After a rain out on Tuesday, the Cubs looked lost at the plate against Stephen Strasburg in a 5-0 loss at Wrigley Field Wednesday evening. While Game 4 was a lot closer than what the score indicates, the reality is that the Cubs offense simply could not get going. They worked some counts, but time and again struck out on change-ups and curve balls outside of the zone. If they are to find a way to get to the NLCS for the third straight year, the offense must come alive.
The lineup is a bit of a surprise, with Ben Zobrist the most notable deletion. Leading off will be Jon Jay, who works long at-bats and has hit lefties this year at a similar clip to righties. Albert Almora was 0-4 leading off in game 2, but he has dominated left-handed pitching in 2017 (.342/.411/.486) and provides the Cubs with elite defense in CF. Having him in the lineup is a fantastic decision, and batting him fifth shows incredible confidence in the youngster. The last question mark would be whether Jason Heyward would start, and his inclusion proves that Maddon is prioritizing defense in our first elimination game of the playoffs.
Gonzalez pitched 5.0 decent innings in game two, surrendering 3 ER on 3 hits – also walking 2 batters against 6 strikeouts. While the Nationals won that game (after a late inning implosion by Carl Edwards and Mike Montgomery) the Cubs likely maintain a bit of confidence against him. We’ll see what type of approach the offense takes, but scraping across a first inning run will do wonders in gaining momentum and putting the pressure on the Nationals. And with Max Scherzer likely available in (limited) relief tonight, trailing in the middle innings will be no easy task to overcome.
Thankfully, the Cubs will be relying on Kyle Hendricks in another huge game. Kyle has clearly been here before, and after his game one win in which he threw 7 shutout innings, surrendering only 2 hits, he’s undoubtedly the best option in a do-or-die scenario. Constructing a defensive-first lineup is a clear vote of confidence in Hendricks, which I am quite happy to see. Who Maddon will turn to in the bullpen in the late innings (Jose Quintana?) is likely the biggest question to answer. I suspect Wade Davis still has the confidence of this team, but that grand slam yesterday – after Carl Edwards failed to find the strike zone – certainly adds a new wrinkle to an already shaky bullpen situation. The hope is that Hendricks is on, and Maddon rides him into the late innings in DC.
For his part, Kyle prepared himself for this situation, and carries with him the mentality and experience in deciding games that a team needs: a quiet confidence, controlled emotions, and a track record of locating his arsenal. Remarking about this game and the continued doubt that follows his career, it’s clear he’s once again ready for the big stage: “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not the guy who’s going to show all the emotion and throw 98. That’s what fans love, and that’s fine with me. I just love competing.”
In my mind, there’s no reason to pull Kyle unless absolutely necessary. He needs to be treated like Jake Arrieta was in 2015’s Wild Card game in Pittsburgh, as there’s no one better than him on the mound right now. People refuse to consider him elite, despite a sub-2 ERA in eight postseason starts. He doesn’t get rattled no matter the circumstance, and has a knack for stranding runners in dramatic situations. I wrote before this series started that Maddon must treat Hendricks like a true ace if the Cubs are to win this series. Tonight will be the ultimate test of that assertion.
7:08 PM (CDT)
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