Cubs

Cubs hope bullpen is finally coming together

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Cubs hope bullpen is finally coming together

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs bullpen hasn’t been as good as advertised, making manager Joe Maddon sound a little defensive at times and forcing Theo Epstein’s front office to rebuild on the fly.

But one takeaway from Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park is the hope this could be a confidence booster for a group that’s caused so much anxiety among Cubs fans on Twitter.

The Cubs pieced it together, with Maddon pulling Tsuyoshi Wada after 69 pitches and pushing the right buttons as five relievers combined to throw 4 1/3 scoreless innings.

Making his season debut after six rehab starts with Triple-A Iowa, Wada struck out the first four batters he faced and notched seven strikeouts the first time through San Diego’s lineup.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs could shake things up with Javier Baez and Kris Bryant]

Maddon is someone who likes to balance the numbers against his gut instincts. He didn’t hesitate in bringing in Justin Grimm and turning this game over to the bullpen with runners on first and second and two outs in the fifth inning of a one-run game.

“I’m more about the Cubs winning as opposed to any particular pitcher winning,” Maddon said. “You let him go for one more third of an inning, maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.”

Maddon sensed Wada felt a little winded after drawing a leadoff walk against Padres starter Tyson Ross in the fifth inning and scoring on Dexter Fowler’s triple into the right-field corner. When asked through an interpreter postgame, Wada couldn’t remember the last time he ran the bases like that, scratching his head and guessing nine or 10 years ago.

“I wasn’t tired or anything like that,” Wada said, “but the coaches and the manager are watching very closely. I think it was the right decision. The team won the game, so I was happy about it.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs need to step up their defensive game]

Wada had been a pleasant surprise last season, going 4-4 with a 3.25 ERA in 13 starts, but in a sense the Cubs also saw diminishing returns: Opponents hit .204 against the Japanese lefty the first time through the lineup, .255 through the second turn and .360 by the third at-bat.

Maddon also didn’t like the specific matchup of Wada against Derek Norris. Grimm — whose forearm injury exposed the bullpen in April — walked Norris before striking out Matt Kemp swinging with a curveball.

“I still think we’re just as good,” said Grimm, who has a 0.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings. “I know there’s been some outings that haven’t gone our way, but I’m confident in every single guy down there. They got the stuff to get people out.

“We’re only going to get stronger.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

A bullpen that was supposed to be a strength has already used 13 different relievers, posting a 4.20 ERA and blowing seven saves. The Cubs need to see more moments like this: Two runners on and Jason Motte blowing a high 97 mph fastball past Kemp to end the seventh inning.

“The bullpen’s going to be fine,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “We know they’re pretty good, and sometimes they’re trying a little bit too hard. They tried too hard to manufacture those extra strikeouts or those better sliders. And that’s when you got to back off a little bit.

“Just concentrate on making a good pitch rather than a nasty pitch. A good pitch is good enough. And right now, sometimes they just try to make that nasty pitch that is going to get them out of the jam. You’re forcing everything to happen rather than letting it happen.”

The Cubs are 22-17 and still waiting to really get rolling. It won’t happen if the bullpen doesn’t come together.

“A big part of our problem is we have not made good pitches out of the ‘pen when we needed to,” Maddon said. “That’s probably the No. 1 item that we have to clean up.

“And saying that, I like the arms and the people down there a lot. I think it’s already in-house. We just got to be better in different moments in regards to making pitches. But I think the guys that are down there are very capable of that.”

Report: Young girl struck by foul ball in Houston suffered fractured skull, seizures

Report: Young girl struck by foul ball in Houston suffered fractured skull, seizures

The young girl who was hit by a foul ball during the Astros-Cubs game last month suffered a skull fracture from the incident, according to the family's attorney.

Additionally, the girl also suffered subdural bleeding, brain contusions and brain edema. She also had a seizure and is currently on medication to prevent more, according to the attorney's office. 

The incident made national headlines back in late May, when a foul ball off the bat of Cubs' outfielder Albert Almora Jr. struck a small girl who was sitting on the third base side. 

"That's probably what sucked the most," Almora said after the game. "It's just the way life is. As soon as I hit it, the first person I locked eyes on was her.

"The rest was kind of a blur, the rest of that at-bat. I kind of came to my senses the next half inning when I went over to the stands."

Since then, several teams have committed to extending the protective netting all the way to the foul poles, with some as soon as this season. 

2019 MLB Power Rankings: It's almost time to get mad about All-Star snubs!

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USA Today

2019 MLB Power Rankings: It's almost time to get mad about All-Star snubs!

It's almost exactly halfway through the season, and if you've been following these rankings, you'll know the tiers have been set for some time now. As the All-Star break gets closer, it's the middle of the pack that has a big couple of weeks coming up. Looking at you, Pittsburgh or St. Louis or Cleveland or Texas or Oakland or Philly. Make something happen, or suffer the ultimate fate: falling an arbitrary number of spots in a MLB Power Ranking slideshow you're certainly not clicking through. There is no worse punishment. 

Want to see where your very good or very bad or maybe in the middle team ended up this week? To the rankings!

CLICK HERE FOR THE 2019 MLB POWER RANKINGS, PLEASE