Cubs

Despite loss, Cubs leaving Wrigley with a great feeling

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Despite loss, Cubs leaving Wrigley with a great feeling

"How could I possibly be upset right now?"

Those aren't the words you expect to hear from a manager after his team was just shut out by a division rival, even from the perpetually-positive Joe Maddon.

Yet that's what Maddon opened his postgame press conference with Sunday following the Cubs' 3-0 loss to the Pirates (18-20) in front of 36,289 fans.

The defeat ended a six-game winning streak for the Cubs (21-16) and it was the first loss since the bleachers reopened Monday at Wrigley Field.

Still, it was the end to a 6-1 homestand against the first-place New York Mets and a Pirates team that has made the postseason each of the last two seasons.

"If we had this kind of homestand for the rest of the season, I'd be very pleased," Maddon said. "There's nothing to be upset about. Zero."

The Cubs wasted a stellar start from Jake Arrieta, who allowed just one run on five hits and a walk in seven innings while striking out seven. It was Arrieta's first quality start since April 26 in Cincinnati.

"Outstanding," Maddon said of Arrieta. "Really good stuff. ... Not a bad thing to say about him. Their guy was really good. [Pirates starter A.J.] Burnett's pretty much reinvented himself and he's pitching at a very high level right now.

"We were there moment-for-moment. They just got their run and we didn't."

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After averaging 5.5 runs per game during the streak, the Cubs couldn't muster up any offense off Burnett, who lowered his season ERA to 1.38 with seven shutout innings.

The Cubs consistently worked the count, drawing five walks from Burnett, but they only managed three singles off the 38-year-old right-hander.

Pittsburgh outfielders combined to make a handful of very nice plays throughout the afternoon, including two highlight-reel plays from Andrew McCutchen in center and a pair of running catches at the wall with runners on base from left fielder Starling Marte and right fielder Gregory Polanco.

"It was one of those things where we had hard-hit balls kinda at guys or guys made some pretty good plays to record the out," Arrieta said. "It's one of those games where you feel like you won at the end because you played fairly well, just weren't able to scratch across a couple runs or get the big hit in that certain situation.

"But guys had good at-bats today. ... We're gonna have games like that where the other guy is better than our guy. We just have to keep grinding and I think the way we've been playing the last couple series, if we keep that going, we're gonna be fine."

Starlin Castro and Miguel Montero each singled and walked, while Kris Bryant collected the only other hit off Burnett. Bryant left the game after the fourth inning as he was feeling under the weather.

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Addison Russell doubled off Pittsburgh's dominant setup man Tony Watson to lead off the eighth inning and Anthony Rizzo later walked, but both were stranded on base when Castro lined out to center.

The Cubs mounted another rally in the ninth as Jorge Soler reached on a one-out error and Chris Coghlan followed with a base hit. But Welington Castillo flew out to the warning track in right field and Russell grounded out to end the game and the winning streak.

Rizzo said the Cubs can feel the energy and excitement from the fans with the renovations at Wrigley coming together at the same time the product on the field is getting sharper and Arrieta called Sunday's game a playoff-type atmosphere.

"At the end of the day, as a team, we're excited about the way things are going, regardless of today's loss," Arrieta said. "And we're looking forward to the offday [Monday] and getting ready for San Diego."

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.