Cubs

Cubs clinching party delayed until Friday after loss to Brewers

Cubs clinching party delayed until Friday after loss to Brewers

The Cubs will have to wait a little longer for an inevitable party to celebrate winning the National League Central. Specifically, they'll celebrate that achievement Friday after clinching the franchise's first division title since 2008 despite losing to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. 

Scooter Gennett’s go-ahead two-run double in the seventh proved to be the difference as the Cubs lost, 5-4, to the Brewers in front of 41,362 fans at Wrigley Field hoping to revel in a win to move the team's magic number to zero. But the clinching moment happened to be far more anticlimactic, coming when the St. Louis Cardinals lost, 6-2, to the San Francisco Giants just before midnight Thursday. 

Players decided before the game to go home and not wait around for the Cardinals-Giants result in the event they didn’t beat Milwaukee. The celebration will now take place following Friday's day game against Milwaukee. 

Early on, it looked like the Cubs would be able to get a party going and, when it would be time to party, party hard Thursday night. Manager Joe Maddon didn’t think his team, on the verge of clinching a division title, looked anxious coming into the evening. 

“I’ll use the word eager,” Maddon said. “I think that’s a good word. I think that’s better than anxious. I thought we had a really good way about us today and again we made a couple mistakes that we normally don’t make, but it’s just going to happen.” 

Jorge Soler smashed a two-run home run in the second inning, pausing a bit to admire his work as the ball whistled into the left field bleachers. But the Cubs weren’t able to cruise through the evening against their fourth-place divisional counterparts thanks to a rare error by shortstop Addison Russell, which sparked a fourth-inning Brewers rally.

With two out in the inning — and after Brewers center fielder Keon Broxton launched a solo home run to center — Russell, on a ground ball off the bat of third baseman Hernan Perez, threw up the line toward first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who couldn’t catch the ball. Perez reached, and Domingo Santana and Oswaldo Arcia followed with back-to-back doubles to bring home a pair of runs to put Milwaukee ahead.

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Montgomery, who struck out seven over six innings, thought he pitched well outside of the mistake that Arcia hit for that two-run double. 

“I felt good,” Montgomery said. “I’d like to have that fourth inning back but I thought I made a lot of good pitches.” 

But the Cubs quickly equalized thanks to an unlikely source in Montgomery. With two out and Jason Heyward on third, Montgomery grounded a fastball on the outer third of the plate into center for his first career hit and an RBI single. 

Montgomery threw six innings, his highest total since being traded to the Cubs from the Seattle Mariners in July, and mixed his pitches well. His curveball, which Maddon described as a “premium” pitch was highly effective — Montgomery threw 28 curveballs, 22 of which were strikes, 17 of which swung at and eight of which generated swings and misses, according to BrooksBaseball.net. 

“He threw the ball well,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I think it was just one bad pitch, just one bad pitch — hit the double and scored the two runs, but other than that he threw the ball really well. He struck out seven guys and he was pretty good. He was sharp.”

Milwaukee re-took the lead in the top of the seventh when pinch-hitter Gennett flipped a double down the left field line to bring in a pair of runs off Cubs right-hander Justin Grimm. 

The Cubs couldn’t mount a late comeback, though, despite Jason Heyward’s two-out RBI double off Brewers right-hander Tyler Thornburg in the eighth. With the tying run on third and the go-ahead run on first, pinch-hitter Willson Contreras struck out looking on an inside curveball to end the inning. 

Dexter Fowler struck out, Kris Bryant grounded out and after Rizzo walked, Ben Zobrist grounded out to end the game. 

“We made a couple mistakes here and there and it cost up a couple runs,” Montero said. “I thought we played a good game and we just gotta come back tomorrow and finish them.”

Thanks to the Cardinals-Giants result, though, the Cubs no longer have any finishing to do in the NL Central. 

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.