LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs in 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got close enough for Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love” in the ninth inning.
Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came roaring back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years. But muscle memory and been-there, done-that confidence will only take the Cubs so far.
The Cubs keep saying this is a new year, talking around the issues with their rotation, the learning curves for young hitters and what was supposed to be an airtight defense. But you could see the frustration bubbling up during Saturday’s 5-0 loss for a 25-23 team that’s probably best described as hanging around at the Memorial Day mile marker.
“Obviously, we haven’t played great,” losing pitcher John Lackey said after his ERA skyrocketed to 5.18. “We’ve kind of been up and down, but we’re right in the mix. We got a long way to go.”
Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground as a one-run game had escalated into a 5-0 blowout. Lackey walked Los Angeles pitcher Brandon McCarthy and watched Chris Taylor drill the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and the crowd of 48,322 got louder and louder.
Another Lackey Being Lackey moment: Jawing with home plate umpire Tripp Gibson after striking out looking at a 92-mph Brandon McCarthy fastball leading off the third inning.
“He said something to me,” Lackey said. “I was walking off minding my own business. He called strike three and I was kind of laughing and he’s like: You can laugh all you want. He started something with me, so I had a problem with that. I was just walking off minding my own business.”
The Dodgers meanwhile are young, rich, talented, deep, versatile and already 10 games over .500. Without Kershaw or Jansen throwing a single pitch, the Cubs have managed only five hits in 57 at-bats and struck out 18 times while drawing just four walks in back-to-back shutouts.
“What it means to me is that we had no chance to win the last two games,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They pitched well. It’s not always your fault sometimes. Sometimes it’s what they’ve done well.
“They’re like an elevated-fastball group. We just have to make an adjustment to that. They do a really good job with that – their bullpen and their starters – and they’ve carried out their game plan perfectly.
“They pitched well. They beat us. That’s it.”
Once again, the Cubs will rely on NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester to neutralize a Dodger lineup that has struggled against left-handed pitching and avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon against the great Kershaw.
“He’s as advertised,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s like any ace, if they got their stuff going, they got their stuff going. He has multiple pitches and he can throw all of them for strikes at times. And he can throw them all around the plate at times. You just got to go up there and have your best (at-bat) and take what he gives you. Just try to chip a few across and see what happens.”