Cubs

Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler

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Cubs see Gold Glove/Andre Dawson potential in Jorge Soler

Dave Martinez has flashbacks watching Jorge Soler.

While Jon Lester’s yips became a viral video and a national story, the Cubs bench coach watched Soler stay with the play and channel another Wrigley Field fan favorite: Andre Dawson.

“I saw ‘Hawk,’” Martinez said Wednesday. “I saw ‘Baby Hawk’ out there. I played next to ‘Hawk’ and (saw) some of the throws he made from out there. And as soon as (Soler) threw the ball, that’s the first thing I thought about.”

[MORE: Joe Maddon wants Cubs to take the fight to NL Central]

Soler bailed out Lester on Monday night with two home runs and what manager Joe Maddon called that “ridiculous” throw during a 7-6 comeback victory that took 10 innings. After Lester’s throw to first base sailed wide of Anthony Rizzo and bounced off the rolled-up tarp and into the visiting bullpen, Soler picked up the ball and gunned down Zack Cozart at third base.    

Dawson’s Hall of Fame plaque features his classic nickname — “THE HAWK” — as well as the eight Gold Gloves and 1987 National League MVP Award, labeling him as “a complete player.”

Martinez primarily played center while Dawson patrolled right during that MVP year on the North Side. Maddon’s longtime bench coach with the Tampa Bay Rays now works with the Cubs outfielders and sees the same kind of all-around potential in Soler.

“He’s a beast, but he does a lot more than just hit the ball hard,” Martinez. “My biggest thing in spring training, I kept telling him: ‘Hey, you can win a Gold Glove in the outfield. You’re that good.’ I said: ‘You run the bases well, but you got to try to do it all the time, not just when you feel like it.’ And he’s been unbelievable. (He’s) worked his butt off.”

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Soler turned 23 in spring training and possesses all the physical tools, carrying about 240 pounds on his 6-foot-4-inch frame. He’s shown an ability to quickly make adjustments after playing only 151 games in the minors. He’s a polished, patient hitter who put up 26 RBI across his first 30 games in The Show, the most for any Cub since Bob Speake did the same thing in 1955.

That advanced feel is even more impressive when you consider the Cuban outfielder missed roughly two years of game action while trying to defect and establish residency before signing a $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012.

If Soler stays healthy, it looks like that signing could go down as one of the pivotal moments for the Theo Epstein administration.

“People don’t realize how young he is,” Martinez said. “He’s a young baseball player that’s learning how to play the game the right way.”

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.