Cubs

Cubs beat Aroldis Chapman: ‘That is about as crazy as crazy gets’

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Cubs beat Aroldis Chapman: ‘That is about as crazy as crazy gets’

CINCINNATI – The Cubs are a flawed but entertaining team, filled with so many good/bad/ugly moments that can make you go: Did you just see that? That identity is probably not going to change anytime soon.

No one could have predicted a guy called up Triple-A Iowa on the Fourth of July beating the Cincinnati Reds and their All-Star closer/flamethrower in the ninth inning.

But there was pinch-hitter Taylor Teagarden lining Aroldis Chapman’s 101 mph fastball back up the middle for the go-ahead, two-out RBI single. That became the exclamation point to a 6-5 Game 2 victory that salvaged a split from Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader at Great American Ball Park.

“That is about as crazy as crazy gets,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward. “You talk about a moment that’s great for esprit de corps. That’s it. Almost everybody was involved in that win.

“You’re always looking for those seminal moments. You’re always looking for those moments that they’re going to apply to the video at the end of the season when everything turns out well. Pretty good night for that.”

The Cubs (51-43) now hold a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card, with the New York Mets now trailing them by 2.5 games, in a race that should go down to the wire.

[MORE: Cubs have big plans for Kyle Schwarber]

Teagarden’s clutch hit came immediately after the Reds intentionally walked Jorge Soler (and moments after Dexter Fowler looked for the sign from coach Gary Jones and hesitated rounding third base, getting thrown out at home plate).

“I know he’s coming right after me in that situation,” said Teagarden, the third catcher on the depth chart. “He throws 100 miles an hour. I’m not looking for any kind of offspeed. I’m just looking for something to catch the plate. Hopefully, I can put the barrel on it.”

Maddon went right after the Reds (42-51) in the third inning, sensing an opportunity and the urgency of the situation, helping the Cubs claw back into the game.    

In a season already filled with head-scratching decisions – and an epic 77-F-bomb blame-the-media rant – Reds manager Bryan Price elected to intentionally walk David Ross (.171 average) to load the bases and get to pitcher Dallas Beeler.

But Beeler is a spot starter from Iowa who burned through 48 pitches in two innings. And Maddon had his slumping All-Star slugger getting a physical/mental break on the bench and Thursday’s off-day to reset his bullpen. Maddon went for it and Kris Bryant delivered a hard-hit, game-tying, two-run single into left field.

“I had a batter to warm up,” said Bryant, whose average had dropped to .257 by this point. “It’s funny how it works out in that situation. You come through when you’re not even ready.”

Of course, the Cubs probably wouldn’t have been in that 5-0 hole if Starlin Castro had simply fielded a routine groundball in the second inning and turned the double play. Then again, the enigmatic shortstop came through with an RBI double during that rally.

And there’s no explanation for how the Cubs kept it a tie game in the eighth inning. With Hector Rondon in a jam, Maddon decided to intentionally walk former National League MVP Joey Votto to load the bases for Todd Frazier, this year’s Home Run Derby champ.

Frazier blasted a line drive that ricocheted off Rondon directly to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who threw home for the second out, like a crazy move in a video game.  

“We play FIFA all the time in the clubhouse,” Rizzo said. “We’re teammates and I always tell him to pass and he never passes. So he finally passed the ball. It’s a good bounce for us. It’s a huge bounce for us.”

“Yeah, I did call (it),” Maddon joked. “What do you do there? I thought there was a better chance of getting the ball on the ground versus Frazier as opposed Votto, even though my numbers indicated differently.

“Listen, man, flip a coin sometimes. A lot of it’s based (on) the ‘Blink’ moment. It’s about your experience. I’ve been through those moments before, chose to do that and it worked.”

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But Malcolm Gladwell, Simon the Magician and the Geek Department haven’t been able to prevent the Cubs from playing up or down to their level of competition.

Now the Cubs get 10 straight games against last-place teams – the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers – which takes them through the July 31 trade deadline and the first weekend of August.

“We know it’s a big stretch coming up,” Rizzo said. “We got to be prepared every day to bring it, no matter who we’re playing. We tend to come for the bigger games, but every game is big from here on out.”

“Be careful what you wish for with Schwarbs,” Maddon said. “If we just wear his butt out by the end of the season, that bat will go away, I promise you.

“Let him play at his own pace. We’re going to work with him in the outfield, absolutely. I have ideas (and) we’ll just see how it goes. For right now, everybody’s euphoric about the game last night. We all are. And it was wonderful. But he’s a young man (who’s) still learning his craft.

“That’s what’s going to benefit us in September/October – not wearing people out right now, mentally and physically.”

Schwarber doesn’t want to look too far ahead, but he wants to stay at catcher and knows he can always play the outfield.

“Whatever happens, happens,” Schwarber said. “I’m going to keep working my butt off to get better defensively, and keep getting better offensively, too. My goal is to stay up here, so whatever it takes, I’m going to try to do it.”

 

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

How much do the Cubs really need Manny Machado? 

They entered play Tuesday leading the National League in runs per game, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and run differential.

That doesn't sound like a team desperate for another bat and would trade future assets to go all-in for only a few months of a player, even one as good as Machado.

Of course, the Cubs went out and got walloped 10-1 by the Indians Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but that had more to do with awful pitching and Machado won't do a thing to help that area of the game. In fact, Machado would actually hurt the team's run prevention given he's a worse defensive shortstop than Addison Russell.

All that being said, the Machado rumors probably won't be going anywhere until the Baltimore Orioles deal their shortstop to either the Cubs or another team, so Russell will have to get used to hearing his name included in such conversations.

Any Cubs package headed to Baltimore for Machado likely has to start with Russell, the Cubs' 24-year-old shortstop who won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season.

"He would be robotic if it did not [affect him]," Joe Maddon said. "I think honestly if he was 7, 8, 10 years into the league and something like this was being bandied about, probably not nearly as much. But the age that he's at, the experience level that he's at, I think it just can't help but have an impact.

"So we just gotta continue to nurture him here. I talk to him all the time. There's certain things you can't control. You can't control what's being said, but you can control how you react to it. That's about the best thing we could encourage him to do and he'll get our support."

Maddon said he gives Russell a hug and reminds him of "something" before every game as he tries to massage the confidence of a player that is currently the shortstop of a Cubs team with World Series expectations.

Russell doesn't turn 25 until next January, yet many people act like he's already peaked as a player. 

He's two years removed from hitting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs as part of the 2016 championship season.

2017 was a lost year for so many reasons — from off-field issues to shoulder and foot problems — and Russell has only 1 homer in the first quarter of the 2018 season, but he's taken other strides this year.

He currently boasts career best marks in walk percentage, strikeout percentage, line drive percentage, groundball percentage and is using the opposite field more than ever.

The power hasn't come yet this year, but a .343 on-base percentage is a pretty solid complementary piece to one of the best all-around defenders in the game.

Russell ranks 10th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved among all players, tied for second among shortstops. Fielding metrics are not perfect, but Machado is 133rd in DRS among qualifed fielders and 24th among shortstops, so there is clearly a gap between the two players' glovework.

Maddon has never shown any outward sign of altering his belief in Russell becoming a dynamic player.

"Addy's gonna continue to progress to the point where all his game is gonna become consistent," Maddon said. "And even beyond that, who do you like better at shortstop [defensively] right now? ... His throwing's dramatically improved. His baserunning decisions — I know he had a gaffe in Cincinnati, but for the most part, he's gotten better.

"So what we're really talking about is his hitting. That's where people get hung up about this game all the time. I see absolute progress in that, also. He just came off a hot week and he had a couple tough days and then all of a sudden, it becomes exaggerated. Why? Because he's 24.

"I think the sky is the limit for this guy. He's a confidence guy like most of us are. As he's feeling good about himself, that's when the line drives start to occur. I mean, one of the biggest hits so far was the ball over the centerfielder's head in Atlanta [last week].

"And he always has this tendency to do some really good work when it matters most. He's been that guy already. So just be patient. He's just gonna keep getting better."

Remember, Russell is the same guy that hit a grand slam and drove in 6 runs in Game 6 of the World Series in Cleveland and started every game at shortstop that postseason. Every year Russell has been the Cubs' shortstop, the season has included a trip to the National League Championship Series.

"Our front office has always been one to make moves and they’re not afraid to do things and we’ve seen that," Kris Bryant said. "We won a world series because of that, getting [Aroldis] Chapman and some of the other guys we got, but we don’t put one ounce of thought into that because we’re happy with the guys we have here.

"The effort that everybody puts forth day in and day out when they’re on the field is spectacular. You know we have a great group of guys here and until someone is gone, we’re going to play with what we’ve got and continue to play the way we have. So, not much thought about [trade rumors]."

Russell has also quietly been very productive over the last month after a slow start to the season. Since April 26, he boasts a .306/.386/.444 slash line (.830 OPS).

It's still hard to see the Cubs willing to give up the next 3.5 years of Russell for 3 months of Machado and MAYBE a slightly better chance of re-signing the superstar this winter.

"I was talking about a 24-year-old hitter, what about a 24-year-old human being having to process all of that?" Maddon asked. "Whether he's hearing it or not from anywhere here, it's just mom, dad, brother, friend, former coach on the phone — 'What's that all about?' 

"He's gotta be inundated with that conversation. He didn't ask for that. He's just doing his job."

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Cubs still searching for answers for Tyler Chatwood's puzzling control issues

Tyler Chatwood looked to be turning the corner with his control issues, but alas, he and the Cubs aren't so lucky.

After walking only two batters in a solid start in Atlanta last week, Chatwood had taken a big step in the right direction. It was, after all, only the third time he'd walked fewer than 5 batters in an outing this season.

Those control woes reared their ugly heads once again Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in a 10-1 loss to the Indians. Chatwood walked 6 batters and managed to net only 8 outs, getting hammered for 4 runs in the third inning.

"Ugh, it was tough," Maddon said. "The stuff was so good, we just couldn't get a strike."

"It's definitely frustrating," Chatwood said, "because one at-bat, I'll feel really good and the next one, I feel like I'm fighting myself.

"Last time [out], I was able to stay in the rhythm. Tonight, I was kinda battling, rushing rather than staying back, so it's just keeping that feeling and maintaining that."

His season ERA is only 3.74, which looks good until you consider his WHIP is 1.62 and he's walked 40 batters in 45.2 innings with only 41 strikeouts in the process. He now leads baseball in walks per 9 innings.

Chatwood said earlier this month in St. Louis that he's figured out what has led to the startling lack of control and while he didn't elaborate on the mechanical issue, he was working hard at correcting the problem in bullpens.

He's also used the term "fighting myself" at least a dozen times this month alone and it's become a common refrain for his explanation of what's going on. 

"He's got a busy delivery when he throws the baseball," Maddon said. "He's kinda busy what he does with his hands. It's not like he can just change it easily because that's how his arm works, how his body works.

"Sometimes, like you see him the other day, everything's on time and how good it can be and when it's out of sorts a bit, then all of the sudden it becomes shotgun. Ah man, you can see the movement [on his pitches] from the side, how good it is. 

"We gotta harness it somehow. I spoke to him briefly on the bench; I reassured him it's gonna be fine, it's gonna be really good by the end of the year. We gotta figure it out and he knows that. But man, that's good stuff. We just gotta get it in the zone."

Chatwood also admitted part of the problem is mental in that he's trying to force pitches rather than trusting his stuff. He's also gotten into the bad habit of drifting down the mound, though he's not sure when or where he picked up that hitch in his delivery.

Chatwood and Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey are working on slowing his delivery down to get his arm in the same spot on a more consistent basis.

When the Cubs signed Chatwood over the winter, it was easy to see why.

He just turned 28 in December, his peripherals and a move from hitter-friendly Coors Field foretold a potential leap in performance and his stuff is nasty. Plus, he signed a three-year deal at a relative bargain of $38 million.

Once the Cubs signed Yu Darvish in spring training, you could make the case that Chatwood could be among the best No. 5 starters in baseball.

Nine starts later, the honeymoon period is well over with Chatwood, as he threw only 30 of his 74 pitches for strikes Tuesday night and sent catcher Willson Contreras sailing all around home plate for pitches way out of the zone.

Still, it's clear to see there is some intriguing talent there and the season there is roughly 70 percent of the season remaining before the Cubs make what they hope is another run at the World Series.

"I have a lot of faith," Maddon said. "I know we're gonna reap the rewards, the benefits as he figures this thing out."