Top rebounder out for the year with a blood clot

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Top rebounder out for the year with a blood clot

From Comcast SportsNetCLEVELAND (AP) -- Anderson Varejao's season rapidly spiraled from a probable All-Star appearance to over.The Cavaliers' hustling center, who led the NBA in rebounding before he went down last month with what appeared to be nothing more than a bruised knee, remained hospitalized Monday with a blood clot in his lower right lung, a health scare that will force him to miss the rest of this season.Varejao, who underwent surgery on a torn leg muscle on Jan. 10, has been at The Cleveland Clinic since last Thursday. The Cavs said he will likely remain in the hospital for several more days as he receives treatment. Varejao is expected to make a full recovery, but he will remain on blood thinning medications for at least three months, the team said Monday.The loss of the 6-foot-11 Varejao is a crushing blow to the young Cavs, who are just 10-32."Losing him already was bad enough for us," star point guard Kyrie Irving said. "The news got worse today. We wish him the best. We're all going to be there for him morale-wise, just try to be there for him as best as we can as teammates. That's all we can do right now."Despite Varejao being admitted to the hospital four days ago, the Cavs did not reveal he was still there until shortly before Monday's workout at their training facility.Varejao was having an All-Star-caliber season before he injured his leg on Dec. 18 against Toronto. Team doctors initially diagnosed the injury as a bruise and expected Varejao to make a quick recovery. However, tests revealed an uncommon split in his quadriceps muscle which required an operation. Varejao was expected to be out eight weeks before he developed the blood clot following the surgery.General manager Chris Grant said the team is "fairly confident" the clot was not a reaction from surgery.This is the third straight season Varejao has missed extended time with injuries. The Brazilian sat out 41 games last season with a broken wrist, and he was sidelined for 51 games in 2011 after tearing a tendon in his ankle while running after practice."We're just feeling bad for Andy," Cavs coach Byron Scott said following practice. "I think the world of Andy, especially with the way he plays. My heart just goes out to him. He's had some bad luck in the last three years. I'm sure it's devastating to him. I feel real bad for him."Varejao was averaging 14.4 rebounds and 14.1 points in 25 games before he got hurt. There wasn't a center in the Eastern Conference playing better than the fun-loving 30-year-old, who has developed into much more than a competent reserve -- when he's healthy.If he had been able to keep playing, there's little doubt Varejao, acquired by Cleveland in 2004 in a trade with Orlando, would have been named an All-Star reserve this week.Grant pointed out that Varejao's injuries have been unrelated."They've all really been freak things," he said. "He's frustrated. We're frustrated for him and with him. We would love to have him out there, particularly the type of year he was having. He's really come into his own as a leader on the court, so it's difficult. But at the same time we believe in him as a guy, we know what he can do. He's played in a lot of big games for us, into the Finals. We'll continue to support him."Cleveland, which has one of the league's youngest rosters, just completed a 1-4 road trip. The Cavs will host Boston on Tuesday and play 10 of their next 12 games at home.Varejao's injury has allowed Scott to give extra playing time to second-year forward Tristan Thompson and rookie Tyler Zeller. The Cavs, though, have been plagued by wild inconsistency, especially down the stretch in games they've let slip away."We've made strides in the right direction, but we just have to be more consistent game-to-game," said Irving, who is averaging 23.1 points, 5.7 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game. "I say it all the time, we've proven we can play with the best in the league, we just have to put two halves together. We're still figuring that out."They'll have to do it without Varejao, their never-stopping big man who has managed to stay positive despite his latest medical setback."His spirits are up," said Grant. "He's frustrated. He wants to play; he wants to be with his teammates on the court. But he's such a good guy. Every time you see him he's still got that big smile."

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these recent implosions from Cubs pitching staff

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AP

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these recent implosions from Cubs pitching staff

Joe Maddon has not seen anything like these single-inning implosions lately.

At least not at the major-league level.

For the third time in the last five Wrigley Field contest, the Cubs pitching staff has allowed at least seven runs in an inning.

This time, it was nine runs before the first out was recorded in the eighth inning of Friday's 11-4 Cardinals victory.

The Cubs actually entered the inning clinging to a 3-2 lead and had their best setup guy — Carl Edwards Jr. — slated to pitch against the top of the Cardinals order.

But after taking out his teammate with a foul ball, Matt Carpenter began the wacky inning with a double off Edwards and the rout was on.

"We had a bad inning pitching," Maddon said after the game. "That's the third time in a week here at this ballpark, if you go back prior to the break. It's a seven, a nine and a 10 in an inning. 

"I've not seen that since rookie ball. That's crazy stuff. I'm saying it straight up: We played good baseball today. We just pitched badly for one inning. Some really good pitchers had a tough time.

"...That's kind of a strange day. We played well and lost because we gave up nine runs in an inning, which is really awkward to watch from the dugout."

Thirty-eight minutes after Edwards threw the first pitch of the inning, the Cubs finally retired the Cardinals and were looking up at an 11-3 score. 

Neither Edwards nor Hector Rondon recorded an out and they combined with Justin Grimm to allow six hits, six walks and nine runs.

Here's how it all went down:

That's the second straight Wrigley Field game that has featured at least nine runs in an inning but a Cubs opponent. Ace Jon Lester surrendered 10 runs in the first inning to the Pittsburgh Pirates on the day before the All-Star Break began.

And the day before that series began, Mike Montgomery and the Cubs gave up seven runs to the Milwaukee Brewers in a rain make-up game at the "Friendly Confines."

"You see it every now and again. Not often," said Jake Arrieta, Friday's starting pitcher who was in line for a win before that wild eighth inning. "You stick around this game long enough and you see some crazy things happen. And really, that was the turning point in the game. 

"A couple guys had a pretty rare outing in the 8th there. You won't see that rarely ever or ever again from those two guys. Just a tough one."

Rondon, who had entered the game having allowed just two runs in his last 13 innings, could do nothing but shake his head in trying to explain it after the game.

"That was a weird, weird inning," Rondon said. "First time I've seen something like that — nine runs with no outs. But it is what it is. They got us today and we'll see tomorrow."

Maddon has seen control issues with his bullpen all year, but still has confidence in the unit as a whole. He knows not to overreact to one game.

However, Maddon did point to the first game coming out of the All-Star Break where Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen squandered an 8-0 lead before Addison Russell's heroics to break the tie for good late in that contest.

"The bullpen has been fabulous," Maddon said. "Twice since the break, they just had tough games."

Rondon and the Cubs relievers won't overreact, either.

A year ago at this time, Rondon was the Cubs' closer and they hadn't yet traded for Aroldis Chapman. So no, one outing won't get him down. 

"Right now, I'm pissed and whatever," he said, "but tomorrow, I'll come in with a different mentality and try to win the game."

With NL Central suddenly bunched up, a reminder it won't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Cubs in second half

With NL Central suddenly bunched up, a reminder it won't all be sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for Cubs in second half

So that six-game winning streak was fun while it lasted, wasn’t it?

The Cubs’ perfect second half came to a crashing halt Friday in the series opener with the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, an 11-4 drubbing low-lighted by a never-ending eighth inning in which the Cards torched the Cubs’ bullpen for nine runs.

It was a screaming reminder that the second half, even with its 6-0 start, won’t be all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows for the defending champs.

One nasty result after a six-game stretch of hot bats and hot pitching shouldn’t send Cubs fans panicking about a falling sky — even though the heavens opened up and poured a gigantic, watery metaphor down on the Friendly Confines after Friday’s bullpen implosion.

But it also looked like an indication that the troubles of a sub-.500 first half might not be totally exorcized from Wrigley Field’s home clubhouse. Not that that’s denting the team’s confidence in any way.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten too high or too low, even throughout some slumps where we weren’t very happy about the way we were playing,” starting pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “I feel like we’ve been able to maintain an even keel and stay focused. While there has been some frustration, that’s just kind of the nature of not playing up to your potential and knowing you’re better than you’re playing. But having said that, we are positive and will remain to be so throughout the near future and stretch of games we have coming up. We look forward to playing some good baseball.”

Most importantly, perhaps, Friday’s result showed that it’s not just the first-place Milwaukee Brewers that the Cubs have to be concerned with in what is suddenly a tight and crowded race in the National League Central.

The Cubs might have gotten within a game of the Brewers, but the Cardinals and the surging Pittsburgh Pirates are right there, too. After Friday’s game on the North Side went final, the four teams were within four games of each other. A Brewers loss Friday night in Philadelphia could make things even closer.

“Baseball’s crazy,” outfielder Kyle Schwarber said. “You’ve seen a lot of races, I’m sure, and this is just the way that this division’s playing out. It’s really competitive between all of us.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Not dissimilarly from that up-and-down first half, Friday’s contest had signs both positive and negative for the team still on a quest to repeat as World Series champions.

Arrieta might’ve been relatively unremarkable, but he only gave up two runs in six innings, bettering numbers that were downright ugly earlier this season and perhaps signaling that his second half will be far more consistent than his first. In four July starts, he’s got a 2.13 ERA after posting ERAs above 4.50 in each of the first three months of the season.

Willson Contreras continued his torrid July with a first-inning home run. He’s batting .363 on the month with five homers and 12 RBIs in 14 games.

But the negatives were gaudier and more directly involved in the result. In addition to the offense going 3-for-12 with runners in scoring position and stranding nine base runners, a bullpen that had been incredibly reliable fell apart in can’t-look-away fashion. Carl Edwards Jr., Hector Rondon and Justin Grimm combined to allow the first 11 batters of the eighth inning to reach. The first nine of them scored. Five of them walked.

Theo Epstein’s front office likely won’t answer the call of fans on Twitter howling for the team to trade for relief help. There’s no need to do that. Only the seemingly unbeatable Los Angeles Dodgers have a better bullpen ERA in the NL than the Cubs’ 3.51 mark.

“I trust our guys,” Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s nightmarish eighth. “The right guys are out there. C.J. was the right guy for the moment, it didn't play out. Rondon’s been throwing the ball great, but I really put him in a no-win situation. That’s my fault. And finally, Grimmer just had to suck it up.”

Maddon’s not wrong in singing the season-long praises of the three guys who got lit up Friday. But undoubtedly those three relievers provided some evidence that the final two and a half months of the regular season might not feature the Cubs sprinting away from their division-mates.

No, this could be a knock-down, drag-out fight to the finish. And the Cubs have 26 games remaining against the Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals.

So buckle up.

“That’s what you get when you play these kinds of teams that have a shot to reach the postseason,” Arrieta said. “We’re all within a few games of each other, so in our minds it’s up for grabs, it’s ours to take and we look forward to the opportunity to do so.”