Cubs will find out how they measure up to Giants dynasty


Cubs will find out how they measure up to Giants dynasty

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs are about to find out how they measure up to the dynasty that produced three World Series titles within the last five seasons.

The San Francisco Giants did it with their pitching-and-defense formula, some clutch hitting and the guts to win 34 playoff games since 2010. Their front office also had a knack for identifying and acquiring the right players at the trade deadline.

The Cubs didn’t get great pitching from Dan Haren or the bullpen or airtight infield defense during Wednesday night’s 7-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. A young team didn’t play with razor-sharp focus, ending a six-game winning streak and making the kind of mistakes that kill you in October.

The Giants will be the next test as the Cubs open a four-game series against the defending World Series champions on Thursday night at Wrigley Field, beginning a stretch of 19 consecutive days in Chicago, where the buzz around the team keeps building.

[MORE CUBS: Are Cubs trying to phase out Starlin Castro as everyday shortstop?]

“I can’t wait to see what Wrigley is like this weekend with the series we got coming up,” said Anthony Rizzo, who went 12-for-23 with four homers and 10 RBIs during this six-game road trip. “I feel like (with) every win we’ve had there, it’s just really getting louder and louder. I expect no different this weekend.”

The Cubs (58-48) didn’t see Haren as their first choice or a long-term solution. But Haren has a bulldog reputation, and the Cubs needed someone to keep them in games, preventing the fifth-starter spot from becoming a black hole.

Haren — acquired from the Miami Marlins in the final hours before the July 31 deadline — watched Gregory Polanco drill his fourth pitch in a Cubs uniform out to the right-field seats for a leadoff homer.

Andrew McCutchen hammered another Haren pitch that bounced off the green batter’s eye in center field in the third inning. But that will happen when your Twitter handle is @ithrow88.

“I’m glad that’s out of the way,” said Haren, who lasted five innings and gave up four runs, three earned in a no-decision. “I’ve got to obviously be a lot better than that to help this team. It’s over and done with.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs put Rafael Soriano on DL, add Clayton Richard to bullpen]

Haren needs his defense to make plays behind him. Kris Bryant’s fielding error extended the first inning when a groundball bounced off the third baseman’s glove.

The Cubs had put on a shift in the fifth inning when Bryant and Starlin Castro got crossed up on another ball hit to the left side of the infield, allowing a chopper to skip past them to make it a 4-1 game.

“I think Kris will tell you he probably should have gotten it,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s the first guy across. That’s the guy that normally is going to get it, and the shortstop normally backs up.

“I think there was confusion based on the alignment. Sometimes, they’re just not used to it. The ball was hit at a speed and in a spot that just messed them up. Our young guys will get it right. But this was one of those moments that was very awkward.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Pirates (62-44) would be in position to host the wild-card game if the season ended tomorrow. The Giants (59-48) moved to a half-game ahead of the Cubs in the race for the second wild card with their 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field.

It should be a wild weekend in Wrigleyville.

“It’s obviously important to find your stride at this point of the season,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “We need to keep it rolling as long as we can, because we know that the Cardinals aren’t slowing down and (the Pirates) aren’t either.

“It’s our job to just continue to put the pressure on ‘em — and let ‘em know we’re coming.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Schwarber, Baez on night to remember at the Home Run Derby

Cubs Talk Podcast: Schwarber, Baez on night to remember at the Home Run Derby

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull spoke with Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber after an electric and entertaining Home Run Derby in Washington D.C.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Who Knew? Cubs at the All-Star Break

Who Knew? Cubs at the All-Star Break

With a break in the action, let’s take a look at the season so far.

Today, I’ll focus on the first 57.4% of the Cubs’ 2018 season. Which is to say, the 93 games before the All-Star Break. Clearly more than “half.”

In all seasons with an All-Star Game (1933-present, minus 1945)

This is the fifth time the Cubs have had the National League’s best record at the All-Star Break.

Here is the entire list (note – 2016 is NOT on this list. They trailed the Giants by 3 games at the Break in 2016):

1937 44-25 +2.0
1969 61-37 +5.0
2001 51-35 +0.5
2008 57-38 +4.5
2018 55-38 +2.5

Which is incredible since:

• Anthony Rizzo has a wRC+ of 100, which is league average

(he was at 131 – 31% better than league average - through the All-Star break last season)

• Kris Bryant has missed 23 games and has only 10 home runs

• The Cubs as a team have 30 fewer Home Runs through 93 games than they did last season

(100 this season, 130 last season)

• The Cubs have had six pitchers make 8 or more starts this season and only one (Jon Lester – 2.58) has an ERA under 3.90

• Cubs pitching has an MLBhigh walk percentage of 11.0%

(Tyler Chatwood’s 9 starts with 5 or more walks is most in a season by a Cubs pitcher since Dick Drott’s 13 in 1957)

• Cubs have outscored their opponents by only one run in the first inning (5251)

This includes being outscored 18-13 in the first inning in Kyle Hendricks’ 19 starts

• Cubs are 57 against the Reds

(they were 27-11 against Cincinnati in 2016-17)

That being said, it's not so incredible since...

• The Cubs have scored at least 10 runs 15 times this season. No other team has done it more than 12 times.

• Jason Heyward has a wRC+ of 109 (he’s 9% better than league average)

This is notable because in 2016 he was at 71 (29% worse than league average) and 88 in 2017 (12% worse than league average).

• The Cubs have EIGHT qualified players with at least a .340 OnBase pct. (and Ian Happ, who is eight PA short of qualifying, is at .379)

The only qualified Cub with a SUB-.340 OBP is Javier Báez (.326 – a career-high). However…

• Javier Báez has 50 extrabase hits in 91 games. Last season he had 49 extra-base hits in 145 games.

Báez is the first player in Cubs history with 15 Doubles, 5 Triples, 15 HR and 15 Stolen Bases before the All-Star Break**.

Báez is the first player in MLB history with 18 Doubles, 6 Triples, 18 HR and 18 Stolen Bases before the All-Star Break**.

**seasons with an All-Star Game – 1933-present (minus 1945)