Cubs

Cubs: Jason Motte thriving with the pressure back on

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Cubs: Jason Motte thriving with the pressure back on

Jason Motte thrives in the sort of scenario Pedro Strop faced Wednesday night: A one-run lead, the game on the line and a packed crowd of nearly 38,000 on its feet ready to erupt for a win over a heated rival.

The Cubs didn’t have Motte available to preserve a 5-4 ninth inning lead after the 33-year-old right-hander pitched both games of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals. So manager Joe Maddon turned to Strop, who blew the game when Jhonny Peralta ripped a 1-2 fastball into the left field basket for a go-ahead two-run home run.

While Motte isn’t the Cubs’ official closer, it was a spot he likely would’ve found himself in had he not pitched in those two games the day before.

Motte is three years removed from leading the National League with 42 saves for a Cardinals team that lost the NLCS to the San Francisco Giants in seven games. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013 and is finally finding the success he enjoyed a few years ago, though it’s not because he’s cleared a physical hurdle.

Instead, Motte’s return to pressure-packed situations — be it in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning — has him feeling like himself again.

“I was kind of up and down with when I got in and when I didn’t get in and stuff like that (last year), and this year it’s more of a consistent thing in some roles that I’m used to,” Motte said. “… You get that adrenaline going, you get other things going and you kinda get things going a little more to see where you are.”

[MORE: Cubs feel the sting after Cards deal gutting defeat]

Coming off Tommy John with the Cardinals last year, Motte was mostly used in early-inning or blow situations and posted a 4.68 ERA. Of the 110 batters he faced, 94 came in what Baseball-Reference.com characterizes as low-leverage spots. It’s not a coincidence that opposing hitters had a .921 OPS against Motte in those low-leverage plate appearances.

Motte’s ability to thrive on adrenaline allows the Cubs to be flexible and not pigeonhole him into a defined role as a closer or setup guy. His strikeout of Washington’s Anthony Rendon with the tying run on second came in the seventh inning June 4 and was critical in the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the National League East leaders. In Game 2 against St. Louis on Tuesday, Motte gave up three hits and a run but was able to work his way out of that self-inflicted jam to nail down his fifth save of the season.

With the Cubs, Motte is limiting opposing hitters to a .178 batting average, a .527 OPS and hasn’t allowed a home run in high-leverage situations.

“It speaks really a lot about his ability to slow things down and not get caught up in the moment in a negative way,” Maddon said. “That’s, right now, among all of his best features is that, the fact that he’s able to process that moment without permitting it to overwhelm him.”

[MORE: Maddon comfortable with Bryant, Rizzo in Home Run Derby]

The Cubs bullpen may not have much star power, at least until Rafael Soriano gets his arm strength back and joins the group sometime after the All-Star break. But it’s a group that has a 3.15 ERA, fourth-best in the National League, and its 2.29 mark over the last 30 days is the second-best in baseball — even despite Strop’s high-profile blown save Wednesday night.

Motte’s resurgence — he’ll enter the Crosstown series with 2.97 ERA — and ability to negotiate those tough outs and innings has been a big reason for the overall success of the Cubs’ bullpen.

“I love those situations,” Motte said. “That’s what I did before surgery and that’s my goal after surgery to get back pitching in those situations. I didn’t know where I was going to be or who I was going to play for but (I wanted to) have a manager having that confidence in me that he’d want to put me in those situations.”

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

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It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below: