Cubs' bats come alive in Game 4 victory
|Thursday, October 20, 2016, 12:13 AM- -|
LOS ANGELES -- After the Chicago Cubs failed to score a run in consecutive playoff games for the first time in franchise history on Tuesday night, serious questions came to fruition regarding the sudden impotency of the Cubs’ offense. Chicago skipper Joe Maddon, usually as affable and verbose as a baseball manager can possibly be, was even baffled by the sudden lack of hitting production, saying, “Obviously, I have no solid explanation.” Clearly, the Cub hitters heard the critical murmurs about their overall performance and did a more than adequate job of quieting the doubters in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series on Wednesday, crushing the Los Angeles Dodgers 10-2 at Chavez Ravine to even the series at two games apiece.
In a starting pitching duel featuring a conspicuous age gap, veteran Cubs starter John Lackey faced off against rookie Dodgers sensation Julio Urias. While the pitching was solid in the early going, errors nearly proved costly for both teams but failed to produce any runs. In the bottom of the first, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner grounded to short for what should have resulted in a double play for the Cubs, but Chicago second baseman Javier Baez botched the throw to first in an ill-fated attempt at turning two. Turner advanced to second on the throw, but Cubs catcher Willson Contreras ended the scoring threat, as well as the inning, by picking off Turner at second soon after.
On the flip side, in the ensuing inning, Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley bungled a double-play attempt on a grounder to short that was, coincidentally enough, hit by Baez. However, the Cubs were unable to capitalize on Utley's gaffe, making two consecutive outs thereafter to end the inning.
Lackey flirted with disaster in the bottom of the second, giving up a two-out single with runners on first and second. Luckily for the veteran right-hander, right fielder Jason Heyward, who sports perhaps the most powerful cannon of any outfielder in baseball, gunned down L.A. first baseman Adrian Gonzalez at home. Following a replay review of the play at the plate, the call was upheld, and the inning came to a close.
Gritty left fielder Ben Zobrist, posing as the most unorthodox of clean-up hitters tonight, sparked a scoring barrage in the top of the fourth for the Cubs, leading off the inning with a perfectly executed bunt down the third-base line that resulted in a single, which was the first hit of the game for the Cubs. Baez followed up with a single of his own, putting men on first and second with no outs, and, then, Contreras drove home Zobrist via a single to left, ending a 21-inning scoring drought for the Cubs. Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles committed an error on an egregious attempt at throwing Zobrist out at home, allowing Baez and Contreras to advance an additional base.
As a result, Baez crossed the plate on Heyward’s groundout in the next at-bat, putting the Cubs up 2-0. After that, with only his second hit of the playoffs, Russell came through in a major way for the North Siders, as he crushed a 401-foot two-run homer to right-center that provided the Cubs with a sizable four-run lead. A few at-bats later, Urias, clearly out of sorts, was yanked from the game by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
Padding the Cubs’ lead with a 405-foot solo shot over the wall in right-center to open the fifth-inning action, Chicago first baseman Anthony Rizzo collected his first home run of the postseason, thus providing the Cubs with a 5-0 lead. The Dodgers would cut into that lead in the bottom half of the inning, though, with L.A. scoring its only runs of the night.
Lackey walked the first two batters whom he faced in the bottom of the fifth, inciting Cubs manager Joe Maddon to replace him on the mound with middle reliever Mike Montgomery, who failed to keep the Cubs’ shutout intact. Montgomery gave up a single to load the bases but garnered a strikeout in the succeeding at-bat for the inning's first out. Turner then made up for being picked off earlier in the game by hitting a two-run single to left-center that cut the L.A. deficit to three.
Much to the Dodgers’ collective chagrin, Turner’s pivotal hit was effectively neutralized in the top of the sixth, as the Cubs added five more runs. Los Angeles reliever Ross Stripling was powerless in his 0.1 innings on the hill, with L.A.’s third error of the game not helping his cause. A Heyward pop out to begin the inning served as an auspicious start for Stripling, but the situation became bleak for the rookie righty when Enrique Hernandez, Utley’s replacement at second, committed a throwing error on an infield single by Russell not long afterward.
With a man on second and one out, the Cubs proceeded to shellack Stripling. Even Montgomery got in on the hitting action, knocking a single to left that put runners on the corners. Thereafter, Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler, who went 2-5 at the dish, brought in Russell with a one-bagger to right, and, two batters later, Rizzo, who finished 3-5 with three RBI, batted in two more on a single to right, making the score 8-2 in favor of the Cubs. Capping off the Dodgers’ sixth-inning misery was an inexcusable fourth error of the evening, which was committed on a sacrifice fly by Baez. L.A. center fielder Joc Pederson suffered a throwing error on the play, allowing an extra run to score that resulted in a gaudy 10-2 score with the Cubs on top.
Chicago coasted for the remainder of the matchup, wreaking the benefits of the Dodgers’ four errors on the night. Aside from reliever Carl Edwards, Jr., leaving the game with hamstring tightness, the latter portion of Game 4 was a blissful breeze for the team hailing from the Windy City. The Cubs committed two errors in Game 4 themselves, but they were so dominant at the plate, that the defensive mistakes failed to create any self-inflicted wounds for the North Siders, whose 10-2 blowout win tied the best-of-seven NLCS up at 2-2.
With 10 runs, the most for the Cubs in a postseason game since 2003, and 13 hits on Wednesday, the Cubs clearly answered the calls for increased plate production. More specifically, sluggers Rizzo and Russell came alive in the batter’s box for the first time all postseason and had highly productive games. The torrid scoring affair in the fourth inning allowed the wizened Lackey to pitch only four innings so as not to push his limits. As for Urias, the slew of errors and hot-hitting Chicago batters proved to be too much for him, and the 20-year-old, who became the youngest pitcher to ever start a playoff game tonight, received the loss because of it. The win was earned by Montgomery, marking his first career playoff victory.
Game 5, the final game of the series that is slated to be played at Dodger Stadium, will commence tomorrow night at 7:00 PM CST. Chicago will assuredly be looking to reciprocate its Game 4 dominance, while Los Angeles will definitely be hoping to keep its defensive miscues at a minimum. As for the Game 5 pitching matchup, Cubs left-hander Jon Lester will be toeing the rubber for a duel with Dodgers right-hander Kenta Maeda.
Debate night drama. pic.twitter.com/2XyzF5c8kd— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) October 20, 2016