Cubs

LIVE: Wells, Cubs trailing Brewers early on CSN

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LIVE: Wells, Cubs trailing Brewers early on CSN

Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2011
Posted: 9:05 a.m.

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(AP) -- The Milwaukee Brewers are trying to get closer to an NL Central title, but they'll need to end some recent struggles at Wrigley Field.

Shaun Marcum has his own rough stretch to overcome.

Marcum will try to avoid losing a third consecutive start for the first time in his career Tuesday night as the Brewers look to regain some momentum in the middle game of their series with the Chicago Cubs.

Milwaukee (90-64) leads the Central by 5 12 games on second-place St. Louis with eight games remaining, giving the club a magic number of four to clinch its first division title since winning the AL East in 1982.

The Brewers failed to reduce their magic number Monday, falling 5-2 to the Cubs (68-86) to lose for the fourth time in their last five games at Wrigley.

"You're still just trying to take it game by game," said Chris Narveson, who started and took the loss in the series opener. "Magic numbers don't mean anything until you clinch."

Marcum (12-7, 3.40 ERA) will make his third attempt at matching his career-best win total from last year with Toronto. He's won just one of his last five starts, losing the last two while surrendering 11 runs and 17 hits, including three homers, in 11 2-3 innings.

The right-hander allowed six runs and two of the homers in five innings of a 6-2 loss to Colorado on Wednesday.

Marcum has never lost three straight starts in his career, but did suffer three consecutive defeats over four outings as a rookie with the Blue Jays in 2006.

He was solid in his only career meeting with the Cubs on July 28, giving up two runs in six innings of a 4-2 home victory.

Ryan Braun is trying to rebound from his 0-for-4 effort Monday. He's a .374 lifetime hitter at Wrigley Field, and is 10 for 24 with two doubles and a homer off Randy Wells, Tuesday's scheduled starter for Chicago.

Braun is making a bid to become the first Brewer to win the NL batting crown, hitting .333 to rank just ahead of New York's Jose Reyes at .331.

The Cubs have won six of eight at home after ending a six-game losing streak to Milwaukee in the opener of this series.

Geovany Soto connected for a pair of two-run homers Monday and finished with three hits and five RBIs Monday. He has three career multi-homer games - all against the Brewers.

Soto's 15 homers and 37 RBIs versus Milwaukee are his highest totals against any opponent.

"I heard about that, but I think it's maybe because we play against them so much," he said. "I got a lot of opportunities against the division."

Starlin Castro singled Monday, increasing his league-leading hit total to 196. The 21-year-old shortstop is trying to become the youngest Cub to reach 200 in a season and the first of any age since Juan Pierre had 204 hits in 2006. Castro is also attempting to reach base safely for a 33rd straight game, which would be the longest such streak for Chicago since Jerome Walton had a 43-game run July 21-Sept. 4, 1989.

Wells (7-4, 4.93) is 5-0 with a 3.57 ERA in his last nine starts, but his last loss was a 4-2 defeat at Milwaukee on July 27, when he allowed four runs over six innings.

The right-hander turned in a subpar outing Thursday, surrendering five runs and seven hits - two homers - in 4 1-3 innings but not getting a decision in the Cubs' 8-6, 11-inning loss at Cincinnati.

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

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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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.