The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Walk-Off Homer Lifts Dodgers To 2-0 NLCS Lead As Cubs' Offense Croaks

By Stephen Gossett in News on Oct 16, 2017 5:01AM

Game Two of the National League Championship Series shaped up to be exactly what Cubs fans dreaded: a bullpen showdown that also saw Chicago batters offering little at the plate. And even though Cubs relievers performed demonstrably better than than they had lately, the arms couldn't fend off the threat forever. Justin Turner delivered a dramatic walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers took the nail-biter Game Two 4-1 on Sunday night. Cubs hitters meanwhile were again not up to task, and Chicago has tallied just three runs through the first two games. Los Angeles now leads the series two games to none.

The repeatedly tense contest had been knotted up at 1-1 since the fifth inning and stayed that way until the ninth. But after two Dodgers reached on walks, Turner made John Lackey pay, spanking a three-run game-sealer homer. (Yes, you read that correctly: Lackey was pitching, not Wade Davis. Cubs fans have strong opinions about this.) Turner's shot was the first Dodgers postseason walk-off home run since Kirk Gibson's historic shot in 1988.

Playing against type, Cubs relievers—who came into the game with a collective 7.08 ERA—had actually fared well in Game Two. Carl Edwards, Jr., so queasy-making as of late, struck out three batters through a sharp one-and-a-third innings; and Pedro Strop set down three of four batters faced to take care of the seventh. Brian Duensing secured an inning-ending double play to nullify his own potentially disastrous misplay, when he bobbled the ball on a would-be force out at first. But the Dodgers bullpen was again literally unhittable, and the Cubs' weak bats couldn't make an impact before the cracks gave in the bottom of the ninth.

Given the Cubs' dual Achilles' heels of lethargic offense and relief-pitching woes, it seemed certain that, if the Cubs were to win Game Two, they'd need Jon Lester to go deep and would probably have to maintain a lead going into the late innings. But neither happened. And the Cubs have registered just a single baserunner against Dodgers' relievers through two: Anthony Rizzo's late-game hit-by-pitch.

The slumping Cubs' offense was able to get one run on the board, in the fifth inning, when Addison Russell smacked a line-drive solo home run to left. Before the homer, the Cubs had managed just a single hit and only two baserunners through the eight previous innings, going back to Game One.

But the Dodgers countered in the back half of the fifth. Charlie Culberson delivered a leadoff double, and—you guessed it—Justin Turner tied it 1-1 on an RBI single to right.

Dodgers starter Rich Hill was excellent, giving up three hits, one run and one walk while striking out eight Cubs batters through five innings. Cubs starter Jon Lester meanwhile surrendered just one run and three hits through four and two-thirds innings—but patient Dodgers batters were still able to make sure he had an early night, by drawing five walks from Lester and pushing his pitch count up to 103.

The Cubs had some memorable, efficient defensive plays from Jayson Heyward and Javy Baez, including a brilliant tag by the second baseman on a steal attempt by the bat-licking Yasiel Puig and a flashy catch near the line in right. But they proved for naught.

The series now shifts to Wrigley Field for Game Three, on Tuesday at 8 p.m. Changeup-specialist righty Kyle Hendricks will pitch for the Cubs, and right-handed power hurler Yu Darvish will start for the Dodgers. If the Cubs found one positive on which to build it's that their bullpen at least showed up, even if Lackey ultimately succumbed. But they'll need to find a way to get their sleepy bats to pounce early, considering their total lack of answers against Dodgers' relief.