Cubs

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

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USA TODAY

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

Dusty Baker has been here before.

Meaning he was here, at Wrigley Field, for a long time. Baker, the Cubs’ manager from 2003 to 2006, was one of the few North Side skippers to experience postseason baseball prior to last year’s curse-smashing World Series win. And he managed a whole bunch of games, regardless of where the calendar was, at the corner of Clark and Addison.

So Baker, who’s managing against his former team Monday and Tuesday as the NLDS between the Cubs and Washington Nationals shifts to Chicago, will use his familiarity with the Friendly Confines to help his current squad advance deeper into October.

"Yeah, you know, I've got a bunch of homies here," Baker said with a smile ahead of Game 3 on Monday afternoon, "so I've got some backup.

"I mean, it's always nice to come to Chicago. I enjoyed coming here for years and years. You know, it's a nice place to come. A nice place, you know, for us to try and get a victory."

Baker knows all about the wind and the sun and all the extra stuff that comes with playing games on the North Side. While the Nationals pay a visit to Wrigley Field each and every season, his team is short on guys who have logged significant playing time here. For example, Bryce Harper's only played 14 games here. Anthony Rendon's played 15 games. Daniel Murphy's been here 25 times. Game 3 will be Trea Turner's first at Wrigley.

Meanwhile, Baker managed 324 regular-season games in his four years as the Cubs' manager. He visited plenty as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants and now with the Nationals. So he's far more familiar with the place than much of his current roster, meaning those players would be wise to ask him how to best go about playing in such a unique ballpark.

"You talk to them to continually check the wind," Baker said, "and what you see earlier in the game may not be what you see later in the game. I think that giant scoreboard in left-center field has changed how the ball plays some out there, because it used to — if the wind is blowing in or across, it used to knock everything down when it was open. But now it seems that it's blocking the wind, especially in that area.

"I found it, contrary to popular belief, when I was here, it seems like the wind blew in more than it blows out, or at least it was a cross-wind. Most of the time it's a from left to right, and so yesterday during practice, we didn't hardly have any wind. So you know, what it's like today, I don't know. It's a beautiful day out. It's short-sleeve weather. I'm sure it's going to be a good day for a ballgame."

But Game 3 brings an additional wrinkle. Hardly any Nationals hitters have faced Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana, just three to be precise: Matt Wieters, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind. But the Nationals do have a valuable fountain of information on Quintana in the form of Adam Eaton, the injured outfielder who spent multiple seasons as Quintana's teammate with the White Sox.

Eaton played 433 games during his three seasons on the South Side, a three-season span during which Quintana was quietly one of the American League's best pitchers, posting a 3.29 ERA in 96 starts.

So, much like Baker can offer his team insight into the conditions at Wrigley, Eaton can offer insight into what his teammates can expect from Quintana.

"We've got scouting reports, there's nothing like the naked eye seeing a guy. I think the advantage most of the time goes to the pitcher if you haven't seen him," Baker said of Quintana. "So we're relying on some of the guys who might have played with him and some of the guys who played against him.

"I'm sure (Nationals hitting coach Rick) Shu has spoken to (Eaton), and since you made that point, if he hasn't, I'm going to make sure he does speak to him.

"Quintana, I was told a long time ago — I was told by (Kansas City Royals manager) Ned Yost about how difficult he can be to hit sometimes. I haven't seen him in other, other than on video or TV. This will be our first look at him for a bunch of players."

Of course, neither Baker nor Eaton will be the ones on the field making the plays during Games 3 and 4. But their respective experience could help narrow the gap between these two evenly matched teams in certain areas.

In a series where the slightest thing can go a long way in determining who advances, Baker and Eaton's Chicago ties could prove incredibly valuable.

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

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AP

Game on as Jake Arrieta, Wade Davis and Alex Cobb turn down qualifying offers

During the middle of Jake Arrieta’s 2015 Cy Young Award campaign, super-agent Scott Boras compared the emerging Cubs pitcher to another client – Max Scherzer – in the first season of a seven-year, $210 million megadeal with the Washington Nationals.

Now don’t focus as much on the money – though that obviously matters – as when Scherzer arrived for that Washington press conference to put on his new Nationals jersey: Jan. 21, 2015.

It might take Boras a while to find a new home for his “big squirrel with a lot of nuts in his trees.” Teams have been gearing up for next winter’s monster Bryce Harper/Manny Machado free-agent class for years. Mystery surrounds Shohei Ohtani, Japan’s Babe Ruth, and the posting system with Nippon Professional Baseball. Major League Baseball’s competitive balance tax may also have a chilling effect this offseason.

As expected, Arrieta, All-Star closer Wade Davis and pitcher Alex Cobb were among the group of free agents who went 9-for-9 in declining the one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer before Thursday’s deadline.

With that formality out of the way, if Arrieta and Davis sign elsewhere, the Cubs will receive two third-round picks in the 2018 draft.

By staying under the $195 million luxury-tax threshold this year, the Cubs would have to give up a second-round draft pick and $500,000 from their international bonus pool to sign Cobb, an obvious target given their connections to the Tampa Bay Rays, or Lance Lynn, another starter on their radar who turned down a qualifying offer from the St. Louis Cardinals.

That collectively bargained luxury-tax system became a central part of the Boras media show on Wednesday outside the Waldorf Astoria Orlando, where he introduced “Playoffville” as his new go-to analogy at the end of the general manager meetings.

“The team cutting payroll is treating their family where they’re staying in a neighborhood that has less protection for winning,” Boras said. “They’re not living in the gated community of Playoffville. Certainly, they’re saving a de minimis property tax, but the reality of it is there’s less firemen in the bullpen. There’s less financial analysts sitting in the press boxes.

“The rooms in the house are less, so obviously you’re going to have less franchise players. When you move to that 12-room home in Playoffville, they generally are filled with the people that allow you to really achieve what your family – your regional family – wants to achieve. And that is winning.”

Boras also represents four other players who rejected qualifying offers – J.D Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Greg Holland – another reason why this could be a long winter of Arrieta rumors, slow-playing negotiations and LOL metaphors.