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Cubs waiting to see what message front office sends at trade deadline

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Cubs waiting to see what message front office sends at trade deadline

The Cubs won’t feel the same hangover after the July 31 trade deadline. Now it’s just waiting to see how strong the adrenaline boost will be for the playoff hunt.

“We’re used to selling right now,” said Anthony Rizzo, who’s matured into a two-time All-Star first baseman during this rebuilding process. Rizzo’s definitely noticed a lot less clubhouse chatter about all the rumors.

“There’s not guys saying: ‘Oh, where am I going? Where am I going? Where am I going?’ It’s more of a (feeling like): ‘Let’s just keep winning. Keep winning — and see what we do.’”

The Houston Astros jumped the market on Thursday, acquiring lefty Scott Kazmir from the Oakland A’s for an A-ball catcher (Jacob Nottingham) and an A-ball pitcher (Daniel Mengden), which could set some sort of baseline if the Cubs settle for a rental pitcher.

The Cubs will get an up-close look at a potential building block on Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where Cole Hamels is scheduled to make what could be his final start in a Philadelphia Phillies uniform.

[MORE CUBS: Source: Cubs chasing Cole Hamels, David Price not in play yet]

There are many obstacles to a Hamels deal, from the financial restrictions imposed on Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department, to the awkward power structure in Philadelphia, where general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. is on the hot seat and Hall of Fame executive Pat Gillick is working with incoming president/ex-Cub Andy MacPhail during the transition.

Remember, in the past the Phillies haven’t liked the idea of Javier Baez as a centerpiece to any Hamels deal. And the middle infielder hasn’t played in a game with Triple-A Iowa since early June while waiting for his fractured finger to heal (though his rehab assignment should ramp up soon).

Starlin Castro is a three-time All-Star, but his trade value has nosedived to the point where the Cubs are probably stuck with him (and his bounce-back potential) for now. Castro’s .582 OPS ranks 22nd out of the 23 qualified shortstops in the majors.

Still, Epstein’s style is to kick the tires on everything and never rule anything out, so you know the Cubs will do something to upgrade a team that’s 51-43 and holds a half-game lead over the San Francisco Giants for the second wild card.

“It just sends a message to the clubhouse that they believe in us,” veteran catcher David Ross said. “We believe in each other. Especially on winning teams, you believe in one another. You believe you’re good. And then when the front office even backs you with that, it just sends more confidence to the guys.”

[MORE CUBS: Trade Watch: Aramis Ramirez is headed back to the Pirates]

Epstein hates the Us vs. Them storyline, pointing out how aggressive the Cubs have been in fast-tracking Kyle Schwarber, patching up the bullpen and accepting the “Super Two” financial implications with Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

Manager Joe Maddon will take Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks: “You can put them up against any top four with any team in baseball.”

But with Tsuyoshi Wada, Clayton Richard, Dallas Beeler and Donn Roach going 2-for-12 in quality starts, the Cubs at least need someone to stabilize the back of the rotation.

“Everybody else does, (too),” Maddon said. “Honestly, everybody’s looking for that other guy.”

Ross remembered the bounce the Boston Red Sox got from that three-team deal involving the White Sox and Detroit Tigers on July 31, 2013. Jake Peavy was six years removed from his Cy Young season, but he went 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in 10 starts for the Red Sox down the stretch (and had three up-and-down outings in the playoffs).

[MORE CUBS: Cubs have big plans for Kyle Schwarber]

“At the time, he was probably the best starting pitcher available on the market,” Ross said. “They gave up a guy — Jose Iglesias — who’s really good. So you saw the sacrifice they made to go get another starting pitcher that you needed.

“It was like: ‘Wow.’ And who knows what would have happened without him? But we ended up winning the World Series.

“It just solidifies (that) everybody’s on the same page. Sometimes, you hate to feel that business side creep in, but it’s part of it.

“As a team, you get that boost when they get a strong player. But it’s not like you lose confidence when they don’t, either. It’s kind of a looking-back thing that I’m able to do right now.”

Epstein also looks back on the history of deadline deals and feels like those trades usually favor the sellers. It helped lay the foundation at Wrigley Field and will certainly influence how much of the future the Cubs are willing to sacrifice now.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your Cubs gear right here]

Once Ryan Dempster stopped playing “Golden Tee” in the office and agreed to go to the Texas Rangers, the Cubs could cash in his final 12 starts in 2012 and add Hendricks to their farm system.

“We got a good group here,” Hendricks said. “It just seems like we can’t hit that stride that we want to hit. But the guys in this clubhouse can definitely get it done.

“It’s just — I don’t know what it is — something’s just got to change. Something’s got to click. But it will.

“If we get some guys at the deadline, or if something happens, great. But if not, we’ll be fine, either way.”

Rizzo — who picks his spots when he wants to send a message through the media — put it this way: “As of now, if the season ends, we’re in the playoffs. That’s where we want to be.”

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."