4 ingredients for Cubs to come back in NLCS
CHICAGO -- The Cubs may have their backs up against an ivy-covered wall, but you wouldn't have known it as they went through a brief workout at Wrigley Field in preparation for Tuesday night's Game 3 of the National League Championship Series (7:30 p.m. ET air time on TBS, 8 p.m. ET game time).
The Cubs lost the first two games in the best-of-seven series against the Mets at Citi Field. They're counting on being at home -- and the warmer weather that is forecast to come along with it -- to help them get back into this and keep their hopes alive for the franchise's first trip to the World Series since 1945.
"The last thing I worry about is the psychological component of, "Will we rally, will we show up?" said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "Nothing really changes. We've had a great mix all year as far as chemistry in the clubhouse and psychology and rallying from a little bit of adversity. It's our veterans embracing the young players a little bit and the younger players providing energy and production."
On the other hand, everybody grasps that they've put themselves at a disadvantage. Manager Joe Maddon picked the theme from Rocky, the underdog's universal anthem, for the postgame music Sunday night.
"You can knock it up, X's and O's, put it on paper all you want," said outfielder Chris Coghlan. "But you can't quantify once you get out there. So if we perform, if we execute, we expect to win."
They haven't been knocked out yet. Here's a look at four things the Cubs have to do to keep their hopes alive.
1. Win Game 3.
Well, duh, right? The Red Sox came back from being down, 0-3, to beat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series in 2004. The fact that we're still talking about it demonstrates how rare that is.
Beyond the obvious mathematics, there are reasons why Tuesday night is pivotal.
One is that a win would assure the Cubs of getting to Game 5, which presumably would be started by Jon Lester. And if Lester wins, Jake Arrieta would likely come back in Game 6. And if he wins, that forces an anything-can-happen Game 7.
If the Cubs lose Game 3, however, there's no guarantee Lester or Arrieta will pitch again unless they start on short rest.
Epstein raised another point. "Usually we've won in streaks after we've gone through a little losing streak, so we hope to do that again," he said.
Is that accurate? Well, the Cubs had eight losing streaks of three games or more this season. Half the time, they won one and then lost again. The other half, they went on winning streaks of at least three games. But in a what-have-you-done-lately world, the last four times they lost at least three in a row, they came back to win six, five and eight in a row.
2. Hey batter, batter.
During the regular season, the Cubs were fifth in the NL in home runs and sixth in runs scored and OPS. In beating the Cardinals in the NLDS, they hit 12 homers in five games. In the first two games of the NLCS, they've hit one ball out while batting .159 as a team, and they've scored a total of three runs.
Some of that can be attributed to good Mets pitching. Some can be written off as a result of cold weather, especially in Game 3 on Sunday night. Some may be written off as bad luck. On Monday, several Cubs mentioned that they've had a lot of hard-hit balls that were caught.
"We've hit the ball hard. We've just got to stick with that approach," said third baseman Kris Bryant.
Added shortstop Javier Baez: "We've been hitting the ball well, just right at people. That's how baseball is sometimes. We've just got to make adjustments. We know what we can do and that's what we're here for."
The weather conditions and the configuration of Wrigley Field should be more conducive to the long ball. And the Cubs are hoping that their luck on well-struck balls starts to even out.
3. Ice Daniel Murphy.
The Mets second baseman has homered in four straight postseason games, and he has hit five overall. In the NLCS, he's hitting .429 with a 1.286 OPS.
"He's as locked in as you could possibly be. Almost singlehandedly won that Dodgers series," Epstein said. "We know that going in. A big part of the advance process was focused on him because he was so hot, finding ways not to let him beat us. But we haven't been successful so far."
The simplest solution would be just to pitch around Murphy, but that's more difficult when runners get on. And Mets leadoff hitter Curtis Granderson has also been a tough out. He's batting .375 with a .448 on-base percentage.
Catcher Miguel Montero said after Game 2 that he believes the Cubs have a good game plan to pitch to Murphy.
"We just have to execute it better," Montero said.
4. Rise and shine.
Cubs Game 3 starter Kyle Hendricks doesn't have the national reputation that his Tuesday night opponent, Jacob deGrom, has. He doesn't have the distinctive hairstyle. And he doesn't pitch in New York, where everything is magnified.
What he does have is a chance to come up big in his team's biggest game of the year so far. It shouldn't be overlooked that while deGrom won the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 2014, Hendricks pitched well enough to finish seventh.
It's also interesting to note that Hendricks made one start against the Mets this year. On June 30 at Citi Field, he pitched six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and striking out six in a 1-0 victory.
Not only that, getting the win that night allowed the Cubs to snap a five-game losing streak that triggered a sweep of the Mets. Could a repeat performance Tuesday night have a similar ripple effect? The Cubs would love to find out.