The Chicago Cubs are headed back to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) after beating the Washington Nationals 9-8 on Thursday.
Chicago joined the New York Yankees as road warriors winning decisive game fives. Joe Maddon was forced to stretch his bullpen to the brink in Thursday's marathon of a game, but closer Wade Davis gutted out a seven-out save to secure the win.
Michael A. Taylor did his part for the Nationals, becoming the first player in postseason history to have consecutive games with at least four RBIs, but his towering second-inning home run off Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks was not enough to get the Nats to the NLCS.
The Cubs will now battle the well-rested Los Angeles Dodgers for a chance to make it back to the World Series.
CUBS' MAGIC STILL LINGERS
North Chicago rejoiced last year when the Cubs erased 108 years of longing with a come-from-behind World Series win. They used a mixture of young talent, solid pitching and a heavy dose of Aroldis Chapman to get the job done.
Chapman is gone, so too is leadoff hitter Dexter Fowler, but this Cubs team proved Thursday, on the road, that they still have some magic fairy dust left over from last year.
This Cubs team seem to be missing the same spark and depth as last year, but they have been impressive this season trying to repeat as champions.
MAX SCHERZER SHOULD NOT HAVE PITCHED
The reigning National League (NL) Cy Young award winner did not start until game three due to a nagging hamstring injury. He allowed just one run in 6.1 innings in that start, so it appeared the injury was behind him.
Dusty Baker decided to use Scherzer in relief Thursday, in what became one of the sloppiest innings of the postseason. Scherzer retired Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo to start the inning, but he did not record the third out until after the Cubs had scored four runs. The Cubs batted around the order in the inning, scored on a Matt Wieters throwing error and scored a run when Scherzer hit Jon Jay with the bases loaded.
Even if Scherzer had pitched lights out and helped the Nats win the game, he would not have been available early against the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks had just done the same thing with Robbie Ray and it put Arizona behind from the start. Scherzer should have been held out of this game.
ADDISON RUSSELL, WILSON CONTRERAS STEP UP
Russell entered game five with more than twice as many strikeouts (seven) as hits (two) in 14 at-bats this series. But he made up for the slow start with two key hits Thursday.
Russell doubled in the fifth inning off Scherzer, scoring two runs to help the Cubs take the lead. He then doubled again in the sixth inning, scoring Ben Zobrist. Russell ended the day two-for-four with a walk and four RBIs. The Cubs will need him to remain hot against the Dodgers.
Contreras went one-for-three with two walks and two runs scored Thursday after entering the game with two hits in 11 at-bats. Contreras went on a power surge during the second half of the regular season. The Cubs could use some more of that moving forward to support Bryant and Rizzo.
RUSSELL'S CRUCIAL HIT
Russell hit a two-run double off Scherzer.
CUBS AT DODGERS
The Cubs will face the Dodgers in the NLCS. Los Angeles will start Clayton Kershaw in game one on Saturday, as they try to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988.