Cubs

Cubs didn't consider themselves serious players for Justin Verlander

Cubs didn't consider themselves serious players for Justin Verlander

Regardless of where Justin Verlander ultimately hoped he'd end up, the Cubs didn't consider themselves to be serious players in the veteran pitcher's market this August.

The waiver deadline passed Thursday with the Cubs only making one move - acquiring outfielder Leonys Martin as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement type of guy.

Verlander, meanwhile, went to the Houston Astros, with the Detroit Tigers receiving three prospects in return.

The Cubs have been one of the teams linked to Verlander in rumors for months and while they did check in on him even after the nonwaiver trade deadline passed on the first day of August, GM Jed Hoyer said they never even got to the point where they discussed untouchable prospects with the Tigers.

"Houston was pretty aggressive early on," Hoyer said Friday morning at Wrigley Field. "They didn't make a big starting pitching deal at the deadline, so I think they were aggressive with their offer right away.

"Detroit kinda liked that offer all along. I think they were pretty focused on Houston all along. Because of that, because they had a deal they liked that they sat on for a bunch of weeks, we never got deep into it. In the end, I think it worked out for Detroit and for Houston. But I think that was gonna be the result for almost the entire month."

At best, Hoyer described the Cubs' interest as a fallback option.

"Early on, they had a deal on the table that was really appealing to them that their process was run with that in mind," Hoyer said.

The 34-year-old veteran has rebounded after a rough start to the season and is now 10-8 with a 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 172 innings. He finished second in AL Cy Young voting last year with a 16-9 record, 3.04 ERA and league-leading 1.00 WHIP. 

Verlander also has two full years and around $60 million left on his current contract with a vesting option for his age-37 season in 2020. 

The Cubs are in a totally different position now than they were a month ago when the Verlander rumors were hot and heavy. 

The starting rotation has keyed the second-half surge with Kyle Hendricks regaining health and production while Jake Arrieta once again looks like his Cy Young self. John Lackey has also been better since the All-Star Break, tossing seven shutouts in Friday's 2-0 win over the Braves. 

Even the Jon Lester injury proved to be minor as the Cubs ace makes his return Saturday against the Atlanta Braves. Assuming Lester's start goes off without a hitch, the Cubs are at the point where they're seriously considering keeping Mike Montgomery as a starter (he'll get the ball Sunday) and rolling with a six-man rotation.

And with the Jose Quintana deal coupled with the prior trade with the Tigers for Justin Wilson and Alex Avila, the Cubs don't have much in the way of enticing prospects left to deal, even if the Verlander talks with Detroit never advanced to that stage.

So Verlander wound up with the team with the best record in the American League over the defending World Champs, even if the Cubs were his first choice.

Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies

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USA TODAY

Javier Baez does more Javier Baez things in Cubs' blowout win over Rockies

Javier Baez continued his hot streak on Friday night.

The 25-year-old infielder went 4-for-6 with a homer, a double and four RBIs as the Cubs cruised past the Colorado Rockies, 16-5. Batting in the second spot, he fell a triple short of the cycle.

This GIF was basically Baez all night: 

His night started with a two-run homer in the first inning. Did it look familiar?

Baez now has nine hits in his last 16 at-bats. He also ranks second in the league in RBIs this season with 20, trailing Jed Lowrie (21) of the Oakland A's.

On Friday night, his play drew some "Javy! Javy! Javy!" chants multiple times from the Coors Field crowd, one of which came after a risky baserunning play in the fifth inning. Baez was on second base when Kris Bryant hit a chopper to the shortstop. Baez took off for third. He was initially called out, but it was overturned after a video review. Two runs would go on to score, and the Cubs would continue to pour it on the rest of the game.

Just another game of Javy doing Javy things.

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

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AP

Meet the new Kyle Schwarber

It would be easy to point to Kyle Schwarber's new six-pack as the main reason why he's off to a solid start at the plate.

But Schwarber's offensive prowess is more related to the work he's done inside his own head, not on being in the Best Shape of His Life.

He's out to prove he's more than just a three true outcomes guy.

In the Cubs' 8-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Schwarber flashed a different part of his game with a pair of groundball RBI singles that helped stake his team to an early lead.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon also pointed to Schwarber's lineout up the middle in the eighth inning as his favorite at-bat, even above the run-scoring hits.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while," Maddon said.

Schwarber is hitting the ball with authority up the middle and the other way, shortening up his swing with two strikes and finding ways to beat the shift by just sticking his bat out and directing the ball to the left side of second base, where teams only have one defender.

Schwarber is still largely a three true outcomes guy, on pace for 30 homers, 101 walks and 172 strikeouts.

But he no longer looks so stressed/anxious with runners in scoring position. He's been working toward relaxing with guys on base and instead of trying to put every ball out onto Sheffield Ave., he's doing what he can to just put the ball in play.

He insists his thought process with runners in scoring position hasn't changed since last year, but he is definitely getting better results now.

After starting the year 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position, Schwarber went 3-for-6 in such situations on the Cubs' recent homestand. Even more impressive: All three hits have come with two outs and went to center or left field.

"I'm not trying to go out there and put a lot of pressure on myself because that's when negative things are gonna happen," Schwarber said. "You just gotta be able to have that same approach you have when there's no one on base."

Since the start of the 2017 season, here are Schwarber's numbers based on runners:

Bases empty: .220 AVG, .831 OPS
Runners on: .206 AVG, .730 OPS

The Cubs are trying to get him back to his 2015 form when he exploded onto the major-league scene to hit .270 with a .914 OPS with runners on base.

There is reason for optimism and the numbers back up Schwarber's progress.

In 2017, 83 percent of his season RBI came on home runs — he only had 10 RBI that didn't come from longballs.

This year, he already has 5 RBI on non-homers and there is still roughly 90 percent of the season remaining. Only 44 percent of his 2018 RBI have come on dingers.

As impressive as anything, Schwarber ranks 17th in baseball in walk percentage (16.9 percent) while also reducing his strikeout percentage slightly from last year's struggles

Schwarber has spent a lot of time working with new hitting coach Chili Davis, but he won't allow himself to ride the daily roller coaster based off recent success, even if it is helping his confidence.

"Yeah, I've been feeling good," Schwarber said. "There's been some tough at-bats here and there, but still taking the walks and also trying to get those guys in when they're on and go from there.

"Not gonna get too high, not gonna get too low when things are going bad. Just stay right in the middle."

When Schwarber is producing like this and Javy Baez is ascending to star status, this Cubs offense won't be struggling to find consistency for long.

"If these two guys keep on doing [this], wow," Maddon said. "Sky's the limit."