Cubs

Cubs not counting out the 2012 season

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Cubs not counting out the 2012 season

Paul Maholm spent his entire career with the Pirates up until this week, so he knows a thing or two about losing.

But when when he was asked Friday at the Cubs Convention how it felt to go from one struggling franchise to another, he was quick to answer.

"No guarantee on the struggling part," Maholm said of the Cubs' 2012 prospects. "Last year, everybody expected us to lose more than 110 games and we played well in Pittsburgh. It takes 25 guys-plus to come together and play hard and expect to win. From Theo down, we're expecting to do that this year."

Maholm is the newest Cub, but he's preaching the same sentiment as long-tenured veterans.

"We're all tied for first right now. It's our job not to lose it," Ryan Dempster said.

"You may be surprised," catcher Geovany Soto said. "You could see a great team with great chemistry winning ball games. Everybody could be surprised here in August. You never know, that's why you have to come prepared."

To a man, the Cubs are positive. They believe they can conted in 2012.

But what else would they say? Why would they agree that the upcoming season could produce 90-100 losses?

"We'll never tell you that because we don't believe in that," newcomer Ian Stewart said. "We feel like we're going to come out and win games. The goal every game is to come out and win, not just to see how good you can do.

"There's been a lot of teams that have started the season with question marks that have gone on to be good teams, so there's no reason we can't do that here."

And that's the right attitude to have, obviously. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer wouldn't have brought in guys who are content with losing.

But Epstein and Hoyer have also done a good job dismantling the roster.

Last season, the Cubs struggled to a 71-91 record and a fifth place finish in the NL Central.

Gone from that lineup are Aramis Ramirez (26 homers, 93 RBIs, .306 AVG) and Carlos Pena (28 homers, 80 RBIs). Pitchers Sean Marshall, arguably the game's best reliever, Carlos Zambrano and young up-and-comer Andrew Cashner were all dealt and staff ace Matt Garza may very well be next.

Of course, the Cubs have added pieces, but not all -- like Anthony Rizzo -- are expected to have an impact on Opening Day. The ones that will may not be difference-makers. Theo and Hoyer have yet to make a big splash this offseason and one doesn't figure to be coming soon.

It wouldn't be hard to see the 2012 Cubs finish with a worse record than in '11. But the Cubs' Achilles' heel last year was a lack of rotation depth and effectiveness, and Epstein believes that weakness has turned into a strength.

"In baseball, anything can happen," Epstein said. "We might not have the most talent in the division, but I know we're going to play hard and I know we have young players with upside. We have a lot of players entering their prime. When you have that, you can surprise a little bit.

"If we stay healthy and one or two or three or four of the players that we have actually take a big developmental step forward, I think you might look up and be surprised in the middle of the summer. Especially with the depth of the starting pitching we have now.

"We have one advantage over some of the opponents we might face in that we can withstand an injury or two and still throw a very reputable starting pitcher out there every day. If our opponents can't in the division because of injuries or attrition or poor performance, then we might surprise some people."

Pitchers and catchers report to spring training in roughly a month. We'll see then if this is all talk or not.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Sitting down with new Cubs coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey

Spring training baseball games are up around the bend, but before the boys of summer get into organized action, two of the team’s new coaches Chili Davis and Jim Hickey sit down with Kelly Crull.

Plus, Vinnie Duber joins Kelly to discuss these baseball conversations including the memorable first words of Kyle Schwarber to Chili Davis, “I don’t suck!"

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

Changes aren't exactly popular, but Cubs and Sox — except maybe Willson Contreras — will adapt to baseball's new pace-of-play rules

MESA, Ariz. — We know Willson Contreras doesn’t like baseball’s new pace-of-play rules.

He isn’t the only one.

“I think it’s a terrible idea. I think it’s all terrible,” Jon Lester said last week at spring training, before the specifics of the new rules were even announced. “The beautiful thing about our sport is there’s no time.”

Big surprise coming from the Cubs’ resident old-schooler.

The new rules limit teams to six mound visits per every nine-inning game, with exceptions for pitching changes, between batters, injuries and after the announcement of a pinch hitter. Teams get an extra mound visit for every extra inning in extra-inning games. Also, commercial breaks between innings have been cut by 20 seconds.

That’s it. But it’s caused a bit of an uproar.

Contreras made headlines Tuesday when he told reporters that he’ll willingly break those rules if he needs to in order to put his team in a better position to win.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If I have to pay the price for my team, I will,” Contreras said. “There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? … You have to go out there. They cannot say anything about that. It’s my team, and we just care about winning. And if they’re going to fine me about the No. 7 mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”

Talking about pace-of-play rule changes last week, Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his team would adapt to any new rules. In Chicago baseball’s other Arizona camp, a similar tune of adaptation was being sung.

“Obviously as players we’ve got to make adjustments to whatever rules they want to implement,” White Sox pitcher James Shields said. “This is a game of adjustments, we’re going to have to make adjustments as we go. We’re going to have to figure out logistics of the thing, and I would imagine in spring training we’re going to be talking about it more and more as we go so we don’t mess it up.”

There was general consensus that mound visits are a valuable thing. So what happens if a pitcher and catcher need to communicate but are forced to do it from 60 feet, six inches away?

“Sign language,” White Sox catching prospect Zack Collins joked. “I guess you have to just get on the same page in the dugout and hope that nothing goes wrong if you’re out of visits.”

In the end, here’s the question that needs answering: Are baseball games really too long?

On one hand, as Lester argued, you know what you’re signing up for when you watch a baseball game, be it in the stands at a ballpark or on TV. No one should be shocked when a game rolls on for more than three hours.

But shock and fans' levels of commitment or just pure apathy are two different things. And sometimes it’s a tough ask for fans to dedicate four hours of their day 162 times a year. So there’s a very good reason baseball is trying to make the game go faster, to keep people from leaving the stands or flipping the TV to another channel.

Unsurprisingly, Lester would rather keep things the way they are.

“To be honest with you, the fans know what they’re getting themselves into when they go to a game,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a three-hour game. You may have a game that’s two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. Great, awesome. You may have a game that’s four hours. That’s the beautiful part of it.

“I get the mound visit thing. But what people that aren’t in the game don’t understand is that there’s so much technology in the game, there’s so many cameras on the field, that every stadium now has a camera on the catcher’s crotch. So they know signs before you even get there. Now we’ve got Apple Watches, now we’ve got people being accused of sitting in a tunnel (stealing signs). So there’s reasons behind the mound visit. He’s not just coming out there asking what time I’m going to dinner or, ‘Hey, how you feeling?’ There’s reasons behind everything, and I think if you take those away, it takes away the beauty of the baseball game.

“Every game has a flow, and I feel like that’s what makes it special. If you want to go to a timed event, go to a timed event. I’m sorry I’m old-school about it, but baseball’s been played the same way for a long time. And now we’re trying to add time to it. We’re missing something somewhere.”

Whether limiting the number of mound visits creates a significant dent in this problem remains to be seen. But excuse the players if they’re skeptical.

“We’ve got instant replay, we’ve got all kinds of different stuff going on. I don’t think (limiting) the mound visits are going to be the key factor to speeding this game up,” Shields said. “Some pitchers take too long, and some hitters take too long. It’s combination of a bunch of stuff.

“I know they’re trying to speed the game up a little bit. I think overall, the game’s going as fast as it possibly could. You’ve got commercials and things like that. TV has a lot to do with it. There’s a bunch of different combinations of things. But as a player, we’ve got to make an adjustment.”