Cubs

Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

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Cubs see Soto living up to his potential

Monday, Sept. 6, 2010
Updated 6:50 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Geovany Soto pointed at the board in the Cubs clubhouse and announced: That is not a misprint. He smiled as he walked away on Monday morning, turning his back and flexing his arms above his head.

Minutes later, a teammate looked at the posted lineup card that had the catcher batting fourth, and a confused look spread across his face: Soto? Really?

It doesnt matter to Soto where he hits now, even if the team is no longer anchored by Derrek Lee, and is trying to compensate for a diminished Aramis Ramirez. Coming into 2010, the Cubs couldnt be certain what they had in Soto, and they have struggled with run production for almost the entire season.

But by Labor Day, weve learned that Soto is profiling much closer to the player who was the National Leagues Rookie of the Year in 2008. The 27-year-old has distanced himself from last years disappointing line: .218 average11 homers47 RBI.

After rededicating himself back home in Puerto Rico, he transformed a body he described as fat, shedding weight down to a number thats listed at 218 pounds.

After last season I looked myself in the mirror, Soto said. I needed to make some adjustments and pick it up. I worked hard and now its paying off. Hopefully it will keep paying off.

The dividends could be seen as Sotos game-winning shot traveled out of Wrigley Field and onto Waveland Avenue. The solo home run with two outs in the eight inning cemented Mondays 5-4 comeback victory over the Houston Astros in front of 31,647 fans.

The Cubs (60-78) have conceded almost the entire second half of the season to player development. All the rookies in the room could probably learn something about consistency and professionalism from Soto, who looks like hes beginning to figure it out himself.

Hes a lot tougher than people know, manager Mike Quade said. Hes getting himself back to where he was his rookie year.

Soto stood his ground in the fourth inning, when Michael Bourn sprinted home on a groundball to third. Jeff Baker threw home, and Bourn was in Sotos airspace before the catcher could fully brace himself.

Bourn ran Soto over, but the catcher held onto the ball after the collision, making sure the Astros (64-73) didnt add an extra run to their 4-3 lead. Soto got up and continued to guide Casey Coleman through the fourth big-league start of his career. The 23-year-old right-hander walked five and gave up four runs in the second, but that was it as he lasted for six innings.

The goal is to keep the team in the game, Coleman said. You got to be able to move on. You got to be able to put some zeroes up. Even though it was a struggle, (Soto) settled me down, the defense made a few nice plays and the offense stepped up and really bailed me out.

As a group, the pitchers like working with Soto, who played for Quade at Triple-A Iowa in 2005 and 2006. But Soto didnt break out until his Pacific Coast League MVP season of 2007, which he finished with a .353 average, 26 homers and 109 RBI and playoff starts for the Cubs.

Soto did a really nice job for me, but didnt put up the offensive numbers, Quade said. He always blocked well. His throwing was ok. He called a good game. I liked everything about him defensively.

But offensively you were kind of wondering how good he was going to be or what he was going to be. At that position, he didnt need to hit .320 with 40 home runs. But you werent quite sure how we could (fit him in).

Soto recently dealt with shoulder and knee issues that have limited his numbers, but hes still on pace to be among the most productive catchers in baseball (.2841751 through 97 games). If he stays healthy and in the right frame of mind, that would be one less thing for the front office to worry about during what promises to be a long offseason.

I try to play hard, Soto said. I try to play the game the right way, even if its a blowout or a one-run game. Put it that way Im not selfish. Ill take a walk and just do anything to help my teammates out.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

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What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

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USA TODAY

What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

The Brewers’ pursuit of second-straight NL Central championship suffered a devastating blow on Monday, as staff ace Brandon Woodruff landed on the injured list with a left oblique strain.

Woodruff, who exited Sunday’s game against the Diamondbacks in the fourth inning, is expected to be out for about six weeks. The 26-year-old is enjoying a breakout 2019 season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time. He ranks first among Brewers starting pitchers in wins (11), strikeouts (136) and innings (117 2/3) while ranking second in ERA (3.75) among pitchers with at least 10 starts.

The timing of Woodruff’s injury is unfortunate for the Brewers, who enter Monday two games behind the Cubs for first place in the NL Central at 53-48. Most teams aren’t equipped to lose their best starting pitcher for an extended period, especially in the thick of a pennant race. This is especially true for the Brewers, whose starting pitching has struggled in 2019.

Entering Monday, the Brewers starting pitchers rank 18th in MLB with a 4.73 ERA. This is a far cry from last season, when they ranked 11th with a 3.92 ERA. So, while Woodruff’s injury complicates matters, the Brewers already had a need for starting pitching.

The Brewers have a tough decision to make. They could swing a trade (or two) to give their rotation a much-needed boost. Potentially available pitchers include Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, Mike Minor of the Rangers, Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays, among others.

Acquiring a single pitcher isn’t going to solve the team’s woes, however, which Matt Clapp from The Comeback pointed out.

As Clapp said, any trade will likely require some form of prospect capital, and teams would be unwise not to ask the Brewers for rookie phenom Keston Hiura in negotiations. Hiura, 22, is hitting .331/.387/.613 with nine home runs in 37 games, though, so it’s tough to imagine the Brewers parting with him in any deal.

Thus, the Brewers either must create an enticing enough package without Hiura or stand pat. If they were to do the latter, they risk losing ground in the NL Central standings to the Cubs and Cardinals amid a tough stretch in their schedule.

From July 15-Aug. 4, the Brewers will play 16 games out of 19 against teams with .500 or better records. Although they’re currently 5-2 in that stretch, Milwaukee went 9-17 from June 14-July 14, a stretch of 26-straight games against teams with losing records. Woodruff’s injury, therefore, comes at a point in the Brewers’ schedule where it’s make or break time.

The Cubs have come out of the All-Star break hot, going 7-2 to give themselves the slightest amount of breathing room in the NL Central standings. With how the Cubs are playing, the division could become out of reach for the Brewers if they can’t stay afloat during their current stretch – let alone until Woodruff returns. Not to mention the Cardinals, who are 7-3 since the break and sit just a half game behind the Brewers in the division standings.

Of course, the Brewers were five games back of the Cubs in the NL Central entering September last season, only to win the division in Game 163. Their current position is certainly not ideal, but the Cubs and Cardinals aren't out of the woods yet. There has been a great sense of urgency within the NL Central all season due to the compact standings. For the Brewers, that urgency certainly is higher than ever now.

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