Following a 5-2 loss in the opener, the Cubs were back at it Sunday night in Los Angeles for Game 2 of the NLCS, as they looked to even up the series before heading back to Chicago. Offense was at a premium for most of the night, but mistimed walks by the Chicago bullpen led to a walk-off home run and a 4-1 Dodgers win (box score).
Why The Cubs Lost
There have been two recurring issues for the Cubs this postseason: a lack of offense and walks given up by the pitching staff. Both problems reared their ugly heads in Game 2.
The Chicago bats were once again largely silent, managing a meager three hits and a walk against Rich Hill and the Los Angeles bullpen. While the pitching they have faced this postseason is unquestionably good, the Cubs simply look bad at the plate right now. It started out that way in the NLDS and it has carried over into the NLCS.
Also carrying over from the Nationals series is the Chicago pitching staff’s liberal issuance of walks. Starter Jon Lester walked five in his 4 2/3 innings and the bullpen added another four to the mix. That is nine Los Angeles hitters who reached base without having to get a hit. With an offense that is struggling to score, giving away free baserunners narrows the pitching staff’s already razor-thin margin of error.
With the score tied at 0-0, Addison Russell led of the top of the 5th against a cruising Hill. After falling behind 1-2, Russell turned on a pitch down the heart of the plate and lined it over the wall down the left field line to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.
The lead didn’t last long, however. Charlie Culbertson led off the bottom half of the inning with a double and advanced to third on a sac bunt. With two outs, Justin Turner pushed a dribbler through the right side to tie the game at 1-all.
Unfortunately for the Cubs, Turner wasn’t done. Joe Maddon let Brian Duensing start the bottom of the 9th and Duensing proceeded to issue a leadoff walk. A sac bunt and a strikeout followed, which brought Chris Taylor to the plate. Instead of turning to closer Wade Davis, Maddon instead went with John Lackey and the 38-year-old righty promptly issued a walk of his own. After falling behind 1-0, Turner drove a Lackey offering over the wall in center for a game-winning three-run home run.
Stats That Matter
- The Los Angeles bullpen has thrown eight innings in this series and has not allowed a hit. In fact, the only baserunner they have given up came on an Anthony Rizzo HBP in the top of the 9th.
- For the second straight night, Kenley Jansen mowed through the Chicago lineup. In his two appearances in the series, Jansen has thrown 2 1/3 innings and recorded six strikeouts. That continues a dominating postseason stretch against the Cubs that started in last year’s NLCS, in which Jansen pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing just one hit while striking out 10.
- The Chicago 2-3-4 hitters struggled Sunday night, as Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Wilson Contreras combined to go 0-for-11 with seven strikeouts. That continues what has been a disappointing postseason for the heart of Chicago’s lineup. Through seven games, Bryant is slashing .179/.207/.250, while Rizzo is at .154/.241/.308 and Contreras .182/.379/.318. When the big bats in the middle of the order aren’t hitting, it doesn’t bode well for putting runs on the board.
The Cubs’ offensive struggles continued, while free passes by the pitching staff came around to bite them yet again. The decision not to go to Davis in the 9th seemed questionable at the time and looks even worse in hindsight, as Chicago now heads back to Wrigley Field in an unenviable 0-2 hole.
The teams will have Monday off before resuming the series on Tuesday in Chicago. Yu Darvish will take the mound for the Dodgers, while the Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks. First pitch is set for 8 p.m. CT and will air on TBS.