Cubs treading water despite offensive struggles: 'We've got to get it together'

Cubs treading water despite offensive struggles: 'We've got to get it together'

After scoring one run — on a home run — for the third consecutive game Saturday night, manager Joe Maddon knows how fortunate the Cubs are to have won two of the first three games against the Pirates in this four-game series that concludes Sunday.

“We could be sitting 0-3 in this series just as well as we can be sitting 2-1,” Maddon said following a 3-1 loss in which Joe Musgrove held the Cubs to five hits in seven innings. “We’re very fortunate. We have to get the offensive mojo back, get back in that swarmy kind of thing.”

The Cubs’ problems were temporarily cured Wednesday in an 8-4 win over the Brewers in which they sprayed the ball to all fields to Maddon’s liking. But that has been an anomaly during a stretch in which they’ve scored three runs or fewer in six of their last nine games.

“Offensively we’ve got to get it together,” said Maddon, who was otherwise pleased with the defense, relief pitching and base running Saturday night.

But the offense continues to sputter. Ben Zobrist hit a home run to account for their only scoring, just as Ian Happ did Thursday and Kyle Schwarber on Friday in back-to-back 1-0 victories. Other than Zobrist, who is batting .394 since the All-Star break, no other Cubs have been consistent at the plate besides Anthony Rizzo — who struck out with Zobrist at second to end the eighth Saturday.

Addison Russell is 1-for-19, Willson Contreras is 5-for-30, Javier Baez is 4-for-29 and Schwarber is 7-for-37.

Maddon said Russell is still bothered by a sore knuckle on his left middle finger that the shortstop says he can tolerate, but “when he gets the pitch he likes, he fouls it off,” Maddon said.

“Schwarbs hit the home run (Friday), but we’ve got to get him more consistent,” Maddon said. “It’s just an inconsistency with the whole group.”

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Tyler Chatwood’s return to rotation short-lived in Cubs’ 3-1 loss to the Pirates »

Shutouts not in short supply for Cubs despite lack of complete games »

Closer Brandon Morrow aiming for September return to Cubs bullpen »

Orioles minor league report: Hall hits first home run; Reyes riding hitting streak

Orioles minor league report: Hall hits first home run; Reyes riding hitting streak

Triple-A Norfolk

Infielder Breyvic Valera batted .357 (15-for-42) with a home run in his 11 games entering Saturday, bringing his season line with Norfolk to .273/.350/.420 with eight extra-base hits since he was acquired last month from the Los Angeles Dodgers. Valera, 26, had hits in 11 of his first 13 games after being optioned from Baltimore on Aug. 2.

Double-A Bowie

Left-hander Chris Lee, 26, has pitched well in a relief role since the Orioles outrighted him off the 40-man roster and knocked him back to Bowie. Lee pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings Friday to bring him to 9 2/3 innings with one earned run on six hits for the Baysox. Of the 29 outs he’s recorded, 19 were ground balls and seven were strikeouts.

High-A Frederick

Infielder Jomar Reyes, 21, entered Saturday with hits in seven straight games, including four multihit games, to help him to a .462 average in that stretch. It’s part of a late-season resurgence for the hulking Reyes, who was batting .241 at the All-Star break in his third season at Frederick but has hit .292 with a .795 OPS since.

Low-A Delmarva

Reliever Nick Vespi made it nine innings over five appearances without an earned run after pitching three scoreless innings Friday, allowing two hits with two strikeouts in the Shorebirds win. The 22-year-old left-hander entered Saturday with 62 strikeouts, a 2.30 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP in 58 2/3 innings. Opponents are batting .196 off him.

Short-A Aberdeen

Shortstop Adam Hall, the Orioles’ second-round pick in 2017, hit his first professional home run Wednesday and carried a nine-game hitting streak into the weekend for the IronBirds. Hall, 19, began the streak batting .224, but is 14-for-31 (.452) since it started to bring him to .267 through Friday. Hall also has 11 steals in 14 attempts overall this season.

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Dodgers' lineup flip not a flop against Mariners

Dodgers' lineup flip not a flop against Mariners

When Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts decided to flip the Nos. 2-3 hitters in his batting order, it was anything but a flop.

Justin Turner, in the midst of a 12-game hitting streak that has raised his average from .259 to .294, moved up to the second slot formerly occupied by Corey Seager, who is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Manny Machado, acquired from Baltimore at the All-Star break, took over the third spot.

“We acquired Manny to be a middle-of-the-order damage guy,” Turner told MLB.com. “The way our front office and (manager Dave Roberts) had put the lineup together the last few years, Seager in the two-hole, they just kind of put him there in that spot. I’m comfortable either spot and when (Roberts) said he was going to hit me second and Manny third, I said, ‘That’s awesome.’ Doesn’t bother me one bit.”

Machado hit two home runs in an 11-1 victory Friday night in the series opener in Seattle.

“Manny really had a big night — a couple of homers — and J.T. continues to stay on fire,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

That doubled Machado’s home-run total since moving to Los Angeles.

“If a pitcher makes a mistake, I’ll do some damage,” Machado told MLB.com. “Since I got here I’ve told Doc (Roberts), whatever you need me to do. Finally, I just locked myself in to what got me here. When you have J.T. hitting in front of you, he’s a guy that’s going to see pitches, get on base, drive the ball. It makes it a lot easier for me to go up there and do what I need.”

Turner hit a solo homer that sparked a late rally Saturday night before the Mariners won 5-4 in 10 innings on a bases-loaded balk.

“Balk-off victory, you don’t see that every night at the ballpark,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said.

Turner, who missed the first month-and-a-half of the season with a broken wrist and has struggled through an adductor strain in the second half, credited his turnaround to opening his stance after a session in the batting cage a couple of weeks ago.

“I hit early in BP in Oakland and it just didn’t feel right,” Turner said. “There’s a drill we do to open up the stance and I tried it. It felt really good, and I just decided to open up and it felt real good that first game and it has ever since.”

Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (5-5, 2.47 ERA) is scheduled to face Seattle lefty Roenis Elias (2-0, 2.88) in the rubber game of the series. Kershaw is 2-0 with a 3.46 ERA in two career starts against the Mariners, while Elias will be making his first appearance against the Dodgers.

Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager made his parents proud Saturday, hitting a three-run homer in the first inning and was at the plate for the decisive balk.

The Seagers have had this series circled on the calendar since the 2018 schedule came out, as it was supposed to be the first meeting in the major leagues between the brothers.

Despite Corey being out, their parents still made the trip to Seattle. Mother Jody wore a split Mariners-Dodgers jersey with Seager stitched on the back.

D.J. LeMahieu's home run gives Rockies win over Braves

D.J. LeMahieu's home run gives Rockies win over Braves

After four at-bats, DJ LeMahieu was still looking for his first hit and felt he hadn’t made good contact. He was just saving his best swing for extra innings.

The visiting Colorado Rockies struck for three runs with two outs in the ninth inning before LeMahieu homered over the center field wall in the 10th Saturday night in a 5-3 win over the Atlanta Braves.

LeMahieu’s drive off Luke Jackson cleared the 400-foot mark — the deepest part of the park.

“I hadn’t really hit the ball hard all night,” he said. “I was just trying to get on base.”

Carlos Gonzalez then hit a double and scored on Nolan Arenado’s single to complete a frustrating blown save for fill-in closer A.J. Minter.

Minter came in with a 3-0 lead to begin the ninth and retired the first two Colorado batters. But the Rockies followed with four straight hits, including a two-run double by Ian Desmond and a tying single by pinch-hitter Gerardo Parra.

The Rockies have won the first three games of the four-game series to stay close to NL West-leading Arizona.

The NL East-leading Braves remained one-half game ahead of second-place Philadelphia.

Mariners 5, Dodgers 4: Reliever Dylan Floro balked home Cameron Maybin with the winning run with the bases loaded in the 10th as host Seattle beat Los Angeles.

Padres 7, Diamondbacks 6: Christian Villanueva had a walk-off pinch-hit single in the ninth inning and San Diego ended a five-game skid with a win over Arizona.

Angels 11, Rangers 7: Shohei Ohtani’s pinch-hit homer scored three runs in the seventh inning, then rookie Taylor Ward hit his first career home run as visiting Los Angeles beat Texas.

Marlins 7, Nationals 5: Isaac Galloway hit a two-run single in the 10th inning, J.T. Riddle homered and drove in four runs and Miami beat host Washington.

Tigers 7, Twins 5: Mikie Mahtook hit a tie-breaking three-run homer in the fifth inning, rookie Ryan Carpenter earned his first big-league win and visiting Detroit beat Minnesota.

Red Sox 5, Rays 2: David Price pitched seven solid innings, and J.D. Martinez hit his major league-leading 38th homer after host Boston jumped to a quick lead.

Pirates 3, Cubs 1: Chicago starter Tyler Chatwood’s chance at redemption lasted only two-plus innings as the Cubs lost to host Pittsburgh.

Royals 3, White Sox 1: Alex Gordon homered and Jorge Bonifacio had a go-ahead RBI single in the decisive sixth inning, and Kansas City rallied past host Chicago.

Cardinals 7, Brewers 2: Marcell Ozuna homered and Miles Mikolas tossed six effective innings to push host St. Louis into the second wild-card spot in the NL with a victory over Milwaukee.

Mets 3, Phillies 1: Jacob deGrom pitched his first complete game of the season and lowered his majors-leading ERA to 1.71, weathering a rain delay to lead visiting New York over Philadelphia.

Orioles 4, Indians 2: Alex Cobb pitched a five-hitter for his first complete game in five years, and visiting Baltimore snapped Cleveland’s six-game winning streak.

Yankees 11, Blue Jays 6: Giancarlo Stanton hit one of host New York’s four homers, Luis Severino struck out eight in five innings and the Yankees beat Toronto.

Colorado Rockies 5, Atlanta Braves 3 (10 innings): Rockies down but not out in win over Braves

Colorado Rockies 5, Atlanta Braves 3 (10 innings): Rockies down but not out in win over Braves

Through 8 23 innings, the Colorado Rockies offense could not muster anything against Braves pitching, but that is why they play nine innings. Down 3-0, the Rockies got four straight hits with two outs in the top of the ninth to tie the game at three. They then got a go-ahead home run from DJ LeMahieu and an RBI single from Nolan Arenado in the 10th to take a 5-3 win and the series over Atlanta.

Epic comeback

After Braves closer A.J. Minter got two quick outs in the ninth, Trevor Story kept the game alive with a double and moved to third on a David Dahl single. Ian Desmond then worked a full count against Minter before a two-run double that cut the Rockies deficit to 3-2. Pinch hitter Gerardo Parra then singled home Desmond to tie the game. Adam Ottavino left a man on third in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extra innings.

With one out in the 10th, DJ LeMahieu put the Rockies in the lead with a solo home run to dead center field. Carlos González then followed that with a double and scored on Nolan Arenado’s base hit to make it 5-3. Wade Davis worked a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th to earn his 34th save.

Antonio Senzatela Returns

Out since August 2, right-hander Antonio Senzatela made his return to the mound Saturday against the Braves. Senzatela was good, if unspectacular, allowing two runs, both earned, on five hits in five innings, walking two but striking out just one. He threw 82 pitches, 49 of them for strikes, dropping his ERA to 4.47 on the season.

Looking Ahead

The Rockies will look to sweep the Braves and a go 5-1 on the current road trip on Sunday in the finale of the four-game set in Atlanta. Germán Márquez will be on the mound for Colorado against Atlanta’s Anibal Sanchez. First pitch is scheduled for 11:35 a.m. Mountain time,

Paul Sullivan: Position players pitching is all the rage, but how about some new ideas to save the bullpens?

Paul Sullivan: Position players pitching is all the rage, but how about some new ideas to save the bullpens?

The Mets were trouncing the Phillies in the first game of a doubleheader Thursday, so Phillies manager Gabe Kapler wanted to save his bullpen for the nightcap.

Center fielder Roman Quinn and shortstop Scott Kingery combined to throw the final three innings of an eventual 24-4 loss, with Quinn giving up seven runs in 1 2/3 innings and Kingery allowing two in 1 1/3 innings.

“In that particular situation, our best relievers are not excited about coming into those kinds of games, those lopsided games,” Kapler said. “On the flip side, a couple position players enjoyed it. A 24-4 game and a 5-4 game both count as a loss. And so our strategy is to be best positioned to win the next game.”

Of course “mop-up” duty, as it’s often called, has been going on in baseball since bullpens were actually in fields used by bulls, and relatively few relievers have been “excited” about having to finish up a lopsided game.

But using position players to pitch no longer is an anomaly, so everyone shrugged. As Cubs President Theo Epstein used to say, “baseball is a copycat league,” and this is the latest example.

The 56 pitching appearances by position players through Thursday is a modern record, easily eclipsing last year’s record of 31. Expanded rosters in September should allow managers to empty their bullpens, if necessary, so the use of position players should slow.

According to ESPN Stats and Info, 24 teams have used a position player at least once, while the Cubs and Brewers lead the majors with six position-player appearances (by five different Cubs and two different Brewers).

Everyone gets a good laugh, as when Anthony Rizzo did it last month against the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field, lobbing two pitches to A.J. Pollock and inducing a long flyout.

Some believe letting position players pitch is embarrassing, while others point out it’s no more embarrassing than watching most National League pitchers hit. The only thing for certain is it’s now an accepted part of baseball strategy.

The “bullpenning” of baseball has turned most relievers into one- or two-inning pitchers, and there’s no room on staffs for the old-fashioned “long man” who can eat innings in a losing cause.

Many journeyman pitchers have had to perform such duties in their careers. There was value in the role, despite the fact the pitcher usually was not good enough to start or close, making him easy to “waste” in a blowout.

One performance that sticks out in my mind was watching 23-year-old White Sox reliever Pete Vuckovich coming into a game against the Orioles in August 1976 after Terry Forster put the Sox in an 8-0 hole in the second inning.

Vuckovich allowed no runs on two hits over the final 6 1/3 innings, keeping the Sox in a game they lost. In fact, the ’76 Sox lost 97 games, including 18 of the 20 games Vuckovich appeared in from June 30 on.

He was a young arm on a truly awful team but did his job whether “excited” or not and learned how to pitch in the majors. The Sox let the Blue Jays grab Vuckovich in the expansion draft after the ’76 season, and he went on to become one of the American League’s top starters for the Brewers, going a combined 32-10 in 1981 and ’82, winning the ’82 Cy Young Award and helping them reach the ’82 World Series.

Perhaps another Pete Vuckovich is out there on some losing team, hoping to get in work whenever he can to improve and open eyes for next year. Or maybe we’d rather laugh off the endings with position players.

Who knows the answer? But as a Little League aficionado, I’d prefer MLB allow “coach-pitch” in such situations. Instead of position players, get the manager out on the mound to show off his stuff.

Some, such as the Sox’s Rick Renteria, could be impressive because they already throw batting practice. Rockies manager Bud Black, who won 121 games in a 15-year major-league pitching career, can probably still bring it.

And who wouldn’t love to see Joe Maddon or Terry Francona taking the ball from a pitcher and then giving it to himself?

But after Rizzo’s appearance, one fan emailed me with an even better idea.

“Maybe Maddon is on to something that could be used as a marketing tool,” he wrote. “We already have guest conductors for the seventh-inning stretch. How about guest pitchers?”

That sounds like a great revenue enhancer for baseball, which currently has less action than a Meryl Streep movie and could use some new ideas.

Imagine the Cubs calling on an emergency mop-up reliever from the stands, like the Blackhawks used 36-year-old accountant Scott Foster as an emergency goalie last year.

Qualifying fans could enter a lottery to participate, and when the Cubs are trailing by eight runs or so, Maddon could make a call to the stands for a fresh arm.

The money would go to charity, the fans would get a kick out of it and the designated mop-up man or woman would get his or her name in the Baseball Encyclopedia.

It’s worth a shot, though with the Cubs’ luck, Ronnie Woo-Woo would probably win the lottery.