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.”

[RELATED: What’s next for Jeimer Candelario?]

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.”

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist provides a hilarious glimpse into how he's spending a free October

Ben Zobrist won't win the Comeback Player of the Year award this winter, but maybe he can take home a Grammy for Best New Artist?

The Cubs veteran infielder/outfielder posted a hilarious video on his Instagram Wednesday night showcasing how he's been spending October after the Cubs were unceremoniously ousted from the playoffs after on the third day of the month.

It's a fantastic music video of Zobrist lip-syncing to Mumford & Sons' "I Will Wait" while he nearly knocks the TV off the wall of his home by swinging the bat indoors pretending to hit off Clayton Kershaw and frolicking around a field that looks shockingly similar to Hershel's farm from the second season of "The Walking Dead":

View this post on Instagram

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year.... I will wait for you....

A post shared by Ben Zobrist (@benzobrist18) on

Zobrist also posted a lengthy caption on his perspective on the Cubs' disappointing end to the season:

It always takes me a few weeks to process the season and begin the offseason. Here are my thoughts.....along with a unique way of making light of the postseason that should have been......... (special thanks to @dimtillard for help with Video) 
Maybe you feel the way I do. It was a very quick and abrupt ending to a good season for us. It leaves a sour taste in my mouth. But let’s not forget all the good that happened. This game and this team gives us something to pass the time, to express our love and passion, to feel the joy of the wins and the pains of the losses, and it calls us to unity when we so easily can be divided about so many other things. Each game is a microcosm of life. The game itself is not
Life, but it helps us deal with life in a way. I’m thankful for even the painful losses at the end. The game can be a great teacher. 
I felt privileged to play with this team and play for our fans all year. We were stretched and we grew in new ways as individuals and as a group and that is always a good thing. We strive to win championships, but more often the process is the goal. We will be stronger because of all that we went through this year. 
What will I do now? I will travel and watch my wife crush her book tour. I will be in and out of Chi-town. I just got back home to Franklin, TN. I will find joy in raising and watching my kids grow and continue becoming their own person. I will rest and begin preparing for next season. I will work hard in mind, body, and spirit. I will help other players with @patriotforward and @showandgo. I will focus on personal growth and charitable endeavors and become a better man, teammate, friend, and player. 
To Baseball and Fans: For the next 5 months until I play next year....
I will wait for you....

Come for the Zobrist lip sync, but stay for the 37-year-old using a bat as a guitar while wearing a sleeveless shirt and rocking an old-timey top hat.

A year ago, Zobrist completely reshaped his offseason workout plan after three straight years of playing deep into October. It appears he's added another new trick to his winter workout — hopping over fences even though there is a clear opening just a foot away.

Hey, whatever works...

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

[MORE: The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason]

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below: