Cubs

Carlos de los Cobos: 'We need to improve'

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Carlos de los Cobos: 'We need to improve'

Friday, April 22, 2011Posted: 5:36 p.m.
By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com
The Chicago Fire players know what the problem is. Head coach Carlos de los Cobos knows why his team has lost three consecutive games. Now the team needs to fix the problem on the field. After a week of training, the Fire will have their first chance to prove the lesson has been learned Saturday at Toyota Park.

Cue the Houston Dynamo perennial Eastern Conference nemesis. The Dynamo, despite significant roster turnover, is as consistent as ever, earning eight points in their first five games. Houston poses a tough test this Saturday for a Fire team thats trying to find itself amongst consecutive disappointments.

We need to improve we need points, de los Cobos said. Its important not to lose the order, dont lose the patience in the field. I think the result, very soon, is coming. You can see all the matches that we have a chance to score, and we have some mistakes, and we are working about this, because there is no excuse.

Houstons game is one of strong, organized, tactical play. The Dynamo is a machine of efficiency that wont allow the Fire to let up focus for a moment. Sure enough, a lack of focus has been the Achilles heel for the young team. But De los Cobos isnt concerned. In fact, he expected some lulls.

We need to try to make our football, to try to apply it with style, to try to keep the ball, and dont be despaired, de los Cobos said. We know what is our problem. We are losing our focus, we are losing the concentration in some games, and in this situation if we add some important factors, because we have some young players...its normal that they make some mistakes. But all the players in the world make mistakes, but they need to stay easy, calm, because I think if we keep training and working like the players are doing, I have a big trust its changing everything for us.

De los Cobos might be changing up his lineup in preparation for Houston. The Fire backline could see wholesale changes. With Cory Gibbs likely out, Yamith Cuesta will likely start at centerback. De los Cobos also hinted that he might replace rookie fullback Jalil Anibaba with veteran Dasan Robinson.

I dont know if Anibaba will play, de los Cobos said. Maybe well start with Jalil or maybe Dasan. Dasan is an experienced player; I liked his two last matches when we played away against Seattle and Portland.

The Fire midfield might also see a change on Saturday. Daniel Paladini scrimmaged with the first team on Thursday, though de los Cobos wouldnt commit to him being in the lineup instead of Mike Videira on Saturday.

We need to improve in the aspect of creation, de los Cobos said. I dont know who is playing besides Logan, but maybe... another player like Paladini or Baggio Husidic. We need to improve about the creation.

Last week, against the Los Angeles Galaxy, de los Cobos replaced goaltender Sean Johnson with Jon Conway. The veteran Conway will be between the woodwork again on Saturday.

The experience of Jon is very important for the team, de los Cobos said. He is always supporting the other guys. His experience is so important for the young guys, the young players, because they give confidence to these guys. Everybody trusts a lot in Jon, and I think that the presence of Jon in goal is important right now.

Houstons offensive game is built around set pieces and size in the box, a test that Conway is well prepared to face. There are few in the MLS bigger than the stocky, six-foot-six Conway, and the goaltender uses all of his size to break through crowded boxes on corners and free kicks.

Its also Conways job to call out adjustments on the field. Conway, who made his eighty-ninth MLS appearance in the Fires 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday, has a voice that echoes though Toyota Park, even with 18,000 fans cheering. That bellowing voice will be required again against Houston.

Obviously they have a lot of big boys, and do a good job of working the ball in from wide, Conway said. Im assuming thats what theyll do. Its just important just to give information to make sure these guys know whats going on, whats around them, and then they can make a good decision, an informed decision. So thats all Im trying to do, is make sure they get the information they need to do the right thing.

De los Cobos might also make a change up top. Forward Gaston Puerari has been substituted in his last two games and did not finish training on Thursday. Dominic Oduro, who was traded to the Fire from Houston in late March might see his first start in a Fire uniform against his former team.

Oduro couldnt, or more likely wouldnt, share any inside information regarding the Dynamo, but did call jokingly call Saturday a revenge game.

Oduro scored his first goal for the Fire late in last Saturdays game, sparking a late comeback bid for the Fire. While that bid failed, it did instill some confidence in the team heading into its next game.

Everything is possible, Oduro said. Even though they are organized, lets face it I dont think they can play a 100 percent focused game. Theres going to be a margin of error and thats where we have to, as a team, use that opportunity to penetrate into that error. Thats what were looking for.

The Fire take on the Houston Dynamo Saturday at Toyota Park. First kick is set for 7:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet.

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

The curious ripple effects of the Cubs' trade for Martin Maldonado

While the Cubs put the finishing touches on a lackluster loss to the Reds Monday night at Wrigley Field, the game quickly took a backseat as reports of a trade filtered through Baseball Twitter.

In came a veteran catcher — Martin Maldonado — from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Mike Montgomery, who will live on in Cubs history books forever as the guy who threw the curveball that notched the final out in the 2016 World Series to break a 108-year championship drought.

There are many layers to this move, including the corresponding aspect of Cubs All-Star catcher Willson Contreras hitting the 10-day injured list with a strain in the arch of his right foot. Contreras had an MRI Monday afternoon/evening, which revealed the issue. 

Contreras felt like he could play through it and passionately pleaded his case, but the Cubs want to exercise an abundance of caution with one of their most important players.

"Our medical staff feels like if he were to try to play on it, that he'd be risking exacerbating the injury and turning it into something long-term," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "So we have to get ahead of it, take it out of Willy's hands and take him off his feet. 

"We don't expect it to be longer than 10 days — that's what we hope for, anyways."

But even before the severity of Contreras' injury was known, Epstein said the team was already in talks with the Royals front office.

"We've been having discussions with Kansas City and they had an opening in their rotation after trading [Homer] Bailey and they'd been talking to a couple teams about Maldonado and we knew that," Epstein said. "We'd actually been working on a version of the deal beforehand and it was something we wanted to quickly finalize once it became clear that Willson was gonna miss some time."

That's interesting.

So the Cubs' interest in Maldonado is not solely based on Contreras' injury, which means they value the veteran catcher as more than just a short-term, couple-week insurance policy to pair with Victor Caratini. 

On the one hand, that leaves the Cubs free to trade Caratini over the next couple weeks if a deal developed.

But the move for Maldonado also shores up a major area of depth for the Cubs, which is exactly what Epstein talked about before Monday's game, referencing the change in MLB rules that eliminated the August waiver wire deadline. Now, every team has to make their moves ahead of the July 31 deadline and that's it.

"Teams need to keep depth in mind a little bit more, that you have to anticipate where you might be vulnerable to an injury and try to build that depth up in advance — preemptively, really — knowing that there's no escape valve in August," Epstein said. "So you gotta really do all your work this month as much as possible and really take a hard look at your organizational depth."

Well, despite fantastic seasons from Contreras and Caratini, the Cubs actually have very little in the way of catching depth beyond those two. Taylor Davis is the only other backstop on the 40-man roster and he has almost no big-league experience. When Caratini was on the IL earlier this year with a hand injury, Davis rarely played in the month-plus he was on the roster.

Even if Contreras' injury is as minor as it appears, it underscores the point that the Cubs' depth is very fragile at the most physically demanding position on the field. What would the team do if Contreras or Caratini suffered an injury in August or September?

Now, they can add Maldonado into the mix — a veteran catcher who draves rave remarks for his defense and game-calling. 

The right-handed-hitting catcher is due to turn 33 next month and is in his ninth big-league season. He hasn't done much with the bat in his career (.289 on-base percentage, .351 slugging) and that hasn't changed this year (.647 OPS), but his work behind the plate was enticing to the Cubs and their veteran-laden pitching staff.

"He's an established catcher in the league who does a lot of great things behind the plate," Epstein said. "He can really receive, he can really throw. He's caught playoff games. He's handled some of the best pitchers in the game; he's a favorite for pitchers to throw to.

"He's very calm back there, very prepared, calls a great game, really soft hands, lot of experience, lot of savvy and someone who we think can step in and share the job with Vic and get up to speed really quickly in what we hope is a brief absence from Willson."

The Cubs haven't yet shared a plan for how they plan to manage the roster crunch for all three catchers when Contreras returns from injury in a week or two, but that might be because they don't yet have a plan. That's more of a "cross that bridge when it comes" type of situation.

When everybody is healthy — if everybody is ever healthy all at the same time — the Cubs could carry three catchers and utilize Contreras' ability to play the outfield and Caratini's first/third base versatility. They could also option Caratini to the minors for a couple weeks and bring him back up when rosters expand in September or if another injury strikes.

Either way, the Cubs front office, coaching staff and pitching staff can rest easier knowing they have another experienced backstop on the roster. 

The other aspect to all this, obviously, is in the Cubs bullpen and starting depth. Montgomery is out, which means there is an easy open spot on the roster for Alec Mills, who is making a spot start Tuesday while Cole Hamels continues to rehab his oblique injury.

In the longer term, this could be a good thing for the Cubs bullpen, as Montgomery was miscast and rarely used as a short-inning reliever. The 30-year-old southpaw last threw on July 2 and has only made five appearances in the last month. 

Montgomery was slowed by injury in spring training and then again in the first couple weeks of the season, but he had been building up his workload of late - throwing at least 2.1 innings in each of his last three outings. Still, the Cubs opted to go with Mills Tuesday against the Reds instead of Montgomery and they also had Tyler Chatwood and Adbert Alzolay in the rotation at various points earlier this season.

Montgomery hasn't started once in 2019, but he made 28 starts in a Cubs uniform, including 19 last year while filling in for the injured Yu Darvish.

The Cubs clearly feel good enough with their rotation depth as is (Mills, Chatwood, Alzolay) and Hamels' return looks to be right around the corner, so the writing was on the wall that Montgomery wouldn't get many chances to start in the short or long term in Chicago.

It's also good for Montgomery, a guy who got the last out in the World Series and did everything asked of him in his three-plus years in Chicago, bouncing between the rotation and bullpen. 

Now he gets an opportunity to start, which he's been vocal about wanting to do, and he'll be thrown right into the fire — the Royals have him penciled in to start Friday...in Cleveland.

How's that for full circle?

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

After short stint in the majors, White Sox send Zack Collins to Triple-A

When general manager Rick Hahn has talked about bringing up key prospects, he says he wants those players to be able to come up to the majors and stay there. That won't be the case with Zack Collins.

The White Sox sent the catcher down to Triple-A Charlotte following Monday's 5-2 loss to the Royals. No corresponding move will be made until Tuesday, but it is expected Welington Castillo will return from his rehab stint and rejoin the White Sox.

Collins was called up on June 18, but only played in nine games with seven starts in his 28 days on the big league roster. Collins drew a pinch-hit walk in his first plate appearance at the Cubs on June 19. He then homered two days later in his first start in Texas.

After that, Collins struggled. He goes back to Charlotte after hitting .077 (2-for-26) with five walks, the one home run and 14 strikeouts in 31 plate appearances.

It's unclear if Collins had a chance to stick on the roster or if the plan was for him to go back to Triple-A once Castillo was ready to return. Collins certainly didn't do himself any favors at the plate, but he also didn't see regular playing time.

Collins, a first-round pick in 2016, was seen working out at first base in fielding practice before games, but he stuck to catcher and DH. He could have played some first base or DH when Castillo returned. However, the White Sox claimed A.J. Reed off waivers and he debuted after the all-star break. Reed has taken the at-bats at DH, leaving Collins without regular at-bats.

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