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


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 executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening


Cubs executive Jason McLeod reportedly linked to Giants' GM opening

Is this the offseason that Cubs executive Jason McLeod finally becomes an MLB general manager?

According to Bruce Levine, the Giants are reportedly interested in McLeod, the Cubs senior vice president of scouting and player development, for their vacant general manager position.

McLeod joined the Cubs' front office in 2011 alongside Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Before the Cubs, he spent six years in the Red Sox front office and two in the Padres' (with Hoyer, who was San Diego's general manager from 2010-2011). 

Of course, the Giants' reported interest in McLeod doesn't necessarily mean that he will interview for the job. However, it's worth noting that McLeod interviewed for the Twins' general manager job in 2016; he also withdrew his name from consideration for the Padres' general manager job in 2014. 

In addition to the Giants, McLeod's name has been linked to the Mets' general manager vacancy. This is more speculation, but the point is that it seems to be only a matter of time before McLeod is hired as general manager elsewhere.

For what it's worth, though, McLeod is under contract through 2021 and has previously said that he is grateful to be with the Cubs. 

“I’m exceptionally grateful,” McLeod said. “All of us are. Look at where we are at this moment in time with this team," McLeod said in 2016. "I can’t imagine a better environment, a better culture to work at in baseball.

"We’ve been together a long time. We’re friends. We’re good. We embrace the fact that we are good. And we challenge ourselves to be even better.”

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

Cubs have new hitting coach in Anthony Iapoce

The Cubs are heading into a new season with a different hitting coach for the second straight winter, but the most recent choice is a familiar face.

Anthony Iapoce is set to join Joe Maddon's coaching staff this week after serving in the same capacity with the Texas Rangers for the last three seasons. The Cubs confirmed the move Monday afternoon shortly after the news broke out of the Rangers camp.

The Cubs fired Chili Davis last week after just one season as the team's hitting coach.

Entering the final week of the season, the Rangers fired manager Jeff Banister, leaving Iapoce and the rest of the Texas coaching staff in limbo.

As such, Iapoce is rejoining the Cubs, where he served as a special assistant to the General Manager from 2013-15 focusing on player development, particularly in the hitting department throughout the minor leagues.

Iapoce has familiarity with a bunch of the current star offensive players on the Cubs, from Willson Contreras to Kris Bryant. 

Both Bryant and Contreras endured tough 2018 seasons at the plate, which was a huge reason for the Cubs' underperforming lineup. Bryant's issue was more related to a left shoulder injured suffered in mid-May while Contreras' offensive woes remain a major question mark after the young catcher looked to be emerging as a legitimate superstar entering the campaign.

Getting Contreras back to the hitter that put up 21 homers and 74 RBI in only 117 games in 2017 will be one of the main goals for Iapoce, so the history between the two could be a key.

With the Rangers, Iapoce oversaw an offense that ranked 7th, 9th and 14th in MLB in runs scored over the last three seasons. The decline in offensive production is obviously not a great sign, but the Rangers as a team have fallen off greatly since notching the top seed in the AL playoffs in 2016 with 95 wins only to lose 95 games in 2018, resulting in the change at manager.

Iapoce has worked with an offense backed by Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Shin-Soo Choo, Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo the last few seasons.

Under Iapoce's tutelage, former top prospect Jurickson Profar shed any notion of a "bust" label and emerged as a budding star at age 25, collecting 61 extra-base hits with a .793 OPS in 2018.

When the Cubs let Davis go last week, they provided no update on assistant hitting coach Andy Haines, who just finished his first season in that role and is expected to remain with the team for 2019. The same offseason Iapoce left for the Rangers, Haines took over as the Cubs' minor league hitting instructor.