Cubs won't let up against Cardinals in potential playoff preview

Cubs won't let up against Cardinals in potential playoff preview

The Cubs won’t put any Cactus League lineups out there against the St. Louis Cardinals this weekend or script out every inning at Wrigley Field for their bullpen.

The Cubs will still have something to play for on Friday — the National League’s No. 1 seed — plus the adrenaline rush from 40,000 fans, the national-TV spotlight on Saturday afternoon (Fox) and Sunday night (ESPN) and the chance to help block their biggest rival from making the postseason.

“It has that kind of potential,” manager Joe Maddon admitted. “But from my perspective, it’s our responsibility to play those games straight up.”

Even with Wednesday afternoon’s ugly 11-1 loss at Coors Field, the Cardinals have so far survived the first two legs of what could be a make-or-break road trip, splitting four games against the San Francisco Giants and taking a series from the Colorado Rockies.

That left the Cardinals (80-72) tied with the New York Mets (80-72) in the second wild-card position, with the Giants a half-game up heading into Wednesday night’s game at Dodger Stadium and what should be a head-spinning finish to this three-team race.

“We haven’t let up at all,” said Jon Lester (18-4, 2.36 ERA), who will start opposite Carlos Martinez (15-8, 3.16 ERA) on “Sunday Night Baseball.” “I feel like every team has something to play for when they play us.

“Every team is trying to be little thorns in our side, make us work and make us grind for our wins. It’s always interesting when you add the Cardinals into the mix. They’re playing for their wild-card spot and a chance to get to the postseason, so I’m sure they’ll definitely bring their A-game.”

The Cubs will use next week to experiment with their late-inning formulas — Tuesday will be Bullpen Night at PNC Park — and rotate their position players against the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds with the idea of keeping them fresh for October.

“With all respect to everybody, you got to play these next three games right,” Maddon said. “Not that I don’t trust our other guys, but industry-wide you just want to be able to do that. Plus, we have a day off (on Thursday that) permits us to feel better about the guys getting that rest.

“I’ve been on both sides of it. When you’re on that other side, you definitely want to make sure that the teams that are in contention are playing against the other teams’ (perceived) best.”

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If the Cardinals can survive and advance without feeling the burnout, they could become a dangerous opponent in a best-of-five series.

St. Louis has a powerful lineup, setting an NL record with eight players with at least 15 home runs this season. Seung Hwan Oh (18 saves, 1.79 ERA) is the kind of lights-out closer the Giants desperately need.

Alex Reyes — Baseball America’s No. 7 overall prospect entering this season — is an X-factor. On Saturday, the Cubs will get another look at Reyes, who beat them last week at Busch Stadium by throwing 4 1/3 scoreless innings out of the bullpen, giving up one hit and six walks, flashing his age-22 unpredictability.

“You can’t sleep on the Cardinals,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “You know they’re a good team. They got a lot of history in the playoffs.”

The Cardinals still have their issues. Adam Wainwright (12-9, 4.57 ERA) hasn’t pitched like an ace, and Mike Leake (9-10, 4.54 ERA) hasn’t lived up to his five-year, $80 million contract. Matt Holliday hasn’t played since Aug. 11, when Cubs lefty Mike Montgomery broke his right thumb with a 94-mph fastball. A franchise known for its fundamentals now ranks 25th in the majors in defensive efficiency.

But St. Louis has already split 16 games with the Cubs and would be playing with house money against the best team in baseball in October.

“To be honest, I haven’t (been paying attention to the wild-card standings),” Lester said. “We have a lot going on here. I try to stay in our own little corner, our own little world. Especially with where we’re at, we don’t have anybody at our heels or anything.

“The biggest thing for us is kind of focusing on us. Whoever our opponent is come first round, we’ll be ready to go and prepared. If it is the Cardinals, great, we’ve seen them a lot. We know what they have. If it’s somebody else, we’ll study and we’ll prepare.”

The Cubs could help shove the Cardinals into a long offseason — or give new life to a playoff-tested team that won’t be intimidated by the idea of coming back into Wrigleyville.

“The intensity will be there,” MVP candidate Kris Bryant said. “Any time we play them, it’s a fun series. We get a lot of the Cardinals fans down here. We want to play everybody tough. Certainly, they’re in a playoff hunt, too, so we’re going to do our best to do what we do — go out there and try to win every game.”

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 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.