If this is it at trade deadline, Cubs believe they have enough to win World Series

If this is it at trade deadline, Cubs believe they have enough to win World Series

With less than 24 hours to go until Monday’s non-waiver trade deadline, manager Joe Maddon expected the Cubs to be quiet this time.

“There’s nothing going on, as far as I know,” Maddon said before Sunday night’s 7-6, 12-inning, walk-off win over the Seattle Mariners. “Nothing. Nothing. Crickets.”

That wouldn’t have gone over well while sections of Wrigley Field booed spot starter Brian Matusz, and might not have initially registered with the casual fans tuning into ESPN to see baseball’s biggest story. Theo Epstein’s front office also won’t be content with the lineup simply because the Cubs came back from a 6-0 deficit and Seattle closer Steve Cishek blew a three-run, ninth-inning lead. 

But the Cubs have a roster that keeps coming at you in waves and a manager who enjoys controlled chaos. This one ended while John Lackey, Wednesday’s scheduled starter, warmed up in the bullpen after seven different relievers combined to throw nine scoreless innings. It took Jason Heyward leading off the 12th inning with a line-drive double, hustling to third base on a Willson Contreras flyball, sprinting home on Jon Lester’s two-strike bunt and sliding headfirst to score the game-winning run.

The Cubs might have already made their biggest move this summer, stomaching Aroldis Chapman’s off-the-field baggage and acquiring the 105-mph closer last week from the New York Yankees.

So is this team good enough – as is – to win a championship? Ask the $155 million pitcher with two World Series rings and now his first career walk-off RBI.

“Yeah, I think so,” Lester said. “Any addition that they can give us is a bonus, (but) there are always other things involved – money, prospects, all that other stuff. We realize that if you just make that (Chapman trade), we still feel that we’re good enough to get where we want to go. Now it’s a matter of us doing it and staying healthy and playing.”

“Expect the unexpected” is also how general manager Jed Hoyer framed this trade deadline. The mighty Yankees became sellers for the first time in a generation, sending an All-Star reliever (Andrew Miller) to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday in another 4-for-1 deal. 

While the small-market Indians – a cautious organization known for slow playing and using trade negotiations to gather better intelligence on their own farm system – also had an agreement in place with the Milwaukee Brewers to acquire Jonathan Lucroy. At least until the All-Star catcher used his no-trade protection to veto that deal.

The Cubs felt enough of a roster crunch over the weekend to send a valuable bench player (Tommy La Stella) and a trusted reliever during last year’s playoff run (Justin Grimm) down to Triple-A Iowa, where Trevor Cahill (knee) is stretching out on a rehab assignment and Albert Almora Jr. is itching for another promotion and the chance to become the 2017 Opening Day center fielder. Jorge Soler (hamstring) – another big-time playoff performer last year – is trying to get his timing down at Double-A Tennessee.
“If they do something, great,” Lester said. “That’s just kind of like that shot in the arm, that little boost for you. But if they don’t, I feel like we’re in a good place.”

In Maddon, the Cubs have a manager unafraid to push bullpen buttons by playing Travis Wood in left field, watching the crowd of 40,952 give him a standing ovation for an athletic catch at the brick wall in the seventh inning, and then summon the lefty reliever again for an eighth-inning matchup.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

In Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs have two leading MVP candidates in the middle of their lineup and 50 percent of an All-Star infield. In Jake Arrieta, the Cubs have the National League’s reigning Cy Young Award winner for what’s been a durable, reliable rotation, at a time when the price for pitching is skyrocketing.

In Chapman, the Cubs added the game’s most intimidating closer to a team that almost had a 99-percent chance to make the playoffs and is now 58-1 when leading entering the ninth inning.

Crickets? To the clubhouse, to the rest of a $10 billion industry, to anyone skeptical of The Plan, the Cubs already sent their message loud and clear with the Chapman trade.

“He was more of like a ‘want,’” Lester said. “We had a great back end of our bullpen. ‘Ronnie’ (Hector Rondon) and (Pedro) Strop have been doing a good job for us. When a talent like (Chapman) becomes available, it’s more of like when you’re a kid. You go to the toy aisle, you’re like: ‘Yeah, I want that.’ I don’t need it, but I want it, because it would be kind of cool. 

“That’s the luxury (this organization has) now. We have that freedom to maybe trade away a few of these (prospects) and try to help us get a little bit better.”

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

A series to forget: Facts and figures from Cubs' rough weekend in Cincinnati

The Cubs and their fans may want to invent and use one of those Men In Black neuralyzers because the four-game series in Cincinnati was one to forget.

The Reds finished off a four-game sweep of the Cubs on Sunday with an 8-6 win. The way the Reds won the finale will be especially painful for the Cubs considering they led 6-1 after six innings. Mike Montgomery appeared to tire in the seventh inning and Pedro Strop got rocked out of the bullpen to lead to a seven-run seventh for the hosts.

The Reds have now won seven in a row and 10 of 12, but still sit 13 games under .500. Bizarrely, the Reds also swept the Dodgers, the Cubs’ next opponent, in a four-game series in May. Duane Underwood will start for the Cubs Monday against the Dodgers and make his major league debut.

Here are some other wild facts and figures from the series:

  • The last time the Reds swept the Cubs in a four-game series was back in 1983. That was the first week of the season and three weeks before the infamous Lee Elia rant.
  • One positive for the Cubs from the game was Montgomery’s start. Through six innings he allowed one run on three hits and two walks. However, he gave up a single, a double and a single in the seventh before Strop relieved him. Montgomery had gone six innings and allowed one run in each of his last four outings.
  • Strop was definitely a negative. On his first pitch, Strop gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Jesse Winker, the second home run for a Reds pinch-hitter in the game. Then Strop allowed a single, a walk, a single and a double before getting an out. Strop’s final line: 2/3 inning pitched, four runs, one strikeout, three walks, four hits.
  • The Cubs led in three of the four games this series, including two leads after five innings.
  • The Cubs were 5-for-23 (.217) with runners in scoring position in the series. On the season the Cubs are hitting .233 with RISP, which is 22nd in the majors and fourth-worst in the National League (but ahead of the division-rival Brewers and Cardinals).
  • The Reds outscored the Cubs 31-13 and scored at least six runs in every game. The Reds are now 6-3 against the Cubs this year after going a combined 17-40 against the Cubs from 2015-2017.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 32nd homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa victimized the Tigers pitching staff again on the next night, taking Brian Moehler deep in the 7th inning for a 400-foot solo blast.

The homer tied the game at 3, but the Cubs blew the lead in the bottom of the 7th when the Terrys (Adams and Mulholland) gave up 3 runs. The Cubs wound up losing 6-4.

The Cubs were putting together a really nice season in 1998 that ended with a trip to October. They entered the series with the Tigers with a 42-34 record, yet lost both games to a Detroit team that entered the series with a 28-45 record. The Tigers finished the season 65-94; the Cubs finished 90-73.

Fun fact: Luis Gonzalez was the Tigers left fielder and No. 5 hitter for both games of the series. He spent part of the 1995 season and all of '96 on Chicago's North Side. 1998 was his only year in Detroit before he moved on to Arizona, where he hit 57 homers in 2001 and helped the Diamondbacks to a World Series championship with that famous broken-bat single in Game 7.

Fun fact  No. 2: Remember Pedro Valdes? He only had a cup of coffee with the Cubs (9 games in 1996 and 14 in '98), but started in left field on June 25, 1998. He walked and went 0-for-1 before being removed from the game for a pinch-hitter (Jose Hernandez).