Cubs

LIVE: Soriano RBI gives Cubs early lead

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LIVE: Soriano RBI gives Cubs early lead

Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011
Posted: 10:35 a.m.

Associated Press

The St. Louis Cardinals can no longer win the NL Central. Securing the wild card is also starting to look unlikely.

With Matt Holliday expected to return to the lineup for the first time in nearly two weeks, the Cardinals will try to avoid a third straight loss Saturday when they continue their series with the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium.

The Cardinals (86-71) dropped the series opener 5-1 to Chicago (70-87) on Friday, eliminating them from the Central race after Milwaukee defeated Florida to clinch its first division title in 29 years.

St. Louis has dropped two straight following a 12-2 run to fall three games behind wild card leader Atlanta with five to play.

"We started this run weeks ago, everybody counted us out a long time ago and we battled back to give ourselves a chance," starting pitcher Chris Carpenter said. "... We're going to be here ready to go. Everybody is excited."

The Cardinals have to be excited about the return of Holliday, who has missed nine games with a tendon injury on the middle finger of his right hand. He took batting practice Friday and was on deck in the eighth inning of the series opener before St. Louis grounded into its third double play to end the inning.

"Anything but a double play, that would have been fun to see," manager Tony La Russa said.

Watching Holliday face Saturday's scheduled Cubs starter Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.71 ERA) could also be fun for the Cardinals. The left fielder is 7 for 15 with four doubles and a homer off the right-hander.

Lopez, though, has won his last two starts after striking out a season-high seven over six strong innings of Saturday's 2-1 victory over Houston. He's looking to use his final start of the season as an audition for 2012.

"I'm trying to do a job this year and trying to find a spot somewhere," said Lopez, who last won three consecutive starts May 25-June 4, 2006, while with Baltimore.

Lopez is 0-3 with a 10.13 ERA and a .404 opponent batting average in two starts and two relief appearances versus St. Louis this season. Coming out of the bullpen June 5, allowed walkoff home run to Albert Pujols in the Cardinals' 3-2, 10-inning home win.

Pujols, tied for the NL lead with 37 homers, is 6 for 18 with three homers off Lopez.

More production from the Cardinals first baseman, who has reached safely in 39 straight games, could benefit Saturday's starter Kyle Lohse (14-8, 3.47).

Lohse has yielded two earned runs or fewer in seven of his last 10 starts after tossing 7 1-3 innings of one-run ball in Monday's 4-3 victory at Philadelphia.

"You just can't give him enough credit," La Russa said of Lohse, 1-0 with a 3.38 ERA in two starts against the Cubs this season. "We had our best defensive team out there and we kicked it around (with two errors). He picked everybody up all day."

Shortstop Rafael Furcal made a critical error in an 8-6 loss to the New York Mets on Thursday when St. Louis gave up a four-run ninth-inning lead, but could be in Saturday's lineup after La Russa gave Nick Punto the nod Friday.

Furcal is 10 for 26 with two doubles and two homers off Lopez.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, 21, who on Friday became the youngest player in franchise history to reach 200 hits, is 1 for 8 off Lohse.

Alfonso Soriano, who hit a three-run homer in the eighth inning of the series opener, is batting .390 with three home runs in 41 at-bats against the Cardinals right-hander.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs' Craig Kimbrel rises to the moment in 'sharp' outing against Brewers

Cubs reliever Craig Kimbrel stuck with what was working. He pounded the strike zone with one high fastball after another against Manny Pina. Kimbrel was rewarded with a strikeout to end the inning.

In the Cubs’ 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Friday, Kimbrel pitched a shutout ninth inning to give his team the chance to rally. Instead, the Cubs’ bats went cold. But the stadium lights illuminated Kimbrel’s progress.

“He looked really good,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “I’ve been trying to find a spot for him, and the feedback has been great every time I talk to the pitching guys, and his bullpens and the work he’s put in. I think you saw that tonight. The ball was exploding out of his hand really well. Some bad swings. Looked sharp.”

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It should be noted that the spot Ross found for him was in a one-run game. Kimbrel, who entered the season as the Cubs closer, at least temporarily lost that job after a string of rough outings. The Cubs blamed mechanical issues.

On Friday, Kimbrel didn’t allow a hit with the game on the line.

One of the biggest developments for Kimbrel is that he’s now throwing his curve ball for a strike, therefore not allowing opposing hitters to simply gear up for a fastball.

The third pitch he threw on Friday was a curve ball. Avisail Garcia already had two strikes on him, and then he fouled off a curve at the bottom of the strikezone.  Kimbrel sat him down with a high fastball clocking in at almost 98 mph.

“I don’t think he was far off (all year),” Cubs starting pitcher Alec Mills said, “and I think tonight he started putting a few more things together, fastball up in the zone and some good curve balls. It was good to see, for sure.”

As Kimbrel’s teammate, Mills may not be speaking from a position of objectivity. But he knows pitching, and he said he’s been excited about Kimbrel’s fastball all year.

“Even that first inning in Cincinnati,” Mills said. “The ball was coming out really good. It was electric. It was more like the Craig that I remember from past years.”

The Kimbrel from past years was a seven-time All-Star from 2011 to 2018, the year he won the World Series with the Red Sox.

But from 2017 to 2019, the average speed of Kimbrel’s fastball dropped from 98 mph to 96mph. It has remained right around 96 mph this year. On Friday, Kimbrel was locating it more effectively, while his curve ball helped put batters off balance.

Kimbrel still walked a batter – he stopped short of overpowering. But even against the one batter he walked, Justin Smoak, Kimbrel got ahead in the count early. He threw two curve balls for strikes. The first Smoak watched. The second he whiffed.

One outing isn’t a guarantee that Kimbrel will win back his role as closer. But it does show that the positive feedback Ross is getting translates into games. And that Ross is ready to trust him in close games. 

“I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said earlier this month.

On Saturday, he sure did.

 

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Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

Why Cubs might not lose again and other musings in strange, short season

As if things weren’t already going well enough for the Cubs during this strange, short season of baseball in a pandemic, now the baseball gods are dropping gifts into their laps.

The Cardinals’ lengthy shutdown because of a coronavirus outbreak has the Cubs’ arch rivals restarting their season Saturday in Chicago with a patched-up roster and eight games over the next five days, including five games against the Cubs.

And although that means the relative hardship of two doubleheaders for the Cubs in three days, all five of those games Monday through Wednesday are against a decimated Cards roster that won’t have the front end of its rotation for any of the games.

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They catch the Cardinals at their weakest point of the early season a week after catching an otherwise formidable Cleveland team at a moment of clubhouse crisis involving protocol perps Zach Plesac and Mike Clevinger.

That one resulted in a two-game sweep by a combined score of 14-3.

This one already has resulted in all 10 games against the Cardinals now being scheduled for Wrigley Field.

Combine that with the three road games against the White Sox next month, and it means that the team with baseball’s best record on the field, the perfect record in player COVID-19 testing and no significant injuries to key players so far will play 60 percent of its games within its Chicago bubble if the Cubs and MLB pull off the full 60-game season.

If the Cubs were positioned any better to make the playoffs, they’d already be there.

“You can look at it that way if you want,” Cubs manager David Ross said. “We’re just doing our thing.”

No other way to look at it from here. Have you seen the rest of the schedule?

The Cubs have 43 games left, including 29 within a National League Central Division that doesn’t include another .500 team three weeks into a nine-week season. Nine more games are against the Tigers and White Sox.

The best team on the schedule is the Twins, and all three of those games are at home and not until the second-to-last weekend of the season.

With all due respect to Ross and his fear of “bad juju,” the Cubs can’t lose.

“It’s still early on,” the manager said.

Nothing’s early in a 60-game season. And the Cubs already have matched the hot starts of their 2016 and 1908 World Series champions.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go in the season,” Ross said.

The Cubs did have to scratch Tyler Chatwood from his scheduled start Friday night because of back tightness. And Kris Bryant has missed the last two games because of a sore finger after rolling his wrist trying to make a diving catch in left field in Cleveland Wednesday.

But Alec Mills looked good in short-notice replacement duty Friday until a rough four-pitch (and three-run) sequence in the sixth. And Chatwood might be ready for one of Monday’s games — or possibly one of Wednesday’s.

“Things falling in our favor?” Ross said. “We’re playing good baseball, and that should be the focus for me and not the other stuff.”

Granted, they still have to play the games. Granted, Bryant wasn’t available off the bench with the bases loaded in the eighth Friday, and Josh Phegley struck out instead.

And, yes, they actually lost a game to the Brewers Friday night.

But if you still don’t believe the baseball gods are stirring the Cubs’ pot so far this season, you weren’t paying attention in the ninth inning when Craig Kimbrel struck out Avisail Garcia swinging at a 98-mph fastball to start the scoreless inning and Manny Piña swinging at a 96-mph fastball to end it.

What closer problem? Bring on the Cardinals, right?

These guys might not lose another game.

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