R&R: Rizzo, Russell crank up Cub bats

Chicago snaps 21-inning scoreless drought in a big way

October 20th, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- The collective exhale came with a bunt, a bloop and a fourth-inning blast, the combination of which snapped a 21-inning scoreless streak for the Cubs and nudged the floodgates open.
An offense stifled by a pair of left-handed Dodgers starters in its previous two National League Championship Series games looked much more like its regular-season self while pounding out a 10-2 victory to even the best-of-seven series on Wednesday night.
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This was as complete an offensive effort as the Cubs have generated all postseason, with eight players scoring, six driving in at least one and four notching multihit games. Shortstop and first baseman paced the offense with three hits and a homer apiece as each found offensive traction for the first time all month.
"More than anything, it's about confidence," manager Joe Maddon said of his two breakout players. "And I want to believe they're going to show up tomorrow with a lot more confidence than they showed up with today."
Rizzo entered the night with two hits in 26 postseason at-bats. Russell was 1-for-24. Neither had driven in a run. Their struggles were at the center of a more widespread offensive drought that had enveloped the Cubs' offense in NLCS Games 2-3. The unit had mustered a combined six hits while enduring consecutive shutouts.
It's a hit total the Cubs matched within one turn of the order on Wednesday.
"You knew it was going to happen," said. "It was just a matter of when. [It] started off with that bunt, and it was off to the races."

That bunt came from four-hole hitter , who took the initiative to lay it down without a signal from the dugout. When he reached safely, it gave the Cubs their first hit against 20-year-old Dodgers rookie , the youngest pitcher in history to start a postseason game.
From there, it was methodical. Zobrist moved to second when poked a single to left and then scored on ' subsequent two-strike single. It was an aggressive send by Cubs third-base coach Gary Jones, but one that paid off when the throw from was well off the mark.

That plated Chicago's first run since the eighth inning of Game 1 and snapped an 0-for-8 rut with runners in scoring position.
"It's tough when you're getting nobody on base," said. "You can't steal first. Tonight we were able to [put runners aboard] with some singles. We got people on base and the pressure came off."

It also proved to be just the start.
After a productive RBI groundout by Heyward, Russell crushed a two-run homer to right-center to push the lead to four. An inning later, Rizzo, while swinging 's bat, deposited a pitch into the same part of the stands, giving him just his second home run since Sept. 14.
The blast came two pitches after he hit a deep drive just foul down the right-field line and one pitch after he thought he had drawn a walk. Instead of taking one base, he'd end up rounding them. According to Statcast™, Rizzo's third career postseason blast was also his hardest hit of any kind (105.9 mph) since Sept. 23. It came on a 98.5-mph pitch.
"Anything I do, anything any of us do, we want to be the best at," Rizzo said, when asked about the nagging frustration during this recent skid. "Personally, I was upset, but I knew that the team was where we needed to be, and obviously … we responded in a big way today."
Maddon had tried to kick-start his offense without engaging in wholesale changes. That, he feared, would only encourage panic.

And so, after batting Rizzo in the cleanup spot in Game 3, Maddon moved the first baseman back into the three-hole on Wednesday. And though he dropped Russell to the eighth spot in the batting order for the first time since June, Maddon said he never considered replacing him.
After their home runs, Rizzo and Russell later found themselves in the center of a five-run sixth that erased any potential late-inning drama. The two finished the night a combined 6-for-10 with four runs and five RBIs.
"There was really never any pressing," Russell said. "A little bit of frustration, but definitely no panic. Whenever you feel like you're seeing the ball well and your swings are fine, you just try not to get frustrated. That was the biggest thing. I'm just happy I had some success tonight."