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Cubs will look to make magic happen in NLCS

Chicago must win four consecutive games to avoid elimination
MLB.com @philgrogers

CHICAGO -- Thirteen years ago, Dave Roberts pulled off one of the most famous stolen bases in baseball history.

NLCS Game 4: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS

View Full Game Coverage

CHICAGO -- Thirteen years ago, Dave Roberts pulled off one of the most famous stolen bases in baseball history.

NLCS Game 4: Tonight, 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on TBS

View Full Game Coverage

It was an iconic moment for the Red Sox because of what happened afterward -- Bill Mueller drove Roberts in with a single to tie Game 4 of the American League Championship Series in the ninth inning and David Ortiz won it with a homer in the 12th as Boston avoided being swept by the Yankees and went on to eliminate them in a seven-game classic.

Dress for NLCS: Get Cubs postseason gear

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So don't say the Cubs have put themselves in an inescapable hole after falling behind 3-0 to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. All they have to do is channel Roberts, now Los Angeles' manager, to know that it's possible to turn this into an epic comeback that gives them the chance to defend their World Series championship.

"I don't bring it up ever,'' Roberts said before the Dodgers' 6-1 victory on Tuesday night in Game 3 of the NLCS presented by Camping World. ''But I think a message that I do bring up [is] the sense of just being prepared for a particular moment, and I was in 2004. Each guy on our ballclub, I think, can relate to that.''

So can the guys in the other clubhouse.

The Cubs have won 310 games (including the postseason) over the past three years, more than any stretch in their history. The Red Sox were in a similar place with 295 victories from 2002-04 before winning eight more during the '04 ALCS and World Series.

Why not the Cubs?

"I'm not going to sit here and throw a lot of hyperbole your way,'' Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It's just about our guys. Your back's absolutely against the wall. Tomorrow is a Game 7. We have three or four Game 7s in a row coming up right now. … We need to gain some kind of mental momentum, and obviously that's our last chance to do it [Wednesday].''

Nothing's come easy for the Cubs the last three Octobers, and yet they've won six of seven postseason series, knocking off the Pirates, Cardinals, Giants, Dodgers, Indians and Nationals. It's true they were swept by the Mets in the 2015 NLCS, but they've gained a ton of experience since then.

They'll need it all -- including a great performance by right-hander Jake Arrieta in Game 4 -- to pull it off. But they know they can make magic happen. They wrote an improbable script against the Indians all the way into November last fall, recovering from a 3-1 deficit to win their first World Series since 1908.

Video: NLCS Gm5: Arrieta on health, command prior to Game 5

The Cubs had a major advantage in that matchup, however, with Indians manager Terry Francona forced to use starting pitchers on short rest in Games 5, 6 and 7. The Dodgers don't have shortstop Corey Seager, but their pitching staff is at full strength and seemingly gaining steam.

Maddon believes the key to winning in the postseason is for players to approach games the same way they did during the regular season. This will be Game 171, and it does offer the Cubs a reason to believe.

Dodgers left-hander Alex Wood, who was brilliant in the first half of the season, hasn't pitched in a game in 22 days. He was throwing simulated games when the Dodgers (6-0 this postseason) swept the D-backs in the NLDS, and it is hard to stay sharp when you're not pitching in game situations.

"I've had two sim games in between against a lot of our regular guys in our lineup,'' Wood said. "It's as close to a regular-season game as you could get."

Maybe that's right, but there's a huge difference between a practice game in the early afternoon and a prime-time spot in October. The Cubs have scored more than three runs only once in eight games, but should have a chance against Wood.

Arrieta could be making his last start with the Cubs. He expects it to be a memorable one, like his start in the 2015 NL Wild Card Game in Pittsburgh and his two in Cleveland during the '16 World Series.

Arrieta has had a magical moment before against the Dodgers, no-hitting them in 2015.

The Cubs are 15-for-94 (.160) at the plate this series, dropping their postseason batting average to .172. But they're also the team that led the NL in most offensive categories in the second half of the season. They will be tough to shut down again if they can get rolling against Wood.

What about Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw? Yes, he's ready and would be fully rested for a Game 5 rematch with Jose Quintana. But Kershaw was also on regular rest when the Cubs scored five runs off him in the clinching Game 6 in last year's NLCS, after he'd thrown a gem in Game 2.

If the Cubs could find a way to beat Wood in Game 4 and Kershaw in Game 5, the heat would be squarely on the Dodgers, who have lost the NLCS four times since 2008.

Video: NLCS Gm3: Maddon on Dodgers' pitching after loss

These series can swing quickly, as the Cubs' president of baseball operations, Theo Epstein, probably knows better than anyone. He was Boston's general manager when Roberts' ninth-inning steal got the Red Sox rolling in 2004.

"I've got this little wristband on: 'We never quit,'" Maddon said. "[It's] something we've talked about the last three years. Not easy, obviously. It's been done before. Theo saw it. So we have to figure out a way.''

Maybe Game 4 will belong to Cubs speedster Leonys Martin. Wouldn't that be wild?

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.

Chicago Cubs