Cubs

Did Cubs ever really have a chance to get Chase Utley?

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Did Cubs ever really have a chance to get Chase Utley?

LOS ANGELES – Dressed in Dodger blue, Chase Utley diplomatically answered the questions from three Chicago reporters without revealing whether or not he actually had the Cubs on The List or just wanted to return to California all along.

The Cubs definitely wanted Utley for his offensive impact, veteran presence and playoff experience. But the six-time All-Star second baseman used his hard-earned no-trade rights as leverage in choreographing his exit from the Philadelphia Phillies.

“I don’t want to dissolve any rumors or matter-of-fact any rumors,” Utley said Saturday at Dodger Stadium. “I think the Cubs have a good organization. (The) guys that are coming up obviously have a lot of talent and I think they have an opportunity to win for awhile.”

Utley helped beat the Cubs on Friday night with an RBI triple and a key leadoff walk in the sixth inning of a 4-1 victory. Utley declined to say if the trade talks ever got to the point where he could see himself playing in Chicago.

“There were a number of teams that had some interest a few weeks back and I talked with the Phillies,” Utley said. “I obviously have a good relationship with the front office there and I kind of gave them a handful of teams (where) I would feel like I would fit in fairly well. And they went out and ultimately they found the best deal here in L.A.”

The Dodgers closed on Aug. 20, with the Phillies kicking in $2 million and getting two prospects. Utley – who grew up in Long Beach and played at UCLA and drew strong interest from the San Francisco Giants – admitted his West Coast roots influenced the decision.

“I don’t think it was the ultimate factor,” Utley said. “It goes back to the Phillies have been great to me over the years. And I felt like if I were to move, I think it would be best for them to get something that they would want. And they liked the package that the Dodgers offered.”

[MORE: Cubs will push Javier Baez in first wave of September call-ups]

At the age of 36, Utley wanted a platform to earn his next contract, and it’s unclear what sort of playing-time guarantees the Cubs would offer or how that would fit with Joe Maddon’s mix-and-match managing style.

Utley has played against the Cubs over the years, but he doesn’t really have any close relationships with anyone inside the organization. He’s hitting .364 with a 1.001 OPS in 15 games this month since recovering from an ankle injury and coming off the disabled list.

“Obviously, this year hasn’t gone as well as I would have liked,” Utley said. “I felt like that had some effects on my performance. Obviously, I wanted a chance to get out there and play. And with all those teams that had interest in me – and I had interest back – there was an opportunity.”

Utley helped the Phillies win the 2008 World Series and has a career .902 OPS in 200-plus postseason plate appearances. File all this away in case the Cubs and Dodgers meet again in October in what would be an epic matchup between two iconic franchises.

“I looked at a number of different things to put my list together that would be beneficial for me and the organization,” Utley said, refusing to go off message. “But, again, it came down to the Dodgers having the best offer on the table and I felt comfortable coming here. I grew up here. It’s cool to be a Dodger.”

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

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AP

Ben Zobrist earned his first career ejection thanks to one hell of a zinger

Two days after David Bote turned in the best moment of the Cubs' season, Ben Zobrist delivered the best line of the Cubs' season.

As the top of the ninth inning was getting underway, the 37-year-old mild-mannered veteran was seen talking with home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi.

As Jorge De La Rosa finished his warm-up pitches and the inning was about to start, suddenly Zobrist and Cuzzi got animated and the next thing anybody knew, Zobrist was slapped with his first-ever ejection.

"When you have good, quality at-bats as a hitter and you feel like it's kinda taken away from you, you want some sort of an answer," Zobrist said. "Or you want to be assured that they're gonna go back and make an adjustment and that's what I asked for.

"It was met with, basically, he didn't want to talk about that. He didn't want me to tell him that. I just basically said, 'Well that's why we want an electronic strike zone.'"

MIC. DROP.

This came after a passionate discussion between the two men in the bottom of the sixth inning when Zobrist was called out on strikes on a full count pitch he thought was clearly off the plate. On that play, Joe Maddon came out to intercede and was ejected, but Zobrist walked back to the dugout to collect himself and remained in the game.

So before his next at-bat, Zobrist wanted to say his piece. A calm discussion transformed into something more and while Zobrist didn't apologize for what he said, he was willing to admit his pride played a factor.

"It is what it is," he said. "I'm not gonna lie. When you're dealing with that and you're trying to have good, quality at-bats and you feel like it gets taken away from you, sometimes your pride gets in your way and you say things that are going to upset them. Obviously that upset him and he tossed me."

Zobrist's strikeout wasn't an altogether huge moment in the game, but the pitch — a breaking ball off from Jhoulys Chacin that started off the plate and remained off the plate — should've been Ball 4 and would've given the Cubs runners at first and second with nobody out for Jason Heyward. Sure, it was a 7-0 ballgame, but with the wind blowing out and the Cubs had 12 outs left, crazier things have happened (which Bote just proved).

The Cubs never went on to record another hit, but they didn't blame Cuzzi for that.

"Whenever Zo argues, as a manager, you better get your butt out there," Maddon said. "He's rare to be that way and eventually to get ejected, that's unfortunate. But regardless, there was a couple bad calls, but we gotta do a better job offensively. My god."

Zobrist said he's been more animated and riled up at other points in his career compared to Tuesday afternoon, but obviously that zinger was enough to get the job done to notch his first-ever ejection.

Almost a year ago to the day, Zobrist was very nearly tossed in a game against the Reds, but Maddon once again got in the middle.

This is the latest chapter in what has become a surprising trend of the Cubs vs. umpire debacle. 

For the third straight homestand, the Cubs have had an issue with the umpiring crew — from Javy Baez getting tossed against the Cardinals last month to Anthony Rizzo getting heated with Angel Hernandez two weekends ago to Maddon getting the boot a few days ago against the Nationals.

Only Rizzo's was related to balls and strikes, but between him and Zobrist — two guys who rarely argue — getting heated in the span of 9 days, it begs the question: Does Major League Baseball need an electronic strike zone?

"I'm just gonna leave it at that," Zobrist said. "I think that discussion will happen eventually. But I'm just gonna leave right now at the fact that I said that today. That's it."

Theo Epstein’s perspective on David Bote’s historic moment

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USA TODAY

Theo Epstein’s perspective on David Bote’s historic moment

As a team, the Cubs do well with letting go of bad losses quickly and celebrating the good wins just as quickly, and then moving on. Except after David Bote’s two-out, two-strike grand slam to win Sunday night’s game against the Nationals, the team is still basking in the afterglow. Joe Maddon held his third annual “Try Not to Suck” celebrity golf outing at the Bryn Mawr Country Club in Lincolnwood on Monday, and like the rest of Chicago, Bote’s miraculous handiwork dominated the conversation. 

“Yesterday, the group at the golf tournament were effervescent just based on David's home run.” Maddon said prior to Tuesday’s game. “That's all they could talk about." And at the top of the Cubs organization, Vice President Theo Epstein offered perspective on what has made Bote successful beyond just Sunday night. “He's got a big barrel,” Epstein said. “It just comes off hot more often and he's just a combination of the way his hands and wrists work in his swing and the swing plane that he's got now, it's a huge barrel.”

 Bote leads the majors in average exit velocity, and he has always hit the ball hard. Adjustments to his swing leading in to the 2017 season helped to get the ball in the air more, so displays of power like his dead center homer two days ago are more common. “He was hitting the ball down into the ground. Getting the swing on a little bit better plane, he's been able to pull that off while continuing to barrel up balls, so you're seeing balls just explode all over the park,” Epstein said. “He has opposite field power, he's routinely hitting the ball over the right fielder's head. You don't see guys hit the ball in the middle of the field as far as he did. And obviously when he pulls the ball, good things happen, too.” After Sunday’s win, Bote said that after being beaten by low sinkers on Saturday, he was keyed in to Nationals closer Ryan Madson’s four seam fastball. That slight adjustment helped him to create the moment that won the game. 

And on the whole, Bote has offered the kind of depth that has helped the Cubs to be a perennial playoff contender for several years in a row. Not many teams can offer that. “Sometimes we have two starting caliber players on the bench, sometimes we've had one, sometimes we've had three,” Epstein said. “The more you have the better because it just makes you more dangerous when you're writing off the lineup any given day.” Bote’s future is a bit in question as Kris Bryant continues to prepare for his return to the lineup, but as he showed, Bote is fully capable of producing off of the bench or when called upon in the bottom of the 9th. “As you saw with Bote the other day,” Epstein said, “pinch-hitting, to be able to create that matchup in that spot, I don't think a lot of teams would have that ability.”