CINCINNATI — The season began with a tease. It wasn’t the way the Chicago Cubs drew it up after a dismal finish to 2018, as they opened 2019 in about the same manner. Actually, they lost games on the mound, whereas at the end of last season, those defeats came via their bats.
Either way, they were losing. Again.
It gave the baseball world reason to contemplate whether the four-time playoff-appearing Cubs were going in the wrong direction. After all, their manager is a lame duck, and the roster is essentially the same as the one that got bounced at home in a division tiebreaker and in the NL wild-card game — on consecutive days.
So when the Cubs began 2019 with a 2-7 record, many came to the conclusion that it was the beginning of the end of a nice run — one that ended a 108-year championship drought but left fans wanting more.
Then the turnaround began.
“I don’t think how we played on our first road trip was indicative of our talent level or our preparation,” team president Theo Epstein said Tuesday. “Our guys have done a really nice job of returning to the foundation when pushed, early, by that trip.”
GM Jed Hoyer added: “That road trip was probably a little bit of a galvanizing thing for the team.”
Boy, was it ever. After Tuesday’s 3-1 win over the Cincinnati Reds, the Cubs are a season-high 11 games over .500, sporting a 23-7 record since that opening road trip. The math says they lost seven of their first nine games, then seven of their next 30. That’s pretty incredible.
Tuesday’s winning pitcher was asked: What’s more surprising?
“I think the start was more surprising,” Kyle Hendricks said after pitching at least eight innings in his third consecutive outing. “This is the baseball we were expecting to play.”
After an offseason full of talk — talk of leadership in the clubhouse, talk of the team being cheap, talk of young players underachieving, talk, talk, talk — the Cubs are right back where they’ve been for most of the past four-plus years: at the top of the standings.
“The biggest thing is we have some players that struggled last year that are playing really well,” Hoyer said.
That list includes catcher Willson Contreras, now-healthy third baseman/outfielder Kris Bryant and even pitcher Tyler Chatwood. The team didn’t give up on any of them — perhaps the Cubs had no choice, considering their budget constraints — and that faith is being rewarded.
“We’re right where we need to be, especially with the way it started out,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said.
Rizzo pushed back on the notion that the offseason rhetoric was overblown. Perhaps the Cubs did need a proverbial kick in the pants. They got it during some tough talk with their manager and front office. It’s the sign of the times, according to the Cubs All-Star.
“That’s what comes with our expectations,” Rizzo said. “It’s not like we’re the 2015 Cubs.”
Those were the days when securing a wild card and winning a bit in October felt great. Fast-forward four years, and getting into the wild-card game felt like a loss — just like the outcome of the game itself. Rizzo suggested that result might be good for the Padres this season — but not for Chicago.
“If they get to the playoffs, that’s really good for them,” Rizzo said. “But that’s not where we’re at. In a few years, if they continue to do that, that’s not going to be good for them. Where we’re at is a different level of expectations.”
With the monkey of last season still on their backs and a 2-7 record before they even saw Wrigley Field to start the season, the Cubs found a way to be great again. It came the way they’ve achieved greatness the past four years: through their starting staff. Cubs’ pitching was historically good in 2016, and it has been about the same since game No. 10 this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Cubs’ rotation has a 2.32 ERA since April 8, tops in baseball. Sure, they’ve pitched at frigid Wrigley Field, but so have their opponents.
“We wanted to put it on us,” Hendricks said way back in early April.
The starters did just that. And perhaps the soul-searching the Cubs did after their dismal finish last season has made the difference, or maybe the final weeks of 2018 were just an anomaly. The Milwaukee Brewers were playing great, and the Cubs stubbed their toe for the first time since they became contenders. Their manager won’t allow himself to look back in a less than positive manner.
“It’s hard for me to talk negatively about 95 wins, and with the schedule that we had and the adversity that we faced,” Maddon said. “Sometimes you have to give the other guy credit. Milwaukee just did that well. They didn’t lose.”
But the Cubs did. Both team officials and players now believe it was the wake-up call they needed. The first nine games of this season simply served as a dramatic backdrop for their resurgence. It’s like they were saying, “Let’s have some people doubt us more, only to fool them.” It might have worked.
“Other people may not believe, but we never lost confidence in this clubhouse, and that’s the only thing that matters,” outfielder Albert Almora Jr. said.
The result is a 25-14 record and a return to the baseball elite. Did they ever leave? The Cubs don’t think so, but they’re also not planning any parades.
“I don’t want to take any victory laps now,” Epstein said. “The guys showed up really ready to play. There’s a real focus each day on doing what’s necessary to put our best foot forward in order to win.”
Of course, he’s right. We’re only about a quarter of the way through the season. But no one can take away what the Cubs have accomplished: reminding the baseball world how good they are. That happened quickly after a rough start, which came after a rough finish. Maybe they needed to experience it all to be where they are now.
“It was a painful road trip,” Hoyer said of the beginning of the season. “In some ways, that was probably good for us.”
Tigers vs. Rays – Game Recap – August 17, 2019
Sogard doubled off Matt Hall (0-1) with two outs and Tommy Pham was intentionally walked. Brosseau, batting for pitcher Colin Poche, singled to right-center field for the Rays’ first run since Wednesday, ending a streak of 29 scoreless innings.
Rays pitchers struck out a franchise-record 24 batters, including 13 in 20 hitless at bats against relievers. Six Tigers hitters struck out at least three times.
Poche (3-4) got the win after striking out two of the three Tigers he faced in the 13th.
The win kept the Rays one-half game ahead of Oakland for the American League’s second wild-card spot.
Yarbrough, who came one out short of pitching the Rays’ first complete game in three years on Sunday, is 6-0 with a 1.43 ERA over 56 2/3 innings in his last 11 appearances. He gave up three hits while striking out 10 in 6 1/3 innings.
Detroit starter Jordan Zimmermann allowed only one baserunner — on Pham’s double — in five innings, throwing 63 pitches and striking out five.
In nine at bats in the first two games of the series, Miguel Cabrera has struck out seven times and grounded into a double play.
Since allowing a double to Boston’s Andrew Benintendi, the first batter he faced as a Ray, Nick Anderson has retired 21 straight, 17 by strikeout. He struck out the side in the eighth inning Saturday. Anderson was acquired in a trade from Miami on July 31.
Tigers: C Grayson Greiner (lower back strain) moved from Class A Lakeland to Triple-A Toledo for the final step of his rehab process.
Rays: 2B Brandon Lowe, out since July 3 with a bruised right shin bone, will play with Class A Charlotte through Sunday at which time it will be determined if he will join Triple-A Durham. “It will be depended on if everybody feels he’s moving well,” manager Kevin Cash said. “If not we’ll just keep him at Charlotte.”
Tigers: LHP Matthew Boyd (6-9) will pitch Sunday’s series finale. He has given up 11 earned runs over eight innings in his last two starts.
Rays: RHP Trevor Richards was added to the taxi squad from Triple-A Durham and is lined up to start or follow an opener Sunday. Acquired from Miami on July 31, Richards went 3-12 in 23 games, including 20 starts, for the Marlins.
Yanks’ Boone, Gardner ejected again for ump tiff
NEW YORK — Manager Aaron Boone, Brett Gardner and the New York Yankees again hammered away at the umpires Saturday, this time in prolonged rants that brought several members of the team spilling onto the field, while beating the Cleveland Indians 6-5.
For the third time in a month — each time with a minor league call-up umpire behind the plate — the team with the best record in the American League lost its temper in a big way. This episode led to Boone and Gardner as well as pitcher CC Sabathia, who is on the injured list, all being ejected.
The trouble began in the sixth inning after Triple-A ump Ben May called out Cameron Maybin on strikes. The final pitch to Maybin was, according to strike zone charts, a bit outside. He calmly stood and discussed it with May and went back to the bench.
Moments later, things heated up in a hurry.
Boone came rushing from the dugout to confront May, and engaged in an animated argument. When Boone returned to the bench, all seemed calm — for a moment, anyway.
That’s when Boone came back for another go at May, with crew chief Tom Hallion coming in from second base, trying to quell the beef. But at the same time, several Yankees were hollering from the dugout, engaging in a close-up argument with first-base ump Phil Cuzzi.
“Just in that couple innings, obviously we objected to a few calls,” Boone explained after the game. “I start in there not wanting to get one of our guys if I can out of that game, but you know I had some issues where I felt like something might have affected another, might affect [James] Paxton being in that game, so just voiced it.”
Gardner was then ejected after banging his bat against the dugout roof — it’s become his habit when he gets upset — and then he climbed over the railing to continue to the dispute with Cuzzi. Coaches Phil Nevin, Marcus Thames and Josh Paul also were on the field, holding back Gardner, who was also arguing with third-base umpire Todd Tichenor.
“Kinda crazy to be honest,” Gardner said. “Got ejected for hitting the top of the dugout with my bat, making too much noise I guess. I wasn’t happy about it, I didn’t feel like what I did warranted an ejection.”
Boone said he thought the umpires were looking for Gardner to repeat his previous assaults on dugout roofs.
“I think in this case, in kind of talking with Gardy and watching it back, I think it’s clearly something they were probably looking for with us,” the manager said. “I haven’t received any memos or anything saying that’s illegal. Gardy was saying nothing again other than, ‘Hey, this is a spot in the game, we’re fired up, we’re playing for a lot,’ and we get a little passionate in that dugout in spots, and Gardy I don’t think was doing anything more than that.”
Boone added that on the topic of hitting the roof, the Yankees would “work closely with the commissioner’s office and find out what’s acceptable and not and try and certainly be respectful of that, and try and do a better job of staying in the game.”
Gardner said he believes any potential rule limiting players’ expression from the dugout would not be good for the sport.
“I guess if we’re trying to make the game fun again, like a lot of guys say the last few years — I don’t think you want all the guys sitting in the dugout not being able to say anything or make any noise or anything like that,” Gardner said. “That wouldn’t be too much fun. I’m not saying what I did was right…But I probably wouldn’t do it again tomorrow.”
It was Gardner’s sixth ejection of his career and second in little more than a week.
Last Friday, Gardner was tossed after an incident in Toronto in which plate umpire Chris Segal heard some words from the dugout and singled out the outfielder. Gardner had been silent at the time but earlier had been slamming his bat into the roof of the dugout.
On July 18, Boone screamed and hollered at another rookie umpire, Brennan Miller, leading to the expletive-filled rant that prompted the manager to call his hitters “savages” in the batter’s box. That netted him a one-game suspension.
These frustrations have come as the Yankees are running away with the American League East, with an 11-game lead over their nearest rival.
“I think it got taken too far with sending Gardy out of that game again, but look we’re playing for a lot right now,” Boone said. “You can feel that with all our guys right now, we’re in this thing — we’re playing for keeps.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
Urias gets 20-game domestic violence suspension
Urias has said he will not appeal. He has already served five games of the suspension while on administrative leave from May 14 to 21, leaving 15 games remaining to be served.
Urias, 23, was arrested May 13 after an altercation with a woman in a parking lot of a Los Angeles shopping mall. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office announced in June that it would not file charges against Urias as long as he participates in a 52-week domestic counseling program and commits no acts of violence for the next year.
The city attorney said it was deferring prosecution because Urias has no record of criminal behavior and the incident did not result in any physical injury, nor did the woman involved in the altercation indicate to police officers or witnesses that she believed she was a victim.
Urias, in a statement issued through the MLBPA on Saturday, said he’s been “fully cooperating” with law enforcement officials and the MLB since May and that he accepts “full responsibility for what I believe was my inappropriate conduct during the incident.”
“Even in this instance where there was no injury or history of violence, I understand and agree that Major League players should be held to a higher standard,” Urias continued in his statement. “I hold myself to a higher standard as well. I have taken proactive steps to help me grow as a person on and off the field, and in my relationships.”
Urias will be eligible for the postseason, which he said is a reason why he chose not to appeal.
“It is important to me not to create uncertainty for my teammates as we approach the playoffs,” Urias said in the statement. “Accepting the suspension is the best path to achieve that goal.”
The Dodgers issued their own statement, saying they are encouraged Urias will “learn” from this incident.
“While we are disappointed in what occurred and support the decision by the Commissioner’s Office, we are also encouraged that Julio has taken responsibility for his actions and believe he will take the necessary steps to learn from this incident,” the Dodgers’ statement said.
Urias, who has alternated between the rotation and the bullpen for the Dodgers, has a 4-3 record with four saves and a 2.53 ERA. The right-hander has 67 strikeouts in 67 2/3 innings and a 1.09 WHIP.
Tigers vs. Rays – Game Recap – August 17, 2019
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