Cubs

Cubs defense rebounds nicely with aid of Anthony Rizzo's circus catch

Cubs defense rebounds nicely with aid of Anthony Rizzo's circus catch

The old tip drill on a play veteran catcher David Ross had never seen before helped the Cubs’ defense rebound on Sunday night from a sluggish performance in Game 4.

One night after a normally elite defensive unit gave the game away, the Cubs returned to their historically dominant selves and it all began with Anthony Rizzo’s circus catch off the glove of Ross near the dugout.

The rest of the defense seemingly fed off Rizzo’s fantastic catch and turned in several more sterling efforts in a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the World Series that extended the Cubs’ season for at least one more day. The Cubs will likely need many more defensive gems if they’re to rebound from a 3-2 series deficit when the Series continues with Game 6 at Cleveland at 7:08 p.m. CST on Tuesday.

“(Rizzo) was the hero for us,” Ross said. “I was like, ‘Hey, I was just making you look good.’

“That was a really cool moment. I’m just trying to get outs. Every pitch and every out is so big, so anything that’s even close, you wanna give it the effort and not leave anything for chance and Rizz picked me up right there.”

Each out in October seems to carry with it a significant payload -- when shifted the right way, it can mean everything to a team. Conversely, a mistake can quickly send things in the wrong direction.

The Cubs discovered that in World Series Game 4 when a pair of second-inning errors by third baseman Kris Bryant led to a run that put Cleveland ahead 2-1 and they never gave it back.

On the verge of elimination in front of a loud, nerve-wracked crowd, the Cubs had little room for mistakes on Sunday night. For a brief second, it appeared they were headed for a big gaffe.

Cleveland’s No. 5 hitter Carlos Santana hit a foul pop up behind the plate on which Ross appeared to have a bead at the dugout railing. But thanks to an icy, whipping wind that prevailed all evening, the ball drifted and Ross had to lunge over a camera on the railing only to have the ball pop up into the air off the top of his glove.

Fortunately for him, Rizzo efficiently covered 112 feet, according to MLB.com, and arrived in time to tip the ball back into the air with his bare left hand before he hauled it in with his glove.

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“The ball was moving so much up there, it was swirling,” Rizzo said. “I just told him I couldn’t call it, that’s how focused I was on that ball. And he’s going for it until I called him off.”

Said Ross: “I didn't know he was there. I was trying to catch it. I knew the wind was doing some crazy things tonight. … I'm surprised he didn't jump up on the rail and do a little balancing act.”

Rizzo saved the theatrics for Jason Heyward, Addison Russell and Bryant.

Two batters after the catch, Bryant stopped Cleveland from a potential rally starter with a fantastic diving stop and throw (Rizzo made one of several nice scoops) on Brandon Guyer’s hot shot.

An inning later, Heyward raced over and leapt up on the brick wall to make a grab of Trevor Bauer’s foul ball only for the wind to blow it back. Despite the gust, Heyward hauled it in for the second out.

The wind continued to affect the ball all evening. Ben Zobrist also made a long run and grab in foul territory for the second out of the eighth inning with a runner in scoring position.

“(The wind) was kind of funky,” Heyward said of his grab. “But off the bat, that ball was going into the stands and heading that direction and then when I got to the wall and was waiting on it to come down, it had like a serious cut back towards the field.”

The Cubs also made a series of nice plays in between the Heyward and Zobrist grabs.

Ross jumped on a nice bunt by Jason Kipnis to start the fourth inning and fired to first in time to thwart his attempt for a hit. With a man on second base in the fifth inning, Russell quickly scooped up Jose Ramirez’s grounder and under-armed his throw to first just in time to nab the speedy runner (Rizzo made a nice scoop on that play, too). And Javier Baez helped quell a potential sixth-inning rally with his patented swipe tag as he helped Ross catch Francisco Lindor stealing second base to end the inning.

Those efforts proved critical for a unit that had 31 more Defensive Runs Saved than the next best team in baseball, according to fangraphs.com.

“One of the best in the game,” center fielder Dexter Fowler said. “We’ve got a few Gold Glove nominee and Gold Glovers out there.

“Guys are going to make mistakes. That’s what happens. It’s a long season. You want to make every play, but all that’s never going to happen. To have them in there making the key outs today is awesome.”

 

 

 

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Bold predictions for the Cubs offseason

With the MLB offseason about to kick off, we run down the boldest predictions for the Cubs winter from around the NBC Sports Chicago Cubs content team. Topics include where Bryce Harper and Manny Machado will sign, how much money they’ll get, what the Cardinals will do this winter, Cubs offseason trades and how Theo Epstein’s front office may add to the pitching staff.

 

One topic we could all agree on was David Ross' potential as Cubs bench coach if the incumbent Brandon Hyde ends up taking a job as manager for another team around the league.

 

Listen to the entire podcast here and check out all of our bold predictions below:

 

 

David Kaplan

 

—Anthony Rizzo and his new wife, Emily, will adopt Manny Machado, change his last name and see Manny Rizzo playing third base for the 2019 Cubs.

—Because of the Rizzo move, the Cubs will move Kris Bryant to a full-time outfielder.

—The Cubs will trade away Jose Quintana and sign Patrick Corbin.

—The Cubs will sign a pair of former Indians relievers for the back end of the bullpen in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.

—The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber to the Royals for Whit Merrifield, who will start 155 games in the leadoff spot in the order.

—Joe Maddon will be a lot more consistent with the Cubs' lineup and batting order all season.

 

Kelly Crull

 

—Anthony and Emily Rizzo will receive more wedding gifts from Cubs fans than Kris and Jessica Bryan received.

—Anthony Rizzo will train this offseason so he will be able to sing — or play the piano — for the National Anthem at Wrigley in 2019.

—The Cubs will have no money left to remodel the media room at Wrigley Field.

 

Luke Stuckmeyer

 

—The Captain Morgan Club at Wrigley Field is going to be replaced by Kap's Kryo & Keto Korner.

—The Cubs will finally find a solution to the leadoff hitter issue.

 

Tony Andracki

 

—The Cubs sign Bryce Harper for less than $250 million. (He follows 23 people on Twitter)
—Manny Machado does not get a contract for more than $250 million, either.
—The Cardinals will sign Craig Kimbrel and either Machado or Josh Donaldson to play 3B. 

 

Rationale: St. Louis could really use the bat and closer and they have a sense of urgency in the division this winter we haven't seen from them in at least a decade. The Cubs and Brewers have clearly been better for two seasons now and look to have a better chance at contending than the Cardinals in 2019, as well. That can't be sitting well with the "Best Fans in Baseball." 

 

Jeff Nelson, producer

 

—The Cubs will trade 2 of the following players:  Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ, Addison Russell, Albert Almora Jr.

—The Cardinals will sign Manny Machado to play third base.

—Because of construction delays, the visitors’ clubhouse will not be ready for the home opener, forcing the Pirates to dress at their hotel and come to the ballpark in full uniform.

Mike Piff, social media manager

—Cubs sign Nick Markakis.
—Cubs sign Tyson Ross.

Eric Strobel, producer

—The Cubs 2019 saves leader is not currently on the roster.

Rationale: We saw what happened to the bullpen in Brandon Morrow's absence; it got the job done by and large, but was not longer truly feared. Deep 'pens are the norm in October now with lockdown relievers being counted on more and more. The front office knows they can't truly entrust that kind of workload to Morrow with his injury history - Theo admitted as much in his end-of-season press conference. While they probably will not make a big splash, a huge focus of the offseason will be to surround Morrow/Strop/Edwards/etc. with as many talented arms as possible. The Cubs could very well enter next season without a designated closer, but if they do, it will not be Brandon Morrow.

Scott Changnon, multi-platform producer

—The Cubs will sign Bryce Harper.

Rationale: "I dunno, maybe."

Nate Poppen, producer

—Cubs sign Andrew McCutchen, plug him into CF and make Almora a 4th OF (or expendable)
—Bryce Harper signs with Yankees.
—Manny Machado signs with Angels.

Matt Buckman, producer

Non-roster prediction: The Cubs will welcome Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field. Sammy turns 50 this winter, and fueled by our wonderful documentary on 1998, the Cubs will finally mend their broken bond with Sammy and bring him back to Wrigley.

Roster prediction: The Cubs will trade Kyle Schwarber for a leadoff hitter. Joe has had to get very creative with the top of his order since Dexter Fowler left. Though the front office has downplayed the importance of a lead-off hitter the last two off-seasons, they will look to add one for 2019 so that Joe doesn’t have to be so creative. They won’t have a place to play Schwarber after they sign Harper so they will swap his power for a new “you go, we go” guy. Look at KC or TB as AL teams that need to add power and also have guys who could potentially lead off for the Cubs. Mallex Smith (TB) or Whit Merrifield (KC) would be interesting options.

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No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

No-brainer: The Cubs should absolutely bring back Jesse Chavez in 2019 bullpen

Should the Cubs bring Jesse Chavez back for the 2019 bullpen?

This question shouldn't have anywhere near the polarizing effect the Daniel Murphy query had earlier this week, and for good reason.

It's hard to find any real downside for the Cubs working Chavez back into the fold next season. 

Sure, he's 35 and he'll turn 36 in August, but Chavez just had far and away the best season of his 11-year career and all signs point to it being legit.

He won't have a 1.15 ERA forever, of course, but he clearly found something with his mechanics that helped lead to the remarkable consistency he showed in a Cubs uniform (4 saves, 4 holds, 1.15 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, 42 Ks in 39 IP). 

The Cubs will be looking to add some reinforcements to their bullpen this winter and Chavez fits the bill in many areas.

When asked about how to address the bullpen this winter, Theo Epstein said his front office will be "looking for guys who can throw strikes and execute a gameplan and take the ball and pitch in big spots."

The Cubs have publicly placed an emphasis on "strike-throwers" out of the bullpen over the last two winters now and that is right up Chavez's alley.

He threw 68.5 percent first-pitch strikes while with the Cubs, which would've ranked near the top of the league in 2018, right up there with aces like Miles Mikolas, Clayton Kershaw, Aaron Nola and Justin Verlander. Among all relievers, Chavez ranked 5th in baseball in first-pitch strike percentage in the second half.

Expanding further (since the first pitch isn't the only one that matters): Chavez threw the fourth-most strikes in baseball among all MLB relievers after the All-Star Break. Since the day Chavez put on a Cubs uniform, Philadelphia's Tommy Hunter (70.5 percent) was the only reliever in baseball (minimum 30 innings) to throw a higher percentage of pitches for strikes than Chavez (69.8 percent).

If you want strikes, there's no better reliever on the market right now than Chavez.

He also shouldn't be all that expensive at age 35, even despite the breakout and high level of importance placed upon relievers these days. A similar deal to the one Brian Duensing got last winter - $7 million over 2 years - seems appropriate and would be a steal if Chavez can continue to find even a modicum of the success he had since putting on a Cubs uniform.

Speaking of the Cubs uniform, Chavez reportedly doesn't want to wear another logo in 2019, saying this after the NL Wild-Card Game:

That was an emotional time, but Chavez repeatedly raved about the Cubs clubhouse and culture throughout his time in Chicago and really appreciated the way his teammates made him feel comfortable from Day 1.

When the Cubs first acquired Chavez in that under-the-radar trade, they touted his versatility which has become a valuable asset, especially in today's game where relievers are often asked to pitch multiple innings. If necessary, he could also represent depth for the starting rotation, having made 70 starts over his MLB career. 

Unless there's a surprising market that develops for Chavez, bringing him back to the North Side of Chicago on a 1- or 2-year deal is a no-brainer.