Cubs

Why Cubs' bullpen struggles could damage their chances of rallying in the NLCS

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USA TODAY

Why Cubs' bullpen struggles could damage their chances of rallying in the NLCS

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.”

[MORE CUBS-DODGERS: Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3]

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.”

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Where do Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis?

In the latest CubsTalk Podcast, Kelly Crull and David Kaplan look ahead to Thanksgiving and discuss the official coaching hires for the Cubs.

They also talk about where the Cubs go from here with Jake Arrieta and Wade Davis, whether Alex Cobb could factor into the rotation plans and Kap goes off on the 11:30 a.m. Opening Day start time.

Check out the entire podcast here: