Mariners end Jered Weaver’s long winning streak

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Jesus Montero took the normally unbeatable Jered Weaver deep twice Sunday as the Mariners topped the Angels in Anaheim 4-1.

Weaver entered the day having won nine straight starts. He was 8-0 with a 0.92 ERA at home this year and 15-1 with a 2.13 ERA overall. His only previous defeat came in Texas back on May 13.

True to form, Montero had his big game after getting the start at catcher. He’s hit .316/.353/.513 with eight homers in 40 games as a catcher this year, compared to .243/.288/.344 with four homers in 58 games as a designated hitter.

Montero’s struggles as a designated hitter have to be of some concern to the Mariners, given that he also hasn’t shown much to suggest that he belongs behind the plate for the long haul.  The team made University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino the third overall pick in the 2011 draft, and he could be ready to start in the majors as soon as 2014. The Mariners may want to think about trying Montero at first base next year. Justin Smoak isn’t looking like much of a road block there.

As for Weaver, he came up one win shy of matching Chuck Finley’s Angels record for consecutive starts won. He’s still right there with Justin Verlander in the AL Cy Young race, though. Weaver tops the circuit with a 2.22 ERA, while Verlander is second at 2.46. Weaver has three more victories than Verlander’s 12, but Verlander has a huge lead in innings (175 2/3 to 138) and also ranks first in the AL in strikeouts with 174 (Weaver has 106).

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.