The Dodgers finally know who they’ll be facing in the NLCS, as the Cubs hung on to beat the Nationals 9-8 in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday night. The game took four hours and 37 minutes to complete, making it the longest nine-inning game in postseason history.
It was a big, beautiful mess of a baseball game, full of twists and turns, but the top of the fifth inning proved critical. After Gio Gonzalez allowed three runs on three hits, four walks, and two wild pitches through three shaky innings, Matt Albers tossed a scoreless fourth before Max Scherzer took over in the fifth with a 4-3 lead. Few would question Dusty Baker’s decision to turn to his ace in a do-or-die game, but just about everything went wrong for the Nationals in the frame, as the Cubs plated four runs to take the lead for good.
The fifth inning featured a bizarre and unique sequence of events. Addison Russell put the Cubs in front with a two-run double off Scherzer before Jason Heyward was intentionally walked. Javier Baez struck out swinging for what should have been the final out of the frame, but he was able to reach first base on what was ruled to be a passed ball from catcher Matt Wieters. Wieters made a wild throw to first base, which allowed Russell to score from second base. The play wasn’t without some controversy, as Baez hit Wieters with his backswing. This would normally be an out, but the umpiring crew didn’t see it and the play wasn’t reviewable. The weirdness didn’t end there, as Tommy La Stella would reach on catcher’s interference before Scherzer hit Jon Jay with a pitch to force in another run.
Remember what I said earlier about a unique sequence of events? According to Baseball Reference, none of the 2.73 million half-innings in their database featured all four (IBB, passed-ball strikeout, catcher’s interference, hit-by-pitch) of these events. This game featured all four in succession.
Kyle Hendricks allowed four runs over four innings for the Cubs before giving way to the bullpen. Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop combined for a scoreless fifth, but the Nationals chipped away with two runs against Mike Montgomery in the sixth. Carl Edwards, Jr. walked the only batter he faced to begin the seventh before Joe Maddon brought in Jose Quintana. The southpaw would allow a sacrifice fly to Bryce Harper to bring the Nationals within two runs before Maddon turned to his closer Wade Davis. Yes, Davis was brought in with two outs in the seventh inning.
Davis appeared to be running on fumes at a certain point, but Maddon’s decision paid off in the end. It wasn’t easy, though. After striking out Ryan Zimmerman to end the bottom of the seventh inning, Davis walked back-to-back batters to begin the eighth. He was able to induce a double-play grounder from Adam Lind, but Michael A. Taylor collected an RBI single and Jose Lobaton followed with a single of his own. Davis was clearly on the ropes, but he got bailed out after a replay review ruled that Willson Contreras caught Lobaton napping with a throw to first base. Lobaton’s foot came off the first base bag only for an instant, so it’s debatable whether this is the sort of thing we are actually trying to catch via replay, but that’s the system for now and the Cubs benefitted in this case.
Davis, perhaps pitching on pure adrenaline, looked much stronger in the ninth inning. He sat down the side in order to end it, including a fly out from Trea Turner and swinging strikeouts from Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper. Davis threw a season-high 44 pitches for seven outs. He joins Madison Bumgarner (2014 World Series) as the only pitchers since 1973 to record at least seven outs for a save.
As for the Nationals, they are still looking for their first ever postseason series victory. They are now 0-for-4 in the NLDS. Fittingly enough, Thursday’s loss was exactly five years removed from their collapse against the Cardinals in the 2012 NLDS. They were hoping to exorcise their postseason demons with this one, but they were met once again with a painful loss.
The NLCS is set to begin Saturday in Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. ET. The Dodgers should be well-rested, with ace Clayton Kershaw lined up for Game 1. It’s unclear who will get the assignment for the Cubs.
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ALCS Taking Shape
As for the ALCS, the starting pitcher assignments were announced Thursday in advance of Game 1 on Friday in Houston. The series will kick off with Masahiro Tanaka going for the Yankees while the Astros will counter with Dallas Keuchel.
Tanaka is coming off a brilliant outing in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Indians where he struck out seven batters over seven scoreless frames. Keuchel limited the Red Sox to one run in 5 2/3 innings in his Game 2 start during the ALDS.
Justin Verlander, last seen making his first career relief appearance in Game 5 of the ALDS against the Red Sox on Monday, will start for the home team in Game 2. The veteran right-hander allowed two runs in six innings in his Game 1 start during the ALDS. Luis Severino will start Game 2 for New York. The hard-throwing youngster was chased early in his Wild Card start against the Twins, but he bounced back with three runs over seven innings against the Indians in Game 4 of the ALDS.
Holland Reportedly Opting Out
It sounds like we can add closer Greg Holland to the list of impending free agents. According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, Holland intends to decline his $15 million player option with the Rockies in hopes of finding a multi-year deal on the open market.
It's an expected decision, though maybe not the slam-dunk it appeared to be earlier this season. While Holland tied with the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen for the NL lead with 41 saves, he faded significantly as the year moved along. After posting a 1.39 ERA through his first 34 appearances, he struggled with a 6.48 ERA through his final 27 appearances. Maybe we should have seen this coming given that it was his first season back from Tommy John surgery.
Holland could still return to Colorado, but he plans to aim high in free agency, as Heyman writes that agent Scott Boras “believes it’s time for an explosion of salaries for bullpen stars.” One could argue we’ve already seen that after Mark Melancon, the aforementioned Jansen, and Aroldis Chapman all found guarantees of at least $62 million last offseason. The previous record guarantee for a free agent reliever was Jonathan Papelbon’s $50 million deal with the Phillies.
Quick Hits: According to Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors, MLB has set the qualifying offer for this offseason at $17.4 million, a slight increase from the $17.2 million figure from last year … Japanese pitching and hitting sensation Shohei Otani is expected to require three months of rehab after undergoing right ankle surgery on Thursday … According to Mike Puma of the New York Post, the Mets plan to interview hitting coach Kevin Long for their managerial vacancy within the next few days … Charley Walters of the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that former Twins manager Ron Gardenhire is in the “final three” for the managerial opening with the Red Sox … According to Buster Onley of ESPN, the Phillies are “taking a close look” at Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway for their manager job … Braves prospect outfielder Ronald Acuna suffered a left forearm contusion during a hit-by-pitch in the Arizona Fall League on Thursday, but he isn’t expected to miss significant time … Japanese right-hander Hideaki Wakui could explore an opportunity in MLB this offseason, according to the Japan Times. The 31-year-old has pitched in Japan for 13 seasons and posted a 3.99 ERA and 115/53 K/BB ratio in 158 innings over 25 starts this season with the Chiba Lotte Marines …