Cubs keep wearing down opposing pitching in fifth straight win


Cubs keep wearing down opposing pitching in fifth straight win

The Cubs' homegrown, American League-style lineup flexed its muscles once again.

The Cubs (63-48) ate away at the Milwaukee Brewers (48-66) pitching staff Tuesday, taking down their division rivals, 6-3, in front of 37,109 fans at Wrigley Field for the series opener. It was Chicago's fifth straight win and 11th in the last 12 games.

The Cubs lead Major League Baseball in pitches per plate appearance and continued their assault on opposing starting pitchers, chasing Brewers starter Taylor Jungmann after just 2.2 innings and forcing the rookie to throw 81 pitches.

It was the eighth straight game in which the opposing pitcher has failed to get through six innings against this Cubs lineup.

"I love the tenacity of the at-bat," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what I've been talking about. It continues to get better.

"I was really pleased with our whole approach to the game after a day off. ... I like those little moments that are occurring right now where guys are showing up and they're ready to play."

[MORE: Moving to second base, Cubs won't force the issue with Castro]

The Cubs worked seven walks on the evening as they saw 186 pitches in their eight innings on offense.

"It's just a matter of us grinding at-bats and grinding through the season," Anthony Rizzo said. "Hitting is very contagious, so it's kinda just passing that back to the next guy.

"The beauty of our lineup is we have a pretty lengthy lineup there where any given guy can do it."

This game had all the makings of a blowout early, as the Cubs scored three times in the second inning, once in the fourth and two more times in the fifth, aided by three Brewers errors and seven free passes (six walks, one HBP).

But that was it for the Cubs offense while the Brewers chipped away with a solo run in the fourth and then an Adam Lind two-run homer in the sixth off Cubs starter Dan Haren.

Haren was pulled two batters later, but still got the win - his first as a Cub and 150th of his career - as the Cubs bullpen shut the door the rest of the way.

"I put pretty much all personal things aside," Haren said. "I got a few weeks left here and I really do wanna do the best I can for the team. I've been so impressed in the first 10 days or so with the overall vibe in the clubhouse."

Haren also said he's been shocked by how much the Cubs offense has grown since pitched against them - and beat them - June 3 in Miami.

In that game, Haren threw only 88 pitches in 5.2 innings against a Cubs lineup that had no Jorge Soler (disabled list) or Kyle Schwarber (still in the minors).

"I see a complete difference," Haren said. "Facing them this year, they were a really aggressive team."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Starlin Castro finally got into a game for the Cubs after being benched for the last three contests, appearing at second base for the first time in his big-league career and popping out to first in his only at-bat in the eighth inning. He also made a highlight-reel catch in foul territory down the right field line in the ninth inning.

"I thought [that play] was great," Maddon said. "His attitude has been fabulous. To make that among the bullpen with the crap on the ground and guys flying all over the place and there's no room left and it's at night, it's different.

"That was a spectacular play right there."

Castro's play helped seal the victory for the Cubs, who moved to 15 games over .500, something of a benchmark for any team, let alone a young team featuring four rookies in the everyday lineup.

The Cubs allowed themselves to enjoy the nice checkpoint, but also warned that it's too early to scoreboard-watch.

"Keep it rolling," Maddon said. "The next goal is 20. Really proud of our guys and the way they're going about our business."

"It means a lot," Rizzo said, "but we gotta keep winning. All these wins build up, build our confidence, build the character of this team, helps all of us out."

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


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.