Cubs

Cubs capitalize on Cardinals mistakes, even up NLDS

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Cubs capitalize on Cardinals mistakes, even up NLDS

ST. LOUIS - They always say the sign of a really good team is taking advantage of the opponent's mistakes.

The St. Louis Cardinals have done that for decades, but Saturday, it was the Cubs flipping the script for a 6-3 victory in Game 2 of the National League Division Series to even the series at one game apiece. 

The Cubs scored five unearned runs in the second inning, capitalizing on Cardinals starter Jaime Garcia's throwing error. Without getting the ball out of the infield, the Cubs scored on three straight at-bats, coming on bunts from Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell before Dexter Fowler's infield hit.

[MORE: GIFs - Cubs score five in second inning of Game 2 vs. Cards]

The Cubs couldn't push across any runs against John Lackey and the Cardinals bullpen in Game 1, so Joe Maddon got creative with his pitcher at the plate.

"Any way we could score any runs, obviously, especially in this ballpark," Maddon said. "They're such a good ballclub. We've talked about it before, whenever you have a chance to score, you have to take advantage of that opportunity and we did today."

Maddon compared the back-to-back squeeze bunts to the Green Bay Packers' offensive line in his childhood, a well-oiled machine that ran a sweep play all the time. Even though defenses knew it was coming, the Packers still executed and nobody could stop it. 

"I'm just saying, when it comes to [the squeeze play]," Maddon said, "even if the other team knows you may be doing it, if you do it properly, you could still do it. But everything has to be aligned properly."

Jorge Soler followed all the bunting with the big blow — a two-out, two-run shot to dead center field.

Just like that, the air was sapped out of the Cardinals, who had jumped out to an early lead again in Game 2 on Matt Carpenter's leadoff homer.

Hendricks pitched well after that Carpenter longball, setting down 14 of the next 15 batters before surrendering back-to-back homers to Kolten Wong and pinch-hitter Randal Grichuk in the fifth inning.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Travis Wood came on in relief and immediately shut the door, allowing just one hit in 2.1 innings of work. Trevor Cahill bridged the gap in the eighth inning with a dominant shutdown frame, striking out two batters.

Hector Rondon closed things out in the ninth, allowing just an infield hit.

"The bullpen was outstanding," Wood said. "Kyle kind of paved the way. He got into a little bit of trouble, but he was able to get us to the fifth and a couple of solo homers. 

"I was fortunate enough to come in and be able to get us two-and-a-third and then Cahill came in and did outstanding and Ronnie closed the door. You can't ask for much more."

The Cubs and Cardinals return to Wrigley Field for the next two games in this series, beginning Monday evening with Jake Arrieta vs. Michael Wacha.

No matter what happens from here, Maddon loves the experience the Cubs' young players are getting, being thrown into the fire.

"I've been talking about winning a wild-card game and maybe two out of three right now," Maddon said, "and who knows where this is going to take us, but the point is, down the road, the fact that these guys are getting this kind of experience or handling it in this way matters.

"So that's my takeaway from all this."

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.