Cubs

Bring on the NLCS: Cubs slug their way past Cardinals

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Bring on the NLCS: Cubs slug their way past Cardinals

Anthony Rizzo guaranteed the National League Division Series wouldn't be going back to St. Louis for a Game 5.

He was right.

The Cubs powered their way to another victory over the Cardinals, hitting three more home runs en route to a NLDS-clinching 6-4 win in front of 42,411 fans at Wrigley Field in Game 4 Tuesday.

After Jason Hammel knocked in the Cubs' first run off John Lackey this postseason with a two-out basehit in the second inning, Javier Baez followed with a three-run opposite-field homer that nearly brought the house down at Wrigley Field.

[RELATED - Cubs finish Cardinals with Javier Baez starring in Addison Russell's absence]

The Cardinals tied things up in the top of the sixth, but Rizzo deposited a Kevin Siegrist pitch into the right-field bleachers for the second straight day to give the Cubs the lead again and they did not look back.

"It's unbelievable how resilient this team is. They're just young and dumb, I guess," said reliever Trevor Cahill, who picked up the win in relief Tuesday.

Kyle Schwarber added insurance with his third homer of the postseason, clearing the video board in right field to lead off the seventh inning.

"I was just looking for a good pitch to hit and I got it and you run around the bases and the place is going nuts," Schwarber said. "That's when it hits you, that this is what it's all about. This is what you live to play baseball for is playing in front of your home crowd in the playoffs.

"Then coming into the dugout, our team is awesome. I can say it over and over again: The personalities that we have in the clubhouse are unbelievable and it makes it so much fun to come to the ballpark every day."

Hammel allowed the first two batters of the game to score on a Stephen Piscotty homer and lasted just three innings.

The Cubs bullpen stepped up big again, keeping the Cardinals at bay for six innings.

[MORE - Twitter reacts to Cubs' NLDS win over Cardinals]

The Cubs clinched their first postseason series at Wrigley Field ever and will advance to the NLCS for the first time since 2003. They await the winner of the Mets and Dodgers.

"We just beat a really good team," Rizzo said. "They know how to win. They've dealt with so many injuries and they still were the best team in baseball. How they did that, no one has any idea. I think some of their guys don't even know how they did it, but that's a credit to their organization and how good they are.

"But we're going to celebrate this. We deserve to celebrate this. It's been a long time coming for the city, and hopefully it's just a sign of things to come."

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: