Cubs

Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?

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Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?

Sunday, April 17, 2011
Posted: 5:57 p.m. Updated: 6:37 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Maybe you havent been paying attention. Youd rather watch the Bulls and Blackhawks. Youre left wondering: Are these Cubs any good?

To get fans into Wrigley Field and fill those empty green seats, the Cubs can keep coming up with new ticket plans. But winning is always the best marketing strategy.

The Cubs boarded a charter flight home on Sunday at the end of the road trip they promised would show us what theyre made of. It was quiet in the room after a 9-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies, no music, only the sound of clubhouse attendants scraping dirt off cleats and zipping up bags.

In front of 42,212 fans, the Cubs finally snapped in the eighth inning of a 5-5 game. Marcos Mateo gave up an infield single and then watched as Kosuke Fukudome misplayed a ball in right field, allowing Jose Lopez to slide in for a double.

Mateo struck out the next two batters before Dexter Fowler lined a two-run double into center and it was game over from there.

Manager Mike Quade likes to break the season into 15-game blocks. At this point, you cant be overexcited or make any harsh judgments about a group that went 4-5 on this three-city trip through Milwaukee, Houston and Denver.

We hang around, Quade said. Weve been good and bad. Weve havent put it together by any means, but its a good sign when youre hanging around and still looking to jell as a group and get things going on all cylinders and all the other clichs that they use.

The Cubs (7-8) are hoping for good news on Monday, when Randy Wells (forearm strain) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff strain) will be re-evaluated by the medical staff and possibly begin to think about throwing programs.

That the Cubs are down two starting pitchers and only two games out of first place is remarkable. Theyve done it without Carlos Zambrano (2-0, 6.11) and Matt Garza (0-2, 6.27) performing up to expectations.

But in all probability the Cubs will hover around or below .500 if they dont get a bounce from their frontline starters.

The Rockies (12-3) roughed up Ryan Dempster for four runs in the first inning. Dempster settled down and ultimately gave up five runs in five innings, but with a series on the line didnt necessarily outpitch Alan Johnson, a 27-year-old right-hander making his major-league debut.

Afterward the typically upbeat Dempster (6.84 ERA) showed a side of himself he rarely reveals to the public.

Im sick and tired of this, he said. Im better than that. Its getting really old.

The Cubs arent panicking about Dempster. And at the end of the weekend, Darwin Barney could look over the hottest team in baseball and honestly say: We can play with those guys.

Offensively, the Cubs are in a strange place where Zambrano (one) has more home runs than Carlos Pena (zero). Yet Starlin Castro and Barney have given them an entirely new dimension at the top of the order, and Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano have looked locked in at the plate.

We have to be objective, Pena said. You look at our record no, were not where we want to be, but we may look at it the wrong way. (If) we get caught up in the emotion, (then) we go out there and we have baggage on our backs.

That might describe this organizations history, but with almost 91 percent of the schedule remaining, you cant print playoff tickets, or write the Cubs off yet. Theyre a team still finding its identity.

Were going to have to play better baseball if were going to make an impact, thats for sure, Quade said. But weve shown signs of doing that. We just need to be more consistent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

On a mistake-filled afternoon, Javier Baez does what he does best and saves the Cubs

Consider the Cubs’ starting middle infield in Saturday’s 6-5 win over the San Diego Padres to be comprised of two extremes. 

On one end of the spectrum was Addison Russell, who started at second base. Russell was doubled off second base on an Albert Almora line drive in the second inning — a ball hit hard enough where, had it fell in for a hit, he wouldn’t have scored. There was no spinning Russell drifting far enough off second base to be doubled up; it was simply bad baserunning. 

Russell, too, was thrown out at home on an Almora ground ball in the fourth inning. He appeared to lose a pop fly in the sun, too, which fell in for a double in the third inning. 

Manager Joe Maddon was willing to excuse the pop-up double — “The sun ball, there’s nothing you could do about that,” he said — but sounded frustrated with Russell’s far-too-frequent baserunning gaffes. 

“He’s gotta straighten some things out,” Maddon said. “He has to. There’s no question. I’m not going to stand here — he’s got to, we’ve talked about his baserunning in the past. 

“… The baserunning, there’s some things there — we’re making too many outs on the bases and we’re missing things on the bases that we can’t to be an elite team.”

Russell’s mistakes were part of a larger sloppy showing by both teams. As Cubs reliever Brandon Kintzler put it: “No lead was safe. It was really just who was going to survive and not make so many mistakes.”

Javier Baez ensured the Cubs would survive by not merely avoiding mistakes, but by coming up with two massive plays. 

Baez’s three-run home run in the fourth inning gave the Cubs’ the lead for good, and he fell a triple short of the cycle. He’s homered in consecutive games, and Maddon senses the 26-year-old is emerging from a slump that dropped his OPS to .853 after Wednesday’s game, his lowest mark since the small-sample-size landscape of mid-April. 

But it was Baez’s masterful tag in the bottom of the ninth inning that captured most of the attention around Wrigley Field, reminding everyone in the dugouts and stands just how incredible “El Mago” can be. 

Craig Kimbrel walked Wil Myers to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning, and after budding superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. inexplicably bunted (he popped out), Myers took off to steal second base. Kimbrel sailed a fastball high and inside, and Victor Caratini’s throw was well to the left of second base. Myers appeared to have the base stolen until Baez gloved the ball and rapidly snapped a tag onto Myers’ left leg:

”We needed a play made, and he made it,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s what he does.”

Baez’s home run increased the Cubs’ win expectancy by 35.7 percent; his tag on Myers upped it that mark from 83.3 percent to 96.5 percent. This is why the Cubs’ mantra, even when Baez is in a lull, is to let Javy be Javy. 

One player can’t carry a team forever — Baez had his best season as a pro in 2018, only to see the Cubs crash out of the Wild Card game, of course. But it’s hard to not think about the kind of plays Baez can conjure up when the Cubs need them the most in 2019’s playoff race. 

After all, stuff like that tag on Myers — the Cubs have come to expect that from Baez. 

“You saw a lot of plays today, they weren’t baseball plays,” Maddon said. “The game is clamoring for baseball players who know how to play this game, and he’s one. He is one. He’s got the biggest hard drive, the most RAM, he’s got everything going on every day. 

“He sees things, he’s got great vision. Technically, he’s a tremendous baseball player. He’s going to make some mistakes, like everyone else does, but what he sees and sees in advance — it’s like the best running back, it’s the best point guard you’ve ever seen. It’s all of that. As a shortstop, that’s what he is.

“… We needed him to be that guy today and he was. And again, it’s not overtly surprising.” 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Dare we ask... are the Cubs back?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Dare we ask... are the Cubs back?

Rick Telander, Ben Finfer and Seth Gruen join Kap on the panel.

0:00 - The Cubs beat the Padres from their 6th win in their 7 games since the All-Star Break. Are they really this good or are they just feasting on sub-.500 teams?

7:00 - The White Sox have lost seven straight after the break. Should fans be furious with the slump or still optimistic about the future?

13:00 - The Bears report to Bourbonnais in 6 days. Will the 2019 season be a failure if they do not make it to the Super Bowl?

19:00 - Kap gives out his play of the night in the FanDuel Friday Faves.

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Sports Talk Live Podcast

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