Cubs offense breaks out in a big way to turn the tide in NLCS

Cubs offense breaks out in a big way to turn the tide in NLCS

LOS ANGELES — Kris Bryant's throwaway joke after the Cubs' Game 3 loss suddenly became relevant Wednesday night.

When discussing the Cubs' lifeless offense, Bryant joked Anthony Rizzo's broken bat infield dribbler in the ninth inning Tuesday night could be the hit that gets them started.

Turns out, he was at least on the right track.

The Cubs offense busted out in a gigantic way in a 10-2 victory over the Dodgers to turn the tide in the National League Championship Series in front of 54,449 stunned fans at Dodger Stadium.

After the Cubs made everybody back in Chicago sweat with three more hitless, scoreless innings to start the game (running their scoring drought to 21 innings), they exploded in the fourth inning.

Ben Zobrist got things started with a perfect bunt single.

"It just seems like it always goes that way," Bryant said. "It's never like a bomb or any of that. It's kinda just the jammed-shot blooper, the bunt single and that's what happened today."

Javy Baez followed with a single of his own. Willson Contreras lifted a ball into left for a base hit and an aggressive send of Zobrist led to a wild throw home by Dodgers left fielder Andrew Toles, and just like that, the Cubs were on the board.

Jason Heyward followed with an RBI groundout, and then Addison Russell exploded out of his slump with a two-run shot to right-center.

The Cubs had sent 82 straight batters to the plate without scoring a run, and on a span of nine pitches in the fourth inning, they scored four runs.

The offense wasn't done there.

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Anthony Rizzo hit a solo homer in the top of the fifth, and after the Dodgers pushed across a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs answered with five more runs in the sixth.

Rizzo and Russell were a combined 3-for-50 in the postseason entering play Wednesday. They tallied six hits between them in Game 4.

"Take it one game at a time," said Bryant, who also stated he never saw Rizzo or Russell get frustrated during their slump and throw things or lash out. "That's kinda what we did today.

"I mean, tough loss yesterday. Come out, forget about it, regroup and our bats woke up, which is nice. I think everybody saw what this team can do when we swing 'em."

John Lackey threw four shutout innings before walking the first two batters he faced in the fifth.

Joe Maddon went to the bullpen and Mike Montgomery allowed those two runners to score before escaping from there and eventually picking up the win.

The Cubs relievers shut the Dodgers down the rest of the way.

By evening the series, the Cubs have done three things — ensured the NLCS will come back to Chicago, turned the series into a best-of-three matchup and reclaimed home-field advantage with Games 6 and 7 at Wrigley Field.

"It's baseball. It's a series," Bryant said. "You gotta win four games. We lost two up until today and we feel great about it.

"There's no need to get thinking all crazy like that. We knew that Anthony was gonna swing the bat well, Addy's gonna swing the bat well. It was just a matter of time. Everybody had a good at-bat today and that's huge for our confidence as a group."

The Cubs will send ace Jon Lester to the mound Thursday night in the last of the three games in Los Angeles. Lester allowed only one run in six innings in Game 1 of the NLCS.

The Dodgers announced Kenta Maeda as the starter for Game 5, but would they actually turn to Clayton Kershaw?

The Cubs, meanwhile, have their mojo back and their confidence is soaring no matter who is pitching for the Dodgers.

Dexter Fowler summed up the mood in the Cubs clubhouse after Game 4 simply:

"That was a good start."

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.