The Chicago Cubs live to fight another day in the 2017 MLB postseason, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field to avoid the sweep and force at least one more night of baseball in the National League Championship Series.
Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta pitched well for Chicago, allowing just one run over 6.2 innings, while two home runs from Javier Baez and a massive solo shot by Willson Contreras off Dodgers starter Alex Wood powered the offense.
The series will stay in Chicago for Game 5, with the Cubs looking to claw further back in the series and force the Dodgers to try to finish the job in Los Angeles.
Cubs vs. Dodgers: NLCS Game 5 Info
When: Thursday, October 19 at 8:08 p.m. ET
Where: Wrigley Field, Chicago
Live Stream: TBS.com
Though the Dodgers failed to clinch the series, the loss was hardly deflating. One run separated them from a win, and key players like Yasiel Puig and Justin Turner managed to stay productive. Another good sign for the team was seeing rookie Cody Bellinger, whose bat has been mostly quiet lately, sock his second home run of the postseason.
The Dodgers will be happy to be rid of Arrieta's darting, diving array of pitches. The 31-year-old was wild throughout, walking five, but he managed to keep the Dodgers off balance for the most part, striking out nine.
The Cubs have had an awful time trying to hit Los Angeles, especially the bullpen, but they were able to get what they needed by taking advantage of Wood's mistakes. Baez, who had no problem making flashy plays defensively, has joined the October party, as his home runs were his first two hits of the postseason.
Baez managed to look cool during the second dinger in the fifth inning, blowing a bubble as he teed off on the pitch, per the Chicago Tribune's Brian Cassella:
Brian Cassella @briancassella
Javy Baez blows a bubble while hitting his second home run. #Cubs NLCS Game 4 photos: https://t.co/CZ5ktsTe5L https://t.co/X7yynczc4y2017-10-19 02:37:27
The Cubs will still need a more complete performance from their offense if they are to stave off elimination. Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant were a combined 0-for-7 in Game 4; if they can get involved, the Cubs will be in much better shape.
Getting to Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw early in Game 5 will be key, as the team has had no success off the Dodgers' airtight bullpen. Kershaw lasted just five innings against the Cubs in Game 1, but the Cubs managed just two runs, courtesy of an Albert Almora Jr. homer, in that time.
Building up an advantage in the early innings will put the Dodgers on the back foot again, and there are only so many times a team—even one as good as L.A.—can overcome letting the opposition strike first.
If Kershaw proves to be overpowering, the Cubs can always hope to strike late if the Dodgers leave him in too long.
Los Angeles has the maneuverability and depth to cobble together a winning lineup on Thursday. The team got nothing out of Chase Utley, Curtis Granderson and Andre Ethier in Game 4. All three of those players, should manager Dave Roberts see fit, could be swapped out for capable guys like Logan Forsythe, Enrique Hernandez and Joc Pederson.
The Cubs are trotting out Jose Quintana for Game 5, per the New York Times' Tyler Kepner. He had a similar line to Kershaw's in Game 1, allowing two runs on two hits over five innings. It was the Cubs bullpen, which allowed home runs to Chris Taylor and Puig in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively, that let him down.
If the right bats join the likes of Puig, Turner and Bellinger in the lineup, the Dodgers have the firepower to get a win.
One stat that could scare Los Angeles: The Cubs have been excellent, if nerve-racking, in survival mode since the start of last postseason, per ESPN Stats & Info:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The Cubs are 5-0 in elimination games since the start of the 2016 postseason. 4 of those wins, including tonight's, were by 1 run.2017-10-19 04:36:34
If this team gets to Kershaw early, watch out.
That said, the pick here is the team that won 104 games in the regular season and has the deep pockets to buy wins in October via contracts in the dead of winter.
Working the count on Quintana and then a good run on the Cubs' shaky bullpen should be enough for Los Angeles to get the ball to the incomparable Kenley Jansen and put the Cubs away, thus sending the Dodgers to their first World Series since 1988.
Pick: Dodgers 5, Cubs 3