The Chicago Cubs have had Cy Young winners and MVPs and Rookies of the Year. What they haven’t had in a long time is a World Series championship. But when a team is going so well, sometimes the personal accolades go hand in hand with the ultimate team honor. At least that’s how the Cubs hope it plays out.
In the Cy Young chase, Jon Lester bolstered his case with another quality outing, a 6-1 win over Cincinnati that made him the National League’s first 18-game winner. Despite having a shaky fastball early, Lester wriggled out of a couple of jams and ended up throwing only 97 pitches over seven innings.
“I think he pitched a little bit more today, rather than just really relying on his fastball,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It was good, it was very good. But he has been on quite a roll.”
Lester tossed his MLB-best 25th quality start and lowered his ERA to 2.36, second in the majors to teammate Kyle Hendricks.
“He’s pitching well,” catcher David Ross said. “This is the guy you were going to get when he signed the deal he signed. He’s one of many guys who is throwing well on the staff.”
And, in an interesting twist this season, the right-handed hitting Turner has been far better against right-handed pitching than left-handed. He entered play Tuesday batting .299 with a .920 OPS against right-handers and .193/.627 marks against lefties.
“I think that we have had spurts where we were OK,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “But if we plan to do what we want to as a team, accomplish what we want to and go deep into the postseason, we have to be better against left-handed pitching.”
An option like the righty-hitting Enrique Hernandez was key for the Dodgers against lefties last season, but he has hardly done the same damage this season in sporadic playing time. Yasiel Puig has produced about the same numbers against left-handers as right-handers, but overall, it has not been one of his best seasons.
“Most of the times in the game, you’re worried about your next at-bat or defense. Obviously you’re cheering for your team and paying attention, but I was able to watch those guys closer and see what they did, how they got ready for pitches, things that you see normally but you don’t pay as much attention to,” Upton said.
He noticed how early Kinsler got his foot down in his swing, how both Cabrera and Martinez rely more on rhythm. It was a luxury, watching some formidable hitters within his own lineup without worrying about his own production on those particular nights. Did it help? He’s not sure, but it was better than what he had been doing previously.
Rodriguez’s biggest moment, the one that inspires the most confidence that he’s capable of succeeding in October, came in the sixth inning.
With the Red Sox leading 2-1, the tying run on second base, two outs and the crowd getting loud at Camden Yards, Rodriguez could have chosen to walk AL home run leader Mark Trumbo and pitch to Jonathan Schoop. Instead, he won an eight-pitch duel with the 43-homer slugger, striking him out on a nasty changeup after he had fouled off three fastballs and laid off a dirt-diving slider.
“Bryce is always going to be Bryce,” Rendon said after the game. “He’s still going to be a threat, no matter if he’s 0 for his last 10, or he’s 10 for his last 10. He’s fun to watch and it’s good to see him getting more respect.”
As good an omen as that is for the Nationals, Dusty Baker is even happier about what’s happening behind Harper.
“It’s better how guys respond behind him,” the Nats skipper said. “That was some of the problems earlier in the year. The guys weren’t responding like they are now.”