Cubs

For Cubs, closing the gap on Cardinals is easier said than done

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For Cubs, closing the gap on Cardinals is easier said than done

ST. LOUIS – Tired of hearing about The Cardinal Way yet?

This measuring-stick series ended with the Cubs leaving Busch Stadium on Thursday afternoon after a 5-1 loss that again showed the gap between these two rivals. At the same time, it also didn’t feel like so many other trips to St. Louis where the Cubs appeared to be years and years away from seriously challenging the 11-time World Series champions.

“They got my respect,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But it’s about us. It’s not about them. We have to take care of our own house. We have to create our own culture. We have to create our methods where people are going to start talking about us exactly the same way they talk about them.

“It’s not easy to do. They’ve been doing it for awhile. But I know it can be done.”

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The talking points in the visiting clubhouse revolved around how close the Cubs came to winning three of the four games here. That didn’t exactly match all the chest-pounding rhetoric from those winning-the-offseason press conferences and the carefree days in spring training.    

“I don’t think there’s any gap,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “I think we compete.”

No doubt, the Cubs (14-13) are a much more entertaining team, even if they didn’t have an answer for John Lackey, who walked off the mound in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the crowd of 44,472 after allowing only one run on five hits while striking out 10.   

But in losing three of these four games, Jon Lester became the only starter who could last through the sixth inning, and the Cubs had to rebuild their bullpen on the fly after too many midgame collapses.

The Cubs committed five errors in the last three games – not including Starlin Castro’s synchronized throwing program – against a team that absolutely preys upon mistakes.

The Cubs also struck out 41 times, with Maddon blasting home-plate umpire D.J. Reyburn on Wednesday night, complaining about a perceived double standard, sticking up for rookies like Kris Bryant (zero homers in 19 games).

“The gap is repetition,” Maddon said. “They outcompete us experience-wise. That’s it. And we will make that up.”

Jake Arrieta (3-3, 3.41 ERA) couldn’t build off Lester’s start, getting burned by Lackey’s two-out, two-run double down the right-field line in the fourth inning and some overall shaky defense.  

“We got to be better all the way around,” said Arrieta, who gave up five runs, four earned, in 5.1 innings. “There are things we can clean up everywhere.”

St. Louis (21-7) already set a record for the best start in franchise history and enjoys a 6.5-game lead over the Cubs in the division. Lester correctly pointed out that it’s only May and it’s not like the Cardinals are kicking their butts.

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There are 135 games to go and players like Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell should be on the upswing when the Cubs return to St. Louis in late June.     

“We play them enough,” Arrieta said. “We’ll be able to return the favor. We just need to be ready next time.”  

After the game, Maddon lightened the mood by blasting polka music outside his office, getting ready for this weekend’s trip to Milwaukee.  

“I’m not conceding anything here,” Maddon said. “It’s a long year, folks.”

Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field

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USA TODAY

Cubs first round pick Nico Hoerner makes unexpected visit to Wrigley Field

There is nothing quite like visiting Wrigley Field for the first time, and for Cubs 2018 first round draft pick Nico Hoerner, his first visit to his future home park was special despite the circumstances being less than ideal. 

The 21-year-old shortstop drafted out of Stanford will miss the rest of the season due to a left elbow injury, which was examined by Cubs team doctors Thursday morning. It was concluded Hoerner suffered an injury to a ligament in his left elbow, but would not require surgery. 

But after finding out his season was likely done, he figured he'd at least stick around for the Thursday night Cubs game against the Cardinals. 

"I had no idea this was going to happen today," Said Hoerner. "I flew in from the Quad Cities this morning, saw the doctor and said [to the Cubs] 'Hey can I come to the field?" 

Hoerner was able to spend time with the Cubs during batting practice this afternoon, mentioning the conversations he had with the players, in particular, Anthony Rizzo who made a lasting mark on the young Cub prospect. 

"Rizzo pulled me over and introduced me to the group. He actually clumped everyone into guys who were drafted in the first round and guys who weren't." 

Hoerner also got the chance to speak with Cubs hitting coach Chili Davis, who seemed to have struck a chord with the shortstop. Hoerner said the conversation was 'refreshing' and focused less about what he needed to do with his swing and more about competing with the pitcher. 

As for the future for Hoerner, he'll start rehabbing in Arizona and focus on getting right for the start of next season. It wasn't clear if the Cubs planned on trying to get their top pick back on the field in 2018, but Hoerner looked impressive during his short time in the Cubs minor leagues. 

Slashing 327/.450/.571 in 60 professional at-bats, Hoerner was showing he belonged in this league, having just recently being promoted to the Cubs Low-A South Bend Cubs.

But he only managed four games before injuring his left elbow making a diving stop to his left. But Hoerner seemed in good spirits, showing a resiliency that exemplifies his future ballclub. 

"It's always a work in progress. Just like everybody, I'm working to get better." 

 

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow and the state of the Cubs bullpen ahead of the trade deadline

Brandon Morrow is getting an extended All-Star Break.

For the second time in the last month, the Cubs closer is heading to the disabled list to get another break, this time with inflammation in his right biceps.

That leaves the Cubs without their best relief pitcher — a guy with a 1.47 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 22 saves in 24 chances — for the next week as the team hits the ground running in the second half with 12 games in 11 days against the Cardinals and Diamondbacks.

"It's been bothering him a bit, but we thought it was manageable," Joe Maddon said before the Cubs kicked off play Thursday evening. "But now it's not [manageable], so just have to take a little bit of a break. 

"We don't anticipate him being gone for a long time, but it seems to be prudent to go this course right now."

Maddon pointed to a bit lower velocity Morrow had in San Diego Sunday and believes now is "the right time to back off for the latter part of the season."

The Cubs do have Carl Edwards Jr. back from the paternity list and the 26-year-old flamethrower already got a "break" of his own earlier this season when he missed about 5 weeks with a shoulder issue.

The word "break" is key here because that's how Maddon and the Cubs characterize these little stints on the disabled list.

After all, they are "breaks," even if they're not built into a season like the All-Star Break.

The Cubs want both Morrow and Edwards to be healthy and dynamic in late September and throughout the postseason in October. They've been uber-cautious about the two pitchers throughout their respective Cubs careers and a stint on the disabled list serves to save bullets and wear and tear on their right arms in the dog days of the season.

After all, Morrow has already appeared in 35 games this season, which he's only done once since 2008 — last year, when he pitched in 45 games. Morrow has a long history of arm issues, so the Cubs have given him plenty of slack as they try to keep him healthy for the most important stretch of the season.

But that's also why the Cubs are looking to add some reinforcements to the bullpen before the trade deadline. They were linked to Brad Hand before the lefty was traded to the Cleveland Indians Thursday and they've also been linked to Orioles closer Zach Britton.

If Britton's healthy, he could serve as a perfect fit for the Cubs as a rental with closing experience and a guy from the left side to help fill both needs in the Chicago bullpen.

The Cubs currently have Justin Wilson, Randy Rosario and Brian Duensing as left-handed options in the bullpen, but all are at varying levels of confidence at the moment.

Wilson still has some issues with control, but otherwise has been very good of late. Rosario is a rookie and his outlying numbers indicate his 1.95 ERA is a bit of a mirage. Duensing just recently returned from the DL himself and currently boasts a 6.59 ERA and 1.83 WHIP on the season.

Then there's Mike Montgomery, who right now has a stranglehold on a spot in the Cubs rotation while Yu Darvish gets healthy. There is currently no update on Darvish, which means Montgomery won't be moving back to the bullpen anytime soon.

With less than 2 weeks left until the trade deadline, Maddon would be all for adding another arm or two to his pitching staff.

"Sure. All of the pitching, they're definitely going to want to look at it," Maddon said. "Our numbers are among the best in the NL both overall and as a bullpen and then even into the starters.

"But you're always looking to make it better. That's what GMs do. We'll see how it all plays out. We're hoping the [Morrow] thing is a shorter situation, which we believe it will be."