Cubs

Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

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Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

It wasnt all Ryan Dempster that helped the Cubs to a 4-1 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Throwing six shutout innings sure helped. But so did some rare two-out clutch hitting, strong defense, and steady nerves.
Dempster (5-3) extended his shutout streak to 33 innings as the Cubs clinched a series victory with their second straight win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Luis Valbuena had two hits, an RBI and scored a run to lead the offense.
The Cubs extended their season-high home winning streak to five games, moving above the .500 mark at Wrigley for the first time since they were 6-5 on April 23.
Dempster, the constant subject of swirling trade talks, worked six innings, allowing four hits and three walks with five strikeouts in his second start since returning from a disabled-list stint. His scoreless inning pitched streak is the longest for a Cubs starter since Ken Holtzman also went 33 innings in 1969.
Its pretty crazy, said Dempster, whose previous career high shutout streak was 30 innings, which he did as a reliever. As a reliever when you do something like that, it seems a little more realistic because youre going out there one inning at a time. To go out there start after start and not give up any runs is pretty humbling. Im just trying to get outs and win ballgames.
Dempster allowed runners on base in every inning but this last, yet no Arizona runner reached third base against him. That in large part came from the defense, which turned two double plays for Dempster and another for closer Carlos Marmol to end the game.
Rookie Anthony Rizzo started two of them, and also made a nice unassisted play on a hard ground ball to get the Cubs and Dempster out of third-inning trouble.
The Cubs have turned at least one double play in nine consecutive games, their longest stretch in a single season since 1994.
Every one of our players is playing as good as he can defensively right now, from the guys on the bench to the everyday guys, manager Dale Sveum said. Defensively its -- knock on wood -- about as good as it can get right now.
Chicago built a 4-0 lead with a two-run fourth and single runs in the third and sixth. The runs in the fourth came from consecutive two-out hits with runners in scoring position, a a rarity this year for the Cubs.
After Alphonso Soriano led off with a single and moved to second a wild pitch, Darwin Barney scored Soriano with a double into the left-field corner. Barney then scored on a hard single to center by Valbuena, who scored the games first run in the third.
The Cubs entered the game hitting .209 with two outs and runners in scoring position, good for 11th in the National League. They were 15th in RBI in those situations with 80.
Weve been working hard all year to give our pitchers some support, especially a guy like Demp, Barney said. Early we struggled to get him some runs, so it feels good to get him a little bit. Right now he just needs one. Just get him one and youre feeling pretty good about yourselves.
Leading 3-0 in the sixth, the Cubs tacked on an unearned run when Jeff Baker scored after reaching on a two-base throwing error from Stephen Drew.
In Dempsters only perfect inning, he retired the Diamondbacks in order, striking out Justin Upton and Miguel Montero before Paul Goldschmidt popped out to Barney at second.
The Diamondbacks didnt score until Chris Young hit a one-out home run off James Russell, who pitched the seventh in relief of Dempster.
Marmol earned his ninth save, and his eighth consecutive, in a scary final inning. After Drew doubled to right-center to start the inning, Marmol walked Young. Geoff Blum then hit a deep fly ball to right, but Reed Johnson made the catch crashing into the wall.
Pinch-hitter Jason Kubel then grounded into the game-ending double play, which was started by Rizzo.
The double plays all came at the right time, Sveum said. That one at the end was real good. Rizzo didnt panic or anything. He gave Castro a perfect feed so where he could get off a strong throw, too.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.