Just when the Chicago Cubs had a prime opportunity to snatch a commanding 2-0 series lead against the Washington Nationals, their biggest strength against the Nats (the bullpen) gave the game away. Now Chicago heads back to Wrigley to face a rejuvenated Nationals team that will throw their ace, Max Scherzer, in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. What are the keys for the Cubs in order to win the ballgame and gain an edge in the series?
This should be obvious, but starting pitching is perhaps the most crucial ingredient for the Cubs right now, especially when the Nats are throwing their best on the hill.
Quintana will be making his first ever postseason start, but it helps to have the home fans behind him, and it definitely helps to consider the success that fellow lefty Jon Lester had in his start against Washington on Saturday evening.
Quintana has also flashed his stuff in big moments, pitching a complete-game shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sept. 24 with the Brewers desperately trying to claw their way back into the division title race. He’s also a big part of Joe Maddon‘s ploy to stack the left-handed arms against the big lefty bats of the Nationals in Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy.
Quintana has allowed just a .584 OPS against left-handed hitters versus a .732 against righties. Can he get the better of Anthony Rendon and Ryan Zimmerman? Those questions may help determine the outcome of his start tomorrow.
Well, he certainly looks like he’s back. If you’re Carl Edwards Jr., you simply have to get ahead with the fastball, rather than falling behind and then serving up a hanging slider to one of the best hitters in the game.
That being said, the Cubs’ starters have exposed some of Harpers’ weaknesses at the dish in this series. Kyle Hendricks made him look foolish in his second at-bat in Game 1 of the series, mixing in a fastball with a pair of cut changeups and keeping Harper totally off balance. Meanwhile, Jon Lester used his curveball effectively against Harper on the outer half with two strikes. With a big breaker of his own, will Quintana look to do the same?
All told, Harper is still a gem of a player, and a legitimate grinder. As seen on Saturday, he has the potential to change the complexion of a game entirely with just one mighty swing of the bat. Quintana and the rest of the Cubs’ staff will do well to mix speeds and pitch him away.
The Cubs bullpen
Lo and behold. What was supposed to be a strength for Chicago proved to be a weakness in Game 2, as both Edwards and Mike Montgomery served up homers in big at-bats that ultimately clinched defeat for the Cubs.
That said, it may be an aberration. Edwards was absolutely lights-out in Game 1, and we haven’t even seen Brian Duensing pitch yet, which could be a huge factor in a big-game lefty on lefty situation.
Ultimately, it all depends on who is able to get the ball to Wade Davis. The Cubs closer was electric in Game 1, mixing in the cutter with a nice curveball to fool Nats hitters. He has been fantastic all year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Maddon utilize him in a similar fashion to Aroldis Chapman, whereby Davis may throw two innings out of the pen.
There are plenty of other factors in play. Can the Cubs run up Scherzer’s pitch count? How healthy is Scherzer, and will the tendency to serve up long balls loom large? Still, I think the above three are the biggest components in the Cubs taking Game 3 and grabbing a 2-1 series lead.