Cubs will feel the energy from a playoff push


Cubs will feel the energy from a playoff push

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs began the dog days of August only one game out of a playoff spot.

Cole Hamels or David Price didn’t walk through the doors of the visiting clubhouse at Miller Park, but at least the Cubs didn’t feel the same emotional letdown at the trade deadline. Those fire sales and all the roster churning could leave you looking around the room wondering: Wait, who’s that guy?

The Cubs can actually see the light at the end of the tunnel now, assuming a young group that can play down to bad teams maintains focus and doesn’t slam into the rookie wall.

“This is the tough month to get through,” manager Joe Maddon said before Saturday’s 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers. “You got to show up every day and play. Everybody gets a little bit fatigued, mentally and physically.”

[MORE: Miguel Montero’s future becoming unclear as Schwarber sticks with Cubs]

If the Cubs needed a boost, there was a sellout crowd and Matt “I’ll Pitch on the Freaking Moon” Garza on the mound. It also looks like Anthony Rizzo is heating up again, ready to carry the offense on his shoulders.

Rizzo blasted Garza’s 94 mph fastball out to right field in the third inning, a towering three-run homer that landed in the second deck. That shot gave Rizzo four home runs in his last four games – a four-game winning streak for the Cubs (56-47) – after the All-Star first baseman hit zero bombs between July 8 and July 28.

“I’ve been looking forward to August all year,” Rizzo said. “We’re home for a long time. It’s hot in Chicago. We know what can happen at Wrigley when it warms up. I’ve been saying that all along to everyone: We’re going to have a big August.”

Five pitches after Rizzo’s homer, Garza – an ex-Cub flipped during one of those deadline deals – hit Kris Bryant, drilling the All-Star around his elbow pad.

[RELATED: Why didn’t Theo Epstein make a splash at the trade deadline?]

“Garza’s not a headhunter,” said Maddon, who managed him on Tampa Bay’s 2008 World Series team. “That’s not his DNA. That’s how I knew him with the Rays. He was not the kind of guy that’s going to try to hit somebody. I think he was trying to pitch him inside.

“I really believe you know when something’s intentional or not. For us, nothing was intentional.”

A TV camera still caught Bryant smiling when Kyle Hendricks hit Ryan Braun with a 1-2 pitch just below the left shoulder while leading off the fourth inning. Braun wound up scoring the only run against Hendricks (5-5, 3.67 ERA), a young pitcher with pinpoint control acquired during one of those deadline deals.

Hendricks pitched into the eighth inning and walked off the mound to cheers from the Cubs fans standing on their feet in Milwaukee.

“We’re definitely confident,” Hendricks said. “The lineup’s coming around, guys are swinging it now. We’re keeping the runs off the board. The bullpen’s doing an unbelievable job.

“We feel really confident right now against whoever we play. Just got to keep that rolling through August and September.”

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans] 

Beginning Monday, the Cubs will get seven games in seven days against the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, the two National League teams ahead of them in wild-card positions. There will be nothing routine about that, no going through the motions.

“Once you get to September, if you’re in that hunt, you find the energy every day,” Maddon said. “It just shows up. The weather starts to break. It gets a little bit cooler. Plus, the idea that (you) know that you’re right there and you have this opportunity.

“Energy just happens. So this is the month that you have to manufacture it a little bit. That’s the big push for us.”


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.

Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound


Maddon gets funky with bullpen, calls catcher Chris Gimenez to mound

The Cubs continued their recent struggles, suffering their third straight loss to the Cincinnati Reds. 

But the game was not without its fair share of drama. The matchup was a back-and-forth affair, up until the Reds blew the game wide-open in the bottom of the third inning. This included a grand slam by Reds pitcher Anthony DeSclafani, the first home run of his career.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to the bullpen following Cincinnati's third inning explosion, and things did not get much better from there.

With the Cubs down six runs in the bottom of the eight inning, Maddon brought in catcher Chris Gimenez to pitch. 

This was not new territory for Gimenez, who despite being a catcher, now has 10 MLB pitching appearances to his name. 

Down six runs, Gimenez didn't have a lot to lose. But Reds first basemen Joey Votto hammered a fastball in the zone for his eighth homer of the year.

Gimenez had a career ERA of 8.00 before Saturday's appearance, and he certainly didn't do much to help lower that figure.

According to ESPN's Jesse Rogers: "Including one today, Cubs relievers have allowed 41.1 percent of inherited runners to score in June, sixth most in the NL." 

A tired bullpen is certainly cause for concern for the Cubs, who are locked into a battle in the NL Central with the Brewers and Cardinals. Maddon was surely hoping to keep his bullpen arms fresh with the move, seeing as the game was already out of reach. 

So yes, the game did end in a 11-2 win for the Reds. But with a grand-slam by a pitcher—on his first career HR no less—and four-seam fastballs from a catcher, Cubs baseball always keep things interesting.