Cubs

Predicting the outcome of Cubs-Nationals winner-take-all Game 5

Predicting the outcome of Cubs-Nationals winner-take-all Game 5

The Cubs know full well the crapshoot that is a one-game playoff.

After besting the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2015 wild-card game and playing a tense, thrilling Game 7 last fall, winner-take-all games are nothing new to Joe Maddon and Co.

But while the Cubs are 2-0 in those winner-take-all games the last two years (and 4-1 overall in elimination games), anything can happen in one game. Things can shift on one play or one pitch and luck plays an enormous factor with so little wiggle room.

So you'll forgive Maddon if he and the Cubs didn't want this at all — a Game 5 in front of a packed, raucous Washington crowd with all hands on deck.

That's why Maddon went all in on Game 4, trying to lock up the NLDS at Wrigley Field Wednesday night, employing Jon Lester out of the bullpen for 11 outs. 

But a combination of Stephen Strasburg's wiffle ball action, a shaky defensive play and Michael A. Taylor's stunning grand slam, the Cubs' title defense now comes down to just one game with Kyle Hendricks on the hill vs. Gio Gonzalez.

The Nationals just announced Gonzalez as a starter Thursday afternoon. The Cubs jumped him early in Game 2 in Washington for three runs before ultimately blowing it in the eighth inning.

Here's how the Cubs will line up behind The Professor:

1. Jon Jay - LF
2. Kris Bryant - 3B
3. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
4. Willson Contreras - C
5. Albert Almora Jr. - CF
6. Addison Russell - SS
7. Jason Heyward - RF
8. Javy Baez - 2B
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

It's interesting that Ben Zobrist didn't make the cut, as the reigning World Series MVP has a modest three-game hitting streak in this NLDS, including the only extra-base hits off Max Scherzer and Strasburg the last two games (both doubles). But Zobrist and Ian Happ will be weapons off the bench as switch-hitters in a game that figures to feature plenty of pitching changes and bullpen matchups.

The Nationals counter with a familiar lineup behind Gonzalez:

1. Trea Turner - SS
2. Jayson Werth - LF
3. Bryce Harper - RF
4. Ryan Zimmerman - 3B
5. Daniel Murphy - 2B
6. Anthony Rendon - 3B
7. Matt Wieters - C
8. Michael A. Taylor - CF
9. Gio Gonzalez

[RELATED — 10 reasons for Cubbie confidence]

The Cubs always want to get out to a good start, but the need for an early lead (hey, that rhymed!) is even greater in these one-game, winner-take-all postseason contests.

Especially because Scherzer looms in the bullpen for the Nationals. He threw 98 pitches on Monday night and is coming off a hamstring injury less than two weeks ago, so who knows how may pitches/innings Scherzer can throw Thursday night.

But his presence looms large, as well as a mostly-rested Nationals bullpen. If Gonzalez gets into any trouble, Dusty Baker can immediately turn to Game 4 starter-turned-watcher Tanner Roark, who has yet to pitch in this series. Or Scherzer could be the immediate call and the Nationals just ride him as long as they can.

The Cubs, meanwhile, will be almost assuredly be without Lester after he threw 55 pitches Wednesday night. Wade Davis and Carl Edwards Jr. also threw and combined to get zero outs in another eighth-inning collapse. 

Davis is a battle-tested veteran who is intensely even-keeled and Taylor's homer was only the second allowed by the Cubs closer in his postseason career (34.1 innings) and first as a reliever. But how many outs could he realistically go after throwing 11 pitches Wednesday? He's a former starter, but has gone over 30 pitches in an outing just six times since the start of 2014 (a span of 267 appearances) and has never reached the 40-pitch mark.

The Cubs will have Jose Quintana available out of the bullpen, after he matched Scherzer inning for inning Monday night. But that was his first postseason game ever and he hasn't appeared as a reliever since 2012, so if Maddon calls Q's number, it will be a foreign experience for the 28-year-old lefty.

The Cubs could use another patiently dominant outing from Hendricks and his 1.98 postseason ERA after lulling the Nationals offense to sleep in Game 1, but ultimately this game will come down to which offense is able to break out of its slump just enough to win.

The Cubs (.159 average, .514 OPS) and Nationals (.130, .493) have the two worst offenses in MLB postseasons this fall and have combined for just 20 runs in the first four games of this series.

The Nationals have scored 12 of those, nine of which have come in the two eighth-inning implosions in Games 2 and 4. Two of the other runs came of the unearned variety off Cubs errors in the last two games at Wrigley Field.

The positive news for the Cubs: They won't have to face Strasburg at all after striking out 22 times and scoring just two unearned runs against the Nationals stud righty in two games.

Prediction — Cubs 5, Nationals 4

Kris Bryant puts his first inning struggles (0-for-4, 4 Ks) behind him in the series and gets the Cubs on the board early with an opening-frame homer. He hits two longballs in the game as the Cubs' bats finally wake up and he makes Wednesday's Golden Sombrero (4 Ks) a distant memory.

Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Schwarber (off the bench) combine for three hits and the Cubs pitch just enough to win, with Maddon cobbling together the bullpen behind yet another gutsy performance from Hendricks.

These two offenses are far too good to be kept down for long.

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

Yadier Molina is sad and Cubs fans have a new favorite GIF

ST. LOUIS — The game was over and Yadier Molina knew it.

As Ian Happ turned on Sam Tuivailala's two-strike pitch in the 7th inning, Molina crumbled to the ground in defeat.

Happ's two-out double gave the Cubs a 4-3 lead they did not relinquish in a 6-3 victory Saturday night at Busch Stadium.

The Cubs had to claw back all night against the Cardinals, fighting to tie the game at two separate spots before Happ's breakthrough off Tuivailala.

Molina couldn't contain his disappointment:

Molina is a common target of ire from Cubs fans in the heated rivalry with the Cardinals, so you can bet his #SadFace led to some glee in the Chicago fanbase (just look at the comments on that Tweet):

The 35-year-old catcher just returned recently from a nearly month-long stint on the disabled list when he took a foul tip off a Kris Bryant swing to the groin on Jordan Hicks' 102 mph pitch the last time the Cubs were in town.

Molina has drawn 3 walks and has a single in this weekend's series with the Cubs, but he also committed a miscue in Friday's game, when he threw wild to first base on Jon Lester's squeeze bunt.

The Cubs are now 24-12 since they were swept in St. Louis on the first weekend of May.

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Relive Sosa's 25th homer 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.

After victimizing poor Cal Eldred for three solo shots in the first game of the series, Sosa wouldn't let the Milwaukee Brewers leave town in June 1998 without one more dinger.

He connected in the 4th inning of the series finale on June 17, 1998, a solo shot off a pitcher named Bronswell Patrick (yes, that's his real name) that went 430 feet down the left field line.

The Cubs wound up losing the game 6-5, though Jose Hernandez did make it close with a 2-run shot in the bottom of the 9th inning.

Through this game, Sosa sported a .300/.348/.917 slash line (1.265 OPS) with 12 homers and 25 RBI in 15 June contests that season. (Yes, that's a .917 slugging percentage.)

But believe it not, those June numbers are about to get even better...

Fun fact: The Cubs lineup on June 17, 1998 featured 4 hitters with a batting average of .320 or higher — Sosa (.333), Mark Grace (.347), Mickey Morandini (.320) and Matt Mieske (.323), though Mieske was a part-time player. 

The 2018 Cubs currently feature only 1 player (part-time or full-time) hitting at least .320: Albert Almora Jr. who entered play Saturday at .321.