Cubs

Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

rizzocubslose050215.png

Cubs offense hits rough patch in loss to Brewers

It was a picture-perfect day at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs still walked away with a bad taste in their mouths.

The Cubs (13-9) offense managed just one run and five hits as they lost to the Brewers 6-1 in front of 34,878 fans at Wrigley Field.

In addition to the 70-degree weather and sun-soaked forecast, it was also the first time the wind was blowing out for a game this season at the corner of Clark and Addison.

But the Brewers (6-18) were the only team to truly take advantage of the conditions, as Ryan Braun hit a two-run homer in the first inning off Cubs starter Jake Arrieta. Milwaukee added another pair of runs in the second off a couple of balls just out of the reach of Cubs defenders.

"Just wasn't very good today," Arrieta said. "Plain and simple, didn't do a good enough job. We need more out of our starter and didn't give us the effort that I intended to today."

On one play in the second inning, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell collided in shallow right field attempting to catch Carlos Gomez's looping pop-up, which wound up falling for a hit, leading to the first run. Both players were shaken up on the play, but stayed in the game.

"It was really just awkward from the dugout," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Got out there and neither one seemed to be in trouble, so obviously felt good about that. We're just fortunate it wasn't worse than it looked."

The Brewers got their sixth run in the ninth inning when Starlin Castro made a throwing error to first base and even though no one had covered third base, Rizzo turned and threw it anyways, allowing Logan Schafer to circle the bags on what started as a weak ground ball to shortstop.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Rizzo provided the only offense for the Cubs with a solo shot to center in the sixth inning.

Jorge Soler and Miguel Montero started off the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, with singles, but the Cubs weren't able to do anything after that.

Beyond that, the only other hits were singles off the bats of Chris Denorfia and Russell.

"The home run early on by Braun really set the tone for them," Maddon said. "And we were just unable to answer anything. Their guy pitched really well. [Fiers] was good today."

The day started promising for the Cubs as two of the first three batters - Soler and Rizzo - worked walks from Brewers starter Mike Fiers, but Fiers then came back to strike out Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero as part of a stretch where he retired 12 Cubs in a row.

Fiers struck out 12 batters in his six innings and the Cubs struck out 18 times as a whole on the afternoon. Maddon attributed the high strikeout total to Fiers' location.

"I just think he was throwing the ball where he wanted to," Maddon said.

The Cubs have now scored just three runs in the last 30 innings dating back to Tuesday.

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Double the fun: Cole Hamels, Cubs defense make history

Cole Hamels' dominant start to his Cubs career continued on Friday in stellar fashion, and with some considerable help from his infield.

The 34-year-old veteran not only pitched seven innings of five-hit ball without allowing a run, but induced five ground ball double plays. The Cubs finished with a staggering seven double plays in a 1-0 win at the Pirates on Friday.

The last time the Cubs turned five double plays was in 1985. 

All five hits Hamels gave up were groundball singles. The 16 groundballs induced is the most for a Cubs pitcher this year.

After Hamels exited after seven innings, the Cubs got double plays in the eighth, on a line drive double play with Jorge De La Rosa on the mound, and ninth, on a groundball induced by Jesse Chavez to end the game.

Hamels was initially brought in to provide depth to a struggling rotation and ease the pain of Yu Darvish being unavailable. But Hamels has now started an honest debate over who should be the Cubs' starter in Game 1 of the postseason. He has been otherworldly since joining the Cubs, with an 0.72 ERA, three wins and one no-decision (the Cubs won and he had nine strikeouts). 

The 1-0 win over the Pirates gives the Cubs more breathing room in the NL Central. The St. Louis Cardinals beat the Milwaukee Brewers on Friday, pushing the Cubs lead to 4.5 games in the division.

And the Hamels hot-streak comes at an excellent time for the North Siders, who took in Jon Lester's gem of an outing on Thursday, where he went six innings with no earned runs and eight strikeouts in a win against the Pirates. The Cubs starting pitching seems to be turning the corner, and with three straight series against sub-.500 teams following their series in Pittsburgh, this could be the beginning of a great run of outings that carries the Cubs confidently into the postseason.

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

A stellar Jon Lester outing gives the Cubs more than just a win

It's been a tale of two halves for the Cubs veteran Jon Lester, who after a sparkling first half of baseball that saw him win 12 games with a 2.58 ERA, has looked nothing like a 2018 All-Star. Prior to Thursday's start, Lester had posted a 10.32 ERA, allowed 4 or more runs in 4 of his 5 most recent starts, and had yet to win a game in the second of the season. 

The 34-year-old veteran flipped the script Thursday night, throwing 6-shutout innings while striking out 8 Pirate batters in the Cubs 1-0 win in Pittsburgh. Lester surrendered only 5 hits and baffled the Pirates all-night, finally busting out of his slump and giving the Cubs his 2nd quality start since the All-Star break. 

Lester attacked the bottom portion of the strike zone all night with his fastball, which topped out at 93 mph, generating 4 whiffs with his heater. Over the last month, Lester has said he's felt he can't quite execute his "out" pitches, explaining that when he has a hitter set up for a strikeout he hasn't been able to throw the ball effectively in those moments. 

And while Lester walked off the mound after the 6th inning amassing 8 punch outs, the veteran starter never looked like he was trying to strike out batters. He just continued to dot the corners, occasionally raise the eye-level of the batter with an elevated heater, and threw his secondary pitches just enough to keep the Pittsburgh batters uncomfortable at the plate. 

The Cubs offense once again struggled, facing Ivan Nova who has won four his last five starts against the Cubs, but Ian Happ's solo shot in the 4th inning was enough run support for Lester to push the Cubs to 20 games over .500. But the biggest takeaway from Thursday night's win isn't that the Cubs came out on top, it's that Jon Lester returning to form gives this Chicago rotation something they've lacked seemingly this entire season. 

Stability at the front of the rotation. 

With Cole Hamels impressive three starts in a Cub uniform and Kyle Hendricks finally figuring out his issues on the mound, if Jon Lester can replicate Thursday's performance throughout the rest of the season, the Cubs rotation may finally turn into the strength many thought it could be before the season started. At the very least, Lester showed that whatever he's been working through over the last month of baseball is fixable. 

It's only one start in a string of poor outings for Lester, and while The Athletic's Sahadev Sharma did find some positives in his starts prior to Thursday's big win, Lester will have to show he can maintain this level of pitching through the remainder of this season. But I think our own Tony Andracki put it best tonight on Twitter. 

With the Cubs pitchers finally starting to perform to their expected level, and the return of Yu Darvish looking closer each day, it could be the Cubs starting pitching that carries through the rest of the season.