Cubs

Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better

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Lance Berkman thinks Cubs could do Wrigley bigger and better

ST. LOUIS – The Wall Street Journal came out with a headline that was certain to generate buzz: “Why Wrigley Field Must Be Destroyed.”

Cubs executives have publicly said that they’d never consider that nuclear option, while privately lobbying government officials for their renovation plans.

The franchise’s identity is so tied up in the real estate at Clark and Addison that chairman Tom Ricketts has dismissed the idea of playing at U.S. Cellular Field – even for a season – while the ballpark gets a facelift.

The Wall Street Journal piece was heavy on first-person accounts from a writer who sat in the stands during the Bartman game. How about some ideas from one of baseball’s most outspoken players?

Lance Berkman has been coming to the North Side for years, first with the Houston Astros and now the St. Louis Cardinals.

He’s an intelligent guy who went to Rice University. He once had ideas about maybe signing with the Cubs – before making a decision that got him a World Series ring.

“Let me say this: I like the way Wrigley Field looks,” Berkman said Tuesday. “But if they said we’re going to bulldoze it and build it new – but to look similar – I’d be all for it. At some point, you’ve got to modernize.

“I know that’s anathema to a lot of Cubs fans, and a lot of people that view Wrigley as sort of this baseball shrine. But the reality is, I think you could accomplish (more). The location of it, the fan base, the ivy on the walls, all of that stuff is not going to go anywhere. That contributes a lot.

“You can improve the fan experience, the media experience, the player experience, everything, by rebuilding it. And you wouldn’t lose any of the mystique that people are afraid of losing.”

Berkman is a six-time All-Star with a .213 career average in 80 games at Wrigley Field. He echoed what many players want out of a renovated stadium – a bigger clubhouse and better facilities, specifically improvements to the batting cages.

“The locker room’s built for guys that are 5-9 max,” he said. “It’s just not that way anymore. The training room is small. Everything about it is antiquated.”

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry targeted Berkman in the run-up to the winter meetings in December 2010.

Berkman was coming off a down year split between the Astros and New York Yankees, and accepted a one-year, $8 million deal with the Cardinals that looked like a bargain when he hit .301 with 31 homers and 94 RBI.

Carlos Pena wound up signing the “pillow contract” – $10 million for one season spread over three fiscal years – that had everyone in St. Louis thinking the Cubs were going to make a run at Albert Pujols.

How close did Berkman come to signing with the Cubs?

“It would have been closer if we actually had the meeting,” he said. “I signed with the Cardinals and Jim was flying down to (Houston) to go to dinner (with me).

“It was funny because when he was at the airport, the Cardinals and I were still very far apart. And then it was like as he got on the airplane, I got a call from St. Louis and they doubled the offer. I was like, ‘All right, that’s where I wanted to play.’”

Berkman still enjoyed a night out and ended up going to dinner with Hendry, a very entertaining personality. Recruiting players to Chicago isn’t that difficult. The Cubs are taken care of around the city and the day games open up your nights.

The state of Wrigley Field will again be in the news during this weekend’s crosstown series against the White Sox (even without Ozzie Guillen complaining about the rats).

What should the city and state do for the Cubs? That’s another debate that has to happen, and you can be skeptical about the financial details.

But it’s clear what a renovation could do for the on-field product. It would be a game-changer.

As a free agent, how do you weigh the stadium as a variable?

“It probably is a small factor,” Berkman said. “But I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker – if the money’s right and somebody really wants to come there.

“Certainly, as good as it is now in terms of the fans (and their support), I just think it could be so much better. I think that could be a huge plus that would put Chicago at the very top of the list of desirability in terms of your free-agent signings.”

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

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USA TODAY

Ben Zobrist breaks down how Dodgers pitching has made Cubs offense disappear

Ben Zobrist didn’t look for any deeper meaning in Kyle Schwarber’s first-inning homer off Yu Darvish on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, or hope that one swing could change the entire momentum of this National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Zobrist knows what it takes to win in October, the Cubs identifying him as the missing piece to their lineup after he helped transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into a championship team, and then getting a World Series MVP return on their $56 million investment.

That “Schwarbomb” turned out to be fool’s gold, the only run the Cubs would score in front of a quiet, low-energy crowd of 41,871, the defending champs one more loss away from golfing/hunting/fishing/signing autographs at memorabilia shows.

“That was great to get a homer, but I’d rather see some hits strung together,” Zobrist said after a sloppy 6-1 loss, standing at his locker for almost 10 minutes, answering questions in the underground clubhouse. “I’d like to see a couple doubles together, a few singles, three or four hits in an inning. We just haven’t done that.

“That’s what makes rallies. They’ve stayed away from those kinds of innings. That’s why they’re ahead right now.”

Darvish – Jake Arrieta’s replacement in the 2018 rotation? – canceled out the two singles he allowed in the first inning by getting two of his seven strikeouts and answering some of the questions about how he would respond to all the pressure in October.

Darvish – a trade-deadline acquisition that had echoes of Theo Epstein’s “If not now, when?” explanation for last year’s Aroldis Chapman trade – walked one of the 25 batters he faced and pitched into the seventh inning before handing the game over to a lights-out bullpen.

“There’s nothing that we didn’t see beforehand on video,” Zobrist said. “It’s just a matter of we need him to make more mistakes, and we got to take advantage of those mistakes when he makes them.

“When he got to 3-2 counts, he wasn’t throwing a heater. He was throwing the cutter, and it’s a tough pitch to hit. You have to sit on it, and even then it’s got good movement to it. He kept us off-balance.”

Forward-thinking manager Dave Roberts is at the controls of a Los Angeles bullpen that can match up against right- and left-handed hitters, target locations, unleash upper-90s velocity, execute the elevated fastball that messes with eye levels and lean on All-Star closer Kenley Jansen for multiple innings.

The Dodger relievers essentially put together a no-hitter that lasted nine-plus innings across Games 1, 2 and 3. Together, they have pitched 10.2 scoreless innings, facing 36 batters and allowing two hits and a walk and hitting Anthony Rizzo with a pitch.

“They kept the ball on the edges and kept us off-balance,” Zobrist said. “They’re not throwing the pitch in the middle of the plate when we need them to. They’re keeping it on the edges and those are hard (to hit). When you got guys with good stuff on the mound, you need them to make some mistakes for you, or at least start walking some guys.

“When they’ve gotten in those situations with a three-ball count, they’re still making the pitch when they need to. They’re not walking many guys – and we are.

“That’s why they’re up 3-nothing.”

Zobrist (4-for-23 this postseason) is now more of a part-time player/defensive replacement, no longer the switch-hitting force who dropped the bunt at Dodger Stadium that helped end the 21-inning scoreless streak during last year’s NLCS.

Zobrist insisted the Cubs are still all there mentally, not checked out after a grueling first round against the Washington Nationals and a brutal walk-off loss in Game 2 at Dodger Stadium. He owns two World Series rings and one has the Cubs logo and this inscription: “We Never Quit.”

“We keep it loose all the time,” Zobrist said. “We know what’s at stake. And we don’t shy away from it. We look forward to the challenge ahead. It would be a great story for us to be able to come back in this series and win this series.

“We make adjustments, we take advantage of mistakes and we come out with a victory tomorrow. That’s what we have to do.”

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Winter is coming for Cubs team that looks checked out of 2017

Kyle Schwarber took a Babe Ruth swing on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, posed for a moment and dropped the bat out of his follow through, watching that Yu Darvish pitch soar 408 feet out toward the left-center field bleachers.

Those carefree Cubs relievers shown on the video board – wait, was that John Lackey bouncing around? – danced in the bullpen in the first inning. This is exactly what the Cubs wanted: Grab an early lead? Check. Get one of their big boys going? Check. Energize the crowd of 41,871? Check.

That sense of momentum lasted less than the time it takes to buy a beer or go to the bathroom at Wrigley Field, because the Los Angeles Dodgers look like the unstoppable force this October.

Now Wade Davis may never pitch in this National League Championship Series and Wednesday night could be Jake Arrieta’s final start in a Cubs uniform. Winter is coming after a 6-1 loss left the defending World Series champs looking mentally checked out of 2017.

The Cubs played AC/DC and Motley Crue in their underground clubhouse and answered questions about why they believe they can match the 2004 Boston Red Sox who took down the New York Yankee Evil Empire, becoming the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit since the LCS expanded to a seven-game format in 1985.

But Kris Bryant’s glassy look and bloodshot eyes told a different story, the reigning NL MVP admitting how “draining” those five games felt against the Washington Nationals in Round 1.

“But you kind of expect that around this time when games mean a lot,” Bryant said. “It takes a lot of energy to get ready for these games, and at the end, you feel wiped out. It’s expected.”

But no one could have predicted this lack of buzz in Wrigleyville, which felt less than a lot of midweek games during the regular season. A silence fell over the old ballpark when Andre Ethier – who has three homers across the last two seasons combined – lined a Kyle Hendricks pitch off the video board in right field to lead off the second inning.

Hendricks – who has made 10 postseason starts across the last three years and kept the Dodgers completely off-balance last October on the night the Cubs clinched their first NL pennant in 71 years – watched in the third inning as Chris Taylor crushed another home-run ball that bounced off the roof of the batter’s eye in center field.

“I wouldn’t say we’re running out of gas,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning. We’re going to come into the clubhouse tomorrow positive and just ready to strap it on.”

The Dodgers will be out for beer and champagne on Wednesday night and the chance to kick back and watch the Yankees and Houston Astros expend all their energy in the ALCS.

Dodger manager Dave Roberts – who pushed all the right bullpen buttons in Games 1 and 2 (eight no-hit/scoreless innings combined) – toyed with the Cubs by letting Darvish hit against struggling reliever Carl Edwards Jr. with a two-run lead and two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning.

Darvish showed bunt on all four pitches – and drew a four-pitch walk and slammed his bat to the ground in celebration. The fans booed after Edwards struck out Taylor on three pitches to end the inning.

“We were there just as much as any other game,” said Ben Zobrist, last year’s World Series MVP. “Mentally, there was no letdown. Physically, there was no letdown. It was just a matter of them capitalizing on some mistakes that we made. That’s part of the game. And they didn’t make a lot of mistakes.

“They played better baseball than us tonight. That’s why they got the W.”

The Cubs committed two errors in Game 3 and then had a National-style meltdown in the eighth inning, from Zobrist misjudging the flyball to right field that dropped in front of him, to Mike Montgomery throwing a wild pitch, to catcher Willson Contreras getting crossed up on a swinging strike three, his glove nowhere near Montgomery’s 92.7-mph fastball, which crashed into his right arm and ricocheted into the visiting dugout.

A three-run game became 6-1 – and head for the exits and then the offseason. There was Albert Almora Jr. in the ninth inning, driving a ball into the ivy in left field and sprinting right into lead runner Alex Avila at third base, bailed out only because Kike Hernandez waved his hand to signal a ground-rule double.

At least that made All-Star closer Kenley Jansen work the last three outs, accumulated stress that might benefit the Yankees or Astros more than the Cubs.

“They are done,” an NL scout wrote in a text message. “You can see it in their faces.”