NLDS 4: WAS vs. LAD & CHC vs. SF — 6-5 means forcing a Game 5 & a comeback win

After a double sweep of the American League teams, the National League is at least provide a bit more fan fare and drama for baseball fans hungry for a few good games. And the 4 NL teams did their best to keep viewers and fans entertained with quite a bit of excitement.

Game 1: Washington Nationals at LA Dodgers
Okay, let’s just say that the Dodgers starting their ace Kershaw was one of the smartest moves of the entire series, especially with his 11 total strikeouts tonight, but all his work was almost completely upended by part of the bullpen. The Nationals even less success starting with their starter Ross who only went into the 3rd inning.

In the 1st, the Nationals struck first with a couple of runners on base, one of which scored on Murphy’s single to get the first run on the board. The Dodgers answered back in the bottom of the 1st when one of their guys got hit by a pitch and another hit a big 2-run home run to edge the Dodgers into the lead.

With runners on the corners and 1 out in the 3rd, the Nationals tied up the game with Murphy’s sacrifice fly. But it didn’t stay tied long. Kershaw led-off with a double and then scored on Turner’s 2-out single. The Nationals starter then loaded up the bases with a couple of walks and then hit Pederson to scored another run and Nationals’ starter Ross was done for the day. The Dodgers added to their lead in the 5th when Reddick hit a 2-out single and then scored on Pederson’s double, much to the delight of the hometown crowd.

And then things got sticky. Kershaw gave up a lead-off single to Espinosa and then, 2 outs later, loaded the bases with a single and a walk. Kershaw’s night was done, but the Nationals took advantage of the new reliever and loaded bases with gusto. A first-pitch hit-by-pitch scored Espinosa. The next reliever gave up a single to (who else on the Nationals team?) Murphy who scored Turner and Harper to tie up the game. And then yet another reliever started shutting things down for the Nationals.

But with the game tied, the Dodgers needed something to give them the edge. They found it in the bottom of the 8th. Down 2 outs, Toles was hit by a pitch, moved to 2nd on a single, and then scored the winning run on Utley’s single. Then Dodgers closer Jansen needed just 13 pitches and 2 strikeouts to breeze through the Nationals in the 9th inning to give the Dodgers the win and force a Game 5.

Final score: 6-5 Dodgers, series split 2-2.

Game 2: Chicago Cubs at San Francisco Giants
The Giants had this one. I mean, it was basically a given that there was going to be another Game 5 tomorrow night. But perhaps that overconfidence was their downfall. I mean, much of that applause has to go to Moore, the Giants starter, who just dominated his 8 innings, including 10 strikeouts.

The only player who seemed to have Moore’s number was Ross, the Cubs’ veteran catcher who will retire at the end of this year. He got a lead-off home run in the 3rd to get the Cubs on the board. And in the 5th, with a runner on 3rd due to a sloppy throwing error, Ross hit a sacrifice fly to double the Cubs’ run total. But no one else seemed to do much against Moore, only giving up 2 hits and 2 walks in his entire outing.

And that’s the story we should be talking about — Moore’s outstanding outing, backed by a decent show by the Giants offense (including Moore himself). In the bottom of the 1st, Span led-off with a double, moved to 3rd on a fly out, and then scored on Posey’s sacrifice fly to get the Giants on the board. With the game tied, the Giants came back in the 4th to break the tie and begin their advance. With 1 out and the bases loaded, Moore’s single scored one run, and Span hit a ball that scored another in a failed attempt at a double play.

And in the 5th, the Giants faced a new Cubs pitcher and capped off their runs. With 1 out, Pence single and moved to 3rd on Crawford’s double; the umpires checked, but it wasn’t quite a home run (which would’ve been nice for the Giants). A new Cubs reliever gave up a single to score Pence and a sacrifice fly to score Crawford. Then the Cubs’ bullpen began getting the hang of things and started stifling the Giants’ offense rather effectively.

But the Giants were nicely ahead of the Cubs 5-2 going into that final inning, and with 120 pitches thrown, Moore was done. And without an All-Star veteran closer like Affeldt (part of the Giants 2010, 2012, & 2014 championships), the Giants clearly weren’t prepared for the Cubs when they dig in and want that elusive ring (it’s been 108 years since their last one).

So the Cubs found their surge under the Giants’ weak bullpen in the 9th. First reliever: 4 pitches, single. Second reliever: 6 pitches, walk. Third reliever: 5 pitches, RBI double. Fourth reliever: 4 pitches, a 2-RBI single to tie up the game, a force out at 2nd on a bunt and a throwing error put a runner back on 2nd. Fifth reliever: RBI single to score the Cubs’ winning run, and a double play (off Ross, if you can believe it).

And the Cubs pulled out the best weapon in their arsenal — closer Chapman — to just shut down the Giants and any chance they had to re-take the lead again. In the bottom of the 9th, Chapman threw 13 pitches, all of them 99 mph or higher, to get 3 consecutive strikeouts.

Final score: 6-5 Cubs, Cubs win series 3-1.

So the Cubs will face off the winner of whichever team comes out on top in LA Thursday night back in D.C. (which is easily the most interesting series in the entire postseason so far) in the NLCS, which starts Saturday. And the Blue Jays will face the Indians in Cleveland, starting Friday night in the ALCS.

I said before that we’re “knee-deep” in the postseason. I think we can say we’re closer to “hip-deep” now. And while the Cubs have righted my NL side of my bracket a bit, it’s still quite a mess. Because as much as baseball isn’t predictable, the postseason is even further off the deep end of the predictability cliff. These teams are hungry for a ring, and they’re going to fight with all they’ve got to go as far as humanly possible for it.

Go Yankees!

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