CHICAGO -- There are dilemmas and there are easy decisions, right?• NLCS Game 3: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBSThe Cubs are two games away from being stopped short in defense of their World Series championship, and their right-handed-hitting second baseman, Javier Baez, is hitless in 19 at-bats in
CHICAGO -- There are dilemmas and there are easy decisions, right?
• NLCS Game 3: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS
The Cubs are two games away from being stopped short in defense of their World Series championship, and their right-handed-hitting second baseman, Javier Baez, is hitless in 19 at-bats in the postseason. They have three other options at the position, all of whom would hit left-handed against Dodgers right-hander Yu Darvish tonight.
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So, Joe Maddon, who are you going to start instead? Benjamin Zobrist? Ian Happ? Thomas La Stella?
The answer just might be none of the above.
It won't be a shock if Maddon sticks with Baez for Game 3 of the National League Championship Series presented by Camping World. Don't forget -- he didn't bench Addison Russell after his 1-for-24 start to the 2016 postseason, and Russell rewarded him by hitting the Game 4 home run at Dodger Stadium that helped jump-start a sputtering lineup.
"I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience,'' Maddon said. "You've got to be patient right now. You've got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.''
While the Dodgers are showing that they'll be tougher to crack this time around, with a healthy rotation and a deeper bullpen, the Cubs can draw some positivity from the parallel between their problem scoring runs this year and in the first half of their 17-game run last October and November.
"It's eerily similar,'' Maddon said.
They need a spark to ignite them in this NLCS. That's the way it turned out in 2016, when Zobrist's bunt single and Russell's homer off Julio Urias got the Cubs rolling.
Following an emotional NL Division Series against the Giants, the Cubs had won the NLCS opener at Wrigley Field but then dropped Games 2 and 3 by 1-0 and 6-0 scores. They were in a 2-1 hole and had been held scoreless for 18 consecutive innings.
In the visiting clubhouse at Dodger Stadium after Game 3, I asked Kristopher Bryant if the Cubs just needed a hit to get them going. He said they'd already had it.
That was a harmless ninth-inning single by Anthony Rizzo, when Kenley Jansen caused Rizzo's bat to explode into shards.
"I think that's the hit we needed,'' Bryant said. "I think he's going to feed off that. I'm sure it's not the way he wanted to get a hit. But I think that's the kind of thing you see spark a team.''
Through the third inning of Game 4 against the Dodgers in that series, the Cubs were hitting .177 for the postseason. They were a mess up and down the lineup card. Even with that cheap single, Rizzo was 2-for-28; Jason Heyward was 2-for-20 and Zobrist was 4-for-27. Then there was Russell, who was in the biggest slump of all.
But Maddon had shown his patience, and it paid off in a 10-2 win in Game 4, evening the series. The Cubs kept delivering through the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.
From the Zobrist bunt single in Game 4 against the Dodgers through the two-run 10th inning in Game 7, the Cubs hit .273.
Rizzo scalded the ball after borrowing teammate Matthew Szczur's bat, going 16-for-37 with three homers. Zobrist earned Most Valuable Player Award honors in the World Series, and Russell (who borrowed Szczur's spandex shorts) was 12-for-40, including his grand slam in Game 6 in Cleveland.
It's hard to be patient in October, but the Cubs know that a mix of confidence and stubbornness can pay off, at least with some adjustments in equipment and wardrobe.
"We've done it before,'' Russell said. "We've been here before. But this year is a new year. That's a different ballclub. We're definitely going to have to bring it."
Heyward believes the Cubs will find ways to cobble together the victories they need to force the NLCS back to Dodger Stadium for a weekend conclusion.
"It's all about just making adjustments, finding ways to win games,'' Heyward said after Game 2. "We've just got to understand that you can find a way to win. That's what we're going to try to do."
This will be only the second time the Cubs have faced Darvish. They beat him 3-1 on July 16, 2016, at Wrigley, in Darvish's fourth start for the Rangers after returning from Tommy John surgery.
Maddon said he is considering "a couple little nuance-type'' changes from the lineup he used against the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and Max Scherzer. He started Baez against Strasburg, but not against Scherzer.
Maddon is understandably more comfortable managing with Baez's glove at second and Heyward (2-for-15 this postseason) in right field, but will he sacrifice that comfort to give Happ or La Stella a shot to do damage?
"I haven't decided completely yet,'' Maddon said. "Honestly, I'm going through discussions with different guys, just looking at some information kind of stuff. … We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively.''
It would have been easy to bench Russell when the lineup was sputtering a year ago, but Maddon stood by him. They've both got World Series rings to show for it -- and reason to believe that the Cubs will produce some more magic before they're done this October.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.