Cubs

Cubs won't back off Carl Edwards Jr. as he searches for 'that loving feeling'

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AP

Cubs won't back off Carl Edwards Jr. as he searches for 'that loving feeling'

Joe Maddon called his shot before Friday's game, all but telegraphing that he intended to go right back to Carl Edwards Jr. that afternoon against the Nationals.

That's exactly how it played out, too, as Edwards came on in the eighth inning of the Cubs' 4-2 loss to Washington Friday and proceeded to load the bases with nobody out.

Edwards walked a pair of batters Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, getting the hook from Maddon after only those two hitters.

Maddon went right back to his young flamethrower Friday, who began the inning by walking Howie Kendrick before giving up soft singles to Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and creating another Danger Zone for the Cubs.

But Maddon stayed put in the third-base dugout this time and Edwards wound up getting out of the inning with only one run allowed, on a sacrifice fly from Anthony Rendon to right field.

That's exactly the spot Edwards typically works — late innings, high-leverage against the other team's heart of the order. In this specific case, Maddon couldn't turn to southpaws Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing or Mike Montgomery given their recent usage and he did not want to put newly-promoted Rob Zastryzny into the game in that spot.

It was Edwards or bust.

"I wanted to [get him back out there], but that was still a good spot for him," Maddon said. "I wasn't forcing it. I kinda liked it. We were down by a run. That part of the batting order is the kind that he normally gets to pitch against, so it's really just not trying to pitch [Pedro] Strop and [Hector] Rondon again. 

"It really wasn't a Rob Z slot. The leadoff walk got him again, otherwise he actually threw the ball extremely well."

The Harper and Murphy hits came off the bat at 84.6 mph and 79.8 mph, respectively, so it's not like Edwards was getting rocked. 

But that now makes 13 walks in the last 11 innings for Edwards, even though he's only allowed five hits in that span. The 25-year-old has dished out 29 free passes in 44 innings this year and saw his season ERA climb above 3.00 Friday for the first time this season.

"Command issues," Maddon said. "Looks like a lot of pulling away from righties. And that's what seems to get him in trouble. Pulled and elevated today.

"...By no means is it an overworked issue. It's a self-confidence issue. I don't want to keep putting him out there [to fail]. This guy's good. He's one of the best young relief pitchers in the National League, so you gotta keep putting him out there until he gets that loving feeling back."

Edwards remains among the toughest pitchers in baseball to square up for hitters, as the average exit velocity off his pitches sits at 82.5 mph, just slightly above Andrew Miller (81 mph), one of the top relievers in the game today who emerged as a dynamic force in the playoffs last fall with the Cleveland Indians.

Even with the rough outings of late, Edwards still has a 3.07 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 44 innings.

When he came out to the mound to pull Edwards Thursday against Arizona, Maddon admitted he didn't know where the ball was going to go at that point and wanted to ensure incoming reliever Justin Wilson wouldn't have to pitch with the bases loaded. (Though that ended up happening anyway as Wilson gave up a hit to the first batter he faced.)

But Maddon also said there would be other situations where Edwards would get the opportunity to pitch out of the mess he caused.

Like Friday, for example.

"I still have all the faith in the world in the guy," Maddon said. "...It's just about the walk with him. I think we can get around or beyond that because his stuff is still outstanding. I have not lost confidence.

"I don't have a solid answer [for the control issues]. He's been missing the plate; I agree. It seems like he's been away, away from the right-hander primarily. So we'll just try to figure out different ways to get him back in the zone. But talent-wise, he's fine."

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd 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 victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).