Cubs

Jed Hoyer: Rain delay was 'divine intervention' for Cubs

Jed Hoyer: Rain delay was 'divine intervention' for Cubs

CLEVELAND — In between ducking random streams of champagne, general manager Jed Hoyer described Wednesday night’s rain delay as divine intervention.

The Cubs needed it in the worst way.

In the midst of a potentially epic collapse that would have exceeded their 2003 National League Championship Series meltdown, the Cubs took advantage of a 17-minute stoppage of play as rain began to fall upon an exasperated Progressive Field crowd.

Before they returned to action with the score tied at 6, right fielder Jason Heyward convened Cubs hitters for an emotional meeting to discuss how they wanted to proceed after blowing a four-run lead. Moments later, Kyle Schwarber singled to start a game-winning rally that would erase 108 years of torment. The Cubs scored twice in the top of the 10th inning and then held on to for an 8-7 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the World Series.

“I really feel like in some ways that rain delay was kind of divine intervention,” Hoyer said. “The game was going really fast for us at that point. Dexter (Fowler) had just missed winning the game for us (in the ninth) – (Francisco) Lindor made a heck of a play. And to get that little break right there, it helped us a lot.”

Make no doubt about it — the Cubs were reeling when the heavens opened up and rain began to fall. Shortstop Addison Russell said some players cried after the Cubs, on the verge of an epic comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, watched as the Indians erased a three-run deficit in the eighth inning against closer Aroldis Chapman, including a game-tying two-run homer by Rajai Davis.

Thanks to Lindor’s outstanding range and a scoreless inning from Chapman, neither team scored in the ninth. But even a high-wire escape wasn’t enough and Heyward decided to call a meeting in the weight room, about 15 feet away from the steps up to the dugout.

“There was obviously frustration and Aroldis felt terrible,” Series MVP Ben Zobrist said. “But everybody’s like, ‘Hey, man, we got you. We’re going to pick you up.’ I think there was even some applause, some claps for him. ‘Don’t worry about this. We’re going to come back and win this game.’

“JHey called the meeting and said, ‘Let’s forget about everything that’s happened up to this point. Let’s believe that we’re going to do this.’ That’s all that needed to be said.”

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Veteran catcher David Ross said Heyward spoke passionately for several minutes. And because Heyward has proven to be reserved in his first season with the club, players knew to pay attention.

“When a guy like Jason talks, you listen, because he doesn't do it that often,” Ross said.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon loathes holding team meetings. He prefers for them to be organic and rarely makes the request. So when he noticed his players huddled, Maddon had a good feeling.

“It’s crazy how things happen for a reason,” Maddon said. “I don’t know. But I walk off and I see them all gathering in that little room down below there.

“I hate meetings. I’m not a meetings guy. I love when players have meetings.

“So they had their meeting and the big part of it was, ‘We don’t quit. We don’t quit.’

“It’s incredible how this all plays out sometimes.”

It didn’t hurt that the Cubs had the middle of the lineup due in the 10th inning against Cleveland reliever Bryan Shaw. Hoyer recalled feeling the same way in the 2003 American League Championship Series moments before Aaron Boone’s walkoff homer — that if his Boston Red Sox could extend the game, they’d win because the heart of the order was due to bat.

The Cubs were quick to take advantage of an opportunity the Red Sox never had.

Schwarber — who hit .412 in the Series and had a .971 OPS — singled on the second pitch he saw from Shaw and pinch-runner Albert Almora tagged up on Kris Bryant’s deep fly out to center.

“Schwarber got the first hit and it just steamrolled,” Zobrist said.

Indians manager Terry Francona opted to have Anthony Rizzo intentionally walked to put two aboard. Zobrist then ripped a 1-2 cutter for an opposite-field RBI double past third base and the Cubs didn’t look back.

“It’s actually a really comforting feeling knowing how those guys are,” Hoyer said. “You could hear all the guys that were part of that inning talking — it allowed them to regroup.

“We had the best part of our lineup coming up and I do think that taking that break, kind of regrouping (helped). ‘Let’s win the inning. If we win one inning, we win the World Series.’

“We had the right guys up to do it.”

More on the World Series victory

--Joy to the World: Cubs finally end 108-year Series drought

--Finally: The Cubs are World Series champs

--The wait –and the weight- is over: Cubs fans celebrate World Series title

--Barack Obama congratulates Cubs World Series championship

--Famous Cubs fans celebrate World Series title on Twitter

--Ben Zobrist becomes first Cub ever to win World Series MVP

--Numbers game: statistical oddities of the Cubs World Series title

--Jed Hoyer: Rain delay was ‘divine intervention’ for Cubs

​--Fans give Cubs a taste of home in Cleveland

--Ben Zobrist delivers exactly what the Cubs expected with massive World Series

--‘Dreams come true’: Bill Murray reacts to Cubs winning the World Series

--Big surprise: Kyle Schwarber plays hero again for Cubs in World Series Game 7

- Ryne Sandberg: World Series ‘made it able for me to live in the present’

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

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USA TODAY

MLB.com's Cubs' 2018 Top Prospects list full of potential impact pitchers

Could 2018 be the year that the Cubs finally see a top pitching prospect debut with the team? 

Thursday, MLB.com released its list of the Cubs' 2018 Top 30 Prospects, a group that includes six pitchers in the Top 10. The list ranks right-hander Adbert Alzolay as the Cubs' No 1. prospect, projecting him to debut with the team this season. 

Alzolay, 22, went 7-4 with a 2.99 ERA in 22 starts between Single-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Tennessee last season. He also struck out 108 batters in 114 1/3 innings, using a repertoire that includes a fastball that tops out around 98 MPH (according to MLB.com).

Following Alzolay as the Cubs' No. 2 overall prospect is 19-year-old shortstop Aramis Ademan. Ademan hit .267 in just 68 games between Single-A Eugene and Single-A South Bend, though it should be noted that he has soared from No. 11 in MLB.com's 2017 ranks to his current No. 2 ranking. He is not projected to make his MLB debut until 2020, however.

Following Alzolay and Ademan on the list are five consecutive pitchers ranked 3-7, respectively. Oscar De La Cruz, No. 3 on the list, slides down from his 2017 ranking in which MLB.com listed him as the Cubs' top overall prospect. De La Cruz, 22, finished 2017 with a 3.34 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) between the Arizona League and Single-A Myrtle Beach.

De La Cruz is projected to make his MLB debut in 2019, while Jose Albertos (No. 4), Alex Lange (No. 5), Brendon Little (No. 6) and Thomas Hatch (No. 7) are projected to make their big league debuts in 2019 or 2020. All are right-handed (with the exception of Little) and starting pitchers.

Hatch (third round, 2016) and Lange (30th overall, 2017) and Little (27th overall, 2017) were all top draft picks by the Cubs in recent seasons.

Having numerous starting pitchers on the cusp of the big leagues represents a significant change of pace for the Cubs. 

Since Theo Epstein took over as team president in Oct. 2011, a plethora of top prospects have debuted and enjoyed success with the Cubs. Majority have been position players, though.

The likes of Albert Almora, Javier Báez, Kris Bryant, Willson Contreras, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell all contributed to the Cubs winning the World Series in 2016. Similarly, Ian Happ enjoyed a fair amount of success after making his MLB debut last season, hitting 24 home runs in just 115 games.

Ultimately, Alzolay would be the Cubs' first true top pitching prospect to make it to the big leagues in the Theo Epstein era. While him making it to the big leagues in 2018 is no guarantee, one would think a need for pitching will arise for the Cubs at some point, whether it be due to injury or simply for September roster expansion.

The Cubs have enjoyed tremendous success in recent years in terms of their top prospects succeeding in the MLB. If the trend continues, Alzolay should be a force to reckon with on the North Side for years to come.

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

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USA TODAY

Even with an entire spring schedule to go, guessing the Cubs' 25-man roster is pretty easy

MESA, Ariz. — The frequent mission of spring training is to iron out a 25-man roster.

But at Cubs camp, that mission seems to already be completed.

With an entire Cactus League schedule still to play, the Cubs’ 25-man group that will leave Arizona for the season-opener in Miami seems pretty well set.

The starting rotation: Jon Lester, Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks, Jose Quintana and Tyler Chatwood.

The position-player group: Willson Contreras, Victor Caratini, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Tommy La Stella, Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Ian Happ, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist.

The bullpen: Brandon Morrow, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Brian Duensing, Justin Wilson and Justin Grimm.

Boom. There’s your 25.

Joe Maddon, do you agree?

“You guys and ladies could probably write down what you’re seeing and be pretty accurate,” Maddon said Thursday. “I can’t deny that, it’s true. Oftentimes, when you’re a pretty good ball club, that is the case. When you’re not so good, you always get auditions during spring training.

“I think what the boys have done is they’ve built up a nice cache in case things were to happen. The depth is outstanding. So you could probably narrow it down, who you think’s going to be the 25, and I won’t argue that.”

It’s the latest example in a camp that to this point has been full of them that the Cubs are one of baseball’s best teams and that only a World Series championship will fulfill expectations. Had the front office stuck with a starting rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Quintana, Chatwood and Montgomery, then there would’ve been a spot open in the bullpen. But the statement-making signing of Darvish jolted the Cubs into “best rotation in the game” status, sent Montgomery back to the bullpen and further locked the roster into place.

Guys like Grimm and La Stella have been forced off the 25-man roster at points in recent seasons, though even their spots seem safe. Maddon even said that a huge spring from someone else wouldn’t mean as much at what guys have done at the major league level in recent memory.

“Spring training performance, for me, it’s not very defining,” Maddon said. “You’re going to be playing against a lot of guys that aren’t going to be here, more Triple-A guys, even some Double-A guys. Some guys come in better shape, they normally look better early. The vibe’s different. You play a couple innings, you don’t get many at-bats, the pitcher doesn’t see hitters three times and vice versa. So I don’t worry about that as much.

“It’s more about, guys that might be fighting for a moment, what do they look like, does it look right, does it look good, how do they fit in? Is there somebody there that you scouted? Because what matters a lot is last year and what you did last year and the last couple months of last year.

“So of course guys that have been here probably have a bit of an upper hand, but we’re very open-minded about stuff. And I think when you look at the guys, you’re right, it’s probably pretty close to being set. But stuff happens.”

Could the recently signed Shae Simmons give Grimm an unexpected challenge for the final relief spot? Maddon said guys who have been with the Cubs in the recent past have a leg up. Could Chris Gimenez turn his experience with Darvish into a win over Caratini for the backup catcher spot? Maddon threw cold water on the "personal catcher" narrative last week.

Of course, Maddon left the door open the possibility of an injury that could open up a roster spot and even shake up the depth chart. But barring the unforeseen, this 25-man group looks locked into place.

That gives the Cubs an edge, perhaps, in that they can specifically find ways to tune up those guys rather than focus on getting enough at-bats for players who are fighting for roster spots. But most of that edge came during the winter, and in winters and summers past, when the front office built this team into a championship contender.

There have been plenty of years when the fans coming to Mesa to watch the Cubs play in spring training saw the blossoming of a big league player thanks to a monster spring or a surprise tear during March. That’s going to be unlikely this spring, a reflection of just how far this team has come.

“It’s easy for me to reflect on this because when I started out with the Rays, wow,” Maddon said. “That was a casting call trying to figure it out. You had very few settled positions when you walked in the door. And then as we got better, it became what we’re talking about. As we moved further along, you were pretty much set by the time (you got to spring training) except for one or two spots.

“So I think the better teams are like that.”

The Cubs are most definitely one of those better teams.