LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

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LIVE: LaHair gives Cubs lead with HR

Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011Posted: 10:30 a.m.

Associated Press

The Houston Astros are one of three teams that have never lost 100 games. Unless they finish their 50th season on a 12-game win streak, they will no longer lay claim to that distinction.

After suffering their 99th loss in the series opener against the Chicago Cubs, the Astros try to avoid reaching the century mark Saturday at Wrigley Field.

Owner of the majors' worst record, Houston (51-99) has already set a franchise record for losses, eclipsing the old mark of 97 set three times, most recently in 1991. A 100th defeat seems inevitable, and that would leave just Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels as the only franchises without a 100-loss season.

Like so many of their defeats before, the Astros' loss to the Cubs (66-85) on Friday was a little disheartening. Houston rallied to tie the score with two outs in the ninth inning only to lose 4-3 in the 12th, when Marlon Byrd drove in Starlin Castro on a slow-roller down the third base line that replays indicated may have been foul.

That's just the kind of luck the Astros have been experiencing lately. Four of their last five losses have been by one run, and three of those defeats have come in the final at-bat.

"They're tough losses, but on the other hand, you have to look at the positives," Carlos Lee said. "We're playing good baseball. We're playing good games."

Lee, in particular, is playing well.

Matt Garza was one strike from finishing a five-hitter Friday when Lee hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot that tied it at 3-all. The slugger has hit safely in 22 of 24 games, batting .383 with seven homers, nine doubles and 18 RBIs.

"I've found a position where I feel real comfortable and I'm seeing the ball real good," he said.

Lee hasn't had much success against scheduled starter Rodrigo Lopez (5-6, 5.04 ERA), batting .167 with no homers in 24 career at-bats, but the matchup could turn in his favor.

Lee's 23 homers at Wrigley are third-most among active opposing players, and Lopez has been susceptible to the long ball lately, serving up 11 home runs in his last five starts.

Four of those homers came against Cincinnati on Monday. The right-hander allowed five other hits and five runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 12-8 victory.

Lopez didn't surrender a homer in his last outing against the Astros on Aug. 15, when he gave up three runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 4-3 win.

Henry Sosa (2-4, 5.02) opposed Lopez in that game, allowing four runs and seven hits in six innings, and he gets the ball Saturday.

In his seventh career start Sunday against Washington, Sosa was knocked around for five runs and seven hits - including back-to-back-to-back homers to start the third inning. He was only able to get two more outs in an 8-2 loss.

The rookie right-hander was 2-1 with a 2.00 ERA in his previous three starts.

Geovany Soto doubled twice off Sosa in the last meeting and has fared well against the Astros lately. He hit his 15th homer of the season Friday and is batting .478 with three home runs and seven RBIs in his last five games versus Houston.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”