Cubs will take their shot at Pirates in potential playoff preview


Cubs will take their shot at Pirates in potential playoff preview

PHILADELPHIA – This is the time of year where the Cubs used to be paying more attention to their fantasy-football teams and auditioning players for the future.

But in a season that has exceeded almost everyone’s expectations with a 93-win pace, the Cubs are watching real scoreboards when every game matters now.

“That’s why when you split here, it feels terrible,” Chris Coghlan said after almost hitting for the cycle during Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. “For as good as we’ve been playing, it’s a disappointment.”

If playing the worst team in baseball dulled the senses on any level, the Cubs will feel a shot of adrenaline at the next stop on this three-city road trip: Four games in three days against the Pittsburgh Pirates beginning with Tuesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park.   

“This is why you work,” manager Joe Maddon said. “This is why you do this thing – to be in that position to play those kind of games. It’s exciting for everybody.”

[MORE: Starlin Castro focused on winning now – not his future with Cubs]

The Cubs trail the Pirates by four games for the National League’s first wild-card spot and home-field advantage in that one-game playoff. The St. Louis Cardinals don’t look quite as invincible anymore and can’t shift into cruise-control mode when their lead over the Pirates has shrunk to 2.5 games.

“We know,” Coghlan said after going 4-for-5 with two triples, his 16th home run and a flyball to the warning track in center field. “You see it up on the scoreboard.

“Any time (the Cardinals or Pirates) are down you realize: ‘Man, we win tonight, we got a real good chance to move up if they don’t come back.’ That’s what’s been kind of disappointing, because the Cardinals are such a solid team. They haven’t really lost eight out of their last 10 very often. You don’t really see spurts like that with them.

“So when you can win a game playing a team here – no disrespect to them because they’re professionals and a young team and exciting – but these are games we need to win three out of four.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

After failing to capitalize on Friday’s doubleheader sweep of a Phillies team that just fired the general manager, the Cubs can make their mark in baseball’s toughest division with 10 of their final 20 games against the Pirates and Cardinals.

“That’s enough games to make up ground,” Coghlan said. “Now, do we have it in us? Yeah, we do. Are we going to? Only time’s going to tell. I don’t know the future. Nobody does. But I think if we have that mindset – (win as many games as we can down the stretch) – it’s possible to win the division, yeah, 100 percent.”

In Pittsburgh, the Cubs won’t be facing Aaron Harang (who came into the game with 15 losses and a 5.02 ERA). And they won’t be starting Dan Haren (who lasted only three innings and put his team in a 4-1 hole). Game 1 on Tuesday afternoon should feel like October with Gerrit Cole staring down the Cubs.

“The bottom line is all these dudes are studs,” Coghlan said. “We got studs. They got studs. Both teams – that’s the reason why we won as many games as we have. It doesn’t matter. You toe the line. This guy’s legit. Our guy’s legit. It’s just a battle of attrition at that point.”

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.