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3 keys to Cubs' success in NLDS

Leadoff production crucial as Chicago returns to Wrigley for Game 3
MLB.com

CHICAGO -- If there was any concern in the Cubs' clubhouse after just missing a chance to take a 2-0 lead over the Nationals on Saturday night, they didn't bring it home to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had breakfast on the field followed by a light workout on Sunday while watching football games on the scoreboard in left field. They will get back into game mode today for the pivotal Game 3 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, but that easygoing attitude may be a product of the reigning World Series champions' previous postseason experience.

CHICAGO -- If there was any concern in the Cubs' clubhouse after just missing a chance to take a 2-0 lead over the Nationals on Saturday night, they didn't bring it home to Wrigley Field.

The Cubs had breakfast on the field followed by a light workout on Sunday while watching football games on the scoreboard in left field. They will get back into game mode today for the pivotal Game 3 of the National League Division Series presented by T-Mobile, but that easygoing attitude may be a product of the reigning World Series champions' previous postseason experience.

:: NLDS schedule and coverage ::

"You can't get too up, can't get too down," Kyle Schwarber said. "Just stay right in the middle and keep going."

There is no understating the importance of Monday's middle game in the best-of-five NLDS, because it will put someone on the brink of elimination Tuesday. The Cubs will have their home crowd behind them against Nats ace Max Scherzer.

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Here are three keys for the Cubs to pull ahead and win this split series.

1. Start from the top
The Cubs' leadoff hitters, Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr., went a combined 0-for-8 at Nationals Park. They didn't create many opportunities for Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, who hit the ground running and each went 3-for-8.

Short of sending Schwarber back to the leadoff spot, what can manager Joe Maddon do to create a spark atop the order against Scherzer?

Maddon could mix it up in Game 3 by using Jon Jay, who has plenty of experience batting leadoff -- he hit .289 with a .364 on-base percentage against right-handers this season. However, he might prefer to have Jay available as a late-inning pinch-hitter or defensive replacement. Tommy La Stella, who slashed .277/.390/.455 against right-handers, is another option.

Video: CHC@STL: La Stella lines pinch-hit RBI double to gap

"It's been a revolving door all year," Maddon said. "I don't think it's been a detriment in any sense; the runs scored indicate that. You might see something different done [Monday] -- I haven't decided yet -- but you may not, but that's nothing different than we've done all year."

2. No burn from Turner
One thing the Cubs have done remarkably well is shut down Nats leadoff man Trea Turner, who is 0-for-8 with four strikeouts. Turner was a pest at the plate and on the bases against Chicago earlier this season, and the Cubs made him a priority heading into this series.

That didn't wind up helping the Cubs in Game 3, when the Nationals did their most significant damage with the long ball. But runs will be at a premium against Scherzer and the reinvigorated Nats bullpen, so it's imperative they continue to keep Turner off the bases.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm1: Davis collects save in scoreless inning

3. Wade in
The Cubs couldn't have scripted the final four innings of Game 1 any better than they played out. They took a lead, watched Kyle Hendricks cruise through seven innings, upgraded their outfield defensively and got the ball to closer Wade Davis with a three-run lead in the ninth.

It won't always be so formulaic, of course. They were reminded of that Saturday night, when Carl Edwards Jr. and Mike Montgomery squandered a two-run lead in the Nats' five-run eighth inning. Davis never got in the game.

Video: CHC@WSH Gm2: Maddon on Edwards Jr.'s performance

Maddon's trust in Edwards and Montgomery has not wavered, but it's worth noting he asked Davis to record more than three outs three times after Sept. 15 -- all meaningful, late-season games. If the season is on the line, there's no reason for Maddon not to call upon his most trusted, effective reliever in the eighth inning again. One way or another, though, they must find a way to get a lead to Davis, be it in the ninth or earlier.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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