Cubs

With Clayton Kershaw looming, Cubs retake control of NLCS

With Clayton Kershaw looming, Cubs retake control of NLCS

LOS ANGELES – The best pitcher on the planet is still looming over this National League Championship Series. Do you really believe the Los Angeles Dodgers won’t unleash Clayton Kershaw for Game 5? Can they afford not to after that jarring momentum shift on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium? 

“No, no, it’s going to be Kenta,” manager Dave Roberts said after the Cubs erupted during a 10-2 win that tied up the NLCS at 2-2 and forced the Dodgers to book a return trip to Chicago.

That would be Kenta Maeda, the finesse right-hander who gave up three runs in four innings and got the no-decision in a Game 1 loss at Wrigley Field. Going up against lefty Jon Lester, the two-time World Series champion the Cubs handed a $155 million contract with these playoff games specifically in mind, a Cy Young Award contender with the arsenal to neutralize Los Angeles’ left-handed-heavy lineup.

By all accounts, Roberts is a great communicator, creative strategist and Manager of the Year material. The Fox Sports 1 crew also captured Kershaw throwing a bullpen session that would have seemingly ruled him out for Thursday night anyway. But the Dodgers didn’t automatically get the benefit of the doubt.

“It’s not an elimination game,” Roberts said. “The accumulation of his usage over the last 10 days plays a factor in our decision, so I think those are kind of the reasons why we’re not going with Clayton tomorrow.

“He’s done what he’s always done in saying that he’ll do whatever we ask of him. (But) thinking through it, the best thing for us is to have him pitch Game 6 and have Kenta to go tomorrow. And with the guys that we have at the back end of the ‘pen, I feel really good about the position we’re in.”

Remember what Roberts said during his press conference before last week’s elimination Game 5 against the Washington Nationals in the NL Division Series.

Question: Would Kershaw be available for an out?

Answer: “No. Absolutely not.”

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Kershaw, of course, nailed down the final two outs at Nationals Park, getting Mr. October Daniel Murphy to pop out with two runners on in the ninth inning, saving a 4-3 win and pushing his team into the NLCS. 

Three days later, Kershaw absolutely shut down the Cubs in Game 2, allowing only two singles across seven innings in a 1-0 win that showed the three-time Cy Young Award winner might own this October, too.

But that seems like a long time ago in an NLCS filled with so much drama and emotion. Either way, a Cubs team feeling this shot of adrenaline will be looking forward to getting another chance to solve Kershaw.

“We try to stay true to who we are,” catcher David Ross said. “I think stories get made up. That’s what you guys (in the media) have to do. You have to write stories about guys not hitting and us not scoring runs. But we understand that we’re facing really good pitching and tough matchups and guys aren’t locked in yet. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. That’s why it’s a seven-game series. We’re glad to be back to even.” 

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

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USA TODAY

Who knew? Statistical oddities from Ian Happ, Daniel Palka and others from the past week in Chicago baseball

This past weekend Ian Happ rocked Cincinnati harder than anyone since Dr. Johnny Fever, and the White Sox from last Sunday to yesterday posted a winning 4-3 record.

It’s Monday, so let’s examine the box scores from the previous seven days for another edition of Who Knew?

Leading off

Tim Anderson started this season 5-for-5 in plate appearances leading off games: double, single, single, home run, single.

He finally made a leadoff out on Sunday.

Déjà Vu

On Monday, Ozzie Albies hit a leadoff home run off José Quintana for the second time this season. 

It was rare enough that a batter had multiple leadoff home runs against the Cubs in the same season. The last batter to do that was Hall of Famer Craig Biggio in 2006 (one each off Greg Maddux and then-starter Carlos Marmol).

But multiple leadoff home runs against the same Cubs PITCHER in the same season? Quite rare. At first, I believed it to be the first such occurrence since at least the 1880’s, but there was one other time since that I initially missed.

Prior to Ozzie Albies (off Quintana), the last batter with multiple leadoff home runs against a single Cubs pitcher in a season was Heinie Sand of the Phillies, who led off two games in 1924 with home runs off Cubs right-hander Vic Keen.

Before Sand, you DO have to go back to the 1880s. Hall of Famer Buck Ewing hit two leadoff home runs off Fred Goldsmith (who claimed to have invented the curveball, but likely did not) in 1883.  It may have happened in 1884, but there are some missing details in the home run database and I can’t be certain. But it’s rare!

Saves without Strikeouts

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow has 10 saves this season. In half of them (including his latest save Tuesday), he did not record a strikeout.

Only Wade Davis, who closed out games for the Cubs last season, has more strikeout-less saves in 2018 (no punchouts in seven of his 16 saves). Davis, for the record, saved 32 games for the Cubs last season, but in only nine of those 32 did he not strike anyone out.

Meanwhile, up in the Pacific Northwest, Edwin Díaz of the Mariners has 15 saves this season and has at least one strikeout in all 15.

National Treasure

Leury García took Jameson Taillon deep Wednesday in Pittsburgh, giving him 13 career home runs, all in a White Sox uniform.

The thing is, seven of those 13 home runs have been against National League teams!  Check out his career splits with the Sox:

Versus NL 26 games .325/.373/.636 7 home runs
Versus AL 225 games .227/.267/.306 6 home runs

Uncanny!

Hit Bonanza

The Cubs started Friday’s game in Cincinnati like this:

Zobrist single, Bryant double, Rizzo single, Contreras single, Russell single.

It was the first time the Cubs started a game with five straight hits since Sept. 8, 2009 when they had EIGHT straight hits to start a game. They started that game as follows:

Ryan Theriot single, Milton Bradley single, Derrek Lee single, Aramis Ramírez single, Jeff Baker single, Geovany Soto double, Kosuke Fukudome double, Bobby Scales single. A Ryan Dempster sacrifice bunt snapped the streak, giving up an out in the first inning with a 6-0 lead.

Palka Dots

Sox slugger Daniel Palka has made an impact so far in the Majors. Half of his 16 hits have been of the extra-base variety.

In only 18 career games, Palka already has multiple doubles (three), triples (two) and home runs (three). Through 18 career games, Frank Thomas could check off two of those three boxes, although maybe not the two that you think.

The Big Hurt had six doubles and THREE TRIPLES in his initial dozen-and-a-half career games, but no home runs! The last White Sox player who had at least two of each type of extra-base hit through his first 18 career Major League contests?

Go back to Greg Walker, who collected two doubles, two triples and three home runs in an 11-game taste of the Majors in 1982 and his first seven games of 1983.

Ace of On-Base

Ian Happ returned to his old stomping grounds (kind of… he attended the University of Cincinnati) over the weekend and had quite a four-game series:

Friday 1 hit 3 walks
Saturday (Game 1) 3 hits 1 walk
Saturday (Game 2) 1 hit 2 walks
Sunday 0 hits 3 walks

Now granted, there aren’t as many four-game series as there used to be, but Happ was the first Cub to reach base at least three times in each game of a four-game series since Mark Grace during a four-game set versus Mets at Wrigley Field Aug. 9-12, 1991.Five hits and nine walks; Happ reached base at least three times in all four games!

Happ’s season slashline was boosted from .233/.301/.417 to .254/.361/.509 in those four games alone. His nine walks (five intentional, four unintentional) in the series is better than Javier Báez (six walks: four intentional, two unintentional) has for the entire season.

Happ on Friday became the first Cub to be walked three times intentionally in a game since Andre Dawson (FIVE times) on May 22, 1990. Back then, it actually required pitches to intentionally walk a batter.

Happ was also the first Cub to homer in both ends of a doubleheader since Chris Coghlan July 8, 2014 – also at Cincinnati. But Happ was able to do something Coghlan didn’t: in both games, Happ hit the lone Cubs home run! That’s something no Cub had done since Alfonso Soriano hit the lone Cubs' home run in each game of a doubleheader in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 2007.

Extra Extra!

José Abreu continues to produce. He doubled and homered Saturday night, making him the 23rd player in White Sox history to reach 300 career extra-base hits. He reached 300 extra-base hits in only 655 career Major League games, a number surpassed in White Sox history only by Frank Thomas (626). 

It was also Abreu’s 222nd career multi-hit game in a White Sox uniform, matching our “Beltin’” Bill Melton.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Reviewing a positive road trip for Jose Quintana, Yu Darvish and Ian Happ

Luke Stuckmeyer, David Kaplan, and Doug Glanville break down a solid 4-2 road trip for the Cubs. Plus, who would you rather have long-term: Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below. Apple Podcasts listeners can subscribe at the show page.