Cubs

Cubs have their eyes on new cable network in 2020

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Cubs have their eyes on new cable network in 2020

BOCA RATON, Fla. — All along, the Cubs have pointed toward their next TV contract as the accelerator that launches the franchise into another economic stratosphere.

Until then, it appears Theo Epstein’s front office won’t have a big-market payroll, or will at least have to wait for incremental boosts from the Wrigley Field renovations and the buzz surrounding a young, compelling team that just won 97 games and two playoff rounds.

While Epstein created headlines this week during the general manager meetings in South Florida — essentially ruling out the idea of signing two free agents to nine-figure contracts this winter — president of business operations Crane Kenney made news back in Chicago on Wednesday by announcing a change in flagship radio stations.

As anticipated, the Cubs will move from WBBM Newsradio after one season and switch next year to WSCR-AM 670, another CBS affiliate. During a promotional appearance on The Score, Kenney sounded more certain than ever the Cubs will start their own cable network.

“2019 is our last year with Comcast, so we’ll move over and launch our own channel in 2020,” Kenney said on the “Mully & Hanley” morning show.

[MORE CUBS: Dave Martinez gets chance to make pitch for Dodgers job]

The Cubs have an ownership stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago — which owns exclusive cable rights through the 2019 season — and synced up their local deals with ABC and WGN with the idea of becoming a broadcasting free agent.

So does this mean the Cubs will be waiting until 2020 for their infusion of TV money?

“I think that’s just one option,” Epstein said at the Boca Raton Resort and Club. “My understanding is that we’d be open to a deal earlier than that as well, as long as a good one presents itself.”

Before leaving Fenway Park for a president’s title and a direct report to ownership in Chicago, Epstein helped build two World Series winners for the Boston Red Sox, a franchise that uses NESN to support a 2015 payroll that soared to around $200 million for luxury-tax purposes.

Epstein said he thought a Cubs network in 2020 would be “a very real option.”

“But, frankly, it’s a landscape that I don’t feel qualified to talk about,” Epstein said. “I don’t fully understand it, and I trust our people to deliver the right deal at the right time.”

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It’s a constantly changing landscape, and who knows what it might look like five years from now, or how the Cubs would find winter programming if the White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks stick together with their own regional sports network.

At a time of cord-cutting, online streaming and digital innovation, the Cubs can’t get stuck behind the curve or experience the gridlock that slowed the early stages of the Wrigleyville construction project.

All the carriage problems surrounding the Los Angeles Dodgers and their reported $8 billion deal with Time Warner Cable has fueled fears of a bubble.

The Ricketts family and Epstein’s baseball staff are counting on Kenney — a former Tribune Co. lawyer who’s spent more than two decades in the organization — to deliver.

“There’s a lot of content there for a launch of a network,” Kenney said. “Not everyone succeeds. The ones that have succeeded, though, have done really well for their teams in providing resources back to the club, and to save the ballpark, in our case.

“We’re very excited about it. Fortunately for me, that’s what I grew up doing. My career started in law and media, and we put together first Fox Sports Chicago and then Comcast SportsNet.

“Maybe the one thing I actually do know is how to put these things together.”

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Cubs map out next steps for closer Craig Kimbrel

Craig Kimbrel is one step closer to joining the Cubs bullpen.

According to Patrick Mooney of The Athletic, Kimbrel will join Triple-A Iowa and make his first appearance on Tuesday, against the Sacramento River Cats.

While the Cubs officially signed him on June 7, Kimbrel has yet to pitch in actual games. The 31-year-old has been in a condensed spring training program at the Cubs' Arizona complex, throwing live batting practice on both Thursday and Saturday.

The Cubs haven't revealed an official timeline for Kimbrel to join the 25-man roster, as they are basing things off of how he feels. The expectation is he will pitch in about five games with Iowa before joining the Cubs. However, both Theo Epstein and Kimbrel acknowledged how the goal isn't to rush the closer back into MLB action.

"We're not gonna rush it," Epstein said. "It's gonna be tempting to get him here as soon as possible, but we're trying to plan this thing the right way so that he could be in a position to succeed not just immediately but in October. That's gonna be our guiding principle as we go."

"We sat down and put a gameplan together — something to work off of," Kimbrel said. "But at the end of the day, it's based off how I recover, how I get ready. This isn't about getting back on the field as fast as I can. This is about being the best that I can be in October and down the stretch and doing what I came here to do for this team."

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Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

Yu Darvish and Cubs pull off dramatic comeback win over Dodgers

There were some added stakes to Saturday night’s Cubs-Dodgers matchup. Darvish made his first start at Dodger Stadium since his infamous Game 7 loss in the 2017 World Series, looking for a great effort in front of a fan base that had their up-and-downs in terms of their relationship with him. He (maybe) took a small jab at the Dodgers before the game had even started, telling the Los Angeles Times that he wasn't worried about being booed because “the Dodgers don't have many fans here in the first three innings, so maybe it will be on the quieter side.”

Well Dodgers faithful certainly got the message and made sure to let Darvish hear it.

However, Darvish got the last laugh on Saturday night. He pitched a stellar seven innings. Over those seven innings, Darvish gave up 1 ER on 2 hits and also notched 10 strikeouts.

Darvish has been hitting his stride as of late, maintaining a 2.96 ERA over his last four starts.

All of that being said, it would be remiss of me not to mention the contributions of Darvish’s teammates. His great outing helped keep the Cubs in the game, but the gutsy performances of Anthony Rizzo and Pedro Strop are what won the contest.

Dodgers All-Star relief pitcher Kenley Jansen had a 10-game scoreless streak coming into Saturday night, but one swing of Rizzo’s bat was all that was needed to restore balance to the everlasting battle of pitcher versus hitter. After Jansen hit Kris Bryant with a pitch to put him on base, Rizzo activated “clutch mode”, mashing a 400-foot bomb out to right field.

Though small, Saturday night’s homer gives Rizzo a three-game hitting streak, perhaps forecasting that things are trending  upwards for the first baseman as the Cubs look to close out the series against the Dodgers with a win on Sunday night. And not to be left out of the fun, Pedro Strop came in to face the Justin Turner, MVP hopeful Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Matt Beaty to nail down the save.

Never afraid of high-pressure moments, Stop came through big time.

Strop got a ground out from Turner, struck out Bellinger and Beaty in his 15-pitch save effort. This was a much-needed win for the Cubs, who have well-documented struggles on the road. As they look to split the four-game set with the Dodgers on Sunday night, the Cubs can be pleased with their fight this week.

Saturday’s win over the Dodgers was the Cubs first win of the season after trailing through six innings, as they were 0-23 in such situations prior to the victory. Amid a season that has been fraught with injury and general roster construction concerns, it was wonderful to see the Cubs pull out a tough win lead by the much-maligned Darvish and the never-quit attitude of his teammates.