Cubs relish beating 'one of best teams of the decade'

Cubs relish beating 'one of best teams of the decade'

SAN FRANCISCO — The scene in the Cubs clubhouse Tuesday night was as you’d expect after their series-clinching victory over the Giants, with champagne and beer flying every which way.

Along with the celebration, however, came a healthy amount of respect for the team they managed to topple. The Giants’ “even-year” aura was a very real phenomenon. And after Chicago’s 6-5 victory wrapped up the National League Division Series, the Cubs understood the magnitude of what they accomplished.

“They proved to be the toughest team that this league has seen, the toughest team to beat in the postseason, especially when their backs are against the wall,” Cubs left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “They find a way to do it. Us knowing that, and still being able to come back in this game and win, I think just says a lot about this team.”

The Cubs rallied from a 5-2 deficit with a four-run top of the ninth off five Giants relievers, then turned things over to Aroldis Chapman to close it out in the bottom half. The game-winning rally began with Kris Bryant’s single to lead off the ninth against Derek Law, who came on to replace Giants starter Matt Moore.

“It’s huge,” Bryant said. “They’re a tough team. Obviously they struggled at the end of the year, but just getting into the playoffs, anything can happen. So beating one of the best teams of the last decade is pretty good for us.”

The Cubs seemed to find it extra gratifying to clinch the series at AT&T Park, in front of a raucous sellout crowd that sensed the Giants were conjuring up more of their familiar postseason mojo.

“They’ve won championships before,” Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward said. “In their even year, coming in and beating them at home is definitely special.”

The Giants had the championship pedigree, but the Cubs had Chapman.

And though the flame-throwing lefty coughed up a lead in the Giants’ Game 3 win on Monday, his presence Tuesday night made all the difference. With Giants manager Bruce Bochy shuttling through relievers rapidly in the top of the ninth trying to shut off the Cubs’ come-from-behind rally, Chapman came on in the bottom half for Chicago and struck out the side to end it swiftly.

“When it comes to the ninth inning, sometimes that’s the toughest one to beat a team in,” Zobrist said. “That’s why a shutdown closer is so important. We had that in Chappy tonight, which was huge. And they struggled with that over the last month of the year and stuff. I’m sure that’s gonna be something that they address as a club. But we felt like we had a good chance when they put the bullpen in.”

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

Starting to rev things up, Hunter Pence has big night at plate and in left

PEORIA — Jeff Samardzija spent a couple minutes after Thursday’s start talking to reporters about how deep he thinks the Giants lineup can be. It’ll be a hell of a lot deeper if Hunter Pence keeps hitting like this. 

After a slow start to the spring, Pence is charging. He had three hits against the Padres: a triple that bounced off the top of the wall in right-center, a hard single up the middle, and a double to center. The more encouraging plays for the Giants happened in left field. Pence chased down a drive to the line in the third inning, leaving the bases loaded. He opened the fourth by going the other direction and gloving a fly ball to left-center. 

"A good game for Hunter, both ways," manager Bruce Bochy said. "He's getting more comfortable out there. You can see it with the jumps he's getting right now. It takes a little while when you change positions, but I think he's going to be fine out there."

The Giants appear set to have Austin Jackson and Pence atop the lineup against left-handed starters, and that duo could see plenty of time early. Seven of the first nine games are against the Dodgers, who have four lefty starters. 

--- Evan Longoria had a double off the right-center wall on Wednesday after missing a week with a sore ankle. He had a single the same way in his second at-bat Thursday. More than the at-bats, Longoria has impressed with his soft hands and steady arm at third. The ankle looks fine, too. 

“My ankle feels pretty good,” Longoria said. “I don’t think it’s going to be an issue going forward.”

--- It’s been a quiet spring for Andrew McCutchen, but we saw the wheels tonight. McCutchen easily stole second after a two-run single in the fifth. When Evan Longoria bounced one to the left side, shortstop Freddy Galvis tried to go to third for the lead out, but McCutchen beat that throw, too. He got up and put his hands on his hips, as if to say, "Why'd you even try that?"

--- Samardzija allowed three homers in a six-batter span in the third. He allowed three homers in an inning in his previous start, too, but he said he’s not concerned. Samardzija deemed it a sequencing issue. He’s working in a new changeup and threw it in situations he normally wouldn’t; Eric Hosmer took advantage of a floating one, crushing it to deep, deep right for the third homer. 

--- With a runner on, Brandon Belt put down a perfect bunt to foil the shift. Belt does that every spring, particularly against NL West teams, but rarely during the regular season. Maybe this will be the year?

Belt later crushed a homer to deep right. That had to feel good for a number of reasons. Belt is fighting a cold and he learned earlier in the day that his college coach, Augie Garrido, had passed away.

Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential


Josh Osich goes back to his roots looking to unleash all the potential

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — For most pitchers, spring training is a time to experiment and add a pitch or two. Josh Osich is using this month to go the other direction. 

Osich spent the offseason watching film of his 2015 season, when he looked like he might one day be the closer in San Francisco, and decided that he needed to get back to his roots. That means the curveball, which he tried so hard to mix in last year, is now far back in the cupboard. The four-seam and two-seam fastballs are once again the focus, with an emphasis on changing eye levels more than he did a year ago. The changeup and cutter will round out his arsenal for the most part. 

Osich’s raw stuff is still as good as just about any lefty reliever in the league, and he hopes to take advantage of that while putting a rough 2017 season in his rearview mirror. He had a 6.23 ERA last season and 1.73 WHIP.

“It’s just one of those learning years,” Osich said. “I tried to live at the bottom of the zone and I was, but I was actually below the zone. So then I would fall behind and need to throw a strike and that’s when guys would hit me.”

Osich, 29, had a 2.20 ERA and 1.12 WHIP during that 2015 season that he keeps going back to. He walked eight batters in 28 2/3 innings, a far cry from the 27 he walked in 43 1/3 last year. While watching the 2015 version of himself, Osich saw that his hands were higher, and that’s something he’s working to replicate. He’s also trying to slow his pace to the plate. So far, the results are nothing but encouraging. Osich allowed one hit and struck out one in a 2 1/3 inning appearance on Wednesday night. Manager Bruce Bochy let him extend himself to keep the good vibes going. 

In six appearances this spring, Osich has allowed just four hits over seven scoreless innings. He has seven strikeouts and one walk. 

“O, it just seems like he’s got confidence,” Bochy said. “He’s kept it simple, he’s not tinkering with different pitches. He’s throwing more strikes, and more than anything he’s just trying to pound the strike zone now with quality strikes. That’s all he has to do. You look at him and he’s hitting 95 with a couple of good off-speed pitches. That works here.”