Cubs

Not so much for Justin Verlander

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Not so much for Justin Verlander

From Comcast SportsNet
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Justin Verlander wanted to give the fans an All-Star show. The Tigers' ace certainly did that Tuesday night, though not in the way he intended. The reigning AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner offered a steady series of 100 mph fastballs that National League hitters sent soaring all over picturesque Kauffman Stadium. Verlander was hammered for five runs in the first inning as the National League cruised to an 8-0 victory. "I was able to laugh at it right away," Verlander said after leaving the game. "Obviously, you don't want to go out like that, but I had fun. That's why I don't try to throw 100 (mph) in the first inning, but this is for the fans. It doesn't usually work out too well for me." Verlander was picked to start the All-Star game by AL manager Ron Washington, who no doubt knows the value of home-field advantage in the World Series awarded to the winning side. Nobody questioned his choice, either. The hard-throwing Verlander came within two outs of his third career no-hitter against Pittsburgh in May. He was coming off two complete games in his last three starts, and had allowed only seven runs in the first inning of 18 starts all season. The NL nearly tallied that much during the biggest first inning since the 2004 game. "I know this game means something and you don't want to give up runs, but we're here for the fans," Verlander said. "I know the fans don't want to see me throw 90 and try to hit the corners." Washington was careful in his assessment of Verlander, dancing around questions about whether he was happy with the approach taken by the Tigers' top starter. "Well, it's very disappointing, because we're competitors and we want to win," Washington said. "You've got to tip your hat to the National League again. They came out, swung the bats, and once they got the lead, started bringing those arms in their hand, and they got the job done." Even though Washington might have preferred Verlander take the start a little more seriously, there were plenty of guys on the AL squad who wanted to see him ramp up the heat. "Hitting 100 in the first inning? Normally you see the guy throw 93, 94 in the first and then hit 100 in the eighth. We saw him hit 101," Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano said. "The funniest part was (Prince) Fielder said to him, Hit 101' and the next pitch he hit 101. Is it that easy?" Evidently, it's easier than getting guys out. Verlander ran into trouble almost immediately, giving up a one-out single to Melky Cabrera and Ryan Braun's RBI double. He recovered to strike out Joey Votto, but walked Carlos Beltran and Buster Posey -- the latter on four pitches, a couple tickling triple digits on the radar gun. That's when Pablo Sandoval stepped to the plate. The portly Giants slugger ripped his first triple of 2012 off the right-field wall, clearing the bases and leaving Verlander to wander around the mound in a stupor. "I don't get many triples," Sandoval said. "We had some fun with that in the dugout." At one point during the first inning, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux made his way to the mound -- a rarity any time Verlander starts, and downright unheard of in an All-Star game. "I knew why he was coming out, to tell me to slow down," Verlander said. "Before he hit the mound, I was like, Hey, I can't slow down now.'" Verlander eventually got through the inning and was replaced by Joe Nathan, an altogether embarrassing way to leave his fifth All-Star game. He'd allowed five earned runs in a start once all season, and hadn't given up five in any inning since April 11, 2010, against the Indians. "It is surprising, because he's one of the best pitchers in the league. He proved that last year by winning the MVP and the Cy Young," Cardinals slugger Carlos Beltran said. "Normally when you face him during the season, you kind of get 90 or 91 early in the game. He came out firing 97 or 98. I guess he was missing his spots. We were able to capitalize."

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?