Last night was a rare Friday night where I was at a baseball game rather than working right here on HardballTalk. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, as I finally had the chance to meet our blogger-in-chief Craig Calcaterra and take in the Mets-Nationals game. Yes, we are allowed out of the basement on occasion.
When I first moved back to the D.C./Maryland area in 2009, I used to be able to stroll around Nationals Park at my leisure and without much worry for long lines or crowded corridors. It’s not like that here anymore. Hey, everybody loves a winner, right? This has been a Redskins town for as long as I can remember and one winning season for the Nats may not change that overnight, but it’s easy to see that something pretty cool is being cultivated here.
As for last night’s game, well, it wasn’t pretty for Johan Santana. He unraveled after three hitless innings, giving up a grand slam to Michael Morse in the fourth inning and a two-run shot to Bryce Harper in the fifth. Santana has now allowed six runs or more in five straight starts. He has an ugly 8.27 ERA in 10 starts since his no-hitter and a 4.85 ERA overall.
Can we blame Santana’s prolonged funk on his unprecedented workload from the no-hitter? Tough to say, as it’s possible he would have hit a wall at some point anyway in his first season back from major shoulder surgery. But the possibility of a shutdown looms large at the moment.
The Nationals improved to a major-league best 74-45 with last night’s 6-4 win and remain four games in front of the surging Braves in the National League East. With just eight more victories, the Nationals will have their most wins in a season since moving to D.C. in 2005. I’d say they have a pretty decent chance at pulling that one off.
Your Friday box scores:
Orioles 3, Tigers 5
Cubs 3, Reds 7
Red Sox 4, Yankees 6
Dodgers 3, Braves 4 (11 innings)
Rangers 2, Blue Jays 3
Diamondbacks 3, Astros 1
White Sox 2, Royals 4
Phillies 2, Brewers 6
Indians 4, Athletics 6
Pirates 2, Cardinals 1
Rays 12, Angels 3
Marlins 6, Rockies 5
Twins 3, Mariners 5
Giants 10, Padres 1
After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.
The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).
Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.
With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.
Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.
With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:
So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).
Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.