Cubs

Cubs may have lined up Wade Davis’ replacement with Justin Wilson move

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USA TODAY

Cubs may have lined up Wade Davis’ replacement with Justin Wilson move

The Detroit Tigers kept Justin Wilson in the loop enough that he brought two suitcases for the team’s Sunday night flight to New York, where he had dinner with his representatives from ACES and learned that trade talks with the Cubs were heating up.

Wilson flew back to Detroit on Monday morning, checked in with his family and picked up his car to drive to Chicago, where he will loom as another late-game weapon out of Joe Maddon’s bullpen and audition to be next year’s closer.

“Obviously, he’s done it before,” Maddon said. “We’ll probably cross that bridge when we get to it. Yes, one eye’s on the present, and one eye’s been on the future. What a great way to do business. To be able to fulfill needs with that kind of a quality player – with those contract benefits – that’s what our guys do.”

This is how Theo Epstein’s front office operates: The Cubs once used a Rule 5 pick to coach up and develop a 30-save closer during the rebuilding years. Hector Rondon got bumped out of the ninth inning last summer when Epstein saw Aroldis Chapman as the missing piece to the World Series puzzle and sacrificed elite prospect Gleyber Torres in a blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees.

The Cubs viewed Chapman only as a rental, rated Jorge Soler as a diminishing asset and flipped the inconsistent outfielder to the Kansas City Royals at the winter meetings for one full season of Wade Davis.

Davis is now positioned to hit the free-agent market after a record-setting winter for closers – the Yankees gave Chapman five years and $86 million guaranteed – and an All-Star season where so far he’s been healthy, perfect in save situations (22-for-22) and a good influence on the rest of the bullpen.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate to get into that now,” Epstein said. “We hope every good player we have now is back. But that’s a discussion for another day.”

For now, Wilson is another left-handed option who allows Maddon to unleash Carl Edwards Jr. earlier in the game, pick his spots with Pedro Strop and rest Davis when necessary. Wilson is making $2.7 million this season and has one more year in the arbitration system before he can become a free agent. Saving 13 games for the Tigers – while putting up a 2.68 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 40.1 innings – enhanced Wilson’s marketability.   

“Obviously, he’s shown this year especially that he has the ability to do that,” Epstein said. “It’s nice to have a number of options to close games now on the days that Wade is down, hopefully from having saved three in a row.”

All that matters to Wilson now is going from a team that was nine games under .500 to the defending World Series champs.

“I just want to pitch – it doesn’t really matter when to me,” Wilson said. “I don’t anticipate anything. I pitch when my name’s called.”

'The better team won': Cubs had plenty of problems, but Dodgers' championship formula should look familiar to Cubs fans

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USA TODAY

'The better team won': Cubs had plenty of problems, but Dodgers' championship formula should look familiar to Cubs fans

For the second year in a row, the National League champs celebrated a pennant at Wrigley Field.

A dominating, 100-win club that had the championship formula of elite starting pitching, a lights-out closer and a fearsome lineup lifted a trophy Thursday night on the North Side and look destined to lift another before this postseason is over.

Sound familiar, Cubs fans?

The Cubs’ quest to repeat as World Series champs ended Thursday, and instead the Los Angeles Dodgers got to party, getting their revenge after the Cubs eliminated them here last October.

The next few months’ worth of conversation in Wrigleyville will center — and not inappropriately so — on the Cubs’ shortcomings this postseason. They couldn’t hit. The bullpen was woefully unreliable. And the starting pitching, particularly Jose Quintana in a two-inning, seven-run outing in Game 5, was not what it was last fall.

But if you hear that laundry list of offenses over the course of the next few days, weeks and months, remember to give some credit where credit is due, because these Dodgers look a lot like last year’s Cubs.

“The better team won over the course of these five games,” Joe Maddon said after his team’s season came to a close. “They played really well. They kind of out-pitched us and everything else. So give them credit.

“You know what it feels like coming off of last year, we were celebrating versus them in this exact same spot. So they've had themselves a spectacular year.”

The Dodgers have the elite starting pitching, as evidenced throughout this series and most specifically in two of the three games here on the North Side, where Yu Darvish (Game 3) and Clayton Kershaw (Game 5) showed why they’re two of the top pitchers in the game.

Thursday night, Kershaw did what he couldn’t do to the Cubs last October, stifling that slumping lineup with six innings of one-run ball, the only run surrendered (and just one of the three hits surrendered) a meaningless Kris Bryant home run with the Cubs down 9-0.

Altogether, Dodger pitching posted a jaw-dropping 1.64 ERA in this series. Starting pitchers were the only ones to give up runs, and they gave up just eight of them in 27 innings. The four starters’ ERA was a fantastic 2.67.

And so there’s another part of the Dodgers’ championship combination: that stellar bullpen. The Cubs got just two hits and no runs against the relief corps in the entire five-game series. In 17 shutout innings, the Dodger bullpen was pretty much unhittable.

No one shone more than Kenley Jansen, who faced 13 batters and recorded 13 outs. Cubs fans will remember how big a weapon Aroldis Chapman was out of last year’s bullpen. Well Jansen is just as incredible — and just as meaningful to this postseason run.

Now obviously the Cubs’ hitting woes weren’t exclusively the result of facing Dodger pitching. They carried over from the NLDS — another series featuring some sensational pitching from the opposition — and without the mega-slumps of Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Ben Zobrist and practically everyone else to swing a bat for the Cubs, things would have been incredibly different. But there’s something to shutting down a lineup with superior pitching, and that’s what the Dodgers did.

And then there’s the Dodgers’ offense, which has its own Bryzzo in Chris Taylor and Justin Turner, who were named the NLCS co-MVPs after combining to go 12-for-37 with four homers, 10 RBIs and eight runs scored in five games. Cody Bellinger and Yasiel Puig are mighty good hitters. And then there’s what Enrique Hernandez did Thursday night: three homers and seven RBIs in the 11-1 mauling.

That’s a fearsome lineup, and while Quintana should’ve gone longer than two-plus innings, you can’t entirely blame Cubs pitching for not being able to quiet these guys over the past four games. Moments like John Lackey giving up that walk-off homer to Turner in Game 2 will live in infamy in the collective memory of Cubs fans, but the guy’s an MVP candidate. Seeing him do something like that isn’t unexpected.

“Sometimes in our game,” Maddon said before Game 5, “there is more of an attempt to vilify as opposed to glorify. In other words, when Turner hits a home run, it's because Turner is good, not because the pitcher is bad or wrong. So I think it's been shifting in a sense that people want to blame somebody as opposed to giving somebody credit. I see a lot of that.”

So yes, there’s no doubting that the Cubs had their problems — big ones — during the 10 postseason games they played this month. And those problems will have huge effects on the offseason and how Theo Epstein & Co. construct the 2018 edition of this team.

But sometimes, as Cubs fans well know from last season’s championship run, there’s one of those teams that has that magic formula. The Cubs were that team in 2016. The Dodgers seem to fit that bill now.

In other words, the better team won.

Closing the book on 2017: 5 things we learned from this Cubs postseason

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USA TODAY

Closing the book on 2017: 5 things we learned from this Cubs postseason

Hey, there's always last year.

The Cubs' 2017 season is now over, by virtue of an 11-1 drubbing at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers Thursday night at a shell-shocked Wrigley Field.

The Cubs are not going to enter their name into the history books (for any good reason, anyways. Their postseason batting average on the other hand...)

Wednesday's nail-biting win over the Dodgers was something of a last tribute to the ever-loyal fanbase and not actually the beginning of a comeback from down 0-3 in the NLCS.

There will be plenty of time — all winter, actually — to digest this Cubs season, but here are five quick takeaways entering the offseason:

The bullpen is the No. 1 area of need.

That's obvious to anybody who's watched any Cubs game this postseason.

The only reliever Maddon truly trusted all October was Wade Davis, and he even he finished with a 4.26 ERA and 1.72 WHIP.

Pedro Strop and Brian Duensing flew under the radar with an overall solid body of work this postseason. Strop will be back next year, but Duensing is a free agent and was one of the best bargains in baseball at a $2 million salary for 2017.

Davis is also a free agent and Carl Edwards Jr. certainly doesn't look to be ascending into that closer's role anytime soon. The Cubs thought they were getting a guy who could close in 2018 when they acquired Justin Wilson at the trade deadline, but the lefty wasn't even active for the NLCS.

Shoring up the bullpen will be the primary concern for Theo Epstein's front office this winter, especially with how important relievers have become in October the last few falls.

Hangovers are real.

The Cubs have shown signs of having a World Series hangover the entirety of 2017 — mentally, physically, emotionally.

The first half of the season proved that, but the Cubs have not been the same team with a relentless lineup this entire postseason. They topped three runs in only one of 10 postseason games, and in that one (Game 5), they took advantage more of Washington's mistakes rather than hitting the crap out of the ball.

The Cubs just looked out of gas in the NLCS, which is understandable. They've played more baseball than any other team (by a sizable margin) the last three seasons, playing into November last year. Throw in all the national TV appearances and street dedications and all that jazz and the winter was amazingly short for Joe Maddon and Co.

But even looking just at this fall, the Cubs never quite recovered from the hangover of that epic Game 5 in the NLDS. They left so much on that field in Washington D.C. and never found their rhythm again after.

The Cubs have an amazing library of resiliency to draw confidence from.

As if Game 7 and the 2016 postseason run wasn't enough, this Cubs core found so many more reasons for confidence this October.

So they were being no-hit by a Cy Young finalist in the latter innings of a game. They could still pull off a victory, which they did twice in the NLDS.

So they had their backs against the wall in both the NLDS and NLCS. They responded with wins in their first two elimination games of the postseason.

That NLDS finale alone will be something they can draw on for the rest of their careers, much like Game 7 of the 2016 World Series.

The Cubs' lineup needs more.

Epstein's front office has invested so much in young hitting over the last few years, but this was not a banner month for those guys.

Bryzzo Souvenir Co. had a particularly rough showing, with Kris Bryant's only postseason homer coming when his team was already down 9-0 in an elimination game against the Dodgers.

Anthony Rizzo yelled "RESPECT ME!" after a bloop basehit against the Nationals in Game 3 of the NLDS and went hitless in his next 16 at-bats right after that.

And when Bryzzo doesn't hit, this lineup looks a whole lot different. That same thing can be said about any team in baseball if you take the two best hitters out of the equation, but given the youth of the Cubs offense, they needed their MVP candidates.

But this October also proved how necessary a leadoff hitter is for the team, shining even more light on the absence of Dexter Fowler.

Ben Zobrist had a forgettable 2017 season from start to finish and wound up hitless in the NLCS and with just a .160 batting average this postseason. This is a guy who spent all of last October protecting Bryzzo in the lineup and winning World Series MVP honors.

The Cubs struck out 105 times in 10 postseason games while hitting just nine homers (most of which were of the solo variety). 

The offense's undoing also put more pressure on the pitching staff — and bullpen in general — all postseason.

The Cubs lineup may look a bit different in 2018 with guys like Albert Almora Jr. and Ian Happ possibly playing more.

But Zobrist is still under contract and will be 37. Jason Heyward (and his .108 postseason batting average in a Cubs uniform) hasn't provided the offensive production in October the Cubs hoped for when they inked him to a $184 million deal (though he gives one hell of a speech and is a great presence in the clubhouse and in the outfield).

It'll be interesting to see what the Cubs do to address the leadoff position this winter, but other than that, almost the entire crew will be back.

And keep in mind: This is a small sample size that just so happened to come at the wrong time for the Cubs. There's also the fact they went up against elite pitcher after elite pitcher this October, but such is life in the postseason.

Last fall was filled with clutch, timely hits from guys like Addison Russell, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras and all three of those guys didn't have the same impact this year.

This truly is the golden era of Cubs baseball.

Len Kasper summed up this season perfectly as the calendar flipped to October:

It really is a great time to be a Cubs fan, even if they aren't getting a shot to take home a second straight championship.

All the postseason statistical leaders in franchise history play on this team right now.

Consider: 

—The top five spots on the most RBI in Cubs postseason history are Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber.

—Jake Arrieta has the most wins (5) in Cubs postseason history.

—Arrieta, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks are 1-2-3 in Cubs postseason strikeout history.

—Bryant and Rizzo lead the franchise in postseason hits while Baez is tied for fourth.

After so many years of losing, this team not only ended the 108-year title drought but also made it to the NLCS for three straight seasons. That's a remarkable stretch of success that doesn't figure to end anytime soon with how much of the core is back for 2018 and beyond.

If you told Cubs fans five years ago they would be one of the last four teams left alive in Major League Baseball for three straight seasons and have a World Series championship in that span, every single fan would sell their soul for that chance.

Regardless of how it ended, the 2017 Cubs season was an overwhelming, smashing success.