I got the wide lens stuff out of my system this morning (well, not “out of my system,” but that’s just about all I’m going to write on the subject), so now I’ll be transitioning more into the micro-level stuff from last night’s game, and going forward.
- For example, Jake Arrieta’s outing. I made the really improvident decision to tweet something about Arrieta’s performance vis a vis Rich Hill’s performance in the 4th inning, and naturally their performances diverged from there. At the time, though, my eyes-on said Arrieta was hitting his spots more than he typically did in the second half, and he had his typically great movement. After looking at things on Brooks here the day after, I’m thinking that the command was probably not as good as I thought live (so many pitches caught so much of the juicy middle of the plate). Even watching, I knew that the pitches that were hit hard were mistake pitches (including on the homer by Yasmani Grandal – it was a fastball with downward movement, right at the knees, which certainly feels like a good pitch; however, upon re-viewing, Arrieta was supposed to elevate it away). So, then, Arrieta made some mistake pitches, and the Dodgers did what they were supposed to do with them. It’s worth pointing out, though, that Arrieta netted 13 whiffs on just 83 pitches, which again suggests the stuff was really good last night. Sometimes a few mistakes is enough, though.
- The other big, negative story from the game, of course, was the lack of offense. The Cubs were shut out for the second consecutive game – the first time that’s happened to them since May of 2014. Oof. And it happened in the playoffs? Ouch. Rich Hill was, at times, way out of whack last night, and the Cubs couldn’t take advantage of his wildness or some pitches that caught the fat part of the plate. He settled in around the 4th inning, and the Cubs didn’t put anything together. Like the game before, there simply wasn’t even a lot of hard contact to which you could point and say, “Well, they’re clearly hitting the ball hard, and they just need more luck.” While I’m not sure we know enough just yet to say there’s a team-wide hard-contact flu going around, I will definitely admit I’m more concerned about that than I was after Game Two. Though the Cubs have done a good job scoring runs until the last two games, it hasn’t felt like they’ve been scalding the ball much these playoffs. A lot of that is the pitching they’re facing, a lot of it is just randomness, but it’s fair to wonder if at least some of it is guys feeling the pressure and getting just enough out of whack that they’re not waiting on pitches to drive (and are just missing it when they do get that pitch).
- If it’s true that some of the bats are legitimately off-balance right now, how do you fix it in the span of a day? Well, if you had the perfect answer, you’d be a very rich person. The reality is that it can happen naturally – run into a few solid hits and a homer, and suddenly that pressure backs off – or it can be the process of convincing yourself that you’re there for a reason, and you got there by way of a process that you can summon in any game. Of course, it’s easy to *say* that the guys should just do what they’ve done all year like it’s any other game (and usually the results will follow), but it’s quite another thing to actually make it so.
- You can read Joe Maddon’s thoughts on that issue here at Cubs.com, and from Miguel Montero, who concedes that he thinks maybe the players are pressing a bit to try to do too much in any given at bat. There’s also this piece from Jeff Sullivan, from before last night’s game, but which is still very much on point: the caliber of pitching the Cubs are facing does factor into this stuff. It doesn’t mean it sucks any less that the Cubs aren’t putting up bunches of runs, but this is a big part of why the playoffs are difficult.
- One small, additional bummer about the Cubs losing last night? You’d much rather see a youngster like Julio Urias forced to start an NLCS game in a hole – perhaps feeling a great deal more pressure – than up 2-1. The Cubs are going to have to do whatever they can to rattle him a bit early, whether it’s stepping out of the box, dancing at first base (and watching out for his incredible move, which is actually a balk, but we’ll get to that later), or, you know, getting some hits. Urias hasn’t pitched much at all since September began, and while it’s easy to root for rust, it’s even easier to root for the Cubs to work at bats and do damage early against a guy on whom the leash will be very short.
- On the flip side, though, it’s fortunate that the Cubs have a steely veteran in John Lackey going tonight. Whatever you think of his ability in games like this, he’s certainly not the type to have his performance impacted by “feeling the pressure.” Lackey lives for the big boy games, to use his own words, and whether the results are ultimately there, he’s going to ready. More on that results part later today.
- A really fascinating read from Sam Miller on how good Aroldis Chapman is most of the time – including when he grooves a fastball right down the middle – with one glaring exception: when he falls behind in the count. The numbers are rather stark, and suggest that getting strike one for Chapman is about as important as any pitch thrown by any pitcher in baseball. Here’s hoping that, like, becomes relevant before this series is up.
- He still looks nasty as all get-out, but it’s worth a small note that the average velocity on Kenley Jansen’s cutter is down a touch from the end of the regular season. He’s been used *heavily* this postseason (including another 21 pitches last night), and you wonder if he’ll wear down at all at an inopportune time.
- Grant Brisbee has thoughts on the Cubs being down 2-1, and how sometimes teams do come back from that.
- Perhaps it’s a small thing, in terms of why you want to get amped for tonight’s game, but I completely agree with Michael:
A win tonight against the Dodgers would – at least – guarantee the Cubs a bottom of the 9th at Wrigley Field. That's important to me.
— Michael Cerami (@Michael_Cerami) October 19, 2016
- Tim Tebow got his first hit in the AFL with this swing, and I mention it here because Cubs pitching prospect Duane Underwood Jr. must forever wear the ignominy of being the guy who threw the pitch:
— Jonathan Mayo (@JonathanMayo) October 18, 2016
- As you’ve no doubt noticed, I often end the Bullets with a plug for a product on Amazon, about which I feel no compunction because we gotta stay in business. Today, as I perused the sales on sports collectibles, I was smacked by the most perfect mistake: there’s an item listed on the sale page as a signed Jake Arrieta TCU card, but the pitcher is clearly a lefty. Click on the card and what is it really? It’s a signed Clayton freaking Kershaw card.