LIVE: Johnson RBI puts Cubs above Mets


LIVE: Johnson RBI puts Cubs above Mets

Saturday, Sept. 10, 2011
Posted: 10:20 a.m.
Associated Press
It has taken some time, but Chicago's Randy Wells is finally starting to pitch like he did as a rookie two years ago.

Wells looks to extend his career-best winning streak to six games when he takes the mound for the Cubs against the New York Mets on Saturday at Citi Field.

Wells (7-4, 4.86 ERA) got off to a brutal start to the season, missing two months with a right forearm strain and owning a 6.16 ERA at the end of July, but he has been sharp for Chicago (62-82) since. The right-hander has posted a 0.83 ERA while winning his last three starts and is 5-0 with a 3.09 ERA in his last seven.

Wells allowed one run and seven hits in six innings of a 6-3 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday.

"Better late than never," Mike Quade told the Cubs' official website. "He picked up right where he left off from August. Let's see if he can't finish that way."

Wells will now try to win four consecutive starts for the first time since July 18-Aug. 3, 2009. He finished his rookie season with a 3.05 ERA - 10th in the NL - but followed that up with a disappointing 2010, going 8-14 with a 4.26 ERA.

"People keep asking me about who I was in 2009," Wells said. "I wasn't any different in 2010. It was just a tough year. Things just didn't go my way."

Wells, 0-1 with a 3.06 ERA in three career starts versus the Mets (71-73), will be facing them for the first time this year.

New York starter Chris Capuano (10-12, 4.63) was also experiencing a bit of a renaissance before taking a step back in his last outing.

After yielding two runs while striking out 17 over 16 innings in his final two starts of August, Capuano permitted six runs and eight hits Monday in four innings of a 9-3 loss to Florida. The left-hander failed to reach the fifth inning for the first time in his 27 starts.

"It was frustrating. I could never settle into a good rhythm," Capuano said. "The ball was kind of flat and up a little bit. I just really couldn't make that adjustment."

Capuano has posted a 1.42 ERA while winning his last six starts against the Cubs, but hasn't started against them since 2007, while pitching for Milwaukee.

Chicago third baseman Aramis Ramirez, who hit his team-leading 34th double in Friday's series-opening 5-4 loss, is batting .324 with a homer and two doubles in 34 career at-bats against Capuano.

The Mets handed the Cubs their 12th defeat in 18 games Friday, as Justin Turner doubled in the winning run with two outs in the ninth inning. New York, all but mathematically certain to miss the postseason for a fifth straight year, rallied after giving up the tying run in the top of the ninth to win for the 11th time in 16 games.

"Regardless of where you're at, those are always exciting," outfielder Jason Bay said.

Bay, who doubled twice Friday, is batting .444 with three homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs during an eight-game hitting streak after batting .089 with two doubles and two RBIs in his previous 15 games.
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What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

What makes David Bote so good in the clutch?

Wherever David Bote's career takes him, he'll always carry the label as a "clutch player." 

When you become the only person in baseball history to hit a walk-off grand slam with two outs, two strikes and your team down 3 runs, that kind of reputation will absolutely follow you around.

But how about the fact Bote is already second among Cubs players with 4 walk-off RBI despite playing just 46 home games in his career? (Anthony Rizzo is first with 7 walk-off RBI in his career.)

That's more than Ben Zobrist and Daniel Descalso, who have each notched more than 10 years and 1,000 games in the big leagues.

Even beyond walk-offs, Bote also has a game-tying 2-run shot in the bottom of the ninth inning on his resume from a July 26 game against the Diamondbacks last season. 

In total, Bote is hitting .370/.433/.815 (1.248 OPS) with 3 of his 7 career homers in the ninth inning or later. 

Here's where he ranks in leverage situations over his 93 big-league games:

High leverage — .280/.302/.660 (.962 OPS), 4 HR
Medium/low leverage — .242/.340/.348 (.688 OPS), 3 HR

Those are all just fancy numbers, but what's it all mean? When the lights are the brightest, Bote is at his best. 

"You can't teach that," Anthony Rizzo said. "He's had a lot of situations like that and he's come through. It's fun to watch."

So how does Bote do it? What makes him so clutch?

He has a specific approach and he practices those types of situations — and not just in the way where kids go out in their backyards and pretend they're up with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"It's the mental side of calming yourself, making sure you look for what you want to do — even throughout the whole game," Bote said. "In the offseason and the cage, my last swing of the day is always the game-winning type — OK, it's bases loaded, two outs, we're down 1, I need a base hit. Or we're down 3 or whatever the situation is, I play it out and I just have that practice."

The mental aspect of the game is a huge reason why Bote became such a big story last year, persevering through a long journey in the minor leagues. 

But it's also about opportunity and there's certainly a sense of luck involved.

Sunday, for example, Javy Baez led off the bottom of the ninth inning by motoring into third base, which put Willson Contreras up for a possible walk-off situation. But Arizona's Archie Bradley hit the Cubs catcher with a pitch, bringing Bote up with a chance to end the game. 

"Definitely opportunistic," Bote admitted. "You only have a chance to do it if you're in a position to do it. ... It's a team effort — those guys set the table and I just happened to be the one on Sunday that came through. 

"[Albert] Almora is another guy who gets that opportunity a lot. I think that's the team mindset we have — getting to the next guy. If I didn't do it, I know [Ben Zobrist] would've done it. I think that's the mindset of it all and you hope the first guy that gets a crack at it gets it done."

Bote's clutch hit Sunday allowed the Cubs to avoid extra innings and gave him the opportunity to make his flight back home to Colorado for the birth of his third child, Sullivan. 

Bote was on paternity leave from the team Monday and Tuesday and had some time to reflect on what's already been an emotional week. 

Sunday also marked the one-year anniversary of his MLB debut.

"It was a year ago and it felt like forever ago, just with all that's happened," Bote said. "And I think it's a good thing. Just enjoying every day — the longer it seems, the better. I'm more focused on just worrying about today."

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Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

Jon Lester will return from the IL on Thursday and start against the Dodgers

As expected, Jon Lester will return from the injured list and start Thursday's game, the Cubs confirmed Wednesday afternoon. 

Lester will get the ball in the series finale against the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.

Lester injured his left hamstring running the bases in the second inning of the Cubs' home opener on April 8. Prior to that, he turned in a quality start in each of his first two outings of the season.

The 35-year-old has been working out at Wrigley Field throughout the homestand, including a 45-pitch simulated game Saturday. 

The Cubs jumbled their rotation over the weekend, starting Tyler Chatwood on Sunday even though Jose Quintana was on regular rest. Chatwood had a fantastic outing Sunday and Quintana followed Tuesday night with one of his best starts in a Cubs uniform. 

Joe Maddon said Chatwood could possibly serve as a piggyback to Lester's start, as the Cubs are expecting about 75 pitches from the veteran southpaw Thursday.

"Realistically, I'd say 75 — almost like what we had set up for Chatwood the other day," Maddon said. "How he gets to that number - is it stressful? Is it not stressful? Does he have to leave the mound a lot on different plays? When he hits a double, how hard does he run to second base? Those kinds of things. We'll just monitor all of that. I'm saying 75-80 sounds like the right kind of number."

Cole Hamels threw Wednesday night and Lester will close out the series against a high-powered Dodgers offense that struggles a bit more against lefties than right-handers. Kyle Hendricks, Yu Darvish and Quintana will go in the three games in Arizona over the weekend.