Cubs

Dodgers rock John Lackey and now Cubs have to face Clayton Kershaw

Dodgers rock John Lackey and now Cubs have to face Clayton Kershaw

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs in 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got close enough for Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love” in the ninth inning.

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came roaring back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years. But muscle memory and been-there, done-that confidence will only take the Cubs so far.

The Cubs keep saying this is a new year, talking around the issues with their rotation, the learning curves for young hitters and what was supposed to be an airtight defense. But you could see the frustration bubbling up during Saturday’s 5-0 loss for a 25-23 team that’s probably best described as hanging around at the Memorial Day mile marker.

“Obviously, we haven’t played great,” losing pitcher John Lackey said after his ERA skyrocketed to 5.18. “We’ve kind of been up and down, but we’re right in the mix. We got a long way to go.”

Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground as a one-run game had escalated into a 5-0 blowout. Lackey walked Los Angeles pitcher Brandon McCarthy and watched Chris Taylor drill the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and the crowd of 48,322 got louder and louder. 

Another Lackey Being Lackey moment: Jawing with home plate umpire Tripp Gibson after striking out looking at a 92-mph Brandon McCarthy fastball leading off the third inning.

“He said something to me,” Lackey said. “I was walking off minding my own business. He called strike three and I was kind of laughing and he’s like: You can laugh all you want. He started something with me, so I had a problem with that. I was just walking off minding my own business.”

The Dodgers meanwhile are young, rich, talented, deep, versatile and already 10 games over .500. Without Kershaw or Jansen throwing a single pitch, the Cubs have managed only five hits in 57 at-bats and struck out 18 times while drawing just four walks in back-to-back shutouts. 

“What it means to me is that we had no chance to win the last two games,” manager Joe Maddon said. “They pitched well. It’s not always your fault sometimes. Sometimes it’s what they’ve done well.

“They’re like an elevated-fastball group. We just have to make an adjustment to that. They do a really good job with that – their bullpen and their starters – and they’ve carried out their game plan perfectly.

“They pitched well. They beat us. That’s it.”

Once again, the Cubs will rely on NLCS co-MVP Jon Lester to neutralize a Dodger lineup that has struggled against left-handed pitching and avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon against the great Kershaw.

“He’s as advertised,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “It’s like any ace, if they got their stuff going, they got their stuff going. He has multiple pitches and he can throw all of them for strikes at times. And he can throw them all around the plate at times. You just got to go up there and have your best (at-bat) and take what he gives you. Just try to chip a few across and see what happens.”

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

What Jose Quintana's injury says about precarious nature of this MLB season

One more injury or a positive COVID-19 test within the starting rotation, and the Cubs will be in trouble.

Jose Quintana’s thumb injury, which is expected to keep him from throwing for two weeks, called to attention just how precarious the future of every team is this season.

"We had some concerns about our starting pitching depth,” Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Thursday. “A freak injury further challenges us in that area, and we have to respond."

 

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Starting pitching is a particularly vulnerable area in general. COVID-19 can affect anyone, even a team’s ace. More reports of positive COVID-19 tests are bound to trickle out now that teams are beginning workouts Friday. And with a three-week Summer Camp expediting the ramp-up process, risk of soft-tissue injury becomes a concern for pitchers in particular.

Add into the mix a microscopic surgery on a lacerated nerve in Quintana’s left thumb – the Cubs announced on Thursday that he suffered the injury while washing dishes – and the Cubs are beginning Summer Camp already shorthanded.

“No one’s going to feel sorry for us,” Epstein said. “This this is a bump in the road that we just have to overcome.”

The baseball season could be cancelled for any number of reasons, safety as judged by the league and government officials being the most important. But MLB also has the power to suspend or cancel the season if the competitive integrity of the season is undermined.

What that means isn’t for Epstein to decide, but he declined to give an opinion on the topic Thursday.

“My understanding of what the standards would be don’t necessarily matter,” Epstein said. “It’s a question for the league. I hope we never get in that situation.”

Injuries always have the power to alter a season. But that’s even more so the case during a 60-game season. At best, Quintana’s injury could delay him a several weeks. At worst, even just a three-month recovery time would wipe out his entire season.

For now, the plan is to replace Quintana with someone like Alec Mills. Assuming Mills does win the starting job, that takes him out of his role as a middle reliever, a bullpen spot Cubs manager David Ross emphasized earlier in the week.

“It’ll be really unrealistic to expect guys to get to maybe 100 or so pitches right out of the shoot,” Ross said on Monday. “That may be a bit of a challenge. … The real important areas for me right now is that swingman, your Alec Mills-types that can give you two or three innings ang get to the back end of the bullpen. Those middle innings if guys aren’t stretched out enough are going to be vitally important.”

The ripple effects from Quintana’s injury aren’t nearly enough to undermine the competitive integrity of the season. But what if several teams have their starting pitching depth dramatically affected by COVID-19? What if those teams include the Dodgers and the Yankees?

Now that MLB has started ramping up for the 2020 season, it’s incentivized to keep the season running. But as the Cubs learned this week, just one dish-washing accident can alter a team’s 2020 outlook.

 

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2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

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USA TODAY

2020 MLB season: All-Star game canceled, Dodgers awarded 2022 game

Major League Baseball announced Friday they've canceled the 2020 All Star Game, which was scheduled for July 14 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

The Braves are scheduled to host the 2021 Midsummer Classic, so MLB awarded the Dodgers the 2022 game.

"Based on the health circumstances created by the COVID-19 pandemic that are beyond MLB’s control along with governmental directives prohibiting large gatherings, the league determined it is unable to conduct the All-Star Game and its week of surrounding fan activities this year," MLB said in a statement.

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“Once it became clear we were unable to hold this year’s All-Star festivities, we wanted to award the Dodgers with the next available All-Star Game, which is 2022,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.  “I want to thank the Dodgers organization and the City of Los Angeles for being collaborative partners in the early stages of All-Star preparation and for being patient and understanding in navigating the uncertainty created by the pandemic.  

"The 2022 All-Star celebration promises to be a memorable one with events throughout the city and at picturesque Dodger Stadium.”

California has seen a 92 percent increase in COVID-19 cases this week compared to two weeks ago.

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