Rozner: Chicago Cubs overcome Joe Maddon again
For those who never understood the plan, Theo Epstein and Jason McLeod spent years trying to explain that the character of their players and the heart of a champion would ultimately matter for a tortured franchise trying to open a window into the postseason world.
Though the prosecutors never rest, a simple "asked and answered" would certainly suffice.
Yup, with one title safely in their back pockets, the Chicago Cubs are into the NLCS for the third straight season for the first time in their history.
And it took every ounce of their heart and character to overcome Joe Maddon once again.
He used a ring to defend himself last winter. The Cubs have a long way to go if they're going to bail out Maddon again with a pitching staff in tatters.
But all that Cubs management preached during those rebuilding years was on display throughout another series in which the Cubs rarely looked like the better team.
And all they did was win an NLDS -- again -- taking out the Nationals in a wild and wacky Game 5 Thursday night when Maddon nearly ran himself out of pitchers, and used closer Wade Davis for a ridiculous seven outs and 44 pitches.
World Series champs don't even make the playoffs much anymore -- only five in the last 15 years -- let alone win a series, which hasn't happened since the 2011 champion Cardinals defeated the Nationals in the first round in 2012.
The last champ to get back to the World Series was Philadelphia in 2009 when the Phillies lost to the Yankees, but the Cubs have a chance now after taking out the hapless and helpless Nationals 9-8 in Washington.
So it's on to the league championship for the Cubs and Maddon, who left fans scratching their heads throughout the opening round, a match for the mismanagement of Dusty Baker, who will go down as one of the worst big-game managers of all time.
Baker has now lost 10 straight series-clinching games, an extraordinary record of futility that is no surprise to anyone in Chicago with a decent memory and ordinary eyesight.
The Nationals are trail dust -- but the Dodgers will be a considerable foe.
Maddon has his work cut out for him considering the state of the Cubs' pitching staff after a debilitating five-game series, while the Dodgers are rested, relaxed and waiting for the Cubs to fly six hours across the country.
The Cubs will have to survive the first two games with marginal pitching before a crucial day off, and a split in Los Angeles would be a significant victory.
That is, in all fairness, for tomorrow.
For today, celebrate again Kyle Hendricks, who was not nearly as good as he was last fall in a deciding Game 6 of the NLCS and in Game 7 of the World Series, but after a rough second inning Thursday he settled down, and with the Cubs trailing 4-1 he gave them 2 scoreless innings to allow the visitors to rally and take the lead.
It's too bad Maddon didn't let him go longer.
A crazy top of the fifth saw an infield hit, bloop hit, dropped third strike, catcher's interference, hit batter, errors and a huge Addison Russell double off Max Scherzer, all with two outs, and the Cubs were alive and well.
On the one side of the field, it was the quintessential Nationals postseason inning.
On the other side, whatever magic the Cubs found in 2016 and thought they had lost in 2017, returned with a vengeance at the perfect time in Washington, giving them just enough to squeeze past the Nationals.
Yes, the 2017 Dodgers feel a lot like the Cubs of 2016, a runaway train that appears unstoppable, but even the Cubs of last year had to fight through three very difficult series, any of which they could have lost.
So the Dodgers are promised nothing, even with the advantage of setting up their rotation and resting the bullpen, but the pressure is all on Los Angeles as the Cubs arrive in town covered in champagne, playing with house money and knowing how to count cards.
Until it is determined otherwise, the champs are still the champs.
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