MLB Playoffs: Cubs storm past Giants in 9th inning to reach NLCS

MLB Playoffs: Cubs storm past Giants in 9th inning to reach NLCS

SAN FRANCISCO -- Kris Bryant tossed his glove high in the air, Jake Arrieta jumped over the dugout railing and the rest of the Chicago Cubs rushed to join the celebration.

Pure revelry and a sigh of relief, all at once.

World Series favorites since opening day, the Cubs took another step in their championship chase Tuesday night by rallying for four runs in the ninth inning of Game 4 to beat San Francisco 6-5 and win their NL Division Series.

"You could see it coming. You could see little signs. We've done it before and the guys, we don't quit," Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler said. "It's a little more special doing it here. They for sure were thinking that they won it. But we play 27 outs and we don't give up until we win."

Javier Baez's tiebreaking single capped the comeback against a beleaguered bullpen that sabotaged the Giants one last time.

The team with the best record in the majors this year will open the NL Championship Series at Wrigley Field on Saturday against the Los Angeles Dodgers or Washington Nationals. That matchup is tied 2-all heading into the deciding Game 5 on Thursday.

"I've seen it so many times from this group. It's a big part of our philosophy," manager Joe Maddon said.

Seeking their first World Series title since 1908, the Cubs will get a few days of rest before opening the NLCS. Chicago was swept by the New York Mets in a four-game NLCS last year (see full recap).

Utley delivers late to help Dodgers force Game 5
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw left with a lead in the seventh inning and the bases loaded. After the bullpen faltered, veterans Chase Utley and Andre Ethier rescued the Dodgers.

Utley singled home the tiebreaking run with two outs in the eighth, and Los Angeles avoided elimination Tuesday with a 6-5 victory over the Washington Nationals that forced a deciding Game 5 in their NL playoff.

Kenley Jansen worked the ninth for a save, one day after giving up four late runs during Los Angeles' loss in Game 3.

"I got out there and focused and fought," he said.

Game 5 is Thursday in Washington, with 20-game winner Max Scherzer set to pitch for the Nationals.

"Man, this is going to be a heck of a ballgame," Scherzer said. "The effort from both sides over the first four games has been incredible. Great pitching, great hitting, defense, everything."

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he will use left-hander Rich Hill and rookie Julio Urias, but did not announce which one will start.

"If anyone gives up on this team, they haven't seen us play a whole lot this year," Roberts said, "and it starts with what Clayton did -- short rest and leaving it all out there. Everyone fed off that" (see full recap).

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

AP Images

Jake Arrieta delights crowd, breaks bats

CLEARWATER, Fla. – Spectrum Field was sold out, filled with fans clad in green and smeared with sunblock for a game against the Atlanta Braves on a festive St. Paddy’s Day.
But the main event Saturday took place several hundred yards away at the minor-league complex, two hours before the big-league game even began.
Five days after signing a three-year, $75 million contract with the Phillies, Jake Arrieta climbed atop a mound and threw a 31-pitch (two-inning) simulated game. Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Logan Moore and Andrew Pullin were the hitters. Andrew Knapp was the catcher. Players, coaches, minor-league instructors and manager Gabe Kapler all peeked in. Dozens of fans hugged the chain-link fence to get a look at the newest Phillie. They applauded when Arrieta took the mound and again when he finished.
“It was great,” the 32-year-old pitcher said moments after the workout ended. “There’s a lot of people out here. A lot of people are excited for the Phillies in 2018. We’ve got a lot of good things going on here. A lot of guys are healthy and competing, there’s a lot of youth. It’s a really fun time to be in this organization.”
Arrieta said he felt “really good physically,” not a surprise because he came into camp in terrific shape and had gotten to over 60 pitches in bullpen sessions back home in Austin, Texas. He threw all his pitches, including a couple of knee-buckling curveballs. He broke two of Alfaro’s bats, one with a sinker, one with a cutter.
“My goal was to throw everything in the arsenal for strikes and throw my off-speed pitches in and out of the zone where I could get some chases,” Arrieta said.
Arrieta did allow some contact, mostly ground balls.
Arrieta won the 2015 NL Cy Young Award with the Cubs. He won 22 games and had a 1.77 ERA that season.
A deceptive delivery is one of Arrieta’s strengths. He throws across his body and that crossfire action makes it difficult for a hitter to pick up the ball.
“It’s extremely deceptive,” Kingery said. “Every pitch is extremely deceptive. That’s what hit me. His curveball looks like it’s coming at your head then it drops.”
Arrieta is still hoping to be ready for the first week of the regular season, but the Phillies have not formulated a firm game plan. One thing is certain: They won’t rush him. They want him for the long haul. They could hold him back 10 days or so, allowing him to build more arm strength, and he’d still make 30 starts.
Arrieta expects to throw a bullpen session in the next day or two and try to get up around 60 pitches in his next outing. That could be in a minor-league game or in another simulated game.
“As long as we continue to get my pitch count up, I think I’ll be fine going into the season,” he said.

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

AP Images

Alex Cobb? Matt Klentak discusses replacing Jerad Eickhoff

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Phillies signed free-agent right-hander Jake Arrieta earlier this week.

That's probably going to be the extent of their pitching additions for now.

Jerad Eickhoff is out until at least May with a strained right lat muscle and that creates a sizable hole in the Phillies rotation.

The hole is likely to be filled internally, according to general manager Matt Klentak. The team is not likely to make a run at Alex Cobb, who remains on the free-agent market.

"I doubt it," Klentak said when asked if he would look outside the organization to fill Eickhoff's spot. "I don't think we have to. I think a lot of our guys have shown very well in camp. They have gotten their pitch counts up, they're getting to the point of being fully stretched out.

"More than anything, I think we're going to have some tough decisions on figuring out who is in the rotation, who is in the bullpen, who goes into the Triple-A rotation, who goes into the Double-A rotation. We've got a lot of tough decisions to make on that front, but I don't think we're in a position where we have to go outside. We have a lot of candidates to take the ball at the big league level so we'll be fine."

Aaron Nola will start on opening day. Arrieta will be in the rotation, though he might need an extra week or so to get ready. Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta are likely to hold down spots. That leaves Zach Eflin, Ben Lively, Mark Leiter Jr., Jake Thompson, Drew Hutchison and Tom Eshelman in the running for the final spot in the five-man rotation. Eshelman, strike-thrower extraordinaire, was the Phillies' minor-league pitcher of the year last year and projects to be in Philadelphia before long. However, it might not be at the outset of the season because he is not on the 40-man roster. Neither is Hutchison.

The Phillies do not need a fifth starter until April 11 so they could employ some creative roster construction until then. They could go with four starters and an extra reliever or bench man. Or they could bring an extra starter and "piggyback" him with Arrieta, a move that would allow Arrieta to make an abbreviated start during the first week of the season.

"There's a decent chance we open the season with somewhat of a non-traditional 25-man roster, not because we're trying to be cute but because we don't need the fifth starter until the 11th," Klentak said. "We're going to do whatever puts us in the best position to win those first 10 days of the season."

The Phillies made one transaction on Friday. They added utility man Pedro Florimon to the 40-man roster. He had a provision in his minor-league contract that allowed him to become a free agent if he wasn't on the 40-man roster by March 15. Florimon is a candidate for a spot on the Phillies' bench. The move doesn't guarantee that Florimon will win a spot, but it gives the team more time to evaluate him. To make room for Florimon, the Phillies designated infielder Eliezer Alvarez for assignment.

Florimon homered in the Phillies' 6-4 loss to Toronto in Clearwater Friday. Cam Rupp and Cesar Hernandez also homered. Velasquez gave up five hits and a run in 2⅔ innings. He struck out five.

In Lakeland, Pivetta allowed two runs over five innings as the Phils and Tigers played to a 6-6 tie. J.P. Crawford and Ryan Flaherty both homered.