Cubs

Indians push the right buttons while Cubs can’t in Game 3 of World Series

Indians push the right buttons while Cubs can’t in Game 3 of World Series

Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona hasn't had a significant managerial decision backfire on him in the playoffs, a trend/narrative that wasn't slowed when the World Series shifted to Clark and Addison. 

Case in point in the Indians’ 1-0 win over the Cubs in Game 3 of the World Series Friday night at Wrigley Field: Francona pulled starter Josh Tomlin, who only threw 58 pitches and had scattered just three baserunners, with two outs in the fourth. Andrew Miller entered and struck out three in 1 1/3 innings, but was replaced in the top of the seventh for pinch-hitter Coco Crisp, who delivered the go-ahead and ultimately game-winning single off Cubs reliever Carl Edwards Jr. 

But by pulling Tomlin so early and only having Miller threw 17 pitches to cover four outs, Francona was forced to turn his bullpen over to Bryan Shaw, who entered Friday with a 4.26 postseason ERA.

Despite Jorge Soler’s triple (which was the result of Indians right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall mis-playing a ball in right field), Shaw worked through 1 2/3 innings before turning things over to Cody Allen for 1 1/3 scoreless frames to close things out — including strikeouts of Kris Bryant and Javier Baez with the tying run on third base. 

“We know we're going to have our hands full to beat these guys, and tonight was a good example,” Francona said. “I mean, that was as close a ballgame as you're ever going to find, and we found a way to manage to win that game. You know, we say it all the time. We want to be one run better. That's about as true to form as you can get.”

It wasn’t just Francona’s bullpen decisions that worked out, though. Carlos Santana only had two balls hit his way in his five innings playing left field — which represented one more defensive inning than he played at that position previously in his career — with those being a routine Bryant flyout and a Ben Zobrist single, which was fielded by center fielder Tyler Naquin anyway. Francona emptied his bench, deploying Crisp, Michael Martinez, Yan Gomes, Rajai Davis and Brandon Guyer throughout the evening. 

“We needed to win that game in nine or (Corey) Kluber was going to end up hitting at some point,” Francona said. “As fun of a game as it was to be a part of, that was agonizing because we used so many guys.”

Meanwhile, a handful of Maddon’s in-game decisions didn’t produce altogether positive results, even if the thinking behind them was grounded. Maddon left catcher Miguel Montero in to face Miller in the fifth with a runner on second, only to have Montero line out to right. 

Having Montero pinch hit in the fifth saved Kyle Schwarber for a critical spot in the eighth, though the 2014 No. 3 overall pick meekly popped out to second base. 

The decision to leave Edwards in to face Crisp instead of going to left-hander Mike Montgomery backfired, too, even though in doing so the Cubs got the matchup they preferred in that situation. 

“It was either CJ versus him or Montgomery versus Guyer, that's it,” Maddon said. “And just talking it through, we liked that matchup. That's it. We liked it. So it's one or the other. You have to pick your poison right there. It just didn't work out. But that's what we knew, and we chose that and he got a hit.”

It is worth noting, though, that Maddon’s decision to insert right-hander Justin Grimm into the game’s second biggest situation (by leverage index) before the ninth inning was a bit curious, given the reliever had an ERA over 10 in the playoffs when he jogged in from the left field bullpen. With the bases loaded and one out, Grimm induced his first double play of the 2016 season when he got Francisco Lindor to hit a ground ball to Addison Russell, who fired to Javier Baez to start what was at the time a massive 6-4-3 turn. 

So not every decision Maddon made was a bust, but in a 1-0 game, the ones Francona went with wound up paying off yet again as the Indians took control of the World Series. 

“We have a lot of stuff to juggle right now,” Miller said. “Fortunately that's on Tito. He does such a good job of it.” 

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.