LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

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LIVE: Soto's second homer extends Cubs' lead

Monday, Sept. 19, 2011
Posted: 10:11 a.m.
Associated Press

Led by MVP candidate Ryan Braun, the Milwaukee Brewers are on the verge of clinching their first division title in nearly 30 years.

The slugger has also been instrumental to the Brewers' dominance over the Chicago Cubs.

Braun looks to help NL Central-leading Milwaukee win seven straight over the Cubs for the first time in Monday night's series opener at Wrigley Field.

By sweeping a three-game set in Cincinnati over the weekend, the Brewers (90-63) trimmed their magic number to four with nine games remaining to win their first division title since capturing the AL East in 1982.

"They're playing for something and we're playing for something that's totally different," Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena told his team's official website after Sunday's 3-2 loss to Houston. "They're trying to clinch the division and a playoff berth. We're just trying to win some ballgames and finish up strong."

Milwaukee, which outscored the Reds 24-5, reached the 90-win mark for the first time since winning the NL wild card in 2008. It hasn't posted more victories since finishing with 92 in 1992.

"It's hard to lose when you pitch and hit," slugger Prince Fielder said after Sunday's 8-1 win. "It feels better when you do it on the road. It's not easy to do it on the road. It gives you extra confidence."

The Brewers are a major league-best 17-5 on the road since Aug. 5, although they lost three of four during their last trip to Wrigley from June 13-16.

Milwaukee has outscored the Cubs 23-12 in winning six meetings at Miller Park since. It also won six straight in the series between 2001 and '02.

Braun is batting .524 during the Brewers' winning streak against Chicago, and he's hitting .408 with three home runs, nine doubles and 12 RBIs in 13 games against the Cubs this year.

The four-time All-Star, who is among the league leaders in homers (31), RBIs (103), doubles (36), runs (103), batting average (.336), OPS (.997) and stolen bases (31), is also batting .429 with four homers and eight RBIs during an eight-game overall hitting streak.

While he has hit most Cubs pitchers hard, scheduled starter Casey Coleman (2-8, 7.06 ERA) has gotten it the worst. Braun is 7 for 10 with a homer and two doubles against the right-hander.

Corey Hart, who hit his 25th homer Sunday and is batting .391 in his last six games, has also been a nightmare for Coleman, going 5 for 7 with a home run.

Coleman permitted six runs, six hits and three walks in 3 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Cincinnati on Wednesday - his fifth straight defeat. He's 0-2 with a 6.20 ERA in four career appearances versus the Brewers.

Milwaukee's Chris Narveson (10-7, 4.40) has fared much better in the series, posting a 2.51 ERA in winning each of his five starts against the Cubs.

Narveson is set to make his first start since yielding six runs and seven hits in 5 2-3 innings of a 7-2 loss to Philadelphia on Sept. 8. The left-hander, who retired all six batters he faced in a relief appearance against Colorado on Wednesday, was 4-0 with a 2.88 ERA in his previous six starts, including an outing against Chicago.

Facing the Cubs (67-86) on July 26, Narveson allowed two runs and eight hits in five-plus innings during a 3-2 victory, improving to 3-0 against them this year.

Chicago's Aramis Ramirez is 3 for 17 with two homers lifetime against Narveson.

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.

Major League Baseball’s owners and the players’ union avoided a foolish labor war by crafting a new five-year collective bargaining agreement that should spur some action next week. 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, “trying to identify those kind of starting pitchers and those kind of relief pitchers and how to match up with them. 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.”  

That’s all-consuming. 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. 

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).

The Cubs figure to add a lefty reliever, someone like Boone Logan or Jerry Blevins. The New York Post reported the Cubs were among the teams in pursuit of Brett Cecil, who got a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals, 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.