Less than 96 hours after having the best record in the National League, the Chicago Cubs have been eliminated from the postseason.
Tuesday night the Colorado Rockies beat the Cubs in 13 innings in the winner-take-all NL Wild Card Game at Wrigley Field (COL 2, CHC 1). Both clubs lost a Game 163 tiebreaker Monday to end up in the Wild Card Game. This was only the third Wild Card Game to go to extra innings and the longest postseason game in Wrigley Field history.
With the win, the Rockies are moving on to the National League Division Series to take on the Milwaukee Brewers. Colorado had been 1-8 in their last nine postseason games dating back to the 2007 NLCS. The Cubs? They're done. Season's over.
Here is everything you need to know about the NL Wild Card Game.
This was the longest win-or-go-home game in history
Prior to Tuesday night no winner-take-all game in MLB history had ever gone 13 innings. Here are the longest winner-takes-all games in baseball history:
- 2018 Wild Card Game: Rockies over Cubs in 13 innings
- 2014 AL Wild Card Game: Royals over Athletics in 12 innings
- 1924 World Series Game 7: Senators over Giants in 12 innings
This was only the third Wild Card Game to go to extra innings, joining that 2014 AL game and the 2016 AL game between the Blue Jays and Orioles. That's the infamous "Zach Britton is still sitting in the bullpen" game.
The road team won another Wild Card Game
Tuesday's game was the 13th Wild Card Game in baseball history and the road team is now 8-5 in those 13 games. Home field advantage hasn't been much of an advantage in the Wild Card Game thus far. Here are the home team wins:
- 2017: Yankees over Twins
- 2017: Diamondbacks over Rockies
- 2016: Blue Jays over Orioles
- 2014: Royals over Athletics
- 2013: Pirates over Reds
This is almost certainly a statistical anomaly, not a meaningful trend. We're talking about 13 Wild Card Games spread across seven years. Give it enough time and things will even out, if not swing in favor of the home team since the home team has won approximately 54 percent of games, historically.
On Tuesday though, the Rockies went into raucous Wrigley Field to beat the Cubs and extend their season. Winning a do-or-die game on the road is never easy. So far though, the road team has had success in the Wild Card Game.
The team that scored first won again
Though 13 Wild Card Games, the team that scores first is now 10-3. The Rockies did it in a roundabout way Tuesday night, but they did win after scoring first. Here are the three teams that won despite not scoring first in the Wild Card Game:
Scoring first is such a big advantage, especially when the road team scores in the top of the first. The home team is playing from behind right away and that is never a good field.
Freeland was masterful
While pitching on three days' rest for the first time since college, Rockies southpaw Kyle Freeland was brilliant Tuesday, holding the Cubs scoreless across 6 2/3 innings. He started to tire a bit later in the outing but still managed to take the ball into the seventh inning.
Freeland allowed 17 balls in play and his average exit velocity allowed was a mere 84.2 mph. Only three of those 17 balls in play had a hit probability north of 50 percent, according to Statcast. Freeland faced 24 batters and only five of the 24 saw more than four pitches in their at-bats. Three of the four batted in the first inning. Freeland was marvelous. He generated weak contact and was ruthlessly efficient all night.
This performance didn't come out of nowhere, of course. Freeland had an outstanding regular season, throwing 202 1/3 innings with a 2.85 ERA (164 ERA+). Among pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title, that is the second lowest ERA in Rockies history behind Marvin Freeman (2.80 ERA in 1995). Freeman threw only 112 2/3 innings that year and still qualified because it was a strike-shortened season. Point is, Freeland was outstanding Tuesday. What a performance.
Ottavino pulled a big-time escape job in the seventh ...
Freeland's start almost went for naught in the seventh inning. He exited the game with a runner on first and two outs in the seventh inning. In came setup man Adam Ottavino, who uncorked a wild pitch and walked Willson Contreras. Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella then reached base on a catcher's interference.
With the bases loaded, two outs, and his team down 1-0 in the seventh inning, Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to pinch-hit Jason Heyward against Ottavino, not Kyle Schwarber. Heyward struck out to end the inning.
Ottavino struck out 112 batters in 77 2/3 innings this season and that two-seamer, which is his second best pitch, shows you why. He's got filthy stuff. Freeland's scoreless outing was preserved. Freeland, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Arrieta, and Madison Bumgarner (twice) are the only pitchers with a scoreless start in Wild Card Game history.
... but he couldn't escape the eighth
With the Rockies still nursing their 1-0 lead in the eighth, Ottavino allowed a two-strike single to Anthony Rizzo and a game-tying two-run double to Javier Baez. Pinch-runner Terrance Gore stole second before Baez's double.
Just like that, a brand new ballgame. Ottavino had Baez down 0-2 in the count and a slider was absolutely the right pitch call there. It just caught too much of the plate. I had a feeling this game wouldn't end 1-0.
That, by the way, was the first 0-2 base hit Ottavino allowed all season.
Lester's leadoff batter issues continued
The Rockies struck first in the top of the first inning. Charlie Blackmon worked a leadoff walk, DJ LeMahieu moved him to third with an ivy-rule double, and Nolan Arenado brought him home with a sacrifice fly for a quick 1-0. Jon Lester has had trouble retiring the leadoff hitter since the All-Star break.
Lester with a leadoff walk.— Inside Edge (@InsideEdgeScout) October 3, 2018
He allowed an OBP of .411 (73 PAs) against the first batter faced in the inning since the 2018 All-Star Break -- worst among qualified SPs in MLB; League Avg: .293.
To his credit, Lester retired the leadoff batter in every inning after the first. He was excellent from innings 2-6, retiring 15 of the 18 batters he faced.
The nine strikeouts tie Lester's season high and his postseason career high. His 133 postseason strikeouts are eighth-most in history. Lester was outstanding Tuesday and it sure seems like he had enough left in the tank for the seventh inning. Maddon had to lift him for a pinch-hitter with his team down a run, however. Such is life in the National League.
Strop was thrown right back into the fire
Welcome back, Pedro Strop. Go throw the ninth of a do-or-die postseason game.
Strop missed the final 17 regular season games with a hamstring injury, but he got healthy in time for the Wild Card Game, and he mowed through the middle of the Rockies' lineup in the Wild Card Game. His fist pump game remains strong.
The Cubs bullpen was a bit of a wreck going into the Wild Card Game. It was only one inning, sure, but Strop provided a real nice pick-me-up Tuesday.
Wolters came through with the big hit
Tony Wolters, the third string catcher on Colorado's roster and the 42nd player used in the Wild Card Game, provided the go-ahead base hit in the 13th inning. Trevor Story, Gerardo Parra, and Wolters strung together back-to-back-to-back two-out hits against Kyle Hendricks.
Hendricks threw Wolters three changeups in the at-bats. Granted, Hendricks has a great changeup, but he may have gone to the well one too many times there. Wolters, a pitch-framing specialist, came through at the plate in the Wild Card Game.
Lester reached a postseason milestone
The 2018 NL Wild Card Game was the 22nd postseason start (and 26th postseason appearance) for Lester, who first pitched in October as a 23-year-old with the 2007 Red Sox. He is now one of six pitchers with 150 career postseason innings to his credit.
- Andy Pettitte: 276 2/3
- Tom Glavine: 218 1/3
- John Smoltz: 209
- Roger Clemens: 199
- Greg Maddux: 198
- Jon Lester: 154
Not surprisingly, all six pitchers pitched in the wild-card era. That extra postseason round helped them rack up playoff innings. That makes everything they accomplished in their careers even more impressive, as far as I'm concerned. All those intense postseason innings equal more wear and tear.
Colorado's brutal travel continues
And I'm sure they don't mind one bit. With the win, the Rockies will now travel to Milwaukee to take on the Brewers in the NLDS. That series begins Thursday. Here's a look at the Rockies' recent travel schedule:
- Sunday: Win regular season finale over Nationals in Denver.
- Monday: Lost tiebreaker game to Dodgers in Los Angeles.
- Tuesday: Win Wild Card Game over Cubs in Chicago.
- Wednesday: Off-day!
- Thursday: Open NLDS in Milwaukee.
Mountain Time to Pacific Time to Central Time in three days. That's never fun. The Rockies survived and thrived though. They've advanced to the NLDS and have a chance to win the World Series.
Cubs vs. Rockies: Wild Card Game commentary
Relive the 2018 NL Wild Card Game with our live game commentary. If the widget does not load properly, please.