Cubs

Indians expect to bounce back from sloppy World Series Game 2 loss to Cubs

Indians expect to bounce back from sloppy World Series Game 2 loss to Cubs

CLEVELAND -- Their pitchers walked eight Cubs hitters. The offense didn’t manage a hit off Jake Arrieta until the sixth inning. And the defense was a wreck.

For the first time all postseason, the Cleveland Indians looked uncharacteristically sloppy on Wednesday night. But shortly after a 5-1 loss to the Cubs in Game 2 of the World Series in front of 38,172 at Progressive Field, the Indians said they’d quickly turn the page on only their second postseason loss. The teams split the opening pair and will workout on Thursday before returning to action on Friday night in Game 3 at Wrigley Field.

“We gave up nine hits, eight walks, two errors, and we only gave up five runs,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “We’re probably pretty fortunate because there was traffic all night. For us to win, we generally need to play a clean game, and we didn’t do that.”

Cleveland would be best served to erase Wednesday’s contest from the memory banks entirely.

A rough all-around evening began in the top of the first inning when Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall threw to second base instead of hitting the cutoff man on Anthony Rizzo’s one-out double, which allowed Kris Bryant to score on a potentially close play at the plate. It represented the Cubs’ first World Series lead since they won Game 6 of the 1945 Fall Classic on a 12th-inning RBI double by Stan Hack.

Four innings later, Chisenhall slipped on Ben Zobrist’s RBI triple into the right-field corner as the Cubs began to pull away. Kipnis also committed the first of his two errors later in the fifth inning, which led to a run. And Kipnis dropped a relay throw from Francisco Lindor in an attempt to get a force out in the seventh inning -- “I cost him a top-10 highlight,” Kipnis said.

The Indians only committed one error in their previous nine postseason games before Kipnis doubled that output on Wednesday.

“It was a bad game, for me at least,” Kipnis said. “I’ve had ‘em before. I’ll have a short memory on it. It’s not the end of the world. That one (error) cost us a run. The other one didn’t. All I can do is have a short memory and move on.”

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The bloody finger-incident aside, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer only had one shorter start (Aug. 3 versus Minnesota) all season than he did in Game 2. Cubs hitters worked deep counts early on to drive up Bauer’s pitch count to 51 after only two innings. Ahead 1-0, the Cubs took advantage of a two-out walk in the third by Anthony Rizzo when Bauer couldn’t put the slugger away despite getting ahead 0-2 in the count. Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber followed with singles to make it a 2-0 game.

Bauer, who lasted 3 2/3 innings, walked two as did relievers Bryan Shaw and Danny Salazar, though the latter hadn’t pitched since Sept. 9. The performance was atypical for a staff that brought a 1.58 postseason ERA into the game.

“We've been able to do (bounce back) all year,” Bauer said. “We've had guys go down, guys have bad starts, good starts. Someone struggles at the plate and someone picks it up. That's what a good team does.”

The Indians had one early opportunity against Cubs starter Jake Arrieta and didn’t take advantage. Arrieta issued a pair of two-out walks in the first inning, but Jose Ramirez just missed on a 3-1 fastball and flew out to deep center.

Despite what Joe Maddon described as “scattered” command, Arrieta held Cleveland hitless until Kipnis doubled with one out in the sixth. By that time, the Indians trailed 5-0. Kipnis advanced on a grounder and scored on a wild pitch. But Mike Montgomery and Aroldis Chapman combined to strike out six in 3 1/3 scoreless innings after Arrieta exited.

Napoli said he thinks the Indians would shake off only their second loss in 10 playoff games.

“We're a confident group,” Napoli said. “We didn't think we were just going to come in here and steamroll the Cubs. They're a great ball club. We're going to sleep this one off and get off to a good workout tomorrow and get back after it again.”

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

Cubs free agent focus: Will Harris

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

The Cubs are looking for bullpen help this offseason. Enter Astros free agent right-hander Will Harris.

Harris has quietly been one of the game’s best relievers since 2015. In 309 games (297 innings), the 35-year-old holds a 2.36 ERA and 0.987 WHIP. Over that same period, his ERA ranks third among relievers with at least 250 innings pitched, trailing Zack Britton (1.89) and Aroldis Chapman (2.16).

2019 was one of Harris' finest seasons yet, as he posted a pristine 1.50 ERA and 0.933 WHIP in 68 appearances. Of the 60 innings he pitched last season, 49 2/3 of them came in innings 7-9, an area the Cubs bullpen needs the most help.

Cubs relievers posted a 3.98 ERA last season (No. 8 in MLB), but that number is deceiving. The bullpen was OK in low and medium-leverage spots — as defined by FanGraphs — posting a 3.19 ERA (tied for No. 2 in MLB). But in high leverage spots, they sported a woeful 7.92 ERA (No. 24 in MLB) and a 15.4 percent walk rate (tied for last in MLB).

"It was a real interesting year in the 'pen," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "Our inability to pitch in high-leverage situations was a clear problem and was a contributing factor — we had the third-worst record in all of baseball behind just the Tigers and Orioles in combined 1 and 2-run games.

"Our inability to pitch in high-leverage moments kind of haunted us throughout the year, and that’s something that I have to do a better job of finding options for."

Those walks often spelled doom for the Cubs. Fans remember all too well the three-straight free passes Steve Cishek handed out on Sept. 10 against the Padres, the final of which was a walk-off (literally). David Phelps and Cishek combined to walk three-straight Cardinals on Sept. 20, two of whom came around to score. The Cubs lost that game 2-1; there are plenty more similar instances.

Harris, meanwhile, walked 14 batters (6.1 percent walk rate) in 2019 — 15 if you count the one he allowed in 12 postseason appearances. His career walk rate is 6.2 percent.

Four Cubs late-inning relievers are free agent this winter in Cishek, Brandon Kintzler, Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop. Cishek and Kintzler had solid 2019 seasons, while Strop had his worst season as a Cub. Morrow hasn’t pitched since July 2018, but he and the Cubs are working on a minor league deal, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. Strop has expressed his desire to return next season.

Harris regressing in 2020 is a concern. Relievers are the most volatile players in baseball, and Harris could see his performance sag in 2020 after pitching an extra month last season. Teams will have to trust his track record and assume a regression isn't forthcoming.

But assuming Cishek, Kintzler, Morrow and Strop all won’t return in 2020, the Cubs have a couple late-inning relief vacancies. Harris is one of the better available options, and he’d help the Cubs cut down on the walks dished out by their bullpen.

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Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

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USA TODAY

Cubs add reliever Daniel Winkler in another low-risk, high-reward move

The Cubs have made another low-risk gamble on a bullpen arm.

Friday, the Cubs announced they've signed right-hander Daniel Winkler to a one-year deal worth $750K. The deal is a split contract, meaning Winkler will earn a different salary in the major leagues than if he gets sent to the minor leagues. He has one minor league option remaining. 

Winkler, an Effingham, Ill. native holds a career 3.68 ERA, 3.65 FIP, 1.176 WHIP and 10.3 K/9 in 117 games (100 1/3 innings). He spent 2015-19 with the Atlanta Braves, undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2014 and another elbow surgery in April 2017. The Braves dealt him to the San Francisco Giants at the 2019 trade deadline for closer Mark Melancon.

Winkler posted a 4.98 ERA in 27 big league games last season and a 2.93 ERA in 30 minor league games. His best MLB season came with the Braves in 2018, as he made a career-high 69 appearances and posted a 3.43 ERA, striking out 69 batters in 60 1/3 innings.

The Cubs entered the offseason in search of bullpen upgrades following a rough 2019. That search includes finding pitchers who may not have long track records, but qualities demonstrating their ability to make an impact at the big-league level. In this case, Winkler possesses solid spin rates on his cutter, four-seamer and curveball, meaning he induces soft contact and swings and misses.

“We need to keep unearthing pitchers who we acquire for the right reasons, we work well with and have the physical and mental wherewithal to go out and miss a lot of bats,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference, “which is something we didn’t do a lot of — although we did increasingly in the second half with this pitching group — and find more guys who can go out and pitch in high-leverage spots."

The Cubs were successful in unearthing arms last season, acquiring Rowan Wick and Brad Wieck from the Padres in separate deals. They recently acquired Jharel Cotton from the Oakland A’s in a similar buy low move.

Not every pitcher will be as successful as the Wi(e)cks were last season, but the Cubs must continue making low-risk bullpen moves. At the best, they find a legitimate relief arms; at the worst, they move on from a low-cost investments.

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