Friday, March 23, 2018

As Cubs slump, Joe schemes

Stoic as ever, Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta walked toward the dugout after giving up his second home run of Game 3 Tuesday at Dodger Stadium with a look that said he knew this wasn't his night.

Anemic as ever, Cubs hitters looked bad enough for the second straight National League Championship Series game for Chicago to start wondering if this really is the Cubs' year.

Will the best team in baseball finally stand up? Forget embracing the target, Cubbies. How about hitting a curveball?

Arrieta wasn't Arrieta — giving up two long balls in five innings — and Cubs hitters continued to resemble postseason impostors. At the scene of Arrieta's first no-hitter, he received no support as the Dodgers gave the home crowd of 54,269 ample reason to start dreaming of a Hollywood ending with a 6-0 victory.

Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal drilled an Arrieta pitch 398 feet over the wall in right-centerfield for a two-run homer, a shot celebrated with such gusto the press box shook. The Grandal slam rattled Arrieta and the Cubs, whose offensive woes made a 3-0 hole seem much deeper. When Justin Turner knocked Arrieta out of the game in the sixth with a 408-foot homer to left, the pit started to settle in the stomach of Cubs fans everywhere.

At scenic Chavez Ravine, the Hill worth beholding most was inside the stadium. Left-hander Rich Hill, a former Cub, tormented the team that selected him in the 2002 draft with a Clayton Kershaw-like performance, giving up only two sits in six innings. Rich. Hill.

The Cubs' body language said we are confused and can't hit offspeed pitches. It shouted we have lost the confidence we thought had returned and can't beat this crafty lefty despite winning 103 regular-season games. It screamed, "Mommy, make it stop."

Imagine what Cubs president Theo Epstein must have been thinking sitting next to general manager Jed Hoyer 14 rows behind home plate in the scout seats. The Cubs can still win this series but must start hitting more like the team that rallied for four runs in the ninth inning against the Giants and less like the one that got swept by the Mets in the 2015 NLCS. What happens to Cubs hitters in mid-October? Now would be a perfect time for the Cubs to live by the words on their T-shirts and try not to suck.

Maddon even reached into his baseball toolbox and took out a wrench. The three hitters in the middle of the Cubs order came into Game 3 a combined 6-for-60. After "rearranging the chairs," as Maddon put it, the only two Cubs hitting in the same spots they were for Game 2 were Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant.

"We have to figure it out," Maddon said. "It is a little bit concerning in the sense because we kind of got stuck there last year (and) got to this particular point and then ran into a hot pitching staff with the Mets."

So Maddon put Rizzo in the cleanup spot, moving Ben Zobrist up to third to bat behind Bryant. Javier Baez moved up to fifth behind Rizzo because "he has been working better at-bats than anybody," Maddon said. Jorge Soler replaced all-field, no-hit rightfielder Jason Heyward and batted sixth with struggling Addison Russell dropped to seventh. Nothing worked.

Unlike Maddon's maneuvers with the bullpen in the first two games, nobody can accuse him of overmanaging in his search of offense. This was a manager meeting a moment hoping to avoid bad becoming worse. Yet the scorelessness continued.

Maddon's response pregame to a question about Game 4 starter Julio Urias' pickoff move sounded like he gave it as much forethought as his lineup. Sounding like an NBA coach working the refs in the playoffs, Maddon introduced agenda item No. 1 in Wednesday's pregame umpires meeting.

Reporter: "Julio Urias has displayed a pretty effective pick-off move ... some have said it's very close to a balk."

Maddon: "Close?"

He smiled, having made his point. And Maddon wasn't finished, holding nothing back in referring to Urias' move as "Balking 101." Maddon might as well have announced: Attention, Game 4 umpires.

"When you get to see it on TV, it's pretty obvious, it's not even close," Maddon said. "I'm certain that the umpiring crew has been made aware of it."

Maddon tried using daring language to influence Game 4 and a different lineup to affect Game 3.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and, suddenly, desperation is standing in the Cubs on-deck circle. But you're up first, Best Team in Baseball. Act like it.

— Chicago Tribune (TNS)

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning’s win over the Islanders

Joe Smith’s takeaways from Lightning’s win over the Islanders

— Ondrej Palat is a player you appreciate even more after he has been gone for a while. Palat, in his second game back from a lower-body injury, does all the little things well. His defensive-zone steal and transition helped fuel Brayden Point'...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
No. 9 FSU continues upset run, tops No. 4 Gonzaga to advance to NCAA Elite Eight

No. 9 FSU continues upset run, tops No. 4 Gonzaga to advance to NCAA Elite Eight

LOS ANGELES — Florida State's upset run in the NCAA Tournament has stretched all the way to the brink of the Final Four.Terance Mann scored 18  and the ninth-seeded Seminoles advanced to the Elite Eight for just the third time in school hi...
Updated: 27 minutes ago

Friday’s sports on TV/radio

TODAYAutosF1: Australian Grand Prix qualifying2 a.m.ESPN2Baseball, spring trainingRed Sox at Yankees1 p.m.ESPNReds at Rockies 4 p.m.MLBNationals at Marlins7 p.m.FSFRangers at Padres9:30 p.m.MLBCollege baseballMississippi at Texas A&M7 p.m.SECLSU at V...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Mikhail Sergachev ‘hasn’t missed a beat’ on right side

Mikhail Sergachev ‘hasn’t missed a beat’ on right side

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Rookie D Mikhail Sergachev is enjoying life on the right side.Sergachev, a left shot, has played on the right the past three games, including Thursday's 7-6 win against the Islanders.It has been a comfortable fit for Sergachev,...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Lightning holds off Islanders in familiar scenario

Lightning holds off Islanders in familiar scenario

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When the buzzer mercifully sounded at Barclays Center on Thursday, the Islanders' 41st shot whizzing wide in the final seconds, the crowd groaned a collective "Oooooh."And Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy could finally exhal...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Bucs having a heck of an offseason … even before Jason Pierre-Paul

Bucs having a heck of an offseason … even before Jason Pierre-Paul

Happy now, Bucs fans?Feeling better? Ready to stop your bellyaching and hand-wringing?The Bucs finally gave you the splash move you've been yelling for all offseason. They went out and got themselves a pass rusher.A real, honest-to-goodness, chase-do...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Bucs finally get their premier edge rusher in Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul

Bucs finally get their premier edge rusher in Giants’ Jason Pierre-Paul

TAMPA — Shortly after the Bucs had completed a blockbuster trade for Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul Thursday, general manager Jason Licht made a call to Gerald McCoy.The six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle had been campaigning on social ...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Hernando holds on to defeat Fivay in Farm Bureau Classic semifinal

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando survived a nerve-racking seventh inning to defeat Fivay 7-6 in the Farm Bureau Classic semifinals Thursday night. The Leopards took a three-run lead into the top of the seventh inning and looked to be in control...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for March 22

Thursday’s scoreboardSoftballAdmiral Farragut 4, Bradenton-Saint Stephen’s 0BaseballCalvary Chr. 11, Dunedin 0Boys tennisClearwater Central Catholic 4, Cambridge Christian 3Girls tennisCambridge Chr. 4, Clearwater Central Catholic 3...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: Speed the key to Mallex Smith’s game

Rays journal: Speed the key to Mallex Smith’s game

DUNEDIN — Rays manager Kevin Cash talked before Thursday's 5-3 win over the Blue Jays about how OF Mallex Smith's speed can impact a game, and Smith put that on display during the fifth inning.With two outs, the left-handed hitting Smith d...
Updated: 6 hours ago