CHICAGO — It’s the kind of inning the Chicago Cubs have been waiting for, perhaps since their World Series victory in 2016. It’s called playing small ball and taking what the pitcher gives you. In this case, it meant no home runs, no extra-base hits. They didn’t even draw a walk. It’s not that home runs are bad, but when they don’t come, there has to be another way.
In the second inning of their game Thursday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs found that other way. And it was a thing of beauty.
“That was so fun to watch,” manager Joe Maddon said after the 8-5 win. “Keep your launch angles. Keep your exit velocities. Give me good at-bats. Those were good at-bats.”
Let’s go inside the inning that won them a mid-April, cold matinée against their archrivals:
With Chicago already leading 2-1, the bottom of the second began with an opposite-field single by No. 8 hitter Jason Heyward. Next, Jon Lester — the Cubs’ best bunter — laid down a perfectly executed sacrifice. Man on second, one out. What followed might fit with Maddon’s theme this season of combining art and baseball.
“It is [an art form],” Maddon said. “It’s just good hitting. We worked really good at-bats. I’d love to stay with that if we can. Use the whole field.”
After the bunt came an opposite-field, broken-bat RBI single by Albert Almora Jr. against a right-hander, giving many Cubs fans even more ammunition when it comes to his role. They want him in the lineup no matter who’s pitching.
Now it was Javier Baez‘s turn. No Cub is hotter, as his 11 extra-base hits on the season before this at-bat attest to. But this time, he “just” singled — you guessed it — to the opposite field. Then, in World Series Game 7 fashion, Baez tagged up from first base on a fly ball to center. Almora famously did the same in the 10th inning that night in November 2016.
“I don’t call that my move, but it was good,” Almora said with a smile. “It’s good baserunning. It kept the inning going.”
The Cubs weren’t done. Anthony Rizzo followed with an RBI single, then Willson Contreras was hit by a pitch. Kyle Schwarber‘s second RBI hit of the game completed the scoring in an amazing four-run inning. It gives hope to the possibility of a dynamic offense — something the Cubs have struggled to put on the field more often than not the past few seasons. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Chicago’s seven opposite-field hits Thursday were the second-most by a team in a nine-inning game this season.
“I feel like when this team does that, sky’s the limit,” Heyward said.
Added Rizzo: “When guys stay in their approach and put good swings on the ball, usually good things happen.”
The only question now is whether Maddon tries to keep some continuity with the lineup. Will Almora lead off again? Does Baez remain in the No. 2 hole? Those are questions for Friday. Thursday was all about the inning.
“Hit it where it’s pitched,” Schwarber said. “We did that today, and you saw the results.”
Toronto Blue Jays clinch first playoff berth since 2016 season
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Toronto Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round playoff series.
New York lost for the fourth time in five games and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.
Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason.
The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo while the Yankees host the Marlins.
New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest drought since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto.
Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out and retired Gio Urshela on a ground ball.
Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.
Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh, pitching around Clint Frazier‘s leadoff single by setting down the next three, including pinch hitter Aaron Judge. The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.
The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Los Angeles Dodgers bring Walker Buehler off IL as playoffs approach
The Los Angeles Dodgers activated Walker Buehler, who has been dealing with a blister on his right index finger for about a month, off the injured list Thursday for one final tuneup start before the postseason.
Buehler, 26, was placed on the IL because of that blister for the second time in two weeks on Sept. 10, but the right-hander threw a six-inning, 90-pitch simulated game at Dodger Stadium on Saturday, throwing the first 75 pitches with his finger uncovered.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he would be monitoring Buehler “pretty closely” in his return against the Oakland Athletics and that the primary objective is to ensure he doesn’t suffer a setback. Buehler recently sought advice from former Dodgers starter Rich Hill, who has dealt with blisters throughout his career.
“Walker feels really good, confident, the finger itself in a good place,” Roberts said. “It’s just up to all of us to make sure we just manage it tonight. He wouldn’t be making this start if we didn’t feel good as far as him taking on a regular start.”
The Dodgers are still ironing out most of their pitching plans for the best-of-three wild-card series that begins at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, partly because the team might not learn its opponent until the end of the week.
Buehler and Clayton Kershaw are expected to start the first two games, but the Dodgers have yet to determine the order. A potential Game 3 could see the Dodgers deploy an opener, with the traditional No. 3 starter — either Julio Urias, Dustin May or Tony Gonsolin — pitching bulk innings later in the game.
Buehler wasn’t properly stretched out when Major League Baseball restarted and has logged only 32⅔ innings heading into his final regular-season start, posting a 3.86 ERA with 36 strikeouts and 10 walks. Most of his recent work has come in controlled environments.
“He’s still pitched and understood what’s at stake in these sim games, and I expect him to be sharp,” Roberts said. “You’re one start away from the postseason, so I expect him to be sharp and ready to go.”
Chicago Cubs planning for reduced capacity at Wrigley Field to start 2021 MLB season
The Chicago Cubs laid off about 25% of their business staff on Thursday because of a loss in revenue and in anticipation of an uncertain 2021, sources familiar with the situation told ESPN.
The move follows a significant round of cuts on the baseball side in August.
Based on advice from medical experts, as well as restrictions because of local ordinances, the Cubs are not expecting full capacity inside Wrigley Field at the beginning of next season.
It’s possible only season-ticket holders will be allowed to attend games. They’ll get first priority as they make up about 50% of overall ticket holders, which is about the same capacity the team is expecting to allow inside the stadium.
The Cubs expect to miss out on about 75% of their revenue in 2020, according to sources, because of the COVID-19 outbreak that has limited the season to 60 games, without fans in the stands. That could add up to a $125 million to $140 million loss.
Uncertainty in the next collective bargaining agreement between the league and its players also is contributing to the overall financial picture of the Cubs, according to sources.
“This is through no fault of their own and had nothing to do with their performance, talent or contributions,” a team source said when asked by ESPN about the lost jobs. “This was a difficult decision but the goal was to restructure the organization based on the current operating environment with losses of more than $100 million anticipated next year. We’re no longer a business that welcomes 3.3 million fans and we’re not sure when that business will resume.”
The team is hopeful to get back to full capacity at Wrigley Field later in the 2021 season, but with no guarantee from medical experts about when there might be a vaccine, the team is preparing for reduced capacity for as long as necessary.
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