Thursday October 20th, 2016

Three thoughts on the Cubs’ 10–2 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series in Los Angeles, which tied the series at two games apiece.

1. The bats are back

After being shut out in each of the past two games and held without a hit for the first three innings of Game 4, Chicago’s offense roared back to life. It took only a tiny spark—a perfectly placed bunt by cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist that traveled approximately 40 feet—to ignite a four-run fourth inning that started the Cubs on their way to a critical victory. After Zobrist’s bunt, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras followed with singles to leftfield, the latter of which scored Zobrist with the game’s first run. After an RBI groundout by Jason Heyward, Addison Russell made his first hit of the NLCS—and just his second of the postseason—a meaningful one by launching a two-run homer to right-centerfield.

In the space of just five batters the Cubs had scored four runs. Dodgers starter Julio Urias—at 20 years and and two months of age, the youngest pitcher to start a postseason game—was gone one batter later, but Chicago wasn’t nearly done with its long-awaited offensive onslaught. In the fifth inning, Anthony Rizzo smacked a home run, his first of the postseason and just his second hit in the playoffs, to make it a 5–0 game.

After L.A. got back in the game on a two-run Justin Turner single in the bottom of the fifth, the Cubs put the game away in the bottom of the sixth, and once again Rizzo played a key role. With one run already home on an RBI single from Dexter Fowler and the bases loaded, Rizzo lined a single to rightfield that scored pitcher Mike Montgomery and Fowler for an 8–2 advantage. Chicago tacked on two more in the frame, helped in part by one of four Dodgers errors on the night, for a 10–2 bulge.

Perhaps the best news for the Cubs is that it wasn’t simply the formerly slumping Russell and Rizzo who broke out. Six of the Cubs’ eight position players got hits on Wednesday (only Bryant and Heyward went hitless), and eight different players scored at least one run and six had at least one RBI.

See all of SI’s coverage from the 2016 MLB playoffs, including World Series times

2. Replay review

It will mostly be forgotten by the wide margin of the final score, but an early sign that this might not be the Dodgers’ night came when Adrian Gonzalez was called out at home plate while trying to score on an Andrew Toles single to rightfield. Replays appeared to show that Gonzalez touched the corner of the plate before Contreras was able to put the tag on him, but the replay review center in New York upheld the call of home plate umpire Angel Hernandez because it could not find indisputable video evidence to overturn it.

It was hard to fault Gonzalez for trying to score given that Urias was the on-deck hitter, and Heyward’s strong throw and Contreras’s tag made it a tough call for Hernandez. Still, Gonzalez—who could be heard by Fox’s TV cameras asking for the call to be reversed—and the fans at Dodger Stadium were less than pleased when the call surprisingly stood. While it can be used to further fuel the debate about the efficacy of instant replay, the bottom line for the Dodgers was that the game was still scoreless, and by the time L.A. finally did get on the board it trailed 5–0. 

3. Gimme five

Before the game Dodgers manager Dave Roberts announced that ace Clayton Kershaw would not start Game 5 but would instead be held off to pitch what was then only a potential Game 6 at Wrigley Field. Any chance that Roberts would have to eat those words—the way he did during the Division Series when he said Kershaw would “absolutely not” pitch in relief in Game 5 only to call on the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner to get the series’ final two outs later that night—evaporated when Kershaw threw a bullpen session before the game.

It’s easy to understand why Roberts would want to hold off on using Kershaw, who missed most of the summer with a herniated disc in his back and has been used on short rest throughout the postseason, on three days’ rest again in Game 5. The case for using him, however, was that he would then theoretically be available to come out of the bullpen yet again in Game 7 if needed.

Instead, Los Angeles will now turn to Kenta Maeda on Thursday. Maeda lasted just four innings in Game 1, giving up three runs and four hits while walking three batters, an underwhelming performance that recalled his Division Series outing in which he went just three innings in Game 3 against Washington, giving up five hits and four runs.

Cubs starter John Lackey delivered a similar outing in Game 4—four innings, three hits, two runs, both of which scored after he exited. The difference, of course, is that Chicago has now won a game started by the weakest link in its starting rotation while the Dodgers will now go back to the man who has been their most mediocre starting pitcher in October. The Cubs in Game 5 will counter with their ace, Jon Lester, who has allowed just one run in 14 innings during the postseason and tossed six innings of one run ball in Game 1 of this series at Wrigley Field.

Wednesday’s game ensured that the NLCS will go back to Chicago on Saturday night, a ballpark where the Cubs won a franchise-record 57 games this season. It also reduced this series to a best-of-three, with Chicago once again owning homefield advantage, the necessary momentum and, most importantly, a productive offense.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.