Cubs getting off to the fast start they absolutely needed


Cubs getting off to the fast start they absolutely needed

Anthony Rizzo must be feeling pretty good about his winning-the-division prediction.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Rizzo said, sounding annoyed at the wise-guy question.

The Cubs had completed less than 12 percent of their schedule after Monday night’s 4-0 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field. But a young team that’s used to being buried by this point will take 11-7, running one game behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central.

“Huge,” Rizzo said. “We preached it in spring training: We got to survive April. We can’t put ourselves in a hole like we’ve done in years past. We’re doing a good job of coming to the park every day and playing with a lot of energy, having fun and really playing with a purpose.”

Surrounded by reporters, Rizzo stood in front of his locker, inside the cramped clubhouse that now has a shiny disco ball hanging from a ceiling fan. Loud rap music blasted from the sound system when the media entered the room.

Joe Maddon likes to say the heavy lifting had already been done by the time he left the Tampa Bay Rays and scored a five-year, $25 million contract. But after winning the offseason – and dealing with their fifth manager in six seasons and an overhyped group of prospects, not to mention the usual Wrigleyville distractions (see Porta-Pottie-Gate) – the Cubs absolutely needed a sense of momentum.

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon hates the idea of the DH in National League]

The Cubs generated 10 hits from the first six hitters in their American League-style lineup and wore down the Pirates (11-9) in front of 29,159 at Wrigley Field. Jason Hammel – last year’s sign-and-flip guy – put up eight scoreless innings and now has allowed one walk against 23 strikeouts through 25-plus innings.    

Inside the interview room/dungeon, a reporter asked Hammel: Is it too early to project this is going to be a really good team this year?

“We’ve been doing that since January, right?” Hammel said, delivering another great one-liner. “We know what we have in this clubhouse. We’re excited. It starts with Joe. He’s given us one hell of a feel. He came in and made us know that we’re going to have a good time while we were winning.

“It wasn’t the drill-sergeant type. It wasn’t looking over our shoulder being the mother, the dad, whatever. It’s letting us go out and be ourselves and just play baseball.

“We’ve worked really hard at understanding that we don’t care what anybody else says. It’s what we have.”

The Cubs have Rizzo (2-for-3, one walk, two RBI) leading the majors with a .494 on-base percentage. Kris Bryant (2-for-4, two RBI) has been as good as advertised, putting up a .938 OPS through his first 10 games in The Show. Starlin Castro is hitting .324 and pushing himself to be in the Gold Glove conversation at shortstop.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We were wanting a good April, and we’re on our way to having one,” team president Theo Epstein said. “But I think it’s been earned. The guys have really fought hard every game, and I really like the identity that we’re creating for ourselves.”

The Cubs have already notched five victories in their final at-bat. They are 8-4 against the division and 3-0 in extra-inning games. All this without $155 million ace Jon Lester (0-2, 6.23 ERA in four starts) coming close to hitting his stride.

“I really think it’s a best-case scenario as far as the identity of the team,” Epstein said, “the mood and the spirit surrounding the team, how they really have bonded with one another and are fighting through all 27 outs.

“That’s been fantastic. It’s been a lot of fun to be around. But I don’t really overanalyze the early-season performance, because baseball’s all about grinding it out through six months. And you’ll end up where you’re supposed to be.”

It’s a good sign when Addison Russell’s Wrigley Field debut (1-for-3, one run scored) might be the sixth-most interesting headline that night. Compare that to the way the Chicago media treated Rizzo and Castro with wall-to-wall coverage when they first arrived at Clark and Addison.

“It’s just the strength of our lineup,” Rizzo said. “Anyone can do it at any time. We’re really happy with the way we’re grinding out at-bats early in the game, which can be setting us up for later in the game. We’re making pitchers work. That’s what we want to do every time. Every at-bat (should) be a stressful at-bat on the pitcher.

“We just have a really good feeling in here right now. And we just got to keep rolling with it.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.