Cubs

John Lackey stole a base for the first time ever and it was glorious

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USA TODAY

John Lackey stole a base for the first time ever and it was glorious

John Lackey: Speed demon?

After 15 years in the big leagues, 440 appearances and more than 2,800 innings, the 38-year-old Lackey is still setting career firsts.

After singling with two outs off Homer Bailey in the fourth inning of the Cubs' 7-6 win Wednesday night, Bailey stopped paying attention to Lackey and the veteran took off for second.

Here's the full play, with an absolutely epic and perfectly-crafted "Ricky Bobby" reference from the MLB Twitterers:

Hey, if you ain't first, you're last.

"When I got the hit, [Cubs first base coach Brandon Hyde] was like 'you wanna steal a base?' And I'm like 'heck no, I'm tired,'" Lackey said. "But then after the first pitch, nobody was really watching me and it looked like it was pretty easy, so I just went ahead and went."

Lackey later got picked off second base when he apparently forgot what he was doing and took off toward third on the full-count pitch to Ben Zobrist. Zobrist walked and Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart fired to second.

Lackey was initially called safe but a replay proved he was out.

"I made two bets — one worked, one didn't," Lackey quipped. 

Lackey's good buddy Jon Lester stole his first career base earlier in the season and the two may or may not have a wager on it.

"That's none of your business," Lackey said.

On the mound, Lackey had another opportunity to do something else he's never done before — win six straight starts. After loading the bases with no outs in the first inning, he let up only one run thanks to Kyle Schwarber gunning another guy down at the plate. 

Lackey loaded the bases again in the second inning, but got out of that jam, too and wound up tossing six innings with just the solo tally surrendered. He departed with a 6-1 lead, but the Cubs bullpen couldn't hold on, thus ending his own personal winning streak.

Before the game, Joe Maddon was talking about how Lackey may not decide to retire at the end of the year if he finishes strongly. When asked about it after the game, Lackey had his answer ready:

"I didn't say anything about retiring." he said. "Just playing baseball. Taking it one start at a time and see what happens. That'll be a family decision at the end of the year."

One start at a time? More like one stolen base at a time, right?

Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

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USA TODAY

Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking more and more like the 2016 Cubs.

But even the team that will live forever in baseball history didn't go up 3-0 on any opponent last fall.

The Dodgers continued to outplay the Cubs in every single facet of the game Tuesday night, stunning the Wrigley Field faithful and defending champs with a 6-1 victory.

In other words:

Deja vu?

At this point, it would be impossible to ignore the parallels to 2015.

The Cubs are now one game away from getting swept out of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Just like when they ran into the New York Mets' power pitching two years ago.

The Dodgers have run out Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Yu Darvish to mystify the Cubs while Alex Wood — who led baseball in winning percentage with a 16-3 record in the regular season — awaits for Game 4 Wednesday.

The Cubs offense has disappeared and they're getting upstaged by a team that led MLB with 104 wins.

What is it with these Taylors?

Dude, guys named Taylor absolutely kill the Cubs now, apparently.

After Michael A. Taylor nearly singlehandedly willed the Nationals past the Cubs in the NLDS, Chris Taylor is doing much the same thing with these Dodgers.

Chris Taylor wasn't a part of this series last fall and is making up for lost time this week. He has a run in every game of the series to go along with five hits, including a solo homer in Game 1 and a homer and an RBI triple in Game 3 Tuesday night.

Taylor came out of nowhere this year, bursting onto the scene with an .850 OPS, 21 homers, 17 stolen bases and 85 runs and he's been a difference-maker in this series.

All the right moves

Dave Roberts has pushed all the right buttons so far in this series.

After utilizing his bullpen in a perfect fashion the first two games in LA, Roberts then inserted veteran Andre Ethier and young centerfielder Joc Pederson into the lineup against right-handed Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier homered on the first pitch he saw Tuesday night, silencing the 41,871 fans at Wrigley Field after they just watched Kyle Schwarber stake their team to a 1-0 lead just a few minutes before.

Pederson led the fifth inning off with a double and came around to score the Dodgers' third run on Taylor's triple. Pederson's presence also pushed Taylor to shortstop, and we already know how that one worked out for Roberts and Co.

Roberts even, inexplicably, pulled back pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson and let Yu Darvish hit with the bases loaded and two outs in a tight ballgame in the top of the sixth and then watched as the pitcher with four career hits and one career walk stared at four straight balls from Carl Edwards Jr. to force in a run.

It's been quite a long time since something like that happened:

Walking the walk

To piggy-back off that Darvish base on balls, Cubs relievers have set a new record for postseason futility:

The number 23 holds a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, but that is not the number they want to see here.

The Cubs bullpen that was among the game's best in the first half has flipped the script the last few months, unable to find any stability.

Remember, the Cubs were already looking pretty solid before they went out and added Justin Wilson at the trade deadline. To that point, Wilson had been one of the top relievers in baseball and there was a lot of talk about how great he'd look in the team's October 'pen.

Wilson isn't even active for this NLCS, though it's not like it mattered much.

(Not) talking the talk

The Cubs absolutely needed Bryzzo to step up if they were going to get back to the World Series for the second straight year.

But Bryant had just two harmless singles in Game 3 while Rizzo added a single in four trips to the plate. That hit broke an 0-for-16 stretch from Rizzo since he had that epic "Respect Me!" rant in Game 3 of the NLDS. 

But, it's not like anybody else is hitting much either.

Kyle Schwarber's home run in the first inning was the Cubs' only offense and they are now 0-4 this postseason when hitting a homer in a game. That's also the third straight game in which the Cubs jumped the Dodgers with an early homer and yet find themselves one game away from starting their winter earlier than desired.

Part of the Cubs' inability to add on is their complete befuddlement by the LA bullpen, setting a new record by going 0-for-26 against Dodger relievers to start the series:

All told, the Cubs are in a "sub-optimal" position right now, to borrow a phrase from Maddon.

But hey, there was always last year.

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

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USA TODAY

Is Joe Maddon covering for Wade Davis? Where do Cubs go from here?

Is Cubs manager Joe Maddon taking the heat and covering for Wade Davis while the All-Star closer deals with atypical soreness in his right arm?

“No, no,” Maddon said Tuesday when asked if Davis felt anything unusual that lingered into the National League Championship Series after last week’s all-out effort eliminated the Washington Nationals from the divisional round.

The Los Angeles Dodgers took a 2-0 lead in this best-of-seven bullpen battle without Davis throwing a single pitch, the backlash from Cubs fans, Twitter and the national media again putting Maddon on the defensive, the year after he got second-guessed for pushing Aroldis Chapman so hard during the World Series.

This NLCS truly is a bizarro world, with Maddon comparing the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax, getting so little benefit of the doubt – the Cubs really did beat the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 – and working the baseball term “dry-hump” into one answer during Monday’s Wrigley Field press conference.

Maddon said he would have to check first with Davis – who would have almost five full days in between relief appearances – if the Cubs need a four- or five-out save in Game 3.

“Nevertheless, I always check,” Maddon said. “I can’t just assume that.”

Maddon’s Game 2 calculus on Sunday night at Dodger Stadium – sticking with lefty reliever Brian Duensing in a 1-1 game to start the ninth inning and then bringing in John Lackey to serve up the walk-off, three-run homer to Justin Turner – made you wonder if Davis was still dragging after ending Washington’s season and traveling on the overnight cross-country flight that got diverted to New Mexico for about five hours when Jose Quintana’s wife experienced a panic attack.

“I think he just got mentally exhausted,” Maddon said. “Physically, 44 pitches, he hasn’t done that in a while. But also the seven outs and what it meant and the plane ride itself, sitting on the tarmac, there was a lot of non-rest going on right there, so it was harder to recover.

“So, no, he was fine for the last game, but we set up the parameters before the game.”

Maddon is sticking with his story, that he would only deploy Davis in a save situation and not use him for one out against Turner (1.115 career postseason OPS) or have him totally warm up without the guarantee of getting him into the game.

“To put Wade in that position would be wrong on my part,” Maddon said. “We had already talked about the circumstances, so my loyalty there lies with Wade, or my decision-making lies with Wade, nobody else.

“That was a heavy day for him (in Washington). Going into the last game in L.A., like I talked about, we talked about one inning only, and not to get up and not put him in the game.

“If you get him up and sit him down, then you have no idea what it’s going to look like. My responsibility is to him, also, and to the players, so I told him that before the game, so I had to stick with our decision.”

Before finalizing the Jorge Soler trade at the winter meetings, the Kansas City Royals took the unusual step of allowing the Cubs to meet with Davis at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley and go through a physical exam. The Cubs wanted reassurances after Davis spent parts of last season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain.

The Cubs wondered if “dry-humping” had contributed to those injuries, and tried to stay conservative with Davis during his free-agent year, watching him convert his first 32 save chances and using him for three-plus outs only three times during the regular season, all in mid-to-late September.

“If you look at the numbers this year, I thought going into the playoffs his usage has been really good,” Maddon said. “Minimal, in a sense. We didn’t get him up hardly at all where we didn’t utilize him.

“He just wasn’t set up for it the other day. So honestly, I think he’s in really good shape right now, actually. I don’t think he could have gone those seven outs the other day if he had been overly dried up during the course of the season. He felt good. But that was above and beyond, and that wasn’t part of the game plan the other night.”