The Chicago Cubs dropped their second straight game to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship Series on Sunday night, as they were once again held hitless by a Dodger bullpen that has dominated Cubs hitters in both games.
The Cubs have had a bit of success against Dodgers starters Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill, using long balls from Albert Almora and Addison Russell to jump out to early leads in both Game 1 and Game 2, respectively. Whilst bullpen fatigue and questionable managerial decisions have certainly contributed to the Cubs’ eventual losses in both games, the struggles at the plate are most consequential to this series moving forward.
The most concerning element has been the performances of Chicago superstars Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo. Bryant is just 5-for-28 in the postseason, including a horrific 13 strikeouts. Surprisingly, Bryant has had a hard time seeing the ball, particularly struggling with the fastball up in the zone. He was purely overmatched against Stephen Strasburg in the NLDS, and has been completely overwhelmed by Kenley Jansen in two late at-bats in the past two games of this series. His chase rate on balls out of the strike zone has skyrocketed from 26 percent in the regular season to 42 percent so far in these playoffs.
Rizzo hasn’t fared much better. Chicago’s home run and RBI leader is 4-for-26 at the dish, with nine strikeouts of his own. In fact, Rizzo is in the midst of an “0-fer” slump since his game-winning hit in Game 3 of the NLDS against the Nationals, and is finding the “respect” harder to come by these days.
While Chicago’s major offensive catalysts certainly need to get it rolling, the Cubs could use more contributions from everyone up and down the lineup. The North Siders are hitting a combined .162 in their seven playoff games, and have appeared bamboozled at the plate at times. Dodgers relievers needed a mere 26 pitches to record nine outs in Game 2, as Brandon Morrow, Josh Fields, Tony Watson, and Jansen exploited the Cubs’ free-swingers like Javier Baez (who remains hitless this postseason) and an uncharacteristically eager Willson Contreras.
Perhaps most surprising to Cubs fans in this postseason has been the absence of the power stroke. The Cubs hit 223 regular season home runs, but have hit just four this postseason. Unlike the Dodgers, who have had massive late-game homers from the likes of Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, and now Justin Turner, all four of Chicago’s homers have come before the fifth inning, as the Cubs have struggled to string together at-bats in the clutch.
The defending champs have been in this spot before, having overcome a nearly identical situation after slumping tremendously in Game 2 and Game 3 of the 2016 NLCS against the Dodgers before breaking out to win three straight games and advance to the World Series. But this year’s Cubs are coming off a grueling NLDS series that has their bullpen totally spent, and runs are at a premium.
If Chicago hopes to fight back in a similar fashion in 2017, they’ll once again need to find a way to wake the bats up.
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