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October issues for Cubs exposed in Game 1 loss to Pirates

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October issues for Cubs exposed in Game 1 loss to Pirates

PITTSBURGH – All these issues will be magnified in October.

The Cubs didn’t measure up to the Pittsburgh Pirates in this potential playoff preview, unraveling in the eighth inning of a 5-4 Game 1 loss and exposing their trouble spots during Tuesday’s doubleheader at PNC Park.

“There’s a lot of gifted runs in that game both ways,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward. “When you get to that latter part of the game, we have to do a better job of forcing the other team to beat us — as opposed to self-inflicted wounds.”

For all of their talented young hitters and good clubhouse vibes, the Cubs weren’t built as a defense-first team and that farm system hasn’t produced enough impact pitchers yet to diversify the bullpen.

The Pirates didn’t play a perfect game, but they quickly capitalized when Justin Grimm gave up a leadoff walk to Pedro Alvarez in the eighth inning.

[MORE CUBS: Theo Epstein’s ideas about fixing the wild-card format]

Pinch-runner Pedro Florimon stole second base and hustled to third when Miguel Montero’s throw bounced past Starlin Castro into center field. That went down as an error for the veteran catcher and Florimon scored the go-ahead run on Starling Marte’s sacrifice fly.

“I’m beating myself,” Grimm said. “The other teams aren’t beating me. I’m beating myself.”

Just like that, the Cubs wasted the four runs they manufactured against Gerrit Cole, the stud right-hander lined up for the National League’s wild-card game on Oct. 7 (unless the Pirates catch the St. Louis Cardinals).

The Cubs have built a relentless American League-style lineup that will keep gathering intelligence on Cole, the No. 1 overall pick out of UCLA in the 2011 draft. Cole pitched into the seventh inning before turning the game over to Joakim Soria, who threw two wild pitches, allowing Castro and Tommy La Stella to score the game-tying runs.

[MORE CUBS: Long-term deal for Theo Epstein can wait with Cubs in playoff race]

But the Cubs know that power pitching plays in October, and they have question marks at the back of the rotation beyond Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta, not to mention a bullpen that’s been trying to cover up for those issues pretty much all season.

Jason Hammel appeared to be in trouble from the start, walking two batters and hitting another in a three-run first inning. Hammel walked off the mound with two outs in the fourth and the Cubs already trailing 4-1, not the way to begin a doubleheader against a team that’s 30 games over .500.

“Pretty embarrassing,” Hammel said. “It pisses me off. I’m a starter – set the tone – and I haven’t done it in awhile. I got to figure it out.

“What I’m doing right now isn’t acceptable. So I got to get to work and we’re running out of time. I take a lot of pride in my work and right now it’s not translating.

“Outstanding job with the guys to bounce back and make a game of it. But they’ve been doing that too often. I need to start pulling my own weight here.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs built up enough of a cushion that they shouldn’t collapse down the stretch. But there will be nowhere to hide in a one-game playoff.

Grimm (3-5, 2.22 ERA) has been such a huge piece to this bullpen, a reason why the Cubs are positioned for the playoffs. But there’s always a price to be paid. The line from his last 10 appearances: 8.1 innings, 12 runs (6 earned), 8 hits, 8 walks.

“I just got to find my confidence and get my aggressiveness back,” Grimm said. “Right now, I’m just trying to finish out strong and then worry about October in October.”

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

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