We don’t need to invoke goats or cats or unfairly vilified dudes in green turtlenecks to discuss the Cubs’ inability to get over the hump in the biggest games. It’s not supernatural powers or fan interference that have led to the collective sphincter-clenching we’ve see from various iterations of this team and that have bowed the backs of even the greatest players to don blue pinstripes. They’d tell us there was no pressure, or at least that they didn’t feel it. Then, filled to bursting on their own lies, they’d fall short.
Under Joe Maddon’s leadership, however, the Cubs have owned the nature of their elite status. Rather than back away from the hype and the hope, they’ve collected a group of players who either know how to handle it already or who just don’t any better or who don’t care. Hell, most of these guys flat-out revel in it. I can’t imagine a better display of that than Thursday night in LA.
Messin’ with Lester
“We’re going to try to get huge leads and try to bunt on him and try to get into his psyche a little bit,” said Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts prior to Game 5.
Yeah, ’cause that’s worked out so well for everyone else this season. Rather than let his hitters actually, you know, hit, Roberts asked them to lay down bunts. At home. With a chance to hang an L on the Cubs’ ace. To be fair, it did kind of appear that the Dodgers might have gotten under Lester’s skin right off the jump. Or maybe Kiké Hernandez dancing a bastardized Charleston after drawing a leadoff walk only annoyed viewers.
That cute Little League BS might work against someone lacking mental fortitude, but Lester ain’t that one, kid. The leadoff walk was the only one he issued, despite pitching to a zone that resembled an animated Rorschach ink blot. And he only gave up five hits, thus limiting the Dodgers’ chances to mess with him. Here’s the thing though: are you really messing with a guy when there’s no real threat? There were only two steals against the combo of Lester and David Ross, thus removing the teeth from Roberts’ strategy.
And then you’ve got the bunts…
Javy Baez, human shift machine
If there’s one dude on either team with whom I would never bunt, it’s Adrian Gonzalez. Not only is he a noted power hitter, but he runs like a four-banger hatchback hauling a camper. Uphill. In the rain. Even so, the Dodgers felt the potential for vapor lock was worth it with Javy Baez playing outfield rover to defend against the lefty slugger. Gonzalez pushed a hard bunt past Lester and looked to have given his team a leadoff baserunner.
And then Javy came flying in from right-center to barehand the bunt and fire in one motion to Anthony Rizzo for the out. It was…well, it was par for the course for a man for whom crazy plays are the norm. But for a national audience that is learning more about the freakish phenom every day, this was a defining moment. There was also the bases-clearing double in the five-run 8th inning that effectively put the game out of reach.
He was even part of a play that proved exactly how loose the Cubs are playing, even on the road with the series tied at two games apiece. Only up 1-0 in the 3rd inning, Javy ranged to his left to track a pop-up, eventually breathing down Rizzo’s neck as the first baseman made the catch. Rizzo then turned and playfully tossed the ball off his second baseman’s chest. It was a fun moment that stood in stark contrast to the contrived mind games the Dodgers want to play.
Leading the charge in that regard is Gonzalez, who’s been called out on close plays at both home and first and who has been puffing his chest out online and in the media lately.
“They can’t cheer any louder”
Those were Gonzalez’s words in discussing the prospect of heading back to Chicago needing to win two games at Wrigley Field.
“It’s not like it’s a loud stadium to begin with,” Gonzalez said. “They’re going to try their best, and we’re going to tune them out like we always do.”
— Adrián González (@Adrian_ElTitan) October 20, 2016
Yo, Adrian, I thought you were safe too when I saw the replay, but you might want to choose a screencap that actually looks conclusive next time. And maybe stop being so salty, man, I need a glass of water just looking at this stuff again.
To be the best, you’ve gotta beat the best
Hey, did you guys know the Cubs have to face Clayton Kershaw on Saturday? No, seriously, they do. I know because we saw video of him throwing a side session while, as Joe Buck put it, “rocking a sweet tank top.” And we also had about eleventy billion cutaways of the ace reacting to the game from the dugout. And then FS1 told us about him being great and how he pitched great in Game 2 and how he was going to pitch again in Game 6.
Also, Clayton Kershaw is great and he pitched a side session in a tank top and he’s pitching again this weekend. Did you know that? I mean, the dude got more airtime than Skip Bayless and the Viagra Single-Pack Lady who made the bellhop lug her 57 suitcases.
The only horse that got more posthumous abuse during the broadcast was that of Jon Lester throwing to bases. I understand the need for national coverage to inform their broad audience of various storylines they might not have otherwise been privy to, but this went well beyond that. I mean, the Lester pickoff thing has been going on for a couple years now. Besides, he was nails out there Thursday night. Rather than focus on how he kept making big pitches toward home plate, Buck and John Smoltz were obsessed with the throws to the other bases.
Finally, did you know that Clayton Kershaw is really good and that he won 1-0 in Game 2 and that he’s starting Game 6 in Chicago? Because he is. And he even through a side session in a tank top, which was really cool and incredibly unique and totally worthy of a inordinate amount of coverage.
They are who we thought they were
Despite the collective genuflection before the magnificence of Kershaw, I will say that it’s fitting for the Cubs to have to go through him or Rich Hill in order to move on to face the Indians. Those two gave the Cubs fits en route to a 2-1 series lead, but it was also a matter of the bats slumping. I’m not sure whether the poor offensive performance was more chicken or egg, but I knew it was only a matter of time before the bats woke up once more.
Addison Russell blasting homers in back-to-back games was a welcome sight, as was Anthony Rizzo’s return to form. Javy Baez has done a little bit of everything, and the rest of the team has filled in nicely. Now if only Jason Heyward could get his business together. Cat just looks lost out there.
Even with the momentum of two straight wins and the energy surging through the home crowd, beating Kershaw will be no mean feat. But looking at how the two teams have played of late, hearing how they’re talking about the games both past and future, it’s the Dodgers who are really feeling the pressure. And I’ve got a really good feeling about Saturday night in Chicago.
I’ll be there, in the city but not the ballpark, so don’t expect much content here over the weekend. Those of you who follow me on Twitter may find some fun stuff there, though.