Cubs

Cahill starts rally, Baez blasts walk-off homer as Cubs sweep Nationals

Cahill starts rally, Baez blasts walk-off homer as Cubs sweep Nationals

If the Cubs are going to get late-inning rallies started by relief pitchers and walk-off homers to cap five-hour, extra-inning marathons, well maybe they really won’t ever lose again.

In a season full of unlikely heroes, Trevor Cahill and Javier Baez turned in two of the game’s biggest swings Sunday, helping lead the Cubs to a 4-3 win in 13 innings over the visiting Washington Nationals that completed a four-game sweep, stretched the team’s winning streak to seven and went down as victory No. 24 just 30 games into this season with World Series expectations.

“Our guys are in that game to the last drop. Long game like that, they’ve been playing well, you could just mail it in. But our guys are into that game till the very last drop,” manager Joe Maddon said. “To the last moment, everybody was there to win that game, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Cahill came in to relieve Jake Arrieta after the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner needed 100 pitches to make it through just five innings. And while his relief work was critical — the first of four bullpen pitchers that strung together eight scoreless frames — it was his seventh-inning at-bat that loomed largest.

With the Cubs trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Maddon opted to let Cahill hit rather than use his last remaining bench player. In a move that seemed doomed to fail, Cahill smashed an infield single off Oliver Perez because with this Cubs team, of course he did.

Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch, and Jason Heyward — mired in a lengthy slump — laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over ahead of Kris Bryant’s base hit to center field that tied the score at 3.

“When I got to third and (third-base coach Gary Jones) was telling me all the stuff like ‘freeze on a liner, ‘if it’s hit to this guy, go ahead’ and all this other stuff, I was confused. I was like, ‘Just don’t get thrown out at third,’” Cahill said. “(Bryant) had a good base hit — and I froze, I think — and I scored and Fowler scored. It tied the game up, and I think it shifted the momentum a little bit.”

The score stayed there for some time, though, and while Heyward nearly ended the game when he was thrown out at home plate in the 11th, it was Baez who delivered the game-winning hit, a solo home run he smashed into the left-field bleachers to put an end to a Mother’s Day marathon.

“I was trying to get on base and get a good pitch to hit,” Baez said. “That guy throws hard. After the second strike, I sat on the slider because they’ve been throwing it to me this series a lot. And I was just looking for that pitch.”

It seems nothing can stop this Cubs team now, and the biggest key to that is the contributions coming from each and every player on the roster.

That sentiment is becoming a daily talking point with guys like Tommy La Stella and Ryan Kalish and David Ross continuing to make big plays with their bats and with their gloves. Sunday, it was Cahill.

In the end, it might be the Rizzos and Bryants and Arrietas who win the awards and produce the most over a 162-game season. But the contributions from all over are the reason the Cubs are off to an out-of-this-world start.

“The whole group is complementing one another,” Maddon said. “Nobody’s worried about credit and all that other crazy stuff. We’re just worried about winning, and that’s why we’re playing so well.”

There’s no end to how impressive this Cubs team has been through its first 30 games of the campaign. But perhaps the largest statement the team has made yet came this week, with a perfect 7-0 showing against playoff-caliber opponents from Pittsburgh and Washington. After an April schedule loaded with weaker competition, these back-to-back potential playoff previews were dominated by the Cubs.

It’s only May, but it’d be hard to find a team right now looking any better for October.

“Give our guys all the credit in the world, they just come ready to play,” Maddon said. “I know that sounds way too simplistic, but they do. They’re ready to play, they complement each other so well. You have to pitch well to be able to pull something like that off against such good competition, and we have. The hitting’s been there, clutch hitting, defense.

“Just a good week of baseball.”

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

When Kyle Schwarber met new Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis: 'I don't suck'

MESA, Ariz. — The first thing Kyle Schwarber told his new hitting coach?

"His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.'"

The Cubs hired Chili Davis as the team's new hitting coach for myriad reasons. He's got a great track record from years working with the Boston Red Sox and Oakland Athletics, and that .274/.360/.451 slash line during an illustrious 19-year big league career certainly helps.

But Davis' main immediate task in his new gig will be to help several of the Cubs' key hitters prove Schwarber's assessment correct.

Schwarber had a much-publicized tough go of things in 2017. After he set the world on fire with his rookie campaign in 2015 and returned from what was supposed to be a season-ending knee injury in time to be one of the Cubs' World Series heroes in 2016, he hit just .211 last season, getting sent down to Triple-A Iowa for a stint in the middle of the season. Schwarber still hit 30 home runs, but his 2017 campaign was seen as a failure by a lot of people.

Enter Davis, who now counts Schwarber as one of his most important pupils.

"He's a worker," Davis said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago. "Schwarbs, he knows he's a good player. His first statement to me is, 'I don't suck.' He said last year was just a fluke year. He said, 'I've never failed in my life.' And he said, 'I'm going to get back to the player that I was.'

"I think he may have — and this is my thought, he didn't say this to me — I think it may have been, he had a big World Series, hit some homers, and I think he tried to focus on being more of a home run type guy as opposed to being a good hitter.

"His focus has changed. I had nothing to do with that, he came in here with that focus that he wants to be a good hitter first and let whatever happens happen. And he's worked on that. The main thing with Kyle is going to be is just maintaining focus."

The physically transformed Schwarber mentioned last week that he's established a good relationship with Davis, in no small part because Schwarber can relate to what Davis went through when he was a player. And to hear Davis tell it, it sounds like he's describing Schwarber's first three years as a big leaguer to a T.

"Telling him my story was important because it was similar," Davis said. "I was a catcher, got to big league camp, and I was thrown in the outfield. And I hated the outfield. ... But I took on the challenge. I made the adjustment, I had a nice first year, then my second year I started spiraling. I started spiraling down, and I remember one of my coaches saying, 'I'm going to have to throw you a parachute just so you can land softly.' I got sent down to Triple-A at the All-Star break for 15 days.

"When I got sent down, I was disappointed, but I was also really happy. I needed to get away from the big league pressure and kind of find myself again. I went home and refocused myself and thought to myself, 'I'm going to come back as Chili.' Because I tried to change, something changed about me the second year.

"And when I did that, I came back the next year and someone tried to change me and I said, 'Pump the breaks a little bit, let me fail my way, and then I'll come to you if I'm failing.' And they understood that, and I had a nice year, a big year and my career took off.

"I'm telling him, 'Hey, let last year go. It happened, it's in the past. Keep working hard, maintain your focus, and you'll be fine.'"

Getting Schwarber right isn't Davis' only task, of course. Despite the Cubs being one of the highest-scoring teams in baseball last season, they had plenty of guys go through subpar seasons. Jason Heyward still has yet to find his offensive game since coming to Chicago as a high-priced free agent. Ben Zobrist was bothered by a wrist injury last season and put up the worst numbers of his career. Addison Russell had trouble staying healthy, as well, and saw his numbers dip from what they were during the World Series season in 2016.

So Davis has plenty of charges to work with. But he likes what he's seen so far.

"They work," Davis said. "They come here to work. I had a group of guys in Boston that were the same last year, and it makes my job easier. They want to get better, they come out every day, they show up, they want to work. They're excited, and I'm excited to be around them.

And what have the Cubs found out about Davis? Just about everyone answers that question the same way: He likes to talk.

"I'm not going to stop talking," he said. "If I stop talking, something's wrong."