Cubs

Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

In a perfect world, the Cubs wouldn’t need to start Trevor Cahill again, riding arguably baseball’s best rotation into October and then figuring out which pitcher to drop for the playoffs.

But everything hasn’t gone according to The Plan, even as the Cubs pile up the most wins in baseball and the computer simulations on Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs almost give them a 100-hundred percent chance to win the National League Central.

Whatever the Cubs decide to do with their 25-man roster crunch, Cahill made a strong impression in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers for five innings during a 4-0 victory.

The 26th man maxed out at 84 pitches and allowed only two hits to a weakened lineup that no longer has Jonathan Lucroy (traded to the Texas Rangers) while Ryan Braun came off the bench to get booed as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter.

“It’s obvious he gave us something to talk about,” Maddon said. “We will discuss that. And we have to have an answer by tomorrow.”

One potential way to keep Cahill around would be putting John Lackey on the disabled list after the veteran right-hander exited Sunday night’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals with a tight shoulder.

“No clarity yet” on Lackey’s health situation, Maddon said. “He felt a little bit sore today, so we’re still talking about it, and we haven’t concluded anything yet.”

Cahill stretched out with six starts at Triple-A Iowa after going on the disabled list with patellar tendinitis in his right knee on July 15, becoming an insurance policy the Cubs hoped they wouldn’t really need, but might have to cash in again if Lackey’s shoulder issue is more serious than first believed.        

“We’re absolutely looking at different scenarios,” Maddon said. “Those are different things that are within our purview right now – poom! – Larry David (reference). The fact that (Cahill) pitched as well as he did today – and he’s as stretched out as he is – just opens up possibilities.” 

A strong pitching infrastructure helped Cahill revive his career and reinvent himself as a playoff-caliber reliever late last season – after getting released by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – and score a one-year, $4.25 million contract to return to Chicago.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]​

Maybe Cahill can again help stabilize a bullpen filled with questions marks, though Mike Montgomery and Hector Rondon did combine for three scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman (fifth save in a Cubs uniform) bailed out Joe Smith (two walks) in the ninth. 

“Who knows?” Cahill said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate. Whenever you speculate, it always seems like it ends up completely different.”

While Cahill, a one-time All-Star, rebooted his game, Matt Garza (4-5, 4.87 ERA) has struggled to find focus and consistency since getting traded from the Cubs to the Rangers in the summer of 2013, one of many win-later deals that transformed this franchise. The Cubs wore down Garza, making him throw 103 pitches across five innings and manufacturing three runs with an Addison Russell sacrifice fly, a wild pitch that scored Dexter Fowler and Cahill’s RBI sacrifice bunt.

For all the contributions they’ve gotten from all over the roster, Cahill is only the eighth starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season. Veteran catcher Miguel Montero – who worked with Cahill extensively on the Arizona Diamondbacks – briefly turned away from some of the reporters at his locker and did the knock-on-wood motion.    

“We count on every single individual in the clubhouse,” Montero said. “Everybody has to contribute someway, somehow. Cahill stepped it up.”

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Albert Almora's strong connection to Team USA baseball

Who was Theo Epstein’s first draft pick with the Cubs?

The answer to that trivia question will always and forever be Albert Almora Jr. picked sixth overall in the 2012 amateur draft.

In some ways, the young outfielder from Florida became the forgotten man in the stable of can’t-miss prospects that Epstein and top lieutenants Jed Hoyer and Jason MacLeod amassed since their arrival over six years ago. While players such as Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ zoomed through the minor leagues on their way to the majors, Almora took a different path – one that included seven different stops over parts of five developmental seasons before he broke into the big leagues during the 2016 season.

But Almora’s road to the majors began years before he was selected by the Cubs, when he began playing for Team USA as a 13-year-old. Over the next several years, Almora played for the Red, White & Blue seven times, his final appearance coming in 2015. The seven appearances are the most in the history of USA Baseball, and Almora recognizes the impact his time with the national squad had on his playing career.

“[It was] one of the best experiences of my life," he said. "Every year I had something special to play with, unbelievable guys, went to crazy places, and out of those six years, five of them came with a gold medal so that was pretty special as well. Also, that helped me in my baseball life, how to experience things and learn from those type of experiences.

“I’m a Cubbie and that’s what’s on my chest right now, but Team USA will always have a special place in my heart.”

While Almora carries those national team experiences with him every day, his main focus coming into the 2018 season is becoming a consistent difference-maker. Almora made only 65 starts during the 2017 campaign, and 63 percent of his at-bats last year came against left-handed pitching, against which he hit a robust .342. That led to a platoon role in a crowded outfield, with Jason Heyward, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Jay, Ian Happ and Ben Zobrist all taking turns on the merry-go-round. But with the departure of Jay, Almora believes his time is near.

“I have the most confidence in myself that I can play every day, but I try not to think about that kind of stuff because it’s out of my control," Almora said. "All I control is like last year what I did; whenever I was given an opportunity, I tried to do my best and help the team win.”

Almora’s ultimate role on the 2018 Cubs remains to be seen, but there’s no question that Theo’s first Cubs pick will earn whatever role he ends up with, and the foundation of Almora’s journey to Clark and Addison was laid many summers ago during his time with Team USA.

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

Willson Contreras willing to pay the price for mound visits

News broke to Willson Contreras that the league will be limiting mound visits this upcoming season, and the Cubs catcher —notorious for his frequent visits to the rubber — is not having it.

“I’ve been reading a lot about this rule, and I don’t really care. If you have to go again and pay the price for my team, I will," he said.

The new rules rolled out Tuesday will limit six visits —any time a manager, coach or player visits the mound — per nine innings. But, communication between a player and a pitcher that does not require them moving from their position does not count as a visit.When a team is out of visits, it's the umpire's discretion to allow an extra trip to the mound.

But despite the new rules, Contreras is willing to do what's best for the team.

“There’s six mound visits, but what if you have a tight game? They cannot say anything about that. If you’re going to fine me about the [seventh] mound visit, I’ll pay the price.”