Cubs

Cubs find a way to beat Mets on Matt Harvey Day

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Cubs find a way to beat Mets on Matt Harvey Day

Joe Maddon sat down at the table inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon and a reporter asked if the Cubs manager could lead Wednesday night’s postgame news conference with Matt Harvey.

“Let’s start with Jason Hammel,” Maddon said, getting a few laughs after a 2-1 walk-off win over the New York Mets.

All the talk about this four-game litmus-test series has revolved around the first-place Mets and their young power arms and how the Cubs will measure up with their stable of power hitters.

The Cubs will now go for the sweep on Thursday afternoon after Hammel allowed only one run across eight innings and that young lineup finally broke through against New York’s bullpen.

[MORE CUBS: Is Kris Bryant the long-term answer at third base?]

The Cubs outlasted The Dark Knight of Gotham.

“It was going to be the first guy to blink,” Hammel said. “And I was actually the first guy to blink. But we battled back.”

The ninth-inning rally began with Anthony Rizzo’s leadoff single against Mets reliever Carlos Torres. Pinch-runner Matt Szczur went first-to-third on Starlin Castro’s hit-and-run single to left field. An intentional walk to Miguel Montero loaded the bases in a tie game.

After Jorge Soler struck out – and with five infielders in – Chris Coghlan worked a five-pitch walk against Mets closer Jeurys Familia. That sparked a mosh pit along the first-base line.  

“This team’s just different,” Coghlan said. “I know that you guys (in the media) have to compare. But you just really can’t compare, at least last year to this year or the years before. Because we have so much more talent. We have different chemistry. We have different options.”

Harvey has done late-night comedy for Jimmy Fallon, posed naked for ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue” and gained 136,000 followers on his personal Twitter account. Not that Hammel (3.11 ERA) and rest of this Cubs rotation necessarily feels overshadowed or underrated.

“That’s the New York media,” said Hammel, who escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and notched his fourth straight quality start. “They’re going to get talked about all the time. Not to say that Chicago is any lighter.

“Obviously, they had a great start to the season (an 11-game winning streak in April). We’ve lost a couple real close ones where we could be ‘hyped.’

“But we don’t really care. We’re playing quality ball right now. As long as we keep coming out and grinding out at-bats, playing our 27 outs, we should be fine.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Harvey, the 2013 All-Star Game starter who missed all of last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, dominated for seven scoreless innings, giving up three hits and two walks against nine strikeouts.

“Every advertisement he gets, he earns,” Coghlan said. “It’s tough to admit that, but he throws and commands all four pitches. He didn’t really throw many fastballs. It was all slider, cutter, curveball, a couple changeups, and then he’ll throw the heater in there late. Not many guys that can throw 95-98 (mph) are going to do that. That’s why he’s so effective.”   

The Cubs are now 18-15, winning six games in their last at-bat and feeling like they can play with anyone, anytime, anywhere.

“There’s a great vibe in our dugout,” Maddon said. “We’re developing into this group. We’re starting to really believe. When you’re able to win games late on a consistent basis that becomes part of the fabric. It’s really important to feel that way. You’re going to have to win games like that. You have to beat good pitching by pitching better than good pitching.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

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USA Today

'He belongs here': What to expect from top prospect Adbert Alzolay's first major league start

A big part of the Cubs’ MO during the Epstein Era has been the team’s reliance on veteran pitchers. Whether it’s Jon Lester’s cutter, Cole Hamels’ changeup, or Jose Quintana’s sinker, it’s been a while since other teams have had to step into the box against a Cubs starter without much of a scouting report. On the surface, uncertainty from a starting pitcher may sound like a bad thing, but it’s that same apprehension that makes Cubs’ prospect Adbert Alzolay’s first major league start so exciting. 

“There’s energy when you know the guy’s good,” Joe Maddon said before Tuesday’s game. “There’s absolutely energy to be derived. But there’s also curiosity. Let’s see if this is real or not. I think he answered that call.” 

The good news for Alzolay and the Cubs is that much of the usual baggage that comes with one’s first major league start is already out of the way. All of the milestones that can get into a young pitchers head -- first strikeout, first hit, first home run allowed, etc -- took place during Alzolay’s four-inning relief appearance back against the Mets on June 20th. 

“I want to believe that that would help,” Maddon added. “It was probably one of the best ways you could break in someone like that. We had just the ability to do it because of the way our pitching was set up, and I think going into tonight’s game, there’s less unknown for him.”

It also helps that Alzolay will have fellow Venezuelan countryman Willson Contreras behind the plate calling his first game. There’s even a sense of novelty from Contreras’ end too. 

“[Catching someone’s debut] is really fun for me,” he said on Tuesday. “It’s a big challenge for me today. I’m looking forward to it. I’m really proud of Alzolay, and I know where he comes from - I know him from Venezuela. It’s going to be fun.”

Tuesday's plan for Alzolay doesn’t involve a specific innings limit. Maddon plans to let the rookie go as long as he can before he “gets extended, or comes out of his delivery,” as the manager put it. On the mound, he’s a flyball pitcher with good control that works quickly. Expect to see a healthy dosage of 4-seamers that sit in the mid-90’s alongside a curveball and changeup that have both seen improvements this year. 

Against the Mets, it was his changeup was the most effective strikeout pitch he had going, with three of his five K’s coming that way. It’s typically not considered his best offspeed offering, but as Theo Epstein put it on Monday afternoon, “[Alzolay] was probably too amped and throwing right through the break,” of his curveball that day.  

It’s obviously good news for the Cubs if he continues to flash three plus pitches, long the barometer of a major league starter versus a bullpen guy. Even if he doesn’t quite have the feel for all three yet, it’s his beyond-the-years demeanor that has those within the organization raving. 

“The confidence he showed during his first time on the mound, as a young pitcher, that’s a lot,” Contreras said. “That’s who he can be, and the command that he has of his pitches is good, especially when he’s able to go to his third pitch.”