Mold news and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Nationals Game 4

Mold news and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Nationals Game 4


Ron Swanson couldn't follow in Bill Murray's footsteps.

Chicago native and noted Cubs fan Nick Offerman sang the Seventh Inning Stretch with actress Elisabeth Moss, but the "Parks and Rec" fan favorite didn't generate the same buzz with the Cubs' bats.

Stephen Strasburg was just too damn good Wednesday night as he and the Nationals got the last laugh on the whole "mold" joke, making the Cubs look more like the team that was feeling "under the weather" on the losing end of a 5-0 Game 4 affair.

Mold News

However you want to slice it, the whole "mold" storyline was thrown out the window...oh, about the third inning or so.

Strasburg demanded the ball in Game 4 and went out and "put his balls on the line," throwing an absolute gem of a game. He struck out the side in both the third and fourth innings, tallying 12 Ks in 7 innings and generating a ton of swings and misses on his wicked changeup:

This was an opportunity for a statement game from Strasburg and he answered the call, silencing any Nationals fans who questioned his toughness.

His 12 strikeouts broke his own Nationals postseason record that he set in Game 1 when he struck out 10 Cubs hitters. So that makes 22 Ks for Strasburg — against only six hits — in 14 innings in the series. Talk about dominance.

Guess he truly was feeling better, so whatever antibiotics he was on certainly did the trick.

Weather, man

Who knows what would've happened in Tuesday's game had it not been rained out, but the only thing we can say for certain: Strasburg was not going to be the starting pitcher Tuesday under any circumstance.

Maybe Tanner Roark would've had just as neutralizing of an effect on Cubs' bats, but yeah, it doesn't seem too likely he would've been as dominant as Strasburg was Wednesday afternoon/evening.

And now the Cubs have to go back to D.C. without the benefit of a travel day or day off to rest and try to come out on the positive end of a winner-take-all Game 5 with a raucous Washington crowd.

Seems pretty clear the weather gave the Nats at least a partial advantage, though Cubs fans can't really complain about rain affecting the momentum of a contest after Game 7 last year, right? Right?

Don't forget about Trea

Trea Turner finally got on base and immediately made it hurt for the Cubs.

The young shortstop lined a one-out double to the left-field corner off Jake Arrieta in the third inning and later came around to score the only run Arrieta gave up in the game. Turner started the NLDS 0-for-13 before that double. 

It's not like the Nationals lit the world on fire offensively (they finished with only four hits), but they took advantage of nine walks and had just one big swing of the bat.

Where is the defense?

The Cubs' defense once again failed the Cubs, as the only run of the game through seven innings was unearned by virtue of Addison Russell's bobble on Ryan Zimmerman's chopper. (Yes, Zimmerman once again took advantage of the Cubs' shoddy fielding at Wrigley.)

It's hard to blame Russell too much, given he was charging hard on a slick infield and it would've been a rather tough play either way.

But that makes five errors for the Cubs in the two games at Wrigley Field and once again called into question: Where is that elite defense the team rode to a championship in 2016?

All hands on deck

Arrieta was forced out of the game after only four innings and Joe Maddon's first choice out of the bullpen was...Jon Lester?

Yep, the veteran southpaw came on to throw 3.2 innings as Maddon went full Game 7 mode, bypassing the likes of Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing and John Lackey for those middle innings.

Lester performed brilliantly (even picking a guy off first base!) before departing after a two-out single to Daniel Murphy, giving way to Carl Edwards Jr. The Cubs young setup man walked the first two batters he faced, loading the bases and forcing Maddon to bring in Wade Davis.

That's when disaster struck. Davis served up a backbreaking grand slam to Michael A. Taylor, who hit one into the teeth of 16 mph winds, dropping one into the right-field basket and ensuring there would be another day to this series. It was the first homer Davis has surrendered in 25 postseason outings spanning 29.1 innings.

Maddon clearly was going all-out to win Game 4, not wanting to go back to D.C. Thursday and face a combination of Gio Gonzalez, Max Scherzer and a rested Nats bullpen on their home turf in a winner-take-all game. The thinking here makes sense: win Game 4 and there is no Game 5.

The problem is, that's exactly what Maddon and Co. will have to do and now Lester probably won't be available out of the 'pen for a Game 5 after throwing 55 pitches Wednesday.

Cubs troll Nationals and laugh off all the Stephen Strasburg drama

Cubs troll Nationals and laugh off all the Stephen Strasburg drama

Did Stephen Strasburg just get guilt-tripped into starting an elimination game? Were the Washington Nationals Twitter-shamed after taking so much heat for the decision to stick with Tanner Roark after Tuesday night’s rainout? Are any of your pitchers under the weather?

“Everybody is, actually,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Theoretically, everybody’s under the weather.”

The Cubs received a Game 4 lineup card with Strasburg’s name on it late Wednesday morning, and no one could think the Nationals were trying to conduct psychological warfare.

Strasburg and super-agent Scott Boras never would have signed off on it — allowing a $175 million pitcher’s reputation to get dented like this — and now a National League Division Series could leave a black eye for the entire organization in Washington.

This was a self-inflicted wound, manager Dusty Baker trying to cover for Strasburg, confusing his bullpen days and blaming it on the temperature change, hotel air-conditioning units and how: “It’s just this time of the year for mold around Chicago.”

“Being an allergy sufferer myself, I know it’s uncomfortable sometimes,” Maddon said. “I didn’t even know that was the issue why he was not going to pitch, so whatever they choose, that’s fine. That’s their prerogative. We just have to be ready. And we’ll be ready.”

While Washington dealt with the fallout from RainoutGate on Tuesday night, Maddon took his wife, Jaye, to see Bill Murray perform with classical musicians at the Chicago Symphony Center and went to dinner at Velvet Taco in the Gold Coast neighborhood, knowing Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta wanted to throw the first pitch at 3:08 p.m. (weather permitting).

“Honestly, it doesn’t bother me,” Maddon said. “I mean that sincerely, because it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter. It comes down to playing the game. Our guys will be ready to play.

“We feel really strongly about Jake today, also, and this whole series has been really well-pitched. I’ve said it: Their pitching staff, to me, their starters, are as good as anybody’s. All five of them. Roark’s no walk in the park, Strasburg, of course not, Gio (Gonzalez). You saw what (Max) Scherzer did with a bad leg the other day.

“Whatever they choose to do, that’s fine. We just have to go out there and play. It’s about us. It’s about Jake pitching Jake’s kind of a game. And if he does that, we’ll be in good shape.”

Strasburg became a lightning rod within the industry for the way the Nationals shut him down in September 2012, a controversial move that could be interpreted as a forward-thinking approach with a Tommy John survivor or a sign of entitlement/arrogance, expecting to be in the playoffs year after year after year.

Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a Game 1 loss last week at Nationals Park, the victim of two unearned runs. After this switcheroo, the Cubs subbed in Jason Heyward (15-for-37 in his career vs. Strasburg) for Kyle Schwarber and moved Ben Zobrist from right to left field, hoping to avoid a return flight to Washington and move on to the Los Angeles Dodgers and a third consecutive trip to the NL Championship Series.

“I have no idea what’s going on or how bad Strasburg felt,” Maddon said. “But, again, it doesn’t matter. For me, none of that matters. It’s Jon Jay, Kris Bryant, (Anthony) Rizzo, etc., playing our game today, and Jake pitching his, and that’s all that really matters. Control what you can control. That’s probably the best way to go about your business.”

Stephen Strasburg starting for Nationals, here's the Cubs' Game 4 lineup

Stephen Strasburg starting for Nationals, here's the Cubs' Game 4 lineup

It’s official: Stephen Strasburg is starting Game 4.

A win away from advancing to their third straight NLCS, the Cubs put their lineup out shortly after 10 a.m., just about five hours before the scheduled start time of 3:08 p.m. at Wrigley Field.

But then came the reports that the Washington Nationals could be pulling a fast one, swapping out scheduled starter Tanner Roark — who was supposed to pitch Tuesday — in favor of Strasburg, the elite arm who mostly dominated the Cubs in Game 1 of this series and is now on regular rest thanks to Tuesday’s rainout.

The Nationals made the move official right before noon, forcing the Cubs to alter their lineup.

Here’s what it looks like now:

1. Jon Jay, CF
2. Kris Bryant, 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo, 1B
4. Willson Contreras, C
5. Ben Zobrist, LF
6. Addison Russell, SS
7. Jason Heyward, RF
8. Javy Baez, 2B
9. Jake Arrieta, P

Only three Cubs got hits off Strasburg in Game 1. Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of that game and wound up striking out 10 batters. Bryant and Rizzo had back-to-back hits to score the game’s first run, and Russell singled in Strasburg’s final inning of work.

Kyle Schwarber was initially announced as a member of Game 4’s starting nine, but he’s out of the lineup against Strasburg. Despite that defensive disaster in left field in Game 3, he turned in a .457 slugging percentage against right-handed pitching during the regular season. But Maddon is opting for Heyward instead with some less-than-ideal field conditions at the Friendly Confines. Heyward has also put up strong numbers in his career against Strasburg, with a slash line of .405/.463/.595 in 37 at-bats. Zobrist, who led off and went hitless against Strasburg in Game 1, is batting fifth, the same place he was when he broke up Max Scherzer’s no-hit bid in game 3 on Monday.

How good Arrieta will be is still a bit of a mystery given his hamstring issues at season's end. How good Scherzer was could help ease concerns, as the Nationals' ace had his own, much more recent hamstring "tweak" and still managed to be nearly unhittable in Game 3. Arrieta hasn't pitched since a brief three-inning outing against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 26 and logged just 10.1 innings of work during the month of September while bothered by the injury.

Of particular interest will be how Arrieta handles the Nationals on the base paths. You'll remember that June start in Washington, a 6-1 loss for the Cubs, when the Nationals stole seven bases — including four alone by shortstop Trea Turner — prompting critical postgame comments from Miguel Montero, who was off the team the following day. Turner hasn't done much of anything in this series, 0-for-12 heading into Game 4, but should he get on base, he could create some headaches for Arrieta.

And, to throw one more wrinkle into this whole thing, it’s possible that Scherzer, who started Game 3 two days ago and is dealing with injury issues, could be available to pitch out of the bullpen with his team’s season on the line.

Here’s what the Nationals’ lineup looks like:

1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Jayson Werth, LF
3. Bryce Harper, RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman, 1B
5. Daniel Murphy, 2B
6. Anthony Rendon, 3B
7. Matt Wieters, C
8. Michael Taylor, CF
9. Stephen Strasburg, P

Much like he did Tuesday, Dusty Baker mixed up his batting order a bit while keeping the same starting eight position players. Werth gets moved up to the No. 2 spot, while Harper, Zimmerman, Murphy and Rendon get bumped down, Rendon is moved down from third to sixth. That’s the batting order the Nationals had for their most productive portion of the season prior to Harper’s injury.

The Nationals have had a ton of trouble hitting Cubs pitching in this series, getting just one earned run and six hits off the three starters. They're just 11-for-91 in the first three games of this series, and three players — Zimmerman, Harper and Taylor — account for seven of those hits. Zimmerman and Taylor are the only players with NLDS batting averages above .200.

Harper, Murphy and Rendon have had success against Arrieta during their careers, with a combined 14 hits in 53 plate appearances. Murphy, Werth and Adam Lind are the three Nationals with home runs against Arrieta.

The whole dynamic of this series has changed with the Strasburg-related drama Wednesday morning.

Buckle up for Game 4.