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CHICAGO — Walking out of the visitors dugout at Wrigley Field, it was hard for Blue Jays players not to be impressed with the surroundings.
Not by the ivy, nor the charms of one of baseball’s most historic venues, mind you, but the prospects of making the yard known as the Friendly Confines hitter-friendly.
Alas, after two afternoons here, the Jays have managed to stay close to the World Series-champion Cubs, but have yet to hit a ball out of the park. For a team that survives on the long ball, it has been a notable blight.
They certainly could have used some power in Saturday’s 4-3 loss, their second in as many days to the baseball gem nestled on Chicago’s North Side.
“This ball park, you’ve got to hit home runs,” Jays manager John Gibbons said. “We haven’t hit one yet. You’ve got to score like that.”
The Jays can probably take some measure of satisfaction in keeping the champs close, but with so many teams to overtake for the second AL wild-card spot, they can’t afford to drop many series.
On Sunday, with Marco Estrada on the mound, they’ll attempt to avoid a series sweep and what would amount to more than a little victory.
If the bats can boom against Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks, the odds of that happening would increase significantly.
“I think it’s definitely a hitter’s ball park,” said Jays centre fielder Kevin Pillar, who had two hits for a second consecutive day including an RBI in the eighth inning to pull the Jays within one run. “When you have a little bit of power, you feel like you can drive it to any part of the field.”
The ball can certainly fly here. With the wind blowing out on Thursday, the Cubs and Reds combined for eight homers in one of those wild, high-scoring games that often happen at Wrigley. It’s been a cross-wind for both games against the Jays, however.
The three-game series was never going to be easy, especially with spot starter Nick Tepesch drawing the assignment on Saturday. Though he didn’t get rocked, he lasted only 3.2 innings and was rather fortunate to escape the first allowing just one run.
The Jays can cling to the modest hope that they’ve played a good team tough, providing they don’t get swept on Sunday. They clearly need to start producing on the road, where they’ve now dropped 12 of their past 17.
“We know we’ve got a long way to go and still have an uphill climb,” Pillar said of the team’s mindset following some recent strong play. “The fact that we’re playing better baseball and competing and staying in games … it’s a good sign.
“(The Cubs) have been able to come up with some big hits and make some big defensive plays. They’re World Series champs for a reason. They’ve got a knack for making a big play and coming up with a big hit.”
For the second consecutive day, the Javier Baez show conspired against the Jays. Not only did the Cubs shortstop provide a go-ahead RBI in the sixth — on a sharply struck ground ball up the middle that snuck past Darwin Barney — he also made a great defensive stab to rob Ryan Goins of a hit in the ninth. “It was the Baez show the last couple of days,” Gibbons said. “We’ve seen plenty of that on TV. He’s a hell of a player and handles himself well all across the field.” … The Jays were actually alive in this one throughout, holding the Cubs to 2-2 into the sixth after some joint work by Tepesch and reliever Danny Barnes … The Jays took a 2-1 lead briefly in the fourth after a Pillar single set things up for a pair of ex-Cubs. Barney, who won a Gold Glove while on the North Side, doubled and catcher Raffy Lopez (who was batting .059 when he came to the plate) singled in a pair … The lead was short-lived, however, as the Cubs tied it in the bottom half on a solo homer to left field by Ian Happ to open up the inning. A bases-loaded single by Happ in the first opened the scoring. But the Jays cut it off there as Tepesch induced a double-play groundout to end it.
Drawing Jose Quintana wasn’t an ideal situation for the Jays, who struggled with him when he was on the South Side with the White Sox before being dealt to the Cubs earlier this summer. “He’s an elite pitcher and he’s got some good stuff,” Pillar said. How much has Quintana owned the Jays? It was his 10th consecutive quality start against the Jays, the third longest in history by any pitcher against them. Overall, Quintana is 7-2 versus the Jays with a 1.88 ERA, the second lowest ERA of any pitcher ever to face them 10 times or more … The Cubs have now won nine of their past 10 inter-league contests and are 5-2 in their past seven overall as they look to make a run at defending their title … The Barney RBI double was his first hit at Wrigley Field since his final home game with the Cubs on July 12, 2014 … Barney would have loved to have another stab at the Baez shot that got through. If he knocks it down, the go-ahead run doesn’t come home … Barnes, who took the loss, was taking no consolation in his solid two innings. “No. I blew the game simple as that,” Barnes said … Thanks in part to the big Baez play at short, Cubs closer Wade Davis converted his 26th consecutive save, tied for the longest streak in franchise history with Ryan Dempster’s run spanning 2005 and ’06.
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