Cubs

Cahill starts rally, Baez blasts walk-off homer as Cubs sweep Nationals

Cahill starts rally, Baez blasts walk-off homer as Cubs sweep Nationals

If the Cubs are going to get late-inning rallies started by relief pitchers and walk-off homers to cap five-hour, extra-inning marathons, well maybe they really won’t ever lose again.

In a season full of unlikely heroes, Trevor Cahill and Javier Baez turned in two of the game’s biggest swings Sunday, helping lead the Cubs to a 4-3 win in 13 innings over the visiting Washington Nationals that completed a four-game sweep, stretched the team’s winning streak to seven and went down as victory No. 24 just 30 games into this season with World Series expectations.

“Our guys are in that game to the last drop. Long game like that, they’ve been playing well, you could just mail it in. But our guys are into that game till the very last drop,” manager Joe Maddon said. “To the last moment, everybody was there to win that game, and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Cahill came in to relieve Jake Arrieta after the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner needed 100 pitches to make it through just five innings. And while his relief work was critical — the first of four bullpen pitchers that strung together eight scoreless frames — it was his seventh-inning at-bat that loomed largest.

With the Cubs trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the sixth, Maddon opted to let Cahill hit rather than use his last remaining bench player. In a move that seemed doomed to fail, Cahill smashed an infield single off Oliver Perez because with this Cubs team, of course he did.

Dexter Fowler was hit by a pitch, and Jason Heyward — mired in a lengthy slump — laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners over ahead of Kris Bryant’s base hit to center field that tied the score at 3.

“When I got to third and (third-base coach Gary Jones) was telling me all the stuff like ‘freeze on a liner, ‘if it’s hit to this guy, go ahead’ and all this other stuff, I was confused. I was like, ‘Just don’t get thrown out at third,’” Cahill said. “(Bryant) had a good base hit — and I froze, I think — and I scored and Fowler scored. It tied the game up, and I think it shifted the momentum a little bit.”

The score stayed there for some time, though, and while Heyward nearly ended the game when he was thrown out at home plate in the 11th, it was Baez who delivered the game-winning hit, a solo home run he smashed into the left-field bleachers to put an end to a Mother’s Day marathon.

“I was trying to get on base and get a good pitch to hit,” Baez said. “That guy throws hard. After the second strike, I sat on the slider because they’ve been throwing it to me this series a lot. And I was just looking for that pitch.”

It seems nothing can stop this Cubs team now, and the biggest key to that is the contributions coming from each and every player on the roster.

That sentiment is becoming a daily talking point with guys like Tommy La Stella and Ryan Kalish and David Ross continuing to make big plays with their bats and with their gloves. Sunday, it was Cahill.

In the end, it might be the Rizzos and Bryants and Arrietas who win the awards and produce the most over a 162-game season. But the contributions from all over are the reason the Cubs are off to an out-of-this-world start.

“The whole group is complementing one another,” Maddon said. “Nobody’s worried about credit and all that other crazy stuff. We’re just worried about winning, and that’s why we’re playing so well.”

There’s no end to how impressive this Cubs team has been through its first 30 games of the campaign. But perhaps the largest statement the team has made yet came this week, with a perfect 7-0 showing against playoff-caliber opponents from Pittsburgh and Washington. After an April schedule loaded with weaker competition, these back-to-back potential playoff previews were dominated by the Cubs.

It’s only May, but it’d be hard to find a team right now looking any better for October.

“Give our guys all the credit in the world, they just come ready to play,” Maddon said. “I know that sounds way too simplistic, but they do. They’re ready to play, they complement each other so well. You have to pitch well to be able to pull something like that off against such good competition, and we have. The hitting’s been there, clutch hitting, defense.

“Just a good week of baseball.”

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.