Cubs

What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

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What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. It was 71 degrees here at first pitch, and from behind home plate you get a postcard view of the mountains. The San Francisco Giants are still celebrating their first World Series title in 56 years, and theres no better time to imagine the possibilities.

The Giants did it with pitching and defense and just enough offense, the brand of baseball the Cubs are trying to build on Mike Quades watch.

Maybe the Cubs will eventually fit that vision. But after Tuesdays 3-2 win over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, theyve committed nine errors through their first three Cactus League games.

Quades going to start cutting off fingers one at a time, pitcher Ryan Dempster joked. You better start making plays or youre not going to have a glove hand.

There are several takeaways from the Giants run to the World Series that you can apply to the Cubs.

They drafted and developed high-end starters like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They assembled a deep and versatile bullpen that was among the National Leagues best. They thrived without getting many returns on Barry Zitos seven-year, 126 million deal, showing that huge long-term contracts dont have to be crippling.

They did it when no one expected.

Pitching and defense is how you win championships, Dempster said. Anybody sees it as motivation. You dont have to be picked on somebodys preseason board to be the World Series champ.

San Francisco also finished with a fielding percentage (.988) that was tied for best in the majors. The Cubs committed 53 more errors than the Giants in 2010 and graded out as one of the leagues worst defensive teams. But its still too early for the manager to panic.

Get them out of the way now, Quade said. If I start raising hell after Game 1, first of all, it goes against who I am. And second of all, I dont know if you can lose 60 guys at once, (but) its possible.

The Giants came together at the right time. They spent only 37 days in first place last year, and lost 515 games of manpower to the disabled list. They needed the Cubs to win three of four games in San Diego during the final week of the season. They finished two games ahead of the Padres in the National League West.

Ex-Cubs Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa will soon be getting World Series rings.

Im still waiting for that bottle of champagne, Dempster said. Its crazy when you think about it.

So much can happen between now and October. Dempster went three innings on Tuesday and is feeling good. Todd Wellemeyer, who was released by the Giants last August and watched them on TV back home in Kentucky, threw two scoreless innings.

Wellemeyer thinks he might get his ring in April. Hes a non-roster invitee who figures: If these guys dont have a spot for me, maybe one of the other teams will.

Those are decisions for another day. On a gorgeous day in Scottsdale, the Cubs were reminded of the Giants, and how the Green Bay Packers didnt need to win their division to win the Super Bowl.

Its such a thin (line), Quade said. You just got to get in the tournament and then you dont know. Things fell into place for them. Its a good lesson for all of us.

Theres plenty of reasons to look around and say, Why not us?

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

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USA TODAY

Would trading Kyle Schwarber begin to solve pitching issues that run much deeper than Chris Bosio?

The Cubs now apparently believe they are a stronger organization without Chris Bosio, firing a pitching coach known for his strong convictions, brutal honesty and bottom-line results in a move that doesn’t seem like an actual solution.

Hiring Jim Hickey – who has a good reputation from his years with the Tampa Bay Rays, a close friendship with Joe Maddon and what looks like a slam-dunk interview lined up for Monday – might make the manager feel more comfortable and less isolated.

But the new-voice/different-direction spin doesn’t fundamentally address the pitching issues facing a team that needs to replace 40 percent of the rotation and find an established closer and has zero expectations those answers will come from within the farm system.

This is an operation that won a seven-game World Series last year without a homegrown player throwing a single pitch.     

If the Cubs can say thanks for the memories and dump “Boz,” what about “Schwarbs?”

Advancing to the National League Championship Series in three straight seasons doesn’t happen without Bosio or Kyle Schwarber. But the fastest way for the Cubs to dramatically improve their pitching staff isn’t finding someone else who thinks it’s important to throw strikes. It could mean breaking up The Core and severing another emotional attachment.   

Theo Epstein saw Schwarber play for Indiana University and used the Fenway Park frame of reference, envisioning him as a combination of David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia with his left-handed power and energizer personality.

Epstein wasn’t the only Cubs official to develop a man-crush on Schwarber, but he’s the only one with ultimate control over baseball operations. Epstein’s style isn’t pounding the table as much as the ability to frame questions in the draft room, gather as many opinions as possible before the trade deadline and at the winter meetings, trying to form a consensus.

“I will say that it’s really an organization-wide evaluation of this player, but I’m not skirting responsibility,” Epstein said. “I’ll happily endorse him as the type of player that we want to win with here at the Cubs, and have won with. I don’t know, the fact that he hit 30 bombs in a bad year is a good start.

“But power is not everything. I think he fell into this year becoming more of a slugger and less of a hitter than he really is. It’s important for him to get his identity back as a dangerous hitter. Honestly, I think we feel he has the potential to be an all-around hitter on the level of an Anthony Rizzo. When he reaches his prime, that’s what he could be.”

Where will that be? As a designated hitter in the American League? That’s obvious speculation, but Schwarber has improved as an outfield defender – his strong throw at Dodger Stadium led to another NLCS Maddon Moment where the manager compared the Buster Posey Rule to the Chicago soda tax.      

A 43-45 record at the All-Star break also exposed some of the weaknesses in the clubhouse and downsides to Maddon’s methods. The Cubs flipped a switch in the second half, got hot in September and had the guts to beat the Washington Nationals in the playoffs. But that doesn’t completely wipe away the concerns about a group that at times seemed too casual and unfocused and didn’t play with enough edge. For better or worse, Schwarber approaches the game like a blitzing linebacker.

“He’s got a certain toughness and certain leadership qualities that are hard to find,” Epstein said, “and that we don’t necessarily have in surplus, in abundance, running around in this clubhouse, in this organization.

“A certain energy and grit and ability to bring people together – that’s important and we rely on it. But the biggest thing is his bat. We think he’s the type of offensive player that you build around, along with a couple other guys like him.”

Maddon would never admit it, but was the Schwarber leadoff experiment a mistake?

“I’ll judge that one based on the results and say yeah,” Epstein said. “I think we can talk about the process that went into it. Or in an alternate universe: Does it pan out? But those are just words. It didn’t work.

“Everything that went into Kyle’s really surprising and difficult first half of the season, we should look to correct, because that shouldn’t happen. He’s a way better hitter than that. What he did after coming back from Iowa proves it.”

In the same way that Maddon should own what happens with the next pitching coach, Epstein will ultimately have to decide Schwarber’s future.

Schwarber didn’t complain or pout when he got sent down to Triple-A Iowa this summer, finishing with 30 homers, a .782 OPS, a .211 batting average and a 30.9 strikeout percentage.    

Trading Schwarber would mean selling lower and take another team having the same gut instincts the Cubs did in the 2014 draft – and offering the talented, controllable starting pitcher that sometimes seems like a unicorn.

Is Schwarber still the legend from last year’s World Series? An all-or-nothing platoon guy? An intriguing trade chip? A franchise player? Eventually, the Cubs are going to find out.

“We have to look to do everything we can,” Epstein said, “and more importantly he has to look to do everything he can to get him to a point where he’s consistently the quality hitter and tough out and dangerous bat in the middle of the lineup that we know he can be.

“He wasn’t for the first half of this year – and he knows it and he feels awful about it. He worked his tail off to get back to having a pretty darn good second half and getting some big hits for us down the stretch.”

And then the offseason was only hours old by the time the Cubs showed they will be keeping an open mind about everything this winter, not afraid to make big changes.

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

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USA TODAY

Jake Arrieta shaved his beard again and he keeps looking younger

It's become a tradition that Jake Arrieta shaves his beard after the season ends.

The 31-year-old did it again days after the Cubs were eliminated from the 2017 postseason, and it's still a sight we'll never be used to seeing.

Check it out:

Weird, right?

Here's how he looked following the Cubs' World Series win in 2016:

And again in 2015:

It's crazy how much younger he looks.