Cubs

Cubs starter Brett Anderson likely headed to DL after 'embarrassing' loss to Yankees

Cubs starter Brett Anderson likely headed to DL after 'embarrassing' loss to Yankees

The sound of boos filled Wrigley Field in the first inning as Brett Anderson walked off the mound Saturday night with assistant athletic trainer Ed Halbur, Cubs fans already on edge with the New York Yankees leading by five runs in another national TV game.

Pitching coach Chris Bosio pointed to his side as he looked at home plate umpire Alan Porter while manager Joe Maddon motioned toward what had become a nine-man bullpen, a clear sign the Cubs didn't trust Anderson against The Bronx Bombers.

"It's embarrassing," Anderson said at least four times in the interview room after an 11-6 loss to the Yankees in front of a disappearing crowd of 40,735.

Less than 30 minutes before first pitch, a voice on the press box loudspeaker announced that the Cubs designated outfielder Matt Szczur for assignment and promoted lefty Rob Zastryzny from Triple-A Iowa, the day after sending reliever Justin Grimm to Des Moines and calling up right-hander Felix Pena.

The chain reaction started five days earlier, when Anderson couldn't finish the second inning during a 10-2 loss to the Philadelphia Phillies, taxing the bullpen at a time when the rest of the rotation still appears to be trying to ramp up after back-to-back playoff runs into October.

Anderson called that "kind of a colossal failure." This led to Miguel Montero tipping his cap as he ran off the field after throwing a scoreless ninth inning, a distraction from an ugly loss.

"Whenever the backup catcher gets more outs than you, that's obviously not a positive," Anderson said. "You need to figure some things out and get healthy."

The Cubs described Anderson as being evaluated for "low back tightness" and expect him to go on the disabled list after a thumping Yankee lineup made this look like batting practice, hitting the ball all over Wrigley Field.

Anderson said he felt his back stiffen up when he fielded an Aaron Hicks bunt and bounced the ball away from first baseman Anthony Rizzo, allowing the first run to score. At that point, a Fox Sports camera got a classic reaction shot of a visibly annoyed Maddon, the normally cool manager shaking his head in the dugout.

Combine Anderson's last two starts and the lefty has gotten five outs and given up 12 runs, allowing 13 hits and a walk to the 19 batters he faced.

"We just can't continue on that path right now," Maddon said.

So much for the best defense in the majors last year backing up the guy who put up a 66.7 groundball percentage and made 31 starts for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2015.

The extensive medical file - Anderson has already undergone two surgical procedures on his lower back and landed on the disabled list nine times since 2010 - led to a one-year, incentive-laden $3.5 million deal this winter as the Cubs tried to reshape the rotation that would defend their World Series title.

"With my history, you never want to take it too lightly," Anderson said. "It's a combination of getting healthy and figuring out how to get people out again, because right now every ball that's put in play seems like it's a hit, and every ball that's put in play seems like it's a run.

"I haven't given us a chance."

Anderson said this issue was on a different side than his previous back injuries, that this time he didn't feel pain shooting down his leg. Anderson doesn't believe it's a disc problem and hopes it can be written off as spasms. But it's time for the Cubs to find the next man up.

"Everything that can go wrong has gone wrong here lately," Anderson said. "I still think when I'm healthy and everything's going right, for the most part, I'm a good pitcher.

"I still have confidence in myself. I could sulk and be mad at myself, but I got to deal with it. I wouldn't be in the league this long if I hadn't been able to put some things behind me and deal with the cards I've been dealt."

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more rehab starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the eve of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream