Cubs

Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

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Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
Updated 11:01 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

When the Cubs dealt Ted Lilly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they didnt shift the balance of power in the National League West. They can do that now, aligning their rotation to make sure that the divisions frontrunners see Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

The Cubs will play the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres two teams separated by a half-game on Wednesday morning seven times in 10 days. Its as close as they will come to impacting a playoff race.

At the July 31 deadline, the Dodgers were five games over .500 and hoping Lilly could be a difference-maker. They began Wednesday at five under and officially eliminated from playoff contention, with a manager on his way out (Joe Torre) and ownership on trial (the McCourts).

With Lilly gone, Randy Wells hoped to move up in the rotation. Nothing has come easy during his second season in the majors, but he is finishing strong. He again stated his case for 2011 with Wednesdays 2-0 victory over the Giants at Wrigley Field.

Were playing some good ball right now, Wells said. Everybodys loose, everybodys having fun. You wish it wasnt too little, too late. You try to build for next year and see what guys got. Everybodys responding pretty well.

On a 64-degree night in front of 37,285 fans, Wells retired 13 straight Giants at one point. He limited them to six hits and struck out six while walking only one. He has found a consistent release point for his sinker and changeup. Between this start and his last one a near complete game in St. Louis hes given up one run in 15 23 innings.

To get the final four outs and finish off the Giants (85-67), Mike Quade brought in closer Carlos Marmol, who notched his 34th save. The manager wanted this game.

Evaluating against the better competition obviously matters. (The Giants have) the best pitching in the National League, Quade said. You know youre going to be in a dogfight in situations like this 1-0, 2-1, 2-0 and execution and playing under those circumstances (is what) youd really like to see in the growth of a ballclub.

The Cubs (69-82) are now 18-8 under Quade, who isnt blind to whats going on. He knows that other candidates will be interviewed, but says that hes focused only on the 11 games remaining this season. Hes already made a positive impression upon the clubhouse with his energy and communication skills.

No doubt if hes back on board, he will be welcome with open arms, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a great job. Hes from the system and it shows. Hes in there every pitch and he gets it.

Every pitch, every at-bat, doesnt carry the same weight for the Cubs as it does for the Giants and Padres right now. Its much easier to get rookie relievers acclimated this way. Even Kosuke Fukudome who drilled a line drive into the right-field seats for his 13th home run is getting his timing down.

Instead of playing spoiler, could this form the core of a contending team next year?

Im an optimist, Quade said. I dont see any reason (why not). You see this club play well here at the end (and) if we play this thing out for the next two weeks in good fashion, then Id go home and whoever gets the job next year should feel excited about this club.

Thats just the way I feel and that has no bearing on what happens this winter with (general manager Jim Hendrys) moves or anything else. There are just a lot of guys here that have finished up well.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

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USA TODAY

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

For the 10 teams that qualify for MLB’s postseason, October represents a chance to climb baseball’s mountain and secure a championship. For the 20 other teams sitting at home, though, October is a chance to evaluate those in the Big Dance.

Less than two weeks into the postseason, here’s some things that the Cubs can take away from the action thus far.

1. Starting pitching matters

With bullpens being relied on more than ever, starting pitchers aren’t used the same way as just a few seasons ago. The Brewers rode their bullpen all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS last season, while the Rays used an “opener” (a reliever who starts a game and pitches 1-3 innings) in Game 4 of the ALDS this season – beating the Astros 4-1.

And yet, the Astros and Nationals are proving how important it is to have a difference-making rotation. The bullpening method can work, but being able to throw Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke at an opponent in a single postseason series is downright unfair.

The Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in their rotation, as formidable of a trio as any in the National League. They also have Anibal Sánchez, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals on Friday. No big deal...

And despite getting eliminated, the Rays — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton — and Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu — have talented rotations, as do the Cardinals and Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Cubs rotation didn’t have as big of an impact this season as they expected, a contributing factor to the team not making it to October.

“We had really high hopes for our starting group this year," Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "You looked at it 1-through-5, we had a chance to roll out a really quality starter on a nightly basis, and that might be an area that was a separator for us versus some of the teams we were competing with. While we had a couple guys who had really good years and all our starters had their moments, it didn't prove to be a separator.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned. It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well. We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester are under contract for 2020, while Jose Quintana has an $11.5 team option. The Cubs don’t have an Astros or Nationals-esque trio, but their rotation can still be good enough to lead the charge in 2020. They’ll need them to do just that if they are to return to the top of the NL Central.

2. Manager decision-making is far more important in October than regular season

The Dodgers’ season came to an abrupt close in Game 5 of the NLDS, with manager Dave Roberts being smack dab in the spotlight.

With the Dodgers leading 3-1 in the seventh inning, Roberts called Clayton Kershaw’s number to get Los Angeles out of a two on, two out jam. Kershaw did just that, but the Nationals opened the eighth with home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (on consecutive pitches) to tie the game.

Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in his generation, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP. However, his postseason woes are real (4.43 ERA, 32 games/25 starts), and therefore, Roberts made a questionable decision going with Kershaw in that moment. 

Where was Kenta Maeda to face Rendon? Maeda had allowed just a single hit in 3 2/3 innings at this point in the postseason. He took over for Kershaw after Soto’s home run, striking out three-straight Dodgers to end the eighth. 

Roberts also didn't bring in closer Kenley Jansen to start the 10th inning, when the game was still tied 3-3. Instead, he left in Joe Kelly, who allowed a decisive grand slam to Howie Kendrick. Only then did Jansen come in, but the damage was done. Not bringing in your closer in an extra-inning postseason game is inexcusable, and while it may be outcome bias, this game proves why.

Roberts has 393 wins in four seasons as Dodgers manager, leading them to World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. Even with that experience, though, he made a bad decision at a terrible time. The postseason is a different animal, not only for players, but the coaches in the dugouts, too.

Of the known candidates the Cubs have interviewed for manager — David Ross, Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Will Venable — only Girardi has big-league managing experience. And while Epstein noted at his press conference that it isn’t everything, he added that experience is important.

"Lack of experience - and I'm speaking broadly for the group, not necessarily [about Ross] - is always a factor,” Epstein said. “It's not a determining factor, but it's a significant factor. I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before. Especially with manager.

“But I think there are ways for that to be overcome - there are a lot of different ways to get experience in this game - beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.”

3. Winning in the postseason is tough

After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, there was a feeling that baseball’s next dynasty was underway. After all, the Cubs had a talented, young position player group that reached the promised land early in their time together. It made sense.

Those talks have died down, of course, as the Cubs haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 2016. And while they've had plenty of success since 2015, it feels like they could’ve had more.

The thing about baseball, though, is that it’s extremely hard to sustain those high levels of success. A few teams (Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants) have won multiple World Series this century, none have repeated as champions since the Yankees, who won three-straight from 1998-2000.

The Twins won 101 games this season and were swept out of the ALDS. The Braves won 97, only to lose Game 5 of the NLDS in brutal fashion at home to the Cardinals.

The Dodgers made it to the World Series in 2017 and 2018 and came up empty both times. They won 106 games this season, a franchise record, only to be eliminated in the NLDS by the Nationals — a Wild Card team, nonetheless.

Does that make last few seasons even more frustrating for the Cubs and their fans? Probably. October is a crapshoot, meaning as long as a team gets in, they have a shot at winning it all, no matter their record.

At the same time, the Cubs made things look easy in 2016. They had brilliant injury luck, a historic defense, a deep position player group, a loaded starting rotation and the right manager for their young core. Even so, it took erasing a 3-to-1 series deficit against the Indians to win it all, not to mention a dramatic Game 7 win that nearly didn’t go their way.

This isn’t an excuse for the Cubs shortcomings in 2019, but merely a reminder: they won the 2016 World Series, and that's no small feat. This offseason offers the chance to improve as a team for 2020, when they’ll set out to win again.

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Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

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USA Today

Cubs Talk Podcast: Kap breaks down the Cubs managerial search

David Kaplan shares his thoughts on the Cubs, the decision to move on from Joe Maddon (0:50), the process in hiring a new manager (2:40), and who should be in the dugout next season (4:05).

Listen here or in the embedded player below. 

Cubs Talk Podcast

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