CHICAGO -- Not all wins are created equal.:: NLCS schedule and coverage ::While the Cubs gained only one thing by beating the Dodgers, 3-2, on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, it was the most essential of things -- the right to play a Game
CHICAGO -- Not all wins are created equal.
:: NLCS schedule and coverage ::
While the Cubs gained only one thing by beating the Dodgers, 3-2, on Wednesday night in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, it was the most essential of things -- the right to play a Game 5. That counts for a lot, even if you have to face Clayton Kershaw.
But, believe it or not, the Cubs don't feel bad about facing Kershaw. Well, at least not as bad as they would have had they not held their own against the lefty the last three times they've faced him, a streak that began when they clinched a trip to the World Series last October. The thing that matters the most right now is they're still playing baseball.
Joe Maddon made that quite clear with his epic rant across the Wrigley Field infield grass after the umpires gave Curtis Granderson an eighth-inning mulligan on a third strike, with Wade Davis clinging to a one-run lead. The Cubs' manager reiterated it afterward, explaining why he got himself ejected for the second time in the NLCS presented by Camping World.
"I mean, I was upset," Maddon said. "I mean, listen, this is an elimination game, man. This isn't just another one. This isn't June 23; this is an elimination game."
No question about that. The Dodgers had a chance to sweep the Cubs, as they did the D-backs last week.
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But the Cubs aren't the kind of team that goes quietly. They're 9-2 in games that can decide a postseason round over the last three Octobers, losing only to the Mets in Game 4 of the 2015 NLCS and to the Nationals last week in Game 4 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile.
These guys don't mind laying it on the line when the story line calls for high-tension hardball. They just keep plugging away, even if there are times when they seem just as beaten as Leonardo DiCaprio's character during the second and third hours of "The Revenant."
Jacob Arrieta's determined focus and the extreme movement of his pitches kept the Dodgers at bay well enough that the Cubs were able to survive on the strength of two Javier Baez solo home runs and another from Willson Contreras. Jose Quintana starts for the North Siders Thursday against Kershaw, whose three NL Cy Young Awards have yet to be validated by a trip to the World Series.
Maybe Thursday night is the start he's awaited. But he wouldn't have minded if lefty Alex Wood, Justin Turner and his other highly capable teammates had finished off the Cubs in a sweep.
The Cubs are going to be a tough team to put away, especially when their bats wake up.
"We are sure that we're going to come tomorrow and we're going to do our job," said Contreras, who put the Cubs on the board in Game 4 with a 491-foot homer off the scoreboard in left-center. "You know what? Whatever happens, happens. But we are a tough team to [beat]."
They seemed poised to be put away in Game 4, as they once again couldn't create big innings off a Dodgers pitching staff that is on the kind of roll managers dream about. But Arrieta, Brian Duensing and Davis held firm, even when umpires potentially gave Granderson a fourth strike against Davis in the eighth inning, when he represented the go-ahead run.
Maddon was apoplectic about the umpires' belated decision that Granderson had foul-tipped the third strike, earning a bookend ejection to go with the one that followed a blocking-the-plate call in Game 1. He was in the clubhouse when Davis struck out Granderson on the next pitch, but had hardly calmed down.
"To have that changed, and if Granderson hits the next pitch out, I might come running out of the clubhouse in my jockstrap," Maddon said. "That was really that bad. So you can't permit that to happen."
Maddon had hoped his hitters would do serious damage against Wood, who was starting for the first time since Sept. 26. Instead, they collected only five hits and scored three runs or fewer for the eighth time in nine postseason games.
"We have to elevate our game, offensively," Maddon said. "It's just that simple. It's not about maybe kind of, hopefully; we've got to do it."
Maddon didn't name names but it's the two main food groups of the Cubs' lineup, Kristopher Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who need a wakeup call. They were a combined 0-for-7 in Game 4 and are hitting .174 with one home run in 69 postseason at-bats.
Bryant had his four-strikeout moment in Game 4 against the Nationals. Rizzo struck out in all three plate appearances Wednesday and has eight strikeouts in the NLCS.
The good news for the Cubs is he was a mess midway through last season's run, and hit his stride in the eighth game. It might just be taking him a little bit longer this time around.
We'll see when he steps into the box against Kershaw, who has hardly been unhittable against the Cubs over the last year. Since Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS at Wrigley Field, Kershaw has allowed the Cubs 11 runs on 22 hits and three walks in 14 1/3 innings over three starts.
With two solo homers and a warning-track fly ball to center field on Wednesday, the previously hitless Baez might have just become the hot hitter the Cubs have needed. He's 2-for-6 with a home run off Kershaw.
"You have to stick with your game plan," Maddon said, speaking in general terms. "You've got to be more centered. You've got to be a tougher out with two strikes. You've got to move the baseball in situations. We're capable of doing all those things. That's what needs to occur for the next three games against Los Angeles."
The next three games.
That's what the man said.
Not the next game. Not the next two games. The next three games.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.