Breaks, Brakes, Pitchers Who Rake: Takes on Game 2 and the NLDS in General

I don’t subscribe to the idea that goats or cats or dudes in green turtlenecks have cost the Cubs a title, nor do I believe that some sort of biennial planetary alignment has been critical to San Francisco’s even-year runs. But dammit if I didn’t find myself watching Game 2 of the NLDS and thinking something bigger was at play.

I’m not saying I sensed that the fates have been cutting the strings that animate Hunter “I’m a Real Boy!” Pence in order to grant the Cubs safe passage to the NLCS. It’s more like, I don’t know, Joe Maddon and Co. have trimmed the sails in order to catch the fickle fall winds and ride them deeper into October. And not just that, the bespectacled skipper is also playing the role of coxswain and urging his crew to keep rowing.

Some choose to lie down in the face of destiny and others just flip predetermined outcomes the bird and press forward.

We’ve all known for some time that this Cubs team is something special — okay, we haven’t all known that — and that they were capable of big things. Of course, that didn’t stop most of us from freaking the eff out leading up to Friday’s Game 1. Maybe Saturday’s game too. I was definitely clenched up like a mug during that 1-0 win, but I was feeling nothing but confident heading into a matchup with Jeff Samardzija. Call it hubris, call it disdain, call it a couple Zombie Dusts and an Italian beef with spicy giardiniera in a bar packed to the gills with Cubs fans. Whatever the reason, I knew they were going to win.

You might feel that’s a bit of revisionist history and I really wouldn’t be able to mount a cogent defense of my position, but I’ve felt great ever since Javy Baez jacked that basket homer Friday night. And you know what else? I’m thinking the Cubs are going to head into San Fran and lay a whoopin’ on MadBum. Call me crazy, I just know no streak lasts forever.

Pitchers hitting

You can’t deny things are going right when your pitchers drive in enough runs to win the game, which is exactly what happened for the Cubs on Saturday. Kyle Hendricks blooped a two-RBI single in the 2nd and Travis Wood, on in relief of Hendricks, blasted a solo home run in the 4th. It was the third postseason homer by a Cubs pitcher, the second by a Cubs pitcher named Wood, and the first by a reliever from any team in 92 years.

The bomb Wood launched on the first pitch he saw from Giants reliever George Kontos, paired with his 1.1 perfect innings, may well have overtaken that Waxahachie Swap as his most memorable game of the season. But even though it earned him a curtain call, his Cubs teammates want nothing to do with him reveling in the exploit. I get it, though, it’s like my son still bringing up that time he scored a goal in soccer when the other team was busy listening to their coach.

The crazy thing about the homer was that Wood really shouldn’t have been in there in the first place. Hendricks hadn’t been pitching poorly, he just took a comeback liner off the right arm and was lifted from the game. With a lefty-heavy lineup, Maddon went to his resident LOOGy to loog away at Conor Gillaspie, Joe Panik, a pinch hitter who ended up being righty-batting Madison Bumgarner, Denard Span, and Brandon Belt. And he retired all but the Giants’ Game 3 starter, who reached on a fielding error by Kris Bryant.

What does it say about your roster that you’re using a pitcher to pinch-hit when the game’s still within reach in the 5th inning? I get that MadBum is a good hitter as far as pitchers go, but is that really your best option? Maybe it is.

The gambit ended up working, sort of, but Wood got Span to ground out and then watched as Brandon Belt pimped a fly ball to right. That Jason Heyward pulled in easily. And it was shy of the warning track. I don’t recall seeing much blowback on that one, though that might be because I wasn’t paying attention.

Pimpin’ ain’t easy

We bore witness to another moment of self-admiration in the 6th, when Javy Baez lined to the wall in left and thought he’d hit another dinger. Instead, Angel Pagan got the ball back in and turned it into a close play at second base. Baez slid in safely, though, and…wait, what? They’re not reviewing that, are they? I mean, that’s not what replay is supposed to be about, I don’t think.

The Giants called for a review of the play and won when it was revealed that Baez had momentarily lost contact with the bag while sliding over it. The throw didn’t beat him and he didn’t overslide, but Panik kept the tag on through the process and Baez was called out. This is something MLB really needs to address in the offseason, as it runs contrary to the spirit of both the rule and the game. Sorry if that sounds cheesy, but replay was supposed to solve mistakes, not find errors where none would have previously existed.

Listen, I get the argument that there’s no issue if Baez busts it out of the box from the start and that he maybe could have done a better job of maintaining contact with the bag or whatever. At the same time, calls for him to do the latter are tantamount to asking a player to better defy the laws of physics. So now it comes down to some idea that the moral authority won out by smiting Baez for having the audacity to admire his hit. Was it a good move to respect his hit instead of 90? Of course not. Doesn’t mean the replay should be used to right a wrong no one was aware of prior to the advent of the tech.

I don’t know, man, maybe I’m just being a homer and I’d feel different if the situation was reversed. To me, it’s more about the idea that no human watching the game on the field in real time could have or would have made the call that Baez was out based on losing contact with the bag during the slide. So if we’re going to use replay to make calls no human umpire can, why are we using human umpires at all?

Shark attacked

Speaking of retribution and poetic justice, I had a lot of fun watching the Cubs beat up on Jeff Samarzija right from the jump. Here’s my expert analysis of the former Cub’s two-inning start:


Slow my roll?

Maybe I should be pumping the brakes on my confidence knowing that the Cubs are facing one of the best postseason pitchers of all time and that they’re doing it behind a man who’s been anything but consistent this season. For some reason, those things only seek to enhance my sense that this series is over. I’m not sure whether Arrieta can help the Cubs to become the first team with three consecutive walk-less playoff games, but it’s not out of the question.

The Giants are very used to playoff pressure and being home will ease much of that anyway, but they’re still not the better of these two teams. And something tells me this iteration of the Cubs will absolutely feed off of the hype and the hope and tripe and the tropes, maybe turning it all into some even-year BS of their own.

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