Cubs

Jake Arrieta hits homer, but struggles with command late as Cubs fall to Pirates

Jake Arrieta hits homer, but struggles with command late as Cubs fall to Pirates

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The way Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon figures it, the list of relievers with better stuff than Pittsburgh's Felipe Rivero is short. Really short. There might be five.

After spending two nights watching Rivero have his way with Chicago's lineup, the list might be getting even shorter.

Barely 24 hours after working the eighth to preserve a Pittsburgh lead only to see it evaporate in the ninth following his exit, Rivero got the final five outs for his third save as the Pirates held on for a 4-3 win on Saturday night.

"He just goes out there, he's doing his job pitching," Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. "Slow heartbeat - no heartbeat at all, actually."

Rivero entered with one out in the eighth and the tying run on second then walked Kris Bryant before retiring Albert Almora Jr. and getting a fabulous play by second baseman Max Moroff to end the threat. Rivero worked a perfect ninth to give the Pirates a boost following their meltdown the night before.

"To get five outs, it's a big save," Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. "It's a good save for us, a bounce back game after (Friday) night."

Gregory Polanco broke out of a 3 for 31 slump with a two-run homer and McCutchen hit his 12th home run of the season. Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched seven strong innings, cutting loose after striking out pinch-hitter Jon Jay to end the seventh. His 94th and final pitch was also his fastest, a 97 mph fastball that Jay couldn't get a bat on.

"I said it was smart pitching," said Nova, who has worked at least six innings in all 13 of his starts this season. "I don't need to be throwing 97, 98 from the first pitch. My job is to locate my pitches and pitch 92 or 93. If I need to go harder, I feel good enough to throw."

Jake Arrieta (6-5) hit the fifth home run of his career but struggled with his command late and is now 0-3 with a 7.80 ERA in his last five starts against Pittsburgh. He went 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA the first 13 ties he faced the Pirates. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was removed with two outs in the fifth inning following a sequence in which he uncorked two wild pitches and hit a batter. He blamed the wildness on sweating and not the laceration on his right (pitching) thumb.

"It's a helpless feeling when you can't put pressure on a ball and execute a pitch," he said. "It happens. You hope that you can just find a way to get through the inning a make an adjustment. I really wasn't able to."

Addison Russell hit his sixth home run of the season for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo led off the game with a single and went 2 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, but the defending World Series champions dipped back below .500 (33-34).

The Cubs have been unable to get anything going as their hangover from the franchise's first title in 108 years lingers. It looked like they found something Friday night, when they erupted for six runs in the ninth to rally for a win. The surge came against Juan Nicasio and Tony Watson, who came in when Rivero needed 20 pitches to get out of the eighth against the top of Chicago's lineup.

Nicasio was unavailable on Saturday, and when Daniel Hudson gave up a double to rookie Ian Happ with one out in the eighth, Rivero came in and did it again. Before the game, Maddon raved about Rivero's command and his comportment. Both were on full display as Maddon watched from the dugout and Nova watched from the trainer's room.

"It's amazing that guy that we have here," Nova said. "You can ask him for one inning, he'll throw one inning. You ask him for two innings, he'll go two innings. It looks so easy."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Pirates: Gave 2B Josh Harrison the day off for just the third time this season. Hurdle pointed to a draining stretch for Harrison - who leads the team with a .302 batting average - and a lackluster history against Arrieta (.077 average) as the major factors in the decision.

UP NEXT:

Cubs: Struggling veteran John Lackey (4-7, 5.26 ERA) will look for his first win in a month on Sunday in the series finale. Lackey is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts.

Pirates: Jameson Taillon (3-1, 2.90) will try to win his second straight start since returning from a cancer scare. Taillon pitched five scoreless innings on Monday just five weeks removed from a procedure to deal with testicular cancer.

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.