Taking a heavy club away from the Cubs

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By Cary Osborne

Three of the most important numbers in the National League Championship Series have been three, four and five. Those numbers represent the three spots in the Chicago order that Dodger pitchers have dominated.

Chicago’s 3-4-5 hitters are 2 for 32 in this series.

In Game 1, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell went 1 for 12 at the plate with a walk.

That same trio went 0 for 9 with a walk in Game 2.

The Cubs changed things up in Game 3 and went Zobrist, Rizzo and the hot Javier Baez and still managed to only go 1 for 11 with a walk.

The lone hits were a Zobrist double in the five-run Cubs eighth inning in Game 1 and a broken-bat infield single from Rizzo in the ninth inning in Game 3.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the Dodgers blanked the Cubs 6-0 in Game 3 that one of his team’s biggest issues in the series has been weak contact.

“I think you’ve got to give their pitching credit,” Maddon said. “We did well the first night and then (Clayton) Kershaw pitched, Kershaw happened. And that happens to a lot of folks. So tonight we were expecting and hoping to do a little bit better than we did, so you’ve got to give them credit.”

The Major League average for exit velocity this season, according to Statcast, was 89.1 mph. Statcast has 55 total hitting results for 12 Cubs players recorded in this series and eight of those players are averaging below 89.1 mph in this series, including Kris Bryant, Russell and Rizzo.

According to Fangraphs, Rich Hill had the best percentage among Dodger starters at getting soft contact this season. He ranked 11th in baseball, getting soft contact 22.3 percent of the time. He weighed in on the topic after his six-innings of shutout ball Tuesday night.

“I don’t know if there’s an art to it, I think it’s just kind of the way stuff plays out,” Hill said. “I think the thing we did tonight, and (Yasmani Grandal) can attest to this, it’s keeping hitters off balance and being able to execute strike with a breaking ball, execute fastballs in. We were throwing, for me, more than in previous games, fastballs in and being able to keep — that opens up the outside part of the plate.

“I think that the weak contact is just the result of — I mean, it’s something that I’ve always had throughout the course of my career as far as being able to throw a fastball in any part of the zone and create a later swing because of the perceptual velocity. But, again, it just comes back to keeping those hitters off balance.”

Julio Urías, who goes tonight against the Cubs, has done well himself in this area. He has induced soft contact 22.1 percent of the time and the average exit velocity against him is 87.2 percent. To put that latter number in perspective, the announced Game 5 starter, Kenta Maeda, had the second-lowest average exit velocity among pitchers with at 400 results at 86.0 mph.

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