Christian Yelich

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Cubs woke up Wednesday morning 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

Sure, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic that the Cubs can overtake the Brew Crew in the division for the second straight summer, but it's not a guarantee Milwaukee fades in the second half again.

Especially if they go all-in before the July trade deadline.

A rumor from Jim Bowden popped up Wednsday morning indicating the Brewers could give up a huge group of guys to Baltimore for Manny Machado:

That is a RIDICULOUS package if true. Burnes is Milwaukee's top pitching prospect (No. 2 prospect overall, according to MLB.com), Broxton is a 28-year-old outfielder with extensive MLB experience and a 20-20 season under his belt (2017) before getting caught up in the numbers game in the outfield and Arcia is a stellar defensive shortstop who won't turn 24 until next month and was the organization's top prospect a couple years ago.

All for less than half a season of Machado? 

Adding Machado to a lineup that already features Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Ryan Braun is enticing from the Brewers' end, sure, but is all that really worth it?

Cubs fans balked at trying to give up Addison Russell in any deal for Machado. Arcia may not be as established as Russell, but he's younger, under team control for longer (won't become a free agent until after the 2022 season) and just put up a .731 OPS with 15 homers and 14 steals last season. He's taken a step back offensively this year, but it seems unwise to give up on a guy with only 274 big-league games under his belt.

Still, that's exactly the kind of package Cubs fans would hope the Brewers would give up — hurting the long-term hopes of the franchise while trying to go all-in for this season.

But Jon Heyman threw some cold water on that rumored three-player package Wednesday afternoon:

Still, the existence of the rumor is just another nod to the Brewers going all-in.

In a matter of hours over the winter, they signed Cain to a 5-year, $80 million deal and traded for Yelich, greatly improving the top of the lineup, the outfield defense and the clubhouse in the process.

And if the Brewers can't get Machado, there are plenty of other candidates out there who could be nice additions to Milwaukee's playoff run:

Both Escobar and Dozier are set to become free agents in November and the Twins certainly don't look like they're going to make a run at the AL Wild Card anytime soon. 

Escobar leads the league with 35 doubles and is posting a career-high .853 OPS as a switch-hitter who can play all over the infield. Dozier is in the midst of the worst season of his career, but started slow last year, too, before going on a blistering pace after the All-Star Break (.304 AVG, .985 OPS, 21 HR, 52 RBI, 67 R in 71 G).

Both players should be available at a much, much cheaper price than Machado and would still help boost Milwaukee's squad.

Keep in mind this latest round of Brewers trade rumors are all about position players and doesn't even address the team's biggest weakness: Starting pitching.

The Brewers have the clout in the farm system to acquire a guy like Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard if the Mets put either of their aces on the block. 

No matter what way you look at it, the Brewers aren't going to back down anytime soon as the Cubs continue to try to find their stride in 2018.

What fifth inning meltdown? Yu Darvish shows what he's made of...for one day, at least

What fifth inning meltdown? Yu Darvish shows what he's made of...for one day, at least

You don't often get a chance to flip a narrative on its head as quickly and efficiently as Yu Darvish did.

Instead of hearing a smattering of "BOOO"s in the fifth inning of Friday's ballgame, Darvish actually received a hearty helping of "YUUU"s from the announced crowd of 35,579 at Wrigley Field as he stood on second base with a double:

"I like the 'YU,'" Joe Maddon said. "I'd like to see that catch on. Big strikeout situation — 'Let's go Yu!' That was YUUGE."

When Darvish took the ball Friday for his fifth start in a Cubs uniform, all eyes were on the $126 million man as he tried to silence the narrative that he melts down in the fifth inning (which has happened three times in his first four starts, including the last two times out).

Darvish entered the day with absolutely dreadful numbers in the fifth inning — 12 earned runs, 13 hits, 6 — while struggling to rise above different levels of adversity from a balk call, weather, cramps and two-out basehits. 

For a moment Friday, it looked as if history was about to repeat itself.

Darvish got two quick strikeouts of Eric Sogard and Manny Pina in the fifth before allowing the opposing pitcher, Brent Suter, to single with the bases empty. A pair of tough calls went against Darvish and he wound up walking the next batter, Lorenzo Cain. 

But he buckled down and induced a soft tapper from Christian Yelich to end the fifth without major incident.

Darvish then led off the bottom half of the inning with a double down the right field line.

He even tossed a scoreless sixth to really hammer home the point that he could pitch beyond the fifth inning.

"Great composure," Maddon said. "I thought he worked the mental game extremely well. He was right on with everything. He developed a great routine. Players with that kind of special ability, sometimes you just get out of your zone somehow and you need to be reminded about a couple things." 

Darvish finished with 8 strikeouts in 6 innings, surrendering just an unearned run on 3 hits and a pair of walks. 

The outing lowered his season ERA 160 points down to 5.26 as he worked without that little leg hesitation in his wind-up we had seen in his previous starts.

Maddon had a conversation with Darvish while the Cubs were in Cleveland and wanted the 31-year-old pitcher to spend more time focusing on processing the present moment and blocking anything else out.

"I think this concept that he doesn't compete is absolutely fabricated and false," Maddon said. "This guy's one of the best pitchers in the world — not in the United States, in the world. How could you ever arrive at that point if you don't compete?

"But there are times even good players don't process the moment well enough and then things get away from him."

Maddon also talked up how dynamic Darvish's stuff is, preaching patience with the guy who has the highest career K/9 of any starting pitcher in big-league history. 

"He really takes care of me and thinks a lot about me,"Darvish said of Maddon through an interpreter. "And today's outing there was a similar situation as the previous game and because I spoke with Joe, I was able to overcome and keep going today.

"He mainly talked about not worrying about the previous pitch or what happened in the past. Concentrate on the pitch that I'm about to throw. Basically, don't worry about what happened in the past and keep going."

Darvish showed flashes of that brilliance Friday, including a pair of wicked sliders to strike out Christian Yelich his first two times up:

He also threw a 64 mph eephus-level curveball to catch Pina looking in the fifth inning:

Darvish is on track to start the finale against the Colorado Rockies Wednesday at Wrigley Field.

Series with rival Brewers just what the Cubs needed to get going

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USA TODAY

Series with rival Brewers just what the Cubs needed to get going

MILWAUKEE - The Cubs are finally coming home.

After the longest road trip to begin a season since 1899, the Cubs will get to sleep in their own beds this week. Beds they haven't been in since before they left for spring training in mid-February.

Think about that: This road trip was not only nine games long, but it spanned 11 days (plus an extra three days before the season began in Florida) and the Cubs haven't been home in two months. While it would've been awful to play in Chicago in sub-freezing temperatures over the past week, this is the longest road trip to start a season in 119 years. 

They're also returning to Wrigley Field winners, boasting a 5-4 record.

For all the panic and comparisons to last season's slow start, the Cubs are sitting in a fantastic spot entering a long homestand.

They just won three of four from a very good Brewers squad, where they took advantage of all the Milwaukee mistakes, received quality starts in all three victories and saw their bullpen shut down an offense that very well may border on "elite," even without Christian Yelich.

The Cubs also did all this without Anthony Rizzo for the final three games of the series, as the All-Star first baseman is dealing with a back injury and may not be ready for Monday's opener at "The Friendly Confines" given the chilly forecast doesn't mesh well with a balky back.

"We just played quality baseball the last four games," Ben Zobrist said. "It's a good team, so good to get off to a good start against them this year and hopefully we can continue that this coming week."

Joe Maddon called it before the series started, giving his usual spiel about how he loves playing good teams, especially early on.

After going 2-3 against the Marlins and Reds - two teams expected to be competing for the No. 1 overall pick next summer - the Cubs came out and stomped their new division rivals, giving the fans who battled the "Wisconsin residents only" presale plenty to cheer about all weekend.

The Brewers scored just 7 runs in the four games, plating tallies in only four innings of the 36 played. 

Milwaukee also made 7 errors in the series, allowing the Cubs to take advantage.

"We did," Maddon said. "We've been playing aggressively. We've been playing smart for the most part."

The Cubs still didn't look quite like themselves, struggling to play situational baseball from an offensive perspective (particularly with runners on third base and less than two outs).

But they also will take a series win against an up-and-coming divison rival who figures to be in playoff contention for the next several years. 

"We know they're deep, they're a resilient bunch," Kyle Hendricks said. "What they did last year kinda brought them together. We have to be on it, game-in, game-out, regardless of who we lose or who they lose."

There's also a budding rivalry between the two teams in terms of off-field drama and wars of words. Take the Willson Contreras issue in the eighth inning Sunday.

Or the social media spat between the two teams over the last few months, culminating in an absolutely epic takedown by @Cubs Thursday:

Either way, this was exactly what the Cubs needed to light a fire.

"Always going to be a tough battle," said Kris Bryant, who is off to a blistering start. "They seem like a fun group over there, having a lot of fun.

"Sure, it can get a little annoying, but we do the same thing. It's a nice little rivalry and they're gonna be a tough one this year."