Cubs

Hendricks searching for answers after Cardinals expose Cubs

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Hendricks searching for answers after Cardinals expose Cubs

ST. LOUIS – Edwin Jackson is the easy target.

The $52 million reliever entered a tie game in the sixth inning and walked off the mound with the Cubs trailing 6-4 and the bases loaded. It became very quiet at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night. You could only imagine the boos if this happened at Wrigley Field.

This 7-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals magnified the issues surrounding a team trying to get to the next level. It’s not just Jackson. It’s The Cardinal Way, a wobbly rotation and an overexposed bullpen.

Kyle Hendricks exceeded all expectations when he got called up from Triple-A Iowa last season, filling the void after another summer sell-off and impressing everyone with his poise, intelligence and bottom-line results (7-2, 2.46 ERA in 13 starts).

Whether it’s the sophomore jinx, a confidence issue or something else, Hendricks hasn’t looked like the same guy in 2015. His pinpoint control is missing. He walked two Cardinals, hit another and doesn’t have that much margin for error. He lasted only five innings and couldn’t maintain any sense of momentum.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“The feel is just not there,” Hendricks said afterward, standing in front of his locker and looking a little dazed. “You got to change something up and find it. Got to get out of it somehow.”

Minutes after the Cubs built up a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning, Hendricks surrendered a three-run homer to Matt Carpenter. That left the game in the hands of middle relievers, an area the Cubs targeted with a series of roster moves before Tuesday’s game.

The Cubs noticed how the Kansas City Royals rode a lockdown bullpen to the World Series last season and hoped they could use a similar blueprint with all those power arms and manager Joe Maddon pushing all the right buttons.

Injuries to Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez changed the equation, leaving the Cubs (13-12) in scramble mode, already trailing the Cardinals (20-6) by 6.5 games in the division.

“We’re not pitching to our capabilities,” Maddon said. “We were kind of beat up a little bit with some of our guys who are not here, which probably would have made a huge difference by now. But that happens to everybody, not just us. So you have to fight through and other guys have to pick up the slack. We just haven’t done that.

“You look at what we’ve done this year. We’re still over .500. We’d be at least in pretty good shape right now if we had done a better job handling the middle part of the ballgame. We’re missing two really nice pitchers in Ramirez and Grimm. The other guys, we just have to give them the ball and just get that moment done. It’s pretty obvious…we have to keep leads.”

Hendricks is now winless through five starts – none lasting longer than six innings – and stuck with a 5.61 ERA. General manager Jed Hoyer gave Hendricks a vote of confidence before the game and it didn’t sound like the Cubs had any immediate plans to shake up their rotation after restructuring their bullpen.

“We’re not worried about him at all,” Hoyer said. “He’s a feel pitcher. As he gets on the mound more often, and gets his feel down, he has so many ways to get you out. I think he’ll be just fine.”

[MORE: Cubs shake up bullpen with James Russell and Anthony Varvaro]

Maddon wasn’t around for Hendricks’ breakout rookie season. But the Cubs aren’t holding auditions now and won’t have the same player-development leash this season.

“I have a lot of faith in this guy,” Maddon said. “We’re talking about the fact that the ball doesn’t have that typical sink, because he really reads as a heavy groundball pitcher and you’re not seeing that right now. That tells you the pitch is more flat than down. That’s the primary (issue). In conjunction with that, (there are) a lot of deep counts, getting behind in the count and permitting the hitters to have better at-bats.”

You wonder if that feel could be found in Des Moines and how soon someone like Tsuyoshi Wada could get a shot at the rotation. Given Hendricks’ struggles, could we see a change in the rotation next time around?

“No,” Maddon said. “I believe in the guy.”

It’s up to $155 million ace Jon Lester to stop a four-game losing streak on Wednesday night against the best team in baseball.

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

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USA TODAY

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

What Chicago sports team is worth the most money in 2018?

As reported by Kurt Badenhausen in a Forbes article about the 50 richest teams around the globe, the Cubs are the most valuable organization in the Windy City.

Chicago’s North Side baseball team ranks as the 16th wealthiest team in the world, valued at $2.9 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The Cubs are the third-most affluent franchise in Major League Baseball, behind the New York Yankees ($4 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3 billion).

This year, the baseball club owned by the Ricketts family surpassed the wealth of the Boston Red Sox ($2.8 billion), who the Cubs were ranked behind last season at $2.68 billion. In the span of a year, the North Siders gained two spots in the top 50 from 18 to 16 on the list.

What could be the reason for this increase?

Could it be that the Cubs are in first place in the NL Central? Or could it be the incredible performances from players like Jon Lester and Javy Baez?

Whatever the reason is for the Cubs’ prosperity, the team is doing something right.

The club also surpassed the Bears on the list this year. In 2017 the Bears (worth $2.7 billion last year) were tied with the Red Sox as the 16th most valuable sports team on Earth. The McCaskey-owned football team has fallen to a tie at 17 with the San Francisco Giants, both valued at $2.85 billion in 2018. The Bears even increased by 6 percent in the last year, making the Cubs’ jump seem greater.

The Bulls, owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, are the last team from Chicago to make the cut. They stand at 23 in the top 50, tied with the Denver Broncos. Both franchises are worth $2.6 billion. Chicago’s NBA team even fell a spot from 2017, but they still increased their value by 4 percent (worth $2.5 billion last year).

The Bears are the seventh richest team in the NFL, while the Bulls are fourth wealthiest in the NBA.

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

He won't be suspended by the league and will instead under go sensitivity training, but this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...