Cubs

LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

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LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 10:30 a.m.

Associated Press

The Houston Astros are one of three teams that have never lost 100 games. Unless they finish their 50th season on a 12-game win streak, they will no longer lay claim to that distinction.

After suffering their 99th loss in the series opener against the Chicago Cubs, the Astros try to avoid reaching the century mark Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Owner of the majors' worst record, Houston (51-99) has already set a franchise record for losses, eclipsing the old mark of 97 set three times, most recently in 1991. A 100th defeat seems inevitable, and that would leave just Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels as the only franchises without a 100-loss season.

Like so many of their defeats before, the Astros' loss to the Cubs (66-85) on Friday was a little disheartening. Houston rallied to tie the score with two outs in the ninth inning only to lose 4-3 in the 12th, when Marlon Byrd drove in Starlin Castro on a slow-roller down the third base line that replays indicated may have been foul.

That's just the kind of luck the Astros have been experiencing lately. Four of their last five losses have been by one run, and three of those defeats have come in the final at-bat.

"They're tough losses, but on the other hand, you have to look at the positives," Carlos Lee said. "We're playing good baseball. We're playing good games."

Lee, in particular, is playing well.

Matt Garza was one strike from finishing a five-hitter Friday when Lee hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot that tied it at 3-all. The slugger has hit safely in 22 of 24 games, batting .383 with seven homers, nine doubles and 18 RBIs.

"I've found a position where I feel real comfortable and I'm seeing the ball real good," he said.

Lee hasn't had much success against scheduled starter Rodrigo Lopez (5-6, 5.04 ERA), batting .167 with no homers in 24 career at-bats, but the matchup could turn in his favor.

Lee's 23 homers at Wrigley are third-most among active opposing players, and Lopez has been susceptible to the long ball lately, serving up 11 home runs in his last five starts.

Four of those homers came against Cincinnati on Monday. The right-hander allowed five other hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-8 victory.

Lopez didn't surrender a homer in his last outing against the Astros on Aug. 15, when he gave up three runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-3 win.

Henry Sosa (2-4, 5.02) opposed Lopez in that game, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings, and he gets the ball Saturday.

In his seventh career start Sunday against Washington, Sosa was knocked around for five runs and seven hits - including back-to-back-to-back homers to start the third inning. He was only able to get two more outs in an 8-2 loss.

The rookie right-hander was 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his previous three starts.

Geovany Soto doubled twice off Sosa in the last meeting and has fared well against the Astros lately. He hit his 15th homer of the season Friday and is batting .478 with three home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games versus Houston.

The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run

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AP

The craziest stats from Cubs 2017 postseason run

The Cubs go home for the winter with a bad taste in their mouths for the 108th time in the last 109 years.

But such is the nature of professional sports, where only one team and its fanbase gets to experience euphoria on the final day of the season.

The Cubs didn't play as well as they would've liked in the 2017 postseason, something they readily admit.

But the numbers behind the October run are pretty astounding.

Here are some of the most eye-popping stats from this fall, courtesy of NBC Sports Chicago stat guru Chris Kamka:

—The Cubs had the second-lowest batting average (.156) of any team in a best-of-7 League Championship Series.

The only team lower is the Houston Astros through five games, hitting .147 entering play Friday night against the New York Yankees.

The next lowest batting averages in a best-of-7 LCS:

.157 - 2012 Yankees
.164 - 2015 Cubs
.168 - 2016 Indians

—The Cubs also had the lowest batting average in a single postseason in baseball history among teams who have played at least eight postseason games.

And it's not a particularly close margin:

.168 - 2017 Cubs
.188 - 2012 Yankees
.198 - 1974 A's (won World Series with no LDS)
.204 - 2015 Cubs
.207 - 1973 A's (won World Series with no LDS)

—2017 was an interesting year when it came to home runs for the Cubs.

In the regular season, the Cubs were 77-37 (.675 winning percentage) when hitting at least one homer and just 15-33 (.313 winning percentage) when not homering.

But in the postseason, that script was completely flipped.

The Cubs were only 1-5 (.167) in October when homering and 3-1 when going homerless.

—The offensive issues go far beyond just homers for the Cubs.

They scored nine runs in that epic Game 5 of the NLDS but scored just eight runs as a whole in the NLCS. 

What's even crazier — all nine runs in Game 5 came without benefit of a homer. Every NLCS run the Cubs plated was off a longball as they went 0-for-14 with runners in scoring position.

And then there's this:

—The difference in offensive execution in the NLCS can be summed up just by looking at the strikeout-to-walk ratio of each team.

The Cubs struck out 53 times in the five games compared to only five walks.

The Dodgers, meanwhile, struck out just 41 times with a whopping 28 walks. 

—A huge reason for the Cubs' downfall was the disappearance of Bryzzo in the NLCS.

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo combined for a .135/.179/.216 slash line with one walk and one hit by pitch. Their only run and RBI combined came on Bryant's homer in Game 5 Thursday when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

—Here's how each spot in the Cubs order fared in the postseason:

1. 4-for-36 (.111 AVG)
2. 7-for-38 (.184)
3. 7-for-38 (.184)
4. 5-for-33 (.152)
5. 10-for-37 (.270)
6. 7-for-33 (.212)
7. 5-for-30 (.167)
8. 0-for-31 (.000)
9. 6-for-28 (.214)

Total: 51-for-304 (.168)

—In the Cubs' defense, they were going up against an elite starting staff led by Clayton Kershaw (whom they faced twice) and a bullpen that ranks among the best in baseball history.

The Dodgers had the second-best bullpen WHIP in an LCS in baseball history, coming in at 0.294 in 17 innings pitched.

The only team better? The 2005 White Sox bullpen, though they only had to get two outs in that ALCS.

The 2016 Blue Jays bullpen came close, posting a 0.553 WHIP in 12.2 innings against the Indians last fall.

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

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USA TODAY

Dusty Baker takes the fall for Nationals meltdown against Cubs

The Washington Nationals must have been sitting at home, watching the National League Championship Series and wondering: How did we lose to this team?

The Cubs poured so much physical effort, mental focus and emotional energy into those five playoff games against the Nationals that they didn’t have much left in the tank for the bigger, better Los Angeles Dodgers team that dominated the defending World Series champs in every phase and captured the NL pennant on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

By midday Friday, the Nationals announced that manager Dusty Baker will not return for the 2018 season, while the contracts for the big-league coaching staff have also expired, leaving a franchise with chain-of-command issues in damage-control mode.

This is a bitter disappointment for Baker, who needs a World Series ring as a manager to put the final bullet point on a Hall of Fame resume and still grumbles about how things ended in 2006 after four up-and-down years managing the Cubs.

Baker, 68, a former Marine, All-Star player and all-around Renaissance man with a great feel for dealing with people and managing the clubhouse, apparently couldn’t overcome last week’s elimination-game meltdown at Nationals Park, where the Cubs hung on for a 9-8 victory and forced Washington into its fourth first-round playoff exit since 2012.

Baker’s in-game decision-making was already under the microscope and his teams have now lost 10 straight postseason close-out games, a major-league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

The Nationals also needlessly subjected Stephen Strasburg to withering criticism when Baker said the $175 million pitcher was feeling under the weather — maybe because of Chicago mold and hotel air-conditioning units — and being saved for Game 5. Only to flip-flop and watch Strasburg throw seven scoreless innings in a dominant Game 4 performance at Wrigley Field.

That unforced error and yet another manager search is not a good look for the Nationals, who made the announcement through the Lerner family ownership group after general manager Mike Rizzo repeatedly signaled that he expected to reach a new agreement with Baker after winning 192 games combined in two years and back-to-back division titles.

Since the franchise relocated from Montreal and abandoned the Expos logo in 2005, the Nationals have employed seven different managers and will be starting all over again in 2018, when Bryce Harper will be in his last season before becoming a free agent and probably wondering if Washington can finally get its act together.