Best-of-7 series aren’t won or lost in Game 3, but a team can take a big step forward or backward. And it’s that step in the wrong direction that the Cubs would prefer to avoid as they play their next three games at Dodger Stadium. Chicago remains the favorite in this series – and the entire postseason – but some flaws have been exposed in both the NLCS and NLDS.
A win in Game 3 would allow the Cubs to recapture the home-field advantage and provide a much-needed confidence boost. But a loss would lead to some serious self-evaluation … and these critical questions going forward:
Is it time to panic?
With a loss Tuesday, the Cubs would be trailing in a series for the first time this postseason. For a team that won 103 games and lost consecutive games only five times after the All-Star break, the pressure to produce could be crushing. The doubts would creep in, the pressing would begin and the those four little numbers (1908) would hover over it all.
Can they count on John Lackey in a must-win Game 4?
Lackey came up huge in Game 7 of the 2002 World Series as a rookie and in the Game 6 clincher in the 2013 World Series. But he’s almost 38 years old, doesn’t have his best stuff and was roughed up in his NLDS start. Plus, he was a different pitcher on the road (4.37 ERA) than at home (2.62) this season.
Can they beat Clayton Kershaw?
The lefty ace is scheduled to start Game 6, a game that might not even be necessary if the Cubs lose Game 3. Kershaw has exorcised his postseason demons but has been a man possessed on the mound. Chicago was a few feet from beating him in Game 2 – that Javier Baez blast that even Kershaw thought was gone -- but had little success otherwise.
Are drastic lineup changes necessary?
There have been hints of tweaks for Game 3, but is it time to take it a step further? Moving Dexter Fowler out of the leadoff spot? Sitting Addison Russell and/or Jason Heyward? Flipping Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant? If the relievers are so micro-managed during these crucial games, it only makes sense that the lineup should be treated equally as compulsively.
Should they take more chances?
These Cubs certainly aren’t accustomed to offensive droughts, so they’ve had little experience snapping out of them. Perhaps a little more aggressiveness would help. The only stolen base Chicago has attempted thus far was Javier Baez’s theft of home on a botched squeeze play. Of course, it helps to have runners on base, but the Cubs had nine hits and six walks in Game 1.