Cubs need to capitalize and take care of business against Reds


Cubs need to capitalize and take care of business against Reds

CINCINNATI — The Cubs have to take care of business against teams like the Cincinnati Reds, should-be sellers that can market 40 percent of their rotation (Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake), maybe even 102-mph closer Aroldis Chapman, and start playing for the future.

This four-games-in-three-days stretch at Great American Ball Park began with a 5-4 loss on Monday night, a missed opportunity for a Cubs team that needs to put together wins during this softer part of the schedule.

Once the Cubs leave Cincinnati after Wednesday’s day/night doubleheader, they get 10 straight games against last-place teams — the Philadelphia Phillies, Colorado Rockies and Milwaukee Brewers — which takes them through the July 31 trade deadline and the first weekend of August.

The Cubs are supposed to have the lineup of the future already — and will make starting pitching their No. 1 priority this summer — but Todd Frazier, Marlon Byrd and Jay Bruce combined to hit home runs that traveled 1,255 feet for the going-nowhere Reds (41-49).

“Every game’s important,” reliever Justin Grimm said afterward. “I don’t think we should look at it as an easier schedule. We got to pounce on teams when we can and not let games get away from us like this.”

[MORE CUBS: Kyle Schwarber out to show Cubs he's here to stay]

The Reds still have a lot of high-end talent, and Bruce delivered the biggest hit, a two-run, two-out, go-ahead shot in the sixth inning, crushing a Grimm fastball 456 feet into the right-field seats.

Joe Maddon has pushed so many right buttons for the Cubs (49-42) this year, and the manager didn’t need to overanalyze the decision to pull Clayton Richard after 70 pitches.

Richard had been pitching for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A affiliate in late June. The lefty still managed to keep it a 4-3 game when he got a double-play ball in the sixth inning. Grimm (1-3, 1.93 ERA) then came in and walked Frazier before giving up Bruce’s monster home run.

“That falls under the category of: the right thing to do, but it didn’t work,” Maddon said. “Frazier had two good at-bats. I’m just trying to keep it right there. Grimm’s been outstanding. He hasn’t been good. He’s been outstanding. So it’s the right spot for him, even with Bruce.”

“That’s something I’ll never do — second-guess what Joe does,” Richard said. “We have a lot of confidence in our bullpen. And nine times out of 10, that’s a different story. It’s just unfortunate it worked out the way it did.”

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

The Cubs are a third-place team in the National League Central, with 15 games remaining against the Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. The Pirates now hold the first wild-card spot and a 4 1/2-game lead over the Cubs, who still trail the Cardinals by 8 1/2 games.

“Our goal is to win the division,” Maddon said. “I don’t want us to shy away from that. I don’t want us to think any differently than that. Like I’ve said, the threat is if you don’t do that, you might hit your mark. And that may be considerably short of even getting into the playoffs.

“I want us to play like we’re going for the division. And then if the wild card occurs, great. But I don’t want us to just aim for a wild-card slot.”

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


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.

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:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.