Fun-loving Cubs visit fading Diamondbacks

September 17, 2018

PHOENIX -- The Cubs have played some of their best baseball here in crunch time, a stretch that has taken a big bite out of the Diamondbacks' playoff chances.

The Cubs will enter Day 28 of a string of 30 straight days in which games were scheduled (if not necessarily played) with the first of a three-game series at Arizona on Monday.

The sustained activity has not seemed to bother them. They are having a little fun with it, in fact.

Anthony Rizzo wore his uniform on the plane for a makeup game in Washington on Thursday, which would have been an off day but for the persistent rain that forced two postponements the previous weekend. The Cubs won.

Ben Zobrist, who is third in the NL in hitting, rode his bicycle in uniform to Wrigley Field on Sunday, a 2-1 loss to Cincinnati.

Still, the Cubs have won three of their last four games and 14 of their last 18 series as they send right-hander Kyle Hendricks (11-11) out to face Arizona left-hander Patrick Corbin (11-5) in the first game of the series.

The Diamondbacks have not had as much success in the make-or-break portion of their season. They have played 11 straight games against division leaders and will have at least two more, inasmuch as the Cubs (87-62) enter with a 2 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee in the NL Central.

The Diamondbacks lost three of four at home to Atlanta last weekend before going 2-5 on a road trip to Colorado and Houston, dropping them 4 1/2 games behind the NL West-leading Rockies with 12 games remaining.

It has been a drastic reversal for an Arizona team that led or was tied for the NL West lead for 125 days this season and was still in first place on Sept. 1 before a third straight final at-bat loss in a four-game series to the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

The Diamondbacks (78-72) had not been fewer than seven games above .500 since June 10 before their 5-4 loss at Houston on Sunday.

The Dodgers and Rockies begin a three-game series in Los Angeles on Monday.

"We can't get caught scoreboard watching," Arizona reliever Brad Ziegler said. "We have to win our games. If we win our games, things will take care of themselves."

The Diamondbacks' bullpen, which was so efficient in the first five months, has given up 43 runs in its last 50 innings, and manager Torey Lovullo has used right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano in the last two save situations instead of normal closer Brad Boxberger.

Arizona also took a hit to its starting rotation when Clay Buchholz was shut down for the rest of the season because of elbow soreness he felt while warming up for scheduled start Thursday in Colorado.

The Cubs have made their bullpen work even without closers Brandon Morrow and Pedro Strop.

Morrow, who has 22 saves, has been on the disabled list since mid-July with a bone bruise. He threw a simulated game Saturday and could be activated for the Arizona series, manager Joe Madden said.

Strop, who had 13 saves after taking over for Morrow, suffered a season-ending left hamstring injury while attempting to beat out a double play grounder in Washington on Tuesday.

Since, the Cubs have gotten saves from Randy Rosario, Jorge De La Rosa and Steve Cishek. Both Rosario and De La Rosa had the first of their careers. Their last five saves have been from five different pitchers, including Jesse Chavez and Strop, the first time the Cubs have done that since 1991.

"Everyone knows it's the ninth inning," said Cishek, who earned the save in Saturday's 1-0 victory over Cincinnati as the third pitcher in the ninth inning.

"We just try to treat it like any other inning."

Corbin, who has a 3.05 ERA, is on the way to a career year, even if the victory totals don't show it. He is third in the league in strikeouts (230), fourth in WHIP (1.03), tied for sixth in the league in quality starts (18) and seventh in ERA. His ratio of strikeouts to walks is 5.48:1, third in the league.

Corbin has won five of his last six decisions and has made seven quality starts in his last eight, with 64 strikeouts against five walks in that span.

He is 5-1 with a 3.68 ERA in seven career appearances, six starts, against the Cubs and beat the Cubs in his first start after the All-Star game, giving up six hits and one run in seven innings with nine strikeouts and no walks. He is 7-3 with a 3.14 ERA in 15 home starts this season.

Hendricks, who has a 3.71 ERA, has won five of his seven decisions since a 5-1 loss to Arizona on July 24. He has given up a career-high 21 homers this season but has kept the ball in ballpark much better during his recent successful stretch, giving up only three homers in 54 2/3 innings and only one in his last 44 innings.

Hendricks has faced Arizona only three times, going 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA. He won his only previous start at Chase Field, in 2016, when he led the league in ERA and finished third in the NL Cy Young voting.