Cubs

Cubs won't back off Carl Edwards Jr. as he searches for 'that loving feeling'

carl_edwards_jr_searching_for_that_loving_feeling_slide.jpg
AP

Cubs won't back off Carl Edwards Jr. as he searches for 'that loving feeling'

Joe Maddon called his shot before Friday's game, all but telegraphing that he intended to go right back to Carl Edwards Jr. that afternoon against the Nationals.

That's exactly how it played out, too, as Edwards came on in the eighth inning of the Cubs' 4-2 loss to Washington Friday and proceeded to load the bases with nobody out.

Edwards walked a pair of batters Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, getting the hook from Maddon after only those two hitters.

Maddon went right back to his young flamethrower Friday, who began the inning by walking Howie Kendrick before giving up soft singles to Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy and creating another Danger Zone for the Cubs.

But Maddon stayed put in the third-base dugout this time and Edwards wound up getting out of the inning with only one run allowed, on a sacrifice fly from Anthony Rendon to right field.

That's exactly the spot Edwards typically works — late innings, high-leverage against the other team's heart of the order. In this specific case, Maddon couldn't turn to southpaws Justin Wilson, Brian Duensing or Mike Montgomery given their recent usage and he did not want to put newly-promoted Rob Zastryzny into the game in that spot.

It was Edwards or bust.

"I wanted to [get him back out there], but that was still a good spot for him," Maddon said. "I wasn't forcing it. I kinda liked it. We were down by a run. That part of the batting order is the kind that he normally gets to pitch against, so it's really just not trying to pitch [Pedro] Strop and [Hector] Rondon again. 

"It really wasn't a Rob Z slot. The leadoff walk got him again, otherwise he actually threw the ball extremely well."

The Harper and Murphy hits came off the bat at 84.6 mph and 79.8 mph, respectively, so it's not like Edwards was getting rocked. 

But that now makes 13 walks in the last 11 innings for Edwards, even though he's only allowed five hits in that span. The 25-year-old has dished out 29 free passes in 44 innings this year and saw his season ERA climb above 3.00 Friday for the first time this season.

"Command issues," Maddon said. "Looks like a lot of pulling away from righties. And that's what seems to get him in trouble. Pulled and elevated today.

"...By no means is it an overworked issue. It's a self-confidence issue. I don't want to keep putting him out there [to fail]. This guy's good. He's one of the best young relief pitchers in the National League, so you gotta keep putting him out there until he gets that loving feeling back."

Edwards remains among the toughest pitchers in baseball to square up for hitters, as the average exit velocity off his pitches sits at 82.5 mph, just slightly above Andrew Miller (81 mph), one of the top relievers in the game today who emerged as a dynamic force in the playoffs last fall with the Cleveland Indians.

Even with the rough outings of late, Edwards still has a 3.07 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 63 strikeouts in 44 innings.

When he came out to the mound to pull Edwards Thursday against Arizona, Maddon admitted he didn't know where the ball was going to go at that point and wanted to ensure incoming reliever Justin Wilson wouldn't have to pitch with the bases loaded. (Though that ended up happening anyway as Wilson gave up a hit to the first batter he faced.)

But Maddon also said there would be other situations where Edwards would get the opportunity to pitch out of the mess he caused.

Like Friday, for example.

"I still have all the faith in the world in the guy," Maddon said. "...It's just about the walk with him. I think we can get around or beyond that because his stuff is still outstanding. I have not lost confidence.

"I don't have a solid answer [for the control issues]. He's been missing the plate; I agree. It seems like he's been away, away from the right-hander primarily. So we'll just try to figure out different ways to get him back in the zone. But talent-wise, he's fine."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

andre_dawson.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Andre Dawson talks about his Cubs reunion

Carmen DeFalco (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Bernfield join Kap on the panel. Anthony Rizzo returns to the Cubs after an emotional weekend home while Tom Ricketts expects another World Series parade. Plus Hall of Famer Andre Dawson joins Kap to talk about his Cubs reunion and how the current crop unsigned free agents compares to his experiences with collusion. 

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

0218-tom-ricketts-joe-maddon.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.