The Chicago Cubs find themselves in an unexpected position heading into Game 4, but this series is still far from over.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are the surprise leaders of the National League Championship Series, currently up 2-1 after the 6-0 victory in Game 3 on Tuesday night. The pitching has been lights out over the last two games, shocking a Cubs team that won 103 games during the regular season.
This puts the pressure on Chicago to even the series or else end up in desperation mode in the coming days.
NLCS Game 4
When: Wednesday, Oct. 19
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Where: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
TV: Fox Sports 1
Live Stream: Fox Sports Go
The big question after the past two games is the state of the Cubs lineup, which was seemingly unstoppable heading into the series. The offense finished the season third in baseball in runs scored, with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo representing arguably the best one-two punch in the sport.
Unfortunately, this group has been completely shut down over the past two games by Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill.
Failing to score a single run in two games is embarrassing enough; going 6-for-60 at the plate as a team in this stretch is a disaster. Dexter Fowler’s double was the only extra-base hit.
Ben Finfer of ESPN Radio noted the extended concern going forward:
Cubs offense doesn’t even look close to coming out of the slump. Too many useless at bats.
— Ben Finfer (@BenFinfer) October 19, 2016
Of course in baseball, a team is only as good as its next day’s starting pitcher. This puts a lot of pressure on 20-year-old Julio Urias. The Dodgers rookie has pitched only two innings this postseason—he allowed one hit and no runs against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the National League Division Series—which means he is likely to feel the pressure in by far the biggest start of his career.
The southpaw has a lot of talent, but the Cubs can get after him if they are patient at the plate. If the walks start coming, the hits will follow—and so will the runs.
On the other side, the Cubs will use a pitcher with a lot more playoff experience. John Lackey comes to the mound with a respectable 3.22 ERA in 131.1 career postseason innings. That is almost double the amount of innings Urias has pitched in his entire major league career (79 innings including playoffs).
He also has two World Series titles, and he pitched in both of the championship-clinching games.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon explained the advantage Lackey has compared to a younger pitcher, per Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times:
You could always say that what you don’t know can’t hurt you — you just go out there and you’re winging it and you’re not over-analyzing it; I get that. But having an experienced guy like John … he really understands what he’s doing out there and how to manipulate and work against certain hitters.
He knows how to use a hitter’s aggressiveness against him. He knows who to stay away from in certain moments. He’ll pick his poison, who to pitch to and who to not pitch to. He has a really good feel for this part of the game.
Even after allowing three runs in four innings in his only other start of the postseason, the Cubs should feel confident sending their fourth starter to the mound Wednesday.
While the Dodgers lineup has been effective, especially Adrian Gonzalez and Corey Seager, this group is not unstoppable.
Still, none of it will matter if the Chicago offense does not come alive. Rizzo’s 3-for-29 in the playoffs stands out, but just about everyone is to blame for the current slide.
The good news is there is enough talent on the roster to turn things around. If just one or two players perform to their ability, the Cubs should be able to break out of the slump and find a way to even up the series.
Prediction: Cubs 4, Dodgers 3
Follow Rob Goldberg on Twitter.