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Cubs walkoff the Phillies with rally in bottom of the 9th

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Kris Bryant led the Cubs past the Phillies on Tuesday night at Wrigley

The host Chicago Cubs (28-18) rallied to a 3-2 walkoff victory over the Philadelphia Phillies (28-20) by scoring a pair of runs in the bottom of the 9th inning on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field on Chicago’s North Side.

The Cubs got on the board first thanks to the aggressiveness of Kris Bryant. The Cubs third baseman singled with one out in the bottom of the 1st inning and moved to second when Anthony Rizzo followed by drawing a walk.
Both runners were moving as Willson Contreras grounded to short, keeping them out of the doubleplay. The move paid off doubly as Bryant never stopped running while Jean Segura threw to first. Bryant slid in to home plate just ahead of the throw from Rhys Hoskins to give Chicago a 1-0 lead.
The Cubs nearly put another on the board in the home 4th inning. With two outs, Kyle Schwarber drew a walk. Bryant followed with a double down the left field line as Schwarber raced home and crossed the plate.
However, a challenge from Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler went the Phillies way thanks to a “stadium ground rules boundary” ruling that changed the play to a ground rule double. Schwarber was put back at third base, and Eflin then retired Rizzo on a fly out to center to escape trouble.

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After making the final out in right field in the sixth inning, Bryce Harper trolls Cubs fans and LAUNCHED the ball out of Wrigley Field and on to the rooftop. 😂

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Maddon pinch-hit for Quintana in the bottom of the 6th inning. He had stymied the Phillies to that point, but also had reached 100 pitches for just the third time this season. It would prove to be just the opening that the visitors needed.

With Carl Edwards on to pitch in the top of the 7th inning, Cesar Hernandez led off with a looping single to left field. After Scott Kingery hit into a force out, Maikel Franco one-hopped a double off the ivy in left field. Kingery rolled around to third and the Phillies had runners at second and third with one out.
Kapler sent the slumping Odubel Herrera up to hit for Eflin. Herrera ripped a ball back to Edwards, who made a fantastic stab to grab the ball and retire Herrera at 1st base with the runners holding. Maddon then went to a pitching change again, and again it burned him.

Andrew McCutchen‘s clutch two-out, two-run single in the top of the 7th inning gave the Phillies a 2-1 lead at Wrigley Field on Tuesday night. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire)
Andrew McCutchen stepped in against the new Cubs hurler, righty Brandon Kintzler. The Phillies veteran right fielder jumped on a 2-2 sinker, ripping it up the box for a two-run single that finally put the Phillies on the board with a 2-1 lead.
It was Kapler’s turn to go to his bullpen, and he called on 22-year-old Edgar Garcia for the bottom of the 7th. After surrendering a leadoff base hit to Bryant the young righty retired the next two batters.
Kapler then brought in Jose Alvarez to face the lefty bat of Jason Heyward. Alvarez sawed off Heyward’s bat, getting him to ground to shortstop for the final out. Alvarez then came back out for the bottom of the 8th inning and worked around a couple of baserunners to keep the 2-1 lead intact.
In the top of the 9th inning, Kingery drilled a one-hopper off the ivy in left off Cubs reliever Xavier Cedeno for a one-out double. Maddon then made another bullpen move, bringing in Kyle Ryan. The lefty got Franco to ground out to third base for the second out, then struck out pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin to end the threat.
Kapler brought out Juan Nicasio to try to close it out in the bottom of the 9th with a one-run lead. He promptly broke the baseball cardinal rule, walking Bryant as the leadoff man. Rizzo then followed by ripping a double into the right field corner and the Cubs had the tying run just 90 feet away, the winning run in scoring position at second base, nobody out.
Contreras then lifted a short fly into left field. Harper grabbed it and set to throw home, too shallow for the tagging Bryant to score. Kapler then ordered Heyward walked to load the bases. Almora  dribbled a ball in front of the plate. Nicasio grabbed it, but delivered a weak flip home as Bryant slid in with the tying run.
The next move in the chess match was Maddon’s, and he had a good one available to him. He sent the electric Javier Baez, normally the starting shortstop but out of the lineup the last two nights with a minor injury, up as a pinch-hitter. Baez wasted no time, ripping the walkoff base hit to right field as Rizzo trotted home with the winning run.
On Wednesday night for the first time in his career, Cole Hamels will take the mound to go against the Phillies team with which he won the 2008 World Series.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCE

  • Zach Eflin, Phillies: 6 IP, 6 hits, 1 earned run, 4 walks, 2 strikeouts. 104 pitches, 62 for strikes.
  • Jose Quintana, Cubs: 6 IP, 2 hits, 0 runs, 3 walks, 4 strikeouts. 100 pitches, 59 for strikes.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME: KRIS BRYANT

The Cubs third baseman went 3-4 with a walk and a pair of runs scored. His hustle led to the Cubs first run of the game back in the bottom of the 1st inning. And that walk started off the rally in the bottom of the 9th inning that won it for the home team.
NEXT GAME

NLCS: Los Angeles Dodgers vs Chicago Cubs preview and prediction

The Dodgers and Cubs meet in a repeat NLCS

For the second consecutive season the National League Championship Series will be contested by the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers.

The two teams engaged in a spirited series last October, eventually won by the Cubs in six games. Chicago would then go on to defeat the Cleveland Indians, winning the franchise first World Series in more than a century.

A year ago, Chicago took the opener. But LA then received back-to-back pitching gems from Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, shutting out the Cubs twice to take a 2-1 series lead.

After that, it was all Chicago. The Cubbies bats awoke with a vengeance to take the final three games by a combined 23-6 score.

This season, the Dodgers staggered out of the gate, going 10-12 over the first few weeks of April. But from April 27 through August 25 they accumulated an unreal 81-24 record.

That four month stretch of dominance allowed the Dodgers to run away with the National League West Division race. Even a month-long slump over which they lost 20 of 25 games would not allow either the Arizona Diamondbacks or Colorado Rockies, both eventual NL Wildcard teams, to make a dent in the division.

Los Angeles would recover to take eight of their final 10 games, finishing with 104 wins and an 11-game cushion over Arizona. The 104 victories gave them the best mark in all of Major League Baseball, and were the most by any Dodgers team in more than four decades.

The Dodgers would stay hot in the postseason as well, sweeping the 93-win Diamondbacks in three games in a National League Division Series.

Over in Chicago, the defending World Series champion Cubs had a much tougher go of things in the 2017 regular season. They would ultimately win 92 games and a second consecutive NL Central crown by six games. But that would not be decided until September, following spirited challenges from the upstart Milwaukee Brewers and arch-rival Saint Louis Cardinals.

That tougher road would continue in their NLDS against the Washington Nationals. The Cubs and Nats split the first four games, with Chicago taking a pair of low-scoring 3-0 and 2-1 affairs. Washington won by 6-3 and then in a 5-0 shutout behind Stephen Strasburg to send the series to a deciding game.

In that decisive Game Five, the two National League giants threw hay makers at one another. At the end of the battle in our nation’s capital, it was the Cubs left standing following a 9-8 victory.

The Dodgers are led by skipper Dave Roberts in his second year at the helm. Roberts has guided the LA club to division crowns in each of those two seasons.

The Cubs manager is the colorful Joe Maddon. The longtime skipper in Tampa Bay, Maddon guided the Rays to a pair of AL East crowns and the 2008 American League pennant. Now in his third season in the Windy City, he has an all-time managerial record of 1,073-922 and that 2016 World Series crown.

The Dodgers lineup receives most of their offense from five players. Two of them, shortstop Corey Seager and first baseman Cody Bellinger, are the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year and the likely 2017 ROY respectively.

A pair of 27-year olds have emerged as the most pleasant surprises this season. Left fielder Chris Taylor hit for a .288/.354/.496 slash line with 21 homers, 72 RBI, 85 runs scored, and 17 steals. Austin Barnes has taken over primary catching duties. His big 6th inning homer off Dbacks ace Zack Greinke in the NLDS Game Three helped the Dodgers clinch that series.

The mercurial Cuban right fielder known as “the Wild Horse”, Yasiel Puig, put together his finest season. The final influential lineup piece is third baseman Justin Turner. Known for his long red hair and beard, Turner is also one of baseball’s most underrated superstars.

There are plenty of veterans to provide Roberts with lineup support. They include Logan Forsythe, Chase Utley, Andre Ethier, and Yasmani Grandal.

On the mound, Roberts will go with his ace Kershaw in the opener. You can expect to see the lefty, one of the top pitchers of this generation, to come back twice more in the series if needed.

The lefty Hill will go in Game Two, followed by right-hander Yu Darvish in Game Three. Another lefty, Alex Wood, will start Game Four. If the series continues beyond that, expect Kershaw to start Game Five, and then to be available in a decisive seventh game.

The Dodgers bullpen is anchored by one of baseball’s top closers. Kenley Jansen is a big, 30-year old right-hander. He saved 41 games this year with a 1.32 ERA and 0.746 WHIP in his second consecutive NL All-Star campaign. Jansen allowed just 44 hits over 68.1 innings with a dominating 109/7 K:BB ratio.

Between his starting pitcher and his lights-out closer, Roberts will lean heavily on righties Kenta Maeda and Brandon Morrow, and left-handers Tony Cingrani and Tony Watson. He is likely to also have right-handers Pedro Baez and Josh Fields available.

Maddon is well aware of what it takes to beat good pitching in October. “Mr. Kershaw, obviously, and they’ve got Darvish, etc. Listen, we just went through Strasburg and Scherzer, and that’s no day at the beach either. When you get to this time of the year, you really have to be prepared to beat good pitching, which they have.

The Cubs group of hitters have proven they can beat that good pitching. One of the deepest and most versatile lineups in the game today is led by the 2016 NL MVP in third baseman Kris Bryant and clutch first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Addison Russell, Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras, Javier Baez, Albert Almora, and Jason Heyward are all 20-somethings and all are talented enough that they can be difference-makers in a particular game.

The old man of the team is versatile 36-year old Ben Zobrist, who followed Maddon from Tampa to Chicago and still contributes heavily. When he takes the field in the opener, Zobrist will be participating in his 60th MLB postseason game over the last decade.

The biggest question mark in this series may be what Maddon decides to do with his starting rotation. Even as late as Saturday morning, the starter for Game One has not been announced.

Maddon could choose to go with lefty summer acquisition Jose Quintana, who tossed 2/3 of an inning in relief during Game Five against Washington just two days ago in the NLDS.

He could also come with righty John Lackey, who won a dozen games and started 30 games in the regular season. The veteran turns 39 years old in a couple of weeks, has 26 games of postseason experience, and is well-rested after not seeing any NLDS action.

I would expect to see Maddon go with those two as starters in the first two games in some order. They would be followed by Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks. But that’s only what I would do.

The good news is that whomever becomes the choice to start, there is plenty of talented bullpen support available should they get into early trouble. Maddon should have righties Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, and closer Wade Davis available. From the left side it would be Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing, and Mike Montgomery. And if he doesn’t start, Lackey would be available as well.

The Dodgers had the best record in Major League Baseball this season and swept their NLDS opponent. The Cubs are the defending world champions and play with confidence and swagger. This should be a fascinating matchup.

During the regular season, the Dodgers took four of the six meetings between the two clubs. But I am going to call it for the defending champs. I believe that the Cubs have the talent to take out the Dodgers by that same margin. Call it Chicago in six games.

Nationals can prove nothing today – they must win two straight

Dusty Baker’s Nationals need two wins (photo: Chicago Tribune)

The Washington Nationals are on the brink of postseason elimination. Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

This year’s version of the Nats will take the field on Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago trailing the host Cubs by 2-1 in a best-of-five NLDS.

Whether they are willing to admit it or not, the Nationals will face another opponent today as well. That opponent lives inside their own heads and hearts.

This 2017 MLB postseason marks the fourth time in the last six years that Washington has participated in the National League Division Series. They have been eliminated in each of the previous three opportunities.

Winning today will not take the pressure off the Nats. Forcing a Game Five back at Nationals Park on Friday would not prove a thing. For the Nationals to show that this year’s team is different from those previous playoff clubs, they must win two straight.

At the start of this series against the defending World Series champions, Nationals manager Dusty Baker was quoted by Todd Dybas for The Washington Times on prior October failures.

“I don’t think about what you haven’t done. You think about what you can control, which is the power of now. We’re in it now. I’ve been through a number of these where there a lot of unlikely heroes. Guys that should be heroes aren’t and guys you don’t count on being heroes are. It’s hero time. Guys are born and made during this time.”

Baker has indeed “been through it”, as both a player and manager. This is his second year with the Nats, so the second time he has taken them this far. He skippered the Cincinnati Reds to the playoffs twice, the Cubs once, and the San Francisco Giants three times, including a tough seven-game loss in the 2002 World Series.

In last year’s NLDS, his Nationals team held a 2-1 lead on the Los Angeles Dodgers. In Game Four, the Dodgers tied things up with a 6-5 victory. The unlikely Joe Blanton entered to strike out Anthony Rendon with runners on 1st and 3rd and two outs after the Nats had rallied to tie at 5-5.

Then in the decisive Game Five, it was another 2008 Phillies World Series player who became the unlikely hero. This time it was Carlos Ruiz, whose pinch-hit RBI single put LA on top 2-1 in the top of the 7th inning. The Dodgers went on to a 4-3 victory, eliminating the Nationals.

This year, down 1-0 in games to the Cubs and facing a 3-1 deficit in Game Two with one out in the bottom of the 8th inning, Baker witnessed that “hero time” that he had been calling for at the start. It came in the form of lightening bolts from two more likely sources.

First, Bryce Harper delivered a mammoth game-tying two-run homer. Three batters later, Ryan Zimmerman crushed a go-ahead three-run home run to center field. Four outs from a 2-0 series deficit, the Nationals had their heroes, and had tied the series.

Unfortunately, those offensive heroics did not carry over to Game Three. Washington was held to just three hits by Jose Quintana and three Chicago relievers, eking out a 2-1 victory on Anthony Rizzo’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the 8th inning.

The Cubs have not blown out the Nationals. What their pitching has done, aside from a four batter sequence in that Game Two 8th inning, is completely shut down the Washington lineup.

Trying to stay alive in Game Four, the Nationals will have to find a way to score against Cubs ace Jake Arrieta and a talented Cubs bullpen now rested thanks to Tuesday’s rainout. Baker will send Stephen Strasburg out to start, trying to keep his team’s season alive.

Strasburg was reported to be ill and unavailable had the game been played as originally scheduled. The one-day delay was apparently enough for him to recover sufficiently to at least give it the old college try for as long as he can remain effective, and then turn it over to the pen.

The franchise has played in Washington as the Nationals since 2005. Prior to that, there were 36 seasons as the Montreal Expos. In all that time north of the border, there was just one playoff series, a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers in the 1982 NLCS.

The Nationals still have the talent and firepower to win back-to-back games from the Cubs and capture this series. Now, that is exactly what they must do. Win two straight, or as with all four previous postseason teams over the franchise’ 48 previous years, they will fail to win a playoff series, and will go home disappointed.

NLDS Prediction: Washington Nationals over Chicago Cubs

Nationals fans believe that this will be their year – so do I

This isn’t necessarily a now-or-never situation for the Washington Nationals, as some pundits have claimed.

The Nats are likely to again be favorites to win the NL East crown in 2018, and will have the talent again to be a serious championship contender.

However, it is getting to be time for the Nationals to prove that they can actually win a postseason series, let alone make a deep October run.

This is the sixth consecutive season of contention in our nation’s capital. Washington captured the NL East crown in four of those six seasons, and finished second in the other two. This is their fourth shot at postseason play.

In their three previous October series, the Nationals dropped a hard-fought NLDS. In 2012 it was a 3-2 series defeat at the hands of the Saint Louis Cardinals.

The Nats won the opener of that series, and held a 7-5 lead with two outs in the top of the 9th in the decisive Game Five before a Cardinals rally killed their dreams.

In 2014, the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants took out the Nats in four games. Each of the three defeats came by a single run: 3-2 and 2-1 in the first two games, and then a 3-2 defeat in Game Four where the Giants clinching run scored via a wild pitch.

Last season, Washington was a clear favorite against the LA Dodgers. A 3-2 loss to Clayton Kershaw in the opener was nothing to be ashamed of, and the Nats bounced back to capture the next two games.

Then in Game Four, the Dodgers tied the series with a two-out, nobody on rally in the bottom of the 8th in which a Chase Utley RBI single drove in the winning run of a 6-5 game.

In Game Five, Max Scherzer was tossing a gem, shutting out the Dodgers for six innings. But in the 7th, LA erupted for four runs, ultimately holding on for a 4-3 victory that again eliminated the Nationals.

This history matters, because if the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs get out to a series lead, or even take it to a decisive game, that history of playoff losing could work on the Nationals collective heads.

The two teams battled fairly even in the regular season, with the Nats capturing four of the seven games. In late June, they split a four-game set at Nationals Park. Then in early August, Washington took two of three at Wrigley Field.

This series should prove to be a fantastic managerial matchup between two of the game’s best and most experienced field generals.

Washington skipper Dusty Baker has guided the Nationals to the NL East title in each of his first two seasons with the club. Baker was a 2x NL All-Star and Silver Slugger winner during a 19-year playing career that stretched all the way back to 1968. He was a key player on the 1981 Dodgers team that won the World Series.

As a manager, Baker has guided four different teams over a total of 22 seasons. He has a cumulative 1,863-1,636 regular season record, won division titles with each of his four teams, and took the 2002 San Francisco Giants to the World Series.

The Cubs have gone 292-193 in three seasons under Joe Maddon, who skippered them to the franchise’ first World Series championship since 1908 a year ago.

Maddon previously won a pair of division crowns and an AL Pennant with the Tampa Bay Rays over nine seasons. He was also a member of Mike Scioscia’s staff when the Anaheim Angels beat Baker’s Giants in that 2002 Fall Classic.

Baker will send 3x NL All-Star Stephen Strasburg to the hill in Friday’s opener at Nationals Park, but has yet to announce his rotation beyond the opener. The likelihood is that it will be Scherzer and lefty Gio Gonzalez in some order for Game Two in Washington, and then Game Three in Chicago.

Maddon has already announced Kyle Hendricks for the opener, followed by Jon Lester in Game Two, and then trade deadline acquisition Jose Quintana in Game Three.

These are two star-studded lineups. The Nationals key could be the readiness of right fielder Bryce Harper, one of the most dynamic players in the game today. A nearly devastating leg injury limited the soon-to-be 25-year old to just 111 games. He was able to return for the final five games, and he should be ready to go.

Also featured in the Nationals lineup is second baseman Daniel Murphy, a 3x NL All-Star, the 2016 NL MVP runner-up, and the 2015 NLCS MVP while with the New York Mets.

Third baseman Anthony Rendon is going to receive NL MVP votes this time around. Shortstop Trea Turner is one of the game’s biggest stolen base threats. Veterans Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth, and Matt Wieters bring not just their talents, but also a wealth of big game experience.

The champion Cubs come with perhaps the deepest collection of talented youngsters in the game today in third baseman Kris Bryant (25), first baseman Anthony Rizzo (28), catcher Willson Contreras (25), left fielder Kyle Schwarber (24), right fielder Jason Heyward (28), center fielder Albert Almora (23) and a pair of super utility guys in Javier Baez (24) and 23-year old rookie Ian Happ.

The Cubs also have one of the best and most experienced and versatile players in this postseason in 36-year old Ben Zobrist, who was with Maddon back in the Tampa Bay days and played a key role on last year’s title team.

Right-handed starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, perhaps the Cubs best, is battling a hamstring injury. He is expected to start Game Four. If he cannot go, Maddon may turn to lefty Mike Montgomery, depending on how much the veteran has been used out of the bullpen.

Out of the bullpens, both managers have an array of talented options. Maddon will turn to righties John Lackey, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards, and closer Wade Davis. From the left side he will bring Montgomery, Justin Wilson, and Brian Duensing.

When Baker calls to the bullpen he will be looking for righties Ryan Madson, Matt Albers, Brandon Kintzler, and possibly even usual starter Tanner Roark. From the southpaw side it will be Oliver Perez, Enny Romero, Sammy Solis, and closer Sean Doolittle.

This is a battle of the two teams that I see as the National League’s best. The winner of this series should be favored in the NLCS, and should they advance that far, will pose a major challenge to the American League champions in the World Series.

Much as with my prediction for the other NLDS, this is completely a gut call. Two evenly matched teams. Washington has home field advantage. I just think it’s their time. Don’t be surprised to see Harper take over this postseason, while Rendon shows his talent on a national stage. Nationals in a hard-fought five games.

Cubs lose Contreras, but Avila ready to step in

Contreras (C) has been pivotal to Cubs this season
The Chicago Cubs are the defending World Series champions, and entered the season as prohibitive favorites to repeat in the NL Central Division.
Things haven’t gone as smoothly as the team or their fans in the friendly confines of Wrigley Field had expected. The Cubbies struggled for most of the first half of the season.
Coming out hot after the MLB All-Star break, Chicago re-established themselves at the top of the division. Their most consistently productive player all season has been young catcher Willson Contreras.
The 25-year old backstop is in his first full season as the starter behind the dish on the North Side. He was slashing .274/.342/.519 with 21 homers and 70 RBI following Wednesday night’s game. Those power totals are second on the ball club.
But potential disaster struck in the late innings of that 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants. While running out a routine grounder in the bottom of the eighth inning, Contreras pulled up lame. He needed to be helped from the field with what turns out to be a hamstring injury.
An MRI on Thursday will determine the extent of the injury, as well as the length of time that Contreras is expected to miss. He could be gone for a week or so. He could also be gone for a lot longer. A stint on the Disabled List is a virtual certainty.
“He’s in good spirits,’’ first baseman Anthony Rizzo said per Bob Nightengale of USA Today. “He said he’s had it worse than this before [in 2015 in the Arizona Fall League]. He thinks he’ll be fine. Injuries like that, when you see someone grab like that, it’s not very good. So you never know. We’ll see.’’

NEW BACKUP BACKSTOP READY TO STEP IN

Fortunately for the Cubs, they have a solid replacement ready to step into the breech. Alex Avila is a 30-year old veteran in his ninth big league season. He was obtained by GM Jed Hoyer in a deal at this year’s trade deadline.
On July 31, Hoyer shipped a pair of talented prospects, third baseman Jeimer Candelario and shortstop Isaac Paredes, to the Detroit Tigers. In exchange, the Cubs received Avila and Tigers’ closer Justin Wilson.
For many at the time, Wilson probably seemed the bigger addition. The 29-year old had saved 13 games in Detroit, allowing just 22 hits over 40.1 innings with a 55/16 K:BB ratio. He wouldn’t close with the Cubs, but as a left-hander, Wilson would become an integral part of manager Joe Maddon‘s late-innings bullpen mix.
But now it seems that Avila may prove just as crucial an addition, if not more so. With Detroit he was the starting catcher, and had a stellar .387 on-base percentage over 274 plate appearances. Avila also demonstrated some pop, with 11 homers and 32 RBI.
He certainly doesn’t lack for the confidence to step into the Cubs starting role, for however long they need him. “There’s nothing to hang our heads,’’ Avila said per Nightengale. “No reason to be upset. We’re in first place. We got to keep grinding away. Got to keep playing hard. We’re in a great position.’’
The Cubs are indeed in first place. However, their lead is just 1.5 games over Milwaukee and Saint Louis. The arch-rival Cardinals have been playing good ball for weeks. If the Cubs want to remain on top, the ability of Avila to effectively step in while Contreras is out is likely to prove a crucial factor.