Cubs

Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

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Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

It wasnt all Ryan Dempster that helped the Cubs to a 4-1 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Throwing six shutout innings sure helped. But so did some rare two-out clutch hitting, strong defense, and steady nerves.
Dempster (5-3) extended his shutout streak to 33 innings as the Cubs clinched a series victory with their second straight win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Luis Valbuena had two hits, an RBI and scored a run to lead the offense.
The Cubs extended their season-high home winning streak to five games, moving above the .500 mark at Wrigley for the first time since they were 6-5 on April 23.
Dempster, the constant subject of swirling trade talks, worked six innings, allowing four hits and three walks with five strikeouts in his second start since returning from a disabled-list stint. His scoreless inning pitched streak is the longest for a Cubs starter since Ken Holtzman also went 33 innings in 1969.
Its pretty crazy, said Dempster, whose previous career high shutout streak was 30 innings, which he did as a reliever. As a reliever when you do something like that, it seems a little more realistic because youre going out there one inning at a time. To go out there start after start and not give up any runs is pretty humbling. Im just trying to get outs and win ballgames.
Dempster allowed runners on base in every inning but this last, yet no Arizona runner reached third base against him. That in large part came from the defense, which turned two double plays for Dempster and another for closer Carlos Marmol to end the game.
Rookie Anthony Rizzo started two of them, and also made a nice unassisted play on a hard ground ball to get the Cubs and Dempster out of third-inning trouble.
The Cubs have turned at least one double play in nine consecutive games, their longest stretch in a single season since 1994.
Every one of our players is playing as good as he can defensively right now, from the guys on the bench to the everyday guys, manager Dale Sveum said. Defensively its -- knock on wood -- about as good as it can get right now.
Chicago built a 4-0 lead with a two-run fourth and single runs in the third and sixth. The runs in the fourth came from consecutive two-out hits with runners in scoring position, a a rarity this year for the Cubs.
After Alphonso Soriano led off with a single and moved to second a wild pitch, Darwin Barney scored Soriano with a double into the left-field corner. Barney then scored on a hard single to center by Valbuena, who scored the games first run in the third.
The Cubs entered the game hitting .209 with two outs and runners in scoring position, good for 11th in the National League. They were 15th in RBI in those situations with 80.
Weve been working hard all year to give our pitchers some support, especially a guy like Demp, Barney said. Early we struggled to get him some runs, so it feels good to get him a little bit. Right now he just needs one. Just get him one and youre feeling pretty good about yourselves.
Leading 3-0 in the sixth, the Cubs tacked on an unearned run when Jeff Baker scored after reaching on a two-base throwing error from Stephen Drew.
In Dempsters only perfect inning, he retired the Diamondbacks in order, striking out Justin Upton and Miguel Montero before Paul Goldschmidt popped out to Barney at second.
The Diamondbacks didnt score until Chris Young hit a one-out home run off James Russell, who pitched the seventh in relief of Dempster.
Marmol earned his ninth save, and his eighth consecutive, in a scary final inning. After Drew doubled to right-center to start the inning, Marmol walked Young. Geoff Blum then hit a deep fly ball to right, but Reed Johnson made the catch crashing into the wall.
Pinch-hitter Jason Kubel then grounded into the game-ending double play, which was started by Rizzo.
The double plays all came at the right time, Sveum said. That one at the end was real good. Rizzo didnt panic or anything. He gave Castro a perfect feed so where he could get off a strong throw, too.

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.