Cubs

Epstein, Krause have similarities

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Epstein, Krause have similarities

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

All of this Theo-mania got me thinking about former Bulls general manager Jerry Krause. Was I over-serving myself, along with the giggly Cubs faithful at the bar? Not this time! All of this excitement over the makeup of a front office struck me as ironic in that how far weve come.

For most of my lifetime, the front office of any team was regarded much like any on-field official or kicker: we only noticed them when they screwed up. For fans the off-field face was the coach. When the Kool-aid drinking faithful fondly recall the 85 Bears, they dont regale me with the exploits of Jim Finks and Jerry Vainisi, its all about 'Da Coach.'

The importance, or at least the perception of the men in suits came to a head in bar conversations, 'Get it?!' When the on-going feud between Krause and his star player, Michael Jordan, reached epic proportions because of Krauses infamous organizations win championships comment. Jordan took great offense to the remark and his immense fandom went along with him. Players win championships! Krauses surly demeanor and unflattering appearance only added to the piling on. How dare he belittle M. J. like that?

It reminds me of the perception of the Nixon-Kennedy debates where we first became aware of the fact, in this TV age, that appearance could have an effect on the perception of substance. I have to admit, at the time, I was fond for pointing out that if you spotted me the best player on the planet, even a red-bow-tie wearing bartender could have built a championship team, thus was Jordans greatness and my fans disdain for Krause. Over time though, those of us who looked deeper, have a different opinion. This is especially true when you take into account what Krause says is the original comment, not the Jordan interpretation: Players and coaches alone dont win championships, organizations win championships.

That statement has proven time and time again to have validity, irregardless of having a singular, other-worldly talent. Much of this perspective is gained in the 247 sports news cycle we live in. There is not any angle of how any organization is run that is not fully inspected in public discourse. While we still reserve most of our adoration for those who have accomplished their greatness on the field, there has become a greater appreciation for, and attention paid to, those who are responsible off of it.

The flip-side is that G.M.s and certain club presidents will get universal ire for their very public failings. Its no longer enough for an under-performing player to feel the fans wrath. We also want the head of the shmuck that had the lack of foresight to sign him. (For way too much money, I might add!) Its a brave new world where even the casual fan can not only list the five general manager's in this town, but without thinking, tell you the job titles of John McDonough, John Paxson and Jay Blunk!

Which brings me to the fanfare accorded to the Cubs new hire this week. I wasnt around in 1981 when they hired Dallas Green away from the Phillies to be their executive vice presidentgeneral managersavior. Im sure the move prompted a lot of response here as I know it did in Philly. But, I seriously doubt it reached the point of national obsession. Green brought with him his mantra of Building a New Tradition and lots of excitement, but we obviously know his tenure was more bitter than sweet.

The next chosen one was the hiring of former Minnesota Twins general manager (Who had won two World Series titles, sound familiar?) Andy McPhail to be the Cubs President and CEO in 1994. I also was not around for that one either, since I moved here in January of 95, but as a die-hard baseball fan living in New Jersey at the time, that move hardly created a ripple where I was, as important as it was. After moving here, it was hard to differentiate him from the unimpassioned suits from the Tribune Company that were perceived to have more interest in making money than fielding a perennial powerhouse.

-In another of my Forrest Gump moments: for what reason I cant remember, possibly to pick-up some freebies!! I was in the box that serves as the waiting area to the Cubs offices, just before a Friday game, when I saw McPhail, suitcase in hand, leaving. When asked where he was going by the receptionist as he was walking through the door, he cheerily informed her that he was heading to the Twin Cities for the weekend for a 10-year reunion of one of his World Series teams. I dont know why a club executive leaving his team, as it was about to play a game, to go celebrate past accomplishments, made me feel weird and awkward (I do enough of that on my own!) but it did. Funny are the things that leave an impression.-

And now we have the ultimate line of demarcation for a franchise and the long awaited stamp of the Ricketts family ownership. (Although down the road in retrospect, that stamp might be the last draft in the Jim Hendry era when they decided to be a player and pony up the money that big-time amateur talent wantsgets when they decide to turn pro, a huge shift in philosophy.) From this point on it is After Theo in Cubs history. In an offseason that approached with visions of Albert Pujols or Prince Fielder donning Cubbie Blue for the next 10 seasons, the long-suffering fans have been reinvigorated with the signing of a new-age baseball franchise architect. My, how times have changed. A fan base is doing cartwheels and all of baseball taking notice over the hiring of a suit. Make no mistake though, this guy is a rock star. His youthful persona and accomplishments in Boston made him a transcendent figure. Any price paid for him will be well worth it, in my opinion.

The thing I find ironic is that in this time of downsizing, Theo espouses bigger is better. Hes looking for more than a few good men, more than an army of one. For a franchise that has languished for all of our lifetimes, this shows a thoughtful, all-hands-on-deck sense of urgency. The sign of any great leader is that he recognizes that he is only as good as the people he surrounds himself with. The other great leadership trait thing is that he is able to concisely convey his vision so that all can understand. Laying out his plan for the Cubs Way is an important first step in setting realistic expectations for a now re-engaged fan base.

A testament to his credibility is that his words were not met with the usual wait and see skepticism from a group that has been lead down this path before. Unlike what he inherited in Boston, this is a tear down. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and most of us understand that. Which means its not going to be an easy, quick, nor inexpensive task. But building something with a base strong enough to bear the weight of over a centurys worth of disappointment is going to be a time staking task.

It will start with the draft. It will start with the new academy in the Dominican Republic. It will start with constant, consistent instruction and expectation as a player climbs the ladder in the organization. Then ultimately, it will take these products of the system, and wise choices in free-agency to build the team that finally ends the Northside misery. In baseball it takes both, home-grown and bought talent to win. Theo understands this. You cant do one without the other. He also understands that to have a system that provides players worthy of being augmented by impact free-agents, you need to build an organization that is rock-solid from the ground up.

As we have heard before in this town, Theo is telling us that it takes more than players and coaches alone to win a championship. It takes a winning organization too. He is being lauded by one and all for this vision and foresight. Somewhere, Jerry Krause has to be thinking, where have I heard that before?

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

Predicting NLCS Game 3: Cubs are due for a win...right?

The Cubs are "due."

That's a funny thought in general. For anybody or any team to be "due," that's saying that everything will even out eventually.

That's often true in baseball. But that's over the course of a 162-game season, far and away the longest sample size in professional sports. 

In an abbreviated postseason series, there really is no such thing as "due" because the season's over before you get a chance to see things even out.

The baseball gods don't ensure that everybody gets the same amount of luck at the same time. The sample size is absolutely too small for that. Plus, the Cubs have had plenty of luck and caught their fair share of breaks already this postseason.

So while it's easy to point to some of the Cubs numbers and say things like "they're not going to hit .162 as a team forever," that's not necessarily true because there are only two guaranteed games left in the 2017 for Joe Maddon and Co. It is absolutely possible the Cubs' season is over before they get a chance to correct their offensive woes.

Though, it would be pretty stunning to see the Cubs offense finish a 9-game October stint with Jon Lester and Jose Quintana as the team's leading hitters (both are 1-for-4, .250 average). 

Like a deliriously-happy, champagne-soaked Theo Epstein said early Friday morning in our nation's capital, "we always hit eventually."

So if I'm a betting man (which I'm not, unless you count fantasy sports), I'm betting on the Cubs offense finally waking from their fall slumber. 

They're simply too good to continue these numbers. This team has combined for a .513 OPS, which is essentially a team of Andres Blancos, a 33-year-old backup infielder who defined "light-hitting" with a .192 average and .549 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.

The urgency is now a very real thing with the Cubs, and that's something — maybe the ONLY thing — that has really motivated this 2017 squad. They've really only played well when they've had a sense of urgency and they did not have that the first two games in Los Angeles.

Which is understandable. After such a physically, emotionally and mentally draining Game 5 that didn't end until early Friday morning, the team had to travel all the way across the entire continental U.S. only to wind up getting diverted to New Mexico where they sat on the tarmac for five hours.

Every single starting pitcher on the team was exhausted and working on short rest, and that's not to say anything about Wade Davis, who gave everything he had just to get the Cubs to the NLCS.

The Cubs have now had a full day off to clear their heads, get back to center and find their mojo again.

I'm betting that's exactly what they've done, because this team has proved over and over again how resilient they are. I mean, really, a 2-0 deficit is nothing for a team that stared down a 3-1 deficit in the World Series a year ago.

Prediction

Cubs 5, Dodgers 2

The Cubs started out the two-game set in LA by having a few good at-bats against the game's best pitcher (Clayton Kershaw) before things got awful against the Dodgers bullpen.

But if we're talking about being "due," that Dodgers bullpen is due for a regression on some level. They've been absolutely incredible this postseason, allowing only one baserunner to the Cubs in eight innings thus far.

Breaking things down individually, there are positive signs for several guys:

—Kris Bryant struck out only three times in 8 at-bats in LA, which is actually an improvement considering he struck out 10 times in 20 at-bats in the NLDS.

—Addison Russell lined a homer to left off Rich Hill for the Cubs' only run in Game 2. He had some really good at-bats in Game 5 and the game's biggest hit when he doubled home two runs off Max Scherzer.

—Javy Baez walked in Game 2. I mean, if that's not enough of a reason for positivity, what is??

Either way, the Cubs offense has their hands full against Yu Darvish (10-12, 3.86 ERA) and Alex Wood (16-3, 2.72 ERA) the next two games and if they win one of those two, Kershaw awaits in Game 5 Thursday.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.