Cubs

Extreme high and low for Kris Bryant as Cubs can't close out Reds

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Extreme high and low for Kris Bryant as Cubs can't close out Reds

With his mesh camouflage hat turned backwards, Kris Bryant sat down inside the Wrigley Field interview room/dungeon as the don’t-worry-be-happy face of the franchise.

The Cubs still have a roadmap to the postseason with Bryant as a Rookie of the Year frontrunner, Anthony Rizzo in the MVP race, two frontline starting pitchers for October, a strong back end of the bullpen and the perfect manager for the Wrigleyville circus.

But Wednesday’s 7-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds — losing a series to a last-place team already mathematically eliminated from the division race — showed why Cubs fans will be on edge and angry on Twitter even as Joe Maddon’s group tries to play loose, naive and carefree.

“It’s tough,” Bryant said. “Obviously, you’re on cloud nine when you hit a game-tying homer and then you blow it the next inning. Sometimes baseball works that way. It’s a crazy game. It gives you everything and then takes everything away.”

[MORE CUBS: Joe Maddon won’t put ‘injury-prone’ label on Jorge Soler]

The Cubs have math on their side, with FanGraphs (96.8 percent) and Baseball Prospectus (95.9 percent) making their playoff odds that morning look like a sure thing. But like Bryant said, crazy things happen.

Like Bryant delivering in the clutch with two outs in the eighth inning and 101-mph flamethrower Aroldis Chapman waiting in the bullpen. Bryant launched J.J. Hoover’s first-pitch curveball into the left-field bleachers for the game-tying two-run homer.

And then Bryant committed the kind of error that would haunt this team in October.

With two outs in the ninth inning, Bryant couldn’t stop a ball that went between his legs for an error. Hector Rondon then threw Joey Votto three straight fastballs between 96 and 97 mph. Votto crushed the last one out to left-center field for a three-run homer.

Maddon always defends his players, and the manager pointed out the angle and degree of difficulty for the third baseman with Jay Bruce at the plate.

“Listen,” Maddon said, “if you’re on the opposite corner on an infield (and) a lefty hits a bullet like that at you, it’s not like he’s not ready. He’s ready. That ball just was on him so quickly and that’s why it got through. I have no issues.

“There’s nothing to point fingers at there. He’s been playing really well.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs awaiting results on Kyle Schwarber’s MRI]

No doubt, the Cubs wouldn’t be here without Bryant, who now has 22 homers and leads the team with 84 RBIs and talked about how he felt so good he wished Thursday wasn’t an off-day.

“He hit it hard, but there’s no excuses for that. I got to keep the ball in front,” Bryant said. “It was a tough play, but I made that play plenty of times in my career, so I’m looking forward to the next one.

“There’s a lot of positives from the game, personally and as a team, so there’s nothing to really hang my head about. I wish I had blocked the ball or just tried to put a body part on it. But I was unable to do that.”

The Cubs are going to be tested, beginning with the news that game-changing rookie Kyle Schwarber would be a late scratch to the lineup with right rib soreness and getting an MRI.

And the Cubs are pretty much hoping to squeeze five innings at a time from 60 percent of their rotation.

Jason Hammel started this game by giving up a leadoff home run to Jason Bourgeois — who had four homers through 651 career plate appearances in The Show — on his way to another non-quality start (giving up four runs in five innings).

“You got to set a better tone,” Hammel said. “Obviously very frustrated with the way things are going. But I’m not looking to try and prove myself at all. Ever. I could care less about proving myself. I know what I can do.”

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez returns to Cubs with something to prove]

The Cubs still held a six-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card heading into the defending champs' showdown against the Los Angeles Dodgers late Wednesday night on the West Coast.

The Cubs also have their 1-2 punch lined up for Friday and Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field: Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta.

This is what meaningful baseball in September feels like.

“I think we just got to approach each game like we’ve been doing and not really get too high or too low,” Bryant said. “I don’t think we should treat this one any different.”

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Joe Maddon wants Cubs fans to cheer for Gleyber Torres and Eloy Jimenez

Why can't a trade be looked at as a win-win? 

There doesn't always have to be a clear winner and loser.

Prior to Jose Quintana taking the ball for Saturday's game against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field, Joe Maddon was asked about the players (Eloy Jimenez, Dylan Cease) the Cubs gave up to acquire Quintana as well as the deal with the Yankees for Aroldis Chapman in July 2016.

Gleyber Torres is absolutely killing it in New York, hitting .323 with a 1.014 OPS, 9 homers and 24 RBI in only 29 games. Six of those homers have come in the last week alone. 

With the White Sox, both Jimenez and Cease have found success in Double-A and Advanced Class-A, respectively.

Jimenez is hitting .331 with a .992 OPS, 9 homers and 35 RBI in 35 games. Cease is 6-2 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 57 strikeouts in 47.2 innings.

As the Cubs work to get their offense settled into a consistent groove, some Cubs fans have been looking at what might've been with guys like Torres and Jimenez.

"You can't have it both ways, man," Maddon said. "I'm happy for Gleyber. When he left, we talked about it. And we talked about the kids that went to the White Sox. It's good stuff. 

"I'm really disappointed if anybody's disappointed in the fact we won the World Series in 2016 and the fact that the guy we're talking about that we had to give up Gleyber for was so instrumental in that happening. That's bad process if you're gonna get stuck on something like that. Be happy for Gleyber. Be happy for him."

Maddon has been a fan of Torres' since he saw him in spring training in 2015, Maddon's first year in the Cubs organization.

"This kid's 21, with high, high baseball intellect," Maddon said. "He's very similar to Javy on the field. I've had some great conversations with him in the past. 

"The first time I saw him in spring training, I thought this guy's for real. It was like one at-bat, line drive to RF, I said who is this guy? And then you have a conversation with him. He's solid."

Maddon's point is a great one — would Cubs fans prefer to still have Torres and NOT have the 2016 World Series championship? Because that title doesn't happen without Chapman, regardless of how you feel about him as a person or what the Cubs had to give up to acquire him.

"Don't play that game," Maddon said. "Be happy for [Torres]. I'm gonna be happy when Eloy and Dylan make it up here. All these dudes, I want them to get here and be really good. And the guys that we get, I want them to be really good. 

"I don't understand why somebody's gotta lose all the time. This is an absolute classic example of what was good for both teams."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

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AP

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers 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.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.