Cubs

Cardinals fend off Cubs comeback at Wrigley

Cardinals fend off Cubs comeback at Wrigley

The Cubs have been so dominant this season, it seems like they have a comeback in them no matter how far they fall behind.

In their first game at Wrigley Field since the NLDS last season, the St. Louis Cardinals jumped out to a three-run lead off former teammate John Lackey.

But a comeback wasn't in the cards for the Cubs as they fell 3-2 to St. Louis in front of 41,166 fans at Wrigley Field Monday night.

"There's nothing to complain about," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I'll take that game every night, 'cause we'll win a lot of those."

Of course, the Cubs still made things close in the ninth.

Albert Almora Jr. roped a one-out double to center field and pinch-hitter Chris Coghlan was hit in the jersey by Trevor Rosenthal's pitch. But Almora was caught trying to advance to third on a ball in the dirt.

Ben Zobrist followed with a single to right field before Jason Heyward — who starred in St. Louis last season — popped out to shallow center to end the game.

Lackey was the ace for a Cardinals team that won 100 games last season and his former teammates put him to work in the first three innings, plating three runs on six hits and three walks.

The veteran right-hander settled down and managed to grind out three more innings to finish with a quality start (six innings, three runs), but the damage had already been done.

"I thought we played our butts off," Maddon said. "I also believe that's one of John Lackey's better games. The fact that he did not have it all goin' on and for six innings, kept them to three runs. I thought that was outstanding."

Lackey was his typical "country hardball" self after the game, explaining how he got through the mental adjustments after a rough first three innings — "I ain't got no mental problems. I'm gonna get after it regardless." — and offering up a brief synopsis of how he gets by with lesser stuff:

"I got more options nowadays," the 37-year-old said. "I had to go to some secondary options later in the game. But you just keep battling. Keep getting after it.

"Those are the kind of games that make you who you are. It's easy when it's easy. Some guys bow out when it gets a little rough."

The Cubs rallied in the bottom half of the third when Kris Bryant doubled home Ben Zobrist and then rookie sensation Willson Contreras drove in Bryant with a two-out single up the middle.

But that was all the Cubs offense could muster against Jaime Garcia and a pair of Cardinals relievers.

Of course, it wouldn't be a Cubs-Cardinals game without a little extra drama.

In the top of the fifth inning, after Cardinals first baseman Brandon Moss homered and flew out deep to center the first two times up, Lackey plunked him on the elbow pad in what Maddon described as an attempt to go inside on a guy who had been getting good extension on his swing all night.

The Cardinals immediately responded in the bottom of the frame when Garcia hit Bryant high up on the shoulder with two outs and nobody on, prompting warnings for both teams from the umpiring crew.

Late last season, Maddon laid into the Cardinals for their beanball retaliation tactics, but Monday, he was a little more reserved.

"I could understand why the umpire [warned the benches]," was all Maddon said before being pressed on the issue. "It looked kinda suspicious, but I'm not gonna go there. It's up to them.

"I just thought the umpire did what he needed to do or what he thought he had to do in that moment. I had no problem with it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.”