Let’s take a second and remember Game 5 of the NLDS.
Does that feel cathartic? It did to me when I watched it. After the first two games of the NLCS, it’s important to remember that this has already been a successful season for the Cubs. They defeated a World Series hangover and won a division title and. Then in Game 5, they won one of the most unbelievable, awful, incredible, mentally exhausting games this writer has ever seen. The defending champs are in their third straight NLCS, a minor miracle for a team that had so little hope just six years ago.
It’s important to remember these accomplishments because, as the headline says, things are bad right now. Things are looking less and less like the Cubs will fulfill their ultimate goal of a repeat championship. It’s not even so much that the Dodgers look dominant, although they have played well in this series; it’s more that the Cubs look broken.
Starters in the bullpen
All you need to know about how bad the Cubs’ relievers have been recently is that John Lackey pitched in relief two nights in a row. That’s right, the team’s No. 5 starter during the regular season pitched in close playoff games on back-to-back nights. He survived his inning of relief in Game 1. But in Game 2, after entering the game with two on and two out, he grooved a two-seam fastball and Justin Turner didn’t miss.
The fact that Lackey was even in the game is an indictment of the Cubs’ relievers. Ordinarily in a hugely important game, in a hugely important moment in said game, you’d want your best reliever on the mound. That would be Wade Davis, who was only available for one inning after he’d had to get seven outs in Game 5 against Washington (the ones you saw above). Why was Davis forced to get seven outs in Game 5? Because Joe Maddon didn’t have any other relievers he trusted after Pedro Strop, Mike Montgomery, and Carl Edwards Jr. had already given up runs in the game.
So, instead of one of the best closers in baseball, the Cubs were forced to ride with a nearly 39-year-old back-end starter pitching for the second day in a row who came close to leading the league in home runs allowed during the regular season. Wonderful. Here are some of the Cubs’ relievers’ ERAs this postseason (brace yourself):
Hector Rondon–27.00 (gave up a home run to the first batter he faced in the playoffs with the score tied in Game 1 of the NLCS)
Justin Wilson— 0.00 (got two outs in Game 4 of the NLDS and then was left off the NLCS roster because, even with all of the struggles above, the Cubs STILL thought those other pitchers were better options)
There was a bit of good news on this front in Game 2 against Los Angeles. Edwards Jr. pitched 1.1 perfect innings and struck out three. The Cubs will need more of that if they’re to have any chance going forward. It’s been difficult to watch a bullpen that was at least competent most of the season implode in such spectacular fashion at the worst possible time.
Since Anthony Rizzo‘s bloop single put the Cubs ahead in Game 3 of the NLDS, the duo known as Bryzzo has the following line:
2-for-31, one double, two RBI, one walk, 14 strikeouts
Watch the at-bats in Game 2 alone from the Cubs’ two best hitters. They’re both seemingly lost at the plate right now. At one point, Kris Bryant swings through a 92 mph fastball in the heart of the plate. No wonder the Cubs have just three runs and seven hits over the first two games of the NLCS. Chicago’s depth means it can trot out endless variations of different lineups. But if the reigning MVP and the team’s best home run hitter aren’t hitting, the offense won’t produce.
Playing so many tight games is putting even more stress on the already beleaguered pitching staff, which at this point must feel as though any mistake could be the one that costs the team a game. Pitching scared is dangerous and the Cubs have been burned by walks far too often already against Los Angeles. The offense must pick up some of the slack to allow the pitchers a little margin for error. That starts with Bryant and Rizzo getting out of the collective funk they’ve been in for most of this Postseason.
I confess that I’m not sure if the broken Cubs are fixable. Even if the bullpen does come around and Bryant and Rizzo start mashing again, they still have to win four out of five against the best team in baseball. It’s possible the Cubs can’t dig themselves out of this 0-2 hole. On the other hand, baseball is a funny game and anything can happen. Game 5 against Washington proved as much.