Cubs

Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo's walk-off walk delivers Cubs a bizarre 10th win in a row

Anthony Rizzo delivered the Cubs their 10th consecutive victory in fitting fashion for a rivalry game littered with odd occurrences. 

The Cubs’ All-Star first baseman drew a walk-off walk against left-hander Zach Duke to earn the Cubs a 4-3 11-inning win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday night in front of 40,597 at Wrigley Field. Rizzo worked a 3-1 count against Duke, the former White Sox reliever, before taking a two-seam fastball home plate umpire Ron Kulpa ruled inside for ball four. 

Brooks Baseball’s pitch graph showed Duke’s pitch was in the strike zone, for what it’s worth. With Duke’s two-seam action tailing that pitch inside toward Rizzo’s hands — which are already on top of the plate with his crowding batting stance — the pitch may have looked more inside to Kulpa than it actually was. 

“It was a good pitch,” Rizzo said. “I thought it was a little in. I’m on top of the plate. I’m looking right there, so I’m probably swinging if it was something close to hit.”

Manager Joe Maddon wasn’t sure if Rizzo’s crowd-the-plate stance contributed to the call, but did allow for the possibility. 

“Umpires see things differently,” Maddon said. “He is on the plate and it can be difficult to see sometimes, even for the catcher.”  

But the walk-off walk on a close-at-worst pitch was hardly the only strange event on a muggy evening on Clark and Addison. 

There was Chris Coghlan trying to call for time, getting quick-pitched by Cardinals starter Carlos Martinez and still lacing a game-tying two-run single into right field in the sixth inning. Thirty-nine-year-old catcher David Ross followed that by laying down a two-out squeeze, with Martinez rushing an off-balance throw that pulled first baseman Matt Carpenter off the bag to put the Cubs temporarily ahead. 

Ross picked off Jedd Gyorko, whose slide didn’t come close to reaching the first base bag, for the first out of the seventh, and Coghlan and Addison Russell completed a picturesque relay to nail Carpenter at the plate to end the seventh. Aroldis Chapman retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth on three pitches. 

“He gets a steak dinner for that,” Maddon said.

[SHOP: Buy an Anthony Rizzo jersey]

In the 11th, Mike Montgomery — who last pitched July 31 — loaded the bases when he walked Kolten Wong, who entered Thursday with the lowest OPS (.663) of any Cardinals player with more than 100 plate appearances. But Montgomery then struck out Carpenter, who has the highest OPS of any Cardinals player (.988), despite having to change signs with catcher Willson Contreras during the middle of the at-bat. 

“Big situation, you don’t want to do that, but I haven’t thrown to him a lot,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s good to do that and kind of slow it down a little bit.”

And during most of that nearly-disastrous top of the 11th, and throughout the bottom of the 11th, starter John Lackey was warming up in the Cubs’ bullpen, just as he did during that wild comeback win over the Seattle Mariners July 31 that started this 10-game winning streak. 

Jon Lester offered his take on the secret to the Cubs’ wild victories of late: “I guess just put Lackey in the bullpen and let him warm up.” 

The absurdity of Thursday’s game wound up working out in the Cubs’ favor, pushing them to a 13-game lead over the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central. While St. Louis, which is now a half-game out of a wild card spot, has only managed to tread water recently, the Cubs are doing their best Katie Ledecky impression and putting a seemingly insurmountable gap between themselves and the rest of their divisional challengers. 

The Cubs were only 6 1/2 games ahead of the Cardinals when they fell behind the Mariners 6-0 after three innings July 31. The low-hanging narrative would be that from that point on, this team has rode a wave of momentum to this winning streak and massive NL Central lead. 

But that’s not how Lester views things from he and his teammates’ perch atop the major leagues. 

“I don’t feel like we need momentum,” Lester said. “I just feel like we’re a really solid team.” 

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.