Three Thoughts on the Dodgers' Commanding 3-0 NLCS Lead

A brilliant Yu Darvish and resilient hitting from Chris Taylor have the Dodgers one game away from their first World Series appearance since 1988.
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For the third straight game of this year’s National League Championship Series, the Cubs struck first by dinging a homer off the Dodgers’ starter, and for the third straight time, the Dodgers quickly evened the score, wore down the Cub’ starter, then took advantage of their shaky bullpen. Yu Darvish gave the Dodgers their best start of the postseason, and as in Game 1, Chris Taylor came up with big hits. With a 6-1 victory, the Dodgers are 6-0 in this year’s postseason, one win away from sweeping the defending world champions and taking their first trip to the World Series since 1988.

All the Right Moves

With the Dodgers facing a righty starter — Kyle Hendricks — for the first time in the series, manager Dave Roberts juggled his lineup, shifting Chris Taylor from centerfield to shortstop, starting lefties Joc Pederson and Andre Ethier in center and leftfield, respectively, with righty-swingers Kiké Hernandez and Culberson, who had started the first two games at shortstop and centerfield, going to the bench. The moves didn’t take long to pay off.

Ethier, who was limited to 38 plate appearances and two home runs during the regular season due to a herniated disc, led off the second inning by pouncing on a Hendricks sinker that didn’t sink. His 374-foot solo shot ricocheted off his own name on the rightfield scoreboard, tying the score at 1-1 after Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish. With one out in the third inning, Taylor hit another clinker of a sinker, launching it 444 feet to dead centerfield — the longest homer of the postseason thus far:

The homer was Taylor’s second of the series, and his second go-ahead shot after his sixth-inning solo homer off Hector Rondon in Game 1. With that, he became the first player ever to homer as both an outfielder and a shortstop in the same postseason.

Pederson, who closed the regular season in a dreadful slump—6-for-63 from July 29 onward, not to mention a demotion to Triple A—doubled into the rightfield corner to start the fifth inning, then came home when Taylor scorched a triple down the leftfield line. A triple that was aided by a defensive lapse, as shortstop Addison Russell didn’t realize Taylor broke for third base; he barely made it. That extended the score to 3-1, but the Dodgers couldn’t get a fourth run there, as Taylor was out by a country mile at home when first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a good play on a weak Cody Bellinger grounder.

After Yasiel Puig reached on a Kris Bryant error to start the sixth—a hot smash that deflected off the third baseman—Ethier stroked a single that ended Hendricks’ night. The righty threw just 82 pitches, and the patient Dodgers largely waited him out, swinging at just 15 of his 39 sinkers. He gave up six hits, walked one and struck out five. It was the second straight start in which he surrendered multiple homers, something he hadn’t done in any back-to-back starts during the regular season.

Oh, That Bullpen

The Cubs bullpen has been an ongoing tire fire thus far this postseason, entering the night with a 7.03 ERA and 7.0 walks per nine, not to mention a 47% rate of allowing inherited runners to score (nine out of 19). When manager Joe Maddon called upon the erratic-of-late Carl Edwards Jr. to clean up after Hendricks, he got even more trouble, if not as much as his decision to pitch John Lackey instead of Wade Davis in the ninth inning of Game 2.

Edwards retired two of the first three hitters he faced but walked Austin Barnes to load the bases. With two outs, Roberts pulled back pinch-hit decoy Curtis Granderson in favor of Darvish, a career .129/.156/.258 hitter with one homer and one walk in 34 plate appearances. The Cubs’ 26-year-old righty… well, he lost the strike zone, despite multiple visits from catcher Willson Contreras and one from pitching coach Chris Bosio:

That brought home Puig with the the Dodgers’ fourth run. Though Edwards, and Pedro Strop, who followed him, didn’t allow any further runners to score, a bout of wildness from lefty Mike Montgomery put the game out of reach in the eighth inning. A walk, a single, a wild pitch and a strike three passed ball — with Culberson, pinch-hitting for Pederson, reaching first base after the pitch hit Contreras in the right biceps — scored the Dodgers’ fifth run, and a Kyle Farmer sacrifice fly added a sixth.

Yu Again

Though he served up a 408-foot bomb to Schwarber on his second pitch of the night, and gave up three hits in the first inning, all with exit velocities above 100 mph, Darvish continued the run of dominance he began late in the year, when the Dodgers’ efforts to simplify his approach and tweak his mechanics began to pay off. After the first-inning barrage, he retired nine of the next 10 Cubs, which took him into the fourth inning, where he worked out of a two-on, two-out jam by striking out Hendricks — who, while trailing 2-1, arguably could have been pinch-hit for, had Maddon any trust in his relievers. 

Over the final seven batters he faced, from Hendricks onward, Darvish allowed just a single by Rizzo to lead off the sixth, which was erased with a double play. In all, he matched Clayton Kershaw’s Division Series Game 1 start for length (6 ⅓ innings) but gave up just the one run on six hits and one walk while striking out seven. He too threw just 82 pitches, getting through three of his innings on 11 or fewer. As was the case against Arizona, he was efficient with his slider (18 pitches, 12 strikes) and cutter (21 pitches, 14 strikes) and generated a total of 11 swings and misses from six different pitches (two- and four-seamer, changeup and curve being the others). Including his final three starts of the regular season, Darvish has allowed just four runs (three earned) in his last 30⅔ innings with a 35/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. 

Once Darvish left, the Dodgers’ bullpen continued to dominate Cubs hitters, who had gone 0-for-24 against them with a Rizzo HBP in Game 2 the lone blemish. Between Tony Watson (two outs) and Brandon Morrow (three), the unit more than completed the “hidden no-hitter” despite the latter walking Schwarber. Via Elias, it was the longest hitless streak to start a postseason series.

The Cubs finally connected for hits against reliever Ross Stripling, who entered in the ninth inning with a five-run lead but no game activity since October 1; he served up a pair of hard-hit balls to leftfield, a single by Alex Avila (who had replaced Contreras behind the plate) and a double by Albert Almora Jr. On the latter, Hernandez dove for the ball, but missed. The ball  made it to the Wrigley Field ivy; both runners wound up standing on third base, but the umpires ruled Almora’s hit a ground rule double. 

Not wanting to mess around further, Roberts got serious and called upon closer Kenley Jansen, who needed just 12 pitches to close things out, striking out two.

Though the Cubs collected more hits for the night (eight) than they had in the first two games combined, they’re hitting just .159 for the series, with a .266 slugging percentage. They’re 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position and they’ve scored just four runs in three games while allowing 15. Their two big bats, Bryant, and Rizzo, are 3-for-12 and 1-for-10, respectively; neither has an extra-base hit or an RBI, and they have just one walk and one hit-by-pitch between them. If they and the rest of the Cubs lineup can’t get it going on Wednesday night, they’re done.