Cubs

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.

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

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USA TODAY

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, MLB.com'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

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AP

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.