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MLB Playoffs: Cubs hold off Nationals in Game 5 to keep title defense alive

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MLB Playoffs: Cubs hold off Nationals in Game 5 to keep title defense alive

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WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a "Did that really happen?" four-run inning against Washington's Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5.

That wild, bat-around fifth inning Thursday night for Chicago included Addison Russell's go-ahead, two-run double, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error, helping the defending World Series champion Cubs come back -- and then hold on -- to edge the Nationals 9-8.

And for the third year in a row, Chicago reached the NL Championship Series.

"Give the boys credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's one of the most incredible victories I've ever been part of. I know a lot of people are probably saying the same thing, but under the circumstances, in the other team's ballpark, after a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world."

Russell drove in four runs and Davis, Chicago's seventh pitcher, turned in his longest appearance since 2012.

"I've always known he's got a lot of mettle in his soul," Ben Zobrist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis. "The guy just shows up. He's got ice in his veins."

The same could be said for all of the Cubs.

They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4 hours and ended after midnight on Friday.

"It was `Bizarro World,' there's no question about it," Maddon said. "But it happens. It happens this time of the year."

Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out.

"Just trying to stay focused and confident in the end," Davis said.

Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Division Series, advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.

For Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth consecutive victory in a win-or-be-eliminated postseason game. That includes three straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings.

The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series. And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers.

This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington. Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge.

"It was a series of bad events," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It really hurts, you know, to lose like that, especially after what we went through all year long, and that was tough."

Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor -- whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg's 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington's 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday -- gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth. He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured right hamstring, and hadn't come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

"Huge. You look out there and you see Scherzer up there and you think, `One of the best, if not the best, pitcher out there on the mound," Russell said. "You kind of have to change your game plan, your approach."

By the time Scherzer's one inning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead, and Russell had delivered the biggest hit. Chicago scored two earned runs and two unearned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher's interference, and one very odd play.

What could have been a potentially inning-ending strikeout turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed, but the ball went under catcher Matt Wieters' glove and through his legs. When Wieters collected the ball, he threw it into right field for an error, then appeared to argue that the play should have been ruled over because Baez's follow-through carried the bat into the catcher's mask.

"This game's cruel sometimes," Scherzer said. "Just the way things can happen."

Russell made it 8-4 in the sixth on an RBI double when left fielder Jayson Werth tried to make a sliding catch but whiffed.

Werth said he lost the ball in the lights.

"It feels," he said, summing up the night for Washington, "like if it could go wrong, it did."

The lead was 9-6 when Washington got one run in the seventh on Harper's sacrifice fly, and one in the eighth on Taylor's RBI single.

But the Nationals wasted some opportunities. In the eighth, with two on and no outs, pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit into a double play. Later in that inning, again with two men aboard, Lobaton was nailed by Contreras' snap throw for the third out -- Lobaton was originally ruled safe, a call that was overturned on replay.

In the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman was up as the go-ahead run with two men on, but Davis struck him out. That was part of an 0 for 4, three-K night for the first baseman who had a resurgent season, leading the Nationals with 36 homers and 108 RBIs.

That season is over for him and his team. The Cubs, though, will play on.

"We've been through it. And in those situations, we tend to start believing we're going to get the job done," Zobrist said, "even if it doesn't look like we are."

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

Phillies owner John Middleton would 'love' to sign an upgrade

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Even though the Grapefruit League schedule starts on Friday and opening day is less than six weeks away, the Phillies are still hungry to improve their pitching.

In an interview with John Clark of NBC Sports Philadelphia on Tuesday, Phillies owner John Middleton said the team was “very” active in pursuing potential upgrades. Middleton went on to say that he would “love” to do something on that front.

Middleton made the comments as a number of attractive free-agent pitchers, including Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb and Lance Lynn, remain unsigned.

“We’re having talks every single day with different people,” Middleton said. 

Middleton gets updates on those talks regularly from general manager Matt Klentak.

“Matt kind of now knows me, when we walk in the office and see each other for the first time he basically says [since] the last time I talked to you, John, at 5 o’clock yesterday afternoon nothing happened or this has happened,” Middleton said with a laugh. “Then I’ll see him at lunch time and still nothing has happened or this has happened. We have a lot of conversations about that.”

Middleton is eager to win, but he remains committed to seeing the rebuild through. Klentak has often said he won’t make a shortsighted move that would jeopardize the future. He has said his goal is to play in October for a decade, not just one year. That’s Middleton’s goal, too.

If the Phillies were to make an upgrade on the pitching side in the coming days or weeks, it would have to be on their terms. They have been in continuous contact with Arrieta’s representatives all winter, but won’t go to five or more years to sign the right-hander who turns 32 in March. If Arrieta were willing to sign a deal in the two- to four-year range, the Phillies would definitely have interest (more on all that here).

Stay tuned on that one. Camps are open. Free agents Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez have signed in recent days. Like Arrieta, they are represented by Scott Boras. The pitching logjam looks ready to break and could have an impact in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are methodically striving to become playoff relevant again.

“We wouldn’t be out talking to people the way we are if we didn’t think that we could get that little extra push,” Middleton said. “I think we all feel this way. [It] just has to be done in an intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable way.

“But, yeah, I’d love to do something."

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

Phillies willing to sign Jake Arrieta if ...

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Longstanding rumors linking the Phillies to free-agent pitcher Jake Arrieta continue to percolate. On Tuesday morning, baseball reporter Jon Heyman tweeted that the Phillies and Arrieta were engaged in "dialogue."

Here’s what we know: At the winter meetings in December, Phillies officials met with Arrieta’s agent, Scott Boras, to go over a number of Boras’ clients. At the time, Arrieta was looking for a deal in the neighborhood of seven years and $180 million to $200 million. Those parameters were not a fit for the Phillies, who have placed a premium on short-term contracts while they move their rebuild forward.

The Phillies have remained engaged with the Arrieta camp throughout the winter and they have made it clear that if the pitcher’s price tag comes down, they would have interest in a union. It is believed the Phillies would be willing to sign Arrieta, who turns 32 in March, to a two- or three-year contract, at a significant salary and possibly with some creative structure such as an out after one year.

Earlier this winter, the Phillies had reservations about meeting free agent Carlos Santana’s original contract demands of upwards of five years. When Santana’s demands were lowered to three years, the Phillies pounced and signed him for $60 million. Such a lowering of demands could make Arrieta a Phillie. Of course, there are other teams interested. Arrieta has long been linked to the Cardinals and Nationals.

Arrieta would come with some risk. All pitchers of his age and odometer reading do. He won the National League Cy Young Award in 2015 while going 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. He went 18-8 with a 3.10 ERA the following season and slipped to 14-10 with a 3.53 ERA in 2017. That trend downward has coincided with a slight drop in velocity and that has given teams pause at signing Arrieta to a long-term deal. It would seem that even the Cubs had reservations about Arrieta as they let him walk and signed free agent Yu Darvish.

In the last few days, a couple of big-name Boras clients have signed. Eric Hosmer went to the Padres and J.D. Martinez to the Red Sox. Arrieta might be next. If he would come at the Phillies’ price, he might end up being a Phillie.

Signing Arrieta would cost the Phillies a second- or third-round draft pick in June.