Cubs bullpen coughs up game to lowly Phillies: 'It stinks'


Cubs bullpen coughs up game to lowly Phillies: 'It stinks'

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer put the onus on adding pitching depth before MLB's July 31 non-waiver trade deadline when he met with the media before Friday's game against the Philadelphia Phillies.

But after a bullpen implosion that resulted in a 5-3 loss to the Phillies in front of 41,230 fans at Wrigley Field, the Cubs GM may have to act sooner rather than later.

Jason Motte suffered his first blown save as a member of the Cubs after allowing a Cody Asche RBI double in the top of the ninth inning, and veteran reliever Rafael Soriano allowed a game-winning two-run homer to Phillies outfielder Jeff Francoeur in the 10th inning in Friday's loss.

"Every loss stings," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "We had an opportunity to win it. Motte has been fabulous. He has not been good, he has been fabulous. You grieve for 30 minutes and then you throw it in the trash can and you come back tomorrow. We still have a chance to win the series and that's where my mind is at right now."

Motte took the same approach as his skipper when reflecting on the loss. 

"They all stink," Motte said. "It's one of those things where we were up, we were down, we battled back. It stinks but we have to come out, forget about it and play tomorrow."

[MORE CUBS: Cubs not feeling the pressure of ticking clock on trade market]

The Cubs got in front early when Kris Bryant crushed his 13th homer of the season to right field, giving the North Siders a 1-0 lead in the third inning, but the Phillies would come fighting back in the top half of the fourth. Philadelphia picked up their only two runs off Cubs starter Jon Lester via an Asche two-out double, but their lead wouldn't last long.

With the Cubs trailing 2-1, Chris Coghlan deposited a Jerome Williams offering into the right field bleachers, also plating Jorge Soler who led off the inning with a single. It was the 10th home run of the season for the 30-year-old veteran outfielder, setting a new career-high.

Lester, who earned a no-decision after allowing just two runs on seven hits to go along with six strikeouts, settled in nicely after Coghlan's homer, retiring six of the the final seven batters he faced before handing over the lead to the Cubs bullpen for the final two innings.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Hector Rondon took care of business in the eighth inning, giving up just one hit, when Maddon called on Motte for the ninth inning.

After retiring Ryan Howard to begin the ninth, Motte allowed a one-out triple to Freddy Galvis. Asche followed with his third RBI of the game on a ground-rule double to center, evening the game at 3-3. Motte retired the next two Phillies in order, limiting the damage to just one run.

It was another instance on Friday that the Phillies, who own the worst record in baseball at 35-63, showed no signs of a defeatist attitude.

"They're still big leaguers," Lester said. "They're still the best players on the planet. They are here for a reason. They haven't quit, obviously you saw that today. There's a lot of times where I've been on that side and you're the last place team.

"The last two and half months suck. They are the worst. You're in last place and it's hot. It seems like everything that can go wrong goes wrong. Your plane breaks down, your hotel room isn't ready or whatever. It all seems to come to a head.

"But we still have to play good baseball regardless of who you're playing. You kind of have to have that invisible opponent mentality of where they are in the standings. You have to take each day as 'we have to win today' and we played good baseball today and they just beat us at the end."

The Cubs threatened to push across the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth when Chris Denorfia lead off the inning with a pinch-hit single. Addison Russell then moved Denorfia into scoring position with a groundout and Phillies reliever Ken Giles walked Dexter Flower with one out, setting up the stage for the Cubs Core. But Giles managed to strikeout Bryant and retire Anthony Rizzo on a groundout, sending the game into extras for Francoeur's heroics. 

Rumored Cubs trade target, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, earned his 17th save of the season in Philadelphia's victory.

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

Cubs reportedly ‘exceptionally impressed’ by Joe Espada in managerial search

As the Cubs peruse over their list of managerial candidates, one name reportedly made a strong impression following his interview with the team.

According to NBC Sports Chicago’s David Kaplan, Astros bench coach Joe Espada left the Cubs front office “exceptionally impressed” following his interview on Monday.

Espada, 44, has spent the last two seasons as Astros bench coach following three seasons as Yankees third base coach. He is one of MLB’s more sought after managerial candidates this winter and one of three known external candidates for the Cubs’ opening, along with Joe Girardi and Gabe Kapler.

Former Cubs catcher and current front office assistant David Ross has been the presumed front runner for the Cubs' opening. But based on Kaplan’s report, Espada clearly has given Epstein and Co. something to think about, which makes sense, considering Espada is coming from an innovative Astros organization.

Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference that there’s no timeline for the Cubs’ managerial search. However, MLB prefers teams to not make big announcements during the World Series, which kicks off on Oct. 22. Thus, the Cubs may not make an announcement for little while longer, though this is purely speculation.

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The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs


The curious case of Brad Wieck and his unique opportunity with the Cubs

If anybody thought the Cubs' 2019 season was a roller coaster, it was nothing compared to what Brad Wieck has gone through this year.

Wieck — the 6-foot-9 left-handed reliever — went from a cancer diagnosis to a Padres cast-off and wound up finishing the year carving through the heart of the Cardinals order in the eighth inning of a must-win game in late-September for the Cubs.

Wieck began 2019 with a testicular cancer diagnosis in January and underwent surgery shortly after. That left him playing catch-up all spring training, unable to lift, run or throw off a mound for a month after the surgery. He only ended up facing live hitters twice before the regular season started and was never able to recover with the Padres, putting up a 5.71 ERA in 34.2 MLB innings. 

Then the Cubs came calling.

While the rest of Cubdom was understandably occupied on Trade Deadline Day celebrating the Nick Castellanos move, Theo Epstein's front office made a smaller move with the San Diego Padres. And Wieck wasn't even the central focus of that trade, as more of the emphasis was on the departure of Carl Edwards Jr. — a polarizing figure in the Cubs bullpen the last few seasons, including throughout the 2016 World Series run.

Yet Epstein's front office didn't treat Wieck like a throw-in. From Day 1 with the organization, the Cubs handled the southpaw more like a first-round draft pick.

Right after the trade, Wieck was immediately assigned to Triple-A Iowa, where he made a pair of appearances against the Tacoma Rainiers. From there, he was invited to Chicago to meet with the Cubs front office and throw a bullpen off the Wrigley Field mound.

"So I got here and they had a whole presentation of what my current curveball looked like and what they would like the shape of it to look like and so we just started messing around with grip," Wieck said. "I went to a spike curveball grip and we got in the lab and we started throwing it more and we came up with consistent break of what we thought was gonna be a better break than the curveball that I had.

"Just trial and error, honestly. We just looked at Rapsodo stuff and saw what spin efficiency is doing and spin rate and trying to get my curveball spin to replicate the exact opposite of my fastball. That's what our goal was."

That led to a trip to the "Pitch Lab" in Arizona where Wieck worked with Josh Zeid, the Cubs' pitching analyst, to continue to mess around with the new curveball grip and add a new, consistent weapon to his arsenal. 

If the term "spike curveball" sounds familiar, it should. It's become the unofficial pitch of the Cubs (you know, if organizations defined themselves by just one pitch). Rowan Wick — Wieck's former roommate in the Padres system — broke out as a trusted big-league reliever in large part because of the emergence of his spike curve. Craig Kimbrel throws one and also taught the pitch to Yu Darvish, who added it to the plethora of options already at his disposal. 

Wieck's time in Arizona was about getting comfortable with the new pitch and not worrying about facing hitters or pitching in a game. After a couple weeks in the desert, the Cubs threw him back out on the mound in Iowa, where he made four appearances before getting the call to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September. 

Right off the bat, we got a look at that spike curve and there is no doubt it can play at Wrigley Field, especially when the shadows roll in:

Just like that, a new weapon was born and Wieck developed more confidence in that reshaped curveball.

"I like that they're forcing me to throw it more because I've been a fastball-heavy pitcher my whole life," Wieck said. "I trust my fastball with my life. To have a catcher get back there and make you throw it, that's really good."

The Cubs' confidence in Wieck also grew as the month went on. He emerged alongside his buddy Wick as vital pieces of the late-season bullpen while Kimbrel and Brandon Kintzler dealt with injuries. It got to the point where Joe Maddon kept Wieck in to face the Cardinals' big boppers (Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — both right-handed hitters) with a 1-run lead in the eighth inning on that final homestand. We all know how that game ended (Kimbrel served up homers on back-to-back pitches for another gut-wrenching Cubs loss), but Wieck did his job and proved he's far more than just a lefty specialist.

This fall was the first time Wieck had been a part of a playoff push and that outing against the Cardinals was only the 46th MLB appearance of his young career. Moving into 2020, the 28-year-old southpaw looks to be one of only a few arms penciled into the Cubs bullpen. 

The Cubs had their eyes on Wieck for a while before they were able to trade for him and they don't plan on rolling out a big presentation for each acquisition or ask every new arm to start throwing a brand new pitch or completely remake one of their existing pitches. This was a unique situation, but it's one that already paid dividends in a short period of time and could help set up the bullpen for the future. 

It's also another indicator that the "Pitch Lab" can work, as Wieck joins Wick and Kyle Ryan as products of the Cubs' new model they hope to fine-tune and grow. Epstein will hire a director of pitching for the organization this winter and the Cubs are hoping to change the narrative surrounding their shocking lack of pitching development under this front office. 

In Wieck's case, it was a group effort from the Cubs — the front office, research and development department, big-league coaching staff (led by pitching coach Tommy Hottovy), the pitching analytics unit based in Arizona and minor league pitching coordinator Brendan Sagara all teamed up to make it happen for the tall lefty in only a month's time.

It's a model the organization will attempt to duplicate moving forward, beginning this winter.