Volstad rocked again as winless streak hits 20


Volstad rocked again as winless streak hits 20

ATLANTA It was getting loud here on Tuesday night, the fans doing their tomahawk chop at Turner Field, and you could tell this would be a pivotal moment for Chris Volstad.

When the Cubs demoted Volstad to Triple-A Iowa in the middle of May, Dale Sveum sat with him in the managers office and talked about the confidence and body language you need at this level.

Volstad stands 6-foot-8, and had gotten the benefit of the doubt because hes a former first-round pick and still only 25 years old. But its been almost a full calendar year since hes won a game in the big leagues.

This time it all unraveled in the fifth inning of a 10-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves, moments after pitching coach Chris Bosio and his teammates had surrounded Volstad on the mound.

Given a 3-1 lead, Volstad loaded the bases before Michael Bourn sliced a three-run triple that stayed just inside the right-field line. Bourn scored on a sacrifice fly and moments later Jason Heyward hammered a ball over the center-field fence.

Sveum had seen enough and walked out there to take the ball back. Volstad lasted only 4 13 innings and gave up six runs on seven hits and two walks.

Volstad has now gone 20 starts without a win. During that time, hes posted a 5.68 ERA. The Cubs have lost each of the nine games hes started this season.

Atlanta is where Carlos Zambrano cleaned out his locker last August and the Cubs called his bluff on retirement.

When the new executives in charge at Clark and Addison traded Zambrano last winter, and transferred more than 15 million to the Miami Marlins, they highlighted Volstads upside and tried to frame it as more than just addition by subtraction.

Volstad whos making 2.655 million this season went 2-3 with a 4.44 ERA in eight starts at Iowa and hoped the time away from the spotlight would help him.

Now it looks like Volstad will get one more spot start in place of Ryan Dempster, on Sunday against the New York Mets, the final game before the All-Star break.

Volstads last win remains July 17, 2011, an anniversary he no doubt wants to avoid, but he appears to be running out of chances.

Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been


Cubs' World Series expectations are no surprise, but they show how radical transformation from Lovable Losers has been

MESA, Ariz. — Tom Ricketts sure doesn’t sound like the guy who met his wife in the bleachers during the century-long tenure of the Lovable Losers.

“Everyone knows that this is a team that has the capability to win the World Series, and everyone will be disappointed if we don’t live up to that capability.”

Yeah, the Cubs have been among baseball’s best teams for three seasons now. That curse-smashing World Series win in 2016 was the high point of a three-year stretch of winning that’s seen three straight trips to the National League Championship Series and a combined 310 wins between the regular season and postseason.

But it’s still got to come as a strange sound to those who remember the Cubs as the longtime butt of so many baseball jokes. This team has one expectation, to win the World Series. The players have said it for a week leading up to Monday’s first full-squad workout. The front office said it when it introduced big-time free-agent signing Yu Darvish a week ago. And the chairman said it Monday.

“We very much expect to win,” Ricketts said. “We have the ability to win. Our division got a lot tougher, and the playoff opponents that we faced last year are likely to be there waiting for us again.

“I think at this point with this team, obviously that’s our goal. I won’t say a season’s a failure because you don’t win the World Series, but it is our goal.”

The confidence is not lacking. But more importantly, success drives expectations. And if the Cubs are going to be one of the best teams in baseball, they better keep winning, or they’ll fail to meet those expectations, expectations that can sometimes spin a little bit out of control.

During last year’s follow-up campaign to 2016’s championship run, a rocky start to the season that had the Cubs out of first place at the All-Star break was enough to make some fans feel like the sky was falling — as if one year without a World Series win would be unacceptable to a fan base that had just gone 108 without one.

After a grueling NLDS against the Washington Nationals, the Cubs looked well overmatched in the NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and that sparked plenty of outside criticism, as well as plenty of offseason activity to upgrade the club in the midst of baseball’s never-ending arms race.

“I think people forget we’ve won more games over the last three years than any other team. We’ve won more playoff games than any other team the last three years. And we’ve been to the NLCS three years in a row,” Ricketts said. “I think fans understand that this is a team that if we stay healthy and play up to our capability can be in that position, be in the World Series. I don’t blame them. We should have high expectations, we have a great team.”

On paper, there are plenty of reasons for high expectations. Certainly the team’s stated goals don’t seem outlandish or anything but expected. The addition of Darvish to a rotation that already boasted Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and Jose Quintana makes the Cubs’ starting staff the best in the NL, maybe the best in the game. There were additions to the bullpen, and the team’s fleet of young star position players went untouched despite fears it might be broken up to acquire pitching.

“I think this is, on paper, the strongest rotation that we’ve ever had,” Ricketts said. “I think that being able to bring in a player of (Darvish’s) caliber reminds everyone that we’re intending to win our division and go all the way.

“We’ve kept a good core of players together for several years, and this year I think our offseason moves have really set us up to be one of the best teams in baseball.

“Just coming out of our team meeting, the vibe feels a lot like two years ago. Everybody’s in a really good place. I think everyone’s really hungry and really wants to get this season off to a great start and make this a memorable year.”

There should be no surprise that the team and its players and its executives and its owners feel the way they do. The Cubs are now expected winners, even if that’s still yet to sink in for the longtime fans and observers of the team they once called the Lovable Losers.

Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick


Blackhawks deal Michael Kempny to Capitals for conditional third-round pick

The Blackhawks dealt defenseman Michael Kempny to the Washington Capitals for a third-round pick. Kempny had seven points in 31 games this season.

Kempny, 27, recorded 15 points in 81 career games for the Blackhawks. He tallied an assist in Saturday's 7-1 victory over the Capitals.

Kempny signed a one-year extension through the end of this season back in May.