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Struggles with Nationals was costly for Cubs

By Bryan Stockwell, Staff Writer

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Something that was written in script back in August couldn’t even comprehend of what would happen in October. The Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs met in the 2017 NLDS as one of the highly anticipated matchups that the MLB was waiting to see when the season began. The series went five games and was the only series in the first round of the playoffs that had by far the most drama. Yes, the Cleveland Indians blew a 2-0 series lead in their first round exit, but it wasn’t a wire-to-wire series nail biter. What should have been a sweep for the Cubs, turned into a series that nobody could have predicted.

To start off, what do I mean by sweep? In Game 1, Washington threw ace Stephen Strasburg with Max Scherzer out with injury. While the Cubs threw “The Professor” in Kyle Hendricks. Class was certainly in session and Strasburg was just as equally good. The game stayed scoreless into the 6th inning until the Cubs finally broke through for two runs in process of also breaking up the no-hit bid for Strasburg. After winning 3-0, the Cubs got what they needed, a win in Washington.

Jim Stockwell, a lifelong Cubs fan, said: “I felt after they opened the series with a win that they should be able to sweep because they look like they had control.” In Game 2, Chicago looked to take a second one to nearly sink Washington. With Jon Lester pitching well and the Cubs winning, Carl Edwards Jr. looked to shut down the Nats one more time for a commanding 2-0 series lead. One thing got in the way, a poor curveball. Bryce Harper (2015 NL MVP) slugged a meatball pitch into the upper deck to tie the game in the 8th inning. After Ryan Zimmerman added a three run blast, the Nationals escaped. Going back to Chicago, the Cubs seemed to be in control of the series. Max Scherzer was finally off his injury and pitched a gem. What ended up being the demise was that he was taken out of the game with a 1-0 lead but the Cubs came back after beating the Nats bullpen for an emotional 2-1 win and a 2-1 series lead. In Game 4, the Cubs fell apart in the 8th inning giving up a Grand Slam to Michael A. Taylor off Wade Davis. Now they have to go back to Washington for do or die.

Now, let us dive into Game 5. Or should I say, the train wreck that almost was. With both teams needing a win to advance, the Cubs (like in all big do-or-die games) pitched Kyle Hendricks while the Nationals threw Gio Gonzalez. The Cubs scraped across a run in the 1st inning to strike first. Daniel Murphy added a solo homer to tie the game in the bottom half of the 2nd inning. Then the hero of Game 4, Michael A. Taylor, slugged a three run homer to give the Nationals a 4-1 advantage after two innings. Cubs fans are stunned, is it over? They have scored only eight runs in the entire series, what gives us (Cubs fans) any reason that we should believe the Cubs will win this game? Well, I never doubted this at any point that the Cubs were not only going to win the game but also the series. It just was a matter of when.

The Cubs came back adding four runs off what seemed to be the invincible Max Scherzer on the mound in the top of the 5th inning. Leading 9-4 after 5 ½ innings the Cubs seemed to be on their way to another NLCS appearance with ease. Well it wasn’t that easy. The Nationals stormed back to make it 9-8 and had their top of the lineup coming up in the 9th inning. After getting two outs, it was now down to the battle of the titans. The NL MVP, Bryce Harper vs. the best closer in all of baseball, Wade Davis. The at bat had every single viewer on the edge of their seat. After five pitches, it now seemed to be a movie. Down by a single run, the best vs the best, a full count, bottom of the ninth, postseason game, elimination. There is nothing better. Davis took the sign and whipped the ball towards home plate with every fan holding their breath. The 89 mph Slider was whiffed by Harper and the Cubs won the game. Finally! The Cubs couldn’t have made that any more difficult then it needed to be.

Last, remember what I said about train wreck? Why do I think that? Well this series should have never been as close as it was, and shouldn’t have even gotten to Jake Arrieta. In Game 1, that game was a solid win for Chicago and nothing could save the Nationals. Game 2, if Carl Edwards doesn’t hang a curveball to arguably one of the best hitters in all of baseball, Montgomery never gets into the game and the Cubs seem to close it out. A rally in Game 3, gave the Cubs the win and Dusty Baker did what Dusty always does. That is to make the wrong decisions in the postseason. In Game 4, if Arrieta fields the comebacker instead of Russell the Nats don’t get the run. May I add, if Carl Edwards Jr. doesn’t walk the bases loaded forcing Wade Davis to throw a bad pitch to Taylor the Cubs Win Game 4. Game 5? Oh my, Game 5. Man you were a dandy. Jim Stockwell said: “Game 5 was about as strange of a baseball game I have ever seen.”

Personally, I could go on for days about how much the Cubs should have blown it but let me just the cover of them. Hendricks should have gone at least another inning, Duensing got a win nobody ever remembered and was yanked too early, Maddon used two starters (including the Game 1 starter of the NLCS) only to get 2 outs into the 7th inning. Quintana was pitching well and should have finished at least the inning. Wade Davis pitched more than in that game than he had in four years when he was a starter. Almora Jr should have stayed in the game, the Cubs blew a lead almost blew it again, they scored more runs in this game alone then the previous four games combined. Davis got bailed out on a pickoff throw by Willson Contreras that just had an unlucky slide for Jose Lobatón, and after all that the Cubs still had a chance to blow it in the 9th inning.

“I was worried that the oddities were going to undo them (The Cubs),” Jim Stockwell added, watching the game in demise. If you would have told Dusty Baker that in the series, you would have Bryce Harper at the plate in the 9th inning down one run at home with a worn down Wade Davis on the mound, would he have taken it? Dusty would have, in a heartbeat. It was a good pitch but Harper swung at ball four. That right there, was just luck. For the Cubs and being a Cubs fan, it was a miracle that we had that much luck in one game, and more importantly a big game. The Cubs but had some very fortunate bounces go their way.

Watching the game, it had such an intense feeling of another elimination game the Cubs played in just recently, Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. Questionable decisions by Joe Maddon, a comeback that shouldn’t have ever happened, and most of all…drama. Cubs fans complain about how the game was played and managed but they won (in terms of Game 7). Same situation here, but why I am bringing up these points is because unlike the World Series, there is another series left to be played. A sweep would have given the Cubs confidence and rest to play against a very good Dodgers team. Now the bullpen is burnt out while the bats seem to have holes in them.

In conclusion, what should have been an easy sweep for the Cubs turned into a NLDS nobody could have predicted. Yes, what went the Cubs way could have gone different to help the Nationals win the series. Not saying this because I am a Cubs fan, it is the truth, The Cubs were the better team and had more experience to help them win. May I add a certain statistic that shows that the Nationals are not an October team. From Game 5 of the 2012 NLDS to this series the 10 losses that the Nationals had suffered have been by a total of 13 runs. Only two of the games they lost were by more than one run and they led in one of them (The other was Game 1 of this series which was 3-0) so that goes to show the pain that Washington is going through. Every year they are in the hunt for the World Series and every year they find the most excruciating ways to mess it up. Sound familiar Cubs fans? I also may add that the Nationals have former Cubs Manager Dusty Baker at the helm, and Cubs fans know what that is like. Regardless, it was a fun series to watch but it took a toll on the Cubs in the long run and that was evident in the painful loss to the Dodgers.

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Struggles with Nationals was costly for Cubs