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.

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

Forget winter of change, 'status quo' might be the new normal for Cubs

For the second straight offseason, Theo Epstein teased a winter of change after a disappointing end to the campaign.

And for the second straight offseason, the Cubs showed up for the annual fan convention without many significant changes to the roster. 

The fanbase has grown impatient and frustrated and itching for ways to improve upon a 2019 team that openly admits it did not perform up to its potential. 

"I understand the frustration," Epstein said Friday at the Sheraton Grand Chicago. "There's a lot of days I'm frustrated, too, where you look out and there's a great fit on a player who you know you can recruit and sign a reasonable deal that he's worth and you can't get that player and that's frustrating.

"But that's the reality. Every club every winter has a certain landscape, certain paramaters they have to operate under. There are going to be times that we're gonna be really aggressive and have a ton of flexibility and every player is a possibility for us. We knew this was gonna be one of those offseasons where we were gonna be more active in trades than free agency and so there are days where we wake up frustrated or go home at the end of a long day frustrated. 

"So I certainly understand that from the fans, but then, I also look at the talent that we have on paper and I talk to our players and I get excited about how good of a team we can be."

The parameters the Cubs are working under includes a payroll that is already projected over the luxury tax for a second straight season, which the club wants to get back under and reset. That means the Cubs have yet to commit one single dollar in guaranteed big-league money this offseason, instead operating on the fringes of the roster to take fliers on pitchers (like Casey Sadler, acquired Friday) or position players (such as Hernan Perez on a minor-league deal) rather than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos or adding a bullpen piece with a long track record of success.

Epstein knows this isn't an ideal way to build a contender, but the Cubs aren't blowing it up, either. They're stuck in something of a baseball purgatory, trying to win in 2020 but also recognizing the need to improve the long-term health of the franchise. That means resetting the luxury tax, adding long-term pieces and potentially trading away short-term assets.

"We were an 84-win team last year, but underlying stats projected out, we were probably a 90-win team," Epstein said. "Not to say we didn't have issues — we did. Not to say we don't have holes now — we do. But there's significant upside with this group of players. We're not gonna whistle past a graveyard. We're gonna carry more risk into this year than we want to. More risk into this year than we traditionally have in the past and it's our job to operate our way around that.

"...We're gonna carry risk in the 'pen this year and we have to find a repeat where we find value in guys and guys improve and step up. We have risk with our rotation health. We don't have the type of depth and redundancy you'd like to have. And then at a couple positions, there's gonna be some risk with guys with real upside, but guys who if things don't break our way, we could have holes out there. And so that's on us and something we have to continue to plan for every single day. But we have real upside at every position, too."

Fans can laugh and scoff as Epstein and David Ross and the players talk about the potential for the 2020 Cubs to win the World Series or exclaim they're hopeful for the season ahead. But what else do you expect them to say? It'd be silly for the president or a manager or the star of a team to say "No, we don't expect to win this year." Especially when a team has as much talent on the roster as the Cubs have...even if there are holes and risks and not an ideal amount of depth.

Epstein is right — the 2019 Cubs *should have* finished with a 90-72 record instead of an 84-78 record. That's projected based off the Cubs' +97 run differential. The 89-73 Brewers, meanwhile, were projected for only an 81-win season based on their +3 run differential. 

However, those numbers are ultimately meaningless. The reality is the Brewers were in the playoffs (even if only for one game) and the Cubs spent the entire last week of the regular season knowing they weren't going to be partaking in any October action.

After another disappointing finish, Epstein and the Cubs brass wanted change. In a perfect world, they'd already have it — a reshaping of the roster to shake things up and get a different mix than the team that has fallen short of expectations the last two seasons.

But this isn't a perfect world and the Cubs front office isn't going to force things. They won't make a change just for change's sake.

"We're not in a position where we have to do anything," Epstein said. "I think you want to always avoid being put in a corner where you have to make a deal and your back's against the wall and you're gonna take any deal that's out there. We're not at all in that position, but looking at the horizon of the next two years, I think you would be wise at some point to do something that looks out a little bit more for the long term and a little bit less for the short term. But that doesn't have to happen now. We're not in a position where we have to move anybody.

"...What's most likely is status quo — it's hard to get long-term extensions done, it's hard to get trades done. We have what we feel is a pretty good club. We're trying to compete this year and we're not in a position where we have to do anything."

That's certainly a change from the tone set forth by Epstein in his end-of-season presser on the final day of September. But while the roster is essentially intact, the Cubs gave the rest of the organization a major face-lift, from the coaching staff to the scouting department to the strength and conditioning staff. 

Status quo is a good thing for those Cubs fans hoping Epstein's front office doesn't trade away their favorite player.

Kris Bryant is in attendance at Cubs Convention this weekend, but he's also dealing with a bout of the flu, so he did not speak to the media and had to pass on his now-annual segment on the Ryan Dempster show (which was anything but..."boring").

Epstein joked they might be doing a Muhammed Ali rope-a-dope where the Cubs lull everybody into the idea that nothing will happen this winter only for some major news to come down in the three weeks between the Convention and spring training. 

Things can change in a hurry when it comes to trade talks, but it's becoming more and more likely the Cubs will report to their complex in Mesa, Ariz., on Feb. 11 with a "status quo" roster.

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

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USA TODAY

Cubs add another pitcher to the bullpen mix

A few hours before the 2020 Cubs Convention kicked off, Theo Epstein's front office was hard at work adding another pitcher to the bullpen mix.

It's not a big name fans are itching for, but the Cubs acquired right-handed pitcher Casey Sadler from the Dodgers Friday afternoon. The Cubs sent minor-league infielder Clayton Daniel to LA in return. 

Sadler, 29, was designated for assignment by his former team earlier in the week. He has 42 career MLB appearances under his belt, 33 of which came last season between the Dodgers and Tampa Bay Rays (1 start). 

Sadler performed well in 2019, posting a 4-0 record, 2.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, but only had 31 strikeouts in 46.1 innings. He had more success missing bats in Triple-A, with 12.3 K/9 in 38.2 innings last year.

This brings the Cubs' 40-man roster to 39 with a little less than a month before pitchers and catchers report to spring training. The move fits the theme of the offseason where Epstein and Co. are taking fliers on all the buy-low pitchers they can as a volume-game approach to building a pitching staff.

Sadler is out of minor-league options, so he should get a shot at cracking the big-league bullpen out of camp.

At the moment, Craig Kimbrel, Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck look like the only locks for the Opening Day bullpen, but a host of others will be in the mix in Arizona, including:

Ryan Tepera (free agent)
Trevor Megill (Rule 5 pick)
Dan Winkler (free agent)
CD Pelham (waiver pickup)
Brandon Morrow (minor-league free agent)
Duane Underwood Jr. (out of minor-league options)
Alec Mills (out of options)
Adbert Alzolay
Dillon Maples
James Norwood

There are a lot of question marks building a bullpen out of that group, especially considering the proven names the Cubs lost from last year's club (Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Brandon Kintzler).

Daniel, 24, was the Cubs' 31st-round pick in 2018 out of Jacksonville State University. He reached Double-A Tennessee last season and hit .305 with a .799 OPS, 2 homers and 21 RBI in 67 minor-league games a year ago.