Cubs keep wearing down opposing pitching in fifth straight win


Cubs keep wearing down opposing pitching in fifth straight win

The Cubs' homegrown, American League-style lineup flexed its muscles once again.

The Cubs (63-48) ate away at the Milwaukee Brewers (48-66) pitching staff Tuesday, taking down their division rivals, 6-3, in front of 37,109 fans at Wrigley Field for the series opener. It was Chicago's fifth straight win and 11th in the last 12 games.

The Cubs lead Major League Baseball in pitches per plate appearance and continued their assault on opposing starting pitchers, chasing Brewers starter Taylor Jungmann after just 2.2 innings and forcing the rookie to throw 81 pitches.

It was the eighth straight game in which the opposing pitcher has failed to get through six innings against this Cubs lineup.

"I love the tenacity of the at-bat," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's what I've been talking about. It continues to get better.

"I was really pleased with our whole approach to the game after a day off. ... I like those little moments that are occurring right now where guys are showing up and they're ready to play."

[MORE: Moving to second base, Cubs won't force the issue with Castro]

The Cubs worked seven walks on the evening as they saw 186 pitches in their eight innings on offense.

"It's just a matter of us grinding at-bats and grinding through the season," Anthony Rizzo said. "Hitting is very contagious, so it's kinda just passing that back to the next guy.

"The beauty of our lineup is we have a pretty lengthy lineup there where any given guy can do it."

This game had all the makings of a blowout early, as the Cubs scored three times in the second inning, once in the fourth and two more times in the fifth, aided by three Brewers errors and seven free passes (six walks, one HBP).

But that was it for the Cubs offense while the Brewers chipped away with a solo run in the fourth and then an Adam Lind two-run homer in the sixth off Cubs starter Dan Haren.

Haren was pulled two batters later, but still got the win - his first as a Cub and 150th of his career - as the Cubs bullpen shut the door the rest of the way.

"I put pretty much all personal things aside," Haren said. "I got a few weeks left here and I really do wanna do the best I can for the team. I've been so impressed in the first 10 days or so with the overall vibe in the clubhouse."

Haren also said he's been shocked by how much the Cubs offense has grown since pitched against them - and beat them - June 3 in Miami.

In that game, Haren threw only 88 pitches in 5.2 innings against a Cubs lineup that had no Jorge Soler (disabled list) or Kyle Schwarber (still in the minors).

"I see a complete difference," Haren said. "Facing them this year, they were a really aggressive team."

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

Starlin Castro finally got into a game for the Cubs after being benched for the last three contests, appearing at second base for the first time in his big-league career and popping out to first in his only at-bat in the eighth inning. He also made a highlight-reel catch in foul territory down the right field line in the ninth inning.

"I thought [that play] was great," Maddon said. "His attitude has been fabulous. To make that among the bullpen with the crap on the ground and guys flying all over the place and there's no room left and it's at night, it's different.

"That was a spectacular play right there."

Castro's play helped seal the victory for the Cubs, who moved to 15 games over .500, something of a benchmark for any team, let alone a young team featuring four rookies in the everyday lineup.

The Cubs allowed themselves to enjoy the nice checkpoint, but also warned that it's too early to scoreboard-watch.

"Keep it rolling," Maddon said. "The next goal is 20. Really proud of our guys and the way they're going about our business."

"It means a lot," Rizzo said, "but we gotta keep winning. All these wins build up, build our confidence, build the character of this team, helps all of us out."

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.