Cubs

How the Cubs match up against the Giants in the NLDS

How the Cubs match up against the Giants in the NLDS

Can the Cubs halt the Giants' even-year magic?

Until proven otherwise, the San Francisco Giants are unstoppable in even years, and they proved it again with another superhuman performance from Madison Bumgarner in the National League wild-card game Wednesday night.

Bumgarner threw 119 pitches in a complete-game shutout in the Giants' 3-0 victory over the Mets in New York, extending his postseason shutout streak to 22 innings.

Now he and the Giants are on their way to Chicago, looking to take another step toward their fourth straight even-year championship after winning the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014.

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That's no matter for the Cubs. They're already staring down a 108-year drought and more than a century rife with "curses" and postseason meltdowns.

The Cubs are only focused on themselves and taking care of their own business, with Joe Maddon referencing legendary basketball coach John Wooden Tuesday afternoon at Wrigley Field.

"Coach Wooden was never really concerned so much about his opposition as much as we he was concerned about his team doing what they do well," Maddon said. "For me, I really subscribe to that theory - let's worry about what we do well and make sure that we do and in turn, you have this other team that you're gonna play.

"You can scout them, you can react to that particular team, but the trap again is that you don't focus on what you do well first."

To a man, the Cubs claimed they weren't pulling for any one particular team to emerge from Wednesday's winner-take-all showdown. 

Jason Heyward insisted he wouldn't watch the game live. Maddon said he refused to watch the wild-card contest while taking copious notes ("that's a bad way to live").

Miguel Montero brushed off any talk of "even-year magic" from the Giants.

"We don't even look at that," Montero said. "I don't even care who we're facing. Those guys that won three out of five; in a five-year span, they've got three championships. It's a good team. Two of the three, they were a wild-card team and won the whole thing.

"That's the one you can't sleep on - the wild card. We did it last year; we knocked the Cardinals out. You create some momentum from that. You don't want to take it for granted. Whoever you play, you want to go after the first game and go from there."

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

So how do the Cubs match up against the Giants in that first game and beyond?

2016 season series

The Cubs won four of the seven games against the Giants during the regular season, outscoring their Bay Area counterparts 23-17 in the process.

That included Bumgarner single-handedly beating Kyle Hendricks and the Cubs on national TV on Sunday, May 22, driving in the only run in a 1-0 ballgame.

It also included a four-game series at Wrigley Field over Labor Day weekend in which the Cubs won three games and limited Giants hitters to a measly .108 batting average (14-for-132).

The Cubs had a 1.94 ERA against the Giants in the seven regular-season games.

Lineup

With Eduardo Nunez still nursing a hamstring injury, the Giants went with journeyman and former White Sox role player Conor Gillaspie at third base in the wild-card game Wednesday night.

Of course, we all know how that turned out. 

Gillaspie's three-run homer sent the Mets home and gave Bumgarner yet another notch on his postseason belt.

Buster Posey and Hunter Pence anchor a professional lineup that refuses to give away any at-bats throughout the order. 

Denard Span sets the table at the top with Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Angel Pagan rounding out the rest of the lineup. If Nunez can get past his hamstring issue, he poses by far the biggest threat on the basepaths.

The Giants don't have a ton of power (Belt led the team with 17 homers), but they wear down opposing pitchers and they know how to deliver in October. The core was here in '14 and Posey has been the heart and soul of the team for all three championships.

Rotation

Conventional wisdom says Bumgarner will only be able to pitch one game in the NLDS.

Yeah right.

After watching Bumgarner come out of the bullpen to throw five shutout innings in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, nothing would be shocking in this five-game series.

Beyond Superman, the Giants will trot out 18-game winner Johnny Cueto (2.79 ERA, 198 Ks) in Game 1 and then some combination of Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore after that. 

Moore was the Giants' big acquisition at the trade deadline as they dealt away young third baseman Matt Duffy. (Of course, if Duffy was still in San Francisco, Gillaspie wouldn't've been starting at third base, so maybe there is something to that even-year magic?)

Samardzija, of course, came up through the Cubs system and has a knack for rising to the occasion when the lights are brightest. He undoubtedly will get up to face his old team.

Oh, and by the way, Bumgarner has an 0.50 ERA on the road in postseason history. Umm...

Bullpen

Here's where the Cubs have a clear advantage. The Giants' bullpen woes were the top storyline throughout the entire second half, at the forefront of the collapse that forced the Giants out of first place and into the wild-card crapshoot.

The Giants led all of baseball with 30 blown saves in the regular season, converting only 59 percent of their save opportunities.

Santiago Casilla went just 31-for-40 in save opportunities, but nobody else has emerged to claim the closer's role from him, with Sergio Romo, Hunter Strickland, Will Smith, Derek Law and Cory Gearrin all enduring struggles of their own down the stretch.

If the Giants bullpen can't figure it out, it could be their undoing in the NLDS.

Key to the series

Pay attention to the pitch count of the Giants starters. This Cubs lineup is relentless and has a knack for getting to the bullpen by the fifth or sixth inning.

If that holds up in the five-game series, the Cubs will be in a good spot.

That might seem obvious, but with the Giants' unstable bullpen, it becomes top thing to watch come Friday night.

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

Jake Arrieta full of appreciation in return to Wrigley mound: ‘I’ll never forget this city’

The last time Jake Arrieta pitched at Wrigley Field, his night ended with Cubs fans giving him a rousing standing ovation. The former Cubs right hander tossed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball, leading the Cubs to victory in Game 4 of the 2017 NLCS—their only win against the Los Angeles Dodgers that series.

Arrieta returned to Wrigley Field as a visitor on Monday night, making his first start against the Cubs since joining the Philadelphia Phillies last season. Ironically, Arrieta’s counterpart for the night was Yu Darvish, who ultimately replaced Arrieta in the Cubs starting rotation.

Despite now donning Phillies red, Cubs fans once again showed their love for Arrieta, giving him a lengthy standing ovation ahead of his first plate appearance. Darvish even stepped off the mound in respect for the moment.

“I loved it, absolutely loved it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters postgame. “[I’m] very happy that our fans would acknowledge him like that. Yu stepped away from the mound nicely. Jake deserved it.”

Arrieta tipped his helmet in appreciation for the crowd, taking in the moment for more than 30 seconds before stepping into the batter’s box. After the game, he told reporters that moment brought back memories of his time with the Cubs.

“That was something that really brought back great memories of getting that same sort of ovation pretty much on a nightly basis,” Arrieta said. “[I’m] very appreciative of that. I can’t say thank you enough to the city of Chicago, I really can’t.”

Arrieta took fans back to his Cubs tenure on Monday, throwing six innings of one run ball in the Phillies’ 5-4 10-inning win. Although the 33-year-old didn’t pick up the victory, he matched Darvish—who threw six innings of three-run ball—pitch by-pitch.

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler noted how well Arrieta handled his emotions throughout the night.

“I thought he handled the emotions really well. I thought he was in control of the game even when we were down,” Kapler said to reporters. “He always maintained his poise and he just got stronger as the outing went on and that’s why we were able to have him take down the sixth inning for us.”

It’s well-documented how Arrieta’s career improved for the better after the Cubs acquired him in a trade with the Baltimore Orioles in July 2013. When the Cubs acquired him, Arrieta held a career 5.46 ERA in 69 games (63 starts). He finished his Cubs career with a 2.73 ERA in 128 regular season starts. He also won five postseason games with the Cubs, including Games 2 and 6 of the 2016 World Series.

Despite moving on in free agency, Arrieta spoke highly of his time with the Cubs, their fans and the city of Chicago.

“Cubs fans all across the country, all across the world, they really respect and appreciate what guys are able to do here for them,” he said. “It means a lot, it really does.

"I’ll never forget this city, the fan base, the organization, everything that they did for me. It was 4 1/2 incredible years of my career.”

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Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish crashed Jake Arrieta's party, but Cubs bullpen falters

Yu Darvish was one pitch away.

Holding onto a 1-0 lead with two outs in the sixth inning, Darvish threw Phillies catcher JT Realmuto a 2-2 cutter. It made sense - Darvish had been spotting that pitch well all night, and the Phillies were averaging a paltry 79.8 mph exit velocity against it.

With one strike standing between Darvish and a 6-inning shutout, Realmuto took Darvish’s cutter and sent it back up the middle for a game-tying RBI single. A 2-RBI triple from César Hernández followed. In the blink of an eye, what was shaping up to be one of Darvish’s finest moments in Chicago was instead reduced to yet another start spent searching for silver linings.

“Really good. He was outstanding tonight,” Joe Maddon said. “He pitched really well.

“He had really good stuff. He had command of his stuff, he had command of himself. I thought he was outstanding - even better than what he looked like in Cincinnati. I thought that was probably his best game for us to date.”

Darvish has continued to lean heavily on his cutter this season, more so than any year prior. After throwing it 13 percent of the time last season, he’s going to that pitch almost 25 percent of the time now. If that holds, it’d beat his previous career-high, set in 2013, by six percentage points.

All things considered, that pitch has actually been good for him this season. It’s his go-to offering when he needs to induce weak contact, and batters are hitting .125 against it so far. He gets batters to chase cutters 29.5 percent of the time, the most of any pitch he throws. While he has admitted in games past that he relies too heavily on his fastball, Maddon sees no issues with the new trend.

“I have no concerns with that whatsoever,” he said. “There’s different ways for pitchers to attack hitters, and if it's successful, I really would not change a whole lot.”

Though the night was dedicated to celebrating one of the franchises most beloved pitchers, it was one of their most maligned that continued to show signs of figuring it out. He’s put together back-to-back starts with three or less walks for the first time this season, and has allowed two or less runs in three of the last five.

The pitcher even stepped off the mound during Arrieta’s first at-bat, in order to let the standing ovation continue on.

“He’s is a legend in Chicago,” Darvish said after the game. “And I pitched against him and pitched pretty good, so it makes me confident.”

The bullpen again struggled on Monday night, as the trio of Mike Montgomery, Brad Brach, and Kyle Ryan allowed two runs on five hits, including the game-winning solo home run from Realmuto in the 10th. For a moment it looked like the Cubs had a win wrapped up when Brach got outfielder Andrew McCutchen to bite on a two-strike slider, but was (probably incorrectly) called a checked swing.  He would eventually draw a walk, leading to Jean Segura’s game-tying single.

“On the field, I thought for sure [that McCutchen swung],” Brach said. “Looking at the first base umpire, I was a little taken aback. That’s why I went off the mound - just to regather myself, because I didn’t want to let the emotion get to me there.

“It’s a 50-50 call, and unfortunately it didn’t go my way.”

 

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