Cubs

Power outage: So far, Mets pitching too much for Cubs hitters in NLCS

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Power outage: So far, Mets pitching too much for Cubs hitters in NLCS

NEW YORK – The “Rocky” theme song could be heard all the way on the other side of Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse, probably blasting out of the manager’s office, not far from where backup catcher David Ross would hold court with a group of reporters.   

If the Cubs are going to turn this National League Championship Series into a classic underdog/comeback story, they will have to start hitting bombs again and get great pitching from the trouble spots in their rotation. 

But if you were looking for someone to punch a wall or flip over a garbage can, you came to the wrong place. Players lounged around watching the New England Patriots finish off the Indianapolis Colts on “Sunday Night Football.” Anthony Rizzo stood in front of his locker after a 4-1 loss to the New York Mets and shrugged his shoulders.

“What else can we do?” Rizzo said. “It’s not like we’re dogging it or anything. We’re giving it our all.”

[MORE: Jake Arrieta hits the wall as Mets put Cubs in 0-2 NLCS hole]

Smothered by young guns Matt Harvey and Noah Syndergaard and lights-out closer Jeurys Familia, the Cubs are down 0-2 in this best-of-seven matchup between power pitchers and power hitters.

So far, the Cubs have gone 10-for-63 (.159) with 20 strikeouts and only three extra-base hits, scoring three runs through 18 innings and losing even with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on the mound. 

“It’s just baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, who went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts the night after homering off Harvey. “That’s how it goes. Those guys were on. You tip your cap. You move on.”   

As the face-of-the-franchise first baseman, Rizzo sets the tone inside the clubhouse while celebrity manager Joe Maddon shapes the public message while meeting with the media before and after every game. 

“Listen, it’s never going to be easy this time of the year,” Maddon said. “They are good. We know that. We’re also very good. We just have to string together some more at-bats. The home run is a big part of our offense. They kind of negated that a bit here. But you’ve just got to turn the page. Move it along.

“We’re all about one-game winning streaks, very seriously. I really preach daily the one-day-at-a-time approach. I know it’s Psycho Babble 101. But it actually works, so all I’m concerned about is the next game.”

As much as these Cubs love hitting at Wrigley Field and feeding off the energy from the home crowd, the matchups don’t look any better, even if it’s about 15 degrees warmer on the North Side.

[NBC SHOP: Buy Cubs playoff gear]

Kyle Hendricks will start Game 3 on Tuesday opposite Jacob deGrom, last season’s Rookie of the Year who already beat Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, eliminating the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional round.    

The Cubs haven’t officially announced their Game 4 starter — which says something — but Maddon had been leaning toward Jason Hammel and/or possibly making Wednesday a bullpen night.

“We’ve had success throughout this whole year because we stayed ourselves,” Schwarber said. “We stayed the course. Why go away from what we’ve been doing just because we lost two games?

“They still got to win two more. Why not keep (doing) what we’ve been doing the (whole) time, have the same approach and just keep battling?”

Citi Field’s sound system played the “Game of Thrones” theme song while Syndergaard warmed up, and the 6-foot-6 rookie with long blond hair and a “Thor” nickname limited the Cubs to one run and three hits across 5.2 innings.

After seeing Harvey on Saturday night, catcher Miguel Montero had joked about the next opponent: “Syndergaard? I know he’s a soft-throwing right-hander, right? He only throws 99 (mph).

“They’re young, but they got a lot of talent.”

Now here comes deGrom, a big-game pitcher who still shouldn’t intimidate this group. The Cubs got into the playoffs as the second wild-card team, but those 97 wins showed they wouldn’t be a fluke team or an easy out.

“There is a long way to go,” Rizzo said. “Our ultimate goal is to win eight more games. Theirs is to win six more games. You can’t let two games beat us up, especially with the way we’re capable of playing.”

Sounds like Bryce Harper hasn't closed the door on returning to Nationals in free agency

Sounds like Bryce Harper hasn't closed the door on returning to Nationals in free agency

Bryce Harper could be playing in his final week of games as a Washington National as the 25-year-old superstar as about to become a free agent for the first time in his young career. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post was able to speak to Harper as he started to clean out his locker at Nationals Park wondering out loud whether or not this would be his last time in the Nationals' home locker room. 

 “If I walk into Nats Park as a visiting player?” Harper said Monday afternoon, sitting at that double locker in the prime spot, just off the entrance to the shower. “That’s weird. And who wants to see that? That’s really weird.”

The Bovada odds were released last week, as all signs point towards Harper leaving his current club to team up with fellow Las Vegas-native Kris Bryant and the Cubs this winter. And while the odds-makers are expecting Harper to bid farewell to Washington, Harper doesn't seem like he's quite ready to move on. 

“I think about other cities, but I love it here,” Harper said. “Am I in the plans, you know? I don’t know. It’s hard to think about because it’s all you know, and then you think about it, it’s like, ‘Well, it could all be over in a,’” and here, he snapped his fingers, “ ‘a second.’ It’s kind of crazy.”

Harper goes on to talk about how he grew up with the Nationals and how he's reluctant to leave something he knows. But, the Nationals are in one of the big markets in terms of baseball landscape, and can't quite offer the things the Cubs would that come along with playing in Chicago. And it sounds like the most important thing for Harper is being truly wanted. 

He kept saying he wants to be a part of the plan in Washington, but what he's leaving out is the price-tag that will come along with any team attempting to persuade the superstar outfielder to play for them. Washington likely won't be able to match some of the anticipated record-breaking deals expected to come Harper's way, which opens the door for teams like the Cubs. 

We're still about a month away from Bryce Harper and Manny Machado dominating the baseball conversations this off-season, but once the 2018 season comes to an end, expect the Cubs to make Harper a priority this winter. 

How both the Cubs and Cardinals could pop champagne at Wrigley Field on Friday

How both the Cubs and Cardinals could pop champagne at Wrigley Field on Friday

The Cubs face-off with their hated rival Cardinals this weekend as both clubs enter this week in position to nab a postseason spot. The Cubs are only five wins away from winning their 3rd straight NL Central division title while the Cardinals are clinging onto the final Wild Card spot in the NL. And with both teams gearing up to finish the season playing each, Gordon Wittenmyer from the Chicago Sun-Times broke down a scenario where the Cubs and Cardinals clinch Friday night. 

This scenario relies on the Cubs winning Friday night against the Cardinals, who have been a pesky thorn in the side of the Cubs winning 9 of the 16 meetings this season. But if the Cubs are able to prevail Friday, it would give both the Cubs and Cardinals the chance to celebrate at Wrigley Field, while also making the final two games of the season just rest days for the starters. 

As weird as it would be to see both the Cubs and Cardinals celebrating a postseason birth, I'm sure fans wouldn't mind the Cardinals have their moment as long as it means the Cubs are partying as well. Of course, all that partying would have to be done either late Friday night or Saturday because the Cubs and Cardinals play at 1:20 pm on Friday whereas Colorado plays at 7:10 pm.