Cubs

No-Fun Nine: A team of recent Cub tormentors

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USA TODAY

No-Fun Nine: A team of recent Cub tormentors

Great… Paul Goldschmidt is headed to St. Louis. The 88-win Cardinals added an MVP-caliber first baseman. It’s a well-known fact that he has a steady appetite for Cubs pitching. To make matters worse, I’m here today to present an entire team of “Cub Killers” – one at each position (two starting pitchers) that has consistently made life miserable for the Wrigley faithful. I limited the list to those who played the majority of their careers from 1990 on. In an excuse to include Daniel Murphy (*spoiler*), I included playoff games in the “Career vs Cubs” totals for each player. Here’s the team:

Catcher

Mike Lieberthal

60 games, .309/.361/.512, 7 HR, 32 RBI

I went with Lieberthal because picking Yadier Molina (.297/.361/.430, 16 HR, 103 RBI in 209 games) would be so cliché.

First Base

Paul Goldschmidt

43 games, .353/.471/.699, 14 HR, 39 RBI

You could argue Mark McGwire was a little better (.272/.453/.832, 23 HR, 41 RBI in 42 games), but Goldschmidt was the driving force behind this piece of #content so it would be silly of me not to choose him. Also good: Albert Pujols (.297/.399/.613, 56 HR, 144 RBI in 182 games).

Second Base

Daniel Murphy

64 games, .331/.375/.595, 14 HR, 30 RBI

Beat ‘em then join ‘em I guess…  This includes a .361/.425/.833 with 5 HR & 8 RBI in 9 postseason games.

Shortstop

Jeff Blauser

78 games, .351/.413/.611, 15 HR, 48 RBI

In his career he hit .257/.350/.393 (regular season) against everyone else. Blauser is the one player on this team whose career started prior to 1990 (1987).

Third Base

Nolan Arenado

39 games, .305/.347/.591, 11 HR, 39 RBI

Had this been an all-time list, it could have been Goldschmidt & Mikeschmidt on the infield corners. But it isn’t, so Arenado is the guy.

Leftfield

Ryan Braun

172 games, .317/.394/.557, 35 HR, 125 RBI

I bet you’re booing as you read this.

Centerfield

Carl Everett

44 games, .369/.421/.671, 10 HR, 41 RBI

That’s right.  Carl Everett [insert dinosaur joke here].

Rightfield

Bobby Abreu

66 games, .323/.432/.638, 16 HR, 57 RBI

One of the under-the-radar greats of his time. Did you know he’s one of only 5 players ever with 250 HR, 400 SB & 1,000 Walks? The other four are either in the Hall of Fame or named Barry Bonds.

Starting Pitcher

Randy Johnson

15 games/14 starts, 13-0, 1.91 ERA in 103.2 IP, 143 K, 0.984 WHIP

He had 10+ strikeouts in 10 of his 14 starts against the Cubs. His team was 14-0 in the 14 games he started… 0-1 in the game he relieved.

Starting Pitcher

Cole Hamels

9 games/9 starts, 5-1, 1.74 ERA in 62.0 IP

9 starts… 8 quality starts (including one that ruined the day of @CubsNoHitStreak)… and one start where he allowed 9 runs.

Reliever

Billy Wagner

48 games, 1.47 ERA in 55.0 IP, 64 K, 0.836 WHIP

Billy Wagner had 1,196 strikeouts and 601 hits allowed in his career. He just might be the second best reliever of all time, behind Mariano.

Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen

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USA TODAY

Alec Mills emerging as a quiet contributor in Cubs' late-season bullpen

Alec Mills is about as under-the-radar as you can be as a Cubs player these days.

He's never been a top prospect, he doesn't throw hard (his fastball has been clocked at just 89.3 mph this season), and his demeanor on and off the mound is far from flashy.

Yet he continues to get outs in a quiet, efficient manner.

Sound like anybody else you know?

Joe Maddon has said several times over the past couple years that Mills reminds him of Kyle Hendricks and 14 games into Mills' Cubs career, it's hard to argue with that.

Over the last week, the 27-year-old right-hander has picked up his first MLB win (Monday) and save (Friday) while emerging as another solid piece out of the Cubs' September bullpen that has been without Craig Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler of late.

The Cubs eventually won Monday night's game 8-2, but Mills was called on to protect a 3-2 game in the fifth and sixth innings and bridged the gap to Rowan Wick by permitting only a single in the two frames.

"What he did [Monday], he gave the game form again," Maddon said. "Really good pitches and a variety of pitches to both lefties and righties. Give the guy credit, man. Every time he shows up, he does something good for us. And does it in a very quiet, professional manner. He's outstanding."

Like Maddon said, Mills has quietly had a lot of success in the big leagues. In each of the last two seasons, he's made five relief appearances and two starts and has combined for 44.1 innings in a Cubs uniform with a 3.65 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 10.2 K/9. 

Not bad for a guy who rides the Chicago-to-Iowa shuttle as much as any other arm.

"It's confidence, being here every day," Mills said. "The more you come here, the more normal it is. I think when you're going down and coming up from the minors, it's still kind of a shock to be in here, experience these things and be in this environment. But the more you're here, the more normal it gets. Just trying to settle in and be you."

Who knows how much Mills will pitch over the final week-and-a-half of the regular season or what situations he will be tasked with. But he's clearly earning the trust of Maddon and his teammates by answering the bell whenever his name is called.

As for his similarities to Hendricks, Mills is happy to hear his name mentioned in the same light as the 2016 NL ERA champ.

"I definitely look at him and try to pick things up," Mills said. "Every time he throws a bullpen, I'm in there watching. We've talked before. We are similar in that nature, but we are also quite different the way we grip pitches, throw pitches, stuff like that. As far as mindset, we've talked and stuff. 

"It's the highest of compliments for me. That's a guy who's shown that just by being yourself and pitching the way you know how, you can be very successful."

 

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Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Yu Darvish makes history, but Cubs lose crucial game

Things didn't get off to a great start for Yu Darvish Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but he managed to right the ship quickly.

After allowing three of the first four batters of the game to score, Darvish struck out 10 of the next 12 Reds that strolled to the plate.

That included a stretch of eight Reds in a row, which set a new Cubs franchise record:

Darvish and Kyle Schwarber (3 hits, 2 RBI) were the only bright spots on the night for the Cubs as they dropped a crucial game 4-2.

The Cardinals also lost, so the Cubs didn't lose any ground in the division, but they did fall to 1.5 games behind the Nationals in the Wild-Card race. Milwaukee won, meaning the Brewers are now tied with the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Darvish finished with 13 strikeouts in 7 innings Tuesday night, but gave up all 4 Reds runs.

It makes back-to-back incredible performances from the veteran in the whiff department, as he has 27 strikeouts over his last two starts — second-best in Cubs history:

"I'm in a pretty good place [right now], but still, we lost," he said. "We need wins at this point, so I'm still frustrated."

As the Cubs make their push toward October, Darvish has been right up there with Kyle Hendricks as the most reliable members of the rotation. 

Given the way last year went and his slow start to 2019, the Cubs could not have asked for more from Darvish in the second half of the season while also pitching through some forearm tightness. Since the All-Star Break, the 33-year-old right-hander has a 2.70 ERA, 0.80 WHIP and 106 strikeouts against only 7 walks in 73.1 innings.

His performance has been especially huge since veterans Cole Hamels and Jon Lester have struggled to find consistency over the last couple months.

"We're seeing the real version of [Darvish] as a person, not just as a baseball player," Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said before Tuesday's game. "I think the comfortability level of him with everybody — the media, the coaching staff, the city, every aspect of it has played into it. 

"When he's in a good place and he's mentally feeling good and physically feeling good and he's comfortable, the sky's the limit with him and what he can do. He's got the freedom here to be more of himself in that we don't put a lot of restrictions on him and what he wants to do. As long as we kinda have the same focus and same goals, we're all on the same team. 

"I feel like he's getting to the point now where he's himself. You see that every time out. He's an ultra competitor; he's an uber planner. His routines are outstanding. He's just ready to go out there and dominate every time he gets the ball."