2018 National League Wild Card Game
|2018 National League Wild Card Game|
91 - 72 in the NL
|1 - 0
95 - 68 in the NL
The 2018 National League Wild Card Game featured two teams who were coming off losses in a one-game playoff to determine the winner of their respective divisions. Thus, they had only known 24 hours earlier or so that they would be playing this game - and where it would take place. For the Colorado Rockies, it was a return engagement, as they had lost the 2017 game, also on the road, and for the Cubs, their current run of success had started with their winning the 2015 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, putting them on their way to the first of three straight appearances in the National League Championship Series. The two teams had never met in the postseason before.
Unlike most previous editions of the team, this year's Rockies did not put up superlative hitting numbers. They had scored a respectable number of runs - 780 - second most in the National League - but their home run total or team batting average were nothing special, in spite of playing in Coors Field. Two players had carried the offensive load: 3B Nolan Arenado (.297, 38, 110) and SS Trevor Story (.291, 37, 108). However, no regular had hit for .300, and only three of their eight starters (CF Charlie Blackmon was the other) had put up an OPS+ over 100. So these were not your father's Rockies. They had found one unexpected hero in the late-going, though, in OF David Dahl, who had had a fabulous final week to lead the Rox into the postseason by homering six times in his final eight games.
If the hitting was surprisingly meek, the pitching was a lot better that the team's ERA of 4.33 implied. The game's starter, Kyle Freeland had been excellent in putting up an ERA of 2.85, to go along with a 17-7 record, and German Marquez, unavailable after starting the playoff game, had set a team record with 230 strikeouts while recording 14 wins. The bullpen was also a strength, as Wade Davis, a pitcher with lots of postseason experience, set a team record with 43 saves. Adam Ottavino had 6 wins and 6 saves to go along with a 2.43 ERA in a set-up role, and Scott Oberg (8-1, 2.45) had also been very good. But if Freeland was chased early, middle relief could be an issue as the options for manager Bud Black were not as palatable. Psychologically, having come so close to winning a division title but falling short, and then having to travel across the country overnight, was not the best preparation they could have had for this game.
The Cubs had seemed destined to win the division with the best record in the National league until the Milwaukee Brewers spoiled their plans with a late surge that earned them a tie after 162 games. The Brewers had then shaken the Cubs' confidence some more by defeating them at Wrigley Field in the playoff game the day before, forcing the Cubs to put everything on the line in this game. The Cubs had a clear MVP in IF Javier Baez, who hit .290 with 34 homers and 111 RBIs in addition to sparkling defensive play at both second base and shortstop. Helping him out was 1B Anthony Rizzo (.283, 25, 101). 3B Kris Bryant and LF Kyle Schwarber may have put up less impressive numbers, but both were very effective offensive weapons thanks to their power and plate discipline. Another point in the Cubs' favor was that almost all of their players had significant postseason experience, thanks to their deep runs in the last three seasons.
On the mound, the Cubs had their best starter available for this game in Jon Lester (18-6, 3.32). The real question was in the bullpen: they had lost closer Brandon Morrow in mid-season and his replacement, Pedro Strop, had just been activated for this game after missing the final weeks of the season, nothing to make manager Joe Maddon too confident. Another point against them was that they had used six different relievers in losing the playoff game the day before, so their relievers were definitely not well-rested, especially after the team had gone almost all of September without a day off due to rainouts earlier in the season. But at least, they had not had to travel much in the last few days.
- Chris Guccione (HP), Mark Wegner (1B), Bill Miller (crew chief, 2B), James Hoye (3B), Tripp Gibson (LF) and Gabe Morales (RF)
|1||Colorado Rockies 2 Chicago Cubs 1||October 2||Kyle Freeland (0-0) Jon Lester (0-0)||8:05 pm|
Game 1 @ Wrigley Field
|WP: Scott Oberg (1-0); LP: Kyle Hendricks (0-1)|
|Home Runs: none|
- Attendance: 40,151
The game was a tense and low-scoring affair and took almost five hours to play until the Rockies eked out a narrow 2-1 win in 13 innings. For the Cubs, it marked an end to a frustrating final two weeks, as a season which looked quite promising ended prematurely due to their inability to put up any runs on the board. There were a couple of unexpected choices in the starting line-up: for Colorado, Matt Holliday, seemingly retired until mid-season, but who had hit well after signing belatedly with his original team, was in left field, with David Dahl in right, and for Chicago, with SS Addison Russell still suspended by Major League Baseball because of domestic violence allegations, Javier Baez was at shortstop, with David Murphy at second base, rookie David Bote at third, moving Kris Bryant over to left field. That meant Kyle Schwarber was on the bench.
Starting pitcher Jon Lester took a couple of batters to find his groove, and that almost cost Chicago the game from the get-go. He started off by issuing a walk to Charlie Blackmon, then after falling into a hole against D.J. LeMahieu, left a pitch hanging which the second baseman drove to the gap. It rolled to the fence in left-center, but there the Cubs caught a break as the ball got stuck in Wrigley Field's picturesque ivy. What would have been a certain run-scoring triple turned into a ground-rule double as a result. Nolan Arenado then hit a ball to deep center for a sacrifice fly, but the Rockies could not cash in LeMahieu from third base as both Trevor Story and Holliday struck out swinging. Home plate umpire Chris Guccione seemed to have moved his strike zone for those two batters, after Lester had complained over his calls to the first two hitters. There would be other gripes about the strike zone before the end of the game. The Cubs were lucky to be down just 1-0 after that rough start. Ben Zobrist then led off the bottom of the inning with a single off Kyle Freeland, but he was stranded there (and in fact almost picked off by Freeland). The Cubs again placed their leadoff hitter on base in the 2nd, but a force out, a line drive and a strikeout ensured there was no damage.
Both pitchers settled into a groove after those first few jitters, and there was no more scoring until the 8th. Lester gave up a couple of extra-base hits - a double by Holliday in the 4th and one by Story in the 6th - but with no damage. He struck out 9 batters in 6 strong innings, and did not walk anyone after the 1st. For his part Freeland was even better, retiring the Cubs in order in the 3rd, 4th and 5th. In the bottom of the 6th, with Lester due to lead off, Joe Maddon called on pinch-hitter Ian Happ to bat. He drew a walk, but Zobrist failed to bunt him over and then struck out. Bryant lifted what looked like a routine fly ball down the right field line, but Dahl overran it and it fell to the ground untouched for a single. However, Happ could only make it to second, as he was anticipating the ball to be caught by Dahl, like everyone else in the ballpark. It was a tense situation building up, but in one of the turning points of the game, Anthony Rizzo swung at Freeland's next pitch and grounded into an inning-ending double play. In the 7th, with Jesse Chavez now pitching, Ian Desmond led off with a single, then tried to surprise LF Bryant by taking off for second after Dahl flied out. Bryant kept his cool, however, and threw a perfect strike to Baez at second, who tagged out Desmond on a close play which the Rockies challenged unsuccessfully. Freeland returned for the bottom of the 7th and allowed a one-out single to Albert Almora. Murphy then smoked a line drive to left-center, but SS Story made a very nice catch for the second out. At this point, Black decided to take out his young starter and bring in Adam Ottavino in a double switch, with C Drew Butera entering the game. To say that Butera had a rough time would be understatement. Ottavino's first pitch glanced off his glove to the backstop for a wild pitch, then Willson Contreras drew a walk. Tommy La Stella then pinch hit for Bote and he seemingly grounded out to Ottavino - but Butera had committed catcher's interference, La Stella's bat knocking the glove clean out of his hand. The bases were now loaded. Pitcher Chavez was due up and Maddon chose to send in Jason Heyward to pinch hit, despite the fact that he had an awful batting average in his postseason career. Heyward struck out to end a tense inning.
The score was still 1-0 in favor of the Rockies, with time running out for the Cubs. Randy Rosario and Steve Cishek managed to keep the Rockies from padding their lead in the top of the inning, then after two quick outs in the bottom of the frame, Rizzo singled. Maddon pulled out another joker from his deck of cards, sending the extremely speedy Terrance Gore to pinch run for him. Ottavino failed to hold him on at all, and Gore stole second base uncontested on his first pitch to Baez. Baez then lined a ball to center, Gore motored home in record time and Baez even managed to slide safely into second for a game-tying double. He then stole third base after Wade Davis came in to pitch after another double switch, but Almora struck out to end the inning. The game then remained tied until the 13th. Maddon brought in Pedro Strop to pitch the 9th, but he was replaced by pinch-hitter Schwarber in the bottom of the inning. Both benches, but especially the Cubs', were now getting short, so Maddon called on a starter, Cole Hamels to pitch the 10th. Black had to pinch-hit for Davis in that inning, so Seunghwan Oh was next to pitch. The Rockies loaded the bases with two outs in the 11th, but Dahl hit a ground ball back to Hamels to end the threat. In the bottom of the frame, Baez drew a rare walk and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Almora. Oh issued an intentional walk to Murphy, and Contreras hit a grounder to third, where Arenado fielded it and stepped on the bag. Victor Caratini was then brought in to pinch hit for Hamels, and Black replied with another double switch, with Chris Rusin coming to pitch. He got Caratini to ground out to end the inning.
Maddon had to use yet another reliever and he called upon Justin Wilson to pitch the 12th, but after just one out, he threw all caution to the wind and asked a third starter, after Lester and Hamels, to come to the mound, in Kyle Hendricks. It was a risky move, as it would have left the Cubs struggling to find a suitable starting pitcher for Game 1 of the Division Series, but then again, if they did not win this game, that question would be moot. Hendricks got the next two outs, and in the bottom of the inning, Black pulled off his fourth double switch of the evening with two outs, exchanging Rusin and C Butera for P Scott Oberg and C Tony Wolters in the middle of a one-two-three inning. The Rockies finally broke through for another run in the 13th. It started innocuously enough when Story singled with two outs, then Gerardo Parra, who had come in as a defensive replacement for Holliday back when the Rockies still had a lead, singled him to third. Wolters was up next, and he played the hero by singling to center to drive in Story. For the record, Maddon used a ninth pitcher, Jorge de la Rosa, ironically one of the most successful pitchers in Rockies history, to close out the inning. The Cubs now had three outs left to save their season. Terrance Gore, who had had to remain in the game in spite of his limited batting skills, led off and tried to convince umpire Guccione that he had been hit by a pitch; a video review showed otherwise. He struck out, as did Baez and Almora, and the Rockies were moving on, headed for a fourth different city in four games. For the Cubs, they were left to reflect on their lack of timely hitting.
- Scott Boeck: "Rockies defeat Cubs in NL wild card, advance to play Brewers in Division Series", USA Today, October 3, 2018. 
- Thomas Harding: "Rox eliminate Cubs in 13, advance to NLDS", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
- Richard Justice: "Rockies-Cubs: NLWC positional breakdown: After tiebreaker losses, who has edge in win-or-go-home showdown?", mlb.com, October 2, 2018. 
- Gabe Lacques: "Why the Colorado Rockies will beat the Chicago Cubs in the NL wild-card game", USA Today, October 2, 2018. 
- Carrie Muskat: "Cubs' season ends after Wild, dramatic night: Following Lester's gem, club ties it in thrilling 8th only to fall in 13th", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
- Bob Nightengale: "Winter is here: Stunned Cubs prepare for change after shocking postseason elimination", USA Today, October 3, 2018. 
- Josh Peter: "'This group bounces back': Rockies look to wild-card matchup with Cubs, extending postseason", USA Today, October 1, 2018. 
- Manny Randhawa: "6 weird plays that defined Rox-Cubs classic", mlb.com, October 3, 2018. 
|Major League Baseball Wild Card Game|