Cubs

How Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw to move on to World Series

How Cubs beat Clayton Kershaw to move on to World Series

Two quick runs off the best pitcher on the planet on Saturday night afforded the Cubs exactly what they needed to snap a 71-year-old drought.

Already confident after consecutive offensive outbursts in the previous two games, a two-run first inning against Clayton Kershaw had Cubs hitters in a positive frame of mind.

They rode the surprising rally and a dominant performance by Kyle Hendricks to a 5-0 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The win earned the Cubs their first NL pennant since 1945 and on Tuesday night they’ll seek their first World Series title since 1908 when they face the Cleveland Indians in Game 1.

“It’s huge for the confidence, the positive momentum from LA, to carry over back home,” left fielder Ben Zobrist said. “Those were the biggest moments in the game early on to help everybody keep pushing and that we got this thing -- that we’re in charge of the game early. That’s a huge momentum builder.”

The Cubs did a little bit of everything in the first inning against Kershaw, who dominated them for seven scoreless frames in a 1-0 Dodgers victory in Game 2 on Sunday night. Some hitters took a more aggressive approach against the three-time NL Cy Young winner while others remained patient. The one constant throughout the 30-pitch frame was that Cubs hitters took advantage whenever Kershaw made a mistake.

Dexter Fowler started with an opposite-field double on a 1-1 slider and Wrigley was rocking when Kris Byrant singled him in to make it 1-0. Andrew Tolles’ error on Anthony Rizzo’s gapper to left center put runners on second and third. Zobrist took advantage and put the Cubs ahead by two with a sac fly to center.

“I think the boys were just ready to go,” Fowler said.

The confidence gained from 18 runs scored in the fourth and fifth games of the series was evident before the Cubs ever took the field. Players looked loose during pregame warmups, whether it was Albert Almora Jr. and several teammates banging air drums to Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’ or Javy Baez pumping his fist to a loud beat mere seconds before the Cubs took the field.

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The confidence carried over as the two runs represented the first time all season that Kershaw had allowed a pair to score in the first inning.

“They jumped on it,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “They were all over his fastball and they spit on his breaking ball.

“We felt good coming into the game knowing that we were facing the best pitcher on the planet. But we felt good about ourselves because we got the lead.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts thought the key was that the Cubs took advantage of Kershaw’s mistakes as opposed to his previous start when he allowed two hits. Addison Russell kept the pressure on Kershaw when he ripped a hanging slider for a leadoff double in the second inning and he later scored on Fowler’s two-out single to left.

Rookie catcher Willson Contreras crushed a hanging slider for a solo homer in the fourth inning to make it a 4-0 lead.

“They had a great game plan tonight,” Roberts said. “And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did -- when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”

Rizzo gave the Cubs an even bigger lead when he hammered a 1-1 fastball from Kershaw in the fifth inning for a solo homer and a 5-0 lead. Combined with the dominance of Hendricks, the cushion made any talk about curses or billy goats or five outs seem downright silly.

“It felt really good, amazing,” Rizzo said. “We were on the board and I tell our pitchers all the time, ‘If you don’t let ‘em score, it’s impossible (for them) to win.’ ”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: