#Cubs Lester opens series vs Pirates

Jon Lester takes the mound Monday night when the Cubs open a three-game series in Pittsburgh against the Pirates. The good news is Kris Bryant is in the lineup after having to leave Sunday’s game because he felt dizzy following a collision at second base. Here’s the lineup:

Fowler CF
Denorfia LF
Bryant 3B
Rizzo 1B
Soler RF
Castro SS
Ross C
Lester P
Russell 2B

* Bryant said he will avoid head first slides from now on.

* The Cubs are a season-high 10-games above .500 for the first time since ending the 2008 season with a 97-64 record.

* Pitcher Clayton Richard was designated for assignment and outfielder Matt Szczur called up from Triple-A Iowa.

* The Cubs are batting .248 against left-handed pitchers this season (.235 vs RHP), eighth best in NL. … Cubs pitchers have given up 10 runs over the last five games. … Lester posted a 1.66 ERA (8 ER, 43.1 IP) in six July starts.

* The Cubs and PIrates are squaring off for the first time since May 17. At that time,  the Pirates were two games under .500 (18-20). Since then, the Pirates have gone 43-22, the best record in the Majors in that span. Pittsburgh also has won 20 of its last 26 games at PNC Park.

* Anthony Rizzo is 8-for-19 AB (.421) with four homers, 10 RBI in his last five games.

* In case you missed it, here are the pitching probables for this series:

Monday: LHP Jon Lester (6-8, 3.26) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (7-6, 2.92)
Tuesday: RHP Jake Arrieta (11-6, 2.62) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (0-0, 0.00)
Wednesday: RHP Dan Haren (7-7, 3.42) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (6-6, 4.21)

#Cubs Minor League report: Contreras honored

Tennessee catcher Willson Contreras was named Southern League Player of the Week for July 26-Aug. 2. In six games during that span, Contreras batted .478, scored seven runs, and hit three doubles, one homer and drove in six runs. He led the league in runs, on-base percentage (.556) and on-base plus slugging percentage (1.295) during the week, and was tied for first in average and hits.

**
Sunday’s games

Dallas Beeler gave up four runs over 5 2/3 innings in Iowa’s 9-7 win over Colorado Springs. Adron Chambers had two hits and two RBI, and John Andreoli had two hits, including a double and a triple, and scored three times. Mike Olt had two hits and one RBI. Beeler helped himself, driving in two runs.

Andres Santiago threw six shutout innings in Tennessee’s 5-2 win over Birmingham. Willson Contreras had two hits. Miguel
Montero went 1-for-3 in a rehab start and Tommy La Stella was 1-for-4 with a double. Ryan Dent was 3-for-3.

Myrtle Beach lost, 2-0, to Frederick. Daniel Lockhart had two hits. Tyler Ighrig posted a quality start, throwing six
shutout innings.

Zach Hedges gave up two runs over seven innings in South Bend’s 7-2 wi over Dayton. David Bote hit a grand slam with two outs in the eighth for the win. Ian Happ had two hits and drove in two runs.

Eugene lost, 4-1, to Spokane. Blake Headley and Andrew Ely each had two hits.

Austyn Willis gave up one run over five innings in Mesa’s 7-3 win over the Giants. P.J. Higgins had three hits and two RBI.

#Cubs Bryant OK after collision; to be re-examined Monday

Cubs rookie Kris Bryant was removed from Sunday’s game as a precautionary measure because he felt a little dizzy after a hard slide into second base in the fifth inning. He was to be re-examined on Monday in Pittsburgh, where the Cubs open a three-game series.

“He got banged a little bit on the slide, popped him in the head a little bit,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a little bit dizzy at the moment. We believe he’s fine. I think he’s going to be fine actually.”

The Cubs had runners at first and second with one out in the fifth when Bryant lofted a ball to center. A run scored on the single, and Bryant tried to extend his hit by going to second and sliding head-first under shortstop Jean Segura. It appears Segura accidentally hit Bryant in the head.

“It was a hard play,” Bryant said. “I was going as hard as I can, hustled in there. I’m feeling better and we’ll see what it feels like [Monday].”

The Brewers challenged whether Bryant was safe on the slide, and after a review, the call stood. But while the umpires were looking at video, Cubs athletic trainer PJ Mainville was checking on Bryant at second. Right before play resumed, Bryant walked off the field, and Jonathan Herrera took over as a pinch-runner and then at third base defensively.

Bryant said the play wasn’t going to make him change his aggressive approach.

“I’m always going hard,” he said. “I think it’s a good situation to get to second, another guy in scoring position. It’s not going to slow me down.”

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs Maddon ejected 4th time

The Cubs not only lost a challenge Sunday but manager Joe Maddon, who was ejected in the third inning. Maddon was tossed after he questioned crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt following the review of a call.

With two outs in the Brewers third, Milwaukee had a runner at second when Adam Lind hit a ball to shortstop Starlin Castro. Castro made a diving stop, spun, and threw to first from his knees, and Lind was called safe. Maddon challenged the call, but after a review, it was confirmed.

Maddon came out of the dugout with his arms raised in a questioning gesture, and Wendelstedt then signaled that was it for the manager.

Maddon’s three other ejections have come when he’s argued balls and strikes.

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs Montero begins rehab

Miguel Montero, who has been on the disabled list since July 12 with a sprained left thumb, began a rehab assignment on Sunday with Double-A Tennessee. When he returns, the Cubs will keep three catchers in Montero, David Ross and rookie Kyle Schwarber. How they’ll get enough playing time is to be determined, Maddon said.

“The challenge will be to keep Schwarb’s bat in the lineup as often as possible,” Maddon said.

Schwarber has played some left field, which is an option, and could be the DH in the three-games at U.S. Cellular Field this month. Montero wasn’t too thrilled about the rehab assignment but Maddon said it was necessary and will most likely be for three games.

“It’s one thing to catch bullpens but there’s nothing like an actual game of baseball, any game, at game speed to really be tested,” Maddon said. “Go test it, see if the thumb holds up behind the plate, at the plate. If it does, I don’t think it will take him long to get back here.”

— Carrie Muskat

Wild card showdown as #Cubs face Pirates, Giants this week

If the Cubs want to gain some ground in the Wild Card race, this week will be a good time to do so as they face both the Pirates and Giants, the two teams ahead of them. Manager Joe Maddon sticks to a “one day at a time” approach.
The Pirates and Giants both have postseason experience, something the young Cubs don’t have.

“There’s definitely an advantage — ‘been there done that,’ no question,” Maddon said Sunday. “But at the same time, you have a bunch of hungry guys coming on which can be in and of itself a good position to be in.”

The Cubs face the Pirates in a three-game series at PNC Park, starting Monday.

“To really ascend in the division, you have to play the better teams within your group and beat them, and to beat them where they live is important also,” Maddon said.

Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel, who will open the series against the Giants at Wrigley Field on Thursday, also preaches staying constant.

“That’s part of the learning process with the young guys is to not look too far ahead and not focus on scoreboard watching,” Hammel said. “A week ago, we got swept by [the Phillies] who are 15, 20 games under .500. It’s baseball — you can’t take things for granted and the whole idea of taking one pitch at a time, one game at a time is why teams win and get to the playoffs. It’s the idea of not getting ahead of yourself and not getting too down on yourself. You have to keep an even keel.”

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs LHP Richard faces Brewers in finale

Clayton Richard gets the start Sunday in the Cubs’ series finale against the Brewers at Miller Park. Here’s the lineup:

Fowler CF

Schwarber C

Coghlan LF

Rizzo 1B

Bryant 3B

Soler RF

Castro SS

Richard P

Russell 2B

* With a win Sunday, the Cubs would post their first four-game series win over the Brewers since July 28-31, 2008.

* Anthony Rizzo hit his 20th homer on Saturday. It’s the third straight season he’s reached 20, and he’s the first Cubs left-handed hitter to do so since Leon Durham’s four-year run, 1984-87.

* Rizzo has been hit by a pitch 21 times, and he’s the first 20-20 player in Cubs history.

* Looking ahead to the Cubs series against the Pirates:

Monday: LHP Jon Lester (6-8, 3.26) vs. LHP Francisco Liriano (7-6, 2.92)
Tuesday: RHP Jake Arrieta (11-6, 2.62) vs. LHP J.A. Happ (0-0, 0.00)
Wednesday: RHP Dan Haren (7-7, 3.42) vs. LHP Jeff Locke (6-6, 4.21)

#Cubs Minor League report: Baez 5 RBIs

Saturday’s games

Javier Baez drove in five runs in Iowa’s 13-8 victory over Colorado Springs. Baez went 3-for-6 with a double. He’s now batting .313. Tsuyoshi Wada picked upt he win, giving up five runs over six innings. John Andreoli had three hits, including his third home run. Mike Olt had two hits and Christian Villanueva added three.

Jeffry Antigua gae up four runs over six innings and got the win in Tennessee’s 5-4 victory over Montgomery. Jeimer Candelario and Bijan Rademacher each homered. Candelario finished with three hits.

Mark Zagunis hit a three-run homer but it wasn’t enough as Myrtle Beach lost, 4-3, to Frederick. Brad Markey posted a quality start, giving up one run over six innings, but did not get a decision.

Jeffry Baez — no relation to Javy — had four hits in South Bend’s 5-4 win over Dayton. Jake Stinnett gave up two runs over six innings and struck out five.

Eugene lost, 4-0, to Spokane. Kyle Miller took the loss, giving up two runs over two innings.

Mesa returns to action Sunday against the Giants.

#Cubs notes: Rondon, Richard & roster moves

* Hector Rondon has picked up saves in his last three outings but he’s not the Cubs closer, even though that was his job at the beginning of the season. Manager Joe Maddon moved Rondon out of that role and decided to go with matchups rather than one pitcher. It’s worked so far, plus helped ease Rondon back into late inning situations.

“Any situation they want to put me in, I’m available,” Rondon said. “Right now, I throw most of the time seventh, eighth, ninth innings. I’ll always be ready.”

Rondon said he benefited from the brief break in May and June when he wasn’t used in save situations as much. Does he need to know his role?

“For me, I don’t care if he tells me or tells other guys who’s the closer,” Rondon said. “What’s most important for us is to win games.”

* Catcher Miguel Montero (thumb) will begin a Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday with Double-A Tennessee. Meanwhile, infielder Tommy La Stella, who started his rehab assignment at Tennessee last Wednesday, was expected to return to action on Sunday. La Stella, out since early April with an oblique strain, had some soreness in the same area after playing in one game.

* The Cubs added pitchers Haren and Tommy Hunter on Saturday, and optioned right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the roster. Reliever Ben Rowen had been designated for assignment on Friday.

The Cubs also announced first baseman Mike Baxter, who was designated for assignment, had cleared waivers and was assigned to Triple-A Iowa.

Did Maddon expect the Cubs to make any more trades in August?

“Of course [we can], but I don’t expect anything to happen,” he said. “There’s nothing really prominent conversation between me and the guys.”

* When Montero does return, expect rookie catcher Kyle Schwarber to stay.

“This guy, hitting him second, you want his bat in the lineup,” Maddon said of Schwarber. “He’s done a nice job behind the plate. I’d like to believe he’s here for awhile.”

* Left-hander Clayton Richard will start Sunday in the series finale against the Brewers. It’ll be his fourth start with the Cubs. In his last start at Triple-A Iowa, Richard gave up three hits over seven scoreless innings.

— Carrie Muskat

#Cubs prep for tough month

New Cubs pitcher Dan Haren posted on Twitter that he had landed in Milwaukee, and the right-hander will make his first start on Wednesday in the series finale against the Pirates.

This is a key month for the Cubs, who are trying to secure a playoff spot. They’ll face the two teams ahead of them in the Wild Card race, the Pirates and Giants, starting Monday.

“This is the tough month to get through, August,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You’ve got to show up every day and play. Everybody gets a little bit fatigued, mentally and physically. I’ve explained to the guys, once you get to September, if you’re in that hunt, you find the energy every day. The weather starts to break and it gets cooler. Plus, you show up and you’re right there and have this opportunity. [August] is the month you have to manufacture it a little bit.”

Maddon will try to keep things loose. He’s got something planned for the middle of the month, but wouldn’t offer any hints. The Cubs will be encouraged to wear onesies on the flight home from Los Angeles Aug. 30.

“It is fun and games, it’s not life and death,” Maddon said. “You’ve wanted to do this since you’re six or five or four [years old]. You wanted this opportunity to be a Major League player, you might as well enjoy it.”

— Carrie Muskat

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