Cubs

Cardinals ‘irrelevant’ when Cubs need to start playing their game again after third straight loss

Cardinals ‘irrelevant’ when Cubs need to start playing their game again after third straight loss

ST. LOUIS – Fireworks went off at Busch Stadium late Monday night, the St. Louis Cardinals rushing from their dugout and forming a mosh pit at home plate, a familiar scene during those long rebuilding years for the Cubs.   

Eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs last October changed the feel of the rivalry, and so did stealing John Lackey and Jason Heyward away from a 100-win team, plus all the hype that surrounded Camp Maddon and the best start in baseball.     

But there was Randal Grichuk with two outs in the ninth inning against Cubs reliever Adam Warren, blasting a walk-off homer 382 feet over the right-field fence and into the St. Louis bullpen for a 4-3 victory and a reminder that the Cardinals are still the defending division champs. 

“It’s a long season,” Lackey said. “They’re a good team. They’ll be fine. We got to worry about ourselves, man. They’re kind of irrelevant. If we play our game, we’ll be OK.”  

Grichuk wouldn’t have been in position to get the ice shower during the postgame on-field TV interview if Lackey hadn’t given up a two-out, two-run, game-tying homer to pinch-hitter Matt Adams in the seventh inning, ruining what had been a dominant start to that point. 

But the Cardinals (24-21) are known for pouncing on mistakes here, even as a third-place team that hasn’t been playing up to the franchise’s usual standards. After losing three in a row for the first time this season – and eight of their last 12 – the Cubs now have a six-game lead over the Cardinals in the National League Central.   

“We need to play better, 100 percent,” said Lackey, who gave up three runs in seven innings. “But ‘worry’ I think is a strong word. We’re doing OK.” 

The Cubs (29-14) had their chance in the ninth inning against St. Louis closer Trevor Rosenthal. With runners on the corners and one out, Anthony Rizzo got jammed on a 97-mph fastball and popped a ball toward third base. Matt Carpenter dove forward and made the catch. With Dexter Fowler already breaking for home plate, Carpenter crawled toward third base and tapped the bag with his glove for the double play.

That symbolized some of the frustration and bad luck for Rizzo, who had pointed to the sky after a broken-bat RBI single off Adam Wainwright in the fifth inning, snapping a 1-for-27 streak and giving the Cubs a 3-1 lead. 

This isn’t the same team when Rizzo’s not producing and Heyward’s sidelined and young hitters like Jorge Soler and Addison Russell are still making adjustments.   

“We just slowed down a little bit offensively,” said Ben Zobrist, speaking for the rest of the group after a 3-for-4 night extended his streak of reaching base safely in each of his last 29 starts. “We’re just having a harder time squaring the ball up and that’s the way it goes sometimes. We just got to work through it and battle.

“It is frustrating a little bit, but it’s still so early, We weren’t thinking too high of ourselves. We know it’s a long season. We just got to get back to the grind again.” 

The Cubs were never going to score eight runs every night and sustain a .700-plus winning percentage for an entire season. If there are signs of frustration, the Cubs kept them hidden inside the visiting clubhouse.

“You try and minimize these spots,” Zobrist said. “We talked about this at the beginning of the season. We knew there was going to be some lulls. We got hot at the beginning and now we’ve gotten cold the last couple weeks. So we have to find the middle ground and get back to playing good baseball.”  

Of course, manager Joe Maddon played it cool inside his office while talking with reporters, projecting calm for the cameras. There are no trades for hitters to be made overnight and Simon the Magician isn’t walking through that door, either. But the Cardinals are still coming and the Cubs will have to ride this out.   

“As long as they come ready to play every day, I know we’ll get back on another good run,” Maddon said. “And then eventually this will be a thing of the past. It’s inevitable.”

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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion.