Rozner: Chicago Cubs can really embrace underdog role now

  • The Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 to to win baseball's National League Division Series, at Nationals Park, early Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Washington.

    The Chicago Cubs celebrate after beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 to to win baseball's National League Division Series, at Nationals Park, early Friday, Oct. 13, 2017, in Washington.

 
 
Updated 10/13/2017 7:50 PM

The Chicago Cubs have made a big deal out of loving the underdog label since about the middle of this season.

Of course, it wasn't at all true until they faced the Nationals, and even then the odds were not significantly against them.

 

Now they are.

As if that five-game series with Washington wasn't debilitating enough, the Cubs took off for Los Angeles on Friday morning. and a miserable six-hour flight turned into a miserable half-day adventure. The Cubs were diverted to Albuquerque for five hours before finally reaching Southern California.

So they missed a night's sleep and must face the best team in baseball with Clayton Kershaw on the mound Saturday night at Dodger Stadium.

If you like the underdog role, now's the time to embrace it.

Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs' most reliable starter, pitched Thursday.

Jon Lester threw 55 pitches Wednesday on three days' rest after tossing 86 pitches in Game 2.

Jake Arrieta had little in his arsenal Wednesday.

Jose Quintana pitched in relief Thursday night, though he only threw 12 pitches.

And John Lackey, who hasn't started a game since Sept. 27, is probably ready to chew off his arm.

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Wade Davis got seven outs on 44 pitches Thursday, a heroic effort for any short reliever, but especially for a guy who looked to be on fumes with the first pitch he threw in Game 5. He pitched in four of five games.

Carl Edwards, previously one of Joe Maddon's most trusted relievers, threw in all five games of the NLDS. He pitched poorly in three of those outings and in the last two did not retire a batter.

Pedro Strop was the most effective arm out of the pen, with 3 appearances and a WHIP of 0.60 while recording 10 outs.

Mike Montgomery had been Maddon's favorite all-purpose guy for the last year, but he gave up the big Ryan Zimmerman home run in Game 2 and didn't pitch again until Game 5, when he was in for 2 hits, 2 walks and only one out.

Brian Duensing will probably have to take on a bigger role if Maddon has lost confidence in Montgomery, and Duensing had 2 effective appearances worth four outs in the NLDS.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Justin Wilson is in witness protection, and there was some thought that he might have been in Albuquerque.

In any case, the Cubs really needed Maddon to let Hendricks go at least another inning or maybe two, knowing how difficult outs are to come by, and Quintana was the logical second guy to start an inning clean and go long if Hendricks was not the answer.

But all the quick hooks meant Maddon was boxed in, living and dying with Davis, who was unaccustomed to such a long stint but somehow survived and saved the season as the one and only option.

"Once we got in the bullpen, I thought anything was possible," Maddon said. "We just had to hold them. That was the big thing. How do you hold them?

"I did not want to use (Quintana) early. I thought the regular bullpen guys are rested so give them the first crack. I felt very strongly about that.

"Duensing got through it. I was really counting on more outs out of Montgomery, quite frankly.

"Didn't happen, so you just have to move along the conga line at that point."

The dance included seven pitchers in total.

So what's left of the world champs after a punishing five-game series in which they were pushed to the final strike of the final inning, while the Dodgers have been off since Monday, able to rest their best relievers and set up their rotation?

It would seem as if the Cubs have no chance in Game 1 against Kershaw, tired and sleepless and beat up.

It would seem as if the series favors Los Angeles in a big way.

It would seem as if this series will be the end of the repeat bid.

But it would be just like the Cubs -- a group that will never go quietly or quickly into the night -- to howl at the moon, crawl into Dodger Stadium, steal Game 1 and turn this series on its ear, casting doubt in the minds of the Dodgers and forcing them to wonder what you have to do to slay the giant.

Yes, there is something for the Cubs to grab a hold of here, and you can already see the next Maddon T-shirt:

"Embrace the Dog."

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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