Cubs

GM Jed Hoyer hopes Cubs will become buyers

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GM Jed Hoyer hopes Cubs will become buyers

The Cubs want to become buyers this summer.

After years of making sign-and-flip deals, and getting trade-deadline questions in spring training, and having their best pitchers audition for other teams, the Cubs should be looking to upgrade before July 31.

Whether or not that means adding a No. 1 starter, this team is heading in the right direction. The Cubs have been in the loop with the Philadelphia Phillies about Cole Hamels going back to at least last summer’s waiver claim.

The trend line doesn’t change with Wednesday’s 8-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field, though it did underline some nagging issues with the pitching staff.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

The Cubs still closed out the month at 12-8, enjoying Joe Maddon’s anti-rules philosophy and clubhouse dance parties. Mega-prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell graduated to The Show. All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro appear to be raising their games at age 25 while playing for a relevant team. Jake Arrieta (3-1, 2.03 ERA) carried the rotation during Jon Lester’s slow start (0-2, 6.23 ERA).

The last time the Cubs finished April with a winning record was 2008, when they won 97 games and their second straight division title.

“You’re always thinking about that stuff,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “You’re always hoping you get off to a good start. You’re always hoping you’re in that position. I feel like it’s pretty early now. You’re at that stage where a two- or three-game winning streak or losing streak really changes your outlook in a hurry.

“But certainly we’re hopeful that we’re in that position. You want to be able to try to improve the team midseason. And I think we’re obviously going to prepare as though that’s the case.”

Hamels did not include the Cubs on his 20-team no-trade list this year. It’s still hard to see Theo Epstein’s front office taking on the massive financial commitment (almost $100 million through 2018) while also giving up the high-level prospects it would take, particularly knowing the frontline pitchers who could be out there as free agents this winter.

[MORE: Balfour an option to help Cubs bullpen?]

But the Cubs can deal from one of the game’s richest farm systems and will probably be looking to upgrade the rotation (and address whatever other issues develop this summer).

Kyle Hendricks (0-1, 5.23 ERA) only made it through five innings on Wednesday night but did manage to limit the Pirates (12-10) to two runs. Middle relievers Gonzalez Germen and Phil Coke then combined to give up six runs as Pittsburgh (12-10) broke the game wide open.

Hendricks had been such a pleasant surprise stepping into the rotation after the Fourth of July sale that shipped Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s. But Hendricks is still searching for what propelled him during last year’s breakout rookie campaign (7-2, 2.46 ERA).

[ALSO: Maddon, Cubs cleared of any tampering charges]

“I’m always a slower starter,” Hendricks said. “This is particularly a little slow. All four starts haven’t been particularly great. I haven’t been able to get deep into a ballgame. Not really a crisis of faith, but one of those points where the confidence has got to change a little bit. You just got to trust your stuff.”

The Cubs aren’t buried in the National League Central, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by two games and sending the message they are playing to win now.

“We can play with anybody I’ve seen so far,” Maddon said. “I feel very comfortable about that. We have to pitch in the middle. That’s probably one area we got to get a little bit stingier with. Overall, the starting (pitching) and the latter part of the bullpen has been really good.

“Offensively, (we’re) seeing a lot of pitches, working good at-bats. We’re scoring runs, running the bases well and playing catch on defense. There’s not a whole lot to complain about. If we just keep this kind of a methodology going, I’ll be very happy with it.”

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

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WGN

Kris Bryant jumping at thunder during a rain delay is pure comedy

The Cubs-Braves game on Wednesday got delayed due to a thunderstorm that blew through Chicago.

It made for a pretty scene with a pink and orange sky during sunset that made way to rain clouds, thunder and lightning. Fox Sports South captured the footage of the Wrigley sky and then caught Kris Bryant jumping and then running in the dugout at the sound of thunder.

Even former MVPs can be scared of thunder.

 

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Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs will need more than Craig Kimbrel to completely change fortunes

Cubs fans are understandably excited Craig Kimbrel is ready to make his debut with the team later this week.

He's a future Hall of Fame closer who is still in the midst of his prime and could very well be a shutdown reliever for the entire second half of the season.

But while the bullpen was a clear weakness of this team during tough times earlier in the season, the Cubs haven't slogged out to a 12-13 record in June because their back-end relievers have been blowing late leads.

So how much of a direct impact will Kimbrel have on the team's success? We don't know for sure, but let's look back at every loss this month and see if he would've been able to change the outcome in any ballgame:

June 1 — Cardinals 7, Cubs 4

Kimbrel probably wouldn't have pitched in a game that featured a three-hour rain delay, as Tyler Chatwood gave up 3 runs in the sixth inning in relief of Jose Quintana and the Cubs never even tied the game again.

June 2 — Cardinals 2, Cubs 1 

This was at least a close game, but the Cubs actually trailed 2-0 heading to the top of the ninth inning, when they mounted a comeback against the St. Louis bullpen that fell just short. Either way, it's almost assuredly not a game Kimbrel would have even made it into.

June 6 — Rockies 3, Cubs 1

Quintana gave up all 3 runs before the seventh inning ended and the Cubs offense could do nothing against a rookie making his first MLB start (Peter Lambert).

June 10 — Rockies 6, Cubs 5

Here's one where having Kimbrel could've had an indirect impact. The Cubs never had a save situation, but they did lose the game because the bullpen gave up solo runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings. If Kimbrel is in the 'pen, the trickle down effect comes into play, which means Joe Maddon has more options at his disposal — including Steve Cishek and Pedro Strop earlier in the game. However, it was Cishek that was saddled with the loss by allowing a run in the eighth inning. The only way it would've set up any differently with Kimbrel is if the Cubs used Cishek in the seventh inning and slotted Strop in for the eighth, and the result may have been different. So we'll say Kimbrel could've had an impact on this one, albeit indirectly.

June 11 — Rockies 10, Cubs 3

When you're losing 9-1 going into the seventh inning, what does it matter who your closer is?

June 13 — Dodgers 7, Cubs 3

This one was all about the Dodgers being good and Jon Lester struggling and had nothing to do with the bullpen. The Cubs mounted a 3-0 lead, but their ace gave it all back and then some — allowing 3 homers and 6 runs over 5 innings. The bullpen would not have done much in this game.

June 14 — Dodgers 5, Cubs 3

Rinse and repeat. The Cubs once again jumped out to an early lead, but starting pitching couldn't hold it as Kyle Hendricks was touched up for 5 runs in 4.1 innings in his final appearance before hitting the injured list. The Cubs bullpen actually pitched admirably in the contest, throwing 3.2 shutout innings against a very good lineup.

June 16 — Dodgers 3, Cubs 2

It's certainly possible this one would've been different if Kimbrel were around. With something of a limited bullpen and Brandon Kintzler already pitching earlier in the contest, Cishek was forced to throw multiple innings and gave up the winning run in the eighth — his second inning of work — to break a 2-2 tie. Again, Kimbrel likely would not have been pitching in that spot, but if he was around and available, maybe Maddon could've gone with Strop or somebody else instead of utilizing Cishek for a second inning.

June 18 — White Sox 3, Cubs 1

Ahh, the Eloy Game. Also a game that it's very possible we would've seen Kimbrel, but you can't really fault Maddon with how this one played out. Cubs had a fresh bullpen coming off a rare off-day and watched Cole Hamels throw a gem, allowing just 1 run in 7 innings. Kintzler pitched a scoreless eighth inning in a tie ballgame and then Maddon called on Strop to throw the ninth inning — when Eloy Jimenez had his signature moment. Maybe Maddon would've gone to Kimbrel to pitch the top of the ninth inning, but you can't really lament losing when one of your best relievers is pitching late in a tie game and it doesn't work out.

June 21 — Mets 5, Cubs 4

Cubs jumped out to a 4-3 lead on Addison Russell's 2-run homer, but Yu Darvish couldn't hold it, giving the lead right back the following inning. The Cubs then lost the game when embattled reliever Brad Brach came into a 4-4 tie and gave up a single that eventually came around to score the winning run. Maybe Kimbrel's presence would've changed that outcome, as it could've been another reliever in the game besides Brach, but the Cubs still didn't hit much (Darvish accounted for half their runs) and it was a couple of groundball basehits that led to the winning run scoring, so it's not like Brach and Mike Montgomery got lit up.

June 22 — Mets 10, Cubs 2

This was a clunker of a game that was over well before either team's bullpen figured into things.

June 25 — Braves 3, Cubs 2

Hard to win many games scoring only 2 runs. Maybe Montgomery would not have been pitching in the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead if Kimbrel were around, but the Cubs also needed/wanted some length after Adbert Alzolay's 4.2-inning start and Montgomery had retired five of the six batters he faced before allowing the game-winning homer. 

June 26 — Braves 5, Cubs 3

Well, Yu Darvish ended his no-decision streak before setting a new MLB record, but it ended with an "L" flag flying high over Wrigley Field. The right-hander put the Cubs in a 5-0 hole early — before the rain delay hit — and even though the bullpen pitched well, the lineup couldn't quite climb all the way back. But not for a lack of trying from Darvish's battery-mate Willson Contreras:

So in total, we're looking at maybe three games this month in which Kimbrel could've played a role and potentially changed the outcome for the Cubs. But even those three games are a stretch — who knows if they would've still lost each one of those contests anyways.

This serves as just another reminder that Kimbrel isn't the Cubs' savior. While he will be a very nice piece in the bullpen and help create a positive trickle down effect on the pitching staff, he can't do anything to impact the Cubs' offense or starting pitching and those are the biggest issues plaguing the team at the moment.