Cubs

Clayton Kershaw dismantles his playoff narrative in brilliant Game 2 start against Cubs

Clayton Kershaw dismantles his playoff narrative in brilliant Game 2 start against Cubs

Clayton Kershaw had just turned in a narrative-busting gem, so the Los Angeles Dodgers ace was a little perturbed when the first question he fielded in his postgame media session was if he thought Javier Baez’s seventh-inning flyout was going to sail over the center field ivy for a home run. 

“That’s your first freakin’ question?” Kershaw bristled. 

“Yeah, I did. I thought it was out, for sure. He hit it pretty good.”

It wasn’t an unfair question — the exit velocity on Baez’s warning track flyout to center was 103 miles per hour, making it the Cubs’ hardest-hit ball of the game — but Kershaw wasn’t interested in entertaining it after his seven shutout innings shoveled more dirt on the “Kershaw can’t pitch well in the postseason” storyline. 

Showing no ill effects of starting against the Washington Nationals on three days’ rest in Game 4 of the National League Division Series on Tuesday and getting the final two outs of Game 5 Thursday, Kershaw plowed through the Cubs’ order using mostly fastballs and sliders without a good feel for his signature looping curveball. He didn’t go to a three-ball count until facing Dexter Fowler with one out in the sixth inning and got Jason Heyward to pop out to end the fifth, the only at-bat a Cubs player had Sunday with a runner in scoring position. 

Kershaw threw 84 pitches (50 fastballs, 23 sliders and nine curveballs, according to BrooksBaseball.net) and held the Cubs to two hits with one walk and six strikeouts. That walk, though, came on four pitches to Anthony Rizzo to lead off the seventh — an inning in which, in his playoff career, Kershaw entered Sunday with a 28.93 ERA. 

But Kershaw struck out Ben Zobrist on a fastball — the Cubs’ left fielder “took one down the middle, thankfully,” Kershaw said — and got in on Addison Russell’s hands for a flyout before Baez came within a few feet of finding the center field basket for what would’ve been a go-ahead home run. 

Before Baez stepped in, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came out to talk to Kershaw with the initial intention of pulling him from the game for closer Kenley Jansen, who would’ve been tasked with a seven-out save. But Kershaw convinced his manager to leave him in, and despite the gasps as soon as Baez made contact with a 93 mile per hour 0-1 fastball, the move paid off. 

“There was no way he was going to come out of the game not getting that out,” catcher Yasmani Grandal said. 

Kershaw said part of his thought process in convincing Roberts to let him stay in the game was to give Jansen — who threw 51 pitches Thursday in Washington — less of a workload, but: “Mainly I thought I could get him out, and came really close to not doing it,” Kershaw said. 

The Cubs are now faced with the looming specter of Kershaw pitching in a clinching game, be it as early as Game 5 in Los Angeles (which would again be on three days’ rest) or a potential Game 6 in Chicago (on five days’ rest). For a franchise looking to eradicate a narrative of its own, that’s an unsettling prospect as the series shifts to southern California tied at one. 

“He's the best pitcher on the planet,” Roberts said. “I’ll take him any day, as well as 29 other managers. And so for me, the history, it has no bearing on anything for me. This is a new year, and he's shown what he can do in the postseason.”

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.