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With another ninth-inning nightmare, Cubs’ road woes could be their undoing



PITTSBURGH — Just when you think it can’t get worse.

It does.

That’s how the Chicago Cubs must be feeling after back-to-back walk-off losses. The latest came on Friday night against the Pirates, when manager Joe Maddon called upon righty Brandon Kintzler to close out a 2-1 game. The only problem? Kintzler is fresh off the injured list and predictably didn’t have his command. He walked three, the first one intentional but the last one with the bases loaded to bring home the tying run, before Kevin Newman singled home the game-winner.

“No one feels worse than Kintzler right now but that’s the way this is rolling lately,” Maddon said after the 3-2 loss. “You can’t give in to it. You have to keep fighting through it. And if you do, you’ll come out the other side. We cannot let it get to us.”

Maddon said similar the night before when the Cubs were walked off by a Bryce Harper grand slam in Philadelphia. Then came an early morning arrival in Pittsburgh where they were met by their general manager, Jed Hoyer. Team president Theo Epstein will join shortly as the organization prepares for a lighthearted day in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, for the Little League World Series on Sunday.



Bryce Harper rips a grand slam out of the park to give the Phillies a 7-5 walk-off win over the Cubs.

How much fun will that possibly be if the Cubs lose another road game on Saturday? Because of a 23-39 record away from Wrigley Field, they’re starting to look up at others in the standings.

“I don’t ever remember [this happening] in my whole baseball playing career,” Kris Bryant said of the back-to-back crushing losses. “I don’t know how to respond to it. It’s new to me. It’s new to most of us.”

You’ll excuse Bryant for not remembering May 5 and 6, 2018, when the Cardinals won two games against the Cubs in their final at-bats. But those came when the Cubs still won some games on the road. It didn’t hurt as bad. These sting even more.

“It could be a lot better,” Bryant said. “It could be a lot worse. We’re kind of right in the middle there. Thankfully no one is running away with it. At least we have that on our side.”

That’s the best the Cubs can muster right now. A thankfulness that Milwaukee and St. Louis haven’t run away from them. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. The 2016 World Series winners — long past their championship hangover — were supposed to be closer to the Dodgers or Astros not the Cardinals or Brewers. But those teams have gotten better while the Cubs have, well, stood still. And that might be putting it kindly.

“We can’t keep having this conversation over and over,” general manager Jed Hoyer said about the Cubs’ inconsistent play. “If we continue that cycle we’re going to end up disappointed.”

Maddon will undoubtedly get most of the blame, as most managers do. And there’s already a feeling that his days in Chicago are numbered, considering his contract is up at the end of the season. But he’s been playing a game of whack-a-mole for most of the year based on an imperfect roster.

He can’t make a defensive replacement or pick a reliever to pitch without it coming back to bite him. Both kinds of decisions came into play in Thursday’s and Friday’s losses. He can be the fall guy based solely on the Cubs road record — not that he’s maxed out on the season either. Maddon hasn’t adjusted to the new reality of the Cubs: They may not be as talented as they once were and they’re certainly not as deep. Not even close.

“It’s a cliché. We just have to keep going,” Bryant said. “I don’t know what else to say. I really don’t.”

No one does.

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Phillies’ Andrew McCutchen upbeat about recovery from knee injury



CLEARWATER, Fla. — Andrew McCutchen can speak firsthand about modern medical advancements.

He tore his ACL last year — and it wasn’t the first time.

“I had an ACL injury when I was in high school, so to kind of compare the two, as far as the process goes and the rehab, it’s a lot quicker,” the Philadelphia outfielder said Monday. “You’re doing things a lot faster maybe than you did 16, 17 years ago. At the same time, I’m not 16 and rehabbing. I’m 33 now.”

McCutchen played only 59 games last year before going down with a torn ACL in early June. The Phillies finished 81-81, a disappointment in their first season after signing Bryce Harper. Philadelphia replaced manager Gabe Kapler with Joe Girardi and added Zack Wheeler to its rotation. If he can stay healthy, McCutchen could give the team a lift as well.

The Phillies held their first workout with the full squad Monday. McCutchen said he plans to be ready for opening day.

“I’m doing everything. I don’t have any limitations. It’s just about going out there and doing everything at 100%,” he said. “Some things I’m doing pretty good, some things I’m still working on.”

Girardi said McCutchen isn’t where he was at this time last year, simply because he’s now coming off an inury.

“Every week we’re going to make an evaluation of where he’s at, and what he’s ready to handle the next week,” Girardi said. “I know he hit out on the field today and did those type of things.”

McCutchen was the National League’s MVP in 2013, when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was traded to San Francisco in 2018, then was dealt to the New York Yankees toward the end of that season. He signed with the Phillies before last season.

McCutchen’s batting average has slipped since his days as an MVP candidate, but his durability hasn’t really been an issue. Before last season, he had played in at least 153 games in eight of the previous nine years.

He hit .256 with 10 home runs and 29 RBI in his abbreviated 2019. The injury snapped a streak of eight straight seasons with at least 20 home runs.

He played mostly left field but spent some time in center as well. He says the injury shouldn’t prevent him from playing center if needed.

The Phillies were in first place in the NL East when McCutchen hurt his left knee during a rundown June 3 at San Diego, but he downplayed the idea that his absence was what derailed the season.

“It’s nice to think, `Oh, it was because I stopped playing, got injured.’ I don’t think that really,” he said. “I think it’s just us as a full team together, just kind of having to grow.”

McCutchen likened the Phillies’ 2019 season to LeBron James’ first season with the Miami Heat after teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Heat made it to the NBA Finals but lost.

“They had the squad. They had the superstar team,” he said. “They didn’t pan out the way people expected it, but they stayed together.”

Game notes
All-Star C J.T. Realmuto says he isn’t too concerned about the outcome of his arbitration hearing. He requested $12.4 million and the Phillies offered $10 million. “I’m either making 10 or 12 million dollars. I’ll be happy either way,” he said. “I’m blessed to get to do what I do for a living for a lot of money.” Like McCutchen, Realmuto was in his first season with Philadelphia last year. He set career highs with 25 homers and 83 RBI and won a Gold Glove.

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Yankees SS Gleyber Torres believes Astros cheated the last three years



TAMPA, Fla. — Did the Houston Astros sign-stealing continue past the 2017 postseason? New York Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres has no doubt that it did.

“For sure. If you cheated in 2017 and you won, why you don’t (you) do (it) the next year, and the next year too!” Torres said. “I’ll use an example, if I play video games with you and we face the TV and I see your controller and I know what is coming and I hit really well and I win, if you tell me we play again, I’ll do the same thing because I win. So (the Astros) did in ’17 for sure, they did in ’18 and they do ’19. It’s really easy.”

Torres was referring to playing the baseball videogame “MLB: The Show” against Yankees’ pitcher Luis Severino, where he admitted to peeking at his teammate’s controller to see what pitch was coming.

“When I face like Severino, I saw the controller and I did really well and he didn’t know, and the next one I did the same thing and I win!” Torres added.

An investigation by MLB proved the Astros had cheated by using a camera-based, sign-stealing system during their 2017 World Series-winning regular season and playoffs, and during part of the 2018 regular season. The investigation specified that the sign stealing did not take place in 2019, which Torres finds hard to believe.

“I heard many people say, ‘hey, Houston has something on the field,'” he said. “But I can’t believe it because how would you know they have something like media, cameras, everything. But now, I saw the news. It’s not fair.”

In terms of whether sign stealing could have been a factor during the 2019 playoffs, where the Yankees lost in the American Championship Series to Houston in six games, Torres fell short of blaming it on any cheating by the Astros.

“I don’t want to say they cheated and we didn’t go to the World Series because we lost because we missed too many opportunities, when we played at home, when we played in Houston too,” Torres said. “But during the regular season and postseason they took advantage of the cameras and everything so for sure I’m (upset) about that.”

New Yankees ace Gerrit Cole was with the Astros in 2018 and ’19. He said last week that he “had no idea any of it was going on and I didn’t see any of it.”

Manager Aaron Boone has repeatedly stated that he wants to move forward from having to face questions about the Astros’ cheating scandal, but said Torres, as well as many Yankees, will continue to feel the need to have a say in the matter.

“I’m not surprised,” Boone said when told of Torres’ comments. “My experience of it, my level of emotions that I’ve gone through personally, and not even having a total grasp of it all and not having even reconciled it all in my head, and I know some of the conversations that I’ve had with staff and coaches and people around the league but our players as well, from their raw emotions when the news broke. And as the days unfold I’m not surprised by what we’ve seen. Over the next couple of days, as our position players are here now, I think it’s important for them to say whatever they need to say on the matter. If they want to talk about it or not, I’m respectful of that and encourage that. But there will be a time also as a club when it’ll be time to stop talking about it, and lock in on the important business we have in front of us in 2020.”

When asked whether he agreed with Dodgers’ All-Star outfielder Cody Bellinger, who claimed that Altuve “stole” the MVP Award from Aaron Judge in 2017, Torres told ESPN that there is no way to know that now. Torres is a friend of fellow Venezuelan Altuve, and is still close to him, though they have not spoken since the MLB investigation.

“In Venezuela, Altuve is a hero. I don’t want to say that during the (2017) regular season he didn’t put up his numbers or what he did is not real. I really believe that everything he has done is legal,” Torres told ESPN. “But in some situations, I think about what the team did, and the use of a camera and everything, and it doesn’t really feel very good.”

“In 2017, I was injured; I wasn’t in the big leagues. I can’t say many things about that year. But Altuve had a tremendous season. He had tremendous numbers in the playoffs, but if you look at Judge’s numbers… he also did very well. He had a tremendous season as well. But, of course, those are the things that get out of hand. But the personal relationship I have with Altuve will not change. Altuve is my friend, and he is a good person, a humble person. But when things like this happen, they affect baseball. This is what happens when you don’t follow the rules.”

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Red Sox owner John Henry says Mookie Betts trade was strategic, not financial move



FORT MYERS, Fla. — Boston Red Sox owner John Henry addressed the media for the first time since his team dealt Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers, attempting to explain the move to a fan base that is incensed over the trade of the homegrown MVP.

“The baseball organizations that we compete against have become much more strategic and thoughtful about how and when they spend their resources in their question for titles,” Henry said in prepared remarks. “We cannot shy away from tough decisions required to aggressively compete for the World Series. That’s what led to this trade.”

Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Sam Kennedy all denied that the primary reason behind the trade was to cut payroll and get below the competitive balance tax threshold. Henry had expressed his desire for the team to cut payroll in September, before clarifying that it was a “goal,” not a “mandate.” A few days after Henry’s initial comments, Kennedy said it would be difficult for Boston to keep both Betts and J.D. Martinez, who had an opt-out in his contract after 2019 for the 2020 season.

Henry has called the notion that the team was looking to get under the CBT a “media-driven” narrative. On Monday, he said that the team could not afford to let Betts walk away in free agency without getting a bigger return than a compensatory draft pick.

“In today’s game, there’s a cost to losing a great player in free agency, one that cannot nearly be made up by the draft pick given,” Henry said. “We’ve seen examples of this recently. We at the Red Sox will remember this as one of the toughest, one of the most difficult decisions we’ve ever had to make. … We felt we could not sit on our hands and lose him this offseason without getting value in return to help us on our path forward. We carefully considered the alternative over the last year and made a decision when this opportunity presented itself to acquire substantial young talent for the years ahead.”

Kennedy framed the decision much more simply.

“You don’t trade Mookie Betts to get under the CBT,” Kennedy said. “We traded Mookie Betts and David Price and got back significant value in return.”

Boston found itself lacking payroll flexibility when former general manager Dave Dombrowski was granted autonomy in the baseball operations department before his firing late in the 2019 season. Following the World Series championship in 2018, Dombrowski signed World Series hero Nathan Eovaldi, who has undergone Tommy John surgery twice, to a four-year, $68 million contract and Chris Sale to a five-year, $145 million contract a year before he was scheduled to hit the open market. When asked if there was anything the team could have done to prevent the circumstances that led to the Betts trade, Henry kept his answer short.

“Yes,” Henry said. “We could’ve signed him to a long-term contract, but short of that, I’m not sure what the answer is.”

Boston made offers to Betts over three different offseasons. The last major offer was for 10 years and $300 million, which Betts reportedly countered by asking for 12 years and $420 million.

“We made legitimate offers over three offseasons,” Henry said. “We made it clear to Mookie and I made it personally clear, one-on-one, that we wanted to see him in a Red Sox uniform for the rest of his career if possible.”

The trade of Betts prompted backlash from fans, who are still steaming about the decision a week after the move to ship the right fielder to Los Angeles became official. Kennedy said ticket sales are down 15 percent versus where they were at this point in 2019.

The ownership group insisted that 2020 would not be a bridge year, with estimates for the new season’s payroll clocking in around $190 million.

“Don’t you think it would be a record payroll for a bridge year?” Henry said.

Henry on multiple occasions made a point to compare the trade of Betts to the 2004 midseason trade of Nomar Garciaparra. There are differences, however. Betts is 27, in his prime, with little injury history. Garciaparra was 30 and had dealt with major injuries before his trade to the Chicago Cubs. And Betts, unlike Garciaparra in 2004, is a consensus top-five player in Major League Baseball.

“I know it’s difficult and disappointing,” Henry said. “Some of you no doubt felt the same way in 2004 when we traded Nomar, who like Mookie, was a hugely popular homegrown player. All of us in the organization hoped that we would never have to go through something like that again, but most clubs face similar dilemmas from time to time. I understand there’s probably little I can say that will change how you feel about this, but it’s my responsibility to try.”

Ultimately, Boston says its future was best served with the return of outfielder Alex Verdugo, infield prospect Jeter Downs and catching prospect Connor Wong, believing that the financial flexibility presented by the trade of Betts and Price to the Dodgers presented the best long-term outcome for the organization, as opposed to taking the risk of keeping Betts through the 2020 season and losing him for a compensation draft pick.

“Today’s players spend years in the minors and major leagues earning the right to be paid in a free market, earning the right to make choices. They made significant sacrifices to get there, and they deserve what they receive,” Henry said. “Clubs also have choices to make in this economic system. It’s a system that has a few imbalances as do all economic systems, but it’s a system overall that has led to labor peace and an amazing market for our best players. It’s not the system’s fault that the Red Sox ended up in this position. We were faced with a difficult choice.”

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