After two abysmal games at the plate for the Chicago Cubs, the offense found its groove on Wednesday. The 10-run outburst tied the series at two games each. Can it continue?
Oh, what a relief it is! The Chicago Cubs have struggled mightily at the plate this postseason, topped off with two consecutive shutouts. It seemed as if the entire baseball world was crashing down, and many of the Cubs fans panicked. But, things changed in a big was on Wednesday night.
10 runs. 13 hits. Three walks. One hit by pitch and a sacrifice fly. All in all, the team that was batting .161 for the series hit .325 in Game 4. Both Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell led the way, each with three hits and a home run. You could visually notice a change in their confidence after their first hits.
While it does mean the series will go back to Chicago, what did we truly learn from this performance?
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Joe Maddon is right
Being a Couch Coach is easy. We can sit back and speculate what moves could help the team perform better. Everyone, including myself, was saying bench Jason Heyward and Russell. On Twitter, some even said to bench and trade Rizzo. Cubs Manager Joe Maddon did make changes for Game 3, but that did not turn out as planned. In an interview before the game on Wednesday, Maddon said that he trusts the defense and that liked the way Russell was battling at the plate. Therefore, he used the regular players on Wednesday.
Joe, you were right. If Jorge Soler was in the game for Heyward, would Adrian Gonzalez be out? Sure, Heyward took a bit more time than normal to make the throw, but still the call was out. If Miguel Montero was behind the plate would Justin Turner be picked off second? Maybe, but maybe not.
Now, I am not doubting the arms or abilities of Soler or Montero. Maybe they do make those plays. But, Joe knows the players and their abilities better than anyone. He knows that Rizzo is going to produce, and trusts that Russell will make plays. He was right.
These Cubs fight
It would be easy after two lackluster performances for the team to mentally quit. For two games, they approached the plate and suffered defeat. They experienced the same issues in the 2015 NLCS. The pressure mounted and the curse loomed over the dugout.
However, instead of getting into their own heads, they battled back. They have all postseason, and we forgot. Do you remember the grand slam from Montero in Game 1 of the NLCS? Did you forget the late inning battle with the San Francisco Giants? The Chicago Cubs did not. While the sports world attempted to throw pressure and doubt on them, they battled.
Confidence is contagious
What Game 4 produced is more than a win. It is more than just 10 runs. It is confidence. The confidence to step to the plate and relax, knowing they will produce. To know they can score runs, or make a defensive play, preventing the Dodgers from gaining momentum. They know.
And, that confidence spreads through an entire team. Addison Russell’s home run gave the team a 4-0 lead. This came after Ben Zobrist bunted for a hit, and singles by Baez and Contreras to score the first run. After Heyward hit a ground ball to second, scoring Baez. Momentum grew, and therefore, so did confidence.
Russell home run lifted the weight off the backs of the team. Rizzo hit a home run. Mike Montgomery pitched the Cubs out of a tough situation when the Dodgers threatened to tie the game. More hits followed, from Russell, Montgomery, Rizzo, and Zobrist. The defense was crisp and the pitching solid. The entire team produced.
The Chicago Cubs faced their toughest opponent: themselves. Now, they go into Game 5 facing a pitcher they pushed out of the game in four innings earlier this series. Plus, Jon Lester is on the mound for the Cubs. If they score early, it could lead to another bullpen game for the Dodgers.
In addition to morale-building, the win in Game 4 also helped the Cubs bullpen. Both Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon pitched scoreless innings. Aroldis Chapman, who was used in six straight games, is rested after two games off. Even with concern over Carl Edwards, Jr., the Cubs still have a bullpen that is ready and able to win a game.
A win tonight, especially one in which the offense produces, would be a massive boost to morale and confidence as the series returns to Wrigley. The energy at The Friendly Confines in a series-clinching game versus the best pitcher in baseball would be electric. The combination of energy, confidence, and ability is what it will take to push to Chicago Cubs into the World Series.