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.”

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

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NBC Sports Chicago

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Marlon Byrd discusses his suspensions for PED use and Ozzie Guillen offers a solution to the PED problem

Ozzie Guillen explains why he thinks Manny Machado is a better fit for the Cubs than the White Sox. Plus, Guillen and Marlon Byrd react to 19-year-old Juan Soto hitting a homer in his first at-bat with the Nationals.

Later in the show the guys debate who had the better rants in front of the media: Guillen or Byrd?

Finally, Byrd opens up about his PED suspensions, relates to the guys caught using PEDs now and Guillen offers up a solution to rid baseball of PEDs entirely.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: