Cubs

Bryce Harper reaches seven times but does little damage, just like Cubs planned

Bryce Harper reaches seven times but does little damage, just like Cubs planned

The Cubs put the reigning National League MVP on base seven times Sunday. But they weren’t going to let him beat them.

Bryce Harper walked an incredible six times during Sunday’s game, three of those intentional passes and two of those loading the bases. But with all the time Harper spent at first base, he touched home plate just once.

So the Cubs’ bold strategy — one that harkened back to the days when teams would do anything to take the bat out of Barry Bonds’ hands — worked like a charm. The Nationals scored just three times during Sunday's 13-inning marathon, a 4-3 Cubs win, a number that would’ve almost certainly been higher had Harper been allowed to put his bat on the ball.

“You know how good he is, and why tempt fate right there?” manager Joe Maddon said. “Now if the other guy gets you, that’s fine, you have no problem with that whatsoever. I know he’s not been as hot as he can be coming into this series, but you don’t want to get him hot. I’ve been part of that in the past. So we did what we thought we had to do today, and it happened to work.”

Harper walked in his first two plate appearances, motoring around from first on Ryan Zimmerman’s double off Kris Bryant’s glove at third base in the third inning. But that was the last time Harper’s incredible skill would hurt the home team.

After Jake Arrieta loaded the bases with two hits and an error to start the fourth, he got two consecutive outs resulting in just one run. But with two runners still in scoring position, the Cubs elected to give Harper first base with four intentional balls. Zimmerman struck out to end the inning in the ensuing at-bat.

After Harper was hit by a pitch in the sixth to reach first for the fourth time — again resulting in no scoreboard damage — and walked harmlessly in the eighth, the Cubs again intentionally walked him to load the bases with two outs in the 10th. Zimmerman flew out to right field to end that inning.

Once more, with two down in the 12th, the Cubs gave Harper an intentional free pass. That one came the closest to biting them, as Zimmerman tapped a grounder to third that required a nice pick and a rocket throw from Javier Baez to barely nab a sliding Zimmerman at first and end the inning. Perhaps the outcome had been different had the Nationals not exhausted their challenges earlier in the game.

But all in all, it was a winning strategy, arguably the difference in a game where any one run would’ve changed the result.

“It’s part of our job. Maybe there’s going to be a guy in their lineup and maybe we don’t like the matchup, we’d rather pitch to the guy that’s on deck,” Arrieta said. “We have faith in all our guys here. It showed today the way they all threw out of the ‘pen, really picked us up.”

Harper walked a ridiculous 13 times in the weekend’s four-game series, a sign of his terrific on-base abilities as much as the Cubs’ decision to take the bat out of his hands. But with all those trots down to first base, Harper didn’t do much damage. He had just one hit, scored three runs and drove in only one.

Considering Harper led the NL with 42 homers and 118 runs scored last season and led all of baseball with a .649 slugging percentage, it looks like the Cubs’ made the right move.

“It’s something we go over before each series, the guys that we’re not going to allow to beat us throughout a series. That’s kind of the situation that came up, and we handled it accordingly,” Arrieta said. “It worked out. 4-0 against them at home is something that we’ll take any day.”

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.