Can't win 'em all, but Cubs can get Joe Maddon more pitching

Can't win 'em all, but Cubs can get Joe Maddon more pitching

San Diego Padres closer Fernando Rodney pulled back his pretend bow and shot an imaginary arrow into the foggy sky on Wednesday afternoon, celebrating a 7-4 win over the Cubs in Game 1 of a doubleheader between two teams that appear to be heading in opposite directions: Buy vs. Sell.  

That tilted-hat look and trademark final-out routine would normally bother fans at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs caught lightning in a bottle with Rodney during last year’s playoff run. It’s hard to complain when your team has the best record in baseball, even after a sloppy loss that featured three errors and a bullpen meltdown against the last-place Padres.   

The Cubs can’t win ‘em all – this snapped an eight-game streak for a team off to the best start in franchise history since the 1907 World Series champions – but Theo Epstein’s front office can get manager Joe Maddon some more pitching to help withstand the next 1,200-1,300 innings. 

“We almost throw out everything that’s happened so far, because we are on such a roll,” Epstein said. “We probably spend more time looking ahead to the inevitable challenging periods when we’re shorthanded or strapped and things aren’t breaking our way. 

“We’re trying to get ahead and figure out how we’re going to deal with that adversity.”

Game 1 appeared to be going according to plan when Kyle Hendricks walked off the mound to a standing ovation in the seventh inning, the Cubs holding a two-run lead with two outs and a runner on first base after a soft infield single.   

Pedro Strop – who entered the game with eight holds and opponents hitting .114 (5-for-44) against him – threw a wild pitch and then got a groundball before Javier Baez’s throwing error allowed a run to score. Strop walked Matt Kemp and then watched Brett Wallace drive an 82-mph slider into the left-center field bleachers for a three-run homer and a 6-4 lead. 

“I felt stronger as the game went on,” Hendricks said after cutting his ERA to 3.03 and improving his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 31:7. “But that spot there, that was the fourth time coming through the order. And that was the first time, I think, I’ve been over 100 (pitches) in a while, as far as I can remember. You can second-guess it every time, either way. 

“It’s a long season. You’re going to lose games. You’re going to lose close ones, you’re going to lose ones where you’re ahead. A lot of things are going to happen. So you just got to learn how to deal with each situation.”

That’s how the in-case-of-emergency Cubs wound up with Rodney late last August, getting a two-time All-Star the Seattle Mariners had designated for assignment. 

Maddon trusted Rodney after their time together with the Tampa Bay Rays, and found ways to deploy Clayton Richard (acquired for a dollar from the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate last summer) and Trevor Cahill (released by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers before signing a minor-league deal).   

It’s not always obvious, but there’s a cumulative effect with the quick hooks for Hendricks and Jason Hammel, and pushing Strop so hard (195 appearances since the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles in the middle of the 2013 season), and using 80 picks on pitchers in the last four drafts and not having any of them ready for the big leagues yet.

“When it comes down to pitching, you can never have enough,” Maddon said. “Because once something goes awry with your pitching, man, it’s hard to fill in the blanks there. 

“(With) position players, it’s somewhat easier to plug somebody in positions and still maintain a nice roll. But when you’re missing vital pitchers, they’re really hard to find. To me, it’s always about pitching.”

The Rays couldn’t give Maddon everything he wanted – the big-market spotlight, a $25 million contract and all these monster middle-of-the-order hitters – but he did get spoiled with Tampa Bay’s pitching.  

Maybe the Cubs will acquire another power arm for their bullpen, or make the under-the-radar moves that worked so well last summer, or find the young, controllable starter they couldn’t acquire over the winter to eventually replace Arrieta if he leaves as a free agent after the 2017 season.   

“I’ve said it at clinics many times – the game could have been called ‘Pitching’ as opposed to ‘Baseball,’” Maddon said. “You cannot have enough of that. I’m always about that.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd 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 victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).