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Cubs outlast Nationals 9-8 in wild NLDS Game 5, advance to NLCS to face Dodgers

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The Cubs did just enough right to win NLDS Game 5 at Nationals Park on Thursday evening, defeating the Nationals 9-8 and advancing to the NLCS to face the Dodgers.

There was a lot of scoring in this one, so I’ll spare you the intricate play-by-play for each event. The Cubs opened the scoring in the top of the first against Nats starter Gio Gonzalez, as Anthony Rizzo brought home a run with a ground out. The Nationals answered in the bottom of the second, scoring four runs: one on a Daniel Murphy home run to right field and another three on Michael Taylor‘s homer to left, both off of Kyle Hendricks.

The Cubs cut the deficit by two in the top of the third inning, scoring a run on an Addison Russell ground out and on a wild pitch uncorked by Gonzalez.

Max Scherzer entered the game in relief in the fifth inning and it did not go well. Scherzer yielded two two-out singles, then a two-run double to Russell to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead, then intentionally walked Jason Heyward, then saw Javier Baez reach on a dropped third strike. Catcher Matt Wieters threw the ball wide of first base, skipping into right field, so Russell scored to make it 6-4. Tommy La Stella reached when Wieters interfered with his swing to load the bases. Scherzer hit Jon Jay with a pitch, forcing in a run to make it 7-4.

Russell knocked in another run in the top of the sixth with a double against Brandon Kintzler. The Nationals finally answered, scoring two runs in the bottom of the sixth. Mike Montgomery walked Ryan Zimmerman but ball four was a wild pitch, allowing a run to score. Murphy then doubled to left field to plate one more run, reducing the Nationals’ deficit to 8-6.

Kris Bryant pushed across one more run for the Cubs in the top of the seventh with an RBI ground out. It was controversial as Jay slid into Murphy at second base on a double play attempt, which Nationals manager Dusty Baker thought violated the “Chase Utley rule.” But after a replay review, the ruling on the field was upheld, giving the Cubs their ninth run.

The Nationals loaded the bases with one out, bringing Bryce Harper to the plate in the bottom of the seventh against Jose Quintana. Harper, though, could only muster a sacrifice fly to center field, making it a 9-7 game. Zimmerman struck out against Wade Davis to end the frame.

Davis remained in the game for the eighth but he couldn’t find the strike zone. He threw seven straight balls and ended up walking the first two batters he faced. He was bailed out, it seemed, when pinch-hitter Adam Lind swung at the first pitch and grounded into a 6-4-3 double play. Taylor, though, kept the rally alive, ripping a single up the middle to bring in a run for a 9-8 score. Jose Lobaton kept the line moving with a single up the middle, but then he made perhaps the costliest mistake of his career. After Davis threw a ball to Trea Turner, catcher Contreras snap threw to first base. Rizzo applied the tag on Lobaton, who slid back into the first base bag. He was initially ruled safe, but his foot popped up slightly given his momentum when Rizzo still had his glove on him. After replay review, Lobaton was ruled out and the Nationals’ rally ended.

Davis collected himself in the bottom of the ninth, getting Turner to fly out. He then struck out Werth and Harper to end the game and send the Cubs to the NLCS to face the Dodgers. Another tough exit from the playoffs for the Nationals.

The NLCS begins on Saturday at 8 PM ET. The Dodgers will send Clayton Kershaw to the hill, as expected. We’ll have to see how the Cubs configure their rotation.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).