Cubs

Cubs think Pedro Strop has turned a corner against the Cardinals

9-20-pedro-strop-cubs.png

Cubs think Pedro Strop has turned a corner against the Cardinals

If you were looking for Pedro Strop at Wrigley Field Sunday, you probably couldn't find him because he was at the beach.

Joe Maddon joked Saturday that Strop earned himself some time off at the beach because he's been working so hard lately ... and the Cubs manager was true to his word:

 

 

"Strop is not available," Maddon said Sunday. "He'll be at the beach."

Maddon and Strop's Cubs teammates carried the same sentiment: Break well deserved.

Strop had worked in four of five Cubs games prior to Sunday. He came in to stop the bleeding Saturday and put an end to the Cardinals' rally.

[MORE: Cubs make another statement Saturday win over Cardinals]

Strop picked up the save in the Cubs' fifth straight win, but the more important thing was who he did it against.

The Cardinals have had Strop's number this season, but he tossed back-to-back shutout innings against St. Louis in the first two games of the weekend series at Wrigley.

"My numbers against them have not been the greatest, but you know what? That's in the past," Strop said. "I'm always looking forward and hopefully I can just keep doing my thing against them and against other teams, too."

Strop came into the year with a career 1.64 ERA and 1.00 WHIP against the Cardinals, allowing just two earned runs in 11 innings.

He also started the 2015 campaign with 1.1 shutout innings against the Cubs' division rival, but then the wheels came off.

In seven outings against the Cardinals from May 4 through Sept. 9, Strop allowed nine earned runs on eight hits (including two homers) and five walks in only four innings.

Maddon doesn't know exactly why the Cardinals - in particular - gave Strop fits, but he acknowledged it may be mental.

"Some of it's been pitch selection and what he's throwing in different counts," Maddon said. "Stuff's always good. I think it's like anything else.

"I've talked about us having to learn how to win in St. Louis and Pittsburgh and feeling good about it, but there are times where a player will see a team with a uniform on and automatically do well - or sometimes not so well - against that team regardless of who's in the uniform."

[MORE - Joe Maddon, Cubs tirade-free after ejections against Cardinals]

Maddon also believes Strop has gotten over the hump against the NL Central leaders, thanks in large part to working out of Saturday's two-on, no-out jam.

"I just think he had to get through some negative mental thoughts and push beyond that," Maddon said. "What he did [Saturday] was spectacular. That was not easy to do.

"So you gotta give him a lot of credit. What he did [Saturday], that's the thing you're looking for moving forward, to really have him feel much better about pitching against this team."

Strop couldn't put his finger on why exactly the Cardinals owned him for four months this season, but he was sure to tip his cap to a St. Louis organization that has been tough on nearly every opposing pitcher the last 15 years or so.

The Cubs are going to need to rely on Strop in the postseason, whether that's in the one-game wild card playoff or a five/seven-game series.

If the Cubs do advance beyond the wild-card game, they'll likely have another showdown with St. Louis awaiting them.

Strop is a fiery guy, known for his fist pumps and primal shouts. He loves being in a pennant race.

"This is awesome," he said. "Anybody should want this, pitching in this kind of situation where you know everything counts for a reason.

"This team hasn't been in this situation in a long time and I'm so happy to be a part of it."

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

Kris Bryant's 'fatigued' shoulder looms over Cubs, but they insist there's no cause for concern

This obviously isn't where the Cubs or Kris Bryant wanted to be heading into the final week of the regular season.

Instead of talking about Bryant's level of play or the Cubs' second straight decisive win on the South Side, the 2016 NL MVP stood near his locker, entertaining more questions about his sore left shoulder while he watched Tiger Woods lock up a victory at the Tour Championship.

Bryant did not suit up for the Cubs Sunday, out with what his manager Joe Maddon called "fatigue." 

"His shoulder's just a little bit fatigued. Not hurting, just fatigued," Maddon said before the Cubs' 6-1 victory. "So you want to be proactive. You can wait 'til tomorrow [to give him a day off], but then if you wait 'til tomorrow and something were to happen today, I'd feel really badly about that. 

"So just talking to him, listening to him and his body, we're gonna give him today off."

Maddon later described Bryant's shoulder "fatigue" as a lack of strength given the superstar has missed essentially two months of action due to the injury.

Maddon acknowledged the Cubs may play things safe with Bryant and keep him out of the lineup Monday, too, but would leave that up to the player.

Bryant insisted he will be in the lineup, telling the group of reporters several times that he already told Maddon he would be ready to go for the first ame of the homestand Monday night at Wrigley Field.

The 26-year-old admitted he just needed a breather Sunday after appearing in every game since returning from the disabled list Sept. 1.

"I'm still kinda in the early stages — I've had 60-something at-bats, which is like a spring training load, I think," Bryant said. "I wouldn't say I'm feeling something — I was just tired from playing."

He said he and the Cubs are just trying to exercise caution to ensure his left shoulder doesn't get any worse with postseason baseball a week away.

"I haven't had any pain or any of that, which is great," Bryant said. "I just gotta stay on top of my shoulder program and stuff like that, which we're doing, so that's good."

Bryant said he hit in the cage and went through a normal pregame routine Sunday, but instead of trying to catch up to big league pitchers throwing in the mid 90s, he got to sit back and let his shoulder rest.

The only possible concern there may be more at play with Bryant's shoulder is the timing of Sunday's day off.

Maddon said he was going to be cautious with Bryant when he first got off the DL and make sure he got enough rest, but then Bryant played every inning but two in his first six games back, only receiving a day off on Sept. 7 because rain washed away the game at Nationals Park.

Of the Cubs' 13 games since the other rainout in Washington D.C. on Sept. 9, Bryant started and played the entire contest in 12 of those games (he came in in the seventh inning in the other).

Bryant has had to utilize that left shoudler quite a bit since beginning his rehab four weeks ago, but he also received a day of rest just two days ago, when the Cubs had their only off-day of the month. 

If Bryant is back in the lineup on Monday, then this is all a moot point. And at the moment, there's no need to think the sky is falling and the Cubs will be without Bryant at all moving forward.

In fact, exercising caution is the right move given the potential danger that any one swing could bring the pain back in that left shoulder.

The Cubs woke up Sunday morning with a 2.5-game lead in the division and will maintain that gap into the final week of the regular season. There's no point in pushing Bryant to exhaustion or risking injury at the moment.

But if and when he does return, what type of force will he be in the Cubs lineup?

Since returning, Bryant is slashing .275/.346/.406 (.752 OPS) with 1 homer, 6 doubles and 5 RBI in 69 at-bats. He's also struck out a whopping 27 times (including a pair of 4-whiff games) against only 6 walks.

A healthy and successful Bryant is vital to the Cubs' World Series hopes next month and it will be interesting to see how much his shoulder becomes a talking point around this team over the final seven games of the regular season.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

hendricks-923.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The timely emergence of the Kyles and a low level of concern about Kris (Bryant)

The Cubs reduced their magic number to five Sunday behind another stellar outing from Kyle Hendricks and a second straight game of encouraging offense from Kyle Schwarber. The emergence of the Kyles at the most critical point in the season should come as no surprise for two guys who have built their reputations as big-game performers, but what they’re doing right now is huge entering the final week of the season.

Meanwhile, Kris Bryant’s balky left shoulder is a talking point yet again. Is there any level of concern regarding the health of the Cubs superstar with October right around the corner? Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: