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Castro helps Cubs walk off vs. Padres: A trend in the making?

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Castro helps Cubs walk off vs. Padres: A trend in the making?

After blowing a four-run lead in the top of the ninth, it was understandable if some fans asked themselves, “These are the new Cubs?”

The bullpen debacle in Saturday’s game against the visiting San Diego Padres was all too reminiscent of Cubs teams past.

But that wasn’t the end of things. No, the Cubs recovered and got a walk-off single from Starlin Castro in the bottom of the 11th to send them to win No. 6 on the season, a 7-6, extra-inning victory at Wrigley Field.

It’s the kind of win that might just end up defining the “new Cubs.”

“It’s really good. That’s one of the games that makes us feel better,” Castro said after his heroics. “Last year or the year before, we’d lose a lot of games like that. We played a lot of extra-inning games, and we’d lose them. We continued to fight nine innings. If we play more than nine, we keep fighting. We’re going to try to win the game.”

[MORE CUBS: After strong debut at third, where do Cubs see Bryant long term?]

All Castro needed to do was find the outfield grass, as the bases were full of Cubs with just one out and the Padres infield playing in. Anthony Rizzo walked with one out, and Kris Bryant followed by hustling out an infield single. David Ross walked on four pitches ahead of Castro’s game-winner off Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Game over.

It’s not the first time these Cubs have won in dramatic fashion, either.

There was Dexter Fowler’s eighth-inning go-ahead homer in Colorado. There was Jorge Soler’s game-tying homer in the eighth inning to open this homestead against the Reds, a game later won on Arismendy Alcantara’s walk-off single in the 10th.

Winning games late. It might just be a trend in the making for the Cubs.

“(It’s good for the) confidence level,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “When you do that a few times, everybody feels comfortable that you’re going to come back and win the ballgame. Never panic, that’s what a winning team does. You’ve got to create that momentum, and you’ve got to believe that it can happen. When it happens a few times, you know it can happen. It’s not going to happen all the time, obviously, but you can believe that it can happen any time. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We know we can come back, we know we can win the game. You just never give up, and we battle all the way.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs, Kris Bryant say there’s no bad blood after service-time issue]

Of course, the game wouldn’t have even needed rescuing from Castro if not for the bullpen’s ninth-inning blunder. San Diego opened the ninth with four straight hits off relievers Phil Coke and Hector Rondon, two of those scoring runs. An RBI groundout made it a one-run game, and with the Padres down to their last strike, pinch hitter Yangervis Solarte pushed a hit into right field to tie the game at 6.

It was the second straight day of trouble for a bullpen that’s been very reliable early on. Brian Schlitter gave up a game-winning three-run homer to Wil Myers in Friday’s game.

But the Cubs didn’t wither after that devastating blow. Credit the new manager for keeping the Cubs alive.

“I normally just keep going up and down the dugout, just yelling crazy stuff. I’m just that guy,” Maddon said. “I used to play quarterback, and I was a catcher. And I’ve been around some really insane coaches. The biggest thing you’ve got to get across at that point is: ‘It’s over with, we got out of it, now let’s move forward and let’s win this thing.’ And that can be an even bigger morale booster. And we did it.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Maddon likes this late-game trend, too, realizing the benefits it can have down the line.

“Whenever you win late and then you know you can win late, that matters a lot. When teams don’t quit, when they play nine innings hard every night, that matters,” he said. “We played nine innings hard yesterday, we almost had a chance to get something done late again. We got something done late in Colorado. We’ve gotten something done late often to this point. That to me is very pertinent in regards to us having a successful season, and to establish it early is very good.”

Before the nightmare ninth, the Cubs had put together eight pretty great innings of baseball. After starter Kyle Hendricks yielded a two-run homer in the first, he set down 17 of the last 18 hitters he faced over six innings of work. That allowed a Cubs comeback. Bryant bounced back from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut with a 2-for-3, three-walk day, including his first major league hit: a broken-bat bloop single to center that tied the game at 2 in the fifth. Montero blasted a pair of homers, one to put the Cubs ahead in the sixth and another to grow that lead to four in the seventh.

But the biggest play, at the end of the day, was Castro’s single, the one that delivered a victory and exemplified what kind of team this could be this season.

“It’s really good, it’s really good. We tried to win that game. We tried to make it a 1-1 series, and we can win tomorrow and we can win the series,” Castro said. “They tied the game in the ninth, but we keep fighting to try to get it. And in the end, we did.”

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do," Hoyer said. "We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate in the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."