Cubs

Cubs will face some interesting decisions with Jorge Soler

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Cubs will face some interesting decisions with Jorge Soler

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Jorge Soler’s name will almost certainly surface in trade rumors if – or when – the Cubs need to make a deal for pitching this summer.

The Cubs can’t afford to hand Soler 600 at-bats, let him learn on the job and hope he becomes more fluid in the outfield, the way they nurtured other young players during their rebuilding cycle.

Not when manager Joe Maddon has all these other options and president of baseball operations Theo Epstein was asked on Opening Day if this year will be judged a failure if the Cubs don’t win the World Series.

Soler as the designated hitter made sense for the season’s first two games against the Los Angeles Angels – so the Cubs could get him into a rhythm – and maybe even for his long-term future if an American League team can see the potential and offer the right kind of young pitcher.

“He’s not going to get lost,” Maddon said Tuesday at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. “I think you know me by now – it’s not about getting hits. He’s going to play – and he’s going to play well – during the course of the season.

“For him personally, the confidence component is really big.”

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The surprise Dexter Fowler signing in late February clearly impacted Soler, who got bumped from right field on the depth chart when Gold Glover Jason Heyward moved over from center. That puts Soler in a left-field timeshare with Kyle Schwarber on a team that has multiple players who can play multiple positions and wanted to upgrade the overall defense after getting swept by the New York Mets in last year’s National League Championship Series.

“He’s going to be more comfortable (in right field), no doubt,” Maddon said. “The biggest thing you have to remember when you’re playing on the corners is the ball is always going to move to the line.

“That’s the thing you just got to try to get a guy to understand. So in right field, he’s used to the ball going that way. Now all of a sudden, the ball’s going to go that way. A lefty’s going to slice it, a righty’s going to hook.

“If he can just get that (part down). It’s an easy thought, but how do you actually do it? I think as he wraps his mind around (that) on a consistent basis, he may end up being as comfortable as he was in right field.”

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There are pitching-rich teams like the Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves that were interested in Soler when the Cubs gave the raw Cuban player a nine-year, $30 million contract in the summer of 2012 (though both franchises have since seen a restructuring in baseball leadership).

But the Cubs also saw what Soler did in a pressure situation last year, becoming the first player in major-league history to reach base safely in his first nine postseason plate appearances. That dynamic performance helped eliminate the St. Louis Cardinals in the divisional round.

“He’s the kind of guy that is just dripping with projection,” Maddon said. “It’s the kind of body everybody’s looking for in any major sport. He’s got a great arm. He runs well. I think you got this prodigious power. So if you’re a scout, there are a couple things working there.

“You describe the body and the power, but he’s young and he’s Latin, so you have to be a little bit patient here. Beyond the adjustment to the game itself is the cultural differences and the cultural adjustments that need to be made that can hold you back, whether it’s just socially or self-esteem-wise by being unable to communicate your thoughts as you would like.

“All these things factor in. So when it comes to young Latin players – especially a kid from Cuba – I think you have to be even a little bit more patient. He’s going to be a really good player and he’s still very young.”

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The Cubs also hope Soler, 24, will benefit from the coincidental return of hitting consultant Manny Ramirez, who skipped spring training because of family commitments and then joined the team in Southern California.

“Manny’s a very informed and good hitting coach,” Maddon said. “I’m not just talking about physical (stuff). Everybody (says): ‘Oh, you put your hands here.’ Manny talks hitting really well, and he talks to the mental mechanics more.

“That’s what really benefited Georgie last year. And I like (Manny’s) matter-of-factness – not just trying to make the kid like him. He’s trying to give him good information.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 31st homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 18th homer of June and 31st of the season came off the Tigers in the Cubs' brief 2-game Interleague series in Detroit. 

Sosa connected in the first inning off Tigers starter Seth Greisinger, going back-to-back with Mickey Morandini. 

The Cubs wound up getting out to a 5-0 start in the game but still lost 7-6 on a Gabe Alvarez single in the bottom of the 11th.

The aforementioned Morandini homer was only the 3rd of the season for the Cubs second baseman. He finished with 8 homers on the year and 224 total bases on 172 hits in what was a very good offensive season. Yet it paled in comparison to Sosa, who had nearly 200 more total bases (416) and a slugging percentage nearly 200 points above Morandini's (.647 to .471), a testament to how truly incredible Sosa's season was.

Fun fact: Tony Clark was the Tigers' cleanup hitter that day. Clark is now the head of the MLB Players Union.

Fun fact No. 2: Paul Bako was the Detroit catcher in the game. He later became the Cubs backup catcher in 2003 and 2004, when he posted a .611 OPS in 119 games over the two years.