Cubs

Cubs: Is Anibal Sanchez the right player at the right time?

962945.png

Cubs: Is Anibal Sanchez the right player at the right time?

All along, Theo Epstein said the Cubs were going to wait for the right player at the right time before making a splash in free agency.

That was the big idea when Epstein took on this rebuilding project some 14 months ago: The team president and his value-minded lieutenants in the front office would acquire as many talented young players as possible, enough core pieces that theyd feel comfortable buying the big-ticket item.

That appeared to be way off on the horizon until conflicting reports popped up across Twitter on Thursday. Within minutes, the Cubs were either close to signing Anibal Sanchez, or the pitcher had already agreed to a five-year, 75 million contract, or the negotiations were going back to the Detroit Tigers for the final chance to match.

Team officials remained silent, but an overall impression emerged: No done deal, with the waiting game going late into the night. USA Todays Bob Nightengale who broke the story before backtracking reported that talks would continue Friday morning.

This came from the blind side. There was said to be a sense of quiet at the Clark Street headquarters on Thursday morning, but this is why they want to keep such a tight lid on information.

Remember that the first piece added to the rotation this offseason was supposed to be Dan Haren until the Cubs had medicalfinancial concerns and pulled the plug on a trade with the Los Angeles Angels and held onto closer Carlos Marmol.

But the Cubs had already beaten the rush last month and signed two starting pitchers Scott Baker and Scott Feldman to one-year deals that matched up with all the other reasonable, incremental moves this front office had made with free agents.

While standing by the home dugout at Wrigley Field last week, surrounded by reporters during the Kyuji Fujikawa press event, general manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs would continue to look for depth, but offered no hints they were close on a game-changer like Sanchez.

Were certainly not done, Hoyer said, but we certainly feel better about where we are looking at the offseason now. Were certainly not even halfway (in), but were really glad that we went in right away and added two starters in Baker and Feldman given the way the markets acted since. We feel like that (was) a wise move.

Well continue to try to add, but weve been building to be a little more discerning now, because we added two guys we wanted right away.

Those talking points plus the rising cost for free agents didnt suggest that the Cubs were going after perhaps the best pitcher on the board after Zack Greinke, who just got a six-year, 147 million contract from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

In the battle for Los Angeles, the Angels swooped in on Thursday and landed Josh Hamilton with a five-year, 125 million contract. The Cubs were known to be opposed to that kind of megadeal. They didnt have to win headlines or fight for attention within their market. They dont particularly care what the fans or the media think.

But industry sources familiar with the teams thinking say dont focus so much on the price range just analyze whether its a smart long-term investment.

The Cubs go through those exercises all the time even last winter with Prince Fielder, who didnt make perfect sense and wound up getting a nine-year, 214 million deal with the Tigers.

Sanchez checks off many of the boxes Epstein and Hoyer talk about when they evaluate free agents. Hes on the right side of 30 and will turn 29 during spring training. They also must know something about his makeup, from their time together in the Boston Red Sox organization.

As Bostons co-general manager in 2005, Hoyer helped engineer a huge trade with the Florida Marlins while Epstein briefly left the organization and went on a sabbatical. Sanchez and Hanley Ramirez were among the Red Sox prospects heading to South Florida in exchange for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and Guillermo Mota.

Sanchez developed into a reliable middle-of-the-rotation piece with the Marlins and only enhanced his value after last summers trade to the Tigers. He performed on the big stage, going 1-2 with a 1.77 ERA in three postseason starts.

Sanchez has made at least 31 starts in each of the last three seasons, though he hasnt reached the 200-inning mark yet. His career numbers are solid if not spectacular a 48-51 record with a 3.75 ERA but the Cubs would be betting that hes just entering his prime.

Sanchez will come close to getting paid like an ace, but he wouldnt necessarily have to be one if the Opening Day rotation includes Jeff Samardzija, Matt Garza, Baker and Feldman. That would be an interesting way for the Cubs to start 2013 ahead of schedule.

It certainly got the attention of Garza, who posted this message on his Twitter account: I'm at the edge of my seat also with the Sanchez supposed deal... waiting.

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Joe Maddon tinkers with Cubs lineup hoping to jumpstart offense

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Joe Maddon tinkers with Cubs lineup hoping to jumpstart offense

The Cubs are "due."

That's a funny thought in general. For anybody or any team to be "due," that's saying that everything will even out eventually.

That's often true in baseball. But that's over the course of a 162-game season, far and away the longest sample size in professional sports. 

In an abbreviated postseason series, there really is no such thing as "due" because the season's over before you get a chance to see things even out.

The baseball gods don't ensure that everybody gets the same amount of luck at the same time. The sample size is absolutely too small for that. Plus, the Cubs have had plenty of luck and caught their fair share of breaks already this postseason.

So while it's easy to point to some of the Cubs numbers and say things like "they're not going to hit .162 as a team forever," that's not necessarily true because there are only two guaranteed games left in the 2017 for Joe Maddon and Co. It is absolutely possible the Cubs' season is over before they get a chance to correct their offensive woes.

Though, it would be pretty stunning to see the Cubs offense finish a 9-game October stint with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as the team's leading hitters (both are 1-for-4, .250 average). 

Like a deliriously-happy, champagne-soaked Theo Epstein said early Friday morning in our nation's capital, "we always hit eventually."

So if I'm a betting man (which I'm not, unless you count fantasy sports), I'm betting on the Cubs offense finally waking from their fall slumber. 

They're simply too good to continue these numbers. This team has combined for a .513 OPS, which is essentially a team of Andres Blancos, a 33-year-old backup infielder who defined "light-hitting" with a .192 average and .549 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.

The urgency is now a very real thing with the Cubs, and that's something — maybe the ONLY thing — that has really motivated this 2017 squad. They've really only played well when they've had a sense of urgency and they did not have that the first two games in Los Angeles.

Which is understandable. After such a physically, emotionally and mentally draining Game 5 that didn't end until early Friday morning, the team had to travel all the way across the entire continental U.S. only to wind up getting diverted to New Mexico where they sat on the tarmac for five hours.

Every single starting pitcher on the team was exhausted and working on short rest, and that's not to say anything about Wade Davis, who gave everything he had just to get the Cubs to the NLCS.

The Cubs have now had a full day off to clear their heads, get back to center and find their mojo again.

I'm betting that's exactly what they've done, because this team has proved over and over again how resilient they are. I mean, really, a 2-0 deficit is nothing for a team that stared down a 3-1 deficit in the World Series a year ago.

In an effort to help jump-start the offense, Maddon has switched around the Cubs lineup for Game 3:

1. Ben Zobrist - 2B
2. Kyle Schwarber - LF
3. Kris Bryant - 3B
4. Anthony Rizzo - 1B
5. Willson Contreras - C
6. Jon Jay - CF
7. Addison Russell - SS
8. Jason Heyward - RF
9. Kyle Hendricks - P

Schwarber hitting second is how the Cubs won Games 6 and 7 of the World Series last year, though Zobrist was hitting fifth at the time. 

No Baez to start the game, as he's a bad matchup for Yu Darvish - who is tough on right-handers - and is in the midst of an 0-for-19 stretch to start the postseason.

Prediction

Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

The Cubs started out the two-game set in LA by having a few good at-bats against the game's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) before things got awful against the Dodgers bullpen.

But if we're talking about being "due," that Dodgers bullpen is due for a regression on some level. They've been absolutely incredible this postseason, allowing only one baserunner to the Cubs in eight innings thus far.

Breaking things down individually, there are positive signs for several guys:

—Kris Bryant struck out only three times in 8 at-bats in LA, which is actually an improvement considering he struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats in the NLDS.

—Addison Russell lined a homer to left off Rich Hill for the Cubs' only run in Game 2. He had some really good at-bats in Game 5 and the game's biggest hit when he doubled home two runs off Max Scherzer.

—Javy Baez walked in Game 2. I mean, if that's not enough of a reason for positivity, what is??

Either way, the Cubs offense has their hands full against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86 ERA) and Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 ERA) the next two games and if they win one of those two, Kershaw awaits in Game 5 Thursday.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

bryant-1016.jpg
USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.