Cubs

Maddon on Cubs' tough loss: 'We showed why we're not ready yet'

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Maddon on Cubs' tough loss: 'We showed why we're not ready yet'

The Royals have become one of the best teams in Major League Baseball thanks to a ridiculous bullpen and stellar defense.

Friday, that was the difference as the Cubs bullpen and defense imploded in the eighth inning, handing Kansas City an 8-4 victory in front of 34,273 fans in the Royals' first visit to Wrigley Field in more than 13 years.

"We played well today and then we broke down at the end," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We had them on the ropes.

"They showed why they went to the World Series. We showed why we're not ready yet."

[MORE: Dale Sveum returns to Wrigley Field: 'This is a special place']

Addison Russell tied the game for the Cubs with a long home run off Kansas City's elite setup man Kelvin Herrera — who had allowed just one homer in 80 innings since the start of the 2014 season — in the seventh inning, but the Royals wasted no time regaining the lead.

Pedro Strop walked Mike Moustakas to begin the eighth and the next hitter, Lorenzo Cain, doubled him home. Eric Hosmer then walked and after two straight strikeouts, the wheels came off for the Cubs.

Royals second baseman Omar Infante sent a liner to center field, where Dexter Fowler dropped the ball and then slipped and fell while trying to pick it back up, allowing two unearned runs to score.

"We have to be more efficient in the latter part of the game," Maddon said. "We cannot make the physical or mental mistakes. You have to make pitches in order to beat good teams late.

"You have to have that will to beat them. You do that by repeating your fundamentals and your techniques and making your pitches or making players or having good at-bats and that's what we need to do, all throughout the game."

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The rough eighth inning overshadowed a comeback from the Cubs after Jake Arrieta allowed four runs — three coming on solo homers — in seven innings of work.

Kris Bryant doubled home Addison Russell in the third inning and Jorge Soler smashed a two-run homer to left in the sixth before Russell's game-tying blast an inning later.

"We didn't make the one play," Maddon said. "But it's before that. We didn't make pitches. The bullpen - we have to make pitches when it's necessary. We didn't do that and that put us in that particular bind.

"It was such a great game for 7 2/3 innings. I thought we really were gonna pull it out. Came from behind - Soler hitting that home run, Addy hitting the home run, working good at-bats in the game.

"And then you get to that moment and we just didn't execute. We talk about fundamentals and technique - we didn't execute and they win. It comes down to that."

The Royals tacked on another unearned run in the ninth off Edwin Jackson before Wade Davis and Greg Holland shut down the Cubs to preserve the win for Kansas City.

[MORE - Maddon, Cubs getting a 'fresh look' at Junior Lake]

"In moments like this, my thoughts always turn to - I want to see how high we bounce after the fall," Maddon said. "We've done pretty well this year, so let's see how high we bounce tomorrow."

On this homestand, the Cubs have welcomed the Washington Nationals and the Royals - two of the best teams in the league - into Wrigley Field.

The Cubs have hung with both teams, but are just 1-3 to show for it through the first four games.

"Those are both high-level clubs," Arrieta said. "The Royals played in the World Series last year and had some tremendous years from a lot of their young guys.

"It's good to match up with them. It kinda lets you know where you stand a little bit. Exposes your mistakes and where you need to get better at some things. We will.

"We were in that game right up until the end and we'll be better for it."

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester saw a start like this coming

Jon Lester had easily his worst outing of the year, allowing the Cardinals to score eight runs on seven hits, the veteran All-Star only managed three innings before Joe Maddon turned to his bullpen. 

The Cardinals would take game two of the series by the score of 18 to 5, and while none of the Cubs pitchers could silence the Cardinal bats, Lester didn't shy away from his poor outing. 

"You know, I don't want to chalk this up as bad days happen," said Lester. "I think mechanically this has kinda been coming." 

Lester knew he was struggling to hit his spots, and while his ERA was a sparkling 2.58 coming into this start, his peripheral stats had him pegged as a potential regression candidate in the second half of the season.

His 4.35 FIP and 3.30 walks per nine innings show a pitcher who is relying heavily on his defense to get outs, which isn't surprising for a 33-year-old veteran but the walks are a concern. 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon was aware Lester had been working on his mechanics, but even he was surprised that Lester's start went downhill so quickly. 

"I thought he had good stuff to start the game, hitting [92-93 mph] and I'm thinking this might be a good day," said Maddon. "But you could just see from the beginning he was off just a little bit." 

Over Lester's last four starts his ERA has been an uncharacteristic 4.57, issuing 10 walks over those four starts, and only making it past the 6th inning once. At this point of Lester's career, he knows the best way for him to get outs isn't through strikeouts but by inducing soft contact and avoiding walks. 

And while both his hard contact rate and walks have increased this season, Lester's experience and high baseball I.Q. has allowed him to navigate his way through sticky situations. 

"I've been getting outs," Lester said candidly. "I just feel like when I've had that strikeout or I have a guy set up for that pitch I haven't been able to execute it." 

And while this outing was one to forget, it's at least a positive sign that Lester is aware of his issues on the mound. The veteran knows how to get outs and he knows what he needs to do to be successful in the latter part of his career. He just needs to get back to executing those pitches. 

Just don't expect Lester to dive head first into the analytics on how to fix his issues, he'll stick to hard work and baseball common sense. 

"I'm not too concerned with the analytic B.S., I'm worried about my mechanical fix for my next start." 

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs set the wrong kind of history in blowout

Cubs fans had plenty to cheer about late in Friday's game against the Cardinals, but not in the way they expected.

With St. Louis absolutely wearing out the Cubs pitching staff in an 18-5 blowout, Joe Maddon turned to a trio of position players to pitch.

In front of 41,077 people at Wrigley Field for the second game of the official second half of the season, Tommy La Stella came on to pitch for the Cubs with 2 outs in the top of the sixth inning. After La Stella got 4 outs, it was Victor Caratini's turn for the eighth inning.

The Cubs have actually used multiple position players as a pitcher before, but it was back on June 16, 1884 in a 20-9 loss, according to historian Ed Hartig. Obviously, the game of baseball was quite different back then.

But just using two position players on the mound wasn't enough for this wacky day at the ballpark.

Ian Happ got the nod for the ninth inning on the mound, serving as the third different position player on the mound. He joked he was using his sinker effectively and that he's now the Cubs clubhouse leader in ERA after not giving up a run in his inning of work.

Was there a friendly competition between Happ, Caratini and La Stella?

"Yes," Happ said. "I won." 

How did Maddon determine who would get the opportunity to make history?

Well, for starters, the process began with getting a certain player OUT of the lineup.

"I had to take Rizzo out of the game because he would've been badgering me the whole time," Maddon laughed. "So it started by getting Rizzo out, and that made my decision-making process a lot easier. Otherwise just imagine him harping in your ear constantly that he wants to pitch and every time I go out to the mound and the game may be lopsided as I'm maybe bringing somebody else in, he reminds me.

"At some point, hopefully in a good situation where we're leading [he can get in and pitch]."

Seeing a position player pitch has actually been a pretty common occurence under Maddon as he's done everything he can to limit the stress on the bullpen:

"I think the fans kinda started to enjoy it, too, which is always fun when you're getting blown out," said Kris Bryant, who connected on his 11th homer of the season in the blowout loss. "Those guys stepped up for us to save the bullpen. So there ya go. We're making history."

Meanwhile, on the other side, Matt Carpenter had a record-setting game.

Before being removed from the game in the sixth inning, Carpenter smashed 3 homers and 2 doubles and drove in 7 runs. It tied a Cardinals record for total bases (16) while tying the MLB record for most extra-base hits in a game (5):

It also was only the second recorded game in MLB history where a player had 3 doubles and 2 homers. The other? Bryant, of course — in Cincinnati in 2016.

Of course, the fact he did it all before the game reached the seventh inning is remarkable:

Offensively, the Cubs left 12 men on base, which would normally be the focal point of ire for the fanbase if not for the rest of the day's events...