Cubs' 12-game NL Central lead soothes the sting of loss to Cardinals

Cubs' 12-game NL Central lead soothes the sting of loss to Cardinals

The Cubs aren’t taking their sizable lead in the National League Central for granted and fully expect the St. Louis Cardinals to make a run at some point in the coming months.

If and when that push comes, though, the Cubs will probably have a sizable enough lead to withstand it and waltz to their second consecutive playoff appearance. FanGraphs gives the Cubs a 99 percent chance of winning the National League Central, which is an awfully comforting percentage that soothes the narrow-view sting of back-to-back bullpen meltdowns against the second-place Cardinals. 

Hector Rondon allowed an eighth inning go-ahead three-run home run to Stephen Piscotty that sparked the Cubs’ 6-4 loss to the Cardinals Sunday night in front of 41,019 at Wrigley Field. Piscotty laid into a 1-1 fastball from Rondon and flung his bat down, yelling and jumping around in an immediate celebration. 

But no matter how badly the Cardinals crashed the party over the weekend, the Cubs hold a 12-game advantage in the NL Central through 115 games. And that’s a fact of which the Cubs, while paying lip service to the “we’re not looking ahead” deities, are certainly aware. 

“Obviously it makes it a little bit easier to think about, I can’t deny that,” Maddon said. “But at the end of the day, before this series began, based on all the stuff we had going on, you always will take that split, them coming in. But when you get in a position to get more than that, that’s the part that you don’t necessarily like. However, we played well. Every time we play well, and even if we lose, I’m okay. So for the most part, we had an 11-game winning streak, played well but they got you late, so there’s not a whole lot you can do about that.”

The Cubs failed to capitalize on an ideal opportunity an inning before the Cardinals blew things open on Sunday, loading the bases to begin the seventh but meekly seeing Matt Szczur fly out, Dexter Fowler strike out and Kris Bryant fly out against right-hander Matt Bowman to prevent them from ballooning their 3-1 lead. 

Rondon, who hadn’t pitched in 12 days due to a triceps issue, allowed Kolten Wong to reach on a line drive single to lead off the eighth, which Greg Garcia followed with a bunt single. Piscotty then laid into a 1-1 fastball and clobbered it deep into the left field bleachers to put St. Louis ahead. 

“That’s what they do, that’s what they’re made of,” Anthony Rizzo, who homered and had three RBIs Sunday, said. “It’s good to split knowing they’re chasing us.” 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs went through something similar with the Cardinals last year, when Jhonny Peralta’s two-out, two-strike go-ahead two-run home run off Pedro Strop prevented the Cubs from winning a four-game series at home in early July. The roles are reversed this year — it’s the Cubs with the significant lead, not the Cardinals — but it’s a good lesson in not overreacting to one or two games for a team that’s handily on top of its division. 

“We’re in a fortunate situation,” John Lackey, who threw 6 2/3 innings Sunday before being pulled due to a tight shoulder, said. “When you have the kind of lead we have, you kind of have leeway to do some things. We’re just checking games off the schedule.”

Still, the Cubs haven’t clinched a playoff spot, no matter how much the odds are in favor of that happening. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Thursday: “You can’t tell us until we get to the end of the season how this whole thing is going to play out.” 

That dozen-game cushion, though, is means we probably know how this season is going to play out. But just because the Cubs have it doesn’t mean they’re writing off the Cardinals, or starting to look ahead to their first National League Division Series Game. 

“I don’t find myself looking ahead because we haven’t done anything yet,” Jason Heyward said. “You gotta do it to get there, you gotta clinch first, and after that, you gotta take it one series at a time.” 

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers 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.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.