Cubs

Adding Joe Nathan to bullpen could be like Cubs making another trade-deadline splash

Adding Joe Nathan to bullpen could be like Cubs making another trade-deadline splash

MILWAUKEE – As the New York Yankees moved toward ending the bidding war for Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs welcomed Joe Nathan into their clubhouse, hoping a six-time All-Star closer can become a game changer for their bullpen.

At the age of 41 – and after two Tommy John surgeries on his right elbow – Nathan won’t be throwing 105 mph like Chapman could soon at Wrigley Field. But even if the Cubs aren’t getting Nathan at the height of his powers, it’s still another potential upgrade before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“We’ll see,” said Nathan, who earned his first win since September 2014 by throwing a scoreless sixth inning during Sunday’s 6-5 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “These guys obviously have done something special the first half of the season and put themselves in a great (position) to make the postseason. 

“Time will tell who is the right fit. And if they’re going to make more moves, who knows? I’m sure they’re checking to see what’s out there. But for us, we just want to concentrate on today and getting a ‘W.’”

Nathan showed his guts, experience and presence by recovering from a leadoff triple and a walk to strike out the heart of Milwaukee’s order – Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Chris Carter – and keep the Cubs within three runs before a seventh-inning comeback. 

That’s the dimension the Cubs wanted to add to their bullpen, activating off the 60-day disabled list a reliever who’s eighth on the all-time list with 377 career saves and optioning Adam Warren to Triple-A Iowa to stretch him out as an extra starter.

The Cubs believe Nathan is still hungry, even after making more than $85 million in his career, wanting to write a different ending after facing only one hitter with the Detroit Tigers last year, his season ending on Opening Day.

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Nathan was willing to take the prorated major-league minimum, sweat through the heat at the team’s Arizona complex and try to find himself again at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa.
 
“Right from Day 1, it really wasn’t a question of if I’m going to try to come back from this,” Nathan said. “Why not? Why wouldn’t I at least put my best foot forward? If I’m going to rehab it, I might as well go 100 percent at it and see where it goes. 

“The good test for me was I was living at home, going through it, bringing the kids to school, doing homework, doing normal stuff. At the same time, I still had the itch. 

“That kind of told me, too. If I was home, and I was like, ‘You know what, this is kind of nice,’ it would have been easy to just say: ‘No, I’m good.’ But I still had that kick in the butt to get up and come back to this game.”

This is what Nathan wanted, to be back in the middle of a pennant race and dropped into the biggest story in baseball.

“I almost needed a defibrillator for the run into the mound,” Nathan said. “I was just trying to calm myself down.”

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.