Cubs

Jon Lester, Cubs can’t overcome Padres in rubber match loss

cubs-padres-rubber-match-4-19-15.png

Jon Lester, Cubs can’t overcome Padres in rubber match loss

Cubs manager Joe Maddon predicted before Sunday’s game everyone was finally going to see how good Jon Lester can be.

That premonition didn’t fulfill itself, though, as Lester lasted just 5 1/3 innings and the Cubs fell to San Diego, 5-2, in front of 29,113 fans at Wrigley Field.

Lester allowed three runs on six hits with two walks and four strikeouts, throwing 97 pitches before being lifted for Brian Schlitter in the sixth. Through three starts — a small sample size, of course — Lester has a 6.89 ERA and has yet to throw more than six innings.

[MORE: Cubs won’t overload Kris Bryant with too much information]

The Cubs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to some spotty defense from San Diego in the first. Dexter Fowler led off the inning with a single and advanced to second when right fielder Matt Kemp couldn’t cleanly field the ball, and he came around to score on Jorge Soler’s single.

The inning continued when first baseman Yangervis Solarte dropped a throw, allowing Starlin Castro to reach and Chris Coghlan to drive in Soler.

Will Middlebrooks blasted a two-run equalizing home run in the second, an inning which featured Lester — who’s struggled this year throwing the ball to first base — fielding a sharp comebacker and lobbing his glove, with the ball in it, to Anthony Rizzo for an out.

"I mean obviously that isn’t something you draw up. I was more surprised that I caught the ball more than anything," Lester said. "And then we you go to grab it and it’s not there. I thought I missed it or knocked it down or something.

It was the mad scramble there to figure out what was going on and obviously it happens in a matter of seconds. I would have liked to get the double play, but we’ll settle for the out. I never had to do that before but an out’s an out and I’ll take it any way I can."

Lester began the sixth by walking Kemp and giving up a single to Derek Norris. He retired Middlebrooks and was pulled for Schlitter, who got Jedd Gyorko to fly out before Will Venable jammed an 0-2 fastball into center for the go-ahead single.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs’ offense floundered after its strong start against former North Sider Andrew Cashner, only reaching base once — a Kris Bryant double in the fifth — between the third and eighth innings.

Solarte ripped a two-run home run off right-hander Jason Motte in the seventh to give the Padres some breathing room. With two out in the ninth, Chris Denorfia chopped an infield single and Fowler bunted for a hit off Joaquin Benoit to put the tying run at the plate, but Soler struck out to end the game. 

Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

Cubs lead Bears, Bulls on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list

The Chicago Cubs tied the Washington Redskins for 14th on Forbes' Most Valuable Sports Teams 2019 list with a $3.1 billion valuation. The Cubs' valuation grew by 7% year over year.

The Cubs are the fourth-most valuable franchise in MLB behind the Yankees ($4.1B), the Dodgers ($3.3B) and the Red Sox ($3.2B). Only seven MLB teams made the Top 50.

Two other Chicago teams, the Bears and the Bulls, are tied for 19th on the list with a value of $2.9 billion. The Bears' value grew just 2% while the Bulls' valuation grew by 12% year over year.

The rise of the pro sports teams valued over $2 billion has been pretty meteoric over the past decade. In 2012, only Manchester United was valued over $2 billion and in 2019 that number has risen to 52.

In 2012, only the Knicks and Lakers made the Top 50 list but in 2019 the Bulls are one of nine teams to earn a spot. The Bulls were the fourth-most valuable NBA franchise in 2019 behind the Knicks ($4B), Lakers ($3.7B) and Warriors ($3.5B).

Forbes credits the NBA's international prospects and worldwide revenue growth for the league's rise in the list.

No NHL teams made the list, the New York Rangers were the most-valued hockey team at $1.55 billion, 72nd highest.

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.