Cubs

The state of the National League is good news for the Cubs

The state of the National League is good news for the Cubs

Now is the time for the Cubs to strike in the National League.

Yes, it's only May and the season isn't even a quarter of the way over yet.

But the NL powerhouses may not get any weaker than it is at this very moment and the Cubs are primed to take advantage.

Take the Los Angeles Dodgers, for example.

The team that made it all the way to Game 7 of the World Series and the squad that bounced the Cubs from the postseason last year woke up Friday morning with a 16-21 record after losing to the Cincinnati Reds Thursday night. For perspective, the Dodgers have only 5 more wins this year than the Reds — a rebuilding team without a prayer of contending and already fired their manager weeks ago.

"We talk about it in the clubhouse: This isn’t a ‘try’ league," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Thursday night. "Everyone is trying. You’ve got to get production. When you can’t get separation, it stresses everyone. We’ve got to be better at all facets of the game, to be honest."

The Dodgers will not play a single game with both Corey Seager and Justin Turner in their lineup in 2018, given that Turner is still not back from a wrist injury and Seager is now done for the year after Tommy John surgery. Given their importance to the L.A. lineup, that's the equivalence of the Cubs never playing a game with both members of Bryzzo in the lineup together at the same time.

As Joe Maddon has astutely pointed out twice in the last week, the Dodgers always use the 10-day disabled list liberally, but they're also currently without Clayton Kershaw, Logan Forsythe, Tony Cingrani and Hyun-Jin Ryu (who is expected to be out for months) and they just got Yasiel Puig and Rich Hill back off the shelf. That's a significant chunk of the roster's impact players.

The Dodgers' best hitter all year has actually been Matt Kemp (.333 AVG, .913 OPS), who was acquired as a flyer of sorts in a salary dump trade with the Atlanta Braves.

Let's move to the NL East, where the Washington Nationals haven't had much better luck on the injury front.

It was just announced late Thursday Adam Eaton would be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery on his tricky ankle. He's played just 31 games in a Washington uniform since coming over in the deal with the White Sox before the 2017 season.

Daniel Murphy hasn't played a game yet this season, Anthony Rendon and Matt Wieters have missed time and a slew of pitchers (Joe Ross, Koda Glover, Joaquin Benoit, Matt Grace, Jhonatan Solano) are on the disabled list recovering from arm injuries.

All that has led to Bryce Harper in the leadoff spot (the only way new manager Davey Martinez can find protection in the lineup for Kris Bryant's bestie), a mildly disappointing 21-18 record and third place standing in the division behind both the Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies.

Coming into the season, the Dodgers and Nationals were seen as the Cubs' main competitors in the race to the NL pennant and both teams have gotten off to slow starts.

In the Cubs' own division, they sit in fourth place, but just 1.5 games behind the leading Cardinals who just swept Bryzzo and Co. in St. Louis last weekend.

The Cardinals also just lost their ace and the NL leader in ERA — Carlos Martinez — due to a lat injury. Of course, St. Louis is also without its heartbeat as Yadier Molina will miss more than a month after taking a Kris Bryant foul tip to the groin last Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Brewers woke up Friday morning with a run differential of 0, which would normally not lend itself to a 22-16 record. Josh Hader and the Milwaukee bullpen have been incredible, but the first six weeks of the season have not answered many questions about the longevity and staying power of the Brewers rotation.

The Cubs will tell you they only care about themselves and can't waste their energy focusing on their competitors in the NL. But now could be a prime time to stack a bunch of wins together and this is the right part of the schedule to do so.

The Jekyll and Hyde Cubs offense has received a major gift from the MLB schedule-makers, beginning with the three games against the Marlins earlier in the week. That kicked off a stretch where 9 of 13 Cubs games come against three of the six worst pitching staffs in baseball (Marlins, White Sox, Reds). The other four games are against a Braves pitching staff that has been overperforming to date based on their peripheral stats.

Sure, the Cubs embarked on an 11-games-in-10-days run beginning with Game 1 of Crosstown Friday, but when 7 of those games come against the lowly White Sox and Reds and a team has as much position-player depth as the Cubs do, it shouldn't be too hard to put together a couple of nice weeks in a row offensively.

Now it's just a matter of the Cubs taking care of business and doing what they're supposed to do against a soft part of the schedule.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist ready for robot umps?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Ben Zobrist ready for robot umps?

Nick Friedell, Jordan Bernfield and Jay Cohen join Chuck Garfien on the panel.  Jose Quintana gets rocked early by the Brewers while Yu Darvish throws a successful sim game. Meanwhile, Ben Zobrist makes a pitch for robot umps… right in the home plate umpire’s face.

Plus Roquan Smith is finally at Bears practice.  Will his 29-day holdout put more pressure on the first round pick?  

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

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

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USA TODAY

Quintana's script against Brewers flipped

Before this afternoon's game against the Brewers, Jose Quintana had a 0.95 ERA against them, but thanks to some first-inning longballs, that changed quickly. Milwaukee, on their way to a 7-0 win at Wrigley Field, had sort of stumbled in to this two game series thanks to shaky bullpen performances against the Padres and Braves in their previous two series, and given Quintana's past success against them, it didn't appear likely going into the game that things would change.
 
It took all of two pitches for Lorenzo Cain to homer to left, and then later in the first inning, for Ryan Braun to do the same with a two-run shot that gave the Brewers a quick 3-0 lead. Braun, who before today's game was hitting .143 without even an extra base hit against Quintana, ultimately homered twice.
 
"Everything he’s thrown me, he’s had success with," Braun said of Quintana. "Everything he’s shown me had worked for him."
 
As a team, the Brewers were hitting just .202 against Quintana, so they knew scoring opportunities would be at a premium.
 
"A guy as good as him isn’t going to make many mistakes, so any mistakes he does make you have to take advantage of," Braun said. "He’s had so much success against us, the odds were we were going to find a way to score a couple runs, we were able to do that against him today."
 
In the first inning, Cain homered in the first on a fastball left too far in the zone, and Braun on a curveball that didn't break away from the sweet spot. Braun's second homer came on a 75 mph curveball after Quintana fell behind in the count 2-0.
 
Brewers starter Jhoulys Chacin said that going into the game, he was thinking about how much his offense has struggled against Quintana, but seeing them score so early eased the pressure on him and allowed him to work with his slider and fastball a little more aggressively.
 
"A couple of big-time players stepped up in the first inning, and I mean, yea, we've really struggled against this guy," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said of the first-inning success against Quintana. "You put up three runs in the first inning with two homers, it flips the script pretty fast."
 
With the onus off of Chacin, he was better able to throw seven scoreless innings on the way to his sixth decision in his last seven starts. Today's was an especially important win for Milwaukee, who entered this week's short series three games behind the Cubs. Brewers players differed on whether or not they'd call it a must-win, however.
 
"We have six more after these against the Cubs, but I feel like any game is must-win right now," Chacin said.
 
Braun, who has seen firsthand how much games in August and September can change the course of what had been a successful season, called it a little differently.
 
"It’s pretty close to a must-win. If we want to stay in the division race, I think we had to win one of two, ideally you gotta win both," Braun said. "These guys are really good, you obviously didn’t want to leave here down five games."
 
Against the packed crowd of 40,441 Tuesday, Braun said that he enjoys the atmosphere at Wrigley as the opponent.
 
"I’ve always enjoyed playing here. As a competitor, there’s no more enjoyable atmosphere to play in than this. The more hostile the environment is, the more enjoyable it is as a competitor. This place is always packed, it’s always loud. It’s a very challenging place to win," Braun said.
 
Even with another win tomorrow, the Brewers will still remain a game behind the Cubs, but Braun said that he is thankful to be playing in meaningful games at this point in the season regardless. After tomorrow, the Cubs and Brewers play two series in the first half at September, one at Miller Park and one at Wrigley Field.