Cubs collapse in ninth, drop series opener to Yankees

Cubs collapse in ninth, drop series opener to Yankees

The Cubs were battling the wind and the New York Yankees on Friday. For most of the game, it was going their way, but one swing changed the outcome.

A late two-out, three-run homer by Brett Gardner off Hector Rondon in the ninth inning propelled the New York Yankees to a 3-2 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field in the series opener. The Cubs' win probability prior to his home run was 92.7, according to Fan Graphs.

Kyle Hendricks, Brian Duensing and Pedro Strop pitched eight scoreless innings leading up to the ninth.

With closer Wade Davis having pitched in three straight games, Rondon came on for the save up two runs, but Gardner’s three-run dinger gave the Yankees the lead and the win.

Entering Friday, Rondon had been solid all season. He only allowed two earned runs in 12 games. The Cubs bullpen also had an era of 2.76, which led the National League.

“We were short in the bullpen,” said manager Joe Maddon. “That was his game this afternoon. From the side it looked like he had really good stuff, I mean really, unfortunate choice of where he threw it on that pitch. That’s probably the only pitch that Gardner could’ve hit out and we gave it to him, and that happens."

Gardner said the pitch he connected with was a hanging slider down and in.

"I felt pretty good about it, but I was unsure," Garnder said. "The lower you hit it, the better chance it’s got of cutting through the wind. Yeah I felt pretty good about it. I just wasn’t sure. It just felt good to see it go out."

The Cubs had a prime chance to score in the bottom of the ninth inning. Addison Russell reached second base on a fielding error to lead it off, but the Cubs couldn't bring him home. Aroldis Chapman, who was presented his championship ring prior to first pitch, closed out the game for New York.

Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber provided the Cubs with their only offense of the day. Bryant hit his sixth homer of the season in the first inning while Schwarber sent out his fifth in the sixth.

Hendricks didn’t have his best stuff either, but he certainly did his part. The Cubs right-hander pitched 5.1 shutout innings and recorded three strikeouts. He allowed six hits and two walks on 94 pitches.

“He’s looking the same over the last couple outings in a good way,” said manager Joe Maddon. “There’s nothing better, nothing worse. He’s looking pretty good. I still think there’s another level there left, but no, I’m very pleased.”

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.