Rozner: Chicago Cubs come up empty in search for bullpen answers

  • Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester reacts after walking Los Angeles Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez during the third inning of Game 2 of baseball's National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

    Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester reacts after walking Los Angeles Dodgers' Enrique Hernandez during the third inning of Game 2 of baseball's National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017.

 
 
Updated 10/15/2017 10:58 PM

The Chicago Cubs are in a tough spot.

But then, you knew that coming in.

 

They've got a bunch of 5-inning starters and a struggling bullpen, not exactly a recipe for advancing past the Dodgers in the NLCS.

Most playoff series don't hold to form, but this one certainly has through a pair of games and Los Angeles has won them both after getting into the Cubs' bullpen.

The Dodgers' 4-1 victory Sunday sends the series to Wrigley Field with the Cubs needing to win four of the next five, hardly an impossible task for the 2016 Cubs.

But it might be too much for the 2017 version.

The starters either haven't been able to go deep -- or haven't been allowed to go deeper -- this postseason and the bullpen is 0-2 in a pair of games on the West Coast.

"When guys struggle, I know everybody wants you to open up a new can of relief pitchers, but that's not how it works," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "I have a lot of faith in our guys. I have to keep putting them out there in the situations they're supposed to be in."

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Maddon had no choice but to pull Jon Lester in the fifth at 103 pitches with Lester going on three days' rest. After tossing 55 pitches Wednesday, also on short rest after throwing 86 pitches in Game 2 of the NLDS, Lester was far from sharp, walking a career playoff-high five batters.

Carl Edwards and Pedro Strop were very sharp -- a positive sign moving forward -- but Brian Duensing was again in the Mike Montgomery role, with Maddon having lost confidence in Montgomery following his poor performance against Washington.

Duensing pitched a scoreless eighth but issued a leadoff walk in the ninth to Yasiel Puig, and with two outs Maddon went to John Lackey, who has never pitched on consecutive days in his career.

Is that what Maddon meant by "situations they're supposed to be in," with Lackey coming out of the bullpen in a season-changing situation?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At this point, Maddon lacks options, so he's grasping at straws and drowning in the process.

Closer Wade Davis had warmed earlier and even if he had nothing, or his arm is hurt or falling off, he's the right choice with the game on the line, just as Dodgers manager Dave Roberts had gone to Kenley Jansen for the top of the ninth.

"I really just needed (Davis) for the save," Maddon said. "He had limited pitches. If we had caught the lead, he would have pitched."

Davis had limited pitches because Maddon threw him 44 pitches in Game 5 against Washington, and the Cubs needed to extend the game Sunday night in the ninth.

In any case, Lackey pitching speaks to Maddon's trust in the bullpen in the middle of October.

Lackey threw 27 pitches in relief in Game 1 after not pitching for 13 days, and entered Sunday's game with Puig on second and two outs.

He walked Chris Taylor and served up a batting-practice meatball to Justin Turner on a 1-0 count, and Turner made the Cubs pay with a long home run to center field, breaking the 1-1 tie and walking the Dodgers off with a 2-0 NLCS lead.

The Dodgers' bullpen, meanwhile, has thrown 8 perfect innings in two games, save a single baserunner coming when Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo with a pitch in the ninth.

Kyle Hendricks must go deep for the Cubs in Game 3 and he has to be great.

If not, this could be a very short series.

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