Monday Headlines: Cubs help Pirates stay in first

The Chicago Cubs went into Pittsburgh this weekend with all of St. Louis cheering for them, another instance of a pennant race making strange bedfellows. While all four games were decided by one or two runs, the Cubs could only manage one win in the four games. But at least we got the consolation prize of St. Louis being disappointed and still in a tie with the Pirates for first place.wcastillo

Yesterday’s game was the most concerning of all, as Francisco Liriano held the Cubs hitless through the first six innings. We may not care so much about wins and losses at this point in the season, but none of us want the 7,650 game streak of no no-hitters to end. Luckily for us, Junior Lake was up first in the seventh.

Liriano had thrown 99 pitches through six innings, and Junior Lake connected on No. 100, recording an infield single to lead off the seventh for the first hit off the lefty. Castillo then launched pitch No. 102 into the left-field seats for his seventh home run to tie the game. Darnell McDonald singled, and Liriano was lifted. It’s the first time in 24 starts that he did not get a decision.

“He’s not easy to hit,” Castillo said of Liriano. “He’s got good offspeed [stuff], and he throws it for strikes. He’s a guy you have to be aggressive against all the time because he can throw 96 and 88 [mph] and has a slider at 85, 87. What makes him good is [all the pitches] look the same. His changeup looks like his fastball, his slider looks like his fastball. He’s been good his whole career. The approach we had to take was, be aggressive and try to get him early.”

Castillo has now nearly doubled his season home run total in the last week, having hit three to run his total to seven. Another bit of encouragement to take from this game was that Travis Wood had yet another quality start, throwing six innings and allowing only two runs.

Sticking to the Cubs coaches’ plan has been key for Wood this season, his first in which he’s been on a big league roster from Opening Day until the finish.

“For me, it goes back to last year when they wanted me to work both sides of the plate, arm side and glove side, and I really focused on arm side because I was predominantly glove side,” Wood said. “For me to take that into this year and make sure I can command both sides of the plate and prepare as best as I can, side sessions and everything, it’s been outstanding.”

One unnoticed bit of improvement from the Cubs is that they’ve been playing well on defense. Since the All Star Break, they’re fifth in the majors in team fielding percentage.

Barney leads the majors for the second consecutive season in ­defensive wins above replacement for his position as well as in fielding percentage. Rizzo leads National League first basemen in defensive WAR and zone rating, and he is second in fielding percentage.

Even the oft-maligned Castro has made just four errors since his first day off in late June and is second since then among NL shortstops in range and third in fielding percentage.

David Bell has been the coach primarily working with the infielders, and he’s happy with what he’s seen.

“Rizzo works as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. And Barney, as hard as he’s worked, I feel like he’s worked smarter as the season’s gone on,” Bell said, “just really doing what he needs to get better but also to get prepared for the game.

“And Castro — look at the season these guys have had and how valuable, when they look back, a year like this is going to be in the big picture and how they’ve handled it.

“[Castro’s] just stayed with it and kept working at it and showed a lot of toughness. And I know that’s ­going to pay off.”

So while we can bitch about their seasons on offense, at least they’ve shown improvement elsewhere.

17 thoughts on “Monday Headlines: Cubs help Pirates stay in first

  1. johnnywest333 says:

    I don’t have much time to blog lately. I do read the posts every day but that darn Like button has been gone almost a year now. Sure would come in handy sometimes ahemmm…

  2. Doc Blume says:

    Don’t worry, Castro’s defense will revert back to its former level at the beginning of next season.

    1. johnnywest333 says:

      I’m still not a fan of Castro. Period.

      1. J says:

        I’m with you on the not a fan thing, but that’s really more due to ambivalence rather than dislike.

  3. sloanpeterson2 says:

    I did not get ot watch all the games, due to old car dying/getting new car, but to me the problem seems to be that the pitching holds up for an inning or two, and then the other team scores, and the Cubs are not that good at coming back. I think once there is a decent pitching rotation, the focus can then go to offense…

    1. johnnywest333 says:

      The bottom line is that it really doesn’t make that much of a difference what the starting rotation looks like if we cannot produce more then 1-2 runs every game.

    2. J says:

      Outside of E Jax and at times Spellcheck, the rotation has been the bright spot this season. Starting pitchers just aren’t going to carry an ERA of 0.86 into September. You’re right on the offense needing help, but it doesn’t matter how good your rotation is if you can’t put runs on the board.

      I’d personally love to see the Cubs become the kind of team that wins ballgames by outscoring their opponents more often than they out-pitch their opponents. The Cubs “good years” had hitters that could bail out pitchers/Dusty Baker more often than not. Once DLee, ARam, et al got old, that era was long gone with no clue how to get back to being that kind of team, doubly so with current PED testing.

      1. johnnywest333 says:

        Like button.

  4. juliedicaro says:

    But tonight they play the Brewers. I HATE the Brewers. I’m still hoping for a fight.

    1. johnnywest333 says:

      I wish they would take Braun off suspension only when we play the Brewers. Bosio could instruct the pitchers to use the opportunity to brush up on their inside pitching and brush backs. MLB wouldn’t mind.

      1. J says:

        You just got me thinking…

        I propose a rule change for Ryan Braun/ARod- big PED bust means your suspension is only a suspension from taking a bat with you for your at bat. the pitcher has to plunk the batter 3 times for the out, automatic out if the “battered” leaves the batters box when being thrown at. If the pitcher fails to hit the player in question 4 times, the player in the batters box gets to take first base and the pitcher is charged with a walk. Head shots are an automatic out.

        1. johnnywest333 says:

          The pitcher should automatically be tossed from the game if he fails to plunk said opponent. He can get a reprieve if he beans that batter while he is attempting to take first.

          1. J says:

            the sad part of this is that even with this rule set, Cubs fans would leave the game disappointed that Braun only got hit twice and still managed to homer off of the Cubs closer.

            1. johnnywest333 says:

              Like button.

  5. sloanpeterson2 says:

    But look what happened when Dummy Dempster beaned A-Rod. It woke up the Yankees and they got back into the wild card race. Your PED beaning program needs refinement..

    1. J says:

      ARod had a bat. MLB obviously didn’t consult with me first. You’re also guilty of selective story telling. The Yankees also got back into the wild card race because they got a well rested ARod back in the lineup and they picked up a red hot Soriano. Pinning the recent success of the Yankees down to a single HBP is overlooking the numerous other factors that have influenced the outcome of games is cherry picking irrelevant facts to support dislike of Dempster. It’s time to get over the fact that Dempster didn’t want to play in Atlanta and Jim Hendry gave him the ability to say “I’m not going to play in Atlanta.”

      Anyways, in case you missed it, ARod is appealing his suspension, so he wouldn’t be serving his suspension until after his appeal is heard.

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