Cubs

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

“Games like this is what we need right now – competition,” said Baez, who struck out in his first three at-bats and finished at 2-for-5. “Playing tight games like this will make us make adjustments better and be more in the game.”

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured their next run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save and then summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t work with a five-run cushion.

In a dramatic finish, Davis survived giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with a curveball to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes.

“To play so well and not win that game would have really been awful,” Maddon said.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “If this was a spring training lineup, we might get a call.”

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

One more injury or a positive COVID-19 test within the starting rotation, and the Cubs will be in trouble.

Jose Quintana’s thumb injury, which is expected to keep him from throwing for two weeks, called to attention just how precarious the future of every team is this season.

"We had some concerns about our starting pitching depth,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “A freak injury further challenges us in that area, and we have to respond."

 

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Starting pitching is a particularly vulnerable area in general. COVID-19 can affect anyone, even a team’s ace. More reports of positive COVID-19 tests are bound to trickle out now that teams are beginning workouts Friday. And with a three-week Summer Camp expediting the ramp-up process, risk of soft-tissue injury becomes a concern for pitchers in particular.

Add into the mix a microscopic surgery on a lacerated nerve in Quintana’s left thumb – the Cubs announced on Thursday that he suffered the injury while washing dishes – and the Cubs are beginning Summer Camp already shorthanded.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Epstein said. “This this is a bump in the road that we just have to overcome.”

The baseball season could be cancelled for any number of reasons, safety as judged by the league and government officials being the most important. But MLB also has the power to suspend or cancel the season if the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.

What that means isn’t for Epstein to decide, but he declined to give an opinion on the topic Thursday.

“My understanding of what the standards would be don’t necessarily matter,” Epstein said. “It’s a question for the league. I hope we never get in that situation.”

Injuries always have the power to alter a season. But that’s even more so the case during a 60-game season. At best, Quintana’s injury could delay him a several weeks. At worst, even just a three-month recovery time would wipe out his entire season.

For now, the plan is to replace Quintana with someone like Alec Mills. Assuming Mills does win the starting job, that takes him out of his role as a middle reliever, a bullpen spot Cubs manager David Ross emphasized earlier in the week.

“It’ll be really unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the shoot,” Ross said on Monday. “That may be a bit of a challenge. … The real important areas for me right now is that swingman, your Alec Mills-types that can give you two or three innings ang get to the back end of the bullpen. Those middle innings if guys aren’t stretched out enough are going to be vitally important.”

The ripple effects from Quintana’s injury aren’t nearly enough to undermine the competitive integrity of the season. But what if several teams have their starting pitching depth dramatically affected by COVID-19? What if those teams include the Dodgers and the Yankees?

Now that MLB has started ramping up for the 2020 season, it’s incentivized to keep the season running. But as the Cubs learned this week, just one dish-washing accident can alter a team’s 2020 outlook.

 

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2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

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USA TODAY

2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

Major League Baseball announced Friday they've canceled the 2020 All Star Game, which was scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

The Braves are scheduled to host the 2021 Midsummer Classic, so MLB awarded the Dodgers the 2022 game.

"Based on the health circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic that are beyond MLB’s control along with governmental directives prohibiting large gatherings, the league determined it is unable to conduct the All-Star Game and its week of surrounding fan activities this year," MLB said in a statement.

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“Once it became clear we were unable to hold this year’s All-Star festivities, we wanted to award the Dodgers with the next available All-Star Game, which is 2022,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.  “I want to thank the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles for being collaborative partners in the early stages of All-Star preparation and for being patient and understanding in navigating the uncertainty created by the pandemic.  

"The 2022 All-Star celebration promises to be a memorable one with events throughout the city and at picturesque Dodger Stadium.”

California has seen a 92 percent increase in COVID-19 cases this week compared to two weeks ago.

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