Cubs

Trying to create playoff momentum, Cubs handed walk-off loss by Phillies

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Trying to create playoff momentum, Cubs handed walk-off loss by Phillies

PHILADELPHIA – The Cubs dressed quietly inside the visiting clubhouse late Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. No loud rap music blasting or shaving cream smeared all over the carpet.

It’s a long shot, but the Cubs will get their chance to win the National League Central, with 10 of their final 20 games against the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The computers projected a playoff spot as a lock – 99.8 percent on Baseball Prospectus and 99.9 percent on FanGraphs – and even the most cynical Cubs fan has to like those odds.

But the Cubs wasted an opportunity to gain even more ground here, absorbing a 7-5 walk-off loss to the Philadelphia Phillies when pinch-hitter Cody Asche hammered Hector Rondon’s 95-mph fastball off the right-field foul pole for a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning.

“We’re human,” Rondon said. “I try to be the same every time I come into pitch. I have my plan and I think that is the reason I have (good) moments. But some days I don’t have that good luck. They hit it.”

Is Rondon ready for October? He has been so quietly efficient – and done the job without any of the personality quirks you usually see from closers – that it’s easy to overlook how dominant he’s been this year.

[MORE: Kris Bryant keeps delivering in the clutch for Cubs]

Rondon had allowed just two earned runs in his previous 45 games and given up only three homers to the first 252 batters he faced this season. That still doesn’t mean the Cubs have a bullpen built for the playoffs or the brute force to make it a six- or seven-inning game the way the Kansas City Royals did last year.

Looking at an uncertain weather forecast, which ultimately led to a 50-minute rain delay, the Cubs decided to flip-flop, moving Dan Haren’s start back to Sunday afternoon and making Saturday their bullpen night against the worst team in baseball.

Combined, the Cubs got six scoreless innings from Travis Wood and Trevor Cahill before Justin Grimm cracked with two outs in the seventh. All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo made the fielding error that opened the door for five unearned runs. Lefty Zac Rosscup gave up the big hit when Cesar Hernandez lined a three-run double into left-center field.

“I got to do a better job there – I messed up,” Rizzo said. “I maybe took the groundball for granted. It’s a slow chopper. Maybe tried to rush a little bit. It was kind of in an awkward area. But you got to move on.”

The Cubs responded with four runs in the eighth inning to tie the game before Kris Bryant sprinted from third base on a groundball and got tagged out at home plate, knocking over Phillies catcher Erik Kratz and forcing a replay review of the home-plate collision rule.

“I don’t want to get into that, because I get in trouble every time,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But if that’s not blocking the plate, I don’t know what is.”

[NBC SHOP: Buy a Kris Bryant jersey here]

The Cardinals are creating a lane in the division, losing a suspended game plus another game to the Cincinnati Reds on Saturday, making it eight losses in the last 10 games for the best team in baseball.

The Cubs trail the Cardinals by 5.5 games and will get their archrivals next weekend in what should be a huge three-game series at Wrigley Field.

The next stop on this three-city road trip is Pittsburgh, where the Cubs will play the Pirates four times in three days beginning Tuesday afternoon at PNC Park. The Pirates have narrowed the deficit to 2.5 games in the Central and hold a three-game lead over the Cubs in the wild-card race.

“You never know,” pitcher Kyle Hendricks said. “That’s the thing. You never know how many games other teams can lose. You never know how many we can win. So we’re just trying to come to the ballpark every day and win. That’s it. Let the other teams take care of their business.

“We just want to get the momentum (and) go into October with that. Obviously, we’d love to get the wild-card game at home. We’d love to catch the Cardinals. But even if we play on the road in that game, it’s not going to matter to us.”

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

Forget 2015, the Brewers are more like 2016 Cubs

With the Milwaukee Brewers about to kick off the NLCS, many Cubs fans and pundits have taken to comparing them to the 2015 Cubs.

At first glance, it's easy to see why — they're in the playoffs for the first time as something of an underdog and "surprise" team — but that's not the recent Cubs squad we should be comparing the 2018 Brewers to.

This Milwaukee team is a lot more like the 2016 Cubs.

Here's why:

1. They're not a surprise.

Nobody expected the 2015 Cubs to win 97 games and wind up in the NLCS. They were expected to compete very soon, but everything went right in a red-hot August, they rode Jake Arrieta's right arm to the NLDS and then toppled the Cardinals to get to the LCS, where they ran into the brick wall that was Matt Harvey and and the Mets pitching staff.

The 2018 Brewers are not — and should not be — a surprise. Anybody who was caught off guard by this team being so good hasn't been paying much attention. The Brewers were leading the NL Central in 2017 for much of the year before a late-season fade that coincided with the Cubs' late-season surge.

This Milwaukee squad was always supposed to be one of the top teams in the NL in 2018 and they really hit their groove in September to chase down the Cubs. Still, it took a Game 163 to force a changing of the guard atop the division.

2. They greatly improved expectations with a big free-agent OF signing over the winter.

The Cubs had Jason Heyward in between 2015 and '16. The Brewers had Lorenzo Cain.

Cain has provided quite a bit more offense in the first season of his 5-year, $80 million contract but both Cain and Heyward provided leadership in the clubhouse and elite defense in the outfield in the first years with their new teams.

3. The Brewers have the NL MVP.

This one's an easy comparison to make, though Cubs fans will hate it.

Christian Yelich is this season's NL MVP. Sorry, Javy Baez fans. "El Mago" had a great season, but it's impossible to give the award to anybody but Yelich.

Yelich winning the league's most coveted accolade would be another perfect tie-in to the 2016 Cubs, who had Kris Bryant take home NL MVP.

4. They have a dominant LHP out of the bullpen.

Josh Hader has been doing his best Aroldis Chapman impression in 2018 as an absolutely dominant southpaw out of the bullpen. Unlike Chapman, Hader's spent all season with the Brewers, but like Chapman in '16, Hader will be leaned on heavily for multiple innings throughout the rest of the playoffs.

5. They picked up some valuable in-season assets.

The 2016 Cubs dealt for Chapman, but they also traded for reliever Joe Smith and called up Willson Contreras in the middle of the year, who provided a spark for the offense.

The 2018 Brewers have acquired plenty of valuable assets along the way this season from Mike Moustakas to Jonathan Schoop to Erik Kratz (more on him later) to Gio Gonzalez. But one of their most important additions (especially in October) was the promotion of top prospect Corbin Burnes, a flame-throwing right-hander who posted a 2.61 ERA in 30 regular-season games and allowed only 1 hit in 4 shutout innings in the DS.

6. They're on a mission with a chip on their shoulder.

The 2015 Cubs had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder as they attempted to take down the divisional powerhouse that was the St. Louis Cardinals. But again, they were a surprise contender - even within that clubhouse (especially early in 2015). But after falling short in the NLCS, the Cubs retooled over the winter and came back with one goal in mind - to win the World Series.

It was a goal they accomplished. We'll see if the Brewers will be able to do the same, but they certainly came to play in 2018 with a chip on their shoulder and the ultimate goal of winning the final MLB game of the year.

The Brewers didn't lead the division from Day 1 and weren't able to coast into October, but they still wound up with homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

7. They have journeyman catcher who is winning over fans' hearts.

This is a fun one.

The 2016 Cubs had David "Grandpa" Rossy who still elicts deafening cheers whenever he's shown on the giant video board at Wrigley Field. The 2018 Brewers have Kratz, who has become a fan favorite recently and was mic'd up for the final out of the NLDS.

Ross was 39 when he helped lead the Cubs to the 2016 World Series and Chicago was his eighth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey. Kratz is 38 and on his ninth stop (seventh different team) along his MLB journey.

In fact, Ross and Kratz are so intertwined, they've already been compared to each other by MLB.com.

But the major difference is Kratz has zero postseason playing experience until a week ago. Will he be able to ride off into the sunset with a championship ring on his finger the way Ross did?

We'll have an answer to that over the next few weeks in the final chapter of the Brewers' 2018 season, though Cubs fans surely wouldn't be too happy to see their division rivals celebrating with a World Series parade just 90 minutes north of Wrigley Field.

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

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USA TODAY

Cubs bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed for Rangers' manager opening

The Cubs just lost one coach with hitting coach Chili Davis getting fired. Another opening on Joe Maddon's coaching staff could also open up.

According to report from MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan, bench coach Brandon Hyde interviewed with the Rangers on Thursday.

Rangers farm director Jayce Tingler was the first candidate the club interviewed, but Hyde and Astros bench coach Joe Espada were also interviewed.

The 45-year-old Hyde has been with the Cubs since 2014. He was a bench coach in 2014 under Rick Renteria before moving to first base coach from 2015-17. This past season he moved back to his original role as bench coach.

He played four seasons in the minors for the White Sox.

The Rangers job opened up when Jeff Banister was fired on Sept. 21. Banister won AL Manager of the Year in 2015 and guided the Rangers to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016, but couldn't get out of the ALDS either year. A 78-84 season in 2017 was followed by an even worse 2018, which led to his firing late this season.