Lester being unavailable, forced Maddon to use Quintana to try and close things out in the middle of the game: putting the Cubs’ likely NLCS Game 1 starter against the Dodgers in a shroud of mystery. Of course Maddon might not had to use Quintana if Jason Heyward didn’t go 0-4 with RISP (would have been 0-5 if not for a wild pitch). Bryant nor Rizzo could take advantage of their RBI chances as well.
The pitching for the Cubs was so so since Hendricks gave up four runs off two HRs in the bottom of the second, but Hendricks came back with six strikeouts and gave up nothing else.
The Cubs bullpen had its highs and lows as well. Early on, the likes of Duensing and Pedro Strop did their jobs but Mike Montgomery failed to do his.
Even the positive that was Davis’s seven out save came with worry because of too many walks. Overall, walks were a huge problem for the Cubs bullpen in the Nationals series, that is going to have to change in this next series.
Chicago now looks to the Dodgers in the NLCS and come in with a question mark of starting pitching and bullpen. Who will start games one and two plus how much can Maddon trust his bullpen? The Cubs offense will not be good enough against the Dodgers if it looks like how it did against the Nationals.
Los Angeles features a better team than the Nationals, but that doesn’t matter. This Cubs team showed the heart of a champion and they will need every bit of it if they are going to go to the World Series in consecutive years.
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