In one corner, the immovable object that is the Chicago Cubs’ 108-year championship drought. In the other corner, the unstoppable force that is the Cleveland Indians’ 68-year title-less streak. Something’s got to give!
Why haven't opposing teams and managers, including the Indians and Terry Francona, done more to exploit Jon Lester's throwing problesm?
The last time he faced his former manager, Jon Lester spun an old-fashioned gem, in an old-fashioned Monday afternoon game at Wrigley Field. It was August of 2015, and the Cubs were hosting the Indians in a wrong-footed getaway-day game, forced into the schedule on what had been an off day for both teams after rain washed out a contest in June.
Lester pitched 8 ⅔ innings and nearly beat the Tribe 1-0, but ended up allowing the tying run before departing. Kris Bryant won the game with an opposite-field walk-off home run in the next half inning. The character of Lester’s effort was strange, though. He scattered six hits, a walk, and two hit batsmen over his long outing. It’s not normal, in today’s MLB, for a pitcher to allow nine baserunners in a start and still nearly complete the outing with just a single tally on the board.
It took Theo Epstein and company exactly five years to rebuild the Cubs into the best team in baseball.
On October 22, 2011, the Chicago Cubs announced the hiring of Theo Epstein as president of baseball operations. Epstein, only 37 years old at the time, was already considered one of the greatest baseball executives in recent history and a potential future Hall of Famer. Five days later, the Cubs hired away Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod from San Diego as Epstein’s top lieutenants.
Clayton Kershaw threw seven shutout, two-hit innings against the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS, which combined with his starter/closer act in the NLDS convinced even the most stubborn holdouts that his poor postseason reputation was overblown and perhaps just flat out erased. And now, less than a week later, he'll take the mound at Wrigley Field against a 103-win team with the Dodgers' season on the line in an elimination game. Something tells me Kershaw's playoff rep isn't set in stone quite yet.
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Chicago breaks through against Los Angeles' bullpen, taking a 3-2 lead back to Wrigley Field.
The Cubs have had a not-so-quiet concern this postseason, an unsure refrain that has been repeated by analysts, fans, and (we can only assume) the team itself, an anxiety to characterize the flipside of baseball’s best regular-season team--namely, what if they can’t hit good pitching?
Chicago finally broke through offensively, evening the NLCS at 2-2.
The Chicago Cubs, facing a potential 3-1 hole against a team with the best pitcher on the planet still in play for one more game, finally drew breath in Los Angeles. For 21 straight innings the Cubs' offense was suffocated by Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, and the rest of the Dodgers' pitching staff. Then a few soft hits found holes before Addison Russell, who entered the game with a batting average that started with a zero, pierced through the Los Angeles marine layer and Dodgers pitching with one swing. The Cubs would follow with one run in the fifth and five more in the sixth, putting the game out of reach in the series’ first true laugher.
Ryan Merritt vs. Marco Estrada in Toronto and John Lackey vs. Julio Urias in Los Angeles.
Corey Kluber wasn't at his best on short rest Tuesday, but by going five relatively effective innings he did allow the Indians' bullpen to catch its collective breath a bit after Trevor Bauer's abbreviated, blood-filled Game 3 start. Andrew Miller and Cody Allen are both rested and presumably able to combine for at least three innings today, and even Dan Otero and Bryan Shaw had light Game 4 workloads. All of which is good, important news for Cleveland, because Ryan Merritt is making just his second career big-league start after logging a grand total of 11 innings for the Indians. Any left-handed pitcher facing the Blue Jays' righty-packed lineup is in a very tough spot, but what Merritt is being asked to do is on a whole different level.
Jake Arrieta's season-long issues continued, Yasmani Grandal did his thing, and the Dodgers are up 2-1.
It wasn’t really a bad pitch that Jake Arrieta threw to Yasmani Grandal. He’d certainly thrown worse. When Arrieta cut loose a 3-2 sinker at 93 miles per hour in the bottom of the fourth inning on Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the Dodgers already led the Cubs 1-0, thanks to a hanging slider righteously thwacked for an RBI single by Corey Seager the inning before.
Corey Kluber vs. Aaron Sanchez in Toronto and Jake Arrieta vs. Rich Hill in Los Angeles.
Despite having to dip into the bullpen after just 21 pitches and two outs, the Indians rode their relievers to a gutty--perhaps “gory” is a better word--4-2 victory on Monday night. Trevor Bauer left the game in the first inning after his drone-related lacerated pinky turned the game into something out of a Saw movie, but the combined efforts of Dan Otero, Jeff Manship, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, and Andrew Miller held the vaunted Jays offense to just two runs. Seriously, at what point do we consider giving the ALCS MVP award to the entire Indians bullpen?
Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen shut down the Cubs, tying the NLCS at 1-1 heading to Los Angeles.
The last time two starting pitchers with ERAs this low faced off in a postseason game, New Coke was still but a twinkle in Don Draper’s eye, and Bobby Kennedy had been dead less than four months. That matchup, as it turned out—St. Louis’ Bob Gibson (1.12) versus Detroit’s Denny McLain (1.96) in the 1968 World Series—wasn’t quite as good as the one we saw last night. Clayton Kershaw (1.69) and Kyle Hendricks (2.13) both acquitted themselves admirably under Wrigley Field’s bright October lights, allowing just a run between them, and together kept this joyful run of remarkable postseason games alive.
Dave Roberts and Joe Maddon went move for move in Game 1, and then Miguel Montero made Wrigley Field explode.
The Cubs and Dodgers kicked off the NLCS last night, and be honest, you thought the Cubs would win. You might be a Dodgers fan, and you might be riding high from Clayton Kershaw in relief, or think Corey Seager has prettier eyes than Kris Bryant. But you read the previews and remembered the Dodgers slashed just .213/.290/.332 in the regular season vs. left-handed pitching, and further remembered Jon Lester on the mound, and got a little sick to your stomach.