3 reasons why the Chicago Cubs can't come back to beat the Dodgers
CHICAGO -- There's a chance now, right? Before this fall, 35 major league baseball teams have lost the first three games of a best-of-seven series. One (1) has come back to take the next four -- the 2004 Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees.
"I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," said Dave Roberts, key base stealer for those legendary Red Sox, manager of the modern-day Los Angeles Dodgers. "Teams can't do that anymore."
He winked. But you're right, Dave. You're right.
Roberts' Dodgers won the first three games of the National League championship series against the Chicago Cubs. But Thursday night, they lost Game 4, 3-2. And that gives these Cubs the feeling that they could transform into those Red Sox.
"I feel like we're still not on track as a team," said second baseman Javier Baez, who launched two home runs -- his first two hits of the postseason -- to help the Cubs Wednesday night. "But I think if we get back on track, everybody -- as a team -- we're going to be the best again."
Easy, now, Javy. There is a Game 5 Thursday night, and the Cubs have a chance to win it. If they do, they'll fly back to Los Angeles for a sixth game Saturday and -- potentially -- what would be an epic seventh game Sunday.
But the Cubs aren't going to win. They're just not. I'm not basing that on probability or hunches. Here are three reasons -- three baseball reasons -- why.
1. Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo aren't hitting
In a game in which a Cubs' loss would have meant the end of their season, the franchise's two offensive cornerstones combined to go 0 for 7 with four strikeouts -- three from Rizzo in his only three plate appearances. This wasn't just an off night in the middle of August. This is a part of a larger problem for the Cubs.
In the NLCS, Bryant is 3 for 16 with four strikeouts, and all three of his hits are singles. Rizzo has been worse: 1 for 13 with eight strikeouts. That's a combined .138 average and -- more importantly -- a .138 slugging percentage from the Cubs' two best hitters. Throw in the fact that, over the nine games of the postseason, Bryant and Rizzo have combined for a .174 average and a .261 slugging percentage, and it seems unlikely that the Cubs are going to undergo an offensive transformation in time to pulverize the Dodgers. Consider: The Cubs won Wednesday, but they managed just five hits. Their on-base-plus-slugging percentage for the postseason is now .546. This season, 216 players had at least 400 plate appearances. None had an OPS within 50 points of that abyss.
2. Wade Davis is spent
It's reasonable to call Davis, the Cubs' closer, one of the heroes of the Game 4 victory, because he recorded the final six outs -- and needed a season-high 48 pitches to do it. The ramifications of that outing? Should the Cubs need a closer on Thursday night in a tight game, "It's not going to be him," Chicago Manager Joe Maddon said. "So this is where the guys got to pretty much do their jobs."
The problem: The guys haven't done their jobs. Davis, whose season-high pitch count during the regular season was 34, threw 44 pitches to nail down seven outs in the decisive fifth game of the Cubs' division series against Washington. He followed up by throwing more Wednesday.
Davis, who saved 32 of 33 opportunities in the regular season, has been far from infallible this October: In 6-1/3 postseason innings, he has walked six men. And even though Maddon said he wouldn't use Davis in Game 5, Davis said: "We're definitely going to come in tomorrow, get some treatment and go out and see how it feels."
Here's the problem: Jose Quintana is the starter for the Cubs in Game 5, and in the 15 starts he has made since he arrived in a crosstown trade with the White Sox, he has recorded outs in the seventh inning three times. So to win a Game 5 -- if Davis isn't available -- the Cubs will have to get key outs -- in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth -- from a slew of struggling pitchers. Examples:
-- Carl Edwards Jr.: 11.57 ERA in the postseason, six walks in 4-2/3 innings.
-- Mike Montgomery: 23.14 ERA in the postseason, .563 average against in 2-1/3 innings.
-- Hector Rondon, three hits and one homer allowed in two innings.
-- Pedro Strop: one run and three walks in 5-1/3 innings.
Each of those pitchers factored in the Cubs' 2016 World Series championship. Can they be better in Game 5 if Quintana can't go deep and Davis can't pitch?
3. The Dodgers will start Clayton Kershaw on regular rest
The Dodgers have won five straight division titles, and in most of their postseason attempts they have asked Kershaw, their ace, to pitch on three days' rest. The results have occasionally been disastrous -- particularly as Kershaw works deep into games.
But this season, the deeper Dodgers haven't had to put those sorts of demands on their ace. "There's been no need to do that, which is a good luxury to have," Kershaw said Wednesday.
But perhaps more important than Kershaw's rest might be the fact that the Dodgers now realize they don't need to -- and, in fact, shouldn't -- push him into the seventh inning in the postseason. In Game 1 of the NLCS, Roberts lifted Kershaw for a pinch hitter after five innings. And it seemed fine. Los Angeles cruised to a 5-2 win.
These Dodgers have a better bullpen than any in Kershaw's previous trips to the postseason. Their stats, through seven games: a 1.05 ERA, a .128 average against, 0.51 walks and hits per inning pitched, and just two walks in 25-2/3 innings pitched. Those are all the best numbers of any postseason team, and they mean the burden doesn't fall completely on Kershaw on Thursday night.
So what happened Wednesday at Wrigley was exciting and season-extending, and we may remember the contributions of Baez and Arrieta and Davis for years. But the fact remains that a comeback of these proportions has only happened once in the history of the game, and these Cubs are limited -- significantly -- in the resources from which they can draw.
Dodgers in five? Who knows? But Dodgers in the series? That's a near-certainty.