NLDS Game 4 Recap: Playoff MVP Javier Baez Continues Torrid Pace

Pete Hodges recaps Game 4 of the NLDS between the Chicago Cubs and San Francisco Giants in which the MVP Javier Baez continued to make plays in the field and at the plate.

The San Francisco Giants needed an ace performance from someone not named Bumgarner because the legendary lefty had taken the ball in Game 3. Matt Moore would end up providing a more than adequate facsimile. The team with the most playoff experience had their backs against the wall, but they were facing off against those historical choke artists themselves, the Chicago Cubs.

Moore quickly established what type of night it would be by striking out both Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant to begin the first inning. After walking Anthony Rizzo, the lefty then induced a Ben Zobrist grounder to first to end the inning.

John Lackey climbed the hill for the north siders and the Giants’ silver fox, Denard Span, stung a second-pitch fastball down the first-base line for a leadoff double. Brandon Belt hit a fly ball to center field, allowing Span to tag up and smartly scamper to third base. That proved fortuitous when Buster Posey lifted a fly ball to right field, easily scoring Span, and giving the Giants an early lead.

Moore and Lackey traded zeroes in the second inning, but in the top of the the third Moore was met rudely by the Cubs’ own silver fox, David Ross:

The southpaw easily retired the rest of the side after that blip, though the score was now tied 1-1.

Span led off the bottom of the third with an infield single that required a Bruce Bochy challenge, because he was originally called out. It was a fine play by second baseman Javier Baez, but the speedy center fielder was too fast down the first-base line. Span wouldn’t stay on the basepaths for long, however, as he was quickly be erased by this excellent defensive play by Ross and Baez:

This throw from Ross is almost too “on the money” in that it forces Baez to contort his body into the runner. But the second baseman is an extremely talented athlete and, as pointed out by August Fagerstrom at Fangraphs, he is superbly talented at applying tags – which he aptly displays on this play. With the threat of a baserunner erased, Lackey worked around a two-out walk to end the third inning with the score still tied 1-1.

Moore allowed an Anthony Rizzo leadoff single in the top of the fourth, but struck out Zobrist, then induced an inning-ending double play grounder by shortstop Addison Russell.

After striking out Brandon Crawford, Lackey allowed back-to-back singles by Conor Gillaspie and Joe Panik, and then loaded the bases with a Gregor Blanco walk – likely pitching easy around the 8-hole hitter to force the light-hitting pitcher Moore into a double play. Unfortunately for Lackey, Moore drank his milkshake:

Moore’s single broke the tie, and gave hope to the city of San Francisco that the visitors wouldn’t get away with this one. Span hit a grounder to Rizzo, but all he could do with it was get the force out at second, allowing Panik to score and doubling the Giants lead. Brandon Belt then lined out to center field, and the fourth inning ended with the Giants up 3-1.

Following a Jason Heyward fly out to center, Baez reached via a rare Brandon Crawford miscue. Baez was hustling out of the box, and because the ball skittered toward the on-the-field bullpen area, he was able to advance to third base. Ross came to bat next and lifted a fly ball to right, scoring Baez, and inching the baby bears to within one run, 3-2. Lackey was pinch hit for by Albert Almora who went down swinging to end the top of the fifth, and Justin Grimm replaced him on the mound.

Grimm’s appearance started off promising: Buster Posey tapped the third pitch back to the pitcher for an easy out. But it was all downhill from there. Hunter Pence smoked a single up the middle and then Brandon Crawford hit what appeared to be a two-run homer. Upon further review, it was a double and the runners were placed at second and third. That situation did not last, however, as Gillaspie smacked the second pitch he saw back through the box, scoring Pence and giving the Giants a two-run lead. A Joe Panik sac fly increased the San Francisco lead further, to 5-2. Gregor Blanco ended the inning on a ground out.

After Moore walked Dexter Fowler to lead off the sixth inning, he was perfect through the end of the eighth inning. The former Tampa Bay Ray ended up tossing eight innings of two-run ball, giving up two hits and two walks, while striking out ten Chicago batsmen. It was a truly Bumgarner-ian performance. Leaving the game with a 5-2 lead, the 27-year-old must have felt great.

Derek Law replaced Moore in the top of the ninth, and after coughing up a Kris Bryant single, Bruce Bochy came out out of the dugout and signaled for a lefty. The veteran Javier Lopez’s job was to get Anthony Rizzo out, but instead he walked the slugger – putting men on first and second. Sergio Romo was then summoned, but an unimpressed Ben Zobrist scored Bryant with a double, tightening the score to 5-3. Lefty Chris Coghlan was tapped to pinch hit for Addison Russell, and Bochy countered with Will Smith, who would end up facing another pinch hitter, Willson Contreras, since Coghlan was simply used as a gambit by Cubs skipper Joe Maddon. Of course, Bochy could have just had Romo face Coghlan, since the left-handed batter is only OPSing .627 against right-handed pitching – but then again I don’t have three World Series rings.

Naturally, Contreras hit a game-tying, two-run single. Jason Heyward then laid down a sorry excuse for a bunt, but was bailed out by the second error of the night by Crawford. Bochy lifted Smith in favor of Hunter Strickland to face Javier Baez. Unsurprisingly to anyone who has been paying attention this postseason, Baez hit a single up the middle which was enough to score the go-ahead run:

Ross ground into an inning-ending double play to finish off the inning with the Cubs leading 6-5. Aroldis Chapman came in to redeem himself for the mess he made the previous night. Thirteen pitches later, he had notched three more strikeouts, another save, and Chicago’s first postseason series win in 2016. Chicago was able to defeat the Giants despite a truly herculean effort from their starting pitcher, Matt Moore. The Giants disastrous bullpen – 32 blown saves in the regular season – was a fatal flaw, and it had manager Bruce Bochy overthinking in a tight spot. All the credit goes to the Chicago Cubs, though. Their young, talented squad hasn’t seemed to hit their stride yet. Whoever wins Game 5 of the other NLDS is in for a tough matchup as Javier Baez and the Cubs get three days to rest.


Follow Pete on Twitter @PeterWHodges

Featured image courtesy of The Associated Press.

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