The Cubs are down 2-0 to the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. That’s the bad news. The good news? First, last year’s team came back from a 2-1 deficit (though the Cubs are arguably worse this year and the Dodgers are inarguably better). Second, they’ve kept it close despite getting pretty thoroughly outplayed.
Third, if you can call it good news, is that the Cubs probably shouldn’t be in the NLCS at all. Based on the numbers, they got outplayed by the Nationals—but they won the close games, took advantage of one devastating inning, and just squeaked by.
Here are the stats from the five-game series against the Nationals.
The Nats hit almost as badly as the Cubs, but they were more patient: They had 25 walks versus 41 strikeouts, for a walk/strikeout ratio of 0.61. That’s really good—it’s just a few games, but it’s higher than the best team in baseball this season, the Indians, who had a 0.52 ratio.
The Cubs, meanwhile, walked 18 times and struck out 51, for a 0.35 ratio, which is comparable to the worst teams this year. During the Epstein regime, the Cubs have made great strides to raise their on-base percentage and to lower their opponents’ OBP—and this year they were a top-ten team in both their hitters’ and pitchers’ strikeout-to-walk ratios. For whatever reason, they’ve regressed mightily in the playoffs this year.
Against the Dodgers, it’s only gotten worse. This is just two games, but it’s a very bad start.
It’s not like the Dodgers are crushing the ball, but the Cubs have handed out 13 walks while striking out the Dodgers a mere 12 times. Meanwhile the Cubs have struck out twenty-one times in two games, and walked just twice.
Walks, in particular, killed the Cubs in the first game. In the bottom of the 5th, with the Cubs up 2-0, Jose Quintana walked Logan Forsythe and Austin Barnes, who are both extremely patient hitters—both have walk rates around 15 percent, putting them in the top 15 in all of baseball this year—but without much power. Yasiel Puig plated one run with a double; Charlie Culberson brought in another with a sac fly, tying the game.
In Game 2, Jon Lester kept the Cubs in the game, allowing just one run, but he threw 103 pitches in 4.2 innings, walking five. Joe Maddon replaced him with his best non-closer, Carl Edwards, Jr.; at the end of the game, he ended up with Brian Duensing and John Lackey (the latter on his second straight relief appearance). Duensing walked the first batter of the ninth; Lackey walked Chris Taylor, putting the Dodgers’ best hitter, Justin Turner, at the plate with two outs and two on.
The Cubs have simply been pretty bad during the playoffs—but they managed to beat the Nationals anyway, and they went into the sixth and ninth innings with the score tied in their first two games against the Dodgers. They’ve played badly, but haven’t played themselves out of the playoffs yet.