Cubs

Cubs survive while waiting to click on all cylinders

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Cubs survive while waiting to click on all cylinders

MILWAUKEE — Joe Maddon’s glass is always half full. But the Cubs manager has a point when he says this team hasn’t come close to clicking on all cylinders.

Maddon’s plastic cup of Blue Eyed Boy shiraz was almost empty by the time the media entered his office late Friday night after what should have been a cruise-control victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Cubs survived at Miller Park, hanging on for a 7-6 win over the worst team in baseball that had several bright spots and warning signs. They blasted four home runs, got seven strong innings from Jason Hammel and endured too many anxious moments out of the bullpen.

“We have not played up to our capabilities yet, and we’re still in a decent spot,” Maddon said. “Overall, quite frankly, before the season began, if you asked for this record on this date, a lot of people would have bought into it and said: I’ll take it.

“If we had been just pitching like crazy or just hitting like crazy it wouldn’t be as attractive. But we haven’t done anything particularly great yet. But we’re gonna, because we have those kind of athletes.”

[MORE: Cubs: Joe Maddon hears from MLB after ripping umpire]

The Cubs wound up needing Kris Bryant’s athleticism with two outs in the ninth inning, when the 6-foot-5 slugger hustled to first base and got rewarded with an infield single after a replay review, driving in what turned out to be the game-winning run on a three-strikeout night.

“I just want that reputation of playing hard,” Bryant said, “and respecting the game and ‘Respecting 90,’ like Joe says. That’s what I’ll continue to do.”

It mattered because closer Hector Rondon served up a three-run homer to Ryan Braun in the ninth inning — and then allowed two consecutive singles — before finally ending the game.  

“Our bullpen guys got to get this done,” Maddon said. “We’re not going anywhere without (our) bullpen being very dominant. You have to have a dominant bullpen to really win 90-plus games, and that’s our goal.”

The Cubs needed this after losing that reality-check series to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. There were moments where it looked exactly how the Cubs drew it up in the offseason.

[RELATED: For Cubs, closing the gap on Cardinals is easier said than done]

Dexter Fowler, acquired from the Houston Astros in January to be an offensive catalyst, led off the game with a home run off Jimmy Nelson, Milwaukee’s top prospect entering last season and the Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in 2014.    

Anthony Rizzo continued his elite-level season in the fourth inning by crushing a ball 425 feet into the second deck in right field for his sixth homer. Moments later, Cubs fans here started high-fiving each other after Jorge Soler launched another homer that bounced off the center-field ledge, just to the right of the batter’s eye.

With all the bullpen issues, the Cubs wound up needing this from Starlin Castro in the ninth inning, driving a ball 426 feet into left field’s second deck.

As Maddon said after going over the final stat line: “Fifteen punch(outs). Four homers. Rock and roll.”

The Cubs are 15-13 now, even with Bryant having zero homers through 21 games and Jon Lester putting up a 6.23 ERA in April. Key relievers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez have missed time with injuries while Pedro Strop — who allowed an inherited runner to score in the eighth inning — seems to be overworked.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Of course, the Cubs can’t bank on all the rosy predictions and best-case scenarios: What if all these young hitters don’t figure it out sooner rather than later? Do you trust the bullpen? What if Lester and/or Jake Arrieta get injured and the rotation unravels?

Those are questions for another day, because the Cubs are relevant.

“We’re not really even clicking on all cylinders right now,” said Hammel (3-1, 3.52 ERA). “It’s two things go good one night, one goes bad. Once we start putting it together, pretty special things are going to happen here. As long as we keep grinding.

“We look at every day: Win each game. And then it comes down to series. You win series, you’re going to be pretty good at the end of the fight. Obviously, we haven’t played our best baseball.”

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Cubs free agent Nick Castellanos reportedly agrees to deal with Reds

Yesterday, it was reported that the Reds were the favorite to ink Cubs free agent right fielder Nick Castellanos. On Monday, it appears those two sides have reached an agreement on a multi-year deal, per The Athletic's C. Trent Rosencrans and Ken Rosenthal: 

Given the Cubs' desire to steer clear of the luxury tax in 2020, the odds of a reunion with Castellanos were always low. The club's recent signing of outfielder Steven Souza only furthered that belief.

To lose him to a divison rival, though, undoubtedly stings, especially considering the gumption with which the Reds have approached the offseason. Cincinnati has also notably added Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama and Wade Miley this winter.

MLB Network's Jon Heyman reported the deal is for $64 million over four years and added that the deal includes at least one opt-out.

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Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

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USA TODAY

Reds are favorite to sign Cubs free agent outfielder Nick Castellanos, report says

The odds of a Cubs-Nick Castellanos reunion happening have seemed slim all offseason. Although they've been connected to him at various points this winter, bringing back the fan favorite right fielder would require some serious financial gymnastics for the North Siders.

With the Cubs cognizant of the luxury tax, the division rival Reds have emerged as the favorite to sign Castellanos, according to MLB insider Jon Morosi.

The Reds have emerged as the frontrunner to sign free-agent outfielder Nicholas Castellanos, one source said Sunday, and there are indications the sides have made progress over the past several days. While Cincinnati is now the favorite to sign Castellanos, the Giants also have negotiated with the 27-year-old in recent weeks.

Because of their desire to stay under the luxury tax in 2020, the Cubs have only made low-cost acquisitions this winter. They were penalized $7.6 million for eclipsing the threshold in 2019; if they do so in 2020, they'll be taxed 30 percent on their overages —  and see their 2021 draft pick drop 10 spots, if they go over the figure by $40 million.

At this point, the only realistic scenario where the Cubs re-sign Castellanos is if they shed salary. However, they've reportedly signed outfielder Steven Souza to a one-year deal, giving them five outfielders (along with Kyle Schwarber, Albert Almora, Ian Happ, Jason Heyward). That might be the biggest indicator of a reunion not being in the cards.

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