Cubs

Cubs keep wearing down opposing pitching in fifth straight win

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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."

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Can Jon Lester get out of his slump?

David Haugh, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00- The Cubs winning streak is over as Jon Lester's struggles continue. Should fans be worried that he can't get out of this slump? Would he be a playoff starter right now?

8:40- The White Sox rebuild continues as Rick Hahn says fans might have to wait until next spring to see whether or not they'll be contenders. Is next year too early to compete?

15:00- The Bears backups get ready to face the Colts backups Saturday night. Is there any reason to have the preseason at all?

18:30- Mitch Trubisky's preseason is over. So is he ready for Week 1?

20:00- College football is back. The panel give their picks for Florida vs Miami in the Fanduel Friday Faves.

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

Cubs rallying behind Jon Lester after another tough outing

There are three ways to look at the Cubs' 9-3 loss Friday:

1) Jon Lester had another rough outing and the sun is starting to set on his career as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

2) Lester gave up some hard contact, but also had some tough luck and pitched better than his final line indicated.

3) Meh.

To be honest, each of the three perspectives has an element of truth to it, but the third one is probably the main way to look at it as the Cubs tasted defeat for the first time in a week.

No, the team did not play well, but it went far beyond Lester.

The Nationals didn't get into town until the wee hours of Friday morning, yet it was the Cubs who looked sluggish Friday. They managed only two baserunners - a single and a walk - until the ninth inning when they put together a too-little-too-late rally thanks to some shoddy Washington fielding.

But even if the offense did come to play, the game was out of hand by the fifth inning, when Lester and Pedro Strop combined to allow 3 runs, extending Washington's lead to 7-0.

Lester was charged with 6 runs on 9 hits and a walk over 4.1 innings, but 8 of those 9 hits were singles. The only extra-base knock off the Cubs southpaw was Adam Eaton's line drive home run in the first inning that he smacked into the 18 mph wind howling in off the lake.

Of the singles, a couple were hard ground balls knocked down by Cubs infielders and one was a perfectly executed bunt by pitcher Anibal Sanchez with two strikes that the Cubs had no choice but to hope it would roll foul. At that point in the fourth inning, the score was only 3-0, but the Cubs' misfortune seemed to open the door for the Nationals.

"I'm telling you, I don't think he was that bad today," Maddon said. "We were a little bit unlucky with him. ... Outside of that last inning when they squared him up, I thought he actually threw the ball decently.

"I think he's gonna be fine. He will find a way to get himself back into the picture in the right way. There's a lot of time left with the playoffs, etc., so I'm counting on it. I believe in Jon."

Beyond the tough luck, the Nationals hit five balls more than 100 mph off Lester, including a 108.5 mph single on the final batter (Juan Soto) he faced in the fifth inning.

After the game, Lester couldn't do much but shrug and accept responsibility for the loss.

"I feel fine," he said. "Today sucks. Tomorrow, I'll wake up and start a new day and get ready for another start. That doesn't take the sting away from today. Joe's always said, 'you win hard, you lose hard' and losing for me is even harder than that. Sucking as a pitcher is even harder than that.

"It's my job to do better and I'm not. I let a five-game winning streak basically go by the wayside because I didn't throw the ball very well. It's frustrating, but tomorrow starts a new day and move on to the next one."

Friday's game marks the fifth time this season Lester has allowed at least 6 runs in an outing. This was his 25th start of 2019, so that means 20 percent of his appearances have resulted in putting his team in a major hole.

"I think we're getting to the point where you can't isolate [the rough games]," Lester said. "They're happening a little bit too much for myself. I felt pretty good about myself after the last one, just being able to continually execute pitches. I don't feel like stuff was much different than last time, just different results and that's the shitty part about this game and my job - it's results driven and it doesn't matter how I feel or what the gameplan was going in.

"You have to execute and get people out and keep them from scoring runs and I'm just not doing that."

Lester started the five-game winning streak for the Cubs with a performance befitting true "ace" or "stopper" status. After a pair of disheartening bullpen meltdowns, he took the ball last Saturday and shut out the Pirates through 6 innings, battling despite not having his best stuff (5 walks).

But even including that start in Pittsburgh, Lester has now allowed 23 earned runs in 24.1 innings in five starts in August.

For a 35-year-old with three World Series rings and a long track record of pitching well when the lights are the brightest, he isn't where he wants to be as September approaches in a tight playoff race.

"Better than this," he said. "Usually this is the time of year where I pitch a lot better than I have been. For whatever reason, I haven't hit that stride. I usually have ups and downs to every season, but usually more ups than downs.

"Right now, it's just continuing to go down. The old saying - one step forward, two steps back - is kinda what I'm doing right now. The positive is I physically feel fine. Can't blame it on that. Just have to be better. Tomorrow's a new day, prepare for the next one."

Even with the recent struggles, Kyle Schwarber said Lester is still the guy the Cubs would want to give the ball to in Game 1 of a playoff series.

"He'll bounce back," Schwarber said. "He knows how to handle himself really well. He's a leader out there and we always have his back."

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