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3 reasons Cubs can come back in NLCS

MLB.com @AnthonyDiComo

CHICAGO -- Certainly the Cubs, of all teams, understand that a 2-0 series deficit is hardly insurmountable. Joe Maddon's club rallied from a 3-1 hole in the 2016 World Series to beat the Indians, and from a 2-1 deficit in last year's National League Championship Series to topple the Dodgers.

NLCS Game 3: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS

CHICAGO -- Certainly the Cubs, of all teams, understand that a 2-0 series deficit is hardly insurmountable. Joe Maddon's club rallied from a 3-1 hole in the 2016 World Series to beat the Indians, and from a 2-1 deficit in last year's National League Championship Series to topple the Dodgers.

NLCS Game 3: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS

But just having been in similar situations before will not be enough. The Cubs must execute flawlessly against a Dodgers club that was favored coming into the NLCS presented by Camping World, and one that has done nothing since that time to dispel the notion that they're the team to beat.

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Dress for NLCS: Buy Cubs postseason gear

Consider a comeback difficult but possible. Here are three reasons why the Cubs can make it happen as the series shifts to Chicago:

Their bullpen is rested
Maddon absorbed significant criticism for not using closer Wade Davis in the ninth inning of a tied Game 2. The byproduct of that decision is that Davis, who threw a season-high 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile, has not even warmed up for four consecutive days. He can potentially pitch in all three games in Chicago, or in multiple innings of a game if needed.

Bullpens may be the most mismatched area of the two rosters in this series. But the Cubs, running on fumes coming into the week, are in far better shape than they once were. In addition to a rested Davis, lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing should both be available in Game 3. And right-hander Carl Edwards Jr. appears to have rebounded from his recent struggles.

"We're not winning any more games without them," Maddon said of Edwards and Montgomery in particular. "You have to keep working at it, keep talking to them. Anything they perceive to be flaws, you have to work on. These are our guys. They got us to this point in the year."

Maddon: 'Keep believing' in Cubs' comeback

The Cubs may not be able to match Los Angeles' late-game muscle, but they can feel comfortable leaning more heavily on their own trusted relievers this week in Chicago.

The offense almost has to improve
It seems unfathomable that the Cubs' offense, which led the NL in on-base percentage during the regular season, would go 0-for-24 with nine strikeouts through two games against the Dodgers' bullpen. Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo said simply that the team must start putting men on base. Logic dictates they're almost guaranteed to be better at it in Games 3 through 5.

"It's contagious," Rizzo said, "so you've just got to keep grinding."

Video: McMaster, Castrovince on Cubs coming back in the NLCS

It's worth noting that the reigning NL MVP, Kris Bryant, is 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position this October after batting .237 in such situations during the regular season. With a man on second in the third inning of a scoreless Game 2, Bryant whiffed on a 90-mph middle-in fastball, then swung through a 91-mph heater in nearly the same spot -- the type of pitch he routinely crushes.

Sabermetricians do not consider clutch performances predictive of future opportunities. If there's ever a time for Bryant to put to rest his struggles in pressure situations, it's now.

The pitching matchups are skewing more in their favor
Heading into the NLCS, the Cubs were a weary team. They started Jose Quintana on short rest in Game 1 on Saturday, and while he pitched well, Jon Lester did not in Game 2 on Sunday while pitching on short rest. The Cubs' top two starters, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta, were unavailable for those games due to their NLDS workloads.

Video: NLCS Gm3: Hendricks on Cubs' game-by-game approach

Now Hendricks and Arrieta are ready to show why they've been two of the NL's best starting pitchers multiple years in a row. While the Dodgers are about to dip into the (admittedly still formidable) middle of their rotation in Games 3 and 4, the Cubs will counter with their twin aces. If Hendricks and Arrieta can pitch deeper into games than Quintana and Lester did, the Cubs should also be able to neutralize some of Los Angeles' bullpen advantage.

Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook.

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