Chicago Cubs: Offense has to step up in do-or-die Game 5
Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs are perfect in sudden-death playoff games since 2015. In order for the Cubs to continue the trend, the offense must step up.
The Chicago Cubs are in a pivotal do-or-die Game 5 Thursday night against the Washington Nationals, a third-consecutive trip to the NLCS to meet the Los Angeles Dodgers on the line.
Chicago’s starters (22 2/3 IP, 1 ER) have been what you would hope. It is the offense (.159/.257/.258) that remains the crucial element, and which must improve for the team to get back to where they intend to be.
Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant provided the big hits through the first three games (7-for-23, six RBI). Rizzo is hitting .333 with one home run and has five of those RBI. Entering Game 4, he was 4-for-4 with RISP and 3-for-3 with two outs and RISP.
Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. are the only other Cubs with RBI.
Otherwise, the offense has been virtually non-existent. That was the story in Wednesday’s Game 4 as Bryant was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts – for the first time since his rookie year. As a team, 0-for-6 with RISP. For the series, the Cubs are 6-for-22 with RISP.
Offensive issues plagued the club at times during the 2015 and 2016 postseason. They ultimately made history in more ways than one during last year’s World Series win.
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From being shutout for 21-consecutive innings against the Dodgers between Games two and parts of four to then becoming the first team to win the title after being shut out four times in one postseason. Twice in the World Series.
Pressure on the other foot?
No matter what has transpired throughout the past regular season and four playoff games to this point, fans can take solace in the fact that when backs are against the wall, Chicago is 3-1 in elimination game under Maddon. That one loss to the Mets in the 2015 NLCS.
Despite previous offensive liabilities, the Cubs have found ways to deliver the big hits before.
Doom and gloom talk typically reserved for Cubs fans through the years could apply to the Nationals. The Cubs have proven they can win, come back, and conquer the intangibles. Thursday night will be the biggest game for the Nationals in their history as they attempt to advance to their first NLCS.
Each NLDS has been clinched on the road for what it’s worth.
Can Washington capitalize in yet another opportunity at home in which they are 0-2 in Game 5 of the NLDS, and just 3-7 in the postseason at Nationals Park since 2012?
There’s really nothing to explain how a team gets no-hit into the sixth and seventh innings in two playoff games, yet wins, but loses the game they lead in the eighth inning of Game 2.
Stephen Strasburg has been another kind of dominant. His 22 strikeouts in two NLDS starts ties Justin Verlander‘s LDS record. As Jake Arrieta put it, the Cubs at least won’t have to worry about him Thursday.
And yes, it’s not exactly out of the realm of possibility that a shaky bullpen couldn’t rear its head (6.57 ERA in NLDS). Carl Edwards Jr. has shouldered the brunt (five ER, 2 1/3 IP).
Even being World Champs, the struggles during the regular season cast doubt on fans. Maybe the uneasiness from generations of losing didn’t get totally wiped-away because of 2016.
Backs against the wall before
In 2015 maybe the moment got a little too big against the Mets. In 2016, Addison Russell had a 1-for-22 postseason funk, Rizzo, 1-for-23. 103 regular-season wins and the best record might mask the fact a team is still so young, and struggles can be imminent.
Still they overcame.
Maybe the first-half struggles in 2017 were also aligning with expectations still technically increased due to the bar being risen ever so much higher after a World Series win. Talking about intangibles, sometimes the youth-factor and World Series hangover is part of the incalculable element.
Still, through it all, signs of life peaked through in Game 3 late, despite another no-hit performance by Max Scherzer into the seventh. While the Cubs figure to face Tanner Roark or Gio Gonzalez Thursday, there is always the possibility of Scherzer coming out of the pen.
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Great pitching typically beats good hitting is the postseason mantra. The Cubs have the best ERA from their starters and the Nats are second among all teams through the LDS phase. While the perfect balance is optimum, the Cubs at least have that confidence to pull from. They’ve done it before.