Cubs

Cubs bullpen in flux with Pedro Strop down and Hector Rondon sidelined

Cubs bullpen in flux with Pedro Strop down and Hector Rondon sidelined

The Cubs already had a dominant closer when they made a blockbuster trade with the New York Yankees in late July. But given Hector Rondon’s Tommy John history — and the unknown severity of Pedro Strop’s injury — Aroldis Chapman might become more of a necessity than a luxury item.

Chapman unleashed his 100-mph heat on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, blowing away the Los Angeles Angels in the ninth inning with three straight strikeouts to end a 3-1 victory that might have come at a price.

Strop is now scheduled to get an MRI on his left knee on Thursday morning, and it didn’t look good in the eighth inning as he hobbled off the field, supported by a teammate and an athletic trainer. Strop slid awkwardly and felt something while trying to field the soft groundball Yunel Escobar bounced up the third-base line.

That visual creates even more uncertainty as Rondon deals with what the Cubs are calling a sore triceps. Rondon — who hasn’t pitched in a game since Aug. 2 — played catch as part of his pregame routine but manager Joe Maddon still doesn’t know exactly when his right-handed reliever will be available.

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“There’s nothing negative,” Maddon said. “He’s trending in the right direction, not the wrong direction, so that’s where my focus is right now.”

Carl Edwards Jr. bailed the Cubs out of that eighth-inning jam, striking out Mike Trout and getting groundballs against Albert Pujols and Andrelton Simmons, again showing he’s ready for prime time, especially if Rondon (18 saves, 1.70 ERA) and Strop (21 holds, 2.89 ERA) become question marks in front of Chapman.

“It would change the entire complexion of the group,” Maddon said. “It would make ‘Smitty’ (Joe Smith) more pertinent. I’m not going to beat up C.J., for sure, I know that much. Whatever’s wrong with Stropy, he’s probably not pitching tomorrow, I know that also. So, yeah, we’re going to have to look at different folks.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer 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.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).