Cubs

Cubs TV: Search for Brenly's replacement coming into focus

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Cubs TV: Search for Brenly's replacement coming into focus

The search for Bob Brenlys replacement is coming into focus. Their next television analyst might have more name recognition and staying power than any free agent the Cubs will sign this offseason.

With interviews scheduled to begin this week, sources have identified five contenders for the job: Dan Plesac; Rick Sutcliffe; Eric Karros; Todd Hollandsworth; and Gary Matthews.

Plesac was considered a frontrunner from the moment Brenly announced he was returning to the Arizona Diamondbacks to work a reduced schedule on Fox Sports Arizona and national games for Fox Sports.

Before joining the launch of MLB Network, Plesac made a favorable impression as a pre- and postgame analyst for Cubs broadcasts on Comcast SportsNet. He also played with future Cubs manager Dale Sveum before spending two seasons on the North Side (1993 and 1994).

The issue is that Plesac recently signed an extension with MLB Network, though the Northwest Indiana native could be interested in returning home.

Sutcliffe is a big personality who recently told the Chicago Tribune that hes under contract with ESPN for one more year. Hes viewed as a real long shot, because the sense is that he would have to do more work and travel for less money after making national appearances on ESPN.

Sutcliffe the National Leagues Cy Young Award winner in 1984 also enjoys going to Cubs camp in Arizona as an instructor for spring training.

While working the World Series, Karros told the Chicago Sun-Times that hes not blocked contractually, and revealed that he was once approached about replacing the late Ron Santo on WGN Radio after No. 10s death in December 2010.

Karros wasnt interested in the job that went to Keith Moreland, but this is a different story. Karros only spent one season on the North Side, but 2003 was an unforgettable year, and hes still remembered as a go-to guy for the media in that clubhouse.

Karros went to UCLA and does television work around the Los Angeles Dodgers and national games on Fox.

Hollandsworth the pre- and postgame analyst on Comcast SportsNet has kept up his profile nationally with MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. Hollandsworth has filled in for Brenly before, around the All-Star break, when Brenly would go watch his son Michael play for a Cubs affiliate in the minor-league system.

As a color commentator for the Philadelphia Phillies, Matthews already knows the day-to-day demands of the job. Sarge played for the Cubs (1984-1987), and coached on Dusty Bakers staff (2003-2006), so he also understands the market.

Brenly was a WGN employee and drew praise for the way he mixed in music, pop culture, in-game strategy and pointed criticism while developing a real chemistry with play-by-play man Len Kasper across the last eight seasons.

WGN is expected to take the lead in this round of negotiations, with the Cubs having their say and Comcast SportsNet giving input.

The Cubs will be looking to cash in once their television contract with WGN expires after the 2014 season. Last year that didnt prevent Kasper from getting an extension through 2016, and they would presumably want to build their broadcasting team for whatever shape their next television deal takes.

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

Feeding off their defense, Cubs starting to feel those 2016 vibes

A year ago, the Cubs were struggling to float above .500, sitting 1.5 games behind the first-place Brewers.

Two years ago, the Cubs were10.5 games up on the second-place Cardinals in the division and already in cruise control to the postseason.

As they entered a weekend series in Cincinnati at 42-29 and in a tie for first place, the Cubs are feeling quite a bit more like 2016 than 2017.

The major reason? Energy, as Joe Maddon pointed out over the weekend.

That energy shows up most often on defense.

The 2016 Cubs put up maybe the best defensive season in baseball history while last year they truly looked hungover.

After a big of a slow start to 2018, the Cubs are feelin' more of that '16 swag.

If you watched either of the wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers this week at Wrigley Field, it's clear to see why: the defense.

"I like the defense," Maddon said of his team last week. "I'm into the defense. There's a tightness about the group. There's a closeness about the group. Not saying last year wasn't like that, but this group is definitely trending more in the '16 direction regarding interacting.

"If anything — and the one thing that makes me extremely pleased — would be the continuation of the defense. We've fed so much off our defense in '16. We've been doing that more recently again. We do so much good out there, then we come in and it gets kinda electric in the dugout. I'd like to see that trend continue on defense."

The Cubs scored only 2 runs in 10 innings in the second game against the Dodgers Tuesday night and managed just 4 runs in the finale Wednesday. Yet their gloves helped hold the Dodgers to only 1 run combined between the two games.

Wednesday's game was a defensive clinic, with Jason Heyward throwing out Chris Taylor at home plate with an incredible tag by Willson Contreras while Javy Baez, Albert Almora Jr., Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber all hit the ground to make sprawling/diving plays.

"[Almora] comes in and dives for one and I'm just like, 'OK, I'm done clapping for you guys,'" Jon Lester, Wednesday's winning pitcher, joked. "It's expected now that these guys make these plays. It's fun on our end. It's the, 'Here, hit it. Our guys are really good out there and they're gonna run it down.'"

The Heyward throw, in particular, jacked the team up. 

Maddon compared it to a grand slam with how much energy it provided the Cubs. Almora said he momentarily lost his voice because he was screaming so much at the play.

There was also Baez making plays in the hole at shortstop, then switching over to second base and turning a ridiculous unassisted double play on a liner in the 8th inning.

"That's what we're capable of doing," Maddon said. "In the past, when we've won on a high level, we've played outstanding defense. It never gets old to watch that kind of baseball."

The Cubs are back to forcing opposing hitters to jog off the field, shaking their head in frustration and disbelief.

"It could be so dispiriting to the other side when you make plays like that," Maddon said. "And also it's buoyant to your pitchers. So there's all kinds of good stuff goin' on there."

A lot of that is the play of the outfield, with Almora back to himself after a down 2017 season and Schwarber turning into a plus-rated defensive outfield.

After finishing 19th in baseball in outfield assists last season, the Cubs are currently tied for 6th with 14 outfield assists this year.

Schwarber has 7 alone, which is already as many as he tallied in the entire 2017 season.

"I feel like they'll learn quickly on Schwarber, if they haven't yet," Heyward said. "You gotta earn that respect. You gotta earn that sense of caution from the third base coach.

"But please keep running on me in those situations. I want it to happen."

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow has a healthy sense of humor about his pants-related injury

Brandon Morrow's body may not be healthy, but his sense of humor sure isn't on the disabled list.

The Cubs closer had to go on the DL Wednesday after he injured his back changing out of his pants early Monday morning when the Cubs returned home to Chicago after a Sunday night game in St. Louis.

The story made national rounds, not only in the baseball world, but resonating with non-sports fans, as well. After all, it's not every day a guy who gets paid millions for his athletic endeavors injures himself on a mundane every day activity.

But it's all good, because even Morrow can find the humor in the situation, Tweeting this out Thursday afternoon:

Morrow's back tightened up on him and didn't loosen up enough the next two days, making him unavailable for the Cubs doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

The team decided to put him on the shelf Wednesday morning so an already-gassed bullpen wouldn't have more pressure during this stretch of 14 games in 13 days.

The Cubs are in Cincinnati this weekend for a four-game series with the Reds. Morrow is eligible to return from the DL next Wednesday in Los Angeles as the Cubs once again take on the Dodgers — Morrow's old team.

The 33-year-old pitcher is 16-for-17 in save chances this year while posting a 1.59 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 25 strikeouts in 22.2 innings. He's only given up a run in 2 of his 26 outings as a Cub.