Called on earlier than usual, 'pen keeps Cubs in it
Relievers remain strong this postseason, going three scoreless behind Arrieta
By Jamal Collier
NEW YORK -- During his historic stretch to close the second half of the regular season, Jake Arrieta routinely pitched deep into games, regularly reducing the Cubs' bullpen to spectators.
But the Mets ambushed Arrieta from the start of Sunday's Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, scoring three runs in the first inning and another in the third, knocking Arrieta out after five innings en route to a 4-1 victory.
If the Cubs can draw a positive from their loss, perhaps it is that their bullpen did its part yet again, not allowing the game to get out of hand on a night their ace did not have his best stuff and giving the offense a chance for a comeback in the late innings.
Travis Wood twirled a pair of scoreless innings with four strikeouts. Clayton Richard retired the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth before Pedro Strop came on to retire the final batter.
"We'll do whatever's necessary," Wood said.
Through the first two games of this series, Chicago relievers have retired nine of the 10 batters they've faced, the lone hit a single by the red-hot Daniel Murphy in the eighth inning Sunday night. The bullpen has been especially strong all postseason. It has held opponents to five runs on 12 hits in 18 2/3 innings (2.41 ERA) in relief during the playoffs, striking out 26 and issuing just one walk.
"It's just a special group that knows how to do their job," catcher David Ross said. "They're like the offensive linemen of [baseball]. They don't get a whole lot of credit, but they're really the heart and soul of the team. Because when things are going bad, you're really relying on them to get a lockdown, shutdown inning to get you back in the dugout to hit."
Their performance Sunday could be particularly important if the Cubs want to bounce back in this series with Kyle Hendricks and probably Jason Hammel scheduled to start the next two games.
The Cubs won both starts from Hendricks and Hammel during the NLDS against the Cardinals, although neither starter pitched deep into the game. Hendricks lasted 4 2/3 innings in Game 3 and averaged just under 5 2/3 innings per start in the regular season. Cubs manager Joe Maddon seems likely to be aggressive going to his bullpen if Hendricks gets into trouble early. Especially considering how strong the relievers have looked so far this October.
"They keep you right in there, and that's the sign of a good bullpen," Ross said. "And Joe uses those guys really good. He's found each guy's niche and what they're good at. He's really used those guys great, especially you've got a lot of guys that have never been in the role."
Jamal Collier is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.