Cubs

Eddie Butler shows Cubs the future is now and shuts down Cardinals

Eddie Butler shows Cubs the future is now and shuts down Cardinals

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs methodically built their franchise around talented young hitters and targeted free agents who would bring attitude and experience to the clubhouse. But to become contenders and eventually World Series champions, the front office also needed to get creative with in-season moves and the farm system had to deliver jolts of energy.

Whether it was rebuilding the bullpen on the fly with scrap-heap relievers in 2015, or making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees last summer, or promoting Kyle Schwarber, Willson Contreras and Albert Almora Jr. and trusting those rookies in pennant races, the Cubs could feel the shots of adrenaline.

Maybe that’s what Eddie Butler will provide at a time when the defending champs haven’t been playing with the same precise execution and laser focus.

Butler gave the Cubs exactly what they needed on Friday night at Busch Stadium, throwing six scoreless innings during a 3-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals and earning at least another turn in the rotation.

“Of course,” manager Joe Maddon said afterward.

“Sounds good to me,” Butler said with a smile. “I’m going to go out there and keep attacking.”

Called up from Triple-A Iowa to replace the injured/ineffective Brett Anderson, Butler allowed only two infield singles to Aledmys Diaz, showing why the Colorado Rockies once made him a first-round pick and Baseball America saw him as a top-25 prospect.  

“To be honest, I didn’t even know that he threw that hard,” Contreras said. “And then once I saw the scoreboard, 96, 95 (mph), OK, we’re going to use the fastball, because they looked kind of behind on it. He had a good idea (of what he wanted to do).”  

Performing in front of a sellout crowd – at 47,601 it would be recorded as the third-largest regular-season mark in Busch Stadium III history – Butler felt so amped up that he allowed back-to-back walks with two outs in the first inning. 

Pitching coach Chris Bosio visited the mound at that point, Butler got the groundball in his matchup against Yadier Molina and the Cubs settled in to watch only their 14th quality start through 35 games.

Between Butler’s raw talent, Bosio’s no-nonsense approach and a sophisticated game-planning system, the Cubs think they may have found an answer for their 2018 rotation, when Jake Arrieta and John Lackey might be gone. But an 18-17 team needs to see results from Butler now.

“He’s been doing that at Triple-A (1.17 ERA), so that’s the part that I like,” Maddon said. “It’s not like he was just throwing in a pedestrian manner down there and came up here and all of a sudden had a good night. 

“He’s very interesting with a very good arm.”

That doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains, the way it’s been with Contreras, a revelation as a rookie catcher last season and a player constantly finding himself in big moments.

Contreras drove two Mike Leake pitches into the right- and center-field seats that traveled 809 feet combined, giving him his first career multi-homer game. Contreras picked off Dexter Fowler at first base with a throw from his left knee to end the seventh inning, screaming and pounding his chest as he walked off the field. A wild Contreras throw to Anthony Rizzo on what should have been the game-ending strike three allowed the Cardinals to score an unearned run and put Cubs fans on edge.  

Whether or not it’s now or never for Butler, it’s hard to picture a better spot to launch his career, even when the Cubs are hovering around .500. 

“I plan on holding the spot,” Butler said. “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing, trying to get quality starts, give these guys a chance to win every day. They’re going to put up runs and they’re going to play some ball behind us.”

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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