Cubs

Aramis Ramirez has no time for rebuilding

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Aramis Ramirez has no time for rebuilding

Aramis Ramirez didnt think the Cubs could do a total rebuild at Wrigley Field. There wouldnt be enough patience.

This was right around last seasons trade deadline, while Ramirez was making his salary drive, and trying to clarify his no-trade stance. This was months before the Cubs hired Theo Epstein and made the team president their brand.

You cant rebuild in a big market, Ramirez said last July. When you get 40,000 every day in this town, you cant try to rebuild. You got to put a winning product on the field. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesnt. But you cant just get rid of everybody and try to rebuild in a market like this.

This city is about to find out.

No one in the room knew that Jim Hendry was already fired. If the general manager had returned, Ramirez almost certainly would have been re-signed to play third base.

Instead, Ramirez wore a Milwaukee Brewers uniform on Monday night, which drew a mixed reaction at Wrigley Field. Some boos, some polite applause, a feeling of eh as he stepped into the box for his first at-bat.

Its not that I dont care. Its just that I cant control it, Ramirez said before the game. Youve got to ask that question to the fans. If they dont appreciate the way I play, what I did, its up to them. Theres nothing you can do.

Ramirez generated 239 homers and 806 RBI in almost nine seasons for the Cubs. He played on good teams and bad teams, but was never really beloved by the fans. Certain segments of the media criticized his body language, while some teammates were bothered by the personal considerations he received.

Ramirez didnt breathe fire, and wasnt a natural leader, but he quietly helped Starlin Castro adjust, telling the young shortstop to ignore the boos and focus on the next play after making an error.

Carlos Marmol and Darwin Barney each made a point to hug Ramirez during batting practice. Late in the 2010 season, Ramirez was the first person in the organization to tell Barney that he had the talent to be the starting second baseman the next year.

He helped me a lot, Marmol said. Hes kind of like my father in baseball.

Reporters liked going to Ramirez because he could be brutally honest, and didnt just repeat the organizations talking points. But this time he was politically correct when asked about the new direction at Clark and Addison.

I dont know - Ive never been a GM before, Ramirez said. But they got a game plan, Im sure. Hopefully, it works. I dont know how long its going to take, but any time you go young, its going to take awhile.

But I dont know if next year theyre going to go out and get three, four, five top free agents or just keep going young. I guess Im not the right guy to answer that question. I dont know what kind of plan they have in mind.

They basically told me (they) were going to go young (and) I cant fit in those plans.

Everybody got their own priorities and their priority is to go out and get younger and build the farm system. You can see they didnt spend any money. They didnt go out and sign any free agents, because they want to start from the bottom (up).

Epstein made it clear early on to Paul Kinzer - the agent for Ramirez (and Castro and Marmol) - that the Cubs werent interested in negotiating a new deal.

Ramirez didnt really want to leave Chicago, but found a soft landing spot in Milwaukee with a three-year, 36 million contract.

Even after losing Prince Fielder, the small-market Brewers arent rebuilding. Ramirez could win the ring that might change the perception of his career.

We got a good team, Ramirez said. This team won 96 ballgames last year and they were two games away from the World Series. We got pretty much everybody back, besides Prince. So I think we got a good chance if guys stay healthy and do what were supposed to do.

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Cubs feel Yu Darvish is 'on a mission' to return and provide boost in pennant race

Yu Darvish cursed and snapped his head in frustration.

He had just spiked a fastball in the dirt to Cubs backup catcher Victor Caratini as Tuesday morning's sim game was winding down.

A couple moments later, Darvish fluttered one of his patented eephus pitches way up and out to Caratini and again let an expletive slip out.

Darvish threw about 55 pitches in three "innings" worth of a simulated game (meaning he sat down and rested for a few moments in between each "inning") while facing Caratini and David Bote with a host of onlookers including a gaggle of Chicago media, Joe Maddon and his maroon Levi's and Van's kicks, Theo Epstein and a group of Cubs coaches.

"It was good," Epstein said minutes after Darvish wrapped it up. "He was competing well out there, spinning the ball really well. Maybe his best spin of the year. That was good to see.

"We'll see how he feels tomorrow, but seems like he's just about ready for the next step, which should be rehab games."

Nobody knows how many rehab outings Darvish may need at this point and there's still no timetable for when the Cubs will get him back in the rotation. 

Epstein acknowledged that at this point in the season — with less than seven weeks left until playoffs begin — the Cubs have just one shot to make this work with Darvish. Any setback now is essentially the dagger in any hopes of a comeback.

You can get giddy about the spin rate all you want, but the real telling sign to the Cubs was Darvish's attitude. Instead of worrying about his arm or any lingering pain out there, he was getting pissed at himself for missing spots as he started to tire in the sim game.

It was a sign to both Epstein and Maddon that Darvish is getting back in the right head space to return to a big-league field in the middle of a tight pennant race.

"I think he wants it," Epstein said. "The guys that are around him every day feel like he's really eager to get out there and compete. Even in the sim game today, when Vic had a good swing on the fastball, he came back on the next one a little bit harder and was mixing all his pitches.

"He's going about his business like someone who's on a mission to come back and help this team."

Maddon concurred.

"Totally engaged, looked really good, was not holding back," the Cubs skipper said. "...We were all very impressed."

All that being said, the Cubs still aren't in a place where they feel confident enough to just plug Darvish back into the rotation for the final few weeks of September and into October (assuming they make it there). 

Darvish has said himself he feels like he turned a corner a couple weeks ago and is back in a good place physically.

Still, his journey back has already experienced several hiccups and there's no telling everything will be perfect from here.

At the end of the day, Maddon and his staff have no choice but to try to win ballgames with the guys who are on their active roster and can't worry about what "might be" with Darvish, Kris Bryant, Brandon Morrow or even Drew Smyly.

Of course, getting those guys back healthy would be a heck of a boon to this Cubs team, but it's not something they can count on.

"I don't think you ever get to that point," Epstein said. "... Anytime a player's injured, there's a certain probability that he returns and on a certain timetable and there's a spectrum of outcomes when he comes back. From being significantly better than he was before he went down to performing the same to not being effective.

"None of us can predict exactly what the outcome is gonna be, so you have to be prepared for all the possible outcomes. You never want the performance of any one player to be the linchpin of the success of the club. Because if you are, you're being irresponsible and setting yourself up to fail.

"At the same time, you're never gonna be as good as you might be if one of your most talented players returns and returns in really good form. We're hopeful and we're trying to do everything we can to put him in a position to succeed and right now, there've been a lot of good signs, which is certainly better than where we were six weeks ago."

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

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USA TODAY

Brewers' faltering bullpen not doing them favors in NL Central race

At a time when the Cubs are missing their closer and continuing to hold their lead on the division anyway, the Brewers are in a very different place. 

Coming in to a short but weighty series at Wrigley Field, Milwaukee has dropped two games via bullpen meltdown in their last four. Corey Knebel, who saved 39 games for the Brewers in 2017 with a 1.93 ERA, has seen much more limited time in the closer's role this year. But getting him right will probably make the difference for Milwaukee down the stretch.

"It’s important that we get him going," Brewers manager Craig Counsell told reporters before Tuesday's game. "Getting Corey on track is probably the bigger equation in this that kind of normalizes the bullpen."

Last Thursday, Knebel loaded the bases in the 9th when Milwaukee was leading, 4-2, and eventually left for Joakim Soria after allowing a run on a single. This set the stage for Hunter Renfroe's grand slam that cost the Brewers the game. In his next appearance, Knebel pitched in the 5th inning against the Braves and gave up a run in Milwaukee's eventual 8-7 loss.

Without a reliable Knebel, the Brewers have had to play mix and match with their bullpen, a recipe that doesn't usually work. It's been successful so far for the Cubs in the absence of Morrow, but that hasn't been the case for Milwaukee lately. 

The Brewers acquired Joakim Soria from the White Sox on July 26 in hopes of shoring up their bullpen, but after giving up the grand slam to Renfroe last week, Soria hit the DL with a right quadriceps strain. Counsell said that it isn't likely for Soria to return very soon, however.

"We’re not going to be at 10 days, I’ll tell you that," Counsell said, adding that Soria is still only doing stationary bike work at this point.

But help might be on the way. Taylor Williams, who was placed on the 10-day disabled list on August 3, is eligible to return. For now, the Brewers opted to keep outfielder Keon Broxton on the roster, but Williams could prove to be a boon for the Milwaukee reliever corps. Before being shelved, he was averaging more than a strikeout per inning. 

Otherwise, the Brewers have Matt Albers rehabbing in Biloxi, Mississippi, where they plan to let him appear in at least a couple games before activating him.

Milwaukee has a chance to cut the division lead to a single game these next two days, but without a reliable bullpen, that could prove especially difficult.