Cubs

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

Cubs drop fifth game in last six with loss to Marlins

MIAMI (AP) — Ichiro Suzuki slapped a ground ball toward the left side of the infield, then hustled down the line to first just in case the throw didn't get there in time.

It didn't, and the Miami Marlins were in business.

That play by Suzuki kick-started what became a four-run fifth as the Marlins took the lead for good, and they went on to beat the Chicago Cubs 9-6 on Saturday.

"Just a good team," said Justin Bour, who hit his 14th home run and finished with three RBIs. "Good vibe right now, and just got to keep it rolling."

Giancarlo Stanton had his first three-RBI game since April 26 for Miami, which got to 40 wins in 75 games - or 20 games faster than they did a year ago. Paul Clemens (1-0) allowed four runs in five innings for his first big league win since June 12, 2013, and A.J. Ramos got the last two outs for his 24th save in as many chances this season.

Going back to 2015, Ramos has saved 33 straight, tying a Marlins franchise record.

"He's been solid," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "Any team that has a guy at the end that's closing `em down and not giving `em up, if you can get to him with a lead you're in good shape."

Addison Russell hit a three-run homer and Miguel Montero added a solo homer for the Cubs, who still have the best record in the majors even after losing five of their last six games. They ended a four-game skid Friday night despite giving up Bour's grand slam.

"That's a tremendous lineup," Clemens said.

Cubs starter John Lackey (7-4) gave up a season-high seven runs in 4 1-3 innings, and it's almost like he knew Suzuki's infield single would be trouble - smacking his glove and shouting in frustration after he reached.

It only got worse over the next few minutes for Lackey, who had a 2.78 ERA when the game started and a 3.29 ERA when it ended.

"To start off with an infield hit ... I have to do better than that," Lackey said. "Four runs should be enough to win that game."

Suzuki took second when Russell's throw squirted away from Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, and scored two pitches later on Martin Prado's double.

Stanton drove in Prado with a single that chased Lackey and put Miami up 5-4, Bour greeted reliever Gerardo Concepcion with an RBI double, and Derek Dietrich's sacrifice fly made it 7-4.

It was a rare sort of loss for the Cubs, who were 33-0 this season when scoring six runs and 44-3 when scoring at least four.

"When we score that many runs we're going to win a baseball game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "It was one of those nights and we move on."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Rizzo (back stiffness) and Montero (right knee) returned to the lineup after missing the last two games. ... 2B Ben Zobrist, who was forced out of Friday's game after getting hit in the left ankle by a pitch, didn't start but pinch-hit in the eighth.

Marlins: CF Marcell Ozuna, who played in all but one of Miami's first 74 games, wasn't in the lineup because of left wrist pain. Suzuki started in center for the sixth time this season.

CUBS LINEUP

Willson Contreras, who had an RBI double in the ninth for the Cubs, got the start in left field. That became the third position (joining catcher and first base) that he's played in a very hectic opening eight games of his MLB career. And Lackey batted eighth, the second straight day that Maddon put a starting pitcher in that slot after doing the same with Kyle Hendricks in Friday's win.

ICHIRO WATCH

Suzuki went 1 for 4, moving him within 16 hits of 3,000 for his MLB career.

UP NEXT

The series ends Sunday when Marlins RHP Jose Fernandez (9-3, 2.36) faces Cubs RHP Jason Hammel (7-3, 2.55). Fernandez is 23-1 all-time at home and has never faced the Cubs, who have lost each of Hammel's last three starts. Fernandez briefly left the Marlins' dugout in the first inning Saturday after a foul ball bounced off his right hand, but returned not long afterward - and even asked Mattingly if he could pinch-hit in the late innings.

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

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.”