Wrigley Field

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

Cubs NLCS rotation makes sense, even if it looks weird

The Cubs announced the rest of their rotation for the National League Championship Series during the first couple innings of Game 1 Saturday evening.

While Jose Quintana was dueling against Clayton Kershaw at Dodger Stadium, the Cubs announced Kyle Hendricks would pitch Game 3 and Jake Arrieta will go in Game 4 of the NLCS back at Wrigley Field Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively.

So the NLCS will line up like this:

Game 1: Quintana vs. Kershaw
Game 2: Jon Lester vs. Rich Hill
Game 3: Kyle Hendricks vs. Yu Darvish
Game 4: Jake Arrieta vs. Alex Wood

The Cubs' decision is a bit curious given Arrieta's turn should come after Lester. Hendricks started Game 5 and battled through four innings against the Washington Nationals.

Arrieta also lasted just four innings in his start Wednesday in Game 4 of the NLDS and he looked just a bit off after missing much of the last month with a hamstring issue. 

The move to bump Hendricks over Arrieta makes sense given teams are always trying to find ways to get their best pitchers on the mound as often as possible. It's just foreign to see the only Cy Young Award winner on the staff as the No. 4 starter.

But Tuesday will represent regular rest for Hendricks while Arrieta gets an extra day to give him more time to get back to the guy who went 7-2 with a 1.69 ERA in 11 starts in July and August.

Lester and Quintana are not on regular rest, however, as both pitched in relief in Games 4 and 5 Wednesday and Thursday. Lester tossed 55 pitches out of the bullpen Wednesday but then had Game 5 off to...sit back and relax.

A special bonus of the rotation is Cubs fans are guaranteed to see at least one more Arrieta start at Wrigley Field before he hits free agency this winter.

Swing and a mist: Anthony Rizzo perfectly describes what it's like to hit against Stephen Strasburg

Swing and a mist: Anthony Rizzo perfectly describes what it's like to hit against Stephen Strasburg

Anthony Rizzo's been the king of money quotes so far this postseason.

The face of the franchise can't get no respect, but he certainly has some for Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg.

The Washington co-ace absolutely shut down Rizzo and the Cubs offense in Game 4 Wednesday, striking out 12 batters in 7 shutout frames on a windy, wet, frigid night at Wrigley Field.

That ran Strasburg's 2017 NLDS totals to 22 strikeouts in 14 innings, allowing six hits with nary an earned run (both runs in Game 1 were unearned). He also became the third pitcher ever to rack up multiple 10-K appearances in the same Division Series:

That led to an epic response from Rizzo, when a reporter asked this:

"How hard is it to hit Strasburg's change when it's working like that?"

Rizzo paused for a second, collecting his thoughts.

"Probably like you going over to Sluggers and trying to hit," Rizzo smirked. "He throws that fastball and it rises and then that changeup just falls off the planet. It's basically anybody who goes to a batting cage and doesn't know how to hit, that's what it feels like."

Mic. Drop.

Here's how good Strasburg was Wednesday night (courtesy of Baseball Savant):

He generated 22 swings and misses on 106 pitches. Of those, 15 swings and misses came on the 32 changeups he threw.

Strasburg averaged 95.4 mph with his four-seam fastball on the evening, racking up 13 called strikes with that pitch, forcing the Cubs to be aggressive on it.

By comparison, his changeup was coming in at 88.6 mph on average and like Rizzo said, fell off the face of the Earth.

So basically this was Strasburg on a night where gametime temperatures never climbed above 60 degrees and the wind was howling in on a consistent basis:

In the span of just a couple hours, Strasburg went from being called "soft" and having his manhood questioned by Nationals fans in DC to entering the conversation as another Mr. October. 

Strasburg may only have a 1-2 record in his three career postseason starts, but he's surrendered just one earned run in 19 innings (0.47 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and a 0.95 WHIP.

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.