The Chicago Cubs had never been shutout in back-to-back postseason games, but that all changed on Tuesday night as Rich Hill and the Los Angeles Dodgers handed the Cubs a 6-0 Game 3 loss.
Naturally two shutout losses in a row are cause for concern, but the way the Cubs have lost the two consecutive games have put fans on edge. The Cubs only managed a total of six hits between the two games, and while players like Kris Bryant continue to hit the ball well, virtually no one else on the team is as Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Ben Zobrist, and Addison Russell all continue to struggle mightily.
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The Cubs’ pitching staff hasn’t been awful, with Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks both pitching good games, but Jake Arrieta gave up two big home runs to Dodgers hitters on Tuesday and the team’s bullpen has been shaky at times in the series as well, putting some fear into the hearts of Cubs fans.
So just how worried should Cubs fans be? To answer that question, we’ll assign a number to determine how concerning the team’s struggles are in several key areas, and evaluate whether or not they have the ability to overcome the issues that they are facing.
The Cubs were one of the best hitting teams in baseball during the regular season, but as the postseason began, their production declined rapidly. Bryant and Javier Baez have both been solid hitters during the playoffs, but virtually everyone else on the roster has struggled. Rizzo and Russell each only have one hit, and players like Fowler (.179 batting average), Zobrist (five strikeouts and a .154 average) and Jason Heyward (.105 average) have dragged the lineup down and have left the team down in the NLCS.
Normally one could assume with some degree of certainty that a team as talented as the Cubs could pull out of a tailspin like this, but with the sheer volume of struggling players, it’s hard to feel much in the way of optimism that the bats will come alive again. Guys like Rizzo do go through cold spells, but with the limited sample size of postseason baseball, it’s impossible to predict just when the bad times will end.
The Cubs’ bullpen was bolstered with the acquisition of Aroldis Chapman at the MLB trade deadline, but it’s had its share of issues in the postseason, with players like Hector Rondon, Justin Grimm, and Pedro Strop all struggling to make outs in certain situations.
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Even with all of that as context, the bullpen has been largely good, backing up Hendricks well in Game 2 and limiting the damage in several tough situations in Tuesday’s Game 3. Chapman may not be able to work six out saves like Kenley Jansen and Andrew Miller have been able to do for the Dodgers and Indians respectively, but he is still a viable weapon and will continue to be deployed heavily by the Cubs.
Starting Pitching: 5/10
Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks have both been solid for the most part during the postseason, but there are some legitimate questions surrounding both Jake Arrieta and John Lackey after their outings thus far.
Strong in his first outing of the playoffs, Arrieta more closely resembled his second half form, giving up two long home runs and four total earned runs in the Cubs’ loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday. Lackey wasn’t much better in his long start, giving up seven hits and three earned runs in just four innings of work against the San Francisco Giants.
Lackey still has time to potentially turn things around when he pitches on Wednesday night, and the Cubs will need all the help they can get as they try to even up the series.
The Cubs are certainly not in an advantageous position, but they are just one win away from tying the series and putting themselves back in prime position to advantage to the World Series.
The obstacles standing in their way are certainly challenging, including their bad hitting of late, and they would have to face Clayton Kershaw in Game 6 at Wrigley if the series gets that far, but with how well this team has played throughout the season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them snap out of it.
That being said, they need to start proving their mettle on Wednesday night, as a loss will put their season in dire jeopardy.