LOS ANGELES — The Cubs are hitting just .161/.235/.312 through three games of the NLCS, and they haven’t scored since rallying for five runs in the eighth inning of Game 1 against the Dodgers.
“The last two games we’ve not been on the barrel of the bat at all. It’s pretty much been weaker contact,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re just not hitting the ball hard like we normally do.”
Those zeroes have come, not so coincidentally, in starts by Clayton Kershaw and Rich Hill. The Dodgers have been able to put together a game plan as well.
“The thing we did tonight, and [Yasmani Grandal] can attest to this, is keeping hitters off balance and being able to execute a strike with a breaking ball, and execute fastballs in,” Hill explained. “That opens up the outside of the plate.
“The weak contact is just the result of — I mean it’s something that I’ve always had throughout the course of my career as far as being able to throw a fastball in any part of the zone and create a later swing because of the perceptual velocity. But again, we executed a few changeups that were huge, and just threw another pitch into the mix that they had to think about.”
Hill pitched six scoreless innings in Game 3, relying on his curveball, but manager Dave Roberts noted that Hill didn’t have his best stuff.
“That just shows that he goes out there and competes. He still has a very good chance to get guys out, but I think that his preparedness, his guts, you know, really kept those guys at bay,” Roberts said. “Changing speeds, pitching off the breaking ball, mixing in the fastball, he kept them off balance all night.”
Hill struck out six and has 19 strikeouts in 13 innings this postseason.
“It was the biggest game of my career,” Hill said. “It’s all about staying in the moment and executing when you’re in that moment, and that’s all you can think about.”
Another dominant Dodger on the mound, who the Cubs have had to deal with in the last two games is closer Kenley Jansen, who recorded the final four outs in Tuesday’s win, even though it wasn’t a save situation.
“Their closer has been outstanding,” Maddon said. “You don’t want to be trailing after seven or eight innings with the way he is throwing the ball.”
Jansen entered with a four-run lead and Dexter Fowler on second base with two outs. He used five pitches to strike out Kris Bryant, then another 16 pitches in the ninth, pitching the inning despite the Dodgers tacking on two runs in the bottom of the eighth, making it 6-0.
Jansen has thrown 119 pitches in the last eight days, appearing in five games.
That Jansen was already in Game 3 was a major reason he remained to close it out in the ninth.
“I think this was an important game to have,” Roberts said. “I didn’t want to change the momentum at all. And the first-out pitch count was manageable, so I think it felt good just leaving him in there.”
After two great pitching performances, the stage is set for Julio Urias to raise his national profile and, more importantly, give the Dodgers a chance for a commanding series lead. Game 4 of the NLCS is another 5:08 p.m PT start, and John Lackey starts for the Cubs.
Ron Cey and Bill Russell will throw ceremonial first pitches before Game 4, and for the third game in a row at Dodger Stadium gospel singer extraordinaire Keith Williams Jr. will sing the national anthem.
As for Game 5, Roberts said again a factor of whether Kershaw might pitch depends on “where we’re at in the series,” though he reiterated his support for Kenta Maeda making the start on Thursday.
“I think Kenta, that line score didn’t show how well he pitched in Chicago,” Roberts said. “So right now we’re not worried about deviating from our plan.”