Most of the time, it's very difficult to imagine a situation in which a baseball team would like absolutely nothing more than the chance to step into the batter's box against the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.But in this National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, the sustained
Most of the time, it's very difficult to imagine a situation in which a baseball team would like absolutely nothing more than the chance to step into the batter's box against the best pitcher in the Major Leagues.
But in this National League Championship Series presented by Camping World, the sustained excellence of the Dodgers has led to this unique predicament.
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The Cubs stayed alive in the NLCS in Game 4 on Wednesday night, winning, 3-2, to cut Los Angeles' series lead to 3-1, and Chicago's reward is another game before their fans in Wrigley Field and a date with Clayton Kershaw, who is well-rested and set on winning his franchise's first pennant in 29 years.
Game 5 is set for the Windy City, and the Cubs will be trying to extend the series for another day and force a trip back to Los Angeles for a Game 6. They'll once again give the ball to left-hander Jose Quintana, who matched Kershaw in a five-inning no-decision in Game 1 at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers have finally gotten that whole postseason-defeat thing out of the way, having entered Game 4 on a six-game tear through their three-game sweep of Arizona in the NL Division Series presented by T-Mobile and the first three games in this series.
The Cubs can look at their own recent resume. Wednesday night's victory was their fifth consecutive win in the postseason when facing elimination, including the last three against Cleveland last year that enabled them to win the first World Series by a Cubs team since 1908.
They can look to the 2004 Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, the only team in Major League history to drop the first three games in a best-of-seven October set and then win the next four. Or the Cubs can simplify their thought process and concentrate on doing what they did in Game 4: winning a baseball game.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said the way to do that is not hard to explain.
"We have to elevate our game offensively," Maddon said. "It's just that simple. It's not about maybe, kind of, hopefully. We've got to do it.
"How do you do that? You have to stick with your game plan. You've got to be more centered. You've got to be a tougher out with two strikes. You've got to move the baseball in situations. We're capable of doing all those things. That's what needs to occur for the next three games against Los Angeles."
They did some of that Wednesday, with Willson Contreras (a 491-foot solo home run) and Javier Baez (two solo homers) accounting for all of Chicago's scoring. And it turned out to be just enough because starter Jacob Arrieta (one run in 6 2/3 innings), lefty specialist Brian Duensing (one out) and closer Wade Davis (one run in the final two innings) accounted for all of the Cubs' pitching.
They'll likely need to do more tonight if they're to take a happy plane flight back to the West Coast.
While Kershaw hasn't been at his best, with a 4.67 ERA and an uncharacteristic four walks in 11 1/3 innings this October, he's still the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner, an NL MVP and future Hall of Famer, who went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA in a year in which he missed more than a month with back problems. He's also on his regular four days of rest, which has not been common in other playoff years, although Kershaw said Wednesday that this hasn't exactly made him more relaxed.
"It's probably just a testament to the team we have more than anything," Kershaw said. "The way we've been playing and how everybody has been able to contribute and everybody has been stepping up. There's been no need to do that, which is a good luxury to have."
Quintana has fared well in these playoffs despite not having a win to show for it. He pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in the NLDS against the Nationals, and he gave up two runs in his five innings in Game 1 of this series.
Quintana, who came from the White Sox across town in a July 13 trade, hasn't been with the Cubs for very long but said Wednesday that he knows what he sees when he looks around the clubhouse.
"They don't have any panic," Quintana said. "Nobody has panic. Everybody goes [about their business] like a team, doing their best, and we need to do a lot of things now. We're ready to go. We have a really good team, a lot of talent, and we can do so.
"Like they say, one game at a time."
For Quintana, it will be one pitch at a time. For Maddon's potential use of the bullpen in Game 5, well, that'll be one tricky decision at a time. Davis threw a hefty 48 pitches Wednesday, and win-or-go-home games, as the Cubs know very well, are all hands on deck.
For the Dodgers, it's all about seeing what Kershaw can do and taking it from there. They might have finally lost a postseason game, but they're still up, 3-1, in this series. Their bullpen remains unscored upon in all of October.
"I wouldn't say that the pressure is on us," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "I think that we're in a pretty good spot. We've got our No. 1 pitcher going tomorrow, and we've got two of the guys at the back end rested.
"I still like the position we're in."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB.