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Get Smart? Cubs ‘Schooled’ again, and Maddon loving it

LOS ANGELES – In the span of five days, the Cubs have faced three Cy Young Award winners and a San Francisco Giants ace who was last year’s World Series MVP.

In the last three days alone, the Cubs have scored a total of four runs, struck out 38 times and watched a 7½ game lead for the league’s last playoff berth drop to 4½.

“I know, but I love it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw dominated for eight innings in a 4-1 Dodgers victory over the Cubs on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“We had a hard time, and that’s OK. As we continue to move forward, I ancitipate we’re going to do better against guys like this. But you have to learn.

“It’s just a matter of we were schooled a little bit tonight again. But that needs to happen for us to get better.”

Anthony Rizzo on Cubs’ “Cy Young Week”

The pitching matchups turn more toward the Cubs’ favor the next two nights, as Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta take their turns to finish off a six-game West Coast trip (against Mat Latos and Alex Wood).

Then it’s back to the soft part of the Cubs’ rotation when they return home to face the Cincinnati Reds.

Maddon talked before Friday’s game about the importance of getting more innings from the rotation down the stretch, to ease some of the extra workload the bullpen has carried in recent weeks.

And as much as he “loves” the 16- and 14-strikeout educations provided by the likes of Madison Bumgarner and Kershaw the last two nights, any significant success the Cubs have the rest of the year is almost certainly going to be about how good their own starting pitching is.

Specifically, how good it is beyond Lester and Arrieta.

On Friday, Jason Hammel looked for much of his start like the big right-hander who spent his first 11 starts of the season looking like an All-Star (5-2, 2.76).

Jason Hammel on Friday’s start vs. Dodgers

Through the first five innings, he nearly matched Kershaw pitch for pitch, allowing one run on back-to-back hits in the third, but retiring 15 of the 17 other batters he faced.

Until the sixth started with a walk, single, wild pitch, throwing error by catcher Miguel Montero, another wild pitch and another walk.

Suddenly, Hammel (7-6) was out – the eighth time in nine starts he has failed to get through six innings.

“I knew I had bullets left,” he said. “I wanted to stay in there, but Joe made the decision to go to the lefty, and Travis [Wood] did a great job and got a double-play ball.”

A leg injury that contributed to several of those other short starts is long behind Hammel, he says. And Friday he said he’s back to feeling like he did in the first half – which could go a long way toward a strong finish for the team.

“I feel good. I feel real good,” he said. “Obviously, tonight I put a couple extra guys on base for free and they made them count.”

Kershaw made sure it didn’t take that many – striking out 14 in eight innings, walking just one and allowing just three hits.

One of the hits was a mammoth home run to center by Anthony Rizzo, his 26th, for the Cubs’ only run.

Both the Dodgers and Giants were playoff teams a year ago. All three starters who beat them the last three days made postseason starts last year – two of them in the World Series.

“They’re not robots. They’re young. Our young guys are learning,” Maddon said. “I’m not discouraged at all. We’re learning right now. We’re going to keep getting better.”

Certainly, it’s been a late-season education for the young players.

“And the old guys, too,” Montero said.

Schooled even.

“You could put those pitchers against the most veteran team out there, and they’re going to look like they’re taking people to school,” Rizzo said. “You take the positives out of it.

“Obviously, we didn’t get the outcomes we wanted, but this is good for us to taste this feeling of them kind of dominating us. …

“It’s a good test. It’s good for us to face this. There’s pitching all throughout the league, but to face this consecutively like we are – I’ve never been there [postseason] but I know that it’s going to be a grind every game, and that’s what we’re doing.”