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Bottom line: Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline

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Bottom line: Cubs need more pitching by trade deadline

CINCINNATI – The Cubs are under no illusions as they prepare for the July 31 trade deadline: It’s the pitching, stupid.

Cubs executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer already placed their bets on big bats in the draft, on the international market and through trades. The next 10 days should be focused on acquiring another quality starter, even if it’s not someone at the level of David Price or Cole Hamels.

“You can’t have enough pitching,” manager Joe Maddon said. “I really believe that. Offensively, we have it. It’s here. Some of it’s dormant at times, but you got to work through it. Everybody goes through those moments during the season.”

The Cubs trudged through a suspense-free 9-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in Game 1 of Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.

In an ideal world, Kyle Hendricks – with his poise, command and Ivy League education – would probably become the reliable No. 5 starter on the playoff team the Cubs envision themselves becoming.

[MORE CUBS: Kyle Schwarber is the big bat the Cubs absolutely need]

Hendricks didn’t get hit all that hard – two infield choppers, shortstop Addison Russell’s throwing error and a walk to Joey Votto set it in motion – but the Cubs still got buried in a 4-0 hole in the first inning.

“‘Weird’ is a good word for it,” Hendricks said. “Honestly, I’ll be the first one to tell you when I don’t make good pitches. But I thought I was throwing pretty well, even from the first. Just some bad breaks. It wasn’t my day.”

Hendricks looked sharp at times and made it through six innings, giving up five runs and getting nine strikeouts. But these issues aren’t specifically about Hendricks (4-5, 3.66 ERA).

With the bullpen in “dire straits” – Maddon’s words – the Cubs had to scramble after using six relievers in Tuesday night’s 13-inning victory. And the starter – Jason Hammel, who hadn’t pitched since July 8 – used a brace to get through five innings and talked afterward about the “lingering effects” from his hamstring injury and developing soreness in his calf muscle.

“Our trainers aren’t giving me like the whole panicked-or-concerned vibe about it,” Maddon said. “So I think he’s going to be OK. At this point, honestly, I’m not (concerned). But you never know.”

[MORE CUBS: Let the David Price madness begin]

To strengthen the bullpen, the Cubs called up Yoervis Medina from Triple-A Iowa and designated Clayton Richard for assignment. Medina got rocked in the seventh, giving up four runs and needing 42 pitches to finish the inning.

The Cubs hope Richard will stay in the organization after a whirlwind July – plucked from Pittsburgh’s Triple-A affiliate and two spot starts bookending that emergency appearance when Hammel went down.

The Cubs can line up Hammel (Sunday vs. Philadelphia) and Hendricks (Monday vs. Colorado) on normal rest next week at Wrigley Field. And then possibly bring back Iowa right-hander Dallas Beeler – Wednesday’s Game 2 starter – on July 28 against the Rockies.

This is a lot of uncertainty for a team that has legitimate playoff hopes and entered this doubleheader with a 3.30 rotation ERA that trailed only the Cardinals, Dodgers and Pirates in the National League.

Jon Lester is the $155 million ace with two World Series rings. Jake Arrieta and Hammel became part of the All-Star conversation in the first half. Pitching coach Chris Bosio and catching/strategy coach Mike Borzello deserve a lot of credit for the infrastructure they helped build here.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The bottom line is the Cubs need to do something to get through the final 68 games and into October. The pitching isn’t a mirage. It’s just inherently fragile. If there’s any help on the way…

“I’m not getting any sense,” Maddon said. “I’ve not spoken to Theo or Jed at all about any of that.

“I don’t really worry about that stuff, because I have faith in the guys that are there, that we’ll figure it out somehow. And hopefully be able to get a chance to hold onto Clayton as well.

“Big picture, I got to be more about today. And so that’s where I’m at, man. They’re the ones putting it together. It’s our job to make it work. I am certain we’ll be fine.

“Our guys will figure it out somehow.”

Eventually, someone from the front office will send you a text message.

“Exactly,” Maddon said. “I’ll get a text. I’ll read it. And then I’ll do whatever it says.”

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

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USA TODAY

Anthony Rizzo is ready to be the leading man 

When discussing his unconventional lineup choices, Joe Maddon had this to say, "It's almost a backwards way of doing this right now that I'm finding fascinating.....So I'm just gonna let it play for just a little bit and see where it takes us."

And it is hard to blame Maddon for letting his experiment ride out longer.

Via our Chris Kamka, Rizzo has hit in the leadoff spot seven times this season. In those seven plate appearances he has a single, double, triple (July 21), home run, walk, hit by pitch and a groundout. Rizzo’s numbers as a leadoff hitter are staggering:

And it appears the Cubs agree.

After their 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Saturday, Ben Zobrist joked that Rizzo is the “self proclaimed greatest leadoff hitter...”. And while on paper, having Zobrist bat fourth in the order and Rizzo lead off seems contradictory, the move has definitely energized the offense. Immediately following all the lineup shuffling, the Cubs reeled off four straight wins before the Cardinals 18-run, 18-hit explosion, but even in that game Rizzo did draw a base by HBP.

And sure enough, in Saturday’s game, there was Rizzo, dominating to the tune of three walks and a triple. There is no telling if Maddon will continue to keep him in the leadoff spot. The move was originally made to help Rizzo get his groove back, which if Saturday’s win was any indication, he has.

But with Jason Heyward having a great offensive season, Jesse Chavez looking good in his Cubs debut (two clean innings with one strikeout) and Baez continuing his MVP-like play, Cubs fans should be as optimistic as one certain fan at Wrigley Field.

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

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USA TODAY

Cubs infielder Ryan Court had a special night in Iowa

The farm system doesn't have the big names it once did, as the majority of the top prospects have graduated to the Major League roster, but that doesn't mean the minor league clubs aren't having fun. 

Take 29-year-old Ryan Court, a minor league infielder who has bounced around from Arizona and Boston's systems and found a home this year with the Cubs triple-A affiliate in Des Moines, IA. Court has had a solid season in Iowa, slashing .272/.347/.410 in 74 games, but might have had his finest game as I-Cub Friday night against the New Orleans Baby Cakes. 

Court came up in the 8th inning last night needing just a triple to hit for the cycle, but his club was on the verge of taking the lead in the after scoring three runs prior to his at-bat.

With Bote on 1st, the game tied at 8 runs apiece, Court placed a ball in front of the right fielder who overplayed the ball and allowed Bote to score from first and Court to scamper to third to complete the cycle. 

The I-Cubs would tack on another run to polish off a 5-run 8th inning and take home the win in a 10-8 victory over the Baby Cakes, and according to Des Moines Register's Tommy Birch, it was the first time in two decades an Iowa player has hit for the cycle. 

It's unlikely Ryan Court will make his way to the big leagues with the Cubs already carrying plenty of infielders, but for one night he played the hero and got his team the win, finishing the night 4-5 with 2 RBI, 4 runs scored and one massive smile on his face.