Cubs

LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

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LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 10:11 a.m.
Associated Press

Led by MVP candidate Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers are on the verge of clinching their first division title in nearly 30 years.

The slugger has also been instrumental to the Brewers' dominance over the Chicago Cubs.

Braun looks to help NL Central-leading Milwaukee win seven straight over the Cubs for the first time in Monday night's series opener at Wrigley Field.

By sweeping a three-game set in Cincinnati over the weekend, the Brewers (90-63) trimmed their magic number to four with nine games remaining to win their first division title since capturing the AL East in 1982.

"They're playing for something and we're playing for something that's totally different," Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena told his team's official website after Sunday's 3-2 loss to Houston. "They're trying to clinch the division and a playoff berth. We're just trying to win some ballgames and finish up strong."

Milwaukee, which outscored the Reds 24-5, reached the 90-win mark for the first time since winning the NL wild card in 2008. It hasn't posted more victories since finishing with 92 in 1992.

"It's hard to lose when you pitch and hit," slugger Prince Fielder said after Sunday's 8-1 win. "It feels better when you do it on the road. It's not easy to do it on the road. It gives you extra confidence."

The Brewers are a major league-best 17-5 on the road since Aug. 5, although they lost three of four during their last trip to Wrigley from June 13-16.

Milwaukee has outscored the Cubs 23-12 in winning six meetings at Miller Park since. It also won six straight in the series between 2001 and '02.

Braun is batting .524 during the Brewers' winning streak against Chicago, and he's hitting .408 with three home runs, nine doubles and 12 RBIs in 13 games against the Cubs this year.

The four-time All-Star, who is among the league leaders in homers (31), RBIs (103), doubles (36), runs (103), batting average (.336), OPS (.997) and stolen bases (31), is also batting .429 with four homers and eight RBIs during an eight-game overall hitting streak.

While he has hit most Cubs pitchers hard, scheduled starter Casey Coleman (2-8, 7.06 ERA) has gotten it the worst. Braun is 7 for 10 with a homer and two doubles against the right-hander.

Corey Hart, who hit his 25th homer Sunday and is batting .391 in his last six games, has also been a nightmare for Coleman, going 5 for 7 with a home run.

Coleman permitted six runs, six hits and three walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday - his fifth straight defeat. He's 0-2 with a 6.20 ERA in four career appearances versus the Brewers.

Milwaukee's Chris Narveson (10-7, 4.40) has fared much better in the series, posting a 2.51 ERA in winning each of his five starts against the Cubs.

Narveson is set to make his first start since yielding six runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 8. The left-hander, who retired all six batters he faced in a relief appearance against Colorado on Wednesday, was 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in his previous six starts, including an outing against Chicago.

Facing the Cubs (67-86) on July 26, Narveson allowed two runs and eight hits in five-plus innings during a 3-2 victory, improving to 3-0 against them this year.

Chicago's Aramis Ramirez is 3 for 17 with two homers lifetime against Narveson.

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

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

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AP

Kyle Ryan's emergence is coming at exactly the right time for Cubs

With the MLB trade deadline two weeks away, bullpen help figures to be on the Cubs' wish list.

But thanks in part to Kyle Ryan's emergence, the Cubs don't absolutely need that reliever to be left-handed (though it would probably be ideal).

The Cubs began the week with three southpaws in their bullpen, but at some point this weekend, Ryan may be the lone lefty remaining. Mike Montgomery was traded to the Royals late Monday night and with Carl Edwards Jr. progressing in his rehab (he threw again Tuesday), he might take Randy Rosario's spot in a couple days. 

The Cubs like Edwards against lefties and they also feel confident in Pedro Strop against either handed hitter when he's on. But Ryan has worked his way into Joe Maddon's Circle of Trust and is currently the only lefty residing there.

That's not to say the Cubs don't need another reliable southpaw in the 'pen, but Ryan looks like he's going to get some big outs for this team down the stretch.

"He's done a great job for us since he's been here," Jon Lester said of Ryan last month. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he's been able to do."

Ryan impressed the Cubs with his work as a multi-inning reliever in Triple-A last season and turned heads again in camp this spring. Still, Rosario made the Opening Day roster over him, though Ryan got called up on the team's season-opening road trip and made his first appearance on April 6.

Since then, he's been a mainstay while Montgomery battled injury and ineffectiveness, Rosario and Tim Collins have bounced between Triple-A Iowa and Chicago and veteran Xavier Cedeno's time off the injured list was short-lived.

Ryan looked to be finding his way throughout his first month in the bullpen, but after his infamous "freeze" moment against the Marlins, he endured some struggles (7 runs allowed on 12 hits in 7 innings from May 8 through June 1).

He's righted the ship since then, permitting only 1 run over his last 17 appearances (14 innings) and lowering his season ERA to 3.21 to go along with a 1.31 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 33.2 innings.

A big part of that recent success can be tied to Ryan's increased improvement against left-handed hitters. 

Lefties hit .344 with a .405 on-base percentage off Ryan through June 5. But since then, Ryan has surrendered only 3 hits — all singles — and zero walks to the 19 left-handed hitters he's faced (.158 AVG).

He credits part of that turnaround to working on a changeup, which he thinks has helped lock in the "feel" of all his other pitches as well as his mechanics. 

As he works to add a new pitch to his repertoire, Ryan has leaned on Cubs bullpen coach Lester Strode and pitching coach Tommy Hottovy for assistance, while also picking the brains of veterans like Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Brad Brach who have all thrown changeups for quite a while.

But even with all that work, he still hasn't resorted to using the changeup much in games. The pitch is so foreign that it's still being picked up as a sinker, including on the Wrigley Field video board Sunday when he threw one in his inning of work.

"Eventually, I'm gonna find the changeup and it's gonna be a comfortable, confident pitch," Ryan said. "But I do think it's gotten me behind all the rest of my pitches and it's maybe a little bit better feel for everything. It's gonna stay where it is for a while. I'm gonna keep trying."

Ryan said one of the things he likes about the changeup is that it can eventually be a nice weapon because it "goes in the opposite direction" of all his other pitches.

We'll see if the new pitch can ever become a factor for the 27-year-old. But if it's helped lock in his other pitches, that's great news for the Cubs, especially as they look to fortify their bullpen this month.

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: The Yu Darvish 1st Wrigley win and post-ASG hot start podcast

On the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull and Tony Andracki discuss Yu Darvish's 1st win at Wrigley, Cole Hamel's status, and Kris Bryant playing better than he did in his MVP season.

01:00     Darvish picking up 1st win at Wrigley

03:30     Cole Hamels injury update

05:00     Starting rotation after the All-Star break

06:00     Cubs defense looking sharp

07:30     How the Cubs will approach the weekend and the expected heat

09:30     Kris Bryant playing above his MVP level

12:00     How the NL Central stacks up

14:00     Upcoming road trip to San Francisco, Milwaukee and Saint Louis

16:00     Addition to Martin Maldonado

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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