NLDS Recap: Cubs, Mets Advance

Chicago Cubs def. St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1
Game 1:  St. Louis 4, Chicago 0
Game 2:  Chicago 6, St. Louis 3
Game 3:  Chicago 8, St. Louis 6
Game 4:  Chicago 6, St. Louis 4

Starting Point:  Cubs’ 5-run Inning in Game 2
After St. Louis won Game 1 4-0 on the strength of John Lackey’s pitching performance, and eighth inning homers by Stephen Piscotty and Tommy Pham to put it away, the Cubs used a big second inning to take Game 2.  Matt Carpenter had led off the game with a homer for the Cardinals, before the Cubs countered by playing small ball.  Austin Jackson and Miguel Montero both scored on bunts, giving the Cubs a 2-1 lead, before Kyle Hendricks scored on an infield hit.  Jorge Soler ended the small ball stretch by hitting a two-run homer, making it 5-1.  The Cubs scored an additional run on a Montero RBI groundout in the third, and the Cardinals never really threatened to come back, scoring only on fifth inning solo homers by Kolten Wong and Randal Grichuk, as the Cubs tied the series with a 6-3 win.

Turning Point:  Cubs’ Record-Setting Six-Homer Game 3
Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, the likely Cy Young winner in the National League, wasn’t as sharp as he had been in nearly all of his recent starts, including the NL Wild Card Game shutout over Pittsburgh.  Arrieta allowed four Cardinal runs, with two in the fourth on a Jhonny Peralta RBI double and a Pham RBI groundout, and two more in the sixth on a Jason Heyward two-run homer.  The story for the Cubs, however, was the offense.  Chicago hit a postseason record six home runs, with one each by Kyle Schwarber (2nd inning, gave Cubs 1-0 lead), Starlin Castro (4th inning, tied score 2-2), Kris Bryant (5th inning, two-run homer, gave Cubs 4-2 lead), Anthony Rizzo (5th inning, extended Cubs lead to 5-2), Soler (6th inning, extended Cubs lead to 7-4), and Dexter Fowler (8th inning, extended Cubs lead to 8-4).  Piscotty homered in the ninth for St. Louis to cut the gap to 8-6, but the Cubs were a win away from clinching the series.

Ending Point:  Young Cubs Stars Use Long Ball Again in Game 4
After the Cubs exclusive use of the home run to score runs in Game 3, they nearly used the long ball exclusively in Game 4.  After Piscotty hit a two-run first inning homer to give the Cardinals a 2-0 lead, Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel helped himself with an RBI single in the second to cut the gap to 2-1.  After that, the Cubs only scored runs with home runs.  Javier Baez hit a three-run shot in the second to give the Cubs a 4-2 lead.  After the Cardinals tied the game in the sixth on an RBI double by Tony Cruz and an RBI single by Brandon Moss, in the bottom half of the inning Anthony Rizzo broke the tie with a solo homer, giving the Cubs a 5-4 lead.  In the seventh, Schwarber gave the Cubs some insurance with a high, long homer that landed on top of the scoreboard in right field, and when the Cubs got six more outs, the 6-4 victory was theirs.  The win marked the first time ever that the Cubs clinched a postseason series at Wrigley Field, and advanced the Cubs to the NLCS for the first time since 2003.


New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
Game 1:  New York 3, Los Angeles 1
Game 2:  Los Angeles 5, New York 2
Game 3:  New York 13, Los Angeles 7
Game 4:  Los Angeles 3, New York 1
Game 5:  New York 3, Los Angeles 2

Starting Point:  Chase Utley’s Controversial Slide in Game 2
After seven scoreless innings by starter Jacob deGrom led to a 3-1 win for the Mets in Game 1, the Mets were ahead 2-1 in the seventh inning of Game 2.  With the Dodgers batting in that inning, on a ground ball to second by Howie Kendrick, which Daniel Murphy flipped to shortstop Ruben Tejada, Chase Utley made an unusually hard slide into Tejada.  Hard slides are common to try to break up a possible double play, but Utley didn’t even start sliding until he was past the base, and hit Tejada’s plant leg.  Tejada broke his leg, but the play also hurt in the course of the game, as a review determined that Tejada never touched second base, making Utley safe (he never touched the base either, but because he was ruled out on the field before he got to the base, by technicality he didn’t have to).  There is a rule which would make a baserunner out if his slide is, in the judgement of the umpires, thought to have malicious intent, but the umpires did not rule that to be the case here.  On the fielder’s choice, Kike Hernandez scored, tying the score 2-2, and on the next play, Utley and Kendrick scored, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead, before Gonzalez scored on a Turner double to make it 5-2, a score that would eventually be the final.  The slide by Utley was definitely the turning point of the game, and was a big spot in the series, as emotions were high from that point on, particularly on the Mets side.

Turning Point:  The Mets’ Offensive Explosion in Game 3
After three Dodger runs scored in the second inning of Game 3 in New York, the Mets responded in a big way.  An RBI single by Travis d’Arnaud and a 3-RBI double by Curtis Granderson gave the Mets a 4-3 second inning lead.  d’Arnaud homered in the third, increasing the lead to 6-3.  In the fourth, an RBI single by Murphy made it 7-3, before a monster three-run homer by Yoenis Cespedes made it 10-3.  In the seventh, after a sacrifice fly by Michael Conforto, and a 2-RBI double by Granderson, the Mets led 13-4, with a late homer by Howie Kendrick of the Dodgers making the score 13-7.  The 13 runs scored by the Mets set a franchise postseason record.  The game was even more dominated by the Mets than that six-run margin would indicate, and they headed to Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.

Ending Point:  deGrom’s Gutsy Game 5 Performance
Clayton Kershaw’s one-run outing in Game 4 for the Dodgers got the series back to the West Coast for a decisive Game 5.  While the Mets were led offensively in Game 5 by Daniel Murphy, who was a triple short of the first cycle in postseason history, the game’s real star was Jacob deGrom.  It was not deGrom’s best performance by any means, but the right-hander showed the world he can grind.  After RBI singles in the first by Jacob Turner and Andre Ethier gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead (Murphy’s RBI double in the top half accounted for the Mets run), deGrom did not allow another run, despite spending most of the night in jams.  57 of deGrom’s 105 pitches were with a runner in scoring position, but he was able to keep the Dodgers from scoring for the last five innings of his six inning outing, giving his team an excellent chance to win.  d’Arnaud’s RBI sacrifice fly tied the score at 2-2 in the fourth, and Murphy homered off NL Cy Young contender Zack Grienke in the sixth, before Mets starter Noah Snydergaard pitched a perfect inning in his first major league relief appearance, and closer Jeurys Familia finishing off the Dodgers with a six-out save, advancing the Mets to the NLCS, for the first time since 2006, against the Cubs (Game 1 is in New York on Saturday).


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