Better lucky than good? Cubs escape with wacky win over Pirates


Better lucky than good? Cubs escape with wacky win over Pirates

A win's a win, right?

Not sure that really applies to every victory, but the Cubs still escaped with their fifth straight win Friday, walking off for an 11-10 victory over the Pirates in 12 innings at Wrigley Field in a game that lasted five hours.

[MORE: Carrying three catchers comes in handy again for Cubs]

The Cubs mounted a rally in the bottom of the 12th when Starlin Castro walked with one out. Miguel Montero followed that with a single before Jorge Soler was intentionally walked. Matt Szczur popped a fly ball into right field, and Pittsburgh outfielder Gregory Polanco fell down, leading to a Cubs walk-off and another dance party in the clubhouse.

So...better lucky than good?

"We'll take it," Szczur said. "Anything we can get."

Szczur was faced with the exact same situation - bases loaded, one out - in the 10th inning and also hit a pop fly into right field, but Polanco stayed on his feet for that one, throwing a perfect strike to nab Castro at home by a wide margin.

Still, manager Joe Maddon, Castro and the Cubs maintained it was the right call to gamble and send Castro.

The Cubs jumped out to a 7-1 lead in the fifth inning, but the Pirates plated four in the sixth. The Cubs came right back and scored one in the sixth and two in the seventh to make it a 10-5 ballgame.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

But the Pirates just wouldn't stop. They scored four more times in the eighth and then tied things up in the ninth off Cubs closer Hector Rondon with two outs.

"I could have lived without it," Maddon said. "We really should have put that away earlier. We played really well today. Don’t be deceived; we played really well today. We did not pitch well today, but we played a good game of baseball.

"I’m really happy with the way we played, whether it was the at-bats, the hitting, the defense, the baserunning, everything.

"It would really have been a sin not to have won that game, based on how well we played. And that’s my takeaway."

Kyle Hendricks was cruising along, having allowed just one run before a two-out, three-run double from Pittsburgh catcher Francisco Cervelli opened the floodgates. Hendricks was charged with five runs in 5.2 innings of work.

The Cubs bullpen had been looking much better lately, but they allowed five runs in 6.1 innings Friday, with two pitchers - Justin Grimm and Jason Motte - failing to record even one out in their appearances.

"I know the bullpen, we’ve had those moments already this year," Maddon said. "We have to get better. We just can’t maybe get better; we have to get better at that, because you’re not going to the dance without that functioning properly. That’s a fact.

"... The big thing about the bullpen is, when you bring a guy from the bullpen, that you know what to expect. We need to know what to expect."

[RELATED - Cubs feeling comfortable in one-run games]

The two teams combined to throw 496 pitches in the 12 innings, with 30 hits, 17 walks (three intentional), three hit batters, five homers and one wacky finish.

The Cubs' new "Bash Brothers" (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo) each hit a homer and combined to drive in six runs while reaching base six times. Soler drew four walks, Castro walked twice and singled twice and Szczur finished with two hits and three RBI.

The Cubs are now 11-6 in one-run contests. This is a game the Cubs would have lost the last few seasons, but this is a new team with a new vibe, still figuring out how to win.

They're going to need a few "lucky" wins if they're going to really make a run at the postseason.

"We could recap all the times we’ve had bad baseball luck this season also," Maddon said. "That was good baseball luck today. And we’ll take it."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start."