CHICAGO -- Over one long weekend series, the Chicago Cubs caught an in-your-face glimpse of who they aspire to be one day one day in the future.
The playoff-contending Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way to a series victory, even when their top pitchers were far from at their best, and Sunday’s 8-5 defeat came when their opponent used only relief pitchers for nine innings.
From the fifth inning Thursday until the completion of Sunday’s game, the Dodgers scored an impressive 36 runs, showing that offense can carry a club even when the pitching staff isn’t first-rate.
Nobody is going to average nine runs a game for an entire season, but for a team that is expected to have Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro in key roles next season, the Cubs have the potential to light up a scoreboard over brief four-game stretches like the Dodgers just did.
“We have a lot of good hitters in here, a lot of young guys, and with the time and the experience I think we’re going to be really good,” said Welington Castillo, who hit an eighth-inning home run, two days after leaving a game with a rib injury.
Kemp had four hits for the Dodgers, who clinched a playoff berth on Friday and entered with a 3 1-2 game lead over the Giants in the NL West. Los Angeles pushed starter Dan Haren back a day so he could face San Francisco on Monday.
The Dodgers instead used the bullpen. Jamey Wright made his first start since Sept. 1, 2013, with the Rays, allowing a run and three hits in two innings.
How it happened: A day after collecting two home runs among his four hits, the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan went 2-for-5 with a double and three strikeouts. Cubs starter Jacob Turner gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings. The Dodgers beat the Cubs with their bullpen as reliever-turned-starter Jamey Wright gave up one run over two innings, while five other relievers backed him up. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig scored a career high four runs, while Matt Kemp had four hits, including his 23rd home run, and four RBIs.
What it means: Even a productive offense is nothing without a strong pitching staff. Case point: the Cubs scored 22 runs in the four-game series (an average of 5.5 runs a game), yet still lost three out of four, and needed an impressive comeback to win the one game. It happened because the Cubs pitching staff has given up 37 runs over the last 32 innings, after giving up just one run over the first 31 innings of the homestand (three games against the Reds and the first four innings against the Dodgers).
Outside the box: The Cubs and Dodgers combined for 16 first-inning runs in the series, with the Dodgers collecting 10 of them. The Cubs scored two runs in the opening inning Thursday, three Friday and one Saturday. The Dodgers scored six in the first inning Friday, two Saturday and two Sunday.
Off beat: In turning a nice heads-up play on defense in the third inning, the young Cubs also got a prime example of what happens when you don’t hustle on offense. With the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez on first base, Carl Crawford hit a routine fly ball to Coghlan in left field. Coghlan caught the ball, got it into shortstop Javier Baez, who relayed the ball to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, all while Ramirez nonchalantly made his way back to first base. Ramirez was originally called safe, but a replay review overruled the call, turning it into a 7-6-3 double play.
Up next: The Cubs will send left-hander Travis Wood (8-12, 4.86 ERA) to the mound Monday against St. Louis in the opener of the final three-game home series of the season. The Cardinals will counter with right-hander Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.45) in the 7:05 p.m. CST start from Wrigley Field.
The former rookie of the year, who has been reborn with the Chicago Cubs this season, knows what it's like to see a run of success evaporate quickly so he won't relax after a little thing like a four-hit day.
Set free by the Marlins last year when he was non-tendered, it has been a redemption year for Coghlan, and his 4-for-4 day with a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning Saturday was just a small example. He entered Sunday's game batting .283 with a .349 on-base percentage and has proved himself to be a valuable piece moving forward.
"I would just say that it is a blessing because they don't come around [often]," he said about his season. "We have 10 games, nine games left, however many it is, and I really just want to finish the year. But when you do think about it, I'm just grateful that I have been able to stay healthy and that I had an opportunity.
"I tell people they don't come around, they don't hand them out for free and you don't get them as a gift, you have to earn them. I am grateful for the Cubs giving me the opportunity and I'm just trying to run with it and finish the year strong."
The curious thing about Coghlan is that he has seen enough in the game and certainly has been through plenty to be, at the very least, a cautionary tale, for young players about what can go wrong. After all, he experienced one of the most exasperating injuries in 2010 when he hurt his knee throwing a shaving-cream pie into the face of a teammate celebrating a victory.
In that sense, Renteria would be less dependent on personnel added by the front office and more reliant on what he and the rest of the coaching staff can impart on new and returning players during spring training.
“I think one of the things that we’re talking about right now is how we would like to go into spring training next year and try to get some skill work that will help us develop a better sense of how we need to advance on the bases,” said Renteria, who admitted that the subject came up with his staff Sunday morning.
“But it’s not just us. You see it a lot in baseball. There are a lot of different things that go on on the bases that you kind of scratch your head about and we’re hoping that just as part of the process we continue to develop our skills on the bases beyond the speed.”
"It’s definitely one of those days where everything goes right,” Coghlan said after hitting two home runs and getting on base five times. “If you play long enough you have some days where the wind is blowing out and you get some balls in the air.”
“When we made the move and he came (to the Cubs) he wasn’t inserted immediately into the lineup,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He just kept chipping away and putting himself in a good place.”
Coghlan wasn’t even on the 25-man roster when the season began. He signed a minor league deal and then worked his way to the majors as other outfielders such as Junior Lake and Ryan Kalish struggled while Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney dealt with injuries. The door opened for Coghlan.
“When they do open the door you have to kick it down,” Coghlan said.
He’s made the most of his opportunity, raising his batting average to .283 after Saturday’s 4-for-4 afternoon. He’s one home run shy of a career high and he's played solid defense lately. But more than anything, he’s getting on base. With on-base percentages dropping fast in baseball – the average is .314 this year – Coghlan is up to .349. That’s huge for a Cubs team that has been missing that ingredient.
“In general that’s a good on-base percentage, (even) in a high-end year (in that category),” Renteria said. “He’s done a great job at the top of the lineup, a great job.”
Coghlan's OBP is a little lower leading off, but overall he’s looked better there than his assumed competition for the top spot going into next season. Arismendy Alcantara hasn’t proven to be a classic leadoff hitter, as he’s shown more power -- he also homered on Saturday -- than the ability to get on. It means the job could be Coghlan’s to lose going into next season.
“I have zero say,” Coghlan stated. “I have no idea what they are going to do. Anything can change good or bad in a blink of an eye. Really I’m a testament to that.”
Coghlan went from getting on-base 39 percent of the time when he won Rookie of the Year to just 21 percent in 2012. He showed a few signs of life for the Marlins last year before the Cubs picked him up. He’s beginning to flourish again.
“I just feel blessed for the opportunity,” he said. “They don’t come around.”
The Cubs own his rights for several years and Coghlan can go to arbitration for the first time after this season. With the Cubs' prospects still figuring things out, the 29-year old is a perfect fit for the moment. He’s earned the chance going into 2015. His huge day on Saturday may have sealed that fate.
“I do know it was one of the better days I’ve had in the big leagues,” Coghlan said.
The Dodgers were looking to build on a 3 1/2-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West after clinching a playoff spot for the fifth time in nine years on Friday.
Instead Los Angeles blew a five-run lead and wasted a pair of homers and five RBIs by Adrian Gonzalez.
The Dodgers were up 7-2 in the seventh, but the bullpen couldn't hold the lead.
Wilson (2-4) came on in the eighth and things just got worse from there.
How it happened: Chris Coghlan hit his second home run of the game in the eighth inning to give the Cubs their first lead of the day. The Cubs left fielder went 4-for-4 with a walk and three RBIs. Arismendy Alcantara hit a three-run home run in the seventh inning to draw the Cubs within one after Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez hit two home runs to pace the visitors to an early 6-1 lead. Gonzalez homered in the first and third innings off Cubs starter Felix Doubront, who lasted only 2 1/3 innings. Coghlan homered to lead off the bottom of the first, then singled, doubled and walked in his next three plate appearances before he homered again. The Cubs tallied once in the fourth, when Logan Watkins brought home Luis Valbuena, but a diving catch by Yasiel Puig in the fifth on a Jorge Soler drive halted a potential Cubs rally. A sacrifice fly in the seventh brought home the Dodgers' final run, and Anthony Rizzo singled home Coghlan in the bottom of the inning before Alcantara went deep.
What it means: It’s a signature game for Coghlan, whose eight home runs are one shy of his career high. The former 2009 rookie of the year isn’t slowing down at the end of the season and was a triple short of the cycle while getting on base in all five plate appearances. He has also played a solid left field all week. There’s no reason to believe Coghlan won’t be back next year in some capacity -- most likely as the opening day left fielder -- as the Cubs are still looking for guys who can get on base. Coghlan did just that and more on Saturday.
What’s next: Game 4 of the series takes place Sunday with Jacob Turner (5-10, 6.20 ERA) on the mound for the Cubs. Reliever Jamey Wright (5-4) will start for the Dodgers, who plan to use a by-committee approach to Sunday's game.
There have been other accomplishments over Soler's first 17 games -- through Friday's 14-5 loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers -- but none might be more impressive, or more important, than this one: He’s just the third Cubs rookie -- and first since 1943 -- to reach base in 16 of his first 17 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“What he does bring is a very mature, professional approach at the plate,” manager Rick Renteria said after Friday’s game. “Very disciplined approach. In some instances it’s how he’s been developed, in other instances he has a gift.”
The Cubs need more players with that gift, as they rank 28th in baseball in on-base percentage this season. That has to change if the Cubs are going to compete in the standings anytime soon -- and indeed, with Soler leading the charge, Chicago is 16th in September OBP. That’s a start.
“He’s performing actually to the numbers he’s brought with him from the minor leagues, which is not typical,” Renteria said.
There isn’t much that is typical about Soler’s game. Like fellow Cuban standout Yasiel Puig, Soler is a potential five-tool player. The Cubs right fielder was asked who’s a better player.
“He is,” Soler smiled, then said through an interpreter of the Dodgers outfielder, "he’s been in the big leagues longer.”
That might be the only reason Puig is better right now, because Soler is bigger and stronger. That will pay off.
“I think Soler’s pop is pretty different than a lot of guys,” former teammate Darwin Barney said. “The way he backspins the ball.”
Combine that “pop” with his ability to get on base and the Cubs might have a star in the making. As impressive as the big hits have been, his .397 on-base percentage is even better. And considering the home run potential the Cubs have, that on-base potential might be even more important than any other aspect to Soler’s game.
“It’s working very favorably right now," Renteria said simply, "and we hope it continues."
The only problem? All world lefty Clayton Kershaw was on the mound.
"We actually faced him in a rehab start at the beginning of the year in Double-A," Lopez said after the game. "It was really cool."
It was even cooler when Lopez earned his first major league RBI, first hit and first walk all against the likely Cy Young winner in the National League. Lopez, a 16th-round draft pick in 2011, had a memorable day.
"I was definitely surprised to get back in there so quickly," Lopez said of Castillo's quick exit. "Even though we came out on the wrong end of the stick, it was a good experience; something I'll remember the rest of my life."
He says he'll give the ball he hit to center for a first-inning sacrifice fly to his mother, and he'll frame his third-inning single off Kershaw and give it to his father. But not before teammate John Baker tried to fool him by pretending to throw the ball into the stands after it came back to the dugout.
"He told me he pulled the switcheroo," Lopez said. "I should have expected that."
Baker threw a different ball to the fans, saving Lopez's first hit for the rookie.
Single-A on the move
Lopez's former team, the short season Boise Hawks, will move to Eugene, Oregon as the Cubs complete their Class-A affiliate restructuring. The Cubs signed a deal with the Eugene Emeralds that runs through the 2016 season.
The Cubs already announced single-A teams formerly in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Kane County, Illinois, have moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and South Bend, Indiana, respectively. The prevailing reasons are an upgrade in facilities and in Daytona's case, better weather.
The Cubs' short season Class-A team plays from mid-June until the end of August.
The lasting memory for him could be not getting out of the first inning as he gave up five runs on four hits and a walk. One hit left the park, a three-run home run by Matt Kemp.
“It’s been a pretty sloppy year, to say the least,” Jackson said after seeing his ERA balloon to 6.38.
Jackson hadn’t pitched in a month because of a minor injury, and with the hype surrounding mound opponent Clayton Kershaw going for win No.20, it was the righty’s chance to prove he still has something left in the tank. Instead, Kershaw led 6-0 before he even took the mound.
“It wasn’t necessarily the outing we were looking for from Edwin today,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We have to sit down and talk about and then see where we’re at. It would be difficult for me to say how we would be heading into the winter.”
Can it be anywhere besides moving on from Jackson at this point? It’s probably best for him and the team – though it will cost the Cubs up to $22 million, no matter how they get rid of him. That’s what he’s owed over the next two years.
“I can definitely take the good with the bad,” Jackson said. “I can accept and man up to what I’ve done. I’m not trying to run or hide from anything I’ve done on the field.”
It’s not like Jackson wants to go play golf for the next few years. He wants a shot at turning things around. And maybe he deserves one, just not with the Cubs. It’s becoming painfully obvious a change of scenery is the least Cubs brass can do for him -- and the fans. Back-to-back years of a near plus-5.00 ERA -- and in this case a plus-6.00 ERA -- usually gets you moved out of town, no matter what a contract says.
“It’s super easy to get negative in the game of baseball,” Jackson said. “You have to stay believing in yourself.”
In a way, Jackson has made this an easy decision for the Cubs. This isn’t about fan negativity or finding a sabermetric peripheral for him, as some were doing after last season. This is about moving on from a bad situation. It may be no one’s fault but baseball fate, but trying to salvage something here would be a waste of time and energy. Things are too far gone for Jackson, especially in a situation where the Cubs are trying to develop a winning culture. Luckily, he’s been a good citizen through his trials and tribulations.
“It may seem far-fetched and some people may not think so, but I still think my best years are to come,” Jackson said. “I really don’t care what anyone else thinks, it’s a matter of going out and proving it. I still believe I will do that.”
It just can’t be with the Cubs. But you knew that by now.