Cubs

Cubs held to season-low two hits in loss at Astros

Cubs held to season-low two hits in loss at Astros

HOUSTON (AP) -- In a tight game against a first-place team, Collin McHugh didn't worry about giving the ball to the Houston Astros bullpen.

McHugh combined with four relievers on a two-hitter, rookie Alex Bregman homered and the Astros beat the Chicago Cubs 2-1 Saturday as they tried to gain ground in the AL wild-card race.

"They've all been lights out for about the last year-and-a-half, two years," McHugh said of his bullpen. "I feel as confident as anyone giving them the ball with the lead."

Marwin Gonzalez drove in a run with a third-inning squeeze bunt for the Astros, who began the day 2 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card.

Bregman put the Astros ahead with an opposite-field home run to right-center against John Lackey (9-8) in a two-run third.

"He's been remarkable," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We've been playing these playoff-type caliber games for a few weeks now, and he's not showing any signs of this being his first time."

After starting 1 for 34 following his July 25 callup, Bregman has eight home runs - all since Aug. 16. He went 2 for 4 and raised his average to .274 with 31 RBIs.

"I'm just trying to square the ball up," Bregman said. "Baseball is such a game of ups and downs, and you've just got to stay even through the whole time."

McHugh (10-10) won his third straight decision, allowing one run and two hits in five innings. Chris Devenski, Will Harris, Luke Gregerson and Ken Giles combined for hitless relief.

"Their pitchers were really good today. Give them credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "They were very good at hitting their spots and had good stuff."

McHugh spoke with Hinch about the decision on a quick hook.

"He said, 'Hey, we're going to do this like a playoff game, and we're going to get a win here,'" the pitcher recalled. "And that's exactly what happened."

Ken Giles survived a shaky ninth to earn his 10th save. He walked Anthony Rizzo leading off, and pinch-runner Matt Szczur advanced on a wild pitch. Jorge Soler struck out and Szczur crossed to third on Miguel Montero's groundout. Giles then struck out Willson Contreras.

Lackey gave up two runs, four hits and three walks in six innings for the NL Central leaders, who are 90-51. He had been 2-0 in four starts since a July 23 loss at Milwaukee.

"I definitely haven't had much luck with the wins and losses this year," Lackey said.

Jose Altuve, in an 0-for-12 slide, followed Bregman's homer by reaching on his second bunt single of the season, beating third baseman Kris Bryant's throw.

Yulieski Gurriel singled him to third, and Gonzalez bunted to third as Altuve scored.

"Two bunts," Lackey said, "you'd like for that not to cause you a game."

Contreras' fourth-inning sacrifice fly scored Soler, who beat the offline throw from right fielder George Springer.

Houston could have extended the lead in the seventh, but Springer was thrown out at the plate by when he tried to score from first on Bregman's bloop single to right center.

Right fielder Jason Heyward threw to shortstop Javier Baez, who relayed to Contreras for the tag. The call by plate umpire Mark Carlson was upheld in a video review.

"I'm always confident that he is going to score from first base," Bregman said. "I saw the bobble and thought there was a chance. It was worth taking a shot right there.

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.