Cubs series rewind: Three observations from Games 1 and 2

CHICAGO – With the Chicago Cubs back home for the first time in a week, Wrigley Field is getting ready to host its first playoff game since 2008. The tide seemed to turn in the series against the St. Louis Cardinals during the Game 2 victory.

With two of the next three games at home and Jake Arrieta on the mound for Game 3, it seems to scream, "Advantage Cubs." But before we turn the page to Games 3 and 4, let’s look back at first two games.

Turning point: Was Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia’s brain cramp in Game 2 – before an actual stomach cramp forced him to leave – the turning point in the series? Austin Jackson looked dead to rights at home on the squeeze bunt by Kyle Hendricks in the second inning, but Garcia’s hesitation, then errant throw to first, jump-started the Cubs' offense. After the second consecutive squeeze bunt moments later, the Cubs took the lead for good, scoring five unearned runs in a 6-3 win to tie the series.

“As far as the play with the pitcher bunting, that's a well-executed bunt, and the pitcher has to be aggressively thinking right out of the box if you're going to have any chance at home,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said after the game. “So then at the last minute there's a lot of noise. I'm sure Yadi [Molina] at that point was calling for him to at least look at home, and it was too late at that point because he'd already made an initial move to first. And then off-balance -- off-balance throws typically end up in the outfield.”

When a playoff series changes on a Little League-type mistake, it’s a reminder that fundamentals and preparation should never be taken for granted. Considering the roll Arrieta is on, the Garcia play could be the difference in the series -- and that stomach cramp Garcia had might feel a lot like an ulcer in the coming days.

Cubs offense: I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but just playing devil’s advocate here: The Cubs' offense still hasn’t come together this postseason. Maybe it won’t. Maybe this is how it’s supposed to be -- scratching and clawing and finding a different hero every night. But save for Dexter Fowler, Kyle Schwarber and Jorge Soler, there’s been very little damage done in three games. By now, you know Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo are hitless in the postseason, which is hard to imagine. Both have lined out hard at different times, so a little luck would help. Home cooking is probably a remedy for Bryant, as he had a whopping 1.037 OPS at Wrigley Field this season. He doesn’t stay dormant for long, so unless he runs into some more bad fortune, expect the rookie of the year candidate to make some noise in Games 3 and 4. The positive is the Cubs are 2-1 in the playoffs without damage from the middle of their lineup.

Bullpen success: Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill took center stage in Game 2. Can Clayton Richard be far behind them? Many have wondered why the Cubs' middle-relief trio is having so much success while struggling earlier in the season. One simple reason is these three former starters accepting their roles as relievers. Remember, an average-to-mediocre starter could still be a very good bullpen arm. That’s what you’re seeing with these three. Preparing to throw six or seven innings several times through the lineup is a whole different animal than using all your bullets for a few batters. You don’t have to hold back. What was mediocre stuff as a starter becomes really good as a reliever. Turning that live arm into a 1-2 inning weapon is a way back to having success.

Cahill gave credit to catcher Miguel Montero for a mental adjustment as he accepted his new role.

“He’s done a good job of transitioning me back in the bullpen and getting me ready,” Cahill said.

It’s a good thought going forward in acquiring relievers. Buy low on a dismal starter and send him to the bullpen. If he accepts the role -- not always an easy thing -- you can revitalize a career. It’s working for the Cubs, and it paid dividends in Game 2.