For the second year in a row, the Chicago Cubs are playing in the NLCS. In order to survive and advance, key players need to step up.
The playoff season is one-third of the way complete, and the Chicago Cubs are sitting in prime position to make it to the World Series. All that sits in their way is a best-of-seven game series with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even winning the season series 4-3, winning the NLCS will be a tall order.
When comparing teams as a whole, the Cubs dominate most categories. Runs scored and allowed, team ERA and batting average against, and defensive efficiency are all lead by the Cubs. That was in the regular season. The postseason is no different. Team ERA are 3.00 for the Cubs and 4.91 for the Dodgers. The Cubs have scored 17 runs and allowed 13. Compare that to 19 runs for and 24 runs allowed for the Dodgers.
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It appears that the Cubs have an advantage, but they cannot win the series unless four players step up.
Oh where, or where has Rizzo’s bat been? Oh, where, oh where could it be? That question was asked throughout the NLDS. For the series, Rizzo had one hit, two walks, and five strikeouts. Sure, one of those walks came in the ninth inning heard around the world, but overall Rizzo did not produce. He was 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position. Not the MVP performance we hoped to see.
Rizzo was average against the Los Angeles this season. He hit .261/.370/.435 with one home run and four batted in. If you look at his performance against teams with a winning percentage of .500 or higher, the stats are lower. Only 11 of his 32 home runs game against these teams.
In order for the Cubs to win, Rizzo needs to get on base, as evidenced by Game 4 against the Giants.
It has been an interesting year for the 2015 Cy Young Award winner. During the first half, Arrieta showed that he was a force to be reckoned with. He went 12-4 with a 2.68 ERA, with a no-hitter. However, he appeared human after the All-Star break. Walks, hits, and home runs were all higher for Arrieta in the second half.
There were signs of improvement in Arrieta’s performance in the NLDS. While pitching six innings, he allowed six hits, two runs and struck out five. When he left the game, the Cubs had the lead on the Giants and Madison Bumgarner.
The series sets up for Cubs Manager Joe Maddon to pitch Arrieta in either Game 2 or 3 of the NLCS. That also means he can pitch Game 7. At Wrigley. Can you imagine the energy that night? If the Cubs win the opening two games, a great Arrieta game would push the team over the top.
You remember the stats for Anthony Rizzo in the NLDS? Addison Russell’s were the exact same. Where was the All-Star shortstop that had 95 runs batted in this year? The one positive offense note for Russell in the previous series is that he batted 1.000 with runners in scoring position. That runner did not score.
Russell struggled mightily against the Dodgers this year. But his defense and batting with men on is important. If the struggles continue early in the series, do not be surprised to be Javier Baez at short, Jorge Soler in left, and Ben Zobrist at second base.
Granted, Hector Rondon missed a significant portion of the season with a triceps strain, but he only pitched 1 2/3 innings in the NLDS. That was in three games, therefore less than two out per appearance. The numbers are not bad for that time, but the Cubs need more from their former closer.
The move from the closer role has been a challenge. If Rondon comes in the game during the seventh inning, his ERA is 20.25. In the eighth, it is 5.53. Sure, the appearances in those innings were limited. This cannot happen in the NLCS.
The Dodgers’ offense can hit. They have players that come up big in clutch moments. In a close game late, Maddon will turn to his bullpen to shut down the Dodgers. Rondon’s ability to take advantage of aggressive batters is crucial.
If these four players can step up, the rest of the team will follow. If they don’t, it will be a long series. The Chicago Cubs need the best from everyone to break the streak and make it to the World Series.