February 21, 2018
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Lefty hex continues as Sox beat Cubs

By Wire Service Reports, Special to the BDN

CHICAGO — The Cubs are feeling a little more left out than usual this season, and we’re not talking about the postseason.

They have baseball’s worst record against left-handed starting pitchers, a significant statistic even for the Cubs.

With Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Red Sox, they now are 3-15 against lefty starters.

“It’s almost a fluke,” manager Dale Sveum said. “Coming into the season, I thought that one of our strong points would be when left-handed pitchers faced our team.

“That’s because we could stick a lot of right-handed hitters out there who had really nice careers against left-handed pitching. It’s not that they’re doing horrible; we’re just not getting the slugging percentage at all against left-handed pitching, which is holding us back from scoring multiple runs in an inning.”

Against Red Sox starter Franklin Morales, who had made 145 straight relief appearances, the Cubs did their usual. They struck out nine times in Morales’ five innings and trailed 3-2.

“You can’t even try to do what we do against left-handed pitching,” Sveum said. “It’s very difficult to have those kinds of numbers on a consistent basis.”

Cubs lefty Paul Maholm started and gave up two runs in the first and a David Ortiz homer in the fourth. The biggest damage came after he left. The Red Sox scored three in the seventh with the help of a Cubs error and a questionable cutoff play.

Maholm’s record remains 4-5, showing that other teams aren’t having as much trouble against lefties as the Cubs.

Of course, the Cubs are having trouble scoring against right-handers too. That was a problem in the past as well, so new general manager Jed Hoyer added David DeJesus in right field, Ian Stewart at third base and gave the first-base job to Bryan LaHair.

Those three are left-handed hitters, but they have sat against left-handed pitchers, especially lately, and all are hitting below .200 against southpaws.

Sveum said he has thought about defying the book and playing them against all pitchers, but they “just are not doing anything on a consistent basis against left-handers to warrant that.”

That is not good news to LaHair, who is trying to prove to the Cubs — and other teams that might have interest in trading for him — that he can hit any pitcher.

“There’s no question I want to play every day,” he said. “But this is a team thing, and right now (Sveum’s) got a right-handed lineup. He wants to get guys at-bats. This seems to be the year of opportunity with the Cubs, and guys deserve an opportunity like I got.

“I feel like my time will come. It’s not something I really want to fight and battle right now. I know I’m an everyday player, and I still believe I’ll be in there against lefties.”

IN SATURDAY’S GAME, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was struggling, so Bobby Valentine did something drastic.

Bench him? Nope.

Instead, he started him in the cleanup spot for the first time in his career, and for one night, at least, it worked.

Saltalamacchia homered to back a strong start by Jon Lester, and the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs 4-3 on Saturday.

“Sometimes crazy times ask for crazy measures,” Valentine said. And the way he saw it, batting Saltalamacchia in the fourth slot was one.

He came into the game mired in an 0-for-17 slide but broke out of it with two hits, including a two-run drive in the fourth, and Boston came out on top after dropping eight of 11.

Scott Podsednik and Mike Aviles had two hits apiece, and Podsednik and Will Middlebrooks each drove in a run.

Lester (4-4) and the Red Sox were leading 4-0 when the Cubs rallied in the seventh.

Jeff Baker led off with a bloop double and Welington Castillo walked with one out. Then Luis Valbuena belted a three-run homer for his first hit with Chicago.

Lester struck out David DeJesus before Scott Atchison retired Reed Johnson on a grounder to end the inning. Vicente Padilla worked the eighth and Alfredo Aceves finished for his 16th save in 19 chances.

Pinch-hitter Steve Clevenger started the Cubs ninth with a single, but Aceves struck out Bryan LaHair and got Castillo to bounce into a game-ending double play.

Lester gave the Red Sox just what they needed on the same day Josh Beckett went on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, the latest in a long line of injuries for Boston.

The veteran allowed seven hits, struck out eight and walked one against a team that came in with a .222 average against left-handers, third lowest in the National League.

Jeff Samardzija (5-5) struck out six in 5 1-3 innings for the Cubs after getting roughed up in a loss to Minnesota in his previous start. He was charged with three runs and four hits.

Samardzija was lifted after he issued consecutive walks to David Ortiz and Saltalamacchia. Randy Wells came in, and Middlebrooks drove in Ortiz with a single.

Samardzija’s only other glitch was the drive to right by Saltalamacchia on a 1-2 splitter.

“It felt good,” Saltalamacchia said. “I talked to (Valentine) as I was walking out (Friday) night and that’s exactly what he said. He said ‘They’re gonna start falling because you’ve been swinging the bat well.'”

The Cubs threatened with two out in the sixth, but a breakdown by Alfonso Soriano helped end it.

With runners on first and second, Middlebrooks dropped his hard liner to third. Soriano never ran, though, and was thrown out at first.

A crowd that had seen lapses from him before let him have it on the way to the dugout and when he trotted back out to left field. There were more loud boos when he struck out in the eighth.

But the way Soriano sees it, he didn’t deserve that kind of treatment. He said the boos were unfair and there really wasn’t much he could do on that play.

“I think that they don’t understand the game,” Soriano said. “It’s a line drive, nothing you can do about it. If it’s a ground ball and I don’t run, they can do whatever they want. But a hard line drive right at the glove? I don’t know what they want.”

While the fans made their feelings clear, so did the Cubs. Put simply, they had Soriano’s back.

“It’s one of those things where 100 percent every player in the history of baseball would do the same thing,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I did it a lot, a lot, of times.”

Soriano is a lightning rod for fans, though — fair or not.

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