Cubs

In this division, next Cubs GM will have a chance

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In this division, next Cubs GM will have a chance

Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011Posted: 8:45 p.m.

By PatrickMooney
CSNChicago.com CubsInsider Follow@CSNMooney
CINCINNATI - The Cubs don't have to compete with the Red Sox or Yankees, and that might make this job appealing to the next general manager.

The Cubs only have to be as good as the National League Central demands. That meant 83 wins for the 2006 Cardinals, enough to sneak into the playoffs and ultimately win a World Series title.

That also happens to be the last time an NL Central team won a postseason series. Since then, the last four division winners have been swept out of the playoffs in three games. (The 2008 Brewers, a wild-card team, managed to win one first-round game.)

Assuming the Brewers are spraying champagne sometime during the next several days, that means four different teams will have won the division in the past four years. There are no dynasties here.

The window closed hard and fast on the Cubs after that summer of 2008. They are paying the price for those big-money contracts, years of ownership instability and the perfect storm of injuries this season.

During the interviews, this will not be the time to highlight your background in statistical analysis. But if you take this job, you will believe that you will be the one to defy more than a century worth of history.

Fans are right to be skeptical. The Ricketts family hasn't built up much equity yet, and none of these projects are really beyond the planning phase.

But if you have enough imagination - or are willing to suspend disbelief - then you see new player-development facilities in Arizona and the Dominican Republic, a renovated Wrigley Field and a Cubs television network in the future.

Theo Epstein or not, this organization is obsessed with the Red Sox business model and could be positioned to be the next economic superpower. They should have more resources than anyone else in the Midwest.

Cubs pitcher Randy Wells glanced at the American League East standings. The Blue Jays are having a pretty good year, building toward something. They still woke up on Tuesday at 74-73 - in fourth place, 15.5 games out in a brutal division.

"You never know what kind of moves are going to impact you and which way (they're going to go)," Wells said. "It's kind of a crapshoot. Whoever the new GM is (will) be determined to put together the best team possible.

"(But) the Giants proved last year (that) no matter what you got on paper, it's just the right team (that) gets hot at the right time. (When) guys pull together, I think any team can win it. ... I don't see why we can't be one of those teams."

When Wells talks about adding a few pieces and getting guys on the same page, he echoes what the clubhouse thinks, the plan Jim Hendry probably would have followed this winter.

"(It's) the right state of mind, the right mentality we want to play (with)," Matt Garza said. "It's getting there. (It's) gonna turn. It might not turn this year, but if we can finish strong and finish on a high note, it's always a great step toward spring, especially for the young guys."

Garza, who will be a huge building block on the North Side, was part of the Tampa Bay team that went to the 2008 World Series a year after losing 96 games. If you needed a reminder of how quickly things change, you could look around Tuesday night at all the empty seats at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds were last year's feel-good story. Now the defending division champs are just another sub-.500 team playing out the string.

Mike Quade got a lot of bad publicity for his "I'm not a lunatic" declaration this summer that the Cubs were still in the race. Even some in the organization snickered. But the manager still believes this will be a winnable division in 2012.

"Yeah, absolutely it is," Quade said. "(The Reds) still got good young talent. ... St. Louis is still hanging around and people better not put them away yet. But I think right now if everything stays intact, (it's) the Milwaukee club, because they've added the pitching, (which) has made a huge impression. And where were they a year or two ago?

"So there's always reason to believe (that) if you put the right things together, improve in the areas you need to, (then) you can compete."

With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder poised to become free agents, and the Cubs hoping to land some hotshot executive, the Central landscape could change dramatically.

But if Tom Ricketts gets this hire wrong, then the scouting and player-development infrastructure Hendry built could crumble. This organization could be set back for years to come, and starting all over again later this decade.

It's a risk the chairman's willing to take. The rest of the division will be rooting against the Cubs.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

The Cubs are so good on defense, they even elicited an emotional reaction from Kyle Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks never shows emotion on the mound.

Never.

That's what made his simple gesture — mouthing the word "wow" — during Thursday night's 1-0 win over the Brewers so intriguing.

Albert Almora Jr. had just made a nice running catch on the warning track in dead center in the top of the sixth inning, yet another highlight-reel play from the young outfielder.

Hendricks thought it was an extra-base hit for Brewers leadoff hitter Lorenzo Cain, but Almora turned it into Out No. 2 in the inning.

"I see the ball hit, I'm just hoping to keep it to a double at that point," Hendricks said. "And then when he reaches his glove up and catches it, yeah, it's an instant reaction. 

"You're not expecting that at all. I think I mouthed that over to [Tommy] La Stella at third base; he said the same thing. It was a hell of a catch. That's what he's been doing lately. It's fun to watch him out there."

Hendricks pitches so devoid of any emotion, he's even poked fun at himself by using Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" as his walk-up song.

His Cubs teammates — including Kyle Schwarber Thursday night — describe Hendricks as pitching with "no pulse out there." If you just watched his reactions and body language, you wouldn't know if he's throwing a no-hitter or getting shelled.

Hendricks also works quickly, always keeping his defense on his toes. He struck out only 5 batters in 7 shutout innings Thursday, so he needed to rely on his defense a bunch.

It wasn't just Almora that stepped up behind Hendricks. Javy Baez made a spectacular leaping grab and also turned a lightning-quick double play to get the Cubs out of a jam. And Anthony Rizzo did his usual work with a couple of nice plays the night after committing his first error in more than a calendar year (a Cubs record). 

Schwarber — who provided the only offense of the game with a lined shot into the Budweiser patio in right field — loves standing in left field and watching his teammates play defense.

"Everybody's talking about Almora," Schwarber said. "I saw that in High-A, the way that he goes after balls and he's able to get there. 

"It's just a lot of fun to watch him go out there and make those catches. And obviously Javy out there, too, just Javy being Javy."

The Cubs don't appear to be on a trajectory toward following in the footsteps of the 2016 team that played defense at a historic level, but they also proved in the series opener with the Brewers that they can still win with pitching and defense.

With the starting rotation looking more like themselves and the weather conditions getting back to normal, the defense can once again settle in as a strength of this team.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 6th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa once again terrorized the Padres for his sixth homer of 1998, coming as his last blast in the month of April.

Slammin' Sammy went deep in the first inning, a two-run shot off San Diego starter Joey Hamilton for 434 feet, his longest shot of the campaign to date. It staked the Cubs to an early lead they did not relinquish in a 3-1 victory.

Six down, 60 to go.

It's crazy to see how slow of a start Sosa got to a record-setting season, but I guess 20 homers in one month will get you back on track pretty quickly.

Fun fact: Kevin Tapani shut down a Padres lineup that included Tony Gwynn, Steve Finley, Ken Caminiti and Greg Vaughn, holding San Diego to just one run in 8 innings. Rod Beck picked up his 8th save on the year.

Fun fact 2: The game took just over two hours (2:06) to complete, as both starting pitchers worked quickly and efficiently and each team made just one pitching change apiece.