LIVE: Lee home run in 9th ties game

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LIVE: Lee home run in 9th ties game

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:07 a.m.
Associated PressAlthough the Houston Astros nearly pulled off a stunning sweep over baseball's best team, building on that series could be difficult.

Owners of the majors' worst road record, the Astros open their final trip of the season Friday against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where they were swept in their last visit.

Houston (51-98) arrives in Chicago after taking two of three from NL East-leading Philadelphia. The Astros fell just short of becoming the first team this year to sweep the playoff-bound Phillies, dropping Wednesday's finale 1-0.

"We played well, and we know this is a learning process for us," said Houston's Bud Norris, who was outdueled by Roy Halladay. "I hope these guys can learn from this, build on it, and we can move forward."

That might not be so easy, however.

The Astros, 23-52 on the road, need to win once on this six-game trip to avoid matching the worst road record in club history, set by the 1967 team. They've lost 27 of their last 34 away from Houston, which includes being outscored 14-7 in getting swept at Wrigley from July 22-24.

A sluggish offense is among the biggest reasons for the team's road woes. The Astros have hit three homers in their last nine away from Houston, and in 16 road games since Aug. 12, the team is averaging baseball's second-fewest road runs at 3.13.

Rookie left fielder J.D. Martinez, who finished the series against Philadelphia 5 for 12 with two doubles, is batting .378 with 11 RBIs in his last 11 home games, but hitting .094 with one RBI in his last eight on the road.

Having to face Matt Garza (8-10, 3.54 ERA) in the opener doesn't seem like it will help Martinez, or any of his teammates, get on track offensively.

Garza owns one of the NL's top home ERAs at 2.64, and in his only outing of the year against Houston on July 24, he gave up two runs and five hits while striking out nine in seven innings of a 5-4, 10-inning victory.

The right-hander allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings of Sunday's 10-6, 11-inning win over the New York Mets. Since Aug. 14, the Cubs are 5-1 in Garza's starts, but 8-16 when anybody else takes the ball.

Chicago (65-85) returns home after losing to Cincinnati 8-6 in 11 innings on Thursday to drop the final three contests of a four-game series.

"Just what we needed - a 4 12-hour (actually 4:01) game with a day game (Friday)," manager Mike Quade said.

Carlos Pena hit a two-run homer Thursday, and has three home runs and 10 RBIs in his last seven games, but is batting .167 with five RBIs against Houston this year.

Geovany Soto could lead Chicago's offense in the opener. The catcher is 10 for 18 with two homers and six RBIs in his last four games against the Astros, and is batting .421 with two homers in 19 career at-bats against scheduled starter Wandy Rodriguez (11-10, 3.51).

Rodriguez permitted three runs and seven hits in six innings of Saturday's 9-3 win over Washington. The left-hander is 4-2 with a 3.00 ERA in his last seven starts after going 1-4 with a 5.50 ERA in his previous six.

Rodriguez, the only Astros starter with a winning record, has a 5.25 ERA in losing his two starts against the Cubs this year.

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

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.