Cubs

Favorite Cubs Games of 2018: The last-strike rally at the Padres

Favorite Cubs Games of 2018: The last-strike rally at the Padres

When it comes to Cubs comeback wins in 2018, April 14 against the Braves and August 12 against the Nationals generally come to mind first. Both games were impressive, but the Cubs’ 5-4 win over the Padres on July 13 deserves recognition as well.

What made this game special is that it included three common sights featured in big Cubs moments: 1) A clutch hit from Anthony Rizzo; 2) An elaborate celebration by Pedro Strop on the mound; and 3) Javier Báez turning into El Mago on the basepaths.

Not only were the Cubs down 4-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, but Rizzo was down to his last strike. On a 3-2 pitch from All-Star reliever Brad Hand (a left-hander, nonetheless), Rizzo drove a game-tying double into the left-center field gap, bringing Jason Heyward around to score.

Strop struck out the side in order in the ninth inning. After the third strikeout, he took a few quick steps towards first base, briefly froze his body to strike a pose and then walked back to the dugout.

In the top of the tenth, Báez — who singled with one out — stole second base, advanced to third base on an overthrow by Padres catcher Austin Hedges and then scored when center fielder Manuel Margot bobbled the overthrow.

The comeback featured dramatic, exciting and clutch late-game moments. For fans that like thrill rides, this game truly had it all. And most importantly for the Cubs, it ended with a victory.

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Sports Talk Live Podcast: Strop, Cubs stumble. Bears really 5th best in NFL?

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USA TODAY

Sports Talk Live Podcast: Strop, Cubs stumble. Bears really 5th best in NFL?

David Kaplan is joined by David Haugh, Madeline Kenney, Tony Andracki, Sam Panayotovich & Scott Paddock. Topics include Pedro Strop's recent struggles, Addison Russell's role on the team, Yoan Moncada's move to the cleanup spot, and the Bears being ranked 5th-best team in the NFL by PFT.

- Pedro Strop is really struggling right now.

- What will Addison Russell's role be going forward. He has not been in the lineup for 3 straight games

- Can the Cubs solve all of their roster problems at the trade deadline.

- Yoan Moncada moves to cleanup. Will that be his "spot" in the future as well?

- 10 years since Mark Buehrle's perfect game.

- Bears ranked 5th-best team in NFL by Pro Football Talk. Is that too high, too low or just right?

- NASCAR: Harvick outlasts Hamlin in Foxwoods.

- Tight race at the top of the standings. Busch & Logano separated by 3 points.

- Looking ahead to this weekends's Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing event at Route 66 Raceway

Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Some perspective on Pedro Strop's tough outing and struggles

Pedro Strop has had a tough go of it lately, but that doesn't mean it's time to panic on one of the most consistent relievers in Cubs history.

After blowing the game Monday night in San Francisco — his third blown save of the month — Strop now has a 5.47 ERA on the year and an 8.22 mark in July alone. In fact, nearly half the runs he's allowed in 2019 have come this month — 7 of 16.

But Strop has been pitching better than his ERA indicates — his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is nearly a full run lower than his ERA this season. His strikeout rate (27.4 percent) and walk rate (8.5 percent) are the lowest they've been since 2016. 

That being said, the 34-year-old has also seen a precipitous spike in hard contact rate and his soft contact percentage is way down. He's been plagued by the home run ball this year more than ever before, serving up 1.7 dingers per 9 innings, the highest rate of his career (though the same can be said for many pitchers this season).

So Strop clearly hasn't been his typical dominant self this year, but he also deserves a better fate than he's had to this point in the season.

Take Monday night, for example. 

Strop came on to pitch the eighth inning of a game the Cubs were leading 4-2 and promptly gave up a leadoff double to Pablo Sandoval. On paper, that's obviously not a great start, but look at where this pitch was when the Giants third baseman hit it:

Strop followed that by striking out Stephen Vogt before executing a nice pitch to Brandon Crawford and inducing a groundball...only to see it sneak through the infield for an RBI hit:

Then came a groundout before Austin Slater's game-tying double that came just inches away from Albert Almora Jr.'s glove in center field. 

The final blow was the go-ahead double by Joe Panik...on a ball that was higher than Strop would've liked it, but still not a bad pitch off the plate outside:

These are not bad pitches; it's not like Strop was leaving the ball over the heart of the plate all inning.

How's this for bad luck — the Sandoval double was pegged for just a .070 expected batting average. 

Crawford's single was hit at 89.7 mph and had an expected batting average of .360. By comparison, Kyle Schwarber hit a grounder in the top of the inning at 102.9 mph with an expected batting average of .630 and it was an out. It was simply a matter of Crawford's ball finding a hole while Schwarber hit his right at a defender. 

No matter which way you slice it, this was a tough luck outing for the veteran setup man. 

But bad luck or not, Strop still hasn't been getting the consistent results the Cubs need in crucial innings of a tight playoff race, so it's understandable manager Joe Maddon was asked about the bullpen usage on his weekly appearance with 670 The Score Tuesday afternoon:

"When Pedro's in the game, I really feel good about it," Maddon said. "We all do. I think last night, it was more about pitch selection than it was necessarily about stuff. He was one pitch away from getting out of that thing. 

"If you replay and look at it, you see the hit by Sandoval — that ball literally almost bounced. It really did and it almost hit his back foot. I don't know how he kept that ball fair, but he did. Good for him. And then Crawford hits a slow ground ball up the middle that gets between two guys that are outstanding infielders and that's a hit."

Maddon went on to say the last hit — Panik's double — was the more concerning one because it was a sinker that just didn't drop enough. Maddon said he'd rather see Strop go to his wicked slider in that situation than lean on a pitch (the sinker/fastball) that has seen a dip in velocity and value this season.

"I don't think Pedro's that far off," Maddon said. "Maybe the velocity's down a little bit more than anything. To utilize his cutter/slider and really get that to where he wants it — those are the devastating pitches. So that was my bigger concern last night."

Moving forward, it doesn't sound as if Maddon will shy away from utilizing Strop in high-leverage situations again, but the Cubs also have the luxury of a pretty deep bullpen where they could utilize some other arms (Steve Cishek, Brandon Kintzler) to pitch the eighth inning and help bridge the gap to closer Craig Kimbrel.

Strop is 34 now and has dealt with some health issues over the last calendar year, but he has such a long track record of success that it wouldn't be surprising to see him once again emerge as a lights-out reliever before the season ends.

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