Rizzo, Lester lead the charge as Cubs finally find a way to beat Mets

Rizzo, Lester lead the charge as Cubs finally find a way to beat Mets

The Cubs have beat the Mets.

All the insistence from the Cubs that this is "just another series" aside, they have to feel a sense of relief to finally enact one of their postgame parties after playing the Mets.

As just about every baseball fan in Chicago and New York knows, the Cubs beat the Mets in all seven regular-season matchups last year before losing eight straight (four in the National League Championship Series and then four in New York over the Fourth of July weekend).

The Cubs threw that narrative out the window Monday night at Wrigley Field, taking down the Mets 5-1 in front of 41,353 fans behind a dominant outing from Jon Lester.

Including the series in New York, the Cubs had lost 15 of 21 games prior to the All-Star Break but have now come out with three wins in the first four games after the Midsummer Classic.

They're feeling themselves again now, whether it's the Mets or some other team they're playing.

"I think it was just needed in general to get off to a good start here in the second half," Kris Bryant said. "I approach it as a nameless, faceless opponent. We don't care who we're playing. It's just another game of baseball.

"Today, I think, we really kind of went out there that way. We couldn't care less about what's happened [in] the past."

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Anthony Rizzo delivered the big blow Monday night: A three-run shot to cap off a 10-pitch at-bat in the third inning.

"He's the anchor of the whole group," manager Joe Maddon said. "There's no question about it."

"This guy is doing MVP-caliber stuff on a daily basis for us," Cubs catcher David Ross said. "Even when he goes in the tank a little bit, it doesn't affect the game as much. He still has great at-bats, he takes his walks. He comes right back and two four-hit games and suddenly he's batting .300 again. 

"He's our staple. KB is a stud, too, and there's a lot of these guys that are great, but for me, Rizz is the catalyst, the leader and the guy that is just as consistent as it gets."

Pitching against the Mets in New York three weeks ago, Lester had the shortest outing of his career, allowing eight runs while getting just four outs.

This time around, the Cubs veteran southpaw held the Mets lineup at bay, surrendering only one run on four hits and three walks in 7.2 innings.

What was the biggest difference between the two starts?

"I didn't give up any runs and got through the second," Lester joked.

After posting an 8.81 ERA in the 10 games prior to the All-Star Break, Cubs starters have immediately turned things around with a 1.95 ERA (5 ER in 27.2 IP) in the four games since.

"We didn't play very well in New York," Lester said. "That's the biggest thing: We came out tonight and played clean baseball. We had really good, quality at-bats.

"I think that's key for us is getting back to playing clean baseball with these guys. Obviously everybody that comes in here, anybody we play, we've got the target on our back. They want to beat us; they're gonna give us their best. We know that.

"We just gotta go out and make sure we don't beat ourselves. We had done that prior to the break and I feel like we've played really good baseball after the break. Hopefully we'll continue to do that and keep pitching and worry about the rest as we go."

[SHOP: Buy a 'Try Not to Suck' shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Matt Szczur scored the Cubs' final two runs of the game to continue his torrid second half (5-for-9, 3 RBI). He doubled in the sixth and came around to score on Ross' sacrifice fly and then doubled in the eighth and scored on Albert Almora Jr.'s two-out single.

Ross echoed the prevailing thought amongst Cubs players that they walked off the field Monday night feeling good about playing clean baseball, not just beating the Mets.

"I mean, we wanna win 'em all, honestly," he said. "Yeah, they have had our number, but again, they caught us at a spot where we weren't playing our best baseball.

"Is it nice to come out and play good baseball against them? Yes, it sure is. And get a W. 

"For me, there are no big games in July. The big games come in September and October. As boring as it sounds, you just try to come into work and do your job every day and try to win that day. I don't care who the win's against."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998


Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 12th + 13th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

An off-day did nothing to slow down the 1998 National League MVP as Sosa collected his second straight 2-homer game May 27 of that season.

He went deep in the eighth and ninth innings of a Cubs' 10-5 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field, driving in 3 runs. 

The first homer - off Darrin Winston - was an absolute blast, traveling an estimated 460 feet. The second shot was tame in comparison with only 400 feet as a recorded distance.

In a matter of two games, Sosa raised his season OPS from .930 to .988 and his slugging percentage from .521 to .577 thanks to a pair of 2-homer contests.

Fun fact: Doug Glanville - former Cubs outfielder and current NBC Sports Chicago analyst - was the Phillies leadoff hitter that day in 1998, collecting three hits and scoring a pair of runs.

Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis


Yu Darvish back on the DL for Cubs with triceps tendinitis

Yu Darvish now has more trips to the disabled list in a Cubs uniform than wins.

The Cubs place their 31-year-old right-handed pitcher on the DL Saturday evening with right triceps tendinitis. The move is retroactive to May 23, so he may only have to miss one turn through the rotation.

In a corresponding move, Randy Rosario was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to provide Joe Maddon with another arm in the bullpen. Tyler Chatwood will start Sunday in Darvish's place.

Thanks to two off-days on the schedule last week, the Cubs should be fine with their rotation for a little while. Jon Lester could go on regular rest Monday, but the Cubs would need to make a decision for Tuesday given Kyle Hendricks just threw Friday afternoon.

That decision could mean Mike Montgomery moving from the bullpen to the rotation for a spot start, or it could be the promotion of top prospect Adbert Alzolay from Triple-A Iowa.

Either way, this is more bad news for Darvish, who has had a rough go of it since he signed a six-year, $126 million deal with the Cubs in February.

Between issues with the weather, the concern of arm cramps in his debut in Miami, leg cramps in Atlanta, a trip to the disabled list for the flu, trouble making it out of the fifth inning and now triceps tendinitis, it's been a forgettable two months for Darvish.

He is 1-3 with a 4.95 ERA, 1.43 WHIP and 49 strikeouts in 40 innings with the Cubs.

Over the course of 139 career starts, Darvish is 57-45 with a 3.49 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and has averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings.