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Cubs battle back, but Mets walk off with victory

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Cubs battle back, but Mets walk off with victory

Friday, Sept. 9, 2011Posted: 10:20 p.m. Updated: 11:00 p.m.

Associated Press

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NEW YORK (AP) By the time the boos had faded, the New York Mets were already mounting the winning rally.Justin Turner doubled in the decisive run with two outs in the ninth inning and New York beat the Chicago Cubs 5-4 on Friday night moments after blowing a one-run lead.A scrappy rookie who has proven reliable in clutch situations, Turner recalled that his other game-ending RBI this season came when he was hit by a pitch."Yeah, this one definitely felt better," he said.Turner also had a tiebreaking double in the fifth and finished with three hits. Jason Bay doubled twice and threw out a runner at the plate for New York in the opener of a weekend series that culminates Sunday night with a pregame ceremony to mark the 10-year anniversary of 911.The Mets are offering free tickets to New York City first responders and their families for that game.Earlier on Friday, several current and former Mets visited New York City firehouses - from David Wright and Bobby Parnell to Mike Piazza, Edgardo Alfonzo, Robin Ventura and John Olerud.Wright and Bay each had an RBI to help the Mets overcome an early 3-0 deficit for their 11th victory in 16 games. Mike Pelfrey recovered from a rocky start as New York evened the all-time series against the Cubs at 345-345 with two ties."Regardless of where you're at, those are always exciting," Bay said about walk-off wins. "And you could see by the way we run out there and try to beat up whoever does it."Late in a lost season, the Mets are trying to groom a potential closer for the future. Parnell has failed to grab hold of the role, however, and Manny Acosta (3-1) couldn't put this one away.Acosta, who saved a 1-0 win Wednesday at Florida, gave up a tying single to new father Darwin Barney with two outs in the top of the ninth. Aramis Ramirez flied out to end the inning, but the crowd of 27,639 let Acosta hear it.His teammates responded right away.Nick Evans singled off Sean Marshall (6-6) to open the bottom half and pinch-runner Jason Pridie advanced on Josh Thole's sacrifice. After pinch-hitter Ruben Tejada hit a soft liner for an out, Jose Reyes was intentionally walked.Turner hit a long drive to center over the head of Marlon Byrd, who was playing shallow. The ball bounced on the warning track and over the fence - it was initially ruled a single, then changed to a ground-rule double."Just kind of hung that curveball down the middle and Turner put a good swing on it," Marshall said. "The ball stayed in the air for a while, the ball kind of carried and that was it."Turner touched second and was swarmed by excited teammates. Then he was pelted in the face with a cream pie during a TV interview on the field."Of all the guys on the team, he probably has the most disciplined swing in those situations," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He just wants to put the bat on the ball. He doesn't care where it goes."Carlos Pena extended his power surge with a long two-run homer for Chicago, which has lost 12 of 18. Bryan LaHair had an RBI triple before he was thrown out by Bay at the plate on pitcher Casey Coleman's fly to left.Reyes, trying to hold off Milwaukee's Ryan Braun for the NL batting title, blooped a ground-rule double in the fifth and scored on Turner's soft double to put the Mets up 4-3. Reyes has hit safely in all 12 games since returning from the disabled list.Pelfrey caught a break in the seventh when pinch-hitter Blake DeWitt hit a one-out grounder that appeared headed into right field for a single that could have put runners at the corners. But the ball bounced up and hit pinch-runner Tony Campana for the second out.After Castro was hit by a pitch, Josh Stinson retired Barney on a flyball to end the inning."We battled it all the way to the end and we gave ourselves a shot," Pena said. "We had one of our best on the mound and they beat us. That's the only way to look at it."Pelfrey loaded the bases with one out in the first, prompting a visit from pitching coach Dan Warthen. The big right-hander then struck out Alfonso Soriano and got Byrd on a liner to shortstop to escape unscathed after 29 pitches.NOTES:
Mets ace Johan Santana, sidelined all season following shoulder surgery, tossed three innings in a rehab start with Class-A Savannah in a South Atlantic League playoff game. He gave up two hits and an unearned run, with one walk and one strikeout. The left-hander threw 39 pitches, 27 for strikes. Next, the Mets hope Santana recovers well enough to pitch again in five days - either in another minor league playoff game or a simulated or instructional league game. "I'm not looking for results. I'm not looking for velocity," Collins said. "I'm looking to see how he comes out of this tomorrow." ... Barney rejoined the team in time for batting practice. He flew in from Oregon following the birth Wednesday of his daughter, Zoey Jane Leilani. ... RHP Randy Wells (7-4) tries to extend his career-best five-game winning streak when he starts Saturday for Chicago against LHP Chris Capuano (10-12), who is 8-3 against the Cubs.

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

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

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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.