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The Cubs beat the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, and it wasn’t easy

Miguel Montero hit a pinch-hit grand slam, and the Cubs have a head start on their first pennant in 71 years.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

Is it like this every postseason? It feels like this postseason has been uncommonly stressful, but looking back at previous postseasons, nope, this really is the default. Seems like we should have these every four years, like the Olympics, so we can appreciate them more.

In Saturday night’s incredibly exciting baseball game, the Chicago Cubs defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers, 8-4. It doesn’t read like an incredibly exciting score, but it was certainly an incredibly exciting baseball game. The kind of game that makes a person think things. Thoughts such as ...

1. The Dodgers sure wanted this game

Yeah, it’s a game in the League Championship Series, moron. Of course they wanted it.

Clayton Kershaw goes on short rest tomorrow. Sort-of short rest. Quasi-short rest. Kershaw pitched the ninth inning on Thursday’s Game 5, which makes it super short rest. But he last started on Tuesday, which makes this his regular turn in the rotation. How will this affect him?

Eh, he’s probably still the best pitcher in the world. But a win in Game 1, with the Dodgers winning the game started by a lefty, setting up a chance to take the commanding 2-0 series lead before even playing a single home game, would have ... I don’t know, it would have helped. You can’t argue with that professional baseball analysis. The Dodgers would have been better off if they had won that game.

You can see the stakes, though. Win, and the Dodgers have their left-handed bogeyman out of the picture for a few games, their best starter going in Game 2, and a chance to suck the soul out of the Cubs before they got too excited.

As is, they have their best pitcher — anyone’s best pitcher — going, but it’s a game they absolutely need, not one they absolutely want. Add in the weird, routine-altering shift, and it’s just a little different feeling.

2. Joe Maddon almost looked like a dingus

Four Cubs pitchers gave up a run in Game 1. One of them threw 77 pitches. The other three threw 15 or fewer. The Cubs were almost too clever.

First, start with the praise for the Cubs’ bullpen. They have Aroldis Chapman, who displaced a very, very fine closer. They have lefty setup men and righty setup men. They’re stacked. When Maddon takes out a starter in the sixth inning, one who’s absolutely dealing, it’s because he has confidence in the entire bullpen. That’s admirable.

Still, here are the Cubs pitchers I trust more than Jon Lester against the Dodgers:

  • Aroldis Chapman to start the inning.

Maaaaybe Hector Rendon for an inning, depending on whom the Dodgers are sending up. Getting away from a 77-pitch Lester to take a two-out pinch-hitting chance — with a two-run lead! — in the bottom of the sixth seems like a very, very dicey move. I’ll use the term "self-assured," but I’m sure the kids will call it something different. It relied on the Cubs’ best reliever being perfect in a newfangled expanded role (which he wasn’t.)

The bullpen gave up runs. But the Cubs won the game, so it doesn’t matter. If they didn’t win, though, there would have been a lot more attention paid to Maddon pulling Lester.

Yet, I think about it now, and which set of pitchers is more likely to allow two runs? The entirety of the Cubs’ bullpen, or an increasingly tiring Jon Lester? Statistically, the latter is probably more likely to falter, so I’m torn.

At the time, though, it looked wrong. When the Cubs’ relievers started coughing up baserunners, it felt wrong. But they survived to take the series lead.

Fine, Maddon’s probably smarter than me, but I’m not happy about it.

3. This tweet makes me happy

It’s from early 2015. I don’t know the context. I don’t want to know the context. For whatever reason, Miguel Montero took to social media to explain that he stinks at pinch-hitting.

A year-and-a-half later, Montero hit one of the biggest pinch-hits in postseason history. It was just the third pinch-hit grand slam in postseason history.

It came on a very, very bad pitch.

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to call that the worst pitch of the season. It was a postseason game. It was a tie game, with the bases loaded. It was an 0-2 count. All of those would make a pretty good argument for the Worst Pitch of the Season Awards at the end of the year.

The part that puts it over the top is that Joe Blanton threw the same hanging slider on the previous pitch. Montero missed it, and I have no idea how. How often do you see that in a season? A hitter just misses one and then the next pitch is anything other than the previous pitch. It’s in a different location, or it’s a different pitch, or more likely, both.

In this case, Blanton came back with the same awful pitch. From

Those are not bases-loaded pitches. Or, perhaps they are? The Dodgers loaded the bases with intentional walks (with a batter between them), which is one of my baseball pet peeves. The pressure to bite off pieces of the strike zone outweighs any potential benefit of double plays, platoon advantages, or ...


... okay, getting Chapman out of the game is a pretty sweet goal. Maybe the best goal. But it still puts pressure on Blanton.

Which, wait, why is Joe Blanton a setup man in the NLCS? Where are we? Auntie Em? I don’t even know this stupid sport anymore.

4. Aroldis Chapman keeps throwing fastballs, alright

Chapman has now blown two saves out of his last three attempts. In both of the blown saves, he came into the eighth inning, which isn’t his forte, but maybe that’s just a coincidence.

Except out of the last 30 pitches Chapman has thrown, he’s thrown exactly zero offspeed pitches. Let’s see how that sits with Adrian Gonzalez, noted fastball-whomper:

But, you know, you just throw fastballs, it's going to get hit.

Indeed. Chapman threw 17 fastballs in Game 1 of the NLCS. He threw 13 the game before to close out the Giants. He threw 17 in the less successful Game 3 of the NLDS, mixing in four sliders (no whiffs). The game before that, it was 15 fastballs and one changeup.

That makes it nine offspeed pitches and 79 fastballs.

That’s not too unusual, considering Chapman threw a fastball 81 percent of the time in the regular season. This postseason would be a mix of 89 percent fastballs, which isn’t too outlandish compared to his normal rate.

But to avoid just one breaking ball to Gonzalez, who is one of the best fastball hitters in the game, who has to be looking for a fastball after watching a dozen of them from the dugout and on-deck circle?

Mix in a slider. Please. For my sanity. I can’t even speak for the Cubs fans, but I’m pretty sure they would agree. Just one slider every 10 pitches, even if it’s a foot outside, would make the world’s silliest fastball even sillier.

As is, the Cubs won. They have a chance to move up 2-0 before the game shifts to Los Angeles, and all they have to do is face some goofball named Clayton Kershaw.

If the Dodgers win Game 2, they essentially steal home-field advantage, you know.

But for now, the Cubs are happy, and they should be. It was a remarkable game to watch without rooting interests. I hope the Cubs and Dodgers fans are okay.