Bill Murray and the 5 biggest keys to the Cubs' thrilling Game 3 victory over Nationals

Bill Murray and the 5 biggest keys to the Cubs' thrilling Game 3 victory over Nationals

The Cubs have the script for October 2017 and they intend to follow it: Get no-hit for the first 5-6 innings, then storm back and take down the Nationals' top pitchers.


That's exactly what the Cubs did in their 2-1 Game 3 victory over the Nationals, putting Bryce Harper and Co. on the ropes with Game 4 set for Tuesday night.

Here are the 5 biggest keys to the game:

Bill Murray: Hype Man

Bill Murray sang the 7th Inning Stretch and like the typical showman he is, he got the 42,445 fans in attendance all kinds of riled up. In classic Harry Caray fashion, he told the Cubs to get some runs.

And they did.

The Cubs responded to Murray's call in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist broke up Max Scherzer's no-hitter with one out, lining the right-hander's 98th pitch off the Under Armour door in left-center.

That was it for Scherzer, as Dusty Baker brought in left-hander Sammy Solis to face Kyle Schwarber.

Joe Maddon countered with Albert Almora Jr. who laced the sixth pitch of his at-bat past a diving Trea Turner, tying the game and delivering an epic reaction:

That was Almora's first postseason hit in 15 tries and it couldn't have come at a bigger time for the 2017 Cubs.

The next inning, Anthony Rizzo played hero on a two-out bloop single, driving in Leonys Martin with the game-winning run.

Defense wins championships...

Maddon opted to get another left-handed bat in the lineup against Scherzer, who is as wicked as they come against right-handers. Which meant Javy Baez was on the bench, instead of starting his 20th straight Cubs postseason game at second base.

That move almost came back to haunt the World-Series-winning manager, as Ben Zobrist dropped Bryce Harper's groundball in the third inning, putting runners at first and third with two outs for NL MVP candidate Anthony Rendon. Rendon smoked a 99.1 mph liner to the warning track in right-center, but Jason Heyward was able to fight through the sun and make the running catch.

In the fourth, after Jayson Werth walked, Matt Wieters drove one to a similar spot as Rendon in right-center, but this time it was Jon Jay who made the running grab, covering a long distance and lunging at the last second for the grab.

Zobrist later atoned for his defensive miscue with a diving stop to get Trea Turner to lead off the eighth inning.

...until it doesn't

Kyle Schwarber - in the lineup for his offense against Scherzer - became the goat as Monday afternoon turned into evening. 

First he dropped Daniel Murphy's tailing flyball in the sixth inning, then Schwarber kicked it - literally - and Murphy wound up on third base with two outs. 

That led Maddon out of the dugout to remove Jose Quintana, who was working on a two-hitter and had just set down six Nationals in a row. Pedro Strop came in and immediately served up a two-out RBI double to the same warning track in right center where Jay and Heyward made their spectacular catches.

Just like that, it's 1-0 Nationals with their ace on the mound, showing no signs of that hamstring injury and had not yet given up a hit at that time.

The Cubs' defense may have been the best in baseball history in 2016, but it was very nearly their Achilles' heel in Game 3 of the NLDS, committing four errors.

About that hammy...

So...Scherzer's hamstring looked to be OK, eh??

Scherzer "tweaked" his hamstring eight days before his Game 3 start and the injury forced him out of Games 1 and 2 of this best-of-five series. He had to push his pre-start bullpen back several days, but wound up throwing on Saturday with no issues.

Scherzer met with the media Sunday afternoon and insisted he was good to go 100 pitches if need be.

He then went out and silenced the doubters, taking a no-hitter through 6.1 innings before Zobrist drilled a double off the wall in left field.

CJ's redemption

Carl Edwards Jr. was saddled with the loss Saturday as he became just another of the poor souls tasked with trying to get Bryce Harper out and instead becomes the victim of a tape-measure shot.

But Edwards responded by carving through the heart of the Nationals order Monday night, including a strikeout of Harper:

That kept the game tied 1-1, giving Anthony Rizzo a chance to play the hero.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?


Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant,'s Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers


Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.