Cubs

Cubs playoff race: Hope on life support after another disastrous meltdown

cubs_death_blow_slide_photo.jpg
USA Today

Cubs playoff race: Hope on life support after another disastrous meltdown

The Cubs took the field Saturday afternoon with only a 21.3 percent chance of making the postseason.

That number will certainly go down after another epic meltdown in a season full of disastrous moments.

Just five days earlier (after Monday's win), the Cubs had a 76.7 percent chance of October baseball.

But that's what five straight losses will do, especially when the other teams in the race keep on winning. They still couldn’t get back to their winning ways Saturday despite a hard-fought effort in a wild 9-8 loss that saw seven lead changes.

The Cubs are now 6 games back in the division and 3 games out of the final playoff spot in the National League with only seven contests remaining.

"Obviously it sucks," said Javy Baez, who struck out to end the game. "But we are really close to the other teams. We just gotta play our game — try to get hot in the last two series and see what happens when the last game is over."

"It doesn't matter how you lose at this time of the year," Anthony Rizzo said. "It sucks. A loss is a loss. Especially with seven games left. It sucks." 

Quick thoughts

—Kimbrel’s disastrous weekend

This is not what anybody had in mind when the Cubs addressed their biggest weakness and signed Craig Kimbrel to a three-year deal in early June.

In his first 19.2 innings as a Cub, the closer on a Hall of Fame trajectory surrendered 9 home runs — the latter two coming on back-to-back pitches in the top of the ninth inning Saturday.

Called on to protect a 1-run lead, Kimbrel could only watch in disbelief as Yadier Molina sent his first pitch into the left-field bleachers and Illinois native Paul DeJong followed suit on the very next offering.

"It's tough. it is," Rizzo said. "Craig's a Hall of Fame closer. He's got a track record for a reason. He puts in the work. We all see it. He's an amazing guy in the clubhouse. You don't want to ever see anybody give up runs. We have his back. It's tough. It feels bad, but he's a competitor and a champion and he'll bounce back."

Kimbrel spent most of this month on the injured list with right elbow inflammation, but returned Thursday only to give up the lead and get saddled with the loss in the 10th inning after the Cubs had just pulled off an epic 3-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extras.

Kimbrel now has a 6.53 ERA in 23 games with the Cubs this season.

—Javy suits up

Baez scored the tying run as a pinch-runner Thursday night, but his at-bat to end the game Saturday was his first plate appearance since breaking his left thumb three weeks ago. 

He struck out against Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez to end the game and admitted it was a tough at-bat given the layoff.

"It was hard, especially with him out there throwing 100 mph," Baez said. "It's tough, but you gotta give it a try and try something for the team."

Baez said he hopes to be able to start the game Tuesday for the Cubs in Pittsburgh.

"I've been feeling good," he said. "It's still bothering me a little bit, but I would do anything to help my team. We're in a hard situation right now that we gotta win games and if not, we'll be out of the playoffs. We're in this together. If we're gonna give everything, we're gonna give everything together. I'm trying my best to come back before the regular season is over. It's been a quick process, so hopefully I'll keep getting better and after the day off, I'll probably be out there."

—The winds of change

At first pitch Saturday, the wind was blowing straight out at Wrigley Field at 17 mph. That proved to be a huge factor in the game.

Each team felt the benefit of Mother Nature, with Marcell Ozuna somehow golfing this very low 0-2 pitch from Kyle Ryan into the bleachers in the top of the seventh inning for a go-ahead blast:

The Cubs’ big boost from the wind came on Tony Kemp's signature moment with the team in the bottom of the inning (though this game won’t be remembered for his heroics).

After Ben Zobrist had doubled with one out, Kemp was sent up to the plate as a pinch-hitter and appeared to strike out, only to get new life when it turned out a balk was called. He hit the next pitch in the air to center field — deep enough to at least get Zobrist home from third as the tying run — but it wound up carrying just a few rows into the bleachers for an enormous, game-changing home run.

The Cubs had been waiting for their baseball luck to turn and I think it's safe to say the balk call qualified, though it ultimately proved to only set the stage for even greater heartbreak for the fanbase.

—Brad Wieck's big moment goes for naught

Kemp wasn't the only player to deliver his signature moment with the Cubs Saturday afternoon.

Wieck was called on to protect the 1-run lead in the eighth inning of a crucial, Game 7-esque contest Saturday — just like everybody predicted back when the Cubs traded for him on July 31. Despite walking the leadoff hitter and plunking Tommy Edman, Joe Maddon left Wieck in the game to face the heart of the Cardinals order — righties Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — even though veteran Steve Cishek had been warming up in the Cubs bullpen.

Goldschmidt flied out to left field and Ozuna struck out, giving Wieck a huge boost of confidence and setting the Cubs on the path for a much-needed victory before the ninth-inning meltdown.

—Oh, that's where the offense was hiding...

Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson certainly helped out with back-to-back-to-back-to-back walks after Nicholas Castellanos' double in the first inning.

The team that scored only 1 run on 9 hits in Friday's ballgame then plated 3 runs on just 1 hit in the first inning of Saturday's contest.

Baseball, man.

The Cubs generally had a solid approach at the plate all day, drawing 6 walks and slugging 7 of their 10 hits for extra bases.

Rookie Nico Hoerner delivered a clutch go-ahead homer in the bottom of the sixth, his third longball of the homestand after hitting just 3 homers in 75 minor-league games this year.

—What bum ankle?

This weekend series hasn't gone the way the Cubs wanted, but Anthony Rizzo's shocking return to the field and subsequent play has been one of the consistent bright spots.

After a nasty-looking sprained ankle that was originally thought to keep him out for the rest of the regular season, Rizzo returned to the Cubs leadoff spot just 20 minutes before Thursday's game and he even provided a homer in that contest before the Cardinals pulled out a victory in the 10th inning.

In 11 plate appearances over those three games, Rizzo reached in six of them, including three hits Saturday. He even hustled out a double in the second inning, sliding into second on that injured ankle and trying to give his team a spark.

—Q's about Q

What is going on with Jose Quintana. He hasn't made it through 4 innings in any of his last three starts and has gone more than a month since pitching at least 6 innings (Aug. 18).

He's now given up 18 earned runs and 25 hits in 13.2 innings this month - good for an 11.85 ERA and 2.19 WHIP.

Quintana was a rock for the Cubs in the rotation for the first five months of the season, but he's taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction at the absolute worst time. His struggles are even tougher to swallow when taken alongside Cole Hamels' last couple months of injuries and ineffectiveness.

At the moment, Quintana would be in line to start the first game in St. Louis next weekend, but the Cubs could always utilize the off-day to change up their rotation a bit.

Brewers update

The Brewers beat the Pirates Saturday night and are 3 games up on the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Nationals update

The Nationals beat the Marlins and have a 4-game lead on the Cubs and are 1 game up on the Brewers for the top Wild-Card spot.

What's next?

The Cubs finish their 2019 regular season home slate Sunday afternoon, though some serious storms are projected to hit Chicago.

If they are able to play, will this be the final game at Wrigley Field in 2019? If they're not able to play, the Cardinals have a game Monday night while the Cubs are off, so the makeup would have to be pushed back to Sept. 30 if it still holds weight for the playoff race.

Yu Darvish takes the hill for the Cubs against Miles Mikolas. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Chicago or the My Teams app, with pregame live beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream

Brewers set to add catcher Omar Narváez as replacement for Yasmani Grandal

omar_narvaez.jpg
USA TODAY

Brewers set to add catcher Omar Narváez as replacement for Yasmani Grandal

The Brewers have found their replacement for catcher Yasmani Grandal, who left Milwaukee in free agency for the White Sox.

Thursday, Milwaukee acquired catcher Omar Narváez from the Mariners in exchange for No. 24 prospect Adam Hill (per MLB Pipeline) and their competitive balance pick. 

Narváez is one of the game’s better offensive catchers and posted a .278/.353/.460 slash line with 22 home runs in 132 games last season. However, he’s widely considered as one of the games worst defensive catchers (-20 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019) and pitch framers. Grandal, meanwhile, is one of the best pitch framers in baseball, so the Brewers will see a significant drop off there in 2020.

In addition to Grandal, the Brewers saw third baseman Mike Moustaskas sign a four-year deal with the Reds on Monday. Grandal and Moustakas were two of Milwaukee’s key offensive players in 2019, so they needed to replace that production somehow. Narváez fills a need offensively, and despite his defensive shortcomings, all it took was a low-ranked prospect.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

Cubs free agent focus: Dallas Keuchel

With Hot Stove season underway, NBC Sports Chicago is taking a look at some of MLB’s top free agents and how they’d fit with the Cubs.

With Cole Hamels off to Atlanta, the Cubs officially have an opening in their 2020 starting rotation.

Hamels signed a one-year, $18 million deal with the Braves on Wednesday, similar to the $17.8 million qualifying offer the Cubs elected not to tender him a month ago. That salary would’ve put the budget-conscious Cubs in a tight position, similar to when they picked up Hamels’ $20 million option for 2019 last offseason.

The Cubs could address their rotation vacancy with internal candidates Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood or Alec Mills. But if they look to the open market, Braves’ free agent sinkerballer Dallas Keuchel is an intriguing possibility.

Keuchel boasts an impressive résumé featuring two All-Star Game appearances, four Gold Gloves, a Cy Young and a championship — all coming from 2014-18 with the Astros. He’s reliable and durable, holding a 3.33 ERA, 3.58 FIP and 1.198 WHIP since 2014 while making at least 26 starts in four of those seasons. The lone exceptions are 2017 (23 starts) and 2019 (19).

Keuchel missed time in 2017 with a pinched neck nerve, the only time he’s hit the injured list as a big leaguer. He remained a free agent into June last season, like Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel. Both signed deals after the draft pick compensation attached to them — due to being tendered a qualifying offer last offseason — was lifted.

After his extended free agency last offseason, Keuchel is more likely to accept a multi-year deal this time around. He made $13 million with Atlanta in 2019, though the deal was prorated, so it was worth about $21 million for a full season.

$13 million annually seems reasonable for Keuchel’s next contract and it'd also be more affordable for the Cubs than what Hamels earned from Atlanta. Keuchel has been good since his 2015 Cy Young season (3.77 ERA, 102 starts), but he’s not an annual candidate to win the award like fellow free agents Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. He also isn’t a strikeout pitcher (career 7.2 K/9), something the Cubs lack among their starters outside of Yu Darvish.

Starting pitchers are always in demand on the open market. Good-not-great Zack Wheeler got five years and $118 million from the Phillies on Wednesday, so someone could be willing to pay Keuchel closer to $15-20 million a season. This would likely put him out of the Cubs’ price range, if they were interested in him.

As is the case with every free agent this winter, it’ll come down to whether or not the Cubs can afford Keuchel. But if they're able to add him, they'd be rounding out their rotation with a solid, experienced arm.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Cubs easily on your device.