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Hit the gem? Slumping Cubs look for a lift

October 19, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- No one ever said it was going to be easy for the Cubs.Their manager, Joe Maddon, certainly never did.• NLCS Game 4: Today at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1After his team banged out four runs in the ninth inning at AT&T Park to finish off

LOS ANGELES -- No one ever said it was going to be easy for the Cubs.
Their manager, Joe Maddon, certainly never did.
NLCS Game 4: Today at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT on FS1
After his team banged out four runs in the ninth inning at AT&T Park to finish off the Giants in the National League Division Series, Maddon was asked if that could be a sign of things to come for a lineup that had outscored every NL team except the altitude-aided Rockies.
"I think you should expect the grind," Maddon said. "The pitching's so good on both sides. You don't get to this point without good pitching. It would be difficult for me to imagine we're just going to go out there and start pummeling the baseball. I just want us to work good at-bats."
:: NLCS: Dodgers vs. Cubs coverage ::
Maddon was spot on. Facing the Dodgers has certainly turned into a grind for the World Series favorites.
Dodgers left-hander Rich Hill was almost as good for his six innings in Game 3 of the NL Championship Series on Tuesday night as Clayton Kershaw was in Game 2, and a rearranged Cubs lineup did no better than the ones preceding it. The Dodgers won, 6-0, and need just one more victory to give Kershaw a chance to put them in the World Series, either on Thursday in Game 5 or on Saturday, when -- if, actually -- the teams return to Wrigley Field.
Panic in the streets! Panic in the streets! Panic in the streets!
Nah, not really. Just had to get that out of the way.
Another way to look at the underdog Dodgers leading the NLCS, 2-1, is Wow, what a wonderful series this is going to become.
This series looks like a nightmare if you're watching it in a Chicago sports bar, but it has a chance to become an instant classic.
You think the Dodgers are going to keep dusting off the Cubs? They could, sure, but we could also wind up with Kershaw or Kenley Jansen on the mound facing Anthony Rizzo or Kris Bryant on Saturday or Sunday night at Wrigley Field, with one at-bat determining who goes to the World Series.
That's hardly farfetched.
It's true that the Cubs are 1-9 in NLCS games since Josh Beckett knocked down Sammy Sosa at Pro Player Stadium in 2003. It's also true that the Cubs' offense has been a train wreck in the NLCS the last two years, hitting a combined .163 with 62 strikeouts in 221 at-bats against the Dodgers and Mets.
"The last two games we've not been on the barrel of the bat at all," Maddon said. "It's pretty much been weaker contact. We've got to get back to making the hard contact. We normally hit some home runs, we draw some walks, we will strike out. We're just not hitting the ball hard like we normally do."
Per Statcast™, there were 10 batted balls above 100 miles per hour on Tuesday -- the Dodgers hit nine of them. The 10th was Dexter Fowler's double in the eighth, which left his bat at 102.5 mph.

But it's really hard to see how this team goes quietly. The Cubs have too many good hitters, too many options available to Maddon, to not bounce back after the back-to-back losses to Kershaw and Hill.

John Lackey faces rookie lefty Julio Urías today, and the Cubs are a three-run inning off Urias away from being back on their feet. They scored six runs off him at Wrigley Field in May, although he held the Cubs to one run in six innings at Dodger Stadium in August.
"We have a very good pitcher pitching tomorrow; so do they," Maddon said. "We're able to win that game tomorrow, and the narrative's going to change entirely. I can't get so dramatic about it."

When the Mets swept the Cubs in last year's NLCS, they had a dream rotation of power pitchers. Matt Harvey started Game 1, followed by Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz.
"This is a different situation," Bryant said. "I feel like last year their pitchers just beat us. Right now we've had some chances. We're only down 2-1. Last year at this time, we were down three. That's obviously not good."
Neither, of course, is being down 2-1 and knowing you'll get at least one more dose of the nasty medicine Kershaw serves. It gets really tricky to write a script that has the Cubs ending their World Series drought if they don't win Game 4.
The Dodgers have gone 4-0 in this postseason run when Kershaw has pitched, so the Cubs better come out swinging against Urias and then Kenta Maeda in Game 5.
Of course, this assumes that Dave Roberts, the Dodgers' highly impressive rookie manager, doesn't go for the jugular and start Kershaw (on short rest) instead of Maeda on Thursday. He'd do that for two reasons: to let Kershaw ride the support of his fanatical fans on his regular mound, and because it would mean he could theoretically work out of the bullpen in a seventh game, if one is necessary.
Roberts isn't saying what he's going to do, which adds a little intrigue to the mix.
It won't be a shock if Maddon sits shortstop Addison Russell, who is 1-for-24 with no walks in the postseason. He dropped Rizzo and Russell in the batting order for Game 3, and Rizzo responded by working a nine-pitch walk off Hill in the second inning and getting a shattered-bat single off Jansen in the ninth. He is now 2-for-26 this postseason.

As harmless as that one hit seemed, Bryant finds significance in it. That's how bad the Cubs have been going.
"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."
Something's going to work for the Cubs. They're not going down without a fight, no matter how punchless they looked against Hill and Kershaw.

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for