Cubs

Gerrit Cole outduels Jon Lester, shuts down Cubs

Gerrit Cole outduels Jon Lester, shuts down Cubs

Ben Zobrist tossed his bat to the ground in disgust and jogged to first base as Pirates right fielder Sean Rodriguez settled under the ball.

It was an odd sign of frustration from a guy who has been the hottest hitter in the game over the last couple weeks on an offense that just scored 17 runs over the previous two games.

But it illustrated the reality: The Cubs' offense can't possibly be on at all times.

Zobrist and the Cubs couldn't solve Pirates ace Gerrit Cole, losing 2-1 on Sunday in front of 40,814 fans at Wrigley Field.

It was the Cubs' first loss to the Pirates in the last eight games dating back to last September.

Cole was absolutely brilliant, allowing three hits (one of which was a sun-aided double by Dexter Fowler in the first when Pirates infielders lost track of the ball) and didn't walk a batter, striking out seven.

"That was as good as we've seen Cole in a while," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, "so give him credit. ... There's nothing to complain about. Just a really well-played baseball game and we got beat today."

A Zobrist double and an Addison Russell infield single were the only two legit hits off Cole all day.

Jon Lester took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Starling Marte singled to right field on Lester's 101st pitch of the day. Two batters later, Jung Ho Kang drilled a double in the gap and the Pirates were on the board.

Lester admitted it was hard not to notice he had something special brewing, but "it doesn't matter now," he said.

"It was a well-pitched game on both sides," Lester said. "Cole probably didn't pitch the way he wanted to the last time he faced us and came back with a little bit of vengance there. He really threw the ball well today.

"It sucks sometimes. The old cliche of, 'tip your hat to the other guy,' but when you don't allow any, it gives you a chance to win that ballgame. He did that today and sometimes you have to tip your hat on the other side. The other guy threw the ball better than I did today."

Kang later added a solo homer in the ninth inning off Cubs closer Hector Rondon.

The Cubs mounted a rally in the ninth when Fowler walked and Jason Heyward singled to lead off the inning. After Kris Bryant popped out to shallow center, Anthony Rizzo drove home Fowler with a sacrifice fly to right field.

But Zobrist grounded into the shift in shallow right field to end the threat and the game.

The Cubs are off Monday before hitting the road for 10 days beginning Tuesday night in Milwaukee.

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

Addison Russell is so over 2017: 'That's last year, don't want to talk about that'

MESA, Ariz. — “That’s last year, don’t want to talk about that.”

In other words, Addison Russell is so over 2017.

The Cubs shortstop went through a lot last year. He dealt with injuries that affected his foot and shoulder. He had a well-documented off-the-field issue involving an accusation of domestic abuse, which sparked an investigation by Major League Baseball. And then came the trade speculation.

The hot stove season rarely leaves any player completely out of online trade discussion. But after Theo Epstein admitted there was a possibility the Cubs could trade away one or more young position players to bolster the starting rotation, well, Russell’s name came up.

And he saw it.

“There was a lot of trade talk,” Russell said Saturday. “My initial thoughts were, I hope it doesn’t happen, but wherever I go, I’m going to try to bring what I bring to the table here. It’s a good thing that it doesn’t have to be that way. I’m happy being in a Cubs uniform, I want to be in a Cubs uniform, for sure. But there was some talk out there. If I got traded, then I got traded, but that’s not the case.”

No, it’s not, as the Cubs solved those pitching questions with free-agent spending, bringing in Yu Darvish and Tyler Chatwood to replace the departed Jake Arrieta and John Lackey. It means Russell, along with oft-discussed names like Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Javy Baez, are all still Cubs.

While the outside world might have expected one of those guys to be moved in some sort of blockbuster trade for Chris Archer or some other All-Star arm, the Cubs’ young core remains intact, another reason why they’re as much a favorite to win the World Series as any team out there.

“I’m really not surprised. The core is still here. Who would want to break that up? It’s a beautiful thing,” Russell said. “Javy and I in the middle. Schwarber, sometimes playing catcher but mainly outfield. And then (Kris Bryant) over there in the hot corner, and of course (Anthony) Rizzo at first. You’ve got a Gold Glover in right field (Jason Heyward). It’s really hard to break that up.

“When you do break that down on paper, we’ve got a lineup that could stack up with the best.”

This winter has been about moving on for Russell, who said he’s spent months working to strengthen his foot and shoulder after they limited him to 110 games last season, the fewest he played in his first three big league campaigns.

And so for Russell, the formula for returning to his 2016 levels of offensive aptitude isn’t a difficult one: stay on the field.

“Especially with the injuries, I definitely wanted to showcase some more of my talent last year than I displayed,” Russell said. “So going into this year, it’s mainly just keeping a good mental — just staying level headed. And also staying healthy and producing and being out there on the field.

“Next step for me, really just staying out there on the field. I really want to see what I can do as far as helping the team if I can stay healthy for a full season. I think if I just stay out there on the field, I’m going to produce.”

While the decrease in being on the field meant lower numbers from a “counting” standpoint — the drop from 21 homers in 2016 to 12 last year, the drop from 95 RBIs to 43 can in part be attributed to the lower number of games — certain rate stats looked different, too. His on-base percentage dropped from .321 in 2016 to .304 last year.

Russell also struggled during the postseason, picking up just six hits in 36 plate appearances in series against the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers. He struck out 13 times in 10 postseason games.

Of course, he wasn’t alone. That World Series hangover was team-wide throughout the first half of the season. And even though the Cubs scored 824 runs during the regular season, the second most in the National League and the fourth most in baseball, plenty of guys had their offensive struggles: Schwarber, Heyward and Ben Zobrist, to name a few.

“You can’t take anything for granted. So whenever you win a World Series or you do something good, you just have to live in the moment,” Russell said. “It was a tough season last year because we were coming off winning the World Series and the World Series hangover and all that. This year, we had a couple months off, a couple extra weeks off, and I think a lot of guys took advantage of that. I know I did. And now that we’re here in spring training, we’re going to get back at it.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Discussing 5-man unit and where Montgomery fits into Cubs' plans

Jon Lester has arrived at Cubs camp, and he’s pleased with the new-look rotation full of potential aces. Kelly Crull and Vinnie Duber discuss the 5-man unit, and where Mike Montgomery fits into the Cubs’ plans.

Plus, Kelly and Vinnie talk Jason Heyward and Kyle Schwarber, along with the continuing free agent stalemate surrounding Jake Arrieta.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here: