CHICAGO -- Four pitches. It took exactly four pitches in the top of the sixth inning of Game 3 of the NLCS to define the Chicago Cubs' season. Mega-talented -- and ultra-inconsistent -- reliever Carl Edwards Jr. walked Dodgers starter Yu Darvish on four pitches with the bases loaded and two outs.
"Just couldn't get down in the zone," Edwards said after an ugly 6-1 loss.
Darvish, who spent his entire MLB career in the American League until July 31 of this year, had 31 career at-bats and only one walk before that moment. But Cubs relievers just can't help themselves. Not Tuesday, not last round, not all of the second half of the season. They've walked themselves to the brink of elimination as the Cubs are down a nearly insurmountable 3-0 in the series.
"Walks are difficult," manager Joe Maddon said before the game. "It's difficult to manage the walk. I can't deny that. How do you fix it?"
That might be a question for the offseason as the Cubs are one day away from possibly ending their title defense. Of course, when you score four runs in three games, you don't deserve much in terms of victories, but who says you can't win a low-scoring playoff game? Three times the Cubs have actually given their pitchers a lead in this series and three times they've given it back -- and then some. There is plenty of blame to go around. After all, the Cubs have walked 43 batters in eight playoff games. That's not just one guy losing his command.
"C.J. has been that guy," Maddon said of Edwards. "[Pedro] Strop, to a certain extent, has been that guy also. [Mike] Montgomery, this year, during the course of the season showed that propensity also."
Maddon nearly named every reliever the Cubs employ. The walk to Darvish is just emblematic of a team that isn't or can't click on all cylinders. They're not even close. The Dodgers have something to do with that considering the Cubs began the series 0-for-29 against their bullpen, a record to start a postseason against anyone's relief staff, the Elias Sports Bureau reports. The Cubs finally got two ninth-inning hits in Game 3 before Kenley Jansen shut the door. Catcher Alex Avila had one of those.
"Just as quickly as it changed for the bad, it can change for the good," Avila said of the series.
It has to change quickly because the Cubs have used up their margin for error. The task at hand is monumental to keep hope of a World Series repeat alive. They'll need to be the second team to come back from a 3-0 series deficit and move on.
"Win the first one," Kris Bryant said. "Then whatever happens after that we'll figure it out then."
That's easier said than done, considering the Cubs are 0-for-11 with runners in scoring position in the series, including six strikeouts. Combine that with the walks and you can understand how their offense and pitching staff have both come up way short.
"Walks hurt you," Avila said, stating the obvious. "That's been around forever. Not just the playoffs."
Between the offense and the free passes, the latter has to be the more frustrating problem. Giving runs away instead of making the Dodgers earn them is about as bad as it gets. In Game 1, it was two walks in front of a Yasiel Puig double that fueled the Dodgers' comeback to tie the score in the fifth inning. In Game 2, Brian Duensing's lead-off walk in the ninth inning to Puig with the score tied set off a chain reaction resulting in another loss. Then in Game 3, Edwards' incomprehensible bases-loaded free pass to Darvish was the icing on the cake.
"We have not been a command-oriented bullpen," Maddon said. "There is no question about it."
So now the Cubs will turn to Jake Arrieta for perhaps his final start in a Cubs uniform. He issued five walks in his lone postseason start of 2017 so he'll fit right in if he picks up where the bullpen has left off. Then again, the Cubs need near perfection from their staff because they aren't hitting a lick right now. Anthony Rizzo is in his worst slump of the season if you take into account his usually keen eye at the plate. He has struck out 11 times with only two walks after finishing the year with more free passes then whiffs. Asked if he was drained from a five-game heavyweight bout with the Washington Nationals in Round 1, he wouldn't take the bait.
"I can run laps around this place right now," Rizzo said. "We have a great job for a living. To say anyone is drained I have to disagree with that."
He might run laps around the clubhouse, but he's not running them around the bases. No Cub is. Three have jogged around by hitting home runs, but that's all the offense they've mustered in the series.
"This game is funny," Edwards said. "We will not give up."
They better not or his declaration in Los Angeles that they would return there (for Games 6 and 7) will look awfully silly. The Cubs need to win the next two games for that to happen, then two more to get back to the World Series. It's unlikely, but not just because of history. They're getting beat by a better team, one that is pitching even better than the Cubs did last postseason on their way to a championship. Maybe that's why Rizzo isn't shocked by the situation his team is in: Down 3-0 to the team with the best regular-season record in baseball.
"You can't ever be surprised in this game," Rizzo said. "They have a good team."
That might be the understatement of the week.