Calling the second game of a five-game series a must-win is ‘tired’ as Bryce Harper would say, but that’s exactly what Game 2 of the NLDS is for the Chicago Cubs. Only two teams in baseball history have ever rebounded from a two-game hole to win in the divisional round — the 1995 Seattle Mariners and 2012 San Francisco Giants. The Cubs face baseball’s premier postseason franchise in the St. Louis Cardinals and are already down a game after being shutout and kept off balance by John Lackey in Game 1.
The Cardinals are not about to be the third team in baseball history to blow a two-game lead in the Division series. The Cubs must find a way to win the second game of this series. Pick up a win in St. Louis, and the Cubs will head back to Chicago with a real chance to advance to the NLCS. Lose, and another empty postseason seems an inevitability.
Though this game has a must-win air to it, the Cubs cannot afford to look at it that way lest they put too much pressure on themselves and clench up. Manager Joe Maddon is the perfect calming influence to express the importance of Game 2 while not exaggerating and creating an air of panic in the clubhouse.
The Cubs will hand the ball to right-hander Kyle Hendricks. The 25-year-old out of Dartmouth went 0-1 in his only start of the year against the Cardinals and allowed four earned runs in five innings. On the year, Hendricks went 8-7 with a 3.95 in 32 starts. He is a perfectly adequate back-of-the-rotation starter, but not exactly the first choice to start a critical Game 2 in the playoffs. The Wild Card round puts the Cubs at a huge disadvantage by keeping Jake Arrieta out of the picture until Game 3. The series could be decided by then if Hendricks cannot turn in a good effort here.
For the Cardinals, Jaime Garcia gets the start. The 29-year-old left-hander is coming off the best season of his seven-year career. Garcia shook off injuries to go 10-6 with a 2.43 ERA in 20 starts. He has been hit-or-miss in six career postseason starts with a 4.23 ERA. Garcia did not start against the Cubs in the regular season, but is the type of soft-tosser who can change speeds and keep the Cubs’ young, aggressive hitters off balance.
It took the Cubs until the sixth inning to record their first hit against Lackey, and they finished with only three for the game. Kyle Schwarber was the only Cub who looked comfortable at the plate, picking up two hits and a walk. Kris Bryant struck out twice in his postseason debut. Chicago needs Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to get untracked early against Garcia and give Hendricks a lead. Scoring early against the Cardinals, who never seem to be out of a game, is a key to victory for the Cubs in today’s game.
With Arrieta set to pitch Game 3, the Cubs could be perfectly positioned to take the series away from St. Louis, but they must win Game 2 to put themselves in that position. Even with a loss today, it’s hard to totally count the Cubs out with Arrieta and Lester able to go in Games 3 and 4. The Cubs hopes, however, are much more realistic with a win today.