Jeff Kent plays through pain on “Survivor” season premiere

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OK, so I watched former MVP and longtime MLB second baseman Jeff Kent on the season premiere of “Survivor” last night and now I’m going to share a few details with you so I don’t feel completely silly about those 90 minutes of my life.

• Kent injured his knee before the first commercial break, losing his balance jumping from a boat to a raft. Once he got onto the actual island he played it off as no big deal so everyone else wouldn’t think he was at less than full strength, but Kent later guessed that he had a torn MCL.

• While limping around he wasted no time trying to build alliances and started scheming to get another player voted off the island. He also talked about what a big fan of “Survivor” he is and how that motivated him to sign up.

• Kent is attempting to keep his identity a secret and as far as I could tell only one of the other contestants recognized Kent as a former baseball player. And the woman who did recognize him didn’t tell anyone, so his secret is safe for now. However, she did wonder out-loud to the cameras whether “someone with $30 million” deserves to win the $1 million prize, so that figures to be an issue. And it wasn’t even an accurate number: Kent earned more than $85 million during 17 seasons in the majors.

• Despite the knee injury Kent quickly emerged as a leader, doing most of the heavy lifting in building his tribe some shelter. He told everyone about his farm in Texas and bonded with several people who view him as a fellow Southerner. Kent does have a farm in Texas, but he was born and raised in California.

• He played a big role in the immunity challenge, doing a good job paddling a boat to allow his teammates more time to solve a puzzle that ultimately won the challenge. That means he’s safe for at least one more week and, I guess, means I’m committed to watching this show for at least one more episode.

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.