Cubs

Cubs follow playoff formula in beating Jose Fernandez and Marlins

Cubs follow playoff formula in beating Jose Fernandez and Marlins

The Cubs still have two months left to perfect the playoff formula they used against Jose Fernandez and the Miami Marlins during Tuesday night’s 3-2 victory at Wrigley Field. October is nerve-racking, cruel and random – so good luck guessing what happens in that crapshoot – but the Cubs should have as good a shot as anyone this time.

Already you can see the signs of a team that’s about to catch fire again, the way the Cubs did last summer, getting no-hit by Cole Hamels and swept by the last-place Philadelphia Phillies, staying quiet around the trade deadline and then surging toward 97 wins and into the National League Championship Series.

Jason Hammel outdueled Fernandez through six innings, allowing zero runs before turning the game over to a new-and-improved bullpen, still looking recharged and confident and no longer resembling the guy who ran out of gas during the second half of last season.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We’re in a pretty good groove right now,” said Hammel, who set a career high with his 11th win while lowering his ERA to 3.07.

Dexter Fowler set the tone by lining the second pitch from Fernandez – a 94-mph fastball – into the right-field corner and sprinting for a leadoff triple. Fowler scored when Willson Contreras chopped a ball up the middle for an infield single, making the kind of contact the Cubs will need against power pitchers in clutch situations. Combined, the top two hitters in the lineup generated five hits, a walk, two runs scored and two RBI.

“You can see the difference in our offense as soon as Dex came back,” Hammel said. “He’s the engine of this machine. As he goes, we go.”

And as the rookie catcher with raw talent and a big personality, Contreras can be this year’s Kyle Schwarber, in his own way. As manager Joe Maddon said: “He’s going to be that little bolt of energy on a daily basis.”

[RELATED: Why Cubs didn’t trade for a big bat at the deadline] 

Aroldis Chapman is the bolt of lightning that allows Maddon to work backwards from the ninth inning, and the electric closer finished off the Marlins with 15 pitches, 14 fastballs clocked between 99.2 and 104.4 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, getting a strikeout, two soft groundballs and Gold Glove defense from third baseman Javier Baez.

The Marlins (57-50) might have been shut out if not for Pedro Strop’s throwing error and a ball that ricocheted off him into right field, giving J.T. Realmuto an RBI single during the two-run seventh inning. A crowd of 40,419 did not get to see Ichiro Suzuki’s 2,999th or 3,000th career hit, as the Japanese legend struck out swinging against Strop as a pinch-hitter for Fernandez. Maddon pushed the bullpen buttons, with Strop, lefty reliever Travis Wood and ex-closer Hector Rondon combining to get six outs and set the stage for Chapman.

Fowler’s hamstring injury, a worn-out lineup, a slumping rotation and an unsettled bullpen explained why the Cubs lost 15 of their last 21 games leading into the All-Star break. The Cubs are 12-6 in the second half, winning series against contenders like the Texas Rangers and New York Mets and beating pitchers such as Yu Darvish, Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon, Chris Sale and now Fernandez, plus winning another game started by Felix Hernandez.       

“We’ll find out,” Maddon said. “I’ve always thought, to beat good pitching, you have to pitch better than good pitching. We’ve kind of done that against some really tough guys lately.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: How long can Cubs stick with Tyler Chatwood?

On tonight's episode of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Kap hosts David Haugh, Jason Goch and Rich Campbell. Tyler Chatwood's control issues continued on Tuesday. How long can the Cubs withstand his walks before needing to make a change? What's more concerning, Chatwood's control or Brandon Morrow's bad back?

Plus, the NBA Draft is two days away. How big is this for Gar Forman and John Paxson? And does Villanova's Donte DiVincenzo intrigue you at all?

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Glanville: Ready or not, play ball

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Ready or not, play ball

As my career wound down in Major League Baseball, I found myself caddying a lot. Caddying is just what it sounds like, coming in as needed, helping the talent of the future as a mentor or advisor. It also meant that when you do get the chance to start, you may be facing tough assignments that are spaced out inconveniently for you.

As I did in 2004, I faced some tough pitchers often to protect the next generation centerfielder in Marlon Byrd in Philly. I faced a Rolodex of Cy Young award winners that year (Randy Johnson, Tom Glavine, and others) or All-Stars (Brad Radke and so on), and the other starters were reserved for the young buck.

That was then, but how to be ready with so many unknowns is still an important lesson about being prepared for anything that can come at you. And in baseball, anything will come at you.

Like many players who arrive to the big leagues, they have had a lifetime of being every day players. High school, college stars, or even minor league stars, who were always in the lineup. Then, as the air gets thinner, so does the opportunity to be a starter and the more you may learn about life coming off of the bench.

Addison Russell had a surprise entry into the Cubs-Cardinals game the other day after teammate Javier Baez took a pitch off of the elbow. In theory, it was supposed to be Russell’s “day off” so when he made an error in the field, speculation arose from announcer Alex Rodriguez that he may not have been fully prepared. The implication was that he had shut off his mind to enjoy his day off, and was caught off guard.

Only Russell knows how he felt, but after I spent a career in the National League as perennial starter and bench player, there is no such thing as a day off, especially in a lineup under Joe Maddon, which has emphasis on versatility, flexibility and open-mindedness.

If you are on the bench to start a game, there is an understanding that you may get in the game. At least there should be unless, and this has happened to me, the manager tells you that under no circumstance will you be called in the game. Even then, in the back of my mind, should the game go 15 innings, I could hardly be surprised if a promise may have to be broken.

One time, Phillies manager Terry Francona gave me a day off during a season where I ended up playing in 158 games and leading the NL in at bats. He said to me “it looks like the bat is swinging you.” We were out of it in September, so he could sit me and keep me on the bench. The Cubs do not have the luxury of handing out day spa packages, they are in the race, in fact, many days, they are getting chased.

I only played one partial season in the American League and this was with Texas as Alex’s teammate. After years of National League life, the AL was another planet. Players came off the bench only in matchup situations, the rare pinch run or pinch hit, and maybe for defense (other than road interleague play.). The AL does not have the built in bench call because in the NL, the pitcher hits, a circumstance which opens up many ways you can get in the game.

Like Alex, I was spoiled on years of being a starter, so it did take a little time to know how to get ready for the chance you may come in the game. He was a DH later in his career, so he knew when he was hitting, so he could get loose with a plan. If you don’t have that advantage, usually around the fourth inning or some inning before the pitcher is batting, I would start warming up. Some parks are easier than others to do that. Stretch, hit off of the tee, jog somewhere. And you will have to repeat this each inning you are not used, just in case.

What really bites into your preparation is when something happens very early in the game. This is when you could not get into a stretching routine to be ready because of the timing (Baez injury happened in the 3rd) or you could have skipped your typical pre-game warm up to bask in your day off. Sure, being a pro means being ready but being thrust in a game is still pretty jarring.

Then when you age in the game, you don’t have the bandwidth to be stiff on the bench or you may not ever get loose, so you are (or should be) constantly warming up. I learned a lot as a young player watching veterans like Shawon Dunston, Lenny Harris, and others who came off the bench ready to go. We were all a quick turn away from a pulled muscle.

Baseball is a stop and go sport, outside of the elements of surprise of in game injuries or wild substations, you may get hit by weather like the Cubs experienced last night. When is the tarp coming off? Warm up, sit down, warm up, sit down. It is not the best way to be loose, especially when you are 34, but it is always part of any sport that plays outdoors. You have to put the built-in excuses out of your head because there is a role player performing well despite the obstacles.

As an every day player, you often get out of touch with the reality of coming off of the bench and having to perform. It is challenging for any player to come off the bench no matter what the circumstance, which is what makes pinch hitter extraordinaire, Tommy La Stella, an incredible asset. It is one thing to be loose, it is another to hit a guy throwing a 96 mph sinker.

Baseball is a tough game because it depends so much on rhythm while everything is trying to disrupt it. Errors happen, no matter what, even when you are prepared and at your best. And it is ok to recognize that you may not really be loose, which is a natural occurrence over 162 games. You can’t be totally limber every day after long flights and split doubleheader’s while the body is just being the body. Sometimes you are productive playing through it, some times, you are not.

Yet there are a whole host of players who make a career out of their instant utility. Productive players who are not afforded advanced notice all of the time. Every year, these players help win championships (see David Ross.) Coming cold off the bench, going into games when the starter’s hamstring tightens up. Facing closers who throw 100 mph. Pinch running with a tight hamstring. It happens every single day on every single team. They are as important to winning as having an MVP in Kris Bryant, or a brilliant veteran, like Jon Lester.

So let’s take this opportunity to appreciate these players more instead of only noticing them when a starter has to do what these bench players have always done. Being ready on call.