Cubs

Cubs will find out if Dolis has what it takes

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Cubs will find out if Dolis has what it takes

ST. LOUIS One day late in spring training, Carlos Marmol agreed to translate for Rafael Dolis. Marmol has earned a reputation as someone whos always at his locker, win or lose, ready to take the heat.

As the media moved in for a nice and easy notebook item, one reporter asked Marmol to ask Dolis if he would like to close one day.

Close what? Marmol said and everyone laughed. What are you talking about?

Even if it didnt come out quite right, it was still a very good question. No one thought the answer would come about a month into the season.

Dolis had his baptism by fire into the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry on Tuesday in St. Louis, in front of another sellout crowd at Busch Stadium. They celebrated a 7-6 walk-off win as Yadier Molina hit a two-out RBI single past diving second baseman Darwin Barney.

Dolis looked like he wanted to throw his glove to the ground. A Cubs team thats playing the percentages with spray charts and defensive positioning got burned on that one.

Its one quarter of a step from maybe saving a run, Barney said. Thats kind of how we play Yadi. Hes such a talented hitter. He can hit the ball to all fields. He tends to hit the ball up the middle or to the pull side early in the count.

If there was two strikes right there, I probably would have shifted over a little bit. Were committed to playing the middle. I wasnt shifted all the way over, but just enough for him to get it through there.

But it didnt have to come down to that in the ninth inning.

In the eighth, Matt Carpenter launched James Russells first-pitch fastball 422 feet into the seats in right-center field. The inning before, Kerry Wood walked two batters and allowed the game-tying run.

The Cubs wasted Alfonso Sorianos first home run this season, a game-tying shot in the ninth in his 120th at-bat. Those are the margins for a 15-21 team and an organization thats willing to go through the growing pains.

Manager Dale Sveum officially told Marmol he lost the job on May 4, the morning after another meltdown in Cincinnati. One week later, Marmol strained his right hamstring and went on the disabled list.

Dolis a 24-year-old rookie who had pitched in one game above the Double-A level until this season has emerged as a potential long-term solution for the ninth inning.

You never know the makeup of people, how they handle the last three outs, Sveum said before the game. Its not made for everybody. So hes obviously proven so far that the makeup is there for it. For a young guy that hasnt pitched a lot in the big leagues, I think thats the biggest thing.

There will be some trial-and-error stuff and understanding what goes into that.

Cubs people felt the same way about Marmol when they announced his three-year, 20 million contract on Valentines Day 2011. He was coming off a season in which he notched 38 saves in 43 chances.

Marmol has had issues with his mechanics, the feel for his slider and trusting his fastball. Hes back in Chicago receiving treatment for an injury thats considered relatively minor. Hell likely pitch one or two innings at Triple-A Iowa before being activated.

Who knows? Maybe the time away will help someone who has a 6.35 ERA, two blown saves and 16 walks in 11.1 innings.

But Sveum has said that he wont make changes just for the sake of making changes. This is a huge opportunity for Dolis, whos 2-3 with four saves, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP.

He got the groundball (Molina) just happened to hit it in a place he doesnt hit it very often, Sveum said before looking more broadly at his closer.

(Dolis) is not a big strikeout guy, so hes got to learn to throw his slider more. You cant keep throwing fastball after fastball. Hes got a good slider and hes got to use it. Hes learning that he needs to use that pitch more.

The overall bullpen issues compelled the Cubs to sign veteran reliever Mike MacDougal to a minor-league deal that will put him in Iowa. (They also acquired Hunter Cervenka, a Class-A left-hander in the Boston Red Sox system, to complete the Marlon Byrd-Michael Bowden trade.)

The Cardinals (21-15) arent exactly running away with the division. The Cubs now have 11 losses after leading, and have lost six games in the final at-bat.

Were playing good baseball, and were doing a lot of the little things right, Barney said, but in the end you got to start stacking up the wins.

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Cubs ride unconventional pitching performances to 8-6 win over the Reds

Before Thursday’s game against the Phillies, Cubs’ manager Joe Maddon was asked if, given the current state of their bullpen, Tyler Chatwood could see some innings as the closer. 

“I think he’s amenable to it...” Maddon responded. “... the big thing with him is throwing strikes. If he does that -- his stuff is that electric -- we’ll use him any time. As he gets well from [throwing 4 innings on Wednesday night] it’ll probably a solid two days, maybe three, before he’s ready to go again. We’ll see - we’ll see that night needs. I’m not afraid of it by any means.

“I would say that the first time he got a chance with us, it would be because the other guys aren’t available that night.”

48 hours later, with the Cubs white knuckling a two-run lead, it was Chatwood coming out of the ‘pen in the top of the 9th. Two singles, a double-play, and a Yasiel Puig flyout later, Chatwood had closed out one of the Cubs’ more unconventional wins of the season, a 8-6 nail-biter that featured a little bit of everything.  

“It was a little bit [surprising],” Chatwood said. “But I kept myself ready. I was able to get loose in the pen and luckily I got that double play right there, and we won. So it’s good.” 

On a day when the Cubs’ cobbled together their pitching performance, it was Yu Darvish’s 7 innings -- the first time he’s gotten that deep into a game since 2017 -- that kept Chicago in punching distance. The line itself isn’t particularly flattering; six runs on 12 hits is an eyesore. His performance may not have played well on Cubs Twitter, but those inside the clubhouse could not stop talking about it. 

“That was huge. I thought he was really good today,” Albert Almora, who already surpassed his 2018 home run total (5) with a solo homer in the 2nd inning, said. “I didn’t think he was going to come back out, so I said ‘good job’ to him in the 7th. I saw him back out in the 8th and was like ‘all right, he wanted it.’” 

“It looked like he emptied the tank against Puig in the 7th with a big strikeout,” Chatwood added. “But he still went back out there and battled and pitched into the 8th. That’s huge. We didn’t have many people available today, and I think he knew that. I thought that was one of the best games he’s thrown the ball.”

Darvish managed to strand eight base runners, though, and only walked two. He’s now gone three straight games while walking three batters or less, something he’d failed to do at any point prior. 

“I knew that the bullpen was going through a little struggle, and didn’t have much rest,” Darvish said. “So my main goal was to go more than 7 innings today.” 

On a warm day, with the wind blowing straight out at 16 miles per hour, Wrigley played as small as it has all year. The Cubs (and the Reds, for that matter) went deep three times, which brings their homestand total to 11. 

“The wind was a friend to both sides today,” Maddon said. “But really, you’ve got to give Yu a ton of credit for getting deeply into the game today. He still had his good stuff in the end. The stuff was still there, but it’s 107 pitches, and it’s just deflating when all that happens.” 

Not to be outdone by the guy who started the game or the guy who finished it, recently-called up pitcher Dylan Maples was the winning pitcher of record. He and Tim Collins came in from Triple-A Iowa that morning, and Maddon wasted no time throwing Maples into the fire. After walking his first batter, Maples got Reds’ rookie Nick Senzel to strikeout on a 91mph fastball to end the 8th. 

If it hasn't seemed easy of late, that's because it hasn't been. Of the Cubs’ first 50 games, 16 have been decided by one run (9-7). Over their last 12 games, eight have been decided by two or less runs. 

“They seem to all be like that,” Maddon said with a laugh. “Especially recently. We’re seeing a lot of good pitching. 

“That’s entertainment, guys. Woah.” 

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Joe Maddon on MLB's absurd home run rate: 'The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird'

Cubs manager Joe Maddon usually isn’t one for conspiracy theories, but even he’s wondering what’s going on. MLB teams are hitting home runs at an absurd rate, including the Cubs, who are hitting them at a historic rate for the franchise’s standards.

Entering Saturday, here’s where MLB teams stand in average home run rate and total home runs in 2019 compared to recent seasons:

2017: 1.26/game, 6,105 total
2018: 1.15/game, 5,585 total
2019: 1.33/game, 2,009 total

While the MLB season is just over 30 percent finished, teams are on pace to hit a combined 6,483 long balls in 2019. This would absolutely obliterate the 2017 total, which, like the 1.33 home runs per game figure, would be an MLB record.

The Cubs are no exception to this home run wave. Including Saturday (game No. 50 of the season), the team has hit 80 home runs (and counting) in 2019. Only the 2000 Cubs (83) hit more home runs in their first 50 games in franchise history.

“We’re having home runs hit here into some firm breezes, which has not happened before,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said to reporters before Saturday’s game against the Reds. “That’s the thing that stands out to me. It’s been crazy.

“Even [Kyle] Schwarber’s home run, I know that was hit well, but dang, that wind was blowing pretty firmly across at that point.”

Schwarber absolutely crushed his home run yesterday, a 449-foot blast that needed little help getting into the bleachers. However, Maddon has a valid point regarding home runs being hit despite the wind. Entering Saturday, 54 total home runs have been hit at Wrigley Field this season, 29 of which have come with the wind blowing in.

By the eighth inning of Saturday’s game, the Cubs and Reds had hit a combined six home runs, one of which appeared to be a routine fly ball hit by Jason Heyward that wound up in the left field basket thanks to the wind. At the same time, Yasiel Puig hit one 416 feet onto Waveland Ave. that had a 109 mph exit velocity. The wind blowing out at Wrigley Field helps, but it isn’t everything.

MLB players have questioned time and time again if baseballs are “juiced,” including Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester. And while Maddon didn’t flat out say that he thinks the baseballs are juiced, he notices a difference in how they're flying off the bat.

“I don’t know, I’m normally not into the subplot component of all of this and the conspiracy theorists, but I’m telling you right now, it’s jumping,” he said. “It’s absolutely jumping.

“Nobody is ever going to admit to it. The wind’s being broken here. It’s really weird.”

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