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Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

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USA TODAY

Record-setting futility and the 5 biggest things from Cubs-Dodgers Game 3

The Los Angeles Dodgers are looking more and more like the 2016 Cubs.

But even the team that will live forever in baseball history didn't go up 3-0 on any opponent last fall.

The Dodgers continued to outplay the Cubs in every single facet of the game Tuesday night, stunning the Wrigley Field faithful and defending champs with a 6-1 victory.

In other words:

Deja vu?

At this point, it would be impossible to ignore the parallels to 2015.

The Cubs are now one game away from getting swept out of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Just like when they ran into the New York Mets' power pitching two years ago.

The Dodgers have run out Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill and Yu Darvish to mystify the Cubs while Alex Wood — who led baseball in winning percentage with a 16-3 record in the regular season — awaits for Game 4 Wednesday.

The Cubs offense has disappeared and they're getting upstaged by a team that led MLB with 104 wins.

What is it with these Taylors?

Dude, guys named Taylor absolutely kill the Cubs now, apparently.

After Michael A. Taylor nearly singlehandedly willed the Nationals past the Cubs in the NLDS, Chris Taylor is doing much the same thing with these Dodgers.

Chris Taylor wasn't a part of this series last fall and is making up for lost time this week. He has a run in every game of the series to go along with five hits, including a solo homer in Game 1 and a homer and an RBI triple in Game 3 Tuesday night.

Taylor came out of nowhere this year, bursting onto the scene with an .850 OPS, 21 homers, 17 stolen bases and 85 runs and he's been a difference-maker in this series.

All the right moves

Dave Roberts has pushed all the right buttons so far in this series.

After utilizing his bullpen in a perfect fashion the first two games in LA, Roberts then inserted veteran Andre Ethier and young centerfielder Joc Pederson into the lineup against right-handed Kyle Hendricks.

Ethier homered on the first pitch he saw Tuesday night, silencing the 41,871 fans at Wrigley Field after they just watched Kyle Schwarber stake their team to a 1-0 lead just a few minutes before.

Pederson led the fifth inning off with a double and came around to score the Dodgers' third run on Taylor's triple. Pederson's presence also pushed Taylor to shortstop, and we already know how that one worked out for Roberts and Co.

Roberts even, inexplicably, pulled back pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson and let Yu Darvish hit with the bases loaded and two outs in a tight ballgame in the top of the sixth and then watched as the pitcher with four career hits and one career walk stared at four straight balls from Carl Edwards Jr. to force in a run.

It's been quite a long time since something like that happened:

Walking the walk

To piggy-back off that Darvish base on balls, Cubs relievers have set a new record for postseason futility:

The number 23 holds a special place in the hearts of Chicagoans, but that is not the number they want to see here.

The Cubs bullpen that was among the game's best in the first half has flipped the script the last few months, unable to find any stability.

Remember, the Cubs were already looking pretty solid before they went out and added Justin Wilson at the trade deadline. To that point, Wilson had been one of the top relievers in baseball and there was a lot of talk about how great he'd look in the team's October 'pen.

Wilson isn't even active for this NLCS, though it's not like it mattered much.

(Not) talking the talk

The Cubs absolutely needed Bryzzo to step up if they were going to get back to the World Series for the second straight year.

But Bryant had just two harmless singles in Game 3 while Rizzo added a single in four trips to the plate. That hit broke an 0-for-16 stretch from Rizzo since he had that epic "Respect Me!" rant in Game 3 of the NLDS. 

But, it's not like anybody else is hitting much either.

Kyle Schwarber's home run in the first inning was the Cubs' only offense and they are now 0-4 this postseason when hitting a homer in a game. That's also the third straight game in which the Cubs jumped the Dodgers with an early homer and yet find themselves one game away from starting their winter earlier than desired.

Part of the Cubs' inability to add on is their complete befuddlement by the LA bullpen, setting a new record by going 0-for-26 against Dodger relievers to start the series:

All told, the Cubs are in a "sub-optimal" position right now, to borrow a phrase from Maddon.

But hey, there was always last year.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season. 

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Joe Maddon speaks out on Wednesday night's Marlins-Braves brawl

Much has been made about Wednesday night's brawl between the Marlins and Braves, which started when Braves young star Ronald Acuna was nailed in the elbow with a 99 mph fastball from Jose Urena. The strangest part of the whole situation was that it seemed like Urena was unprovoked by Acuna or any of the Braves players prior to plunking the former No. 1 prospect in all of baseball.  

The ever wise Cubs skipper Joe Maddon was asked about the incident prior to Thursday's game, making it clear he felt plays like these needed to leave the game entirely. 

It was announced Thursday afternoon that Urena would be suspended just 6 games for intentionally throwing Acuna, which means the Marlins starter will likely only miss one game for trying to hurt Acuna. The good news is that Acuna did not sustain any serious injuries, but Joe Maddon is right there is no reason for people to be hurling nearly triple-digit fastballs at players. Whether provoked or not, intentionally throwing at players is something that needs to be phased out of the game, and its safe to assume Maddon would agree.