By Andrew Kahn
The Cubs and Dodgers split the opening games of the NLCS at Wrigley Field, two games that remained tense into the late innings. The Cubs are three wins away from their first World Series appearance in 71 years. The Indians got there in 1997 but haven’t won it all since 1948, the second-longest active championship drought. Cleveland leads the Blue Jays 2-0.
1) Their pen is mightier
Cleveland’s pitching was great in the division series against Boston; the Indians have taken it to a higher level to start the ALCS. They’ve allowed just one run over the first two games. Cleveland’s bullpen was a strength all year, ranking second in the American League in ERA (3.45) despite not acquiring its top weapon, Andrew Miller, until August. Other than Miller and closer Cody Allen, Bryan Shaw is the only other Cleveland reliever to see the field in the ALCS, facing and retiring one batter. The dominant duo has faced 18 Blue Jays and struck out 13 out of them, walking none and allowing just one hit. Allen retired Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Troy Tulowitzki in order to get the save in Game 2 Saturday afternoon. Neither he nor Miller faced the Jays much in the regular season (11 total plate appearances), so Toronto fans can only hope familiarity will help their hitters going forward.
2) Historic happenings at Wrigley
After the Dodgers had tied Game 1 with a two-run eighth, reserve catcher Miguel Montero hit a grand slam in the bottom of the inning to give the Cubs a 7-3 lead. According to Elias, it was just the third pinch-hit grand slam in playoff history and first to put a team ahead. Montero had been 0 for 4 in his previous playoff plate appearances this year. His last hit was Oct. 2, also a pinch-hit homer.
Dexter Fowler went deep on the next pitch and the Cubs won 8-3. Earlier in the game, Javier Baez became the second player to steal home for the Cubs in a playoff game. He broke for the plate as soon as the catcher threw behind him on a pick-off attempt.
3) Count on Kershaw
Remember when Clayton Kershaw was known as an unreliable playoff pitcher? The Dodgers have won all four of the playoff games Kershaw has appeared in this postseason, including last night’s Game 2, in which the lefty went seven scoreless. He retired the first 14 batters and allowed just two hits, needing only 84 pitches to get through seven.
His spot did in the batting order did not come up in the eighth, but Dave Roberts went with Kenley Jansen for a six-out save. The closer threw two perfect innings, striking out four, ensuring that Adrian Gonzalez’s second-inning home run held up in a 1-0 Dodgers win.
4) Blue Jays
Toronto’s struggles against the Cleveland bullpen were noted, and scoring against Miller and Allen won’t be easy. A much more likely path to success would be scoring off Cleveland’s starters. They had chances early in Game 1 Friday night against Corey Kluber: they had runners on second and third with one out in the first; first and second with one out in the second; first and second with two outs in the third. They didn’t capitalize on any of those opportunities and lost 2-0. Josh Tomlin figured to be an easier test in Game 2, but the veteran right-hander allowed just three hits over 5.2 innings. The only damage came on a two-out double by Josh Donaldson, and the Jays fell 2-1.
The Blue Jays batters have done more talking than hitting, arguing with home plate umpire Laz Diaz throughout Game 2, often with displays that likely would earned them ejections in less important games. Bautista is hitless in six at bats with five strikeouts; he has walked twice. The one time he has put the ball in play this series, he was robbed on a slick backhand snag and long throw by shortstop Francisco Lindor. Toronto bashed its way though its first four playoff games and will need to rediscover their home run strokes to get back in this series.
5) Dangers of drones
The ALCS moves to Toronto for Games 3, 4 and, if necessary, 5. Trevor Bauer will start tonight for Cleveland against Marcus Stroman, a game later than expected. Bauer sliced his finger while repairing a drone—he is apparently a drone enthusiast—and will be on the mound with stitches on the pinkie finger of his pitching hand. Mike Clevenger is scheduled to face Aaron Sanchez in Game 4. The Cubs head to LA to resume the series tomorrow with Jake Arrieta opposing Rich Hill.
Andrew Kahn is a regular contributor to CBS Local. He writes about baseball and other sports at andrewjkahn.com and you can find his Scoop and Score podcast on iTunes. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn