LIVE: Castro having big night, Cubs have big lead


LIVE: Castro having big night, Cubs have big lead

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:08

Associated Press

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Dontrelle Willis missed an opportunity last week to beat the team that drafted him and end his lengthy winless drought.

The Cincinnati Reds left-hander will get another chance to face the Chicago Cubs in Monday night's opener of a four-game series at Great American Ball Park.

Wills (0-5, 4.21 ERA) has allowed three runs or fewer in nine of his 11 starts since being called up from the minors in July, but he's still seeking his first victory since June 5, 2010. In his 200th career start last Monday in Chicago, he gave up four runs over seven innings and struck out eight while taking the loss in a 4-3 defeat.

Willis hasn't received more than three runs of support in any outing this season.

"It's frustrating because I've pitched worse and won," he said. "I'm going to continue to battle and fight and hopefully I'll get a win and then they'll come in bunches."

Willis would probably love to earn that long-awaited win against the Cubs (64-82), who selected him in the eighth round in 2000. Chicago traded him to Florida in 2002 for Matt Clement and Antonio Alfonseca, who pitched for Chicago's division-winning club the following season.

Willis, meanwhile, was named NL Rookie of the Year in 2003, going on to help the Marlins defeat the Cubs in the league championship series and claim their second World Series title. Two years later, he led the majors with 22 wins.

After being dealt to Detroit in December 2007, Willis registered only two wins over parts of three seasons with the Tigers and endured anxiety issues.

The Reds (71-75) are the third organization for Willis since May 2010, and they could use his help as they strive for their first back-to-back winning seasons since 1999 and 2000.

Cincinnati appears less likely to accomplish that feat after dropping nine of its last 13. That stretch began with a four-game series sweep at the hands of Philadelphia from Aug. 29-Sept. 1 at home.

The Reds went 4-5 on their subsequent road trip, including losses in their final two games at Colorado over the weekend. Joey Votto drove in the lone Cincinnati run of Sunday's 4-1 defeat with a solo homer in the ninth inning.

"They looked like they were at the end of a 10-day road trip," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

Baker's former team, the Cubs, won two of three against the New York Mets to open a seven-game trip and are 5-2 in their last seven games overall. Chicago scored six times in the 11th inning of a 10-6 victory Sunday night.

"We don't do things the easy way, that's for sure," manager Mike Quade said. "They kept playing. They kept battling."

The Cubs may be in for a battle if they want to help Rodrigo Lopez (4-6, 4.82) snap a personal three-game skid. The right-hander gave up two runs over 5 2-3 innings to Cincinnati on Tuesday during a 4-2 loss in 13 innings.

Lopez is 2-0 with a 4.59 ERA in seven career starts against the Reds, earning both wins in Cincinnati, while Willis is 3-2 with a 3.47 ERA in his last five starts versus the Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, the NL leader with 187 hits, went 1 for 3 against Willis as part of his current 12-game hitting streak. He's batting .407 in his last six games against Cincinnati.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Clayton Kershaw stands between the Cubs and the World Series, a possibility that left veteran catcher David Ross thinking about Ric Flair inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse late Thursday night: To be The Man, you got to beat The Man. 

“Woo!” That’s how the Cubs like to punctuate their postgame celebration routine, channeling the professional wrestling legend in a ritual with so much sensory overload that the fog machine set off fire alarms throughout the underground Wrigley Field lair…after a win in the middle of August. “Woo!” 
The Cubs left Los Angeles one win away from their first National League pennant since 1945, and with two chances to pull it off this weekend at Wrigley Field, beginning on Saturday night in Game 6. So imagine how this crew would trash the Party Room if they beat Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and 2014 NL MVP. 

“The guy competes,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s pretty much like mechanics be damned, it’s just about me beating you somehow. 

“He’s got a good fastball that he locates. He doesn’t walk people. He’s got a dynamic curve and slider. And he’s got deception. He’s a little bit funky, and that’s got to be hard to pick up. The ball gets on you pretty quickly, and then he commands it. 

“So there’s nothing you could possibly ask for that he doesn’t already have.”

Now we’ll see if something clicked while the Cubs turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 NLCS lead – handling rookie starters Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda and the softer parts of the Los Angeles bullpen – or if those 18 runs combined in Games 4 and 5 were a mirage.

In 16-plus innings so far, the Cubs still haven’t scored a run off Kershaw, if-necessary Game 7 lefty starter Rich Hill or dominating closer Kenley Jansen, who got this review from Maddon: “He’s like a 100-pound heavier version of Mariano Rivera. He’s the bigger man with the same kind of stuff.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Why are the Cubs so confident? Remember, this offense scored 808 runs during the regular season, more than every NL team except for the Colorado Rockies. This lineup knocked out October legend Madison Bumgarner after five innings in the divisional round (though pitcher Jake Arrieta delivered the three-run homer in a game the San Francisco Giants would win in extra innings). 

The Cubs should at least have a better idea of what to expect after getting that up-close view during a 1-0 loss in Game 2, the end of a 10-day period where the Dodgers used Kershaw for three starts and a division-series save against the Washington Nationals.  

Ben Zobrist – a veteran of 11 postseason series – explained: “His heater – as straight as it is – (comes from) the deception of his funky windup. You think you’re there, and it’s right above your barrel.”

“We’ll all be ready to go,” All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Any time you see a guy back-to-back, it’s always to our advantage as hitters. We just have to go out there and play our game and have good at-bats off a left-handed pitcher. 

“I know it’s Clayton Kershaw, but we really got to just focus in on having good at-bats.” 

The Dodgers still have to beat a leading Cy Young contender (Kyle Hendricks) and last year’s award winner (Arrieta) on back-to-back nights in a building that will be shaking if the Cubs take an early lead with a Kris Bryant home run. And until this October, Kershaw had a reputation for underachieving in the playoffs.

“We got to battle,” Bryant said. “We know Kershaw likes to keep his pitch count down, because he wants to pitch the whole game. He’s a competitor, so we got to find a way to work counts and not swing at the pitches that he wants us to.

“Any time you got the best in the game going at you, it’s a challenge. And it’s going to be fun.” 

That’s exactly how the Cubs have approached everything this year, with an Embrace-The-Target attitude and all this Flair for the dramatic. 

“To be the best, you got to beat the best,” Rizzo said.