Cubs' struggles continue vs. Brewers with another loss

Cubs' struggles continue vs. Brewers with another loss

MILWAUKEE — Brewers catcher Martin Maldonado let out a scream and pumped his fist. If you didn't know any better, you'd think this was a playoff game in mid-October.

Instead, it was just a mid-May game in which the rebuilding Brewers again took down baseball's best team with a 5-3 win over the Cubs at Miller Park.

Maldonado's eighth inning reaction after Jorge Soler struck out with two runners in scoring position embodied how teams with no plans for the playoffs will still give the Cubs everything they've got.

In a way, this is the Brewers' October — playing a division rival that boasts the best record in baseball for three games in front of their home fans.

Even with Dexter Fowler's leadoff homer and Miguel Montero's second-inning RBI single Thursday, the Cubs still led for less than three innings total in the series against a team six games under .500.

Jason Hammel got the start for the Cubs and looked on track for another quality start before Kirk Nieuwenhuis deposited a ball off the facing of the right-field bleachers for a two-run shot in the sixth inning.

It was the second homer Hammel surrendered on the afternoon, following a monster blast from Chris Carter in the fourth that was clocked at 115 mph off the bat.

"For whatever reason, I just couldn't bury sliders on those pitches and that put us behind," Hammel said. "It's hard to fight from behind.

"You have to continue to push forward. It's disappointing, obviously, to come here and lose two of three, but you move on to the next game."

Hammel finished with four runs on five hits and two walks in six innings, striking out seven. It is the only start in which he's allowed more than three earned runs this season, watching his ERA jump from 1.77 to 2.31.

"Unfortunately, we made a couple bad pitches and they were able to hit it to where nobody actually plays," Montero said. "Other than that, he threw the ball good. Unfortunately, today was a tough game."

On the other side, Brewers starter Junior Guerra struck out 11 Cubs in seven innings, including Addison Russell on all three matchups.

"We haven't been swinging and missing like that in a bit, so you gotta give them credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He had a really good splitter goin' on.

"They just beat us. We had opportunities and we could not cash in."

Guerra gifted the Cubs their third run in the seventh when he threw a wild pitch to score Montero from third base with two outs.

The high-powered Cubs offense that came into Thursday's game leading the National League in runs scored couldn't do much with the Milwaukee pitching staff in the series, scoring five runs off little-known starters Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson and Guerra in 23 combined innings.

Things got a little interesting for the Cubs in the ninth inning when Addison Russell and Montero led off with back-to-back walks. But Javy Baez struck out swinging, Dexter Fowler flew out to the wall in right field and Jason Heyward struck out.

The Cubs continue on their road trip, now heading to San Francisco for a matchup with the Giants after escaping Milwaukee with just one win.

"It was a well-played series," Hammel said. "They pitched pretty well against us. Obviously three tight ballgames.

"You can't win all of them."

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do," Hoyer said. "We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate in the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 


Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."