Cubs

Cubs starting to look more like themselves as Kyle Hendricks and Anthony Rizzo take care of Giants

Cubs starting to look more like themselves as Kyle Hendricks and Anthony Rizzo take care of Giants

The San Francisco Giants again seem to be bringing out the best in the Cubs – or at least maybe sharpening their game and shaking them out of a World Series hangover. 

This isn’t as urgent as the dramatic playoff series that ended with a champagne-and-beer celebration in the Bay Area last year. It’s too early to tell if it will be the same spark as that four-game sweep in August 2015, when the Cubs caught fire, winning 97 games and two postseason rounds and fueling a free-agent spending spree that nearly totaled $290 million. 

More than 25 percent into the schedule, the 2017 team has already gone through several stops and starts without gaining a real sense of momentum. 

But the Cubs looked more and more like themselves on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, hanging on for a 5-4 win in front of 35,617, validating the internal belief that this would only be a matter of time for an All-Star lineup and a rotation stocked with Cy Young Award candidates.

“You got to put your head down,” said Anthony Rizzo, who launched two home runs off Giant lefty Matt Moore, slamming balls off the video ribbon in right field and into the center-field bleachers. “You can’t say, ‘Oh, we’re going to go on a streak.’ 

“You win one game at a time. You play one game at a time. And you lift your head up, and the next thing you know, you are where you (should be).”

Kyle Hendricks is the ultimate keep-your-head-down personality in a star-studded clubhouse. He again looked like a No. 2 starter in a playoff rotation, following up Jon Lester’s complete game by limiting the Giants to two runs across seven strong innings.

Whether or not this ends up in another top-three finish in the Cy Young vote, Hendricks has posted a 1.96 ERA in his last six outings, solidifying a rotation that had been the bedrock for a championship team (but has only 19 quality starts this season). 

“That was probably the strongest I felt,” Hendricks said. “We pride ourselves on going deep. More often than not, when you can go seven – or more than seven – you’re giving yourself a really good chance to win. It’s cutting down the innings for the bullpen, too, keeping them fresh. There’s a lot that plays into that.
 
“We’re definitely picking it up, getting our legs underneath us. You can see it from every guy, just the pitches they’re making, the life of the ball coming out of their hands.” 

It’s easy to see the impact when Rizzo – who’s 10-for-27 with five homers and nine RBI so far on this eight-game homestand – generates this much force and takes pressure off his teammates.  

“He really runs this lineup,” Hendricks said. “When he starts getting hot, I think everybody around him starts to (heat up).”  

The Cubs needed that, because Wade Davis showed he’s not a ninth-inning cyborg when Mac Williamson won a 12-pitch at-bat and lifted a two-run homer into the right-field basket. Until that ball flew over Jason Heyward’s head, Davis hadn’t allowed an earned run through 18 appearances in a Cubs uniform – or a homer since September 2015. Davis (10-for-10 in save chances) is still the kind of dominant closer the Giants desperately needed last October. 

The Cubs are now 24-21 and a half-game behind the first-place Milwaukee Brewers. Eddie Butler will try to win the series on Thursday afternoon and show he’s a long-term answer for the rotation, going up against ex-Cub Jeff Samardzija (1-5, 4.57 ERA) and a Giant team (20-28) that’s gaining no traction in the National League West. 

“The one thing that I really like about the team is we (never) lost confidence,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “But at the same time, you don’t want to just go out and expect to win. (It’s not) showing up and you’re going to win. No, we’ve got to play the game.”

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

willson_contreras_usa_today.png
USA TODAY

Willson Contreras’ trade value just spiked, thanks to White Sox signing Yasmani Grandal

This is the best thing the White Sox have done for the Cubs in years.

The White Sox made a big splash in free agency Thursday, signing catcher Yasmani Grandal to a four-year, $73 million contract. Grandal joins the South Siders from the Brewers, where he played an integral role in Milwaukee making a second-straight postseason appearance in 2019.

Grandal led qualified catchers in on-base percentage (.380) last season, also posting career highs in home runs (28) and RBIs (77). He’s also an excellent pitch framer, tying for fourth in RszC (runs saved by catcher framing) among all catchers with 9.

Milwaukee’s payroll reached a franchise-high $122.5 million in 2019 and their farm system (No. 29 in MLB, per Baseball America) is lacking. How they replace Grandal’s production is a major question mark, which in turn is a win for the Cubs this offseason.

But besides plucking him from the NL Central, the White Sox signing Grandal early in the offseason helps the Cubs, who have important decisions of their own to make.

Although Cubs president Theo Epstein said to take any trade rumors with a “mouthful of salt,” multiple teams believe catcher Willson Contreras is available for trade. The Cubs need to retool their roster and replenish a farm system that has been depleted in recent seasons from numerous “win now” trades.

The Cubs and White Sox made the notorious José Quintana trade in July 2017, but it’s unlikely the two would have matched up for a Contreras trade. The Cubs need young assets; trading away young assets is the last thing the White Sox want to do as their championship window opens.

So, Grandal landed with a team that was unlikely to be involved in any potential Contreras trade talks. Grandal was the best free agent catcher; Contreras is the best catcher that can be had in a trade.

Other teams interested in Grandal — such as the Reds — can no longer turn to him in free agency. The Rays have made addressing the catcher spot this winter a priority, but they have one of MLB’s lowest payrolls each season. Signing Grandal wasn’t going to happen, but Tampa Bay has the farm system (No. 2 in baseball, per MLB.com) to make a big trade.

Contreras is the best catcher available — for the right price, obviously — so the ball is in the Cubs' court. They don’t get better by dealing their two-time All-Star backstop, but Contreras’ trade value is high. With Grandal off the market, it just got even higher.

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.

Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

miguel_amaya_milb_.jpg
MiLB

Cubs add four players to 40-man roster ahead of Rule 5 Draft, including top prospect Miguel Amaya

In preparation for next month’s Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs have added four players to their 40-man roster. 

Wednesday, the Cubs selected the contracts of right-hander Tyson Miller and infielder Zack Short from Triple-A Iowa and right-hander Manuel Rodriguez and catcher Miguel Amaya from Single-A Myrtle Beach. The Cubs 40-man roster now stands at 36 players.

The Rule 5 Draft is Dec. 12 at the Winter Meetings. Teams can “draft” players from other organizations if that player is not on a 40-man roster and also matches one of the following criteria:

-If the player was signed when they were 19 or older, they must have at least four years of professional baseball experience

OR

-If the player was signed when they were 18, they must have at least five years of professional baseball experience.

Miller is a fourth-round draft pick from 2016. He went 7-8 with a 4.35 ERA in 26 starts between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa in 2019. The 24-year-old was much better with Tennessee (2.56 ERA, 15 starts) than with Iowa in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League (7.58 ERA, 11 starts).

The Cubs drafted Short, 24, in the 17th round in 2016; he can play shortstop, second base and third base. He gets on base at a decent clip (career .377 OBP) but hasn’t had much success offensively (.241 career average) in his four minor league seasons.

The Cubs signed Rodriguez, 23, to a minor league deal in July 2016. He posted a 3.45 ERA in 35 relief appearance with Myrtle Beach in 2019, faring much better than he did in 2018 with Single-A South Bend (7.59 ERA, 32 appearances).

Amaya is the Cubs' No. 2 prospect and No. 90 overall in MLB (per MLB Pipeline). The Cubs signed him during the international signing period in July 2015, giving him a $1.25 million signing bonus. The 20-year-old posted a .235/.351/.402 slash line in 99 games with Myrtle Beach in 2019. His OPS jumped from .714 in the first half to .790 in the second half.

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.