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."

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

Javy Baez should be the frontrunner for NL MVP heading into the All-Star Break

If the season ended today, Javy Baez may be your National League MVP.

Of course, the season isn't ending today, only the first half of the 2018 campaign is.

He flashed his skills again over the weekend — scoring the game-winning run Friday, posting a 5-RBI game Saturday and then drove in the Cubs' first run in their 7-4 victory Sunday to close out a sweep of the Padres.

Entering the All-Star Break, Baez should be the frontrunner for Most Valuable Player.

For starters, he's the best player on the best team in the league.

Thanks to a recent hot surge by the Cubs and an ugly weekend for the Brewers (who have lost 6 straight), Baez and Co. will go into the break with the best record in the NL. 

Baez, meanwhile, leads the Cubs in WAR and nearly every offensive category — OPS, slugging percentage, homers, RBI, runs scored, doubles, triples, total bases, stolen bases and hits.

And that's not even saying anything about his glovework at any position on the infield or dynamic baserunning.

He's on pace to become the first Cubs player to drive in 125 runs since Sammy Sosa in 2001.

Baez also is on track for a 30-30 season — something only Sosa accomplished in a Cubs uniform in 1993 and 1995. 

El Mago will enjoy his week in the Home Run Derby and as the NL's starting second baseman in the All-Star Game, but those shouldn't be the end of his accolades this year if he can find a way to keep this pace up in the second half.

What other NL candidate would be a better choice for the MVP right now?

Baez is tied for the league lead in RBI. Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar is just behind Baez with 70 RBI, but he also has 70 fewer at-bats than the Cubs star due to a platoon to begin the year. 

Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett are also having great years, but the Reds are nowhere close to a playoff spot. 

Nolan Arenado, Freddie Freeman and Paul Goldschmidt are also having very good seasons on teams that are currently in the playoff hunt, but how do you deny the best player on the league's best team?

After all, where would the Cubs be without Baez this season? 

Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo have battled through injuries and bouts of ineffectiveness, the pitching staff has had all kinds of consistency/health woes and Willson Contreras has yet to find his power stroke at the plate.

At the very least, "El Mago" has been the most important player on the North Side of Chicago during the first 3.5 months of 2018.

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Nico Hoerner makes great catch in first game with South Bend

Cubs first-round pick Nico Hoerner made his debut with the Class-A South Bend Cubs, and he did not disappoint.

The 23-year old shortstop showed off impressive hops during an acrobatic grab in the topf of the second inning in his first game with the South Bend Cubs. Hoerner will surely be an exciting defensive prospect with ability like this.

As far as offense goes, through four at-bats at South Bend, Hoerner is batting .500, and this comes after he hit .318 with a home run and two RBI through seven games with the Eugene Emeralds, the Cubs Class A short-season affiliate.

Here is to hoping we continue to see big-time plays from Hoerner.