Cubs

Cubs make Theo Epstein the star attraction

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Cubs make Theo Epstein the star attraction

They had to turn away people at the doors because everyone wanted to listen to Theo Epstein.

The fans had jammed into a Hilton Chicago ballroom on Saturday morning to see the rock star executive who once followed Pearl Jam on tour and planned to leave for his charity event that night at a Boston night club.

Sure, fans ripped Alfonso Soriano for not hustling, and told team executives how annoying they found some of the D-listers singing the seventh-inning stretch. But, for the moment, the anger and frustration was gone.

The narrative at the Cubs Convention wasnt about who should be fired. It became hyping the new president of baseball operations.

It will die down, Epstein said. The players are the show. Thats why were all in this profession. (As) a kid, when I got involved in baseball, it wasnt to see Lou Gorman, the general manager of the Red Sox. It was to watch Jim Rice and Dwight Evans.

So times have changed a little bit with the information age now. People pay more attention to what GMs do. (Thats) great, but if that ever becomes the show, you probably dont have a very good product to begin with.

We are going to be a player-centric, player-driven organization. Theyre the ones with the real skill (and) world-class ability. Theyre the ones that are going to get us where we want to go.

Epstein became the star attraction on a team hes filled with buy-low players coming off down years (David DeJesus, Ian Stewart, Travis Wood, Chris Volstad) and a manager who told the crowd what they wanted to hear.

When the guys arent hustling, you make them accountable for it, Sveum said. Its simple. I dont really care how much money theyre making or how many years they have in the big leagues. Theyre still embarrassing the team.

Prince Fielder plays with an edge and gives maximum effort, but Sveum once again confirmed that his friend from Milwaukee wont be getting a megadeal here.

Thats just not going to happen, Sveum said. We have our first baseman in Bryan LaHair and (Anthony) Rizzo waiting in the wings as well, so were doing OK with big, power left-handed hitters right now.

Forget what it would take to sign Fielder. Epsteins front office held out and a franchise icon waited until the middle of January to agree to a one-year, 3 million deal with a club option.

About 24 hours after Kerry Wood signed, even chairman Tom Ricketts acknowledged: We probably could have had that conversation a month ago(and) done it a little sooner.

Ricketts again indicated that Epstein would have the authority to eat money on a bad contract for a player who didnt fit anymore. (The implication in a reporters question was Soriano.)

Starlin Castro could still be absolutely essential to the teams plans people close to the 21-year-old All-Star shortstop think his legal situation will sort itself out but an alleged sexual assault has been the bad publicity hanging over the convention.

From our standpoint, Starlin and his advisors put out a statement, Ricketts said. Its really not appropriate for us really to talk much beyond that. We just all hope it gets resolved as quickly as possible and everybody moves forward.

Epstein was not talking specifically about Castro. But he acknowledged that the Cubs will have to be able to find and develop players who can deal with all the temptations in this city.

Its been a factor in ruining some careers, Epstein said. Im sure its been (an) impediment to the Cubs of winning. Especially (given) what were trying to do develop a young core of players (the) approach that were going to have (is) the opposite of laissez-faire.

Were not just going to say, Oh, thats the way it is in Chicago, boys will be boys, Im sure theyll get enough sleep and be able to show up the next day ready to play. Thats failure on the organizations part.

That opportunity to build something and think more broadly about an organization matched Epstein up with Ricketts.

Last October, Ricketts told Cubs executive Crane Kenney to ask Red Sox president Larry Lucchino for permission to speak with Epstein. Ricketts got a call back from John W. Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, and a few days later Epstein was spotted at a Starbucks in Lincoln Park.

We were so secretive, Ricketts said, and then he hops out of the car to get an iced coffee and someone spots him. Why not just fly you in on United and put up a billboard for Gods sake?

That wouldnt be shocking anymore, because at the moment Epstein is the face of the franchise.

Inside the bullpen: What Cubs' Craig Kimbrel is working on behind the scenes

Inside the bullpen: What Cubs' Craig Kimbrel is working on behind the scenes

Craig Kimbrel’s brief appearance in the Cubs’ 5-4 victory over the Royals on Tuesday offered a glimpse into what he’s working on in bullpen sessions behind the scenes.

“I've been working a lot,” the seven-time All-Star closer said Wednesday. “I felt like last night I did some things a little better, but when it comes down to it, you still have to execute a certain pitch at a certain location at certain times. And I wasn’t able to do that.”

Tuesday was the least troubling of Kimbrel’s three outings this season, which isn’t much of a vote of confidence after four walks in his first and back-to-back home runs in his second. On Tuesday, Kimbrel recorded one strikeout and put two runners in scoring position before Cubs manager David Ross replaced him with Kyle Ryan. Both runners scored.

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Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said the focus for Kimbrel, as he works through mechanical issues, is consistency.

“I think that's the key to pitching in general,” Hottovy said, “consistency in mechanics, consistency in delivery, consistency in where your release points are. All those things add up to better stuff, better velo, better spin, but also better command.”

Hottovy has identified inconsistency in Kimbrel’s arm path and release point. Kimbrel’s control issues stem from that. Those control issues have shown up in different ways for his two pitches.

First, the fastball: Hottovy used two different at-bats in Kimbrel’s appearance Tuesday night as an example.

Against Royals pinch hitter Franchy Cordero, Kimbrel located a 97-mph fastball at the top of the zone for a swing-and-miss strike three. Against Adalberto Mondesi, that same pitch crept into the middle of the zone, and Mondesi scorched a line drive off the right field wall.

“What you see from Craig, the stuff is still trending in the right direction,” Hottovy said. “The breaking ball was better yesterday. The fastball life is coming back. But in the end, in this game, we're facing professional hitters.”

Professional Hitters who can make a pitcher pay for a mistake.

That becomes especially easy when teams can gear up for one pitch and ignore the rest.

“You have to get them to honor it,” Hottovy said of Kimbrel’s curve ball, “and to get them to honor it, you have to consistently be able to throw that pitch in the strike zone, and then be able to attack (with the) fastball.”

Kimbrel has faced three different teams: The Reds, Pirates and Royals. None of them have swung at his curve ball.

“I think at times it's one of two things,” Kimbrel said, “Either I'm showing it too early or it's not starting as a strike, or they've already had that game plan to eliminate the curve ball.”

In the Reds’ case, it was the latter. Cincinnati rookie Tyler Stephenson told reporters as much after the game. He laid off three curve balls in his at-bat against Kimbrel. Stephenson walked.

According to Hottovy, Kimbrel is working on slowing down his lower body – “staying taller, sitting more on his back side” – to consistently give his arm time to get to the right release point.

 “I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said. “I'm not going out there and saying, 'I think I'm going to get beat today, I don't want to be out here.' By no means am I anywhere close to that. I think if anything, it’s just more frustration towards myself (for) putting myself in I'm spot I'm in, … having to ask guys to get up and throw more, based on my performance.”

 

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Cubs, Reds to make up rainout with 7-inning doubleheader Aug. 29

Cubs, Reds to make up rainout with 7-inning doubleheader Aug. 29

The Cubs will get a taste of Major League Baseball's new doubleheader format later this month.

On Aug. 29, the Cubs and Reds will make up their July 30 rainout as part of a seven-inning doubleheader.

MLB recently changed its doubleheader format for 2020 only in wake of numerous postponements across the league due to the Marlins COVID-19 outbreak. All doubleheaders going forward this season are seven innings each, the idea being to reduce the wear and tear on pitchers' arms.

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Pitchers have been going down at alarming rates early in this 60-game season after baseball's long shutdown and quick ramp-up in Summer Camp.

The Cardinals also have seven games to make up due to their recent outbreak.

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