Cubs

Cubs searching for answers as offensive woes deepen and Dodgers take control of NLCS

Cubs searching for answers as offensive woes deepen and Dodgers take control of NLCS

LOS ANGELES — This is exactly the situation the Cubs were hoping wouldn't crop up this postseason.

There's no magical formula to create offense in the playoffs, and for the second straight game in the National League Championship Series, the Cubs' bats went MIA.

Joe Maddon did what he could to shake things up, inserting Jorge Soler over Jason Heyward and moving Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell down in the order.

None of that worked against ex-Cub Rich Hill, as the Dodgers dominated the Cubs, 6-0, in front of 54,269 fans at Dodger Stadium to take a 2-1 lead in the NLCS.

The Cubs managed just two hits — a pair of singles from Kris Bryant — and two walks against Hill, who struck out six in six innings.

Dexter Fowler doubled with two outs in the eighth inning and Rizzo got a broken-bat infield single for the only other Cubs hits.

The Cubs are now hitting .185 (43-for-233) in the postseason and over the last 18 innings, they have only six hits (five singles and a double), three walks and zero runs. The 18 straight scoreless innings is the largest drought in Cubs postseason history (the previous drought was 16 innings back in 1906).

In three NLCS games against Dodger pitching, the Cubs have a .161 average, .235 on-base percentage and are 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. They have scored in just three of 26 innings in which they sent their offense to the plate.

"We're not hitting the ball hard," Maddon said. "They've pitched well. Obviously I have no solid explanation. We've just got to keep working at it.

"We're just not hitting the ball well. We're doing the same kind of routines, the work is the same, the batting practice is the same - or lack of it is the same - and we're just not getting the results right now. 

"There is really no excuse. We just have to pick it up quickly."

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They were shut out just six times in the regular season and never held scoreless two times in a week, let alone in back-to-back games.

After running into the New York Mets' power pitching in the 2015 NLCS, Theo Epstein's front office worked to improve the lineup by adding Ben Zobrist and Heyward and bringing back Fowler.

But the same offensive woes have cropped up again, and now the Cubs are just two losses away from going home short of their World Series goal.

"Just based on what we've done this year, sure, it's surprising," Bryant said. "And it's happening at the wrong time obviously. I mean, we've done it all year. We're here for a reason. Belief is very powerful and I think we all have that here."

Cubs players insisted there is no sense of panic within the clubhouse. Maddon prepared them for the adversity and pressure they would face in the postseason.

But it's about how they answer from here. 

The Cubs turn to John Lackey in what has become an all-important Game 4 on Wednesday night with the possibility of Clayton Kershaw looming for Game 5.

But who the Cubs throw on the mound has taken a back seat to the offensive struggles. They'll be going up against a 20-year-old pitcher making his first postseason start (and the youngest ever to start an NLCS game) in Julio Urias.

Fowler shot down the notion that the Cubs' backs are against the wall.

"It's not a predicament, man," he said. "It's seven games for a reason. We even it up [Wednesday] and then it's a three-game series.

"You just gotta keep swinging it and keep fighting."

Veteran catcher Miguel Montero thinks guys are trying to do too much and they've gotten away from the approaches that led to the third-best offense in baseball.

"Don't try to hit a three-run homer with nobody on," Montero said.

He also had some advice for how the Cubs can hit the reset button before Game 4:

"Maybe have a few drinks and forget about it and come back tomorrow and have fun."

Javier Báez leaves Sunday's game with right heel contusion, though he expects to play on Monday

Javier Báez leaves Sunday's game with right heel contusion, though he expects to play on Monday

Cubs shortstop Javier Báez exited Sunday's game against the Nationals in sixth inning with a right heel contusion.

Báez appeared to turn his right ankle charging a softly hit groundball by Nationals pitcher Jeremy Hellickson in the third inning. Cubs manager Joe Maddon went out to check on Báez, though the shortstop stayed in the game after a brief discussion.

Addison Russell, who was set to pinch hit for Báez in the sixth inning before Anthony Rizzo grounded into an inning-ending double play, took over at shortstop in the bottom half of the inning. Sunday was Russell's first appearance at shortstop since Sept. 19, 2018, as he recently returned from a 40-game suspension for violating MLB's domestic violence policy.

The move was likely precautionary, as the Cubs held a 6-1 lead when Báez exited the game and play again on Monday night. He expects to play on Monday against Jake Arrieta and the Phillies, according to ESPN's Jesse Rogers.

The Nationals scored three times in the sixth inning, cutting the Cubs' lead to 6-4. Russell made a throwing error on his first attempt, though it was a deflected ball off of Hendricks' glove. While the Cubs obviously want Báez healthy and on the field, they managed to pull out a 6-5 win in his absence.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Yu Darvish vs. Jake Arrieta face off at Wrigley Field

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Yu Darvish vs. Jake Arrieta face off at Wrigley Field

Luke Stuckmeyer is joined by NBC Sports Chicago Cubs producers Eric Strobel and Nate Poppen to break down Monday night's big matchup between former Cub Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish.

The trio discuss the history and dynamics behind the matchup (2:00), the statistical comparison between the two pitchers over the past two seasons and their potential going forward (4:00), the difference in mental makeup between Jake and Yu (11:00), and Jake's massively important place in Cubs history (17:30).

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

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