Cubs

Yankees knock around Brett Anderson as another painful first inning sinks Cubs

Yankees knock around Brett Anderson as another painful first inning sinks Cubs

The start of games seems to be the most difficult part for Cubs starters.

A disturbing trend of Cubs starting pitchers giving up first-inning runs — and a lot of them — continued Saturday night, as the visiting New York Yankees knocked around Brett Anderson for five first-inning tallies, effectively finishing this one as it started. Down in another big hole before they even stepped to the plate, the Cubs stumbled to an ugly 11-6 loss at Wrigley Field.

Joe Maddon spent the bulk of his pregame press conference Saturday detailing why his starting pitchers need to be pitching deeper into games, but he sure didn't get what he wanted out of Anderson, who followed up Monday's performance — in which he recorded just four outs against the Philadelphia Phillies — by surrendering five runs on six hits while throwing just 23 pitches to only seven batters before exiting with an injury and only one out on the board.

"No one feels worse than I do," Anderson said after the game. "I wanted to have a quality start based on my last outing. I didn't get very deep into the game, obviously.

"Need to figure some things out, get healthy and get some more people out going forward. It's as simple as that."

That first inning was a hit parade for the Yankees, six of the game's first seven batters reaching via a base knock. Brett Gardner, Starlin Castro and Chase Headley all doubled off Anderson, the latter two driving in a combined three runs.

Cubs pitchers entered with an already oversized 10.24 first-inning ERA through the team's first 29 games. After five runs in the first inning of Game No. 30, that ERA is an even more grotesque 11.40.

Anderson entered with a 6.23 ERA and saw it jump up to 7.83 on Saturday night. Maddon said after the game that Anderson will likely head to the disabled list. Throughout his career, it's been injuries that have slowed Anderson down. This season, the on-field performance hasn't gone well, either.

"It's a combination of getting healthy and figuring out how to get people out again," Anderson said. "Right now, every ball that gets put in play seems like it's a hit, and every ball that's put in play seems like it's a run.

"Last two starts at home for me, personally, have been embarrassing."

But it wasn't just the starting pitching, as this was an all-around stinker for the Cubs. Anderson committed a throwing error that allowed the Yankees' first run to score. Two innings later, a ball bounced over Kris Bryant's glove at third base, and the Yankees crossed the plate for the sixth time.

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Cubs relievers were tagged for six runs, five of them earned, with the Yankees showing a pair of pitchers called up in the last two days why they're called the Bronx Bombers. Castro blasted a two-run homer off Felix Pena in the fourth to make it 8-0. Rob Zastryzny, called up before Saturday's game in a bullpen-strengthening move that saw outfielder Matt Szczur designated for assignment, gave up a three-run homer to Aaron Hicks that made it 11-3 in the eighth.

In how bad of shape is the Cubs' bullpen right now? Miguel Montero pitched the ninth inning for the North Siders.

The Cubs' offense didn't do much against Yankees starter Jordan Montgomery, who allowed just three hits in his 6.2 innings of work.

It didn't mean Cubs hitters didn't score, though. But unfortunately for them it all came after the Yankees jumped out to an 8-0 lead.

Albert Almora Jr. and Javier Baez came home on ground balls in the fifth, with Baez scoring thanks to a Didi Gregorius throwing error. In the seventh, Ben Zobrist chased home Jon Jay with a triple into the left-field corner. Baez plated Addison Russell with an RBI hit in the eighth, and two more runs scored when a Montero hit bounced off the glove of Rob Refsnyder at second base.

But for all of Maddon's chatting about his confidence that his starting staff will turn things around, the Cubs needed a whopping 8.2 innings out of their bullpen Saturday night. This at the end of an already taxing week for the relief corps.

"They need to get in the groove," Montero said of the starting rotation. "And I think the whole team needs to get in a groove right now. For the hitters, obviously we're putting a lot of pressure on them because for the most part this year we've been coming from behind because in the first inning (the opponents) score some runs. And it's hard to come back all the time, even though we have done it quite a few times this year. But it's not easy. And it's something we need to get better at in order to give us a chance early in the game. Put some zeroes on the board, and that way our hitters feel a little bit better going in to do some offense."

Jon Lester takes the hill Sunday night to try and avoid a sweep at the hands of the Yankees. He'll also try to become just the second Cubs starter this week to get out of the sixth inning.

Maddon, who preached patience during his pregame talk about the starting rotation, showed the same kind of stay-the-course approach after the game.

"Listen, we lost badly tonight," he said before shifting to the positives. "Last night, we were ahead for eight innings. And we just came off a three-game winning streak.

"The sky is not falling for me. We just had a bad night."

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

Cubs still trying to break through on extension talks with current players

SAN DIEGO — While the rest of the baseball world is occupying their time with free agent signings and trades, the Cubs have been waiting for their number to be called.

They've been trying to nail down extensions with key players that are only a couple years away from free agency, though nothing appears imminent on that front. 

Kris Bryant, Javy Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber are all free agents after the 2021 season, leaving the Cubs two years to work out a deal or trade the player before losing them for nothing but a compensation pick. Willson Contreras is a free agent after 2022. Theo Epstein's front office reached a four-year, $55.5 million deal with Kyle Hendricks in spring training, extending his team control through the 2023 season.

The Cubs won't comment specifically on the current extension talks, but they'd ideally hope to wrap anything before spring training this year, so the players can focus solely on baseball by then.

"We always take the position of not commenting on extensions, but are we having those discussions? Yes," Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "People focus so much on trades and free agent signings at these meetings, but all the agents are under the same roofs, also, and allows us to have those kinds of discussions. I'm not gonna specify who or what, but yeah certainly those conversations are ongoing."

Bryant has long been thought of as the toughest of the group to lock up long-term given that his agent, Scott Boras, typically advises clients to hit the open market and maximize their value. Boras reiterated Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings he and Bryant are still open to extension talks with the Cubs.

Baez and Rizzo loom as the two most likely to extend their Wrigley Field stays, with the two emerging as the faces of the franchise in their own ways.

As the Cubs try to navigate an offseason where they're "serving two masters" (trying to compete in 2020-21 while also enhancing the long-term future of the franchise), a potential extension would check both boxes in a major way. If Hoyer and Theo Epstein knew Baez would be locking down shortstop and the middle of the lineup for the next six seasons, they could breathe a bit easier thinking about the big picture and long-term health of the franchise. 

At the same time, they can't operate as if anything is a certainty. Bryant could decide he likes the Cubs' offer and make Chicago his baseball home forever. Baez could conclude the opposite. 

It's what makes this particular offseason so tricky for the Cubs.

"We have to be able to have parallel tracks in our mind," Hoyer said. "We have to be able to do multiple things at once. It doesn't make it more difficult. We have a lot of really good players. We've had them for a long time. When we talk to these players about contracts, there's no player that we talk to that we haven't had a conversation with at some point before about a contract. 

"We've talked about these players for five years in some way, shape or form. When we sit down with these players, we're not covering a ton of new ground. We've already been over a lot of it. I think we're able to have parallel tracks."

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two MLB moves that changed the landscape of Kris Bryant's trade market

Two reported transactions Tuesday may not have drawn much attention from Cubs fans, but both directly impact the North Siders.

First, The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya reported the Angels are trading third baseman Zack Cozart to the Giants for cash and a player to be named later. Soon thereafter, free agent shortstop Didi Gregorius agreed to a one-year deal with the Phillies, as Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported.

From a Cubs perspective, the Angels' and Phillies' moves impact a potential Kris Bryant trade market. According to Ardaya, the Giants are picking up the remaining $12.67 million on Cozart’s deal. This clears payroll space for Los Angeles to make a run at a superstar free agent, like third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

The Phillies inquired with the Cubs regarding a potential Bryant trade, according to multiple reports. However, Bryant’s unresolved grievance case is a holdup in any trade talks, should the Cubs entertain offers. If he wins, he'll become a free agent next winter. If he loses, he'll remain under team control through 2021.

Gregorius will slot into shortstop for Philadelphia, while incumbent Jean Segura will move to second base, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury. The Phillies are less likely to pursue Bryant — should the Cubs shop him — than they were entering Tuesday. Things can change, but they have less of an infield need as they did on Monday.

On the other hand, the Angels and new manager Joe Maddon suddenly could be a candidate to pursue Bryant. Acquiring him would bring less certainty than Rendon or Donaldson, as Bryant is only under contract for two seasons more, max. Furthermore, acquiring Bryant will cost the Angels prospect capital, while adding Rendon and Donaldson will 'only' entail paying them handsomely as free agents.

In short, Philadelphia is less likely to pursue Bryant than they were entering Tuesday; the possibility of the Angels doing so is stronger than it was entering the day. The Angels haven't been directly connected to Bryant at this point, but that now could change.