The Cubs and Nationals have played three incredible baseball games. There are a few themes that have developed in these heart-stopping affairs. The starting pitching has been as good as advertised and more. The games have been incredibly tight with remarkable plays made by each side. One thing that changed was the amount of mistakes each team made. The first two games each featured one side capitalizing on a single important mistake. Today's afternoon affair was riddled with mistakes, and in the end the Cubs stole another game to inch closer to another trip to the NLCS.
Jose Quintana's first playoff start and Max Scherzer's achy hamstring were the early storylines. Neither pitcher seemed affected as they pitched a perfect 1-2-3 first inning. Quintana gave up a two out single to Jayson Werth, but easily escaped the blemish with a strike out of Matt Wieters. Max Scherzer retired the first nine he faced. Quintana ran into trouble in the third inning with Michael A Taylor taking on the role of light hitting outfielder playing out of his mind in the postseason against the Cubs. Taylor singled to start the inning, and reached second as Quintana attempted a pickoff as Anthony Rizzo was crashing in on the bunt play from Scherzer. The throw allowed Taylor to reach second with no outs. Scherzer struck out, and Trea Turner continued his horrendous postseason with a foul out. Bryce Harper hit an easy ground ball that should have ended the inning, but it clanked off of Ben Zobrist's glove to extend the frame. Anthony Rendon put a charge into the ball, but Jason Heyward tracked it down to keep the game level at nothing.
Scherzer hit Jon Jay to start out the bottom of the fourth inning. Kris Bryant drove the ball to fairly deep left but it was easily caught by Werth. Rizzo hit into what should have been an inning ending double play, but the throw was out of the reach of Ryan Zimmerman. Rizzo hustled into second with two outs. Willson Contreras coaxed the two out walk, but Ben Zobrist pounced on the first pitch hit into a weak ground out to end the threat. Quintana got stronger as the game went on. The top of the fourth ended with a great running grab by Jon Jay, but Q struck out the side in the fifth inning. He was working his way to finish another easy inning in the sixth inning when disaster struck. Bryce Harper struck out to start the inning, and Rendon hit into an easy ground out to Bryant. Daniel Murphy hit a soft flyball into left field that should have kept Quintana's afternoon going. Instead the ball hit off Kyle Schwarber's glove who played like the largest adult son in turning an inning ending out into a triple. Joe Maddon went to Pedro Strop, and was rewarded with the by the book move with a Ryan Zimmerman double to score the game's first run. Werth flew out to end the inning, but it appeared like the Nationals had more than enough with the way Scherzer was throwing.
Scherzer carried a no hitter into the seventh inning. Scherzer struck out Contreras to start the inning, but Zobrist hit the unlikelist of doubles to end Scherzer's day. Kyle Schwarber was due up next so Dusty Baker went to his lefty Sammy Solis. Maddon countered with Albert Almora who hit a solid single to tie the game. Jason Heyward hit a floater into left to give the Cubs a threat to take the lead. Brandon Kintzler was the next Nats hurler, and Addison Russell nearly made Baker pay with a hard hit drive into center field. Michael Taylor tracked the ball down. Jason Heyward and Albert Almora both took off trying to score on the play, and the end result was Heyward being thrown out at first for an unconventional inning ending double play.
CarL Edwards Jr. pitched a clean eighth inning. Tommy La Stella was called onto pinch hit against Kintzler. La Stella drew a walk, and was promptly removed for Leonys Martin. Jon Jay dropped a perfect sacrifice bunt to move Martin into scoring position. Kintzler struck out Bryant. Baker made another move to bring in the veteran lefty reliever Oliver Perez. Anthony Rizzo golfed a ball into shallow left field. The ball some how dropped in between Taylor, Werth and Trea Turner. Martin scored easily but Rizzo was caught in between first and second. He was tagged out to end the inning.
Wade Davis pitched a clean ninth inning to bury the Nationals hope today. The Nationals are against the wall here with the worst pitching matchup for them on paper looming. It isn't over, but the Cubs have to feel pretty good about where they are at this point.
The Cubs starting pitchers have outpitched the Nationals in this series. Quintana was the source of some fear with his lack of postseason experience. Quintana pitched a solid game and remained the even keel pitcher White Sox fan are familar with. If the Cubs remain in the postseason, there is little doubt that Quintana can be counted on to take the ball in important spots.
I have been very critical about the usage of Ben Zobrist. His bat has looked slow throughout the series. His glove has looked equally bad, and that trend continued throughout the game. And then in the seventh inning, he had the second or third hardest hit ball by any Cub against the reigning Cy Young winner. His double was the key hit in the game. He then made a sparkling defensive play to the end the eighth inning. That inning has guaranteed that Zobrist will continue to play throughout the postseason.
Joe Maddon has drawn a lot of ire for his in-game decisions. Many wanted to pin the blame for the loss on Saturday for his bullpen selections. Many were equally critical of the fact that Kyle Schwarber was still in the game in the sixth inning. Schwarber walked to start the fifth inning, and so it is possible that a pinch runner could have been used. That pinch runner would have likely made the play in the field that opened the flood gates. I didn't have an issue with it at the time. Schwarber had the best at bats against Max Scherzer and the low probability of the bottom order delivering in that spot didn't make a lot of sense. Some were even more critical about this series move when Schwarber was removed prior to his very next at bat. However, by leaving Schwarber in the game that got the incredibly favorable matchup of Solis against Almora. Maddon made the right move to play for one run in the eighth inning. What I could not believe is that Maddon insisted on moving Zobrist into the outfield while over two better defensive outfielders in Leonys Martin and Jon Jay already in the game. It didn't cost them, but it is hard to fathom the reason for that one.