Cubs: Jon Lester sees losing streak as part of the rollercoaster


Cubs: Jon Lester sees losing streak as part of the rollercoaster

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs will have Jake Arrieta starring in “Sunday Night Baseball” at Dodger Stadium, their best hope to end this four-game losing streak and leave the West Coast with some stretch-run momentum.

Jon Lester couldn’t do it on Saturday night, cruising along until the Dodgers ambushed him in the seventh inning of a 5-2 loss that seemed to come out of nowhere.

If Lester (8-10, 3.59 ERA) and Arrieta (16-6, 2.22) starts aren’t must-wins at the end of August, those games are weighted differently with all the questions about the other 60 percent of the rotation, how that stresses the bullpen and what happens to a young lineup that is feeling the growing pains and hasn’t experienced a September like this before.

“The season’s a rollercoaster,” Lester said. “The good seasons are the ones that you’re able to minimize the ups and downs. You don’t want that rollercoaster falling off and going way down and then riding the high back up.

“If you can kind of keep it to where it’s just those little bumps and those little ups and downs – and minimize your losing streaks and maximize your winning streaks – that usually means at the end of the year you’re in a good place.”

[RELATED: Cubs will push Javier Baez in first wave of September call-ups]

Lester can explain the big picture, but he had a harder time dissecting what went wrong in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead against the bottom of the Los Angeles lineup.

The Dodgers knocked out four consecutive hits, tying the game with Jose Peraza’s first career double and taking the lead with Andre Ethier’s two-run single up the middle.

A crowd of 51,697 got loud. Lester walked off the mound toward the dugout with his head down and Jay-Z blasting from the stadium’s sound system.

“I have no idea,” said Lester, who was charged with five runs. “I don’t know if they changed their approach or what, but it seemed like they were more willing to take the ball the other way that last inning. I guess we did a bad job of recognizing that (fast enough). I usually don’t watch (video) when I’m done pitching, but I went back and watched it. I was making pitches.

“I had really good location on my heater, both sides of the plate. Good cutter. Probably the best changeup I’ve had all year. At the end of the day, it’s a waste.”

[MORE: How close was Chase Utley to becoming a Cub?]

Lester threw to Miguel Montero with personal catcher David Ross on the family medical emergency list, and there are definitely issues with the $155 million lefty trying to control the running game, stuff that matters in October.

But look at the offense: After getting schooled by Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw, the Cubs needed a Mat Latos balk to score one of their two runs.

For more than $300 million, the Dodgers don’t have much of a pitching staff beyond Kershaw, Zack Greinke and closer Kenley Jansen, but the Cubs couldn’t capitalize.

Los Angeles reliever Jim Johnson loaded the bases in the eighth by hitting Kris Bryant and Montero back-to-back before getting Addison Russell to ground into an inning-ending double play. The Cubs (73-55) finished with 11 strikeouts, going 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position and leaving nine men on base.

“It’s nothing to worry about,” Montero said. “You’re playing good teams. Unfortunately, we haven’t had that big hit to kind of get us (started). We’ve had chances, but we haven’t got that big knock to get a couple runners in.

“It puts a lot of pressure on the pitcher and the catcher. You can’t really make a mistake.”

At least from a second-wild-card point of view, the Cubs didn’t lose any ground against the San Francisco Giants, who are still 4.5 games back with their 6-0 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals.

“If your players don’t care, if your players don’t show up, if your players don’t play hard, then you become disappointed,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Our guys care and they’re good and we’ll be fine.”

With trade deadline approaching, Cubs know they can't rely on Yu Darvish

With trade deadline approaching, Cubs know they can't rely on Yu Darvish

Sunday began like most days have around the Cubs recently: No update on Yu Darvish.

But while the skies opened up over Wrigley Field about 90 minutes before game time, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sat in the third-base dugout and spoke candidly about where Darvish is at currently and how much the Cubs can count on him during the stretch run.

Darvish threw from flat ground — 135 feet — Sunday morning and Epstein said it was "his best day in a long time. He threw really well and felt really good."

Still, there is no specific timetable for when Darvish may be back on the Wrigley Field mound, facing live hitters in a game that matters.

The next step for Darvish will be throwing off a mound, but the Cubs aren't yet talking about where or when the 31-year-old pitcher will go on a rehab assignment.

With the non-waiver trade deadline approaching in just over a week, Epstein and the Cubs know they can't simply project Darvish into the September — or October — rotation.

"I think just making an educated guess," Epstein said. "You can't be overly reliant on somebody who hasn't been able to stay healthy and perform this year. At the same time, you track the rehab closely because you know you have to try to anticipate what he might be able to give you.

"...If you put yourself in a position where you're overly reliant on something that hasn't been dependable up to this point and then it doesn't come through, it's probably more on you than on the fates."

Darvish has accounted for only 40 innings for the Cubs this season and hasn't pitched since May 20. He made it through 5 innings just three times in his eight starts on the campaign.

This is the second DL stint for Darvish this season. He had a bout of the flu in early May and then initially went back on the shelf over Memorial Day Weekend with a triceps issue. The triceps strain has morphed into an elbow impingement after Darvish made a rehab start with Class-A South Bend and he received a cortisone shot in the elbow in late June.

Mike Montgomery has taken Darvish's place in the Cubs rotation and the southpaw has had a lot of success in the role with a 3.02 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 10 starts, averaging nearly 6 innings a start.

Of course, Montgomery's insertion into the rotation has left a bit of a hole in the bullpen as the Cubs have been without their top long man and down one reliable left-handed option.

The long relief role was filled last week with the trade for Jesse Chavez, but the Cubs could probably still use another lefty in the bullpen with Justin Wilson's control issues, Brian Duensing's struggles and Randy Rosario's relative inexperience and worrisome peripheral numbers.

Whether the Cubs will acquire another starting pitcher before the trade deadline is unknown. Epstein's front office knows they need more pitching and understands it's much harder to acquire arms after July 31 than before.

But with Montgomery already filling the last spot in the rotation, Drew Smyly on the comeback trail from Tommy John surgery while being stretched out as a starter and now Chavez in town, the Cubs have some veteran starting pitching depth beyond the inexperienced Luke Farrell and Duane Underwood Jr.

The starting pitching market is relatively thin at the moment in terms of arms a team like the Cubs could acquire and plug into a potential playoff rotation. And that's saying nothing of the pieces it would require to pull off such a move, as the Cubs don't have the elite-level prospects they once had to acquire Aroldis Chapman and Jose Quintana the past two summers.

But with Darvish's status unknown and Tyler Chatwood currently boasting more walks than strikeouts through 18 starts, the Cubs aren't exactly sleeping easy at night trying to project their October rotation.

Epstein acknowledged the front office is focused primarily on pitching ahead of the deadline and though it may be tougher to make those big-name deals compared to years past, that doesn't necessarily take the Cubs out of the running on the impact guys.

Still, don't expect Jacob deGrom or Chris Archer to be walking through that door anytime soon.

"I think we're in a more difficult position to do so. I don't think it's impossible," Epstein said. "But certain years lend themselves to being able to participate in more hands. Other years, because of the way your prospects are performing or because of your desire to keep growing the farm system or just the nature of what's available and how much you need, you have to be more selective.

"I think we're hopefully pursuing a lot of different things, but I think in terms of what's realistic for us, we have to be a little bit more targeted, more selective and a little more opportunistic. And that's fine. Sometimes those end up being the best deals. The Chavez deal is an example of that. He's probably not a name anyone had mentioned at all. We think he's a really good fit for us.

"So that's [an example of] the kind of stuff we're looking to do. While participating in everything else, but knowing that most of the stuff we talked about we won't be able to get done."

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

Cubs fight back after Javy Baez ejection: 'We're not animals'

If baseball wants stars that transcend the game, they need guys like Javy Baez on the field MORE, not less.

That whole debate and baseball's marketing campaign isn't the issue the Cubs took exception with, but it's still a fair point on a nationally-televised Saturday night game between the Cubs and Cardinals at Wrigley Field.

Baez was ejected from the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when he threw his bat and helmet in frustration at home plate umpire Will Little's call that the Cubs second baseman did NOT check his swing and, in fact, went around. 

Baez was initially upset that Little made the call himself instead of deferring to first base umpire Ted Barrett for a better view. But as things escalated, Baez threw his bat and helmet and was promptly thrown out of the game by Little.

"I don't think I said anything to disrespect anything or anyone," Baez said after the Cubs' 6-3 loss. "It was a pretty close call. I only asked for him to check the umpire at first and he didn't say anything.

"I threw my helmet and he just threw me out from there. I mean, no reason. I guess for my helmet, but that doesn't have anything to do with him."

Baez and the Cubs would've rather Little check with the umpire who had a better view down the line, but that wasn't even the main point of contention. It was how quickly Little escalated to ejection.

"We're all human," Baez said. "One way or the other, it was gonna be the wrong [call] for one of the teams.

"My message? We're not animals. Sometimes we ask where was a pitch or if it was a strike and it's not always offending them. I think we can talk things out. But I don't think there was anything there to be ejected."

Upon seeing his second baseman and cleanup hitter ejected in the middle of a 1-0 game against a division rival, Joe Maddon immediately got fired up and in Little's face in a hurry.

Maddon was later ejected, as well, and admitted after the game he was never going to leave the field unless he was tossed for protecting his guy.

"He had no reason to kick him out," Maddon said. "He didn't say anything to him. I mean, I watched the video. If you throw stuff, that's a fine. That's fineable. Fine him. That's what I said — fine him — but you cannot kick him out right there.

"He did nothing to be kicked out of that game. He did throw his stuff, whatever, but he did not say anything derogatory towards the umpire.

"...You don't kick Javy out. If he gets in your face and is obnoxious or belligerent or whatever, but he did not. He turned his back to him. That needs to be addressed, on both ends."

Maddon and the Cubs really want Major League Baseball to get involved in this situation. 

There are many other layers to the issue, including veteran Ben Zobrist having to come into the game as Baez's replacement. Maddon was not keen on using the 37-year-old Zobrist for 1.5 games during Saturday's doubleheader and now feels like he has to rest the veteran Sunday to lessen the wear and tear of a difficult stretch for the team.

There's also the matter of the groundball basehit in the eighth inning that tied the game — a seeing-eye single that just got past Zobrist as he dove to his left. It tied the game at 3 and the Cardinals took the lead for good the following inning.

Does Baez make that same play if he were out there instead of Zobrist? It's certainly possible.

"The dynamic of our defense was lessened by [the ejection]," Maddon said. "Again, listen, if it's deserved, I'm good. It was not. They don't need me out there, we need Javy out there.

"And it surprised me. I stand by what I'm saying. It was inappropriate. MLB needs to say something to us that it was inappropriate because it was and it could've led to the loss of that game."