Cubs

Controversial walk-off leads Cubs past Astros

538805.jpg

Controversial walk-off leads Cubs past Astros

Friday, Sept. 16, 2011Posted: 5:53 p.m. Updated: 7:10 p.m.

Associated Press

Box scoreWATCH: Garza discusses his ninth inningWATCH: Kap catches up with Kerry Wood
HARDBALL TALK: Wrong call gives Cubs win over Astros
READ: Quade recalls 'Moneyball' days in Oakland

The Cubs finally caught a break.Matt Garza pitched nine strong innings and Marlon Byrd's 12th-inning dribbler was ruled fair, giving him an infield single and lifting Chicago to a 4-3 victory over the Houston Astros on Friday."We don't do anything the easy way around here," manager Mike Quade said of the Cubs, who were coming off an 11-inning loss in Cincinnati on Thursday night.Starlin Castro set up the winning rally with a leadoff walk, went to second on Darwin Barney's sacrifice, and moved to third on a wild pitch. He scored when third baseman Chris Johnson couldn't handle Byrd's dribbler up the line."I think I set a record for the shortest walk-off hit ever," Byrd said.The Astros argued that Byrd's hit should have been a foul ball and replays suggested they were correct."I was right over top of it, so I had a really good look," Johnson said. "Once I saw it hit foul I just tried to make contact with it because the ball's dead, you know? ... We'll just move on. People make mistakes."Garza was one strike from finishing off a five-hitter when Carlos Lee hit his second home run of the game, a two-run shot into the left-field bleachers that tied it 3-all. Garza said he decided to challenge Lee with a fastball.
WATCH: Geovany Soto discusses Garza's start
"It is what it is, man," Garza said. "It's one of those situations where I said, 'Here's my best. What do you got?' He guessed right and beat me."I knew where I had to put that pitch for him not to hit it. I just left it up the middle and he got it."Nevertheless, it was a solid outing for Garza, who struck out four and threw a season-high 124 pitches, allowing seven hits and no walks. Jeff Samardzija (7-4) threw a scoreless 12th to pick up the win and send the Astros to their 99th loss.Houston has never lost 100 games in a season in the franchise's 50-year history."They're tough losses, but on the other hand, you have to look at the positives," Lee said. "We're playing good baseball. We're playing good games."Geovany Soto led off the third with his 15th homer, and Aramis Ramirez had three hits, including his first triple since July 9, 2010."(Rodriguez) left me a fastball right there and I put good wood on it," Soto said.Lee had three hits and three RBIs for Houston. He opened the scoring with a solo blast leading off the second. Lee has hit in 22 of his last 24 games, and has 23 career homers at Wrigley Field, third among active players."I would say since the All-Star break, I've been feeling pretty good," Lee said. "I've found a position where I feel real comfortable and I'm seeing the ball real good."Astros starter Wandy Rodriguez allowed three runs and six hits over 5 23 innings, striking out five and walking four. He is two strikeouts shy of becoming the first Astros lefty to record 1,000 in a career. Reliever David Carpenter (0-3) gave up the winning run.The Astros swung early and often against Garza, who faced the minimum in five different innings and no more than four until the ninth. After allowing J.D. Martinez's leadoff single in the fourth, Garza retired the next 13 Astros in order."For the main part, (Garza) threw the ball unbelievable today," Soto said.The long game was bad news for a Cubs squad weary after Thursday night's four-hour defeat. The Cubs were tired, but mustered enough energy to mob Byrd after his game-winner."They had plenty of energy, punching me in the stomach," Byrd said. "I just held my ground. We felt pretty good today. It's one of those things, we got in late but you have to get up for every game."Notes: Castro went 0 for 4 with two walks and remains seven hits shy of becoming the youngest Cub to reach the 200-hit mark. ... The Cubs opened their homestand Friday afternoon after finishing their road trip with the extra-inning loss at Cincinnati on Thursday night. It's the kind of scheduling crunch Quade would like to avoid given the ordinance that requires the Cubs to play day games on Fridays. "I don't know if it's a doable deal, but obviously you'd like to play a day game somewhere else before coming home," he said. ... Actor Martin Sheen performed during the seventh-inning stretch, singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." ... The Astros will send Henry Sosa to the mound on Saturday to face Chicago's Rodrigo Lopez.Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This materialmay not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

0223-javy-baez.jpg
USA TODAY

Javy Baez can do anything defensively, but what's next for him at the plate?

MESA, Ariz. — You don’t need to spend long searching the highlight reels to figure out why Javy Baez goes by “El Mago.”

Spanish for “The Magician,” that moniker is a fitting one considering what Baez can do with his glove and his arm up the middle of the infield. The king of tags, Baez also dazzles with his throwing arm and his range. He looks like a Gold Glove kind of player when you watch him do these amazing things. And it’s no surprise that in his first media session of the spring, he was talking about winning that award.

“Just to play hard and see what I can do. Obviously, try to be healthy the whole year again. And try to get that Gold Glove that I want because a lot of people know me for my defense,” he said Friday at Cubs camp. “Just try to get a Gold Glove and stay healthy the whole year.”

Those high expectations — in this case, being the best defensive second baseman in the National League — fall in line with everything the rest of the team is saying about their own high expectations. It’s been “World Series or bust” from pretty much everyone over the past couple weeks in Mesa.

Baez might not be all the way there just yet. Joe Maddon talked earlier this week about his reminders that Baez needs to keep focusing on making the easy plays while staying a master of the magnificent.

“What I talked to him about was, when he had to play shortstop, please make the routine play routinely and permit your athleticism to play. Because when the play requires crazinesss, you’re there, you can do that,” Maddon said. “But this straight up ground ball three-hopper to shortstop, come get the ball, play it through and make an accurate throw in a routine manner. Apparently that stuck. Because he told me once he thought in those terms, it really did slow it down for him. And he did do a better job at doing that.”

But the biggest question for Cubs fans when it comes to Baez is when the offense will catch up to his defense. Baez hit a game-winning homer run in his first major league game and smacked 23 of them last season, good for fifth on a team full of power bats. But arguably just as famous as Baez’s defensive magic is his tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone. He had 144 strikeouts last season and reached base at a .317 clip. Seven Cubs — including notable struggling hitters Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist — had higher on-base percentages in 2017.

Baez, for one, is staying focused on what he does best, saying he doesn’t really have any specific offensive goals for the upcoming season.

“I’m not worrying about too much about it,” he said. “I’m just trying to play defense, and just let the offense — see what happens.”

Maddon, unsurprisingly, talked much more about what Baez needs to do to become a better all-around player, and unsurprisingly that included being more selective at the plate.

“One of the best base runners in the game, one of the finest arms, most acrobatic, greatest range on defense, power. The biggest thing for me for him is to organize the strike zone,” Maddon said. “Once he does that, heads up. He’s at that point now, at-bat wise, if you want to get those 500, 600 plate appearances, part of that is to organize your zone, accept your walks, utilize the whole field, that kind of stuff. So that would be the level that I think’s the next level for him.”

Will Baez have a season’s worth of at-bats to get that done? The versatile Cubs roster includes a couple guys who split time between the infield and outfield in Zobrist and Ian Happ. Getting their more consistent bats in the lineup might mean sacrificing Baez’s defense on certain days. Baez, of course, also has the ability to slide over to shortstop to spell Addison Russell, like he did when Russell was on the disabled list last season.

Until Baez learns how to navigate that strike zone a bit better, it might make Maddon more likely to mix and match other options, rather than considering him an everyday lock like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

But like Russell, Albert Almora Jr. and Willson Contreras, Baez is one of the young players who despite key roles on a championship contender the last few years still have big league growth to come. And Maddon thinks that growth is right around the corner.

“I want to believe you’re going to see that this year,” Maddon said. “They’ve had enough major league at-bats now, they should start making some significant improvements that are easy to recognize. The biggest thing normally is pitch selection, I think that’s where it really shows up. When you have talented players like that, that are very strong, quick, all that other stuff, if they’re swinging at strikes and taking balls, they’re going to do really well. And so it’s no secret with Javy. It’s no secret with Addy. Addy’s been more swing mode as opposed to accepting his walks. That’s part of the maturation process with those two guys. Albert I thought did a great job the last month, two months of getting better against righties. I thought Jason looked really good in the cage today. And Willson’s Willson.

“The natural assumption is these guys have played enough major league at-bats that you should see something different this year in a positive way.”

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

adbert.jpg
USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.