Cubs

With one bunt, Ben Zobrist helps swing NLCS in Cubs' direction

With one bunt, Ben Zobrist helps swing NLCS in Cubs' direction

LOS ANGELES – Forget cleanup hitter. Think of Ben Zobrist as a great point guard, someone who understands how the pieces fit together, sees all the angles, creates for his teammates and remains calm under pressure.

After watching the Los Angeles Dodgers hold the Cubs scoreless for 21 consecutive innings – and take control of this National League Championship Series – Zobrist realized he needed to do something different.

Zobrist had been thinking about this for days, but finally sensed the opportunity on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium. Julio Urias – the 20-year-old lefty who’s evoked comparisons to Fernando Valenzuela – hadn’t allowed a hit through three innings. The Dodgers had focused on throwing first-pitch strikes and attacking Zobrist early with off-speed stuff in the zone.

“You just try to find the right time,” Zobrist said. “I felt like at that point it was definitely necessary to at least try. And if it doesn’t work out – or you foul it off – then next pitch I’m probably swinging.”

Zobrist bunted the Urias curveball he saw coming, placing it perfectly along the third-base line for the leadoff hit that put the Cubs in transition. Javier Baez and Willson Contreras hit back-to-back singles, scoring Zobrist for the first run and forcing one of four errors the Dodgers committed. Jason Heyward hit a ball to the right side of the infield to score Baez. And Addison Russell broke out of his slump by drilling a 94-mph Urias fastball over the right-center field wall for a two-run homer.

Just like that, all the fourth-inning pressure in Game 4 broke the Dodgers as the Cubs stormed back for a 10-2 victory that tied up a best-of-seven series. 

“All the little things,” Zobrist said. “You’re not going to hit a bunch of three-run homers every game. You really have to find a way to play small ball, especially in the postseason when we’re facing good pitching and they’ve been tough on us.

“That just kind of got everything going. Offensively, everybody contributed. It just kind of felt like the floodgates opened.”

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This is what Zobrist did with the Kansas City Royals last season, earning a World Series ring and signing a four-year, $56 million contract to help the Cubs win eight more games than the 2015 team that never led at any point against the New York Mets in the NLCS.

The Cubs wanted a veteran switch-hitter in the middle of their lineup to set an example for their younger players, a winner who would maintain the same pitch-by-pitch focus and daily approach, no matter what else might be going on around this team.    

“That’s kind of what you have to do to stay sane,” Zobrist said. “If you do different things when things are not going well, (then) you’re going to drive yourself crazy in this game.

“We try to keep the routine the same. We try to stay positive with each other and believe that it’s going to happen. We know that our offense is too good to keep down for a long time.

“Hopefully, tonight was a big indication of what is to come the next few games.”

While the best team in baseball during the regular season had to find its identity in October – see that first-round comeback against the San Francisco Giants – Zobrist already had enough self-awareness to know this: “I’ve said this before, I’m not a cleanup hitter. I’m just batting fourth.” 

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

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USA TODAY

Cubs, Bears, Bulls among the top 25 wealthiest sports teams in the world

What Chicago sports team is worth the most money in 2018?

As reported by Kurt Badenhausen in a Forbes article about the 50 richest teams around the globe, the Cubs are the most valuable organization in the Windy City.

Chicago’s North Side baseball team ranks as the 16th wealthiest team in the world, valued at $2.9 billion, an 8 percent increase from 2017. The Cubs are the third-most affluent franchise in Major League Baseball, behind the New York Yankees ($4 billion) and the Los Angeles Dodgers ($3 billion).

This year, the baseball club owned by the Ricketts family surpassed the wealth of the Boston Red Sox ($2.8 billion), who the Cubs were ranked behind last season at $2.68 billion. In the span of a year, the North Siders gained two spots in the top 50 from 18 to 16 on the list.

What could be the reason for this increase?

Could it be that the Cubs are in first place in the NL Central? Or could it be the incredible performances from players like Jon Lester and Javy Baez?

Whatever the reason is for the Cubs’ prosperity, the team is doing something right.

The club also surpassed the Bears on the list this year. In 2017 the Bears (worth $2.7 billion last year) were tied with the Red Sox as the 16th most valuable sports team on Earth. The McCaskey-owned football team has fallen to a tie at 17 with the San Francisco Giants, both valued at $2.85 billion in 2018. The Bears even increased by 6 percent in the last year, making the Cubs’ jump seem greater.

The Bulls, owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, are the last team from Chicago to make the cut. They stand at 23 in the top 50, tied with the Denver Broncos. Both franchises are worth $2.6 billion. Chicago’s NBA team even fell a spot from 2017, but they still increased their value by 4 percent (worth $2.5 billion last year).

The Bears are the seventh richest team in the NFL, while the Bulls are fourth wealthiest in the NBA.

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

It looks like rough times are ahead for Brewers relief ace Josh Hader

The Brewers' best pitcher is in some serious hot water before the second half of the MLB season gets underway.

As he was serving up a 3-run homer in the All-Star Game Tuesday night, Josh Hader's Tweets from 2011 were aired publicly and the result was...not good.

Hader's Tweets as a 17-year-old reflected racist and homophobic remarks, among other issues. (A summary of his Tweets can be found at Deadspin.)

After the All-Star Game, Hader was immediately put in front of reporters to respond to the Tweets and admitted he will accept any punishment that comes his way — including any possible suspension:

He won't be suspended by the league and will instead under go sensitivity training, but this absolutely could affect Hader mentally moving forward. 

Case in point:

He can ask teammate Ryan Braun how to deal when fans turn on you, but it's going to be a lot more difficult for a 24-year-old in his first full big-league season to deal with any hate that comes down. 

Hader has been the Brewers' most valuable pitcher all season, going 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and a ridiculous 16.7 K/9. 

But over the last month-plus, he's been...human.

Ever since Jason Heyward turned on a 98 mph Hader fastball to tie the game in Milwaukee on June 11, the Brewers' relief ace has a 2.84 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 13.5 K/9.

Still great numbers, to be sure, but not the Superman-esque line baseball fans came to expect from Hader after the first couple months of 2018. (Plus, the All-Star Game homer he served up to Jean Segura, but that obviously doesn't count for anything.)

With the Brewers already chasing the Cubs by 2.5 games in the division in the second half, they can't afford Hader's slump to worsen.

Though Cubs fans may be rooting for that...