Cubs

Do Cubs have enough pitching to finish the pennant race?

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Do Cubs have enough pitching to finish the pennant race?

For all the talk about rookies hitting the wall — and how a young and inexperienced group will handle pennant-race pressure — the biggest issue facing the Cubs might be the rotation that put them in a playoff position.

Forget Jon Lester’s yips for a moment and his control-alt-delete performance in Wednesday night’s 15-8 loss to the Detroit Tigers at Wrigley Field. It happens, even to a $155 million pitcher with two World Series rings and three All-Star selections on his resume.

The Tigers knocked out Lester in the third inning, blasting three home runs and jumping out to a 7-0 lead. The issues are bigger than Lester when outfielder Chris Denorfia is pitching in the ninth inning of a two-game interleague series sweep that saw Detroit generate 25 runs and 40 hits.

Take a wide-angle look, and there’s Jason Hammel admitting he’s been out of sync after a hamstring injury, failing to finish six innings in seven starts since the Fourth of July.

[MORE CUBS: No Chase Utley, but Cubs hope Chris Coghlan could become their Ben Zobrist]

There’s Kyle Hendricks watching old Double-A video, trying to diagnose the problems that have led to a 5.29 ERA in six starts after the All-Star break.

There’s Dan Haren in what are probably his final weeks before retirement, getting by with guts and intelligence near the end of a long and distinguished career.

“If there was health issues, I’d be more concerned,” manager Joe Maddon said. “There’s no health issues. That would be my greater concern, if it was something like: ‘My shoulder’s barking a bit.’

“During the course of a year, guys are always going to go through some struggles. I think Jason’s very fixable. I think Kyle’s very fixable. Danny Haren ... this guy is a tremendous competitor, so I have a lot of faith in him, too.”

[MORE CUBS: Jason Hammel searching for answers after Tigers overpower Cubs]

The Cubs are on pace for around 90 wins and a wild-card spot because their rotation has been so reliable, beginning the day with a 3.51 ERA overall.

The Cubs will have to lean on their pitching infrastructure and come up with some answers, because they don’t have the stockpile of young arms that helped Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays teams win 90-plus games five times between 2008 and 2013.

“The only thing with Kyle — from my mouth to his ears — is to trust yourself and pitch to contact because that’s who you are,” Maddon said. “Let our defense play. I’ve always talked about him staying in better counts. I know when he stays in better counts and works his stuff off of that, he’s pretty effective.

“Hammer, he’s probably throwing the ball harder than he has in awhile. And I think that actually works against him. I think he needs to back off and make better pitches with less velocity, more effective velocity. When he does that, he’s going to be fine.

“Again, if they were injured, I’d be concerned. But they’re not.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs waiting for breakthrough moment with Jon Lester’s throwing issue]

Even Jake Arrieta’s evolution into one of the game’s best pitchers comes with a warning label: The 29-year-old power right-hander has already reached a career-high 162 innings, and there are still six-plus weeks left in the regular season.

“You try to monitor it, but the guy’s like such a freak when it comes to working out and strength levels,” Maddon said. “I watch it all the time. (But) with him, he’s a little bit older (and) he’s been around, so I don’t have as great of a concern with him. But (we) definitely want to keep an eye on it.”

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

How deferrals in MLBPA counterproposal could provide Cubs financial relief

The Ricketts family, more than any other owners in the NL Central, should be intrigued by the MLB Players Association’s economic counterproposal.

Overall, the proposal is the second step in a fiery tango, in which the players association and owners begin on opposite sides of the room and hopefully end up somewhere in the middle. The players’ response, which the union reportedly delivered to the league on Sunday, will almost definitely not be adopted in whole. But, in the midst of both sides’ hard-lining, the players extended the option to defer some player salaries if the postseason is cancelled.

As one of the top five spenders in MLB, the Cubs would be one of the teams most affected by that aspect of the proposal.

The prospect of losing the playoffs to a second wave of COVID-19 is the stuff of baseball owners’ nightmares. The postseason supplies especially lucrative TV deals, which become especially important as the league braces for a massive loss of revenue this year.

The MLBPA counterproposal addressed that fear by including deferrals, according to multiple reports. Contracts calling for salaries of $10 million or more (before proration) could be deferred, with interest. High-payroll teams could enjoy up to $7 million each in relief, The Athletic reported.

The Cubs have 10 players poised to make at least $10 million before their salaries are prorated this year, per spotrac.com.

– Jason Heyward, $23.5 million

– Yu Darvish, $22 million

– Jon Lester, $20 million

– Kris Bryant, $18.6 million

– Anthony Rizzo, $16.5 million

– Craig Kimbrel, $16 million

– Tyler Chatwood, $13 million

– Kyle Hendricks, $12 million

– Jose Quintana, $10.5 million

– Javier Baez, $10 million

That’s the most in the league. Twice as many as the White Sox. In the NL Central, the Cardinals (8) are the closest to catching the Cubs, followed by the Reds (5). On the other end of the spectrum, the Pirates don’t have any players with $10 million salaries.

There is, however, a Catch-22. According to chairman Tom Ricketts, 70 percent of the Cubs’ revenue comes from gameday operations. With such a high payroll, and fans banned from attending games for the foreseeable future, the Cubs organization is poised to take an especially large financial hit.

Still, Ricketts said on CNBC last week, “We’d definitely like to see baseball back." 

A presentation from the commissioner’s office to the players association, obtained by the Associated Press, projected $199 million in local losses for the Cubs alone, before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. That estimate was based on an 82-game season without fans and with players taking prorated salaries.

If that number is accurate – the players continue to call on owners to open their books – $7 million wouldn’t be much relief in the face of a cancelled postseason. And, as mentioned before, it would come with interest. But by mentioning deferrals in a counterproposal, the MLBPA introduced an area for potential compromise.

The players quickly dismissed the league’s sliding scale proposal, which could reportedly pay the highest-paid players merely 20-30 percent of their salaries. But deferrals could help ease owners’ financial challenges this season without axing players earnings so drastically.

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

Ever wonder why Wrigley Field's outfield walls are adorned with ivy?

You enter under the marquee at Clark and Addison. As you make your way through the concourse, a sliver of bright blue sky is visible through one of the walkways that lead to the seating area. As you climb the stairs, the green hand-operated scoreboard in center field comes into view. As you reach the top of the steps, you look to the outfield and see...nothing but a plain old wall?

For fans entering Wrigley Field prior to 1937, that was the view for those seated in the grandstands looking onto the field. No lush green ivy running from foul pole to foul pole. Just a wall, like every other stadium in the league.

How boring.

Part of what makes the Wrigley Field experience so special is having an outfield that looks different than the 29 other major league ballparks. So, how did it get there? For that, Cubs fans have a former White Sox owner to thank.

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The origins of the ivy go back almost 90 years. William Veeck was the Cubs president from 1919 until his death in October 1933. During that time, he hired his son, William Jr., who started as a gopher but quickly moved his way up the Cubs organization. Veeck Jr, whom Chicagoans know better as Bill, would go on to buy the White Sox in 1975. He was behind infamous baseball moments like sending 3-foot-7 Eddie Gaedel to bat in 1951 and Disco Demolition Night in 1979.

In 1937, Veeck gave Cubs fans an early glimpse of his ability to make a splash.

That season, team owner P.K. Wrigley decided to renovate the ballpark that bears his family’s name and make it more of a destination rather than just another baseball stadium. A big part of the upgrade was the addition of the bleachers and the center field scoreboard, which has remained in its spot for the past 83 years.

Wrigley turned to Veeck, tasking him with marketing Wrigley Field with something a little more colorful in front of the bricks supporting the bleachers.

As for the inspiration for the ivy, Veeck credits the home of the Indianapolis Indians, Perry Stadium, which opened in 1931 and had ivy climbing its outfield walls. In his autobiography, “Veeck as in Wreck”, Veeck wrote:

Since I had always admired the ivy-covered...walls at Perry Stadium in Indianapolis

I suggested we appropriate the idea for ourselves.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

The ivy remained at Perry Stadium (which was renamed Victory Stadium and Bush Stadium over the years) until the ballpark closed in 1996. The Indians tried to replicate the ivy covered walls at their new park, but team officials were told professional baseball standards now required padded walls 

Wrigley’s walls have been grandfathered into the rules, so they can remain as is. And any attempts to change them requires the approval of the City of Chicago, which added the ivy to part of Wrigley Field’s Landmark Designation.

The ivy also has a special set of rules. If a batted ball goes into it and disappears, the batter (and all runners) are awarded two bases. However, if an outfielder makes an attempt to get the ball out of the ivy, the ball is live (and the outfielder runs the risk of finding not only the ball in play, but others hit there previously).

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But what if Veeck never planted the ivy?

What if in 1937, Mr. Wrigley decided a brick wall was enough. Would the team have kept the walls at their current height and just added pads to them when the league required they do so?  Without landmark status, the Cubs could have decided during subsequent bleacher renovations to lower the height of the walls a couple of feet to allow outfielders to attempt home run-saving catches.

In that case, there would be no need for a basket at the top of the walls. And without one, Javier Baez’ eighth inning shot into the left field basket in Game 1 of the 2016 NLDS against the San Francisco Giants isn’t a homer, but a long fly out. And instead of winning that game 1-0, maybe the Cubs lose it.

Maybe that gives San Francisco the momentum they need in the series and they go on and beat the Cubs in the NLDS. Then there is no World Series title and the championship drought is at 111 years and counting.

And that’s a world I just don’t want to live in. And it makes me appreciate the ivy on the walls that much more.

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