Cubs vs. Dodgers: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 4

Seth Gruen@SethGruenFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2016

Cubs vs. Dodgers: Keys for Each Team to Win NLCS Game 4

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    Chicago Cubs fans might want to issue an APB on the team’s offense. Chicago was shut out for the second straight game in a 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night, the first time that’s happened since May 2014.

    It has left serious doubts as to whether this team will be able to even the National League Championship Series at two games after Wednesday’s Game 4.

    It is, however, entirely possible. The talent exists on the roster of MLB’s best team this regular season. Care to see how it has to go about it?

Cubs: Hit the Ball

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    The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is batting just .077 this postseason.
    The Cubs' Anthony Rizzo is batting just .077 this postseason.Harry How/Getty Images

    Suggesting the Cubs need to start hitting the ball is so obvious that it almost feels lazy to write about it. But Chicago’s lack of offense has been the story of the NLCS, necessitating discussion on the topic.

    Tuesday’s Game 3 marked the second straight game in which the Cubs failed to score. It’s the first time that’s happened to the team since the San Francisco Giants blanked the Cubs in back-to-back games on May 27 and 28, 2014.

    That’s back when Chicago was still mired in its rebuild. In other words: This has never happened during Joe Maddon’s tenure as Cubs manager.

    But the crafty skipper will be challenged to construct a lineup for Wednesday’s Game 4 that can generate some offense.

    Shortstop Addison Russell is without a hit this series. He has been so lost at the plate that Maddon pinch hit for him in the top of the seventh inning Tuesday with Jason Heyward, who is only hitting .143 this series and hit .230 during the regular season.

    Both outfielder/second baseman Ben Zobrist and first baseman Anthony Rizzo are hitting .100 or worse this series.

    Third baseman and NL MVP candidate Kris Bryant is hitting .333/.385/.500 this series, but clearly one player cannot carry this team through the postseason.

Cubs: John Lackey, Earn Your Money

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    When starting pitcher John Lackey singed a two-year, $32 million contract this offseason, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, it was for moments like Wednesday’s upcoming playoff game: Game 4 of the NLCS with his team trailing in the series 2-1.

    Lackey, Chicago’s probable starter for Game 4, has pitched in 24 postseason games and started 21. He has a 3.22 ERA in the playoffs and won World Series with the then-Anaheim Angels (2002) and Boston Red Sox (2013).

    Wednesday might call for Lackey’s best postseason performance to date, which means he’ll have to vastly improve upon his last playoff outing.

    In the National League Division Series against the Giants, Lackey lasted only four innings, allowing seven hits and three runs in his lone outing this postseason.

    Ordinarily, allowing three runs may qualify as a decent start. But given how much the Cubs have struggled offensively, it’s a huge number, leaving little room for error for Lackey on Wednesday.

Cubs: Understand the Situation

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    Here’s the good news if you’re a Cubs fan: Chicago is only down a game.

    You need to go all the way back to 2015 to find the last time the Cubs came back from a game down in a playoff series. Yep, they did it last season against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLDS.

    So the deficit might not be as insurmountable as two straight shutouts may have otherwise made it seem.

    Chicago can get its mojo back at any time. It could happen in Wednesday’s first at-bat. Or later in the game.

    But the key for the Cubs is to put the last three games behind them. They don’t matter anymore. The second the Dodgers tied the series by winning Game 2 at Wrigley Field, the NLCS became a best-of-five at the least.

    Chicago is down 2-1. It needs to win one more to steal home-field advantage. Win on Wednesday, and it will earn a chance to close out the series at Wrigley Field.

Dodgers: Yasmani Grandal’s Defense

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    There’s no position in baseball more important than catcher. It’s why so many of the game’s best managers—the Giants’ Bruce Bochy, the New York Yankees’ Joe Girardi and the Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Scioscia—played the position.

    A catcher such as the Dodgers’ Yasmani Grandal is able to affect all facets of the game.

    He did so in Game 3, hitting a two-run homer and calling a great game with Rich Hill starting for Los Angeles.

    With Chicago starting a right-handed pitcher in Game 4, the switch-hitting Grandal is likely to get the start. And though another great offensive performance is welcome, what he is able to do behind the plate will be much more important.

    Dodgers rookie Julio Urias is scheduled to start Wednesday. The 20-year-old southpaw will be the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game and will rely on Grandal throughout.

    Grandal has caught the past two NLCS games, both shutouts in which Los Angeles started lefty pitchers. He should have a blueprint for how to attack Chicago’s lineup.

    Grandal taking the lead could help ease any nerves Urias may carry into the start.

Dodgers: Challenge Cubs Hitters

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    There’s no better way to help an opponent climb out of a slump than by issuing walks. And no team walked this season more than the Cubs, who worked counts to earn an MLB-best 656 free passes.

    If Chicago is to climb out of its offensive slump, the Dodgers’ pitching staff has to force it to do so by hitting the baseball.

    That means the Dodgers should challenge Cubs hitters early in the count. Los Angeles’ pitchers should look to throw first-pitch strikes. They shouldn't throw stuff out of the zone and try to get the Cubs to chase.

    Clearly, Chicago is questioning its offensive ability. The Dodgers need to take advantage of that and shouldn't give the Cubs respect that they haven’t yet earned this postseason.

Dodgers: Continue to Hit with Runners in Scoring Position

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    Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

    There’s no better way to get a team like the Cubs to continue to press at the plate than by scoring runs yourself.

    On Tuesday in Game 3 of the NLCS, the Dodgers went 2-for-7 with runners in scoring position, capitalizing on early opportunities.

    With an emotional Lackey scheduled to start for the Cubs in Wednesday’s Game 4, scoring on him early could send a shock wave that might reverberate throughout the dugout.

    The Cubs are certain to be anxious at the plate in Game 4. That would only be exacerbated if the Dodgers are able to jump out to an early lead.

    Regardless, opportunities to score are scarce in the playoffs, especially considering Chicago is able to start an accomplished pitcher in each of its playoff games. It’s important not to squander those opportunities.