Cubs

Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

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Cubs second-base question will be open-ended

Thursday, March 11, 2011Posted: 8:30 PM
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

PHOENIX The Cubs are two weeks away from Opening Day and everyone wants to know what Mike Quade will do with the rotation, how his lineup will fall and who will play second base.

The daily speculation misses a larger point about the Cubs manager. Quade wouldnt have reached this point if he was inflexible. He wouldnt have survived 17 seasons managing in the minors if he couldnt adapt to his surroundings. He kept his dream job because of how he handled his personnel.

The thing about Q is he knows youre going to need all 25 guys, Jeff Baker said. He made it very clear that hes going to keep everyone involved.

With so many jobs already decided at this point in camp, second base is one of the final frontiers where the media can second-guess Quade. The Cubs are not about to trade for Michael Young. They like their internal options in Baker and Blake DeWitt.

Quades position is that both deserve a serious look and will get opportunities. In the end, he says, Players usually make those decisions for you.

Baker turns 30 this summer and realizes how quickly you age in this game.

He was an All-American at Clemson University and rose quickly through the Rockies system. He was given 299 at-bats in Colorado in 2008 and hit .268 with 12 homers and 48 RBI. He doesnt want to only face left-handers in Chicago.

Obviously, Id like to be an everyday guy, Baker said. Everyone in here wants to do that. No one aspires to be a utility bench guy. But at the same time, if thats what my job is, Ill go out there and try to do it well.

Baker, whose father is a retired U.S. Army colonel, was born in West Germany and grew up all around the world. He makes friends quickly and moves easily through the various groups in the clubhouse. He wont complain and will do whatever he can to help DeWitt, a former Dodgers first-round pick with something to prove.

Greg Maddux the front-office assistant who once played with DeWitt in Los Angeles recommended him in the Ted LillyRyan Theriot deal last summer. DeWitt is only 25 and serious about his craft. The Cubs believe he has potential to grow offensively, especially through his work with hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo.

Im going to give it everything I have every day, DeWitt said. If that turns into 400, 500 (at-bats), whatever, it doesnt matter to me concentrate on winning and the rest will take care of itself.

DeWitt is hitting .171 this spring, while Baker is at .394. Quade prides himself on being someone who looks inside the numbers, but he doesnt even have to do that to know thats not a big enough sample size.

Good teams always have players that exceed expectations and their career numbers. Maybe the Cubs will hit on a second baseman, but that position will not make or break the season. That depends more on Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and what looks like an improved bullpen.

Between 2004 and January 2012, the Cubs will have paid Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Carlos Pena close to 184 million combined. They invested their money in corner infielders, not to mention the outlay for Alfonso Soriano and Kosuke Fukudome.

Baker and DeWitt fit this team at this moment. Since Ryne Sandbergs last game in 1997, the Cubs have used seven different starting second basemen on Opening Day in the past 14 years. We know it wont be Mike Fontenot again on April 1.

Until then, the questions will keep coming. Will Soriano have a bounce-back year? Can Starlin Castro hit leadoff? How good can Geovany Soto be? The answers will be revealed across the next six months.

This lineup is evolving, Quade said. Maybe I accidentally put a lineup out there that just wears the baseball out and I dont have to change. But I think that realistically well have to mix and match and then performance matters.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.