If the Cubs hope to comeback and reach a second straight World Series, they won’t only have to overcome a lackluster offense. The bullpen has been equally unreliable for much of the postseason.
The team’s rotten relief surfaced yet again on Tuesday night when reliever Carl Edwards Jr. issued a bases-loaded walk to counterpart Yu Darvish. It’s one of 23 walks issued by Cubs relievers during the 2017 postseason, the most ever by any team through its first eight playoff games.
Edwards’ sixth-inning, run-scoring walk of Darvish was one of many Cubs miscues in a 6-1 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. But the moment was squarely in the spotlight as it opened the floodgates, brought out the boo birds and left more questions than answers for the Cubs, who now trail the series 3-0.
“I’m still confident,” Edwards said about his team’s chances. “There’s no need to change it. I wouldn’t sit here and say ‘We’re going to lose.’ … We’re still confident. We’re ready. Like I said, it’s a very fun sport and the tables can turn at any time.”
The Cubs need to flip those tables over pretty quickly if they want to repeat. Fixing an offense that has produced 2.75 runs per game in the playoffs is chief among the Cubs’ concerns.
But even if the Cubs offense puts on a hitting clinic, it’s October and tight games are inevitable. With that in mind they’ll also need more dependability from a group of relievers who has a 6.35 ERA and 23 walks against 24 strikeouts in 28 1/3 playoff innings.
Walks were a constant issue for the Cubs bullpen in the regular season when they averaged 4.25 per nine innings. But that number has increased 7.62 in the playoffs.
The problem surfaced at the wrong time Tuesday as manager Joe Maddon pulled Kyle Hendricks for Edwards with two on and no outs in the sixth and the Cubs trailing 3-1. Edwards sandwiched a pair of outs around a walk to Austin Barnes that loaded the bases. Joc Pederson’s flew out for the second out, which appeared as if it would bring pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson to the plate. But the Dodgers stuck with Darvish and it worked as Edwards threw four straight balls to bring in a run.
Darvish — who only walked once before in 39 career plate appearances — became the first pitcher to walk with the bases loaded in the postseason since Philadelphia’s Larry Christenson in Game 3 of the 1977 NLCS against the Dodgers.
Edwards recovered to strike out Chris Taylor, but walked off the mound to a chorus of boos.
“I thought C.J. was the right man,” Maddon said. “It's just the walk there, the walk, two walks really hurt us. Otherwise, he didn't give anything up.”
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It was another lowlight for a ‘pen that has seen John Lackey surrender Justin Turner’s three-run, game-winning homer on Sunday, Wade Davis’ slip up against Michael Taylor in the NLDS and countless other struggles. Mike Montgomery allowed two runs (one earned) late Tuesday to raise his postseason ERA to 23.18.
The team’s performance is in direct contrast with the lights out Dodgers bullpen. Los Angeles relievers have a 1.21 ERA with 23 strikeouts and only two walks in 22 1/3 innings.
The Cubs will have to take on some of their counterparts’ qualities in order to pull off an improbable rally. But Edwards said he and his teammates aren’t shaken.
“They’ve just been very, very good at their jobs,” Edwards said. “It’s not frustrating at all. It’s just making pitches and I didn’t, but it was just today.
“Come back tomorrow and win. There’s more in us to keep striving (for). The thing is, we won’t give up. I don’t care what happens.”