Tanner Roark

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.”

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

IVs and Hawaiian dudes: Stephen Strasburg is ready to pitch Game 4 for Nationals

The latest twist in the Nats’ version of “Who’s On First” simply boils down to Stephen Strasburg feeling better on Wednesday.

The last-minute decision to start Strasburg in Game 4 of the National League Division Series has nothing to do with peer pressure from his teammates or the media. The All-Star pitcher’s flu-like symptoms improved enough overnight for him to inform the team he’s ready to go.

At least that’s the Nationals’ version in a saga that has seen the All-Star pitcher’s courage questioned and the team’s ability to put out a clear and concise message mocked for an entire news cycle.

Less than 24 hours after manager Dusty Baker said Tanner Roark would start the potential elimination game, the Nationals announced that a suddenly healthy Strasburg would go instead. The team’s message was further muddled early Wednesday when Nats general manager Mike Rizzo reaffirmed that Roark would start on a DC radio station.

In the end, all that matters to the Nats after this distracting much-ado-about-nothing cycle is that Strasburg will face the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“Many statements that have been made about this subject have been inaccurate,” Rizzo said. “If you're alluding to the fact that -- did the media pressure him into starting this? I don't think Stephen Strasburg cares about what the media thinks about him or says about him. He wanted the ball in this game because he wants to win this game and he thinks he's our best option. And he's an ultra-competitor and he feels this gives us a chance to win.”

If you’re all confused by this you’re not alone.

Though Cubs manager Joe Maddon had an inkling that Strasburg would start, Baker said Wednesday afternoon that when he left Wrigley on Tuesday night he was under the impression Roark was his guy.

The decision to stick with Roark after Tuesday’s rainout stunned the baseball world as everyone figured the Nationals would take advantage of the weather to use Strasburg, who took a no-hitter into the sixth inning in Game 1 of the series. When they stayed with Roark because Strasburg -- who threw a bullpen Monday and played catch on Tuesday -- was ill, Baker, Rizzo and the pitcher were all questioned heavily.

But Strasburg apparently responded well enough to overnight treatment, including IVs, to call pitching coach Mike Maddux on Wednesday and tell him he wanted to pitch. Maddux said the coaching staff would convene once they arrived at Wrigley.

Two hours later, word leaked out Strasburg would pitch adding another layer of confusion. Much to his surprise, Baker said Strasburg told him he wants the ball.

“I was planning on Tanner pitching,” Baker said. “Things are subject to change and … maybe the rain helped him and helped us, like I hoped that it would. I said my prayers and said, ‘Hey, man, let the rain try to help us.’

“Hawaiian buddies of mine … were saying, ‘Hey, sometimes, that's a blessing from the sky.’ They call it mana. I believe in that.”

Baker believes Strasburg is ready for a normal start. The turn comes on regular rest after Strasburg pitched Game 1 on Friday in Washington. Strasburg pitched 5 2/3 no-hit innings in the opener but was undone when the Cubs took advantage of an Anthony Rendon error in the sixth inning and went on to a 3-0 win. Strasburg allowed two unearned runs and three hits while striking out 10 and walking one in seven innings.

Baker reiterated Rizzo’s stance that Strasburg wasn’t pressured into the decision by the team, its players or the media.

“We didn't put that pressure on him, and I don't think that he would succumb to the pressure from the public or the media or anybody,” Baker said. “You know, he's a grown man. He made that decision on his own and he wanted to pitch, and he was very adamant about he wanted to pitch and how much better he was feeling.”