After another discouraging shutout loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in game three, the Chicago Cubs now find themselves in a must-win situation.
Is it happening again? Are the Chicago Cubs going to lay down for the Dodgers like they did against the New York Mets in the 2015 NLCS? Just like 2015, Chicago’s bats have gone totally silent. What happened? And what can the Cubs do to reverse this slump?
With the exception of Kris Bryant, the entire team has forgotten how to hit all at once. Right now this team is reminiscent of the one that slumped their way into the All-Star break. The Cubs have now been held scoreless for 18 straight innings.
In a game in which the Cubs desperately needed to wake the bats up, Rich Hill dominated for the Dodgers, pitching six shutout innings. On the other end, Jake Arrieta turned in a dud in his start. To be fair to him, it’s hard to work with zero runs. The former Cy Young winner gave up four runs in just five innings of work. The Cubs needed a decent performance from him in the worst way, but he fell well short.
Where did the bats go?
The Chicago Cubs are now hitting a paltry .185 so far in the postseason, and an even worse .155 in the NLCS. Up to this point, the Cubs have relied on one big inning in almost every game they’ve won in the playoffs. That makes for exciting television, but as far as the rest of the postseason is concerned, it’s a recipe for elimination.
This is the first time in franchise history that the Chicago Cubs have been shut out in consecutive postseason games. When healthy, Rich Hill was fantastic this year. He doesn’t throw a lot of different pitches, and he really doesn’t have much in the way of velocity, but his curveball is as good as anyone else’s in the majors. And on paper, that was always a bad matchup for the Cubs. Hill used his curveball nearly 50% of the time, but the Cubs never found an answer for it.
Opposing John Lackey in Game 4 will be the 20-year-old rookie, Julio Urias. The Cubs are hitting just .152 against left-handers so far this postseason, but if they want to keep their hopes alive they’ll need to figure it out against this young lefty.
What needs to be done differently?
In short, not much. Every team is susceptible to the occasional slump, and unfortunately for the Cubs, they’ve run into one in right in the middle of the playoffs. Some fans called for a shakeup in the lineup for Game 3, and Joe Maddon obliged. The way things have been going, the lineup he assembled made sense, but as we saw, it was not the answer to the Cubs’ problems.
You simply can’t force a slump to end. They come and go like they always do, but in the postseason you have a small window of time to get past it. You may not like the way things were going with the old lineup, but it’s important to remember that that’s the lineup that got the Cubs to the NLCS in the first place. Chicago didn’t win 103 games by accident. Moving players out of their normal spots can have a negative impact on them mentally.
Anthony Rizzo is just one of many Cubs players that need to heat up. He recorded just his second hit of the postseason in Game 3, and to call it a hit is quite generous. It was a broken-bat, slow roller to second base that ended up being a blessing from the BABIP Gods. Rizzo has been a leader both in the clubhouse and in the lineup all year long. If the Cubs want to dig themselves out of this hole, they’ll need him to be a force again.
“You go, we go” has always been the mantra for Dexter Fowler. One of the primary catalysts of the Cubs’ offense, Fowler has yet to really get going. And so, in turn, the Cubs haven’t been “going” either. It will be crucial for him to find a way to get on base in Game 4.
It’s crunch time for Chicago
There’s almost no way around it. The odds are already not in the Cubs’ favor, but if they don’t win tonight, they can count on adding one more year to their 108-year drought. If the Cubs do win Game 4, they’re guaranteed at least one more home game. Having a home postseason crowd is a big help.
Urias can be tough, but it’s now or never for this team. Consider this; if the Cubs manage to make this a seven-gamer, there’s a very real possibility that they’ll see Clayton Kershaw twice in the last four games. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. Cliche as it is, it still rings true.
A couple different narratives could be set up depending on the outcome of this next game. If the Cubs lose, they’ll have to win out to advance. Obviously, that’s not the situation you want. If they win, they’ll have to win two out of three, with the last two games being held at Wrigley. Now that seems doable.
I get it, the 2-3-2 format stinks. The team that gets three home games in a row has a clear advantage if they split the opening two. MLB adopted this format during a time in which in was economically necessary. 2-2-1-1-1 would make a whole lot more sense, but there’s nothing we can do about it.
I know it can be tough to keep a positive outlook in times like these. I’m not doing a very good job at it myself. Fans are frustrated, and justifiably so. This Cubs team is infinitely better than what they’re showing right now. Are the odds in the Cubs’ favor right now? No. Can they still pull it off? Yes. But from here on out, every game needs to be treated like an elimination game.
The life of a Cubs fan is built on nothing but hope. There’s no reason to stop here. It only takes one at-bat to break out of a slump. Tonight’s game is as good a time as any for that to happen. It’s not over until it’s over.