Pete Hodges presents our NLCS Game 5 recap in which the Chicago Cubs sent the series back to Wrigley.
The Chicago Cubs have made it this far in the playoffs without significant contributions from their regular-season MVP candidate and first baseman Anthony Rizzo. Before Game 4 that is – the 6’3” lefty went 3-for-5, including his first homer of the postseason. While NLDS hero Javier Baez is a truly talented player and likely NL MVP Kris Bryant is getting has been getting things done in front of Rizzo, if the northsiders are to expunge any demons then the former top prospect needs to get off the schneid and produce as he did in the regular season.
For the Dodgers, Kenta Maeda took the mound in the pivotal Game 5. Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler ripped a single up the middle to kick things off. Two batters later, a hit-and-run – a tactic possibly employed to kickstart the scuffling Rizzo – scored the leadoff man, as Rizzo scorched a double down the first base line.
The Dodgers were tasked with defeating lefty Jon Lester who walked leadoff man Enrique Hernandez to start the first before striking out Justin Turner. Following a Corey Seager single, the Cubs veteran southpaw retired catcher Carlos Ruiz and left fielder Howie Kendrick without incident to escape unscathed, preserving the 1-0 lead.
The pitchers traded zeroes in the second and third innings, with Maeda walking catcher David Ross – hitting ahead of Lester – and Lester allowing a Turner two-out single and steal before Seager struck out to end the third.
Baez stung a liner for his third double of the postseason to open the fourth inning. Up 1-2 in the count and facing the speedy Heyward, Maeda lost control of a two-seam fastball an plunked the right fielder in the lower back. The right-hander then settled down and struck out Russell for his sixth K before retiring Ross on a flyout to center field. With two down, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts strode out of the dugout to lift Maeda from the game in favor of righty Josh Fields. The bullpen arm came on and retired Lester on five pitches, ending the threat and holding the score at 1-0 Cubs heading into the bottom of the fourth.
Following a Carlos Ruiz flyout, Howie Kendrick doubled to the gap in left-center. With Adrian Gonzalez at the plate Kendrick made an attempt to steal third base – hopefully making a sac fly viable. Although originally called out, a replay was called for – urged by Kendrick himself – which found that he was indeed very much safe. Instead of a long fly, Gonzalez smacked the ball square into the infield dirt. However, Rizzo was unable to make a quick play on it with his first baseman’s mitt and Baez had to back him up, eventually making the play at first. This allowed Kendrick to score the tying run:
Following a scoreless fifth inning, Joe Blanton started the sixth for the Dodgers. Baez hit a first pitch single up the middle. He then stole second base before Heyward whiffed futilely. Addison Russell then delivered a two-run blast to break the game open and provide some breathing room for the visitors. After the round tripper, Ross drilled an 0-2 double to the left-center gap before Lester hit a fly out to left and Fowler popped out to short.
Roberts sent Blanton back out for the top of the seventh to face Bryant, whom he struck out. The manager then called for lefty Luis Avilan to face Rizzo. This was a spot where the Cubs needed to see their first baseman shine – not necessarily because they needed a hit, but because their opponent needed an out. The first baseman delivered a single. Avilan then walked Zobrist, prompting a visit from pitching coach Rick Honeycutt. The Dodgers’ lefty was able to retire Baez and Heyward to escape the inning holding the score at 3-1.
Lester continued to deal in the seventh inning, first retiring Adrian Gonzalez on a failed drag bunt attempt. The lumbering first baseman was nearly successful, but a solid charge from Baez at second and nice stretch from Rizzo at first did him in. Had it been nearly any other baserunner, or any other first/second base combo in MLB it would have been a single. But the slow Gonzalez and the slick fielding of the Cubs duo combined perfectly. Following a Yaisel Puig line out to center field, Joc Pederson hit a seeing-eye single through the right side of the field. After Avilan was lifted for pinch hitter Yasmani Grandal, Lester received a visit to the mound but remained in the game, retiring the pinch hitting catcher. The Cubs lefty ended up tossing seven innings, allowing one-run on five hits and a walk – striking out six.
Pedro Baez started the eighth for the Dodgers but things started off bad, and got worse:
On a grounder to first, Pedro Baez was slow to cover which results in being in an awkward position to receive the toss from Gonzalez. It appears as if he expected the Gold Glove first baseman to do it all himself. Next, Ross was pinch hit for by fellow catcher Willson Contreras, who laced a single into right field. Albert Almora then pinch hit for Lester, and valiantly moved the runners over with a well-executed sac bunt. Then Pedro Baez continued his clinic on how not to field his position on this RBI infield single by Dexter Fowler:
The pitcher watches the ball go by and then, once again, expects his All-Star first baseman to do it all. The Cubs continued their hustle-a-thon with a Kris Bryant broken-bat single to third base, putting men on first and second – and increasing their lead to 5-1. With a chance to do some real damage Rizzo lined into what appeared to be a double play, but Fowler was safe at second on review. Pedro Baez was lifted after he walked Zobrist to load the bases. In came Ross Stripling, who fell victim to Javier Baez’s fourth postseason double – this one was a bases-clearing two-bagger. Heyward would finally end the inning on a pop out.
Pedro Strop replaced Lester on the mound and Zobrist in the batting order, while Almora replaced the left fielder. Strop was welcomed by Andrew Toles with a double to right field. Perhaps not liking this, his first to Justin Turner was up and in, striking his upper arm. But Seager then grounded into a double play which did advance Toles to third. A fly ball by Carlos Ruiz struck the bottom of the wall in center field, resulting in an RBI double for the catcher and cutting the Cubs lead to 8-2. However, Kendrick squashed the rally with a liner to rally-killer Jason Heyward.
Russell singled up the middle to start the top of the ninth. Wilson Contreras swung at the first pitch he saw and lined out to second, and then Albert Almora killed the inning with a 5-4-3 double play.
Curiously, Cubs manager Joe Maddon went with closer Aroldis Chapman for the ninth inning in an 8-2 game.The fireballer walked the lefty first baseman before surrendering a single to Yasiel Puig that advanced Gonzalez to third. Pederson then hit into a force out that erased Puig and kept Gonzalez glued to third. Josh Reddick pinch hit for Stripling and poked a single that scored the first baseman and advanced Pederson to third. A Toles sac fly scored Pederson. With Justin Turner at the plate, Reddick swiped second base, but the rally was all for naught as the third baseman ground out to short to end the game at 8-4.
The Cubs held on to win Game 5 and take the series lead (3-2) back with them to Chicago. They only need to win one more game to earn a matchup with the Cleveland Indians in what would be a very interesting World Series. However, they first need to get over the Clayton Kershaw hump. And, as we saw in the NLDS, if they cannot beat Kershaw in Game 6, they’ll likely have to face him again at some point in Game 7 as well.