Cubs

Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

8-18-jason-hammel-cubs.png

Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs

Jason Hammel sat down with pitching coach Chris Bosio during the rain delay and watched video, trying to break down what went wrong during a season that’s gone so right for the Cubs (so far).

“It’s one of those nights where it seemed like they knew what was coming,” Hammel said after a 10-8 loss that saw the Detroit Tigers generate 19 hits as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning.

Wrigley Field had gotten loud and felt like a playoff atmosphere. For a moment, it became hard to tell which team recently fired its general manager, traded away its best pitcher and started to play for the future.

Dave Dombrowski is now running baseball operations for the Boston Red Sox, David Price is pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tigers aren’t the same monster team that won four division titles in a row.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue]

But for all the optimism on the North Side, the Cubs (67-50) haven’t accomplished anything close to that run yet. They absolutely need Hammel if they’re going to catch the Pittsburgh Pirates, hold off the San Francisco Giants and play deep into October.

“It’s unacceptable right now,” Hammel said. “We’re in the middle of something special.”

The Cubs still hold the second wild-card position, running three games behind the Pirates and three games in front of the Giants in what should be six-plus weeks of dramatic, meaningful baseball.

Detroit (57-61) hit Hammel hard in the first inning, almost drilling back-to-back-to-back homers – Miguel Cabrera’s line drive to left field became a ground-rule double after a replay review showed fan interference – and that started the “Let’s go Tigers!” chants.

Hammel put the Cubs in a 3-0 deficit and then gave up a two-run homer to Anthony Gose in the second inning, creating more questions about Joe Maddon’s quick hook, last month’s hamstring injury and the potential for a stretch-run fade after a first half that approached an All-Star level.

Maddon allowed Hammel to throw only 65 pitches in his last outing, and the manager pulled the veteran right-hander after four-plus innings in the start before that. The Cubs wound up winning both those games and going on a nine-game winning streak.

This time, Mother Nature made the decision for Maddon with a tornado watch, a flash flood warning and a rain delay that started in the third inning and lasted two hours and 17 minutes.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Maddon said Hammel is healthy, the velocity is there and the stuff is good: “He’s trying like way too hard.”

“I’ve probably been out of sync for the last few starts, but physically I feel fine,” Hammel said. “For whatever reason, mechanically, execution-wise, I’m not getting the ball down in the zone the way I did before. We’ll go back to the drawing board.

“Effort-wise, I don’t feel like I’m doing anything different. I’m not trying to overthrow. Sometimes, less is more. It’s disappointing to go out there and have good stuff – like I did tonight – and just kind of get hit around the yard.”

The Tigers wound up beating Pedro Strop with finesse in the eighth inning. With Bob Costas up in the Wrigley Field press box calling the game for MLB Network, Detroit bunted for two singles before Strop walked Cabrera and J.D. Martinez drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to center field.

The crowd of 39,684 had almost disappeared by then, with wide stretches of empty green seats throughout the ballpark. Strop intentionally walked pinch-hitter Victor Martinez before Nick Castellanos lifted a soft single into shallow right field to score two more runs.

The Cubs are supposed to be the rising power now and believe they can play with anyone. That starts with pitching.

“I don’t want anybody to change anything right now,” Maddon said. “I promise you, I mean that sincerely: There’s nothing I would change about our guys right now. Some have met adversity and fought through it. Others have been there, done that before and they understand how to do it.”

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.

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

Cubs put Kyle Hendricks on 10-Day IL

On Saturday, the Cubs announced that they are placing starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks on the 10-day I.L.with right shoulder inflammation. 

Following Hendricks' injury, the Cubs recalled right-handed pitcher Rowan Wick from Triple-A. Wick will be available on Saturday night and beyond, as the Cubs continue their four-game series against the Dodgers. 

This obviously a significant blow for the Cubs, as Hendricks is the team leader in innings pitched (88.1).

Prior to his loss on Friday night, Hendricks had won three straight outings, giving up less than 3 ER in each game. 

The Cubs have plenty of options to replace Hendricks for the time being. With an off day until Monday, they could keep their rotation intact. Tyler Chatwood and Mike Montgomery are options, and the Cubs could push Hendricks next start back to by going with a spot starter. 

Stellar pitching prospect Adbert Alzolay is another intriuging option, and he is coming off of a great outing with the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. On Fridaym he racked up 9 strikeouts, giving up 8 hits and 2 ER. 

The 24-year old Alzolay is ranked as the Cubs' fourth-overall prospect and the Hendricks injury could open the door for Alzolay to get called up.

The more likely scenario is that Cubs manager Joe Maddon chooses to use Chatwood. 

Chatwood is the only pitcher outside of the everyday rotation to have made a start this year and is the most obvious stopgap solution until we get further updates on Hendricks' status.