LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers had a plan on both sides of the ball, but their best laid plans for Game 5 of the NLCS blew up in their face in an 8-4 loss to the Cubs on Thursday at Dodger Stadium, pushing LA to the brink of elimination.
Chicago leads the best-of-7 series, three games to two, with the series shifting to Wrigley Field in Chicago for the weekend.
The Dodgers bullpen on the whole has been superb all year, but also has been burdened with an uncommon workload all season, thanks in part to a patchwork starting rotation that rarely pitches deep into games.
Kenta Maeda kept the game close by allowing only one run and striking out six. But command was an issue all night, and he was pulled after 76 pitches in 3⅔ innings. Maeda has averaged 3.56 innings in his three postseason starts, and the starting rotation outside of Clayton Kershaw is averaging 3.90 innings during the playoffs.
The cracks showed in Game 5 with bullpen stalwarts Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez combining to allow seven runs while recording six outs.
Addison Russell homered to break a tie in the sixth off Blanton, who had a fantastic regular season but has fallen into Tom Niedenfuer territory allowing a pair of game-winning home runs in the NLCS.
Blanton was terrific all season, posting a 2.48 ERA in 75 games, with 80 strikeouts and 26 walks in 80 innings, allowing seven home runs. After five scoreless innings in four appearances in the NLDS, Blanton has allowed seven runs on seven hits in three innings of work, including three home runs.
Chicago then added five runs in the eighth against a hapless Baez, who committed a fielding error of his own in a never-ending inning that saw two infield singles, two replay challenges that went the Cubs’ way, and saw the Dodgers’ chances dwindle to dust.
Not that the offense was any better.
The Dodgers have struggled all season against Jon Lester, so they wanted to try to take advantage of his yips when throwing anywhere but home plate.
“Whatever you want to call it, he just doesn't feel comfortable throwing the baseball. So obviously as good of a pitcher as he is, yeah, we're going to get huge leads and try to bunt on them and try to get in his psyche a little bit,” manage Dave Roberts said. “So I think if we can get him a little uncomfortable, is what we tried to do in Game 1, we're going to do more of that.”
The strategy was on display in the first inning, when Kiké Hernandez took comically large leads off both first and second base, but failed to draw a throw. Unfortunately for the Dodgers though, Hernandez never took advantage of his large leads to steal a base, and ended up stranded on third base to end the inning.
When the Dodgers actually followed through, it paid off. Howie Kendrick doubled with one out in the fourth inning, then got a ridiculous lead and stole third base, getting his hand in ahead of the tag after a wonderful throw by David Ross. That gave Adrian Gonzalez a prime scoring opportunity, cashed in by Adrian Gonzalez, who grounded out to tie the score at 1-1.
But Lester’s psyche appeared just fine — save for perhaps one glare into the Dodgers dugout after Joc Pederson had the temerity to try to bunt for a hit — as he got through seven innings, allowing only five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Lester in four starts — two in the NLCS — against the Dodgers this season allowed three runs in 28 innings, with 25 strikeouts and four walks. LA was 16-for-97 (.165) with a .198 on-base percentage against him.
But the Dodgers haven’t hit lefties all season, so it’s not like this was a surprise. The good news for them is that the only southpaws they will face at Wrigley Field will be in relief, if any.
If there was any silver lining to Game 5 for the Dodgers, perhaps it was scoring a pair of runs against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth.
If the Dodgers are to erase their 27-year World Series drought, they need to win both games in Chicago. With Clayton Kershaw starting Game 6 and Rich Hill in Game 7 they certainly have a chance, but with back-to-back poor performances at home they have left themselves no margin for error.
NLCS Game 5 particulars
Home run: Addison Russell (2)
WP - Jon Lester (2-0): 7 IP, 5 hits, 1 run, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts
LP - Joe Blanton (1-2): 1⅓ IP, 3 hits, 2 runs, 2 strikeouts