The Cubs faced a 3-run deficit when I sent this tweet. At this point, I was trying to find a ticket for Game 5. I had no interest in watching at home or at a bar because after spending so many days this summer at the ball park, I didn’t want to end my season home alone if I didn’t have to.
The Giants winning this series wasn’t inconceivable and no one knew that better than Cubs fans. Their team’s last two best-of-5 series wins both came against teams with the NL’s best record. — the 100-win Cardinals as a 97-game Wild Card winner in 2015 and the 101-win Braves in 2003 as an 88-win NL Central champion.
The Cubs spent nearly $300 million to address areas of concern after 2015. They added a contact hitter with patience (Ben Zobrist), an defensive wizard in the outfield with a six-year track record of quality contact and on-base skills (Jason Heyward) and a reliable innings-eating rotation starter (John Lackey).
In July, they Cubs used a chunk of prospect capital (and public good will) to acquire closer with elite swing-and-miss stuff (Aroldis Chapman) in a straight-up rent-a-player deal.
All that came with October in mind. Trim strikeouts in RBI situations. Tighten up outfield defense. End games with a pitcher with swing-and-miss stuff.
Those things weren’t playing out. The offense looked mostly listless. The defense (at times) looked shaky. And the closer blew a lead because Conor Gillaspie turned on a 102-mph fastball up in the zone.
When baseball happens, it happens quickly.
Just ask the Giants.
Armed with a 5-2 lead, the Giants sent Derek Law to the mound to close it out and send the series back to Chicago. Law threw 35 pitches in a scoreless two-inning relief stint in their Game 3 win. He faced 10 Cubs batters in 2.1 innings of postseason work — allowing one walk and no hits while striking out three.
Then Kris Bryant singled through the shift to innocently start a rally.
In came Javier Lopez — a lefty with four World Series rings (three with San Francisco, one with Boston) – assigned to face Anthony Rizzo. Lopez faced 46 batters in 24 postseason appearances with the Giants prior to Tuesday and opponents owned a .119/.196/.143 slash line against him with a 30.6 percent strikeout rate.
Rizzo coaxed a walk to put two on with no outs.
Sergio Romo, who limited 64 batters to a .159/.172/.206 slash line with one extra-base hit in the 2012 and 2014 playoffs as a closer and high-leverage ace, came in to face Zobrist. And for the second straight night, Romo allowed a ringing extra-base hit as Zobrist’s RBI double put the tying run at second with no outs.
Chris Coghlan entered the on-deck for Addison Russell was Chris Coghlan as Joe Maddon was willing to play some percentages with Coghlan (.379 OBP vs. RHP since re-joining the Cubs in June; .852 OPS vs. RHP since the All-Star Break) against Romo (.790 OPS vs. LHB in 2016).
Out went Romo, in came Will Smith. Then came Willson Contreras (.854 OPS in 79 PA vs. LHP) for Coghlan, who delivered a game-tying single to center field.
Including playoffs, Cubs hitters have reached base in 36.5 percent of their plate appearances against Will Smith. At that rate, his next free agent contract won’t likely be in the NL Central.
Smith sought redemption against Jason Heyward and his .586 OPS against lefties in 2016. Looking to make a smart baseball play, Heyward (a double-play candidate because of his high ground-ball rate) squared away in search of his third sacrifice bunt of his career…but he bunted it too hard, allowing Smith to get the lead runner at second.
But a funny thing happened on the turn.
The normally sure-handed Brandon Crawford made his second error of the game, allowing Heyward to move to second. For all the things Heyward hasn’t done and doesn’t do (I’ll eventually get into that this offseason in a Bleacher Nation post, as long as Brett OK’s it and I find enough information worth sharing and analyzing) his speed allowed that play to happen. He made it from first to home in 4.12 seconds — his fastest time this year, according to Fangraphs. A good throw keeps Heyward at first. But for how long?
Hunter Strickland came in to face Javy Baez, sending Smith to the showers. He put Baez in a two-strike count early, but didn’t put him away as Baez turned a two-strike fastball into a run-scoring single to plate Heyward to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead. It was a lead the team wouldn’t relinquish as Aroldis Chapman struck out Gorkys Hernandez, Denard Span and Brandon Belt to end the game — and the Giants’ season.
Hopefully, Bruce Bochy doesn’t take it on the chin in the coming days. He did what any manager with a crummy bullpen would do. He played percentages that most likely would play in his favor and hoped for the best. Any anger should probably be directed at a front office that didn’t use resources to shore up a bullpen that blew 30 saves in the regular season and two in the postseason.
Alas, I had to tweet this:
#CubsTwitter takes a lot of grief from all sides. And while some (much? most?) of it is warranted, many have kept it real through four playoff games. A mix of honesty, optimism, pessimism, realism and .gifs … always with the .gifs. I appreciate that.
Hopefully, there are fewer dumpster fires and more .gif parties in the coming days and weeks.
Even though the Giants’ Even Year Magic came to an end, it doesn’t mean Taylor Swift’s even year album release streak needs to end, too.
Swift dropped an October album in 2010, 2012 and 2014. And to be honest, each has been better than the last. I’m genuinely curious to see what direction she goes in for her next album.
‘1989’ was the perfectly crafted pop album. Good luck topping that. Though, I could go for an acoustic re-release of 1989, to be honest.
Would she go back to her traditional country roots? Maybe dabble in the new wave of modern country? I can’t see it. Not right now at least.
An EDM/pop album would’ve made sense if not for the breakup with Calvin Harris and the public rebound with that dude who everyone likes but I had never even heard of prior to their romantic dalliance.
Whatever she does, it better not disappoint.
Whoever comes next for the Cubs will be no easy task.
The Dodgers possess this generation’s best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw), a lineup mixed with steady veteran leadership (Adrian Gonzalez, Chase Utley) and players with upside (Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig) and a 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pound closer who possesses a 98-mph cutter. However, they’re not great on the road and the rotation and pen both have question marks.
The Nationals have a lineup full of upside, led by the 2015 NL MVP (Bryce Harper), a postseason menace (Daniel Murphy), a young speedester (Trea Turner) and other solid pieces (Anthony Rendon, Ryan Zimmerman). But if the Nationals beat the Dodgers, Max Scherzer won’t be able to go until Game 3 of the NLCS with Tanner Roark and Gio Gonzalez going in Games 1 & 2. And the availability of Stephen Strasburg is in the air. Closer Mark Melancon is low-key filthy.
If you want an on-paper advantage in pitching matchups early, the Nats are probably your team tomorrow. If you want home field advantage against a poor road team and better weather in road games, you’re likely pulling for the Dodgers.
Me? I’m rooting for a few hours of sleep.