Cubs

Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina back in play for Cubs-Cardinals

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Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina back in play for Cubs-Cardinals

ST. LOUIS – Adam Wainwright made only four starts and the St. Louis Cardinals still won 100 games – and baseball’s toughest division – with their organizational pitching depth and next-man-up attitude.

Yadier Molina – the heart-and-soul catcher and seven-time Gold Glove winner – might be the one player St. Louis couldn’t replace.

Now that Wainwright and Molina have been cleared for what should be an epic National League division series, the Cardinals will have even more championship experience to draw upon during their first-ever playoff matchup against the Cubs.

[MORE: Bring it on: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry will escalate to another level]

Wainwright was supposed to be done for the year when he tore an Achilles tendon in late April, but St. Louis manager Mike Matheny confirmed his Opening Day starter will be on the best-of-five roster and available out of the bullpen for Game 1 on Friday at Busch Stadium.

Molina sprained his left thumb on Sept. 20 at Wrigley Field and hasn’t played in a game since making that tag at the plate. It’s been a down year for the seven-time All-Star (.660 OPS), but his presence means so much to the St. Louis pitching staff and clubhouse.  

“I think he feels pain,” Matheny said after Thursday’s workout. “He just doesn’t recognize it, or know how to define it.

“Yadi has an ability (to) put some of those things behind (and) not just play the game, but play it well. And be able to put the distraction away – whatever it is that’s bothering him – and bring something good to the field.

“He’s a smart guy, too. He doesn’t want to go out there if he’s not able to contribute. If he’s not able to compete and do what he needs to do, he knows that would hurt our club. And right now, that’s not the situation that we’re in. We’re very fortunate.”

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Wainwright made three one-inning relief appearances during the final week of the regular season. That’s how the Cardinals probably envision using their 6-foot-7 right-hander as a playoff weapon.   

Wainwright famously froze Carlos Beltran with the bases loaded to eliminate the New York Mets in Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS, setting the stage for another World Series title. 

“(It’s) an incredible story when a lot of people said he wouldn’t make it back this year,” Matheny said. “But he’s also a very sharp pitcher right now. He looks good. And we’re going to give him opportunities, too, in big situations.” 

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 30th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa hit the 30-homer threshold on June 21, 1998 in only his 71st game of the season. For perspective, the 2018 Cubs leader in homers on June 21 is Javy Baez with 14 and Mike Trout leads all of baseball with only 23.

At this point, Mark McGwire was ahead of Sosa, but the Cubs slugger was pulling closer. McGwire had 33 dingers on June 21 while Ken Griffey Jr. had 28 and Greg Vaughn had 25.

Sosa' June 21 homer came off Tyler Green and was his 5th blast of the series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field that year. But the Cubs lost that series, despite Sosa's efforts.

Fun fact: Sosa drove in 10 runs in the three-game series with the Phillies that summer while the rest of his teammates combined for only 9 RBI.

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

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AP

Podcast: Wild week at Wrigley wraps up with Cubs showing what they’re made of

The Cubs have been a different team the last six weeks, looking a lot more like the resilient bunch from 2016 than the sluggish 2017 squad that lacked energy. After some wacky circumstances Monday and a tough loss in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Cubs came out and showed what they’re made of in the last two games of the series against the Dodgers, a team that knocked them out of postseason play last fall.

Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki sum up the longest short homestand (or shortest long homestand?), updating the status of Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, the Cubs pitching staff and how the team is rounding into form as the season’s halfway mark approaches.

Check out the entire podcast here: