Cubs

After Schwarber move, Cubs waiting for more impact at trade deadline

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After Schwarber move, Cubs waiting for more impact at trade deadline

The Cubs are responding to Miguel Montero’s injury by promoting elite prospect Kyle Schwarber from Triple-A Iowa.

If that aggressive mindset is going to carryover to the trade deadline, the Cubs have to hope teams start getting more realistic and more decisive once the All-Star break ends.

Not that the Cubs know exactly what they will do by July 31, but there is no impulse to blow this team up again. It’s just a matter of how much Theo Epstein’s front office will add, how hard they want to slam their foot on the accelerator.

Schwarber will be rejoining a third-place team when the Cubs open the second half on Friday against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field. At 47-40, the Cubs also have the National League’s fifth-best winning percentage, already sweeping the season series (7-0) against the New York Mets, the team trailing them by one game in the race for the second wild card.

[MORE: Cubs promoting Kyle Schwarber in response to Miguel Montero’s injury]

All 15 teams in the American League are within eight games of a playoff spot, creating uncertainty about which direction to go and fueling the belief this could be a sellers’ market.

“It’s not a unilateral thing,” Epstein said. “You can’t make things happen at the deadline. It’s all about understanding what teams are trying to do, being opportunistic when they’re in a certain mindset, trying to match up.

“But I think it’s important when you write about the trade deadline, you look back. Those deals rarely work for buyers.”

The Cubs built this team, in part, through those fire sales, finding 40 percent of their rotation (Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks), rebuilding their bullpen (Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Neil Ramirez), getting a starting second baseman (Addison Russell) and deepening their overall pool of prospects.

Within Epstein’s first three years of running baseball operations, the Cubs engineered 10 major trades where they gave up 13 players (average age: 31) and eight seasons of future control for 17 prospects (average age: 22.5) and 95 seasons of future control.

“We’ve made a lot of phone calls,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I don’t think things have sort of kicked off yet, as far as the trade market. I still think this will be a tighter market than usual early on, just because the American League is so jumbled up that I don’t think teams have really declared themselves yet.

“The National League’s a little bit different, but I think it will take some time to break through. Maybe after the All-Star break that will happen.”

[MORE CUBS: Can Theo Epstein land a big fish at the trade deadline?]

The Cubs are relevant again with star manager Joe Maddon, All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant and the hope another impact player could arrive within the next two weeks beyond Schwarber, a 22-year-old catcher and Baseball America’s No. 6 midseason prospect.

“It’s brought a nice little buzz to the city,” said Jon Lester (4-8, 3.59 ERA), who had an up-and-down first half in the first year of that $155 million megadeal.

“We’ve got a bunch of young guys on this team that haven’t played a full season in the big leagues before, and the adjustment period has (gone) surprisingly well.

“I expect these guys to continue to make adjustments and continue to do well. With that being said, there’s going to be some ups and downs involved. You have to take the good with the bad sometimes.”

With the Cubs already bracing for Bryant, Russell and Jorge Soler to hit the rookie wall – not to mention the unanswered questions about the back of the rotation and what that does to the bullpen – is there a psychological boost to acquiring a new player?

“It depends on how good he is,” said Maddon, who guided the Tampa Bay Rays to five 90-win seasons between 2008 and 2013.

“That could be overstated. I’ve been involved in a lot of playoffs the last several years with minimal acquisition at that point. A lot of time, it comes from within. A lot of time, it comes from guys that may have been injured that get well, too. And then a lot of times, it comes from guys that have been underperforming and start to perform.”

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Maddon pointed to the submarine-style reliever the Rays acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in August 2008 on their way to the World Series.  

“The first year we got good, Chad Bradford was a huge addition,” Maddon said. “That came after the July 31 deadline. We got Chad and he was huge for us down the stretch (1.42 ERA in 21 appearances).

“He doesn’t have to be this huge name. It could just be a nice fit for what you’re trying to get going on here. It also could be somebody that’s really good within the room and really makes a difference in there.

“I evaluate all the importance of a player, beyond just wearing batting average on a sleeve to determine whether or not somebody is beneficial to me. I don’t go there.

“Obviously, acquisitions can be great, but I’ve seen it be detrimental. Honestly, I have. I’ve seen guys come in and absolutely take you the other way, too, because they just don’t fit.”

The Cubs still have 23 games left against the Philadelphia Phillies, Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, three last-place teams that should be even weaker by Aug. 1 and playing for the future.

The Cubs also have 15 games remaining against the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates, the two teams in front of them in the division. Plus 10 more against the first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants.

Welcome back to The Show, Kyle Schwarber.

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

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USA TODAY

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: