Month: September 2016

Cubs win 96th as Jon Lester continues to build Cy Young case

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.”

There will be no toasting in St. Louis as Cubs offense stalls

ST. LOUIS — Put the champagne on ice, because it won’t be needed until the Chicago Cubs return to Wrigley Field later this week. The Cubs’ magic number to clinch the National League’s Central Division remained at three after a 4-2 loss Tuesday night to the team behind them, the St. Louis Cardinals.

“It’s inevitable at this point,” center fielder Dexter Fowler simply stated after the game.

With their division lead at 16 games, the question the last few days in the locker room has been about where, not when or if, they would clinch their first division title since 2008. Either the Cubs would clinch at Busch Stadium with a dramatic sweep of the Cardinals, or they would do it back at home in front of their own fans after Wednesday’s conclusion of a nine-game road trip. The task of sweeping a playoff contender on the road was always a tall one, so now they’re likely to pop champagne in Chicago. Tuesday’s starter, Jason Hammel, and the Cubs offense made sure of that.

“Whoever put that out there, the source within the system, they lied,” Backman said. “And that’s the part that pisses me off.”

Backman said he played a large role in advising the organization to acquire James Loney, Rene Rivera and Jose Reyes and never received any appreciation.

It’s widely known that Alderson has never been enamored with Backman, a popular 1986 Met whose hiring was fueled by ownership. Asked about his relationship with Alderson and Mets manager Terry Collins, Backman said: “It’s not Terry. Terry and I talked all the time. I think the biggest thing, and part of the reasoning behind it, is the lack of respect.

Backman had been hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks in Nov. 2004 to manage their major league club, but was fired days later after previous arrests and financial issues surfaced.

Backman said he has the temperament and loyalty to be on a major league staff.

“Everybody calls me old school,” Backman said. “I use every bit of the information that’s available in today’s baseball world.”

Non-reviewable gaffe by umpire results in A.J. Hinch ejection vs. Indians

The Cleveland Indians were the beneficiaries of a blown call by the plate umpire that was not reviewable and resulted in the ejection of Astros manager A.J. Hinch during Houston’s 10-7 loss Thursday.

Lonnie Chisenhall was at the plate with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning and — on a 1-2 pitch from Astros starter David Paulino — fouled off a pitch that had bounced in front of home plate and came to a rest near the Indians’ dugout.

They aren’t alone with that high volume. The Dodgers will carry 13 relievers for the rest of the month, and Washington started Wednesday’s game with 37 active players.

The managers all over Major League Baseball are using these extra pitchers, turning the final innings into slogging marathons of pitching changes. The other day, Giants manager Bruce Bochy — understandably looking to take advantage of all the weapons available to him — used 10 pitchers in a 13-inning loss to the Cubs. Last weekend at Citi Field, Nationals manager Dusty Baker made six pitching changes in the span of eight hitters. Under the current rules, the managers aren’t doing anything wrong; they’re actually trying to do everything right, exploiting the high volume of relievers by seeking out incremental advantages in the batter-to-batter matchups.

But more and more, you hear from folks inside the game about what a tough watch it has become, and according to sources, Major League Baseball has raised the idea of regulating the September rosters in the current collective bargaining talks in the hopes of diminishing the slog. Concepts have been discussed internally, centered on the idea of creating greater limits on the number of players available to managers in each game.

Mike Trout: No doctor visit, no lingering pain after crash

SEATTLE — Mike Trout, hitting in his usual No. 3 spot for the Los Angeles Angels, had a three-run homer his first time up Friday night, two days after he was involved in a multi-vehicle accident.

Puig rejoined the Dodgers on Friday after a spending a month with the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Oklahoma City. He started in right field and batted fifth against the San Diego Padres.

Moncada drew a five-pitch walk in the eighth and scored, and struck out swinging in the ninth in the Red Sox’s 16-2 win.

Travis Shaw got the start at third base Friday against Oakland right-hander Andrew Triggs but figures to lose playing time to Moncada for the season’s final month. Shaw homered and had five RBIs on Friday, but he entered the game hitting .189 since the All-Star break.

Farrell said Moncada, a switch-hitter who has had more success from the left side, will get the bulk of the starts against right-handed pitching. Aaron Hill will start against left-handers, and Farrell suggested Hill could replace Moncada for defense in the late innings of close games.

Moncada has been a second baseman for all but 10 games of his minor league career, which has lasted only 187 games. He did play third in his native Cuba, so he and the Red Sox believe he’ll handle the position smoothly.

This season for Class A Salem and Double-A Portland, Moncada hit a combined .294 with 31 doubles, six triples, 15 homers and 45 stolen bases.

He said he still wasn’t expecting a big league promotion.

“It was definitely a surprise for me,” Moncada said through translator Daveson Perez. “I didn’t think they were going to call. I’m here and ready to work. It’s been a blessing.”

Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani has given the Cardinals a lot of trouble in the the past, and Friday was no different, as he held them to two runs in seven innings. He has a 2.25 ERA in 32 career innings against them.

Yadier Molina and Randal Grichuk each homered, but that was it for the Cardinals’ offense.

The Grichuk home run came on a slider, but DeSclafani allowed no other damage with his offspeed pitches, getting nine outs with them.