This was another nail biter. And it’s great to see that the Cubs are still perennial winners in the categories of small ball tactics and tie games. But the offensive effort needs to improve drastically, especially if there’s any hope of advancing, and winning in the NLCS.
Both Quintana and Scherzer pitched strong games, striking out a boatload. To put in perspective, there was 56 total at-bats in tonight’s game, and together they struck out 14. Of the five innings that both pitchers were not part of, there were only three strikeouts. Neither pitcher reached seven innings, but both were brilliant, as was expected.
The Cubs bullpen was anchored by great showings by Pedro Strop and Wade Davis. Edwards Jr was back out for an inning plus, and he too got the job down efficiently.
The game came down to what it came down to in Game 1, the difference being that it was an even thinner win margin, Tommy La Stella came in as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 8th for Edwards Jr, who’s night was done. La Stella took a walk, at which point Leonys Martin took over as a pinch runner. In similar fashion to his performance in Games 1 and 2, Rizzo took his stance at the plate, and belted a hit to center field that dropped in, giving Martin the needed time to sprint the bases, scoring the Cubs’ second run of the game, which led into a defensive hold in the top of 9th, securing the win.
Similarly, in the bottom of the 7th, Zobrist punched a single, and when he was aboard, Albert Almora Jr pinch hit for Kyle Schwarber, and he too singled to center, leading to Zobrist crossing the plate. I’m telling this action backwards of course, but the point is that pinch hitters made the difference for the Cubs. It’s nice to have these options, but it would be better to see some offensive production within the starting lineup. Rizzo has been a difference maker in the series. But he can’t do this alone, even if he has done most of it thus far. Bryant needs to get cracking, though he has a .273 batting average through Game 3. Zobrist did get a hit tonight, but to my count has two hits in 11 at-bats. Addison Russell has two hits in 10 at-bats. Javier Baez has zero. Jason Heyward, who’s turned into offensive albatross since being signed has one hit. These four need to get going if the Cubs are going to sustain any momentum in the playoffs. Almora Jr and Jon Jay also have low batting averages, but since much of their action comes in pinch hitting situations, it’s to be expected that they are not hitting for average from appearance to appearance.
Speaking of Jon Jay, when he’s been in the field, his defense has been brilliant. I’m starting to wonder what the value in Jason Heyward is defensively too, since that is the other thing he’s evaluated on in terms of why he’s on the roster. If Jay keeps making snags in the field, I’ll put up with his offensive, because at least he has a chance of being productive on both sides of the ball.
That said, Game 4 is going to be interesting. The Nationals are down to an under-performing Tanner Roark, facing the sharp Jake Arrieta, who’s just coming back for the first time after recovering from a hamstring injury. If Arrieta can dial in 70 percent of his typical effort, I do believe we may have this series wrapped.