Deep Dive: Another rally, Rizzo breaks out
The Cubs’ 21-inning scoreless streak started late on the night of October 15, 2016 in Game 1 of the NLCS and continued for four days. On the mound for the Dodgers in Game 4 was Julio Urias, the youngest pitcher to ever start an MLB playoff game at 20 years and 68 days old.
Urias cruised through the Cubs lineup the first time through, striking out three batters and allowing only one walk. When he turned over the lineup in the third inning, he walked Kris Bryant and struck out the struggling Anthony Rizzo on three fastballs. The young lefty looked locked in until the Cubs generated some fourth-inning momentum.
It started with eight consecutive swings from Ben Zobrist, Javier Báez and Willson Contreras resulting in three singles and the Cubs first run in over 96 hours. Zobrist bunted for a base hit to lead off the inning. Báez and Contreras both took 0-2 pitches to left field, the latter scoring Zobrist.
The first time through their lineup, four of the Cubs first six batters took a first-pitch called strike from Urias. Eight of the Cubs first 12 hitters fell behind in the count at some point in their at-bat. Patience can often be a virtue, but taking hittable pitches from a young left-handed pitcher played into what Urias and nearly every other pitcher wants to do: get ahead in the count. Hitters batted only .203 and slugged just over .300 in 2016 when they were behind in the count. When hitters were ahed, their batting average jumped over 100 points while their slugging percentage came close to doubling (.525). Even if swinging early and often meant there was a higher probability Urias got ahead in the count, if the Cubs hitters were instead taking hittable pitches, there was no chance for a positive outcome. Being aggressive and putting the bat on the ball paid off, even if the hits weren’t hard-hit doubles off the wall.
Jason Heyward broke the streak of consecutive swings by taking a pitch off the plate on Urias’ ninth pitch of the fourth inning. His groundout later in his at-bat scored Báez, and the next batter, Addison Russell, hit a two-run home run to put the Cubs up 4-0.
One inning later, Anthony Rizzo finally emerged from his playoff slump. In the first seven games of the postseason, he had no extra-base hits and seven strikeouts to four walks. He drove his strikeout total to nine after striking out twice in Game 4 before flipping the switch. Facing the Dodgers Pedro Baez for the second time in three innings, Rizzo worked the count to 3-1 before thinking ball four was thrown. Home plate umpire Angel Hernandez kept Rizzo in the box by making the correct call on the inner third of the plate. Rizzo then took a middle-middle four-seam fastball from Baez out to right-center field. He saw nine pitches from Baez that night, eight of which were fastballs.
After his home run, Rizzo put on a show. He hit .432 across 11 games with three home runs, 10 RBI and five doubles. His success evened out his 2016 playoff performance to a robust .277/.373/.492 slash line. Although Ben Zobrist won the World Series MVP with the go-ahead RBI in Game 7 of the World Series, Rizzo had a pretty good case with more RBI and a similar slash line. This homer in the fifth inning of Game 4 seemed to spark Rizzo to an incredible playoff line during the Cubs 2016 run for the ring.
- Rizzo 2/26 in first 7 games of postseason, 7 K 4 BB, .077 AVG /.200 OBP. Next 11 games, 16/39, .410 AVG / .489 OBP, 5 2B, 3 HR, 10 RBI
- Before Urias, the Kansas City Royals Bret Saberhagen was the youngest pitcher ever to start an MLB playoff game (Game 2 of 1984 ALCS) at 20 years and 107 days old.