The Cubs have eighth-inning woes and they have bled over into the postseason
The Cubs had a 5.06 ERA in the 8th this season, and both playoff losses have had 8th inning disasters
The eighth inning has been an absolute house of horrors this season for Cubs pitchers. It has bled into the postseason, including that has forced a decisive Game 5.
In Game 2, the Cubs took a 3-1 lead Nationals heading to the ninth. We now just witnessed the Nationals make a 1-0 lead in the top of the eighth to 5-0 on a single, two walks and Michael Taylor's grand slam.
It should be said that we can't be sure the eighth inning actually cost the Cubs Game 4. They didn't score a run. They surely put more pressure on the Nationals in the late innings with a 1-0 deficit instead of 5-0, so it's possible the eighth inning is what beat them. Even if it didn't, it essentially ended the game with two more turns at bat coming for the North Siders.
And we're pretty sure the eighth inning did cost the Cubs Game 2.
To sum up how things have gone for Cubs pitchers this series, this should make it easy. Here's the breakdown of Nationals' runs.
Every other inning (35 in all): 3 runs
Eighth inning (four in all): 9 runs
It wasn't nearly as drastic in the regular season, but the eighth inning has been a big problem from the get-go for the Cubs' pitchers.
The overall ERA in the regular season for the Cubs was 3.95. In innings 4-6 it was 3.67. In the sixth inning alone it was 3.17. In the seventh inning, the Cubs' collective ERA was beautiful 2.94.
The eighth inning, though?
That was the Cubs' ERA in 162 eighth innings during the regular season.
For those interested, the league average ERA in the eighth inning is 4.10. There were actually three teams worse in eighth-inning ERA than the Cubs (Angels, Mets, Tigers), but none had winning records.
Overall, the eighth inning on the mound has simply been brutal for the Cubs.
One might be inclined to think this is some small-sample anomaly and that the Cubs just need to keep plugging away and "it'll all even out," but it seems to be a personnel issue.
Manager Joe Maddon tried several setup men in the eighth. It was mostly Carl Edwards Jr., but Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon got lots of chances there. Koji Uehara saw work there early in the season. Lefties Brian Duensing and Justin Wilson (after the trade deadline, obviously) got chances.
It didn't matter. None proved more reliable in the eighth inning this season than Edwards -- albeit with control issues that resurfaced in Game 4 -- but he coughed up the lead in Game 2 and then helped load the bases and force Maddon's hand to go to Wade Davis in Game 4.
There just, frankly, haven't been any great options.
Maddon doesn't have a much wiggle room here. He likely needs to stick with Edwards as his setup guy and hope that Edwards pitches like Game 1 and Game 3 (both 1-2-3 innings with three strikeouts combined, including Harper in Game 3) and not like Games 2 and 4.
If the Cubs get through Game 5, the eighth inning remains a concern heading into the NLCS. If they lose Game 5, there's a decent bet the Nationals' big rally was mounted in the eighth inning. It's been happening all year and that's the biggest reason the Cubs didn't sweep this series.
Now they face elimination.
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