Cubs

After Kershaw and Greinke, Cubs believe they can beat the best

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After Kershaw and Greinke, Cubs believe they can beat the best

After seeing Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the Cubs believe they can beat the best.

The Los Angeles Dodgers rolled out Cy Young Award winners on back-to-back nights at Wrigley Field and a $270 million team still finds itself at 0-2 in this four-game statement series.

The atmosphere felt different on Tuesday night and the Cubs certainly looked legit, celebrating a 1-0 walk-off victory after Chris Denorfia’s sacrifice fly in the 10th inning, again showing this team won’t fade away.

It left the Cubs at nine games over .500 – for the first time since August 2009 – with a 39-30 record that’s better than all but two teams in the National League (though the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates also happen to play in their division).

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“We all know we have talent,” said Anthony Rizzo, the 25-year-old All-Star first baseman. “As a team, we keep getting better. We’re really not even close to what we can really do.”

That’s the part that will make Cubs fans delirious and could embolden Theo Epstein’s front office at the trade deadline, the idea that this team is just scratching the surface of its potential.

The Cubs talked a big game heading into this season – just like any team that’s declared a winner at the winter meetings – but there’s a growing sense inside the clubhouse that this group can live up to the hype.   

The Cubs lead the majors with nine walk-off wins. They’re 8-3 in extra-inning games and 18-12 in one-run games. They play with nerve and confidence.

[MORE: Maddon trusts Epstein, Hoyer will come through at trade deadline]

“When we get to the eighth or ninth inning, everyone in (the dugout) is just like: This is what we do,” Rizzo said. “We just have a good vibe at all times. And it’s a lot of fun, because we’re all still growing up for the most part.”

The Cubs got contributions from all over, with Mike Baxter and Matt Szczur hitting back-to-back singles to lead off the 10th inning and Dexter Fowler coming off the bench with a sprained left ankle to work a walk and load the bases.

“It’s awesome,” Fowler said. “We got a tight-knit team. It’s awesome to win together. We’re gonna win together and we’re gonna lose together, but we don’t get too down when we lose, and we definitely think we can win each and every game.”

Jason Hammel – the sign-and-flip guy who’s become a core piece – walked off the mound in the eighth inning to a standing ovation from the crowd of 36,799. Hammel outlasted Greinke, the All-Star right-hander who now has a 1.70 ERA but needed to throw 111 pitches just to make it through six innings against this lineup.

[WATCH: Fan makes amazing one-handed grab on foul ball while holding baby]

“It’s a learning experience,” Hammel said, “especially for the young guys. There are plenty of guys on this team that have done it before. But for these young guys, they’re learning how to continue to grind out professional at-bats. We need to make sure that every out, every pitch, every at-bat counts. Especially when you get deep into September and then October, everything counts.”

The Cubs are realistically thinking about the playoffs after five consecutive fifth-place finishes. 

Hammel played for Joe Maddon and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays team that did the worst-to-first turnaround and made it to the World Series. Hammel also pitched for the 2012 Baltimore Orioles team that won 93 games after finishing in last place the year before.

Hammel thinks this is the best collection of young talent he’s ever been around. Maybe the Cubs will see Kershaw and Greinke again.

“Kudos to the front office for continuing to go through the draft and pick out great players,” Hammel said. “Obviously, when you’re bad for so long, you get the cream of the crop.

“But it’s the development part – the guys are really doing a good job. And I think it also says a lot about the leadership here, too, to take young guys and make sure they do have that good head on their shoulders when they get here and they’re not expected to take the world by the horns.

“They’re going to be together for a long time, so the sky’s the limit for this team.”

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: MLB and NFL Commotion

Anthony Herron, Scott King and Jason Goch join Kap on Tuesday's SportsTalk Live panel.

0:00 - Mariano Rivera, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina and Roy Halladay get elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame while Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens remain out. Will they get in next year? Do they deserve to get in at all?

12:00 - Yadier Molina is still mad that Kris Bryant called St. Louis "boring." Why can't The Best Fans in Baseball let it go?

15:00 - Yu Darvish posts a throwing video on Instagram. Who's excited?

16:30 - Saints fans are suing the NFL. But will they have to settle for the league changing its instant replay guidelines or is that too much video review?

22:30 - Patrick Mahomes watches from the bench as Tom Brady drives down the field in overtime. Does the league need to adopt college style OT?

29:00 - The Bears get two more players in the Pro Bowl pushing their total to 8. Is making the Pro Bowl still a big deal?

Listen to the entire podcast here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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Searching for the next Cubs Hall of Famer

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AP

Searching for the next Cubs Hall of Famer

The 2019 BBWAA Hall of Fame voting results were released on Tuesday. No Cubs were elected, so why not take the time to look at the Hall of Fame cases of six former Cubs!

The criteria? Play for the Cubs in at least one game. The number of games played in a Cubs uniform among my six candidates ranges from three to 1,124. Hey, like I said – at least one game.

I avoided Sammy Sosa, who’s still on the BBWAA ballot. I also didn’t bother reviewing Rafael Palmeiro’s case. Both of those players’ cases depend heavily on what your stance is on alleged PED use. I chose to keep it limited to players who might be on a ballot (be it BBWAA or an Era Committee) in the next few years.

Note: rWAR is baseball-reference WAR, fWAR is Fangraphs WAR

Alfonso Soriano (BBWAA - 2020)

412 HR, 1,159 RBIs, .270/.319/.500, 28.2 rWAR, 39.1 fWAR, 111 wRC+

Alfonso Soriano is one of only 55 players in MLB history with 400 or more home runs, and his 412 rank 53rd all-time. He is the fourth (of four) players in MLB history to hit 40 HR and steal 40 bases in a season (2006). Soriano’s total of 54 leadoff home runs ranks second only to Rickey Henderson. He was a seven-time All-Star and a four-time Silver Slugger winner.

Will he get in? It’s doubtful. He had a late start; Soriano wasn’t a regular until he was 25, then once he joined the Cubs he tailed off considerably. In 889 games with Chicago, he was worth 8.1 rWAR (1.5 per 162 games) or 18.3 fWAR (3.3 per 162 games). His .319 career OBP was subpar, as was his defense.

Rick Reuschel (Modern Baseball Era Committee – possibly 2020)

214-191 W/L, 3.37 ERA, 3,548 1/3 IP, 2,015 K, 69.7 rWAR, 68.2 fWAR, 114 ERA+

Rick Reuschel had a sneaky-good career. He spent many years toiling for mediocre teams but had success because he was able to keep the ball in the park and was relatively stingy with the base on balls. Even without huge strikeout totals, “Big Daddy” was able to turn in a strong Major League career. There are 27 pitchers in MLB history with at least 214 wins, 2,015 strikeouts and 68 pitching WAR; 24 are in the Hall of Fame. The others are Roger Clemens, Curt Schilling and Rick Reuschel.

Will he get in? Likely not, but he’s probably better than you think.

Aramis Ramírez (BBWAA - 2021)

386 HR, 1,417 RBIs, .283/.341/.492, 32.6 rWAR, 38.7 fWAR, 115 wRC+

Ramírez is fifth all-time in career home runs as a third baseman, with 381 (the other five were either as DH or PH). In his first five full seasons with the Cubs, he averaged 32 HR and 105 RBI, hitting an excellent .302/.366/.554 (131 wRC+). With the third base position being considerably underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, Ramírez starts to look a little more interesting.

Will he get in? It’s doubtful. He put up big offensive numbers in an era where many players did the same. His defense was underwhelming and his high MVP finish was 9th (in 2012 with the Brewers).

Joe Nathan (BBWAA - 2022)

377 SV, 2.87 ERA, 923 1/3 IP, 26.7 rWAR, 19.4 fWAR, 151 ERA+

Nathan pitched three games for the 2016 Cubs. Did you forget already?  He’s 8th on the career saves list with 377 and he brought quality as well as quantity. Of the 50 pitchers with at least 200 career saves, he’s eighth with a 151 ERA+.

Nathan's peak run was 2004-09 – his first six seasons with the Twins. He put up a 1.87 ERA and 0.934 WHIP with 518 K to only 271 hits in 418 2/3 IP over that span.

Will he get in? Probably not. Billy Wagner was clearly better yet only managed 16.7 percent of the BBWAA vote in 2019.

Fred McGriff (Today’s Game Era Committee – possibly 2022)

493 HR, 1,550 RBIs, .284/.377/.509, 52.6 rWAR, 56.9 fWAR, 134 wRC+

McGriff received 39.8 percent of votes from the BBWAA in 2019 – his final year on the ballot. His case now goes to the Today’s Game Era Committee.

The Crime Dog’s case has had some recent momentum – with good reason. McGriff was consistent and he had a clean reputation, which will help him going forward. The work stoppage of 1994-95 likely cost him a shot at 500 career home runs, which would probably been enough to get him elected via BBWAA in the first place.

By the way, who was the last Cubs lefty prior to Anthony Rizzo to hit 30 HR in a season? It was Fred McGriff in 2002.

Will he get in? I think he’ll get elected the first time he goes on the Today’s Game Era ballot.

Kenny Lofton (Today’s Game Era Committee – possibly 2024)

Lofton played only 56 games with the Cubs – all in 2003 – after coming over from Pittsburgh along with Aramis Ramírez. When considering leadoff men from 1980-present, Rickey Henderson was the best. Then there’s Tim Raines. After that, it just might be Kenny Lofton.

  Games Runs HR RBIs SB BA/OBP/SLG wRC+ rWAR fWAR
Player A 2,651     1,420 117 780 509 .311/.355/.402 104 59.3 57.6
Player B 2,103 1,528 130 781 622 .299/.372/.423 109 68.3 62.4
Player C 2,616 1,610 149 900 938 .293/.343/.410 109 45.3 43.2

Player B is Lofton. Player A is Ichiro. Player C is Lou Brock.

Lofton earned six All-Star selections and four Gold Glove Awards in his career. He’s one of five players in MLB history with 100 triples, 100 home runs and 600 stolen bases. The others are Tim Raines, Lou Brock, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner. From 2002-07, Lofton played with nine different teams, which may hurt his case a bit.

Will he get in? I think Lofton will get in eventually through the Era Committee, though it might take a while.

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