Cubs

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

David Ross helps Cubs edge Cardinals in regular season home finale

CHICAGO — David Ross got fired up when Cubs manager Joe Maddon walked to the mound with two out in the seventh inning, ready to argue for Jon Lester to stay in the game.

Maddon and Lester had a different plan.

"Joe looked at him and said 'Have you ever been a part of where the catcher gets taken out of the game before the pitcher?'" Lester said, describing the scene with a big grin. "You can just see him, it's like the kid at the candy store when you tell him he can pick out whatever he wants.

"It was just like the disbelief in his face and slams his mask back over his face and all he can say is 'I love you guys. I love you guys. I love you guys.'"

Ross then walked off to another standing ovation from a raucous crowd of 40,859 at Wrigley Field, part of a heartwarming Sunday night for the backup catcher in his last season. He also hit his 10th homer and teamed with Lester for another scoreless performance, helping the Cubs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals.

"It was an amazing night," Ross said.

Ben Zobrist had three hits and scored two runs as Chicago finished with a major league-best 57-24 home record. It's the most home wins for the Cubs since they went 58-19 at the West Side Grounds in 1910.

The Cardinals lost for the third time in four games, wasting a chance to improve their playoff positioning. They remain a half-game back of San Francisco for the second NL wild card after the Giants lost 4-3 at San Diego earlier in the day.

"I think we're in a good position right now," pitcher Carlos Martinez said through a translator. "I also think we have a great shot at winning the World Series."

Ross, Lester's regular catcher, was greeted with a long standing ovation when he came to the plate in the second inning. St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina walked halfway to the mound, forcing the unassuming Ross to take in the moment, and he took off his batting helmet to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Ross then struck out, but he got another chance in the fifth and drove Martinez's second pitch over the wall in left for 1-0 lead. Ross clapped his hands as he rounded first on his 10th homer and the cheers continued after he reached the dugout, prompting a curtain call.

"It was just fitting that David would hit a home run, isn't it?" Maddon said. "I mean it had to have happened tonight."

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Lester (19-4), one of the top candidates for the NL Cy Young Award, struck out seven in 6 2/3 innings. The left-hander allowed three hits and walked one while improving to 10-0 with 1.34 ERA in his last 13 starts.

It was Lester's idea to pull Ross in the middle of an inning.

"He's like a brother to me and for him to give me that was pretty cool," Ross said.

The Cardinals pulled within one on Jhonny Peralta's two-out RBI single in the eighth, but Brandon Moss flied to center with runners on the corners. Willson Contreras responded with an RBI single in the bottom half and Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth for his 16th save with the NL Central champions and No. 36 on the year.

Martinez (15-9), pitching with a heavy heart after the death of Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez in a boating accident, allowed two runs and six hits in six innings. He struck out six and walked four.

"He had lots of juice," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "It's probably the hardest sinker I've ever seen him throw. A couple of those were 97 (mph). He was locked in. He wanted it bad today, and he was good enough for us to win."

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.