Cubs

Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

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Following Ozzie, Zambrano takes talents to South Beach

The Carlos Zambrano trade was viewed as a matter of when not if and realistically only one team would be a match.

It comes as no surprise that the Cubs are on the verge of sending Zambrano and 15 million to the Miami Marlins as part of a package for 25-year-old pitcher Chris Volstad.

Zambrano will be taking his talents to South Beach because of the strength of his relationship with Ozzie Guillen. No other manager would be so willing to take on the explosive, enigmatic pitcher.

The entire industry knows Zambranos greatest hits slamming Gatorade coolers, fighting with Michael Barrett, going after Derrek Lee, walking out on his teammates last season.

But there was Guillen, walking quickly through the lobby of the Hilton Anatole during last months winter meetings in Dallas. Trailed by reporters, Guillen explained how he had a bet with a friend that Zambrano will win more than 14 games for the Cubs in 2012.

Now if they trade him, well, Id take it, Guillen said while being hustled to yet another media stop.

The inevitable deal first reported by Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports on Wednesday and confirmed by CSNChicagos David Kaplan was ultimately just going to be about the details. Volstad is a former first-round pick whos eligible for arbitration and wont become a free agent until after the 2014 season.

The Cubs had moved on long ago, with ownership giving Theo Epstein the authority to eat the money on a sunk cost. The new president of baseball operations has preached all about accountability and clubhouse chemistry.

A rebuilding organization didnt need Zambrano taking up all the oxygen in the room. Even people close to Zambrano admitted that he could use a fresh start somewhere else, and predicted he would be hungry to prove himself all over again.

Zambrano did seem to enjoy living and playing in Chicago, even if he had strange ways of showing it. Signed as a 16-year-old kid out of Venezuela, he has spent almost half his life in the Cubs organization.

Zambrano held the hammer of full no-trade protection. But waiving those rights figured to be a formality with Guillen involved.

The good friends remained in regular communication throughout the offseason. Their families are close. They have shot commercials together back home in Venezuela.

The Marlins need rotation help, which makes paying a fourth-starter-type 3 million this season a low-risk proposition. (The contract also includes a 19.25 million long-shot vesting option for 2013, though thats only if Zambrano finishes this season healthy and among the top four in the Cy Young vote.)

For a team that has struggled to break through the clutter in the Miami market and is about to move into a brand-new stadium in Little Havana this is also another way to generate buzz.

The theory is that Guillen will be there to challenge Zambrano to stay focused and channel all that adrenaline.

Zambrano has a very good sense of humor, teasing reporters and making movie references to Rocky IV and RoboCop. People inside the Cubs organization talked about his genuine feel for his family and charitable causes.

But the Cubs also swore that the money changed Zambrano almost as soon as he signed a five-year, 91.5 million extension during the middle of the 2007 season.

It all boiled over again one night last August, when the Atlanta Braves hammered Zambrano, who threw at Chipper Jones, packed up his stuff and left Turner Field during the middle of the game. In another moment of frustration, he began telling people that he felt like he was stealing money and thinking about retirement.

It was a safe bet that Zambrano who had a 4.82 ERA when he was effectively suspended had thrown his last pitch in a Cubs uniform. He exits with a 125-81 career record in Chicago and 1,542 strikeouts, which ranks second in franchise history.

On paper, those are good numbers, but Zambrano hasnt accounted for more than 200 innings since 2007. Hes freakishly athletic, a gifted soccer player and switch-hitter who just happened to be built like an NFL defensive end. Maybe he can put it all together for one season in Miami.

But it wasnt going to happen on the North Side. There are enough holdovers from the Jim Hendry administration that Epstein knew all about Zambranos act, how many times he had to say sorry.

Surely Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and manager Dale Sveum noticed that they were asked about Zambrano just about any time a microphone was put in front of their faces. Why make that the narrative?

You know what the story will be when the Cubs visit Miami April 17-19, and when the Marlins come to Wrigley Field July 17-19.

Zambrano was gold for the Chicago media. The Cubs world will be a far less interesting place without him. But in the end, both sides needed this divorce.

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

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What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

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USA TODAY

What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

The Brewers’ pursuit of second-straight NL Central championship suffered a devastating blow on Monday, as staff ace Brandon Woodruff landed on the injured list with a left oblique strain.

Woodruff, who exited Sunday’s game against the Diamondbacks in the fourth inning, is expected to be out for about six weeks. The 26-year-old is enjoying a breakout 2019 season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time. He ranks first among Brewers starting pitchers in wins (11), strikeouts (136) and innings (117 2/3) while ranking second in ERA (3.75) among pitchers with at least 10 starts.

The timing of Woodruff’s injury is unfortunate for the Brewers, who enter Monday two games behind the Cubs for first place in the NL Central at 53-48. Most teams aren’t equipped to lose their best starting pitcher for an extended period, especially in the thick of a pennant race. This is especially true for the Brewers, whose starting pitching has struggled in 2019.

Entering Monday, the Brewers starting pitchers rank 18th in MLB with a 4.73 ERA. This is a far cry from last season, when they ranked 11th with a 3.92 ERA. So, while Woodruff’s injury complicates matters, the Brewers already had a need for starting pitching.

The Brewers have a tough decision to make. They could swing a trade (or two) to give their rotation a much-needed boost. Potentially available pitchers include Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, Mike Minor of the Rangers, Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays, among others.

Acquiring a single pitcher isn’t going to solve the team’s woes, however, which Matt Clapp from The Comeback pointed out.

As Clapp said, any trade will likely require some form of prospect capital, and teams would be unwise not to ask the Brewers for rookie phenom Keston Hiura in negotiations. Hiura, 22, is hitting .331/.387/.613 with nine home runs in 37 games, though, so it’s tough to imagine the Brewers parting with him in any deal.

Thus, the Brewers either must create an enticing enough package without Hiura or stand pat. If they were to do the latter, they risk losing ground in the NL Central standings to the Cubs and Cardinals amid a tough stretch in their schedule.

From July 15-Aug. 4, the Brewers will play 16 games out of 19 against teams with .500 or better records. Although they’re currently 5-2 in that stretch, Milwaukee went 9-17 from June 14-July 14, a stretch of 26-straight games against teams with losing records. Woodruff’s injury, therefore, comes at a point in the Brewers’ schedule where it’s make or break time.

The Cubs have come out of the All-Star break hot, going 7-2 to give themselves the slightest amount of breathing room in the NL Central standings. With how the Cubs are playing, the division could become out of reach for the Brewers if they can’t stay afloat during their current stretch – let alone until Woodruff returns. Not to mention the Cardinals, who are 7-3 since the break and sit just a half game behind the Brewers in the division standings.

Of course, the Brewers were five games back of the Cubs in the NL Central entering September last season, only to win the division in Game 163. Their current position is certainly not ideal, but the Cubs and Cardinals aren't out of the woods yet. There has been a great sense of urgency within the NL Central all season due to the compact standings. For the Brewers, that urgency certainly is higher than ever now.

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