Cubs

After comeback win, Zambrano sees big picture

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After comeback win, Zambrano sees big picture

Saturday, April 2, 2011Posted: 3:00 PM Updated: 5:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

There is the theory that Carlos Zambrano will have an outsized influence on this season: The Cubs will go as he does in 2011.

That makes the day Zambrano pitches like watching NASCAR, waiting for the crash. Fair or not, thats what everyones curious about -- how he will respond to the next crisis. You can never blend in with a 91.5 million contract.

But Zambrano cant always be the entire story. It took a team effort to complete Saturdays 5-3 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs dont necessarily need Zambrano to be what he was at the end of last season unbeatable at 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his final 11 starts. They are counting on 200 innings, quality starts from here until September.

Hes in good shape and hes working hard, Alfonso Soriano said. I think hes a totally different guy. I hope that hell be consistentfrom the beginning to the end because hes got the talent and he has the pitches.

Hes more calmed down and he knows what hes doing.

Zambrano pitched well enough before leaving with cramps in his right hand. Garrett Jones had just slammed an 81 mph pitch into the right-field bleachers to open the seventh inning. Zambrano felt something in his hamstring warming up and had nothing at that point.

Athletic trainer Mark ONeal and manager Mike Quade walked out to the mound. That was it for Zambrano, who was pulled after 99 pitches and the Cubs trailing 3-0.

Nothing serious, Quade said. I guess he thought he could get through it and I wish we would have made a decision about it before the home run (but) he was real good.

Its a fine line. I love the fact you want to go back out there, but lets make sure (youre OK). Were also talking about the first start of the year, so theres a lot of baseball left to be played.

Zambrano who gave up three runs on five hits and three walks in six innings wasnt concerned and said hell make his next start.

Just cramping, but Ill be OK, he said. Theres nothing I can do about it.

It probably says something that Zambrano gave the Cubs their first extra-base hit of the season with a double to center in third inning.

The Cubs (1-1) got the leadoff man on in the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings. But for the 35,782 fans sitting outside on a 46-degree afternoon, there wasnt any payoff until the eighth.

Pinch-hitter Kosuke Fukudome drew a walk, ran to second on Evan Meeks wild pitch and scored on Starlin Castros double into the right-field ivy. Castro scored when first baseman Lyle Overbay booted a groundball.

The Pirates (1-1) started to resemble the team that lost 105 games last year and finished with a 5.00 staff ERA that ranked last in the majors.

Soriano tied the game with single to right-center field before an unlikely hero emerged.

Blake DeWitt who isnt out of minor-league options struggled so much this spring that some wondered whether he would even make the team. The Cubs pushed him back on the second-base depth chart and made him a utility infielder. He put them ahead with a pinch-hit, two-run double to left.

Its a team, DeWitt said. Were all competing for the same thing. You better be ready. Youre not just playing for yourself. Youre playing for the other 24 guys in this clubhouse.

That five-run burst was enough for Kerry Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol. Together they combined for three scoreless innings out of the bullpen, just the way the Cubs drew it up in the offseason.

Marmol struck out the side in the ninth inning but gave the ball to Quade after the first victory in 2011. It will take a group effort.

Everybodys happy, Zambrano said. Everybody collaborated to win. (Were) pretty excited when everybody puts in a little bit of whatever they had to.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

Jed Hoyer says Cubs plan to add depth before the trade deadline

With the second half of the season about to kick off Thursday afternoon, the Cubs front office is in the final stretch of roster building as the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline looms.

Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer spoke with NBC Sports Chicago's very own David Kaplan today on his ESPN 1000 radio show answering plenty of questions on what the Cubs' gameplan is before the trade deadline. 

There has already been a flurry of moves over the past few days, with two of the more enticing trade pieces being moved in new Dodger shortstop Manny Machado and former Padres reliever Brad Hand, who was traded to the Indians Thursday morning.

But when asked about going after big-name talent at the deadline, Hoyer explained while the team may "engage" in those conversations, the focus for him and the Cubs was on adding depth to the roster. 

"Obviously, we'll be involved in those [trade] discussions, but I do feel like adding depth is something we are going to do," Hoyer said. "We're going to be in on every discussion, but at the same time, I do believe we have the pieces internally to be a heck of a team." 

The name that has garnered attention recently has been Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom, who is currently having the best season of his career at age 30, but Hoyer made no indication the Cubs would once again facilitate another blockbuster deal.

And even with Tyler Chatwood struggling to locate in the strike zone this season, Hoyer made it clear the front office hasn't lost faith in their second biggest investment of the off-season. 

"We're confident [Chatwood] will have a better second half, we're going to have a really big, long pennant race," Hoyer said. "It's going to be really challenging second half and we're going to need all the pitching we can possibly get and I think Tyler is going to be a big part of that." 

In terms of team needs, the Cubs are a club with few holes on their roster but could stand to add more pitching in both the bullpen and rotation with everyone but Jon Lester having frustrating moments in the first half of the season.

Making moves similar to the Mike Montgomery trade in 2016 are what Hoyer relishes, telling Kaplan those are the moves the Cubs "pride themselves on." 

But when it comes to Cubs improving on their already impressive first half of baseball, Jed Hoyer continued to back the players who are currently on the roster.

And while it may not be the move that creates the social media buzz fans crave this time of year, Hoyer knows he can get more from his current roster in the second half. 

"There's no doubt that the best way we can get better is by having guys we already have [play] better than they have to date." 

 

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina sees something familiar in Cubs: 'They remind me of what we were back in the day'

Yadier Molina has been playing the Cubs for a decade and a half.

For 15 years, Molina has been one of the faces of the St. Louis Cardinals, making nine All-Star Games, winning eight Gold Gloves, playing in nine postseasons and winning a pair of World Series championships. And for much of that time, his Cardinals had the upper hand in the rivalry between the two National League Central foes.

But that's changed in recent years. The Cubs have ascended to the Cardinals' old spot as a perennial contender, and it was their defeat of the Cardinals in the NLDS back in 2015 that really seemed to usher in the current era of World Series expectations on the North Side.

If you watch any rivalry long enough, you'll see the balance of power shift back and forth. Molina has been watching this rivalry for a long time.

"They've got good chemistry, they've got good talent there, they play together," Molina said Tuesday in Washington, D.C., before suiting up alongside Willson Contreras and Javy Baez on the NL All-Star team. "So yeah, they remind me of what we were back in the day with the Cardinals."

High praise considering all that Molina and those old Cardinals teams accomplished.

It wasn't too long ago that the Cardinals were a dominant force in this division and in this rivalry. Between 2009 and 2015, the Cubs lost double-digit games to the Cardinals in all but one season. The Cardinals won a World Series title during that seven-year span (2011), ending all but one of those campaigns with a postseason appearance. The Cubs, meanwhile, had five straight fifth-place finishes and missed the playoffs in all but the last.

But since the end of the 2015 regular season, the Cubs are 30-20 against their biggest rivals, a record that includes that 3-1 series win in the 2015 NLDS.

And now it's the Cubs who have seemingly built a winning machine. Like the Cardinals dominated the division with a core cast of characters that included Molina as well as Albert Pujols, Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday, the Cubs now have that reliable core featuring Anthony Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Baez, Contreras and so many others. They're expected to be at the top of the Central standings and compete for championships, just like the Cardinals were for much of a decade.

The Cardinals, of course, have quite recently been thrown into a state of atypical tumult with manager Mike Matheny fired in the middle of the season and a couple off-the-field controversies grabbing national headlines. That's not to say they're exactly out of contention, though, as they begin the second half with an above-.500 record, 7.5 games back of the division-leading Cubs and only four games back for the second NL wild card spot.

But when you compare the drama-drenched Cardinals with the Cubs — who while no one would describe as firing on all cylinders have managed to stay not far behind their 2016 pace — there's a noticeable gap, a gap that's somewhat crazy to think about for those who can remember the Cardinals' past dominance in this rivalry.

Though the Cardinals have actually won more head-to-head matchups this season (five of the eight), the five-game set to begin the second half — the first of eight games between the two teams over the next two weekends — would figure to favor the Cubs, who won 12 of 15 to close out the first half.

"It's important for us to go out there and try to win the series. Right now, we need that as a club," Molina said. "It's going to be tough. The Cubs, they're playing good baseball right now, they've got chemistry there. It's going to be tough, but our concentration is on trying to win the series."