Cubs

Castro helps Cubs walk off vs. Padres: A trend in the making?

cubs-win-cubs-win-0418.png

Castro helps Cubs walk off vs. Padres: A trend in the making?

After blowing a four-run lead in the top of the ninth, it was understandable if some fans asked themselves, “These are the new Cubs?”

The bullpen debacle in Saturday’s game against the visiting San Diego Padres was all too reminiscent of Cubs teams past.

But that wasn’t the end of things. No, the Cubs recovered and got a walk-off single from Starlin Castro in the bottom of the 11th to send them to win No. 6 on the season, a 7-6, extra-inning victory at Wrigley Field.

It’s the kind of win that might just end up defining the “new Cubs.”

“It’s really good. That’s one of the games that makes us feel better,” Castro said after his heroics. “Last year or the year before, we’d lose a lot of games like that. We played a lot of extra-inning games, and we’d lose them. We continued to fight nine innings. If we play more than nine, we keep fighting. We’re going to try to win the game.”

[MORE CUBS: After strong debut at third, where do Cubs see Bryant long term?]

All Castro needed to do was find the outfield grass, as the bases were full of Cubs with just one out and the Padres infield playing in. Anthony Rizzo walked with one out, and Kris Bryant followed by hustling out an infield single. David Ross walked on four pitches ahead of Castro’s game-winner off Padres closer Craig Kimbrel. Game over.

It’s not the first time these Cubs have won in dramatic fashion, either.

There was Dexter Fowler’s eighth-inning go-ahead homer in Colorado. There was Jorge Soler’s game-tying homer in the eighth inning to open this homestead against the Reds, a game later won on Arismendy Alcantara’s walk-off single in the 10th.

Winning games late. It might just be a trend in the making for the Cubs.

“(It’s good for the) confidence level,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “When you do that a few times, everybody feels comfortable that you’re going to come back and win the ballgame. Never panic, that’s what a winning team does. You’ve got to create that momentum, and you’ve got to believe that it can happen. When it happens a few times, you know it can happen. It’s not going to happen all the time, obviously, but you can believe that it can happen any time. And that’s what we’re doing right now. We know we can come back, we know we can win the game. You just never give up, and we battle all the way.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs, Kris Bryant say there’s no bad blood after service-time issue]

Of course, the game wouldn’t have even needed rescuing from Castro if not for the bullpen’s ninth-inning blunder. San Diego opened the ninth with four straight hits off relievers Phil Coke and Hector Rondon, two of those scoring runs. An RBI groundout made it a one-run game, and with the Padres down to their last strike, pinch hitter Yangervis Solarte pushed a hit into right field to tie the game at 6.

It was the second straight day of trouble for a bullpen that’s been very reliable early on. Brian Schlitter gave up a game-winning three-run homer to Wil Myers in Friday’s game.

But the Cubs didn’t wither after that devastating blow. Credit the new manager for keeping the Cubs alive.

“I normally just keep going up and down the dugout, just yelling crazy stuff. I’m just that guy,” Maddon said. “I used to play quarterback, and I was a catcher. And I’ve been around some really insane coaches. The biggest thing you’ve got to get across at that point is: ‘It’s over with, we got out of it, now let’s move forward and let’s win this thing.’ And that can be an even bigger morale booster. And we did it.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get a Kris Bryant jersey right here]

Maddon likes this late-game trend, too, realizing the benefits it can have down the line.

“Whenever you win late and then you know you can win late, that matters a lot. When teams don’t quit, when they play nine innings hard every night, that matters,” he said. “We played nine innings hard yesterday, we almost had a chance to get something done late again. We got something done late in Colorado. We’ve gotten something done late often to this point. That to me is very pertinent in regards to us having a successful season, and to establish it early is very good.”

Before the nightmare ninth, the Cubs had put together eight pretty great innings of baseball. After starter Kyle Hendricks yielded a two-run homer in the first, he set down 17 of the last 18 hitters he faced over six innings of work. That allowed a Cubs comeback. Bryant bounced back from his 0-for-4, three-strikeout debut with a 2-for-3, three-walk day, including his first major league hit: a broken-bat bloop single to center that tied the game at 2 in the fifth. Montero blasted a pair of homers, one to put the Cubs ahead in the sixth and another to grow that lead to four in the seventh.

But the biggest play, at the end of the day, was Castro’s single, the one that delivered a victory and exemplified what kind of team this could be this season.

“It’s really good, it’s really good. We tried to win that game. We tried to make it a 1-1 series, and we can win tomorrow and we can win the series,” Castro said. “They tied the game in the ninth, but we keep fighting to try to get it. And in the end, we did.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

1012_manny_machado.jpg
USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.