Cubs

Joe Nathan could be X-factor for Cubs in second half

Joe Nathan could be X-factor for Cubs in second half

PITTSBURGH – Joe Nathan simply doesn’t have the same arsenal that made him a six-time All-Star closer, launching him to eighth on the all-time list with 377 career saves. The Cubs aren’t as good as we thought they were if their season hinges on a guy who’s 41 years old and coming off a second Tommy John procedure on his right elbow. 

But Nathan is still a looming X-factor as the Cubs try to rebuild their bullpen on the fly, able to be activated off the 60-day disabled list on July 16, in the middle of a showdown against the Texas Rangers coming out of the All-Star break.

“He’s not far,” manager Joe Maddon said Sunday at PNC Park. “It’s getting close.”

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Double-A Tennessee is another world compared to Wrigley Field. Nathan still has to pass the test of throwing on back-to-back days and see how his body responds. The Cubs are a conservative organization when it comes to dealing with injuries.  

With that in mind, Nathan has made it through six appearances with the Smokies, giving up two runs overall but getting hit hard on Saturday night, failing to finish the ninth inning and taking the loss against Chattanooga.

Nathan’s arm looks fluid. His fastball is hitting the 91-92 mph range. His slider/cutter doesn’t have the same bite it once did. He can still throw a curveball for a strike. His timing/finish isn’t quite locked in yet, understandable considering he hasn’t thrown in the big leagues since April 2015.   

“I’m getting a lot of solid information on him,” Maddon said. “The numbers are good, (in terms of) velocity. The break on the breaking ball was getting better. We’re relying a lot on what he is talking about, too. It’s kind of like he’s going through an actual spring training right now, with the number of appearances to get ready to come back and feel good about it. So there’s a lot of progress.”

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Nathan may not own the ninth inning anymore, but he should have enough guts and experience to get some outs, an upgrade when Justin Grimm (5.34 ERA) isn’t right and Adam Warren (5.79 ERA) hasn’t established himself yet and the Cubs are auditioning pitchers from Triple-A Iowa (Carl Edwards Jr., Spencer Patton).

Nathan working on the prorated major-league minimum (roughly $350,000) plus incentives might be a better – or more realistic – option than what’s out there on the trade market.

“We just have to define the bullpen,” Maddon said. “That’s the part, to me, that could really jettison us in a positive way in the second half – to get the bullpen back in order where guys are well and able to pitch consistently in certain spots.

“That’s probably been the most difficult part the last week or 10 days – trying to get the bullpen in order and get them out there in the right times and contribute to the wins.”

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

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USA Today

Willson Contreras commissions heart-warming painting commemorating his relationship with Joe Maddon

Joe Maddon’s time with the Cubs may be over, but the memories made in his five years on the North Side will live on in Chicago sports lore forever. No matter how frustratingly his tenure may have ended, the outpouring of support and appreciation from management, fans and players alike throughout the process of Maddon’s departure are evidence of that.

“I love him like a dad,” Anthony Rizzo said

“I personally never could have imagined having such a wonderful partner,” Theo Epstein later added, standing beside Maddon as they delivered joint reflections on the end of the era.

Maddon touched the lives of so many within the organization and without in his time with the Cubs, but not many more so than catcher Willson Contreras, who burst onto the scene as one of the best young sluggers in baseball under Maddon’s guidance. Maddon — a catcher himself in his short time as a player — never shied away from criticizing Contreras in times he thought it earned, but it’s clear that the two forged a real bond over the last four years. 

Sunday afternoon, artist Austin Ploch revealed that Contreras reached out to him shortly after the end of the 2019 season to commission this heart-warming piece, commemorating the mutual respect and adoration between mentor and pupil:

The painting is derived from a photo of the two that Contreras posted to his Instagram account after it was officially announced that Maddon would not return as the Cubs manager:

Ploch has commissioned work for Contreras before, but now Willson will have a tangible memento to remember his first manager (along with his 2016 World Series ring). We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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