Cubs

Anthony Rizzo shares NL Gold Glove at first base

Anthony Rizzo shares NL Gold Glove at first base

Anthony Rizzo, and not Javy Baez, is a Gold Glove winner for the Chicago Cubs.

Rizzo is actually sharing the award at first base with Atlanta's Freddie Freeman.

Rizzo previously won a Gold Glove in 2016. This time him and Freeman become the fourth tie in the award's history.

Meanwhile, Rizzo's infield neighbor Baez did not get the honor at second base. Colorado's D.J. LeMahieu edged out Baez.

Jason Heyward was also a finalist, in right field, but did not win. Atlanta's Nick Markakis beat out the five-time Gold Glover.

Cubs struggling to pinpoint source of inconsistent offense as season nears finish line

Cubs struggling to pinpoint source of inconsistent offense as season nears finish line

If the Cubs could determine why their offense goes from scoring often in one series to struggling to scratch out more than a single run each game in the next, they would.

But the thing is, finding the answer to that problem is far easier said than done right now.

“It’s just one of those things,” Cubs outfielder Nick Castellanos said on Friday, a 2-1 loss to the Cardinals. “I don’t think there’s really a rhyme or reason for it. It’s baseball.”

After scoring a whopping 55 runs from last Friday to Monday, the Cubs offense has scuffled their last four games. Granted, 47 of those 55 runs game against the lowly Pirates, and the Cubs have faced better pitching this week (specifically Reds starter Sonny Gray on Tuesday and Cardinals starter Jack Flaherty on Thursday).

Still, it’s hard to fathom how the Cubs have scored just nine times since Tuesday, a stretch where they’ve lost four straight home games for the first time since May 2018.

The up-and-down nature of this Cubs team has been a common sight in 2019, with the last 10 days being a microcosm of the season as a whole. Their current four-game losing streak comes on the heels of a five-game winning streak, one where the Cubs reached a season-high 14 games above .500 (82-68).

Perhaps most frustrating is the fact that while the offense has struggled as a unit, many Cubs hitters are having successful seasons individually. Six Cubs have hit at least 21 home runs this season – seven, if you include what Castellanos has done before and after the North Siders acquired him from the Tigers.

Six Cubs also hold an OPS above .800 (minimum 220 at-bats), so it’s not that they’re getting less production than needed from their core guys. For some reason, the Cubs tend to struggle as a unit offensively.

“Statistically, you look at a lot of the numbers [and] it just doesn’t correspond to where we’re at,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said on Saturday. “We’ve had a lot of really good individual years offensively."

Maddon expanded on the up-and-down nature of the 2019 Cubs, mentioning the infamous home/road splits and that while his bullpen is maligned, their overall numbers are solid.

“These are some really crazy, hard to wrap your mind around things,” he said. “Just to have your mind try to extrapolate what is going on, it’s hard to pinpoint anything.

“A lot of guys are having really good seasons and we’ve lost a lot of one-run games. Is that the lack of a hit, or is that a lack of a pitch? I don’t know. A lot of close games – is it the other teams have gotten better?"

Whether it’s the lack of a big hit or making the right pitch, the fact of the matter is that the Cubs are 19-25 in one-run games this season. Their last three losses have come in such a fashion, with the latter two coming in their biggest series of the season.

The Cubs entered Thursday three games back of the Cardinals for first place in the NL Central. They now sit five back, with time running out on them to secure even a Wild Card spot. Whatever is plaguing the offense, it has to go away, and fast.

“It’s so hard to really cull it down to one particular event or moment or thought,” Maddon said. “It’s difficult, but we still have this strong opportunity in front of us that we have to focus on."

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Alec Mills gave the Cubs what they needed, but they still couldn't find a way to win

Alec Mills gave the Cubs what they needed, but they still couldn't find a way to win

Someone capable of mixing pitches and having success without a high-velocity fastball delivered a stellar start for the Cubs on Friday. Sound familiar?

No, it wasn’t Kyle Hendricks’ turn in the rotation – though he did throw an 81-pitch, complete game shutout against St. Louis back in May. Rather, it was Alec Mills who stymied the Cardinals offense this time around.

Mills was thrust into action in place of Cole Hamels, whose turn in the rotation was skipped due to left shoulder fatigue. Despite being pressed into action, the 27-year-old Mills delivered, tossing 4 2/3 shutout innings, allowing just two hits and two walks while striking out six.

“He was outstanding. He gave us everything we needed,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game, a 2-1 Cubs loss – their fourth-straight. “[He] pitched really that well, like we’ve been talking about the whole time.

“He really demonstrated what he’s made out of.”

Mills has been emerging as a quite a contributor for the Cubs as of late. He now holds a 0.84 ERA over his last four outings, which also includes two scoreless innings against the Reds on Tuesday.

Friday, he looked Hendricks-esque, making up for a lack of fastball velocity – he averaged 89.9 mph with his four-seamer – with a stellar slow curveball and sweeping slider. His curveball averaged 67.7 mph, even touching 65 mph at times.

Such fastball velocity might seem more hittable than something in the upper 90s. However, as opposing teams have seen time and time again with Hendricks, 89 looks a lot different when blended in with effective breaking pitches.

“I think every at-bat, I’m trying to be something different, cause I don’t have the stuff to just say ‘Here you go, here’s what it is,’” Mills said postgame. “If I can be something that keeps them off balance every at-bat, it’s what I want to do.”

Mills got four called strikes and four swinging strikes, respectively, with his curveball on Friday. None of those were for strike three, but when the Cardinals actually put Mills’ curve in play, they went 0-for-4.

“It’s one of those things where I feel like I can throw it for a strike at any point,” he said postgame about the pitch. “It’s something I can lean on when I need it, so it’s nice.”

Despite his personal success, Mills kept things in perspective after the game. Not only does Friday’s loss drop the Cubs to five games back of the Cardinals in the NL Central, but also 1.5 games back of the second Wild Card spot. This is pending the outcome of Friday night’s Brewers-Pirates, though.

“It’s always nice to throw well, but at the end of the day, a win is all that matters at this point,” he said. “Obviously a lot of guys are upset, but it’s one of those things where it’s definitely not over.

“I don’t think there will be an ounce of quit in here. We’re just going to come tomorrow ready to play and go for a win.”

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