Cubs

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

Cubs can't complete rally against Pirates in series finale

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Gift Ngoepe might not have had the weight of the world on his shoulders but he felt like a continent was counting on him.

Ngoepe, the first African to reach the major leagues, singled in his first plate appearance and Josh Harrison led off the bottom of the first with a home run Wednesday night to lead the Pittsburgh Pirates to a 6-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

Ngoepe was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis and entered the game in fourth inning as part of a double switch and finished 1 for 2 with a walk. The 27-year-old South African, who signed with the Pirates in 2008 as an amateur free agent, led off the fourth with a hit off winless Cubs ace Jon Lester.

"To accomplish this only for me but for my country and my continent is something so special," Ngoepe said. "There are 1.62 billion people on our continent. To be the first person out of 1.62 billion to do this is amazing."

It was so special that Ngoepe nearly broke into tears when he trotted from the dugout to take his positon at second base.

"I told myself not to cry because I'm in the big leagues and I'm a big guy now," Ngoepe said with a smile. "(Catcher Francisco) Cervelli hugged me and I could feel my heart beat through my chest."

A year after winning 19 games in helping the Cubs win their first World Series title since 1908, Lester (0-1) is still looking for his first victory after five starts. The left-hander was tagged for six runs - five earned - and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings.

"It's probably the best I threw the ball all year," Lester said. "That's baseball."

Wade LeBlanc (1-0), who pitched 1 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of rookie Tyler Glasnow, got the win.

The fifth leadoff home run of Harrison's career keyed a two-run first that included an RBI double by Cervelli. Andrew McCutchen and Phil Gosselin hit run-scoring doubles in a three-run third that pushed the Pirates' lead to 5-1.

After the Cubs got within two runs, Josh Bell gave the Pirates a 6-3 lead with a solo home run in the sixth inning off Lester. The rookie first baseman has reached base in 11 straight games.

Anthony Rizzo's two-run homer deep into the right-field stands in the eighth inning off Daniel Hudson drew the Cubs within 6-5. Tony Watson then got the last four outs for his seventh save in as many chances.

Glasnow remained winless in nine career starts, allowing three runs in 3 1/3 innings and requiring 89 pitches to get 10 outs.

Rizzo had four RBIs and Kris Bryant had three hits as the Cubs lost for just second time in eight games while stranding 13 runners. The Pirates won for the third time in nine games.

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Javy over everybody? The Cubs are buying it

Instead of debating about which team is better, the latest installment of the Crosstown Series has now become at least partially about Javy Baez.

The White Sox have been out of playoff contention for weeks in a season that has been tabbed a "rebuilding" year from the outset. Meanwhile, the Cubs are marching toward a fourth straight postseason berth.

So what else do Chicagoans have to argue about?

As Hawk Harrelson steps down from the booth this weekend, maybe it's Baez who is emerging as the central polarizing figure in this crosstown "rivalry." 

Cubs fans love them some "El Mago" and some corners of the Sox faithful can't stand to think of Baez as the NL MVP.

Just watch/listen to the crowd every time Baez steps up to the plate at Guaranteed Rate Field this weekend.

Hours after Cubs manager Joe Maddon raved about Baez's value to the North Siders, the NL MVP candidate went out and had himself an eventful first inning Saturday night — drilling a two-run shot, committing an error that led to an unearned run and then making a slick sliding stop to end the opening frame:

He later added a seventh-inning walk and a ninth-inning RBI single, bringing his season slash line to .293/.329/.569 (.898 OPS) in helping the Cubs to an 8-3 win and extending their lead to 2.5 games in the division.

"It's gotta be really exciting for him and his family right now," Maddon said. "We've been through it before a couple years ago with [Kris Bryant]. It's nice to see Javy arrive at this point. I mean, when we first got here, all the talent in the world — big swing, little bit out of control with his game, errors on routine plays and now all of a sudden, he's making the routine play routinely and then he's still able to make the spectacular play.

"And he's on the verge of accepting walks and when he's on the verge of doing that, that's when his hitting's gonna really take off. Lotta credit for him — he plays every day with energy, mentally and physically."

At this point, the NL MVP race probably comes down to Baez, Milwaukee's Christian Yelich and Atlanta's Freddie Freeman over the final week of the season.

"For me, what puts him above everybody in that talk is his ability to play multiple positions," said Jon Lester, who improved to 17-6 on the season in Saturday's win. "I think it's easy to show up every day and know what spot in the order you're gonna hit and what position you're gonna play. I think that's kinda the ease-of-mind type thing. Javy's done it at second, short, third for us all year. So I feel like that puts a little bit of added burden on him as far as showing up every day and not knowing where exactly he's gonna play.

"The offensive side of it speaks for itself. People want to nitpick at the fact that he doesn't walk, but I think the numbers speak for themselves — .300 with 34 [homers] with [110 RBI] and that's hard to argue. I know the other guys are good and I'm not taking anything away from those guys, but I think when you add multiple positions to a guy, I think that changes my vote for sure."

With Addison Russell on administrative leave, Baez slots over to shortstop full time for the Cubs indefinitely.

Saturday marked Baez's 43rd start of the season at short, but he's spent the majority of his time at second base (75 starts) while also dabbling at the hot corner (18 starts at third base).

Regardless of where he's played defensively, Baez has put up numbers that very well may earn him some serious hardware this November.

"He fits," Maddon said. "Listen, look at our league — [Dodgers shortstop Corey] Seager's been out the whole season. [Brandon] Crawford is really good in San Francisco. But for the most part, think about it — [Baez] might be the best overall shortstop in the league right now.

"Grade it all out with his offense, defense, baserunning, etc. American League, there's some competition on that side. But overall, I mean, he's a Top 3/Top 5 shortstop in all of baseball right now, even though he has not played there a whole lot."

FanGraphs ranks Baez as the fourth-most valuable shortstop this year with 5.2 WAR, coming in behind Francisco Lindor (7.4 WAR), Manny Machado (5.7) and Andrelton Simmons (5.3).

Maddon didn't mention Trevor Story (4.5 WAR), the Colorado shortstop who has thrown his name in the hat for NL MVP with 33 homers, 102 RBI and an .894 OPS, though he's currently out with an elbow injury and his Rockies may be fading in the postseason race.

But Baez is pacing the entire NL (regardless of position) in RBI — 109 now after Saturday's 2-run shot — and he is tied for second in homers, second in slugging percentage, sixth in runs scored, eighth in OPS, ninth in hits and 10th in stolen bases.

It's impossible to truly calculate his intangibles (baseball IQ, disruption on the basepaths, all-around swag) and his value to this Cubs team, but one thing is certain: The North Siders would not have driven into the South Side Saturday morning with a 1.5-game lead in the NL Central if not for Ednel Javier Baez this season.

Not many teams could lose their starting shortstop 10 days before the end of the season and be able to replace a Gold Glove-caliber defender so easily.

"We're kind of lucky that Javy is able to do that as well as he does," Maddon said. "He's had a lot of play out there already this year. So yeah, I feel very comfortable about it. ... You don't even think twice when you put Javy's name at shortstop."

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

russell_statement.jpg
USA TODAY

Addison Russell releases statement, calls abuse allegations 'completely false'

Addison Russell responded to the allegations that he physically and psychologically abused his ex-wife, Melisa Reidy.

In a statement released Friday night, Russell called the allegations against him "completely false," stating that he is confident that an investigation will exonerate him.

"These allegations are completely false. I made that clear to Major League Baseball last year and reiterated it to the Cubs today," Russell said in a statement released by the Major League Baseball Player's Assocation. "I'm confident any full and fair investigation will fully exonerate me. The protection of my children is foremost in my mind so I will have no further comment."

Reidy released a blog post late Thursday night detailing years of physical, emotional and psychological abuse that she experienced while married to Russell. The Cubs released a statement early Friday, saying they would "cooperate with the League's investigation so the appropriate action can be taken."

Cubs president Theo Epstein and owner Tom Ricketts held a press conference before Friday's game against the White Sox, saying that while the timing of the situation is not ideal, it does not matter.

"Any time there are accusations of this nature, they have to be taken very seriously and timing or inconvenience doesn't play into it," Epstein said. "All parties have an obligation to get to a just and fair resolution and if that includes discipline if appropriate, then so be it. If it doesn't, then so be it.

"But the important thing here is that justice and fairness is ultimately found. Timing is not ideal, but it doesn't matter. What matters is getting to a just and fair resolution and we're supportive of the league's step."