Cubs

Cubs come through in the clutch again to top Giants

Cubs come through in the clutch again to top Giants

Another game, another late comeback for the Cubs.

Ho hum.

The Cubs keep demonstrating that "it" factor, utilizing an Addison Russell broken-bat single with two outs in the seventh to beat the San Francisco Giants 5-4 in front of 38,536 fans on Thursday night at Wrigley Field.

Russell's 87th and 88th RBIs lifted the Cubs (86-47) to their fourth straight victory as they continued to cruise into the season's final month.

The Giants (72-61) jumped all over Mike Montgomery in the first inning with a Denard Span double and then a Hunter Pence homer smacked into the teeth of a 15 mph wind blowing in from left field.

The resilient Cubs bounced right back with three runs of their own in the bottom of the first off Kris Bryant's bloop single, Jason Heyward's RBI single and Chris Coghlan's run-scoring double.

Montgomery allowed solo tallies in the second and third innings, but the bullpen bailed him out and the Cubs proved they had one more late comback left in them.

Three relievers - Rob Zastryzny, Joe Smith, Carl Edwards Jr. - combined to throw five perfect innings. 

It was the second time this season the Cubs bullpen had tallied at least five hitless innings (seven innings on May 30 against the Dodgers after Jason Hammel had to leave his start early due to cramping). Prior to 2016, it had been eight years since a Cubs bullpen had notched even one such dominant outing.

"Wow," was all manager Joe Maddon could muster initially after the game, marveling at the work of his bullpen. "Just a good game. ... Limited bullpen day; give the guys credit."

The Cubs were without closer Aroldis Chapman - who worked all three games of the Pirates series - and Maddon didn't want to use several other guys in the bullpen if he didn't have to.

[RELATED - Time for Cubs to preserve Chapman for October]

"Most of your normal guys are out - to have those kinds of moments, they're all going to grow for it," Maddon said. "It makes us thicker down the stretch here. You're able to spread the work out, keep guys fresh.

"Chapman, [Justin Grimm], [Trevor] Cahill, [Travis] Wood - nobody lifted their arm. It was great."

That left Zastryzny to halt the Giants in the fifth and sixth innings, running his ERA down to 0.87 to start his MLB career.

Smith was activated off the disabled list Thursday and picked up his first win in a Cubs uniform with three strikeouts amidst two perfect innings.

And then Edwards notched his first big-league save in the ninth.

"Not gonna lie, I was nervous," Edwards said. "I felt good. My main goal was just to get first-pitch strikes. 

"My attitude pretty much stayed the same. I didn't really try to do too much. Just stay on the path that I've been on, going after guys, pitching with confidence and conviction."

"I just loved his focus," Maddon said. "The head down, pull up, see the target, throw a baseball. It was great."

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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