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Cubs eke out 2-1 win in Game 3 of NLDS against Nationals, take 2-1 series lead

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Nationals ace Max Scherzer made his postseason debut on Monday. The Nationals held him back to give him more time to heal from a “tweaked” hamstring suffered during his last start of the regular season. It worked, as he tossed six no-hit innings against the Cubs, issuing three walks while striking out six.

The Nationals gave Scherzer a 1-0 lead to work with in the top of the sixth. Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber botched a catch on a Daniel Murphy fly ball, then scooted it away with his glove trying to get it back. With Murphy on third base with two outs, Ryan Zimmerman ripped a double to right-center field off of Cubs starter Jose Quintana to give the Nats a 1-0 lead.

Scherzer lost the no-hit bid in the bottom of the seventh when Ben Zobrist swatted a one-out double to left-center field. That brought manager Dusty Baker out to the mound who, after a 30-second conversation with his pitcher who pleaded to stay in, brought in lefty reliever Sammy Solis to face lefty Kyle Schwarber. Cubs skipper Joe Maddon countered by bringing Albert Almora, Jr. in as a pinch-hitter. Almora — a fantastic hitter against lefties — drilled a 3-2 fastball from Solis into left field for an RBI single, knotting the game up at 1-1. Solis gave up another single to Jason Heyward, but was bailed out of trouble when Addison Russell lined out on a nice play by Michael Taylor in center field. Heyward was way too far off the bag and was doubled off first base to end the inning.

For a franchise that, until last year, had been famous for its bad luck, the Cubs had some luck go their way in the bottom of the eighth. Tommy La Stella led off the frame by drawing a walk against Nats reliever Brandon Kintzler. Jon Jay then moved Leonys Martin, who pinch-ran for La Stella, up to second with a sacrifice bunt. Kintzler struck out Kris Bryant for the second out, but Baker opted to bring in lefty Oliver Perez to face Anthony Rizzo. Rizzo blooped a first-pitch slider from Perez into shallow left-center field, almost exactly between left fielder Jayson Werth, Taylor in center, and shortstop Trea Turner, which plated Martin for the go-ahead run. Rizzo ventured too far off the first base bag in the action and was caught in a rundown to end the inning.

Closer Wade Davis took the hill to start the ninth. As he did so often during the regular season, he nailed the game down with ease. He struck out Murphy, got Zimmerman to ground out, then got Werth to pop out to Rizzo just behind the first base bag for a 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Cubs will try to punch their ticket to the NLCS on Tuesday at home, starting at 5:30 PM ET. They’ll send Jake Arrieta out to the mound to face the Nationals’ Tanner Roark.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.