Nationals force Cubs to focus and raise their game


Nationals force Cubs to focus and raise their game

WASHINGTON – The Cubs like to say they can play with anyone, but that could mean anything for a young team learning how to win and trying to get beyond survival mode at this level.

The Washington Nationals have already built The Foundation for Sustained Success, winning 98, 86 and 96 games across the last three years and coming into this season as World Series favorites.

The Cubs seem to get up for teams like Washington, knowing that’s what they want to become. They hung on for a 2-1 victory as Thursday night turned into Friday morning at Nationals Park.

“There will be times – and I think there has been times – where we’ve come out a little lackadaisical maybe all across the board,” Jake Arrieta said. “But those things have been tightened up. Especially when you play teams like this, (you) have to be on top of your game if you want to come out ahead.” 

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

After a rain delay that lasted almost two hours, the Cubs jumped Nationals lefty Gio Gonzalez for two runs in the first inning, with Junior Lake flipping his bat again after working a bases-loaded walk.

There were no fireworks as Arrieta sliced through Washington’s lineup, allowing one run in six innings, with eight strikeouts against zero walks, before turning the game over to the bullpen.

“We know who our opposition is,” said Arrieta (5-4, 3.04 ERA). “We know what they’re capable of bringing to the table, so that definitely will elevate our game.”

The Cubs (28-24) already took two series from the Pittsburgh Pirates and split another with a team that’s made the playoffs two years in a row. The New York Mets – the pitching-rich bizarro Cubs – got swept out of Wrigley Field in the middle of May.  

[MORE: Cubs getting their money's worth with Anthony Rizzo]

The Cubs have also missed opportunities, losing two series to the Milwaukee Brewers in May – before and after they fired manager Ron Roenicke – and going 1-for-3 this week against the dysfunctional Miami Marlins.  

“That’s not been lost on me,” manager Joe Maddon said. “We have to do better, absolutely. We have to be better. I don’t want to be that team that plays to the level of competition. We got to bring our game every night.”

That’s why Anthony Rizzo didn’t want to read too much into his game-ending pick-off play at first base, or splitting four tight games with the Nationals since Memorial Day.

“I messed up on a bunt play,” Rizzo said. “We let a ball get by in the outfield. We tried to stab ourselves in the foot today, and we overcame it.

“We really just got to take care of the ball and the routine plays and manufacture runs better. (Then) we’ll be on our way. But we know we’re good.”  

Cubs recall David Bote from Triple-A with Anthony Rizzo's back ailing


Cubs recall David Bote from Triple-A with Anthony Rizzo's back ailing

David Bote's minor league stint didn't last long.

After demoting the 26-year-old to Triple-A Iowa on Monday, the Cubs recalled Bote on Sunday. In a corresponding move, the team placed Derek Holland (left wrist contusion) on the 10-day injured list.

Bote's return comes on the heels of Anthony Rizzo exiting Saturday's game due to mid-back tightness. Rizzo has dealt with back issues at various points in his career, missing four games in May this season with a similar ailment. 

The Cubs activated Steve Cishek off the injured list Tuesday, with the reliever filling Bote's vacancy on the 25-man roster. Thus, the Cubs had been playing with 14 pitchers and 11 position players for much of this week. Had they not recalled Bote, they Cubs would've had to play Sunday's game with just Victor Caratini and Tony Kemp available off the bench.

A similar situation occurred Saturday, as Rizzo exited the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. To save the Cubs from running out of position players, reliever Kyle Ryan took his at-bat in the sixth inning. Although he drew a walk, Ryan was thrown out attempting to take third base on a pitch that got away from Nationals catcher Yan Gomes.

Holland was hit by a comebacker in Tuesday's game against the Giants. Him landing on the injured list leaves Ryan as the lone lefty in the Cubs bullpen. The former holds a 5.74 ERA this season in 43 overall games between the Cubs and Giants, though that number is a more respectable 4.66 in 12 appearances with the Cubs.

Bote is hitting .257/.352/.429 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in 106 games (268 at-bats) this season. 

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Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury


Anthony Rizzo leaves Cubs game with injury

In the midst of a second straight tough game against the Nationals, the Cubs were dealt another dose of bad news when Anthony Rizzo was forced out of the contest due to injury.

The first baseman was pinch-hit for in the bottom of the fifth inning with what the team called mid-back tightness. The Cubs did not have an update on his status immediately following the 7-2 loss.

Rizzo had walked the previous inning and was stranded on third base when a full-count pitch to Ian Happ was called a strike:

Rizzo made an error in each of the first two innings of the game, throwing a ball into left field when second base wasn't being covered and then dropping a throw from Javy Baez to begin the second inning.

Rizzo has dealt with back issues throughout his career, including a stint where he missed four games in mid-May.

Jonathan Lucroy hit for Rizzo in the fifth inning and doubled home the Cubs' second run of the game. He stayed in to catch while Victor Cartaini moved from behind the plate to first base.

The Cubs were already operating with a short bench since they currently have a nine-man bullpen and they had already utilized Happ off the bench earlier in the game (he was later ejected after the controversial call).