Cubs

LIVE: Jones gives Pirates 3-0 advantage

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LIVE: Jones gives Pirates 3-0 advantage

Saturday, April 2, 2011
Posted: 10:09 a.m.
Associated Press

The emotional Carlos Zambrano experienced a wild 2010 season - even by his standards.

Zambrano hopes to carry over the success he had down the stretch last season for the Cubs when he takes the ball Saturday against a Pittsburgh Pirates team that looks to continue to frustrate Chicago.

After Zambrano made the last six opening day starts for the Cubs, new manager Mike Quade decided to give the ball to Ryan Dempster on Friday. Dempster pitched well early and Chicago led 2-0 after four innings, but Pittsburgh's Neil Walker hit a grand slam in the fifth to put the Pirates ahead.

Andrew McCutchen then hit a two-run homer in the seventh off Dempster, and the Pirates won 6-3 at a rainy Wrigley Field.

"It's definitely good confidence builder for us," Walker said. "It's a good win to come into somebody else's opening day and steal a win."

Pittsburgh won its fifth straight season opener and continued to make things difficult for Chicago.

Despite going a major league-worst 57-105 in 2010 and suffering an 18th straight losing season, the Pirates were 10-5 against the Cubs.

Walker and McCutchen have been instrumental to this success.

Walker is hitting .467 with four homers and 11 RBIs in seven games against the Cubs since the start of last season, while McCutchen is batting .446 with 12 RBIs, 14 runs and a .530 on-base percentage in 15 games. McCutchen is also 5 for 7 with a triple and double lifetime against Zambrano.

"The kid Walker is a nice player and McCutchen is who he is," Quade said. "We got to figure out how to get them out better."

Zambrano finished last season 11-6 with a 3.33 ERA - his lowest ERA since 3.26 in 2005 - and always seemed to be in the headlines.

The passionate right-hander had a 7.45 ERA after four starts and was quickly banished to the bullpen. An embarrassing dugout skirmish in June led to a trip to the restricted list and anger-management counseling.

Zambrano managed to put all this behind him, however, and went 8-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his final 10 starts to knock more than two runs off his ERA.

The three-time All-Star, who often gets flustered when things don't go his way on the mound, is hoping to carry the mindset that he showed down the stretch of last season into 2011.

"My job here is to pitch, and not to criticize or do any other thing," he told the Cubs' official website. "Just pitch."

Zambrano made his lone start against the Pirates last season on Aug. 30, allowing one run in 5 1-3 innings of a 14-2 win. The right-hander is 5-1 with a 3.38 ERA in his last 10 starts against Pittsburgh.

The Pirates counter with Paul Maholm, who went 9-15 with a 5.10 ERA in 32 starts last season. Maholm's ERA was the fifth-worst in the majors among qualifying pitchers and his .303 opponents' batting average was the worst.

The left-hander could run into trouble against a Chicago team that had 11 hits Thursday, led by Starlin Castro's three.

Maholm recorded a 2.25 ERA in winning his first three starts of the 2010 season against the Cubs, before being knocked around for eight runs in 3 1-3 innings in that loss at Wrigley Field on Aug. 30.

Despite owning a 6.42 career ERA against the Cubs - his second-worst against any NL opponent - Maholm is 7-2 lifetime versus Chicago.
Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Cubs will be open for business as Theo Epstein weighs trading hitters for pitching

Theo Epstein answered questions from the Chicago media for more than an hour on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field, but the most interesting part might have been what the Cubs president didn’t say, something along the lines of: These are our guys.

Or at least Epstein didn’t give the same full-throated endorsement of The Core that he delivered after engineering the Jose Quintana trade with the White Sox this summer, getting an All-Star pitcher without giving up anyone from the big-league roster.

Whether it’s the way the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs throughout the National League Championship Series that ended Thursday night, the inconsistencies and frustrations during a 43-45 first half of this season or the reality of losing 40 percent of the rotation, you walked out of that stadium club press conference thinking big changes could be coming.

“We’re going to pursue all avenues to get better,” Epstein said.

The Cubs already understood this would be a challenging time to dramatically reshape their pitching staff, with Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta, Big Boy John Lackey and All-Star closer Wade Davis about to become free agents.

The Cubs don’t really have many (any?) high-end, headliner prospects left to trade after borrowing heavily from their farm system to acquire Aroldis Chapman for last year’s World Series run and get Quintana to help solidify the rotation through 2020.

All of Major League Baseball is looking beyond this winter and preparing for the monster free-agent class that will hit the open market after the 2018 season.

Meaning it’s time for the Cubs to make some difficult decisions about all these young hitters they’ve collected.

“It may or may not be,” Epstein said. “Those choices, they’re not unilateral things. You can’t sit there and decide: ‘Hey, this guy, we’re moving him.’ Because you don’t know what the return might be. You don’t know how the different moving parts might fit together.

“I think going into the offseason prepared to make some tough choices and execute on them — and keeping an open mind to anything — is appropriate under the circumstances where we have some obvious deficits and we have some real surplus with talented players who are really desirable.”

Let’s assume All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo, MVP third baseman Kris Bryant and catcher Willson Contreras are essentially untouchable.

The Cubs used the ninth overall pick in the 2015 draft on Ian Happ with the explicit idea that the college hitter should be on a fast track and could be flipped for pitching later: Is it time to sell high after the rookie just put up 24 homers and an .842 OPS?

During an exit meeting with Albert Almora Jr., Epstein said he couldn’t promise an everyday job in 2018, though the expectation would be more responsibilities: Think anyone else would be interested in a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s already playoff-tested?

Do you want Addison Russell or Javier Baez as your everyday shortstop for the next four years? Is there an American League team willing to bet big that Kyle Schwarber will crush 40 homers a year as a designated hitter?

The Cubs have to ask themselves those types of questions, which could mean getting outside of their comfort zone and taking on some riskier pitching investments and sapping the strength that has turned them into the dominant force in the NL Central.

“We’ve really benefitted from having two or three extra — and ‘extra’ in quotes because they’re not really extra — starting-caliber players on the roster,” Epstein said. “That helped us win 97 games in ’15, 103 last year, 92 this year. That’s as big a part of the club as anything.

“Having an Addison Russell go down and being able to move Javy Baez to shortstop — that’s an obvious example of it. But those things show up every week for us. There’s a day where someone can’t make the lineup and someone else slides in and you’re still starting eight quality guys. That’s huge.

“Sooner or later, you reach a point where you have to strongly consider sacrificing some of that depth to address needs elsewhere on the club. There’s no sort of deadline to do that. But I think we’re entering the phase where we have to be really open-minded to that if it makes the overall outlook of the team and organization better.”

Translation: The Cubs are open for business. Make your best offer.

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: 2017 season obituary and previewing an interesting winter for Cubs

In the latest Cubs Talk Podcast, Kelly Crull, Patrick Mooney and Tony Andracki close the book on the 2017 season following Theo Epstein’s press conference, looking back at what will go down as the craziest calendar year in Cubs history from last November through the team’s loss in the NLCS this October.

Moving forward, where do guys like Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora Jr., Justin Wilson and Mike Montgomery fit? Will the Cubs re-sign Wade Davis or go after another proven closer? And how worried should fans be about the offense that completely disappeared in the postseason?

Take a listen below: