Cubs

Jorge Soler homers in return to help Lester, Cubs beat A's

Jorge Soler homers in return to help Lester, Cubs beat A's

OAKLAND, Calif. — Cubs manager Joe Maddon thought Jorge Soler might get a jolt out of returning to the majors after spending two months recovering from a nagging hamstring injury, including a two-week stint in the minors.

Boy, was Maddon right.

Soler hit a three-run home run in his first at-bat after being activated off the disabled list, Jon Lester pitched seven strong innings, and Chicago beat the Oakland Athletics 7-2 on Friday night.

"Sometimes a guy just needs to show up and then he gets the adrenaline going on, and that was a big hit," Maddon said. "I didn't think it was high enough to go out. It was out so quickly."

Dexter Fowler also homered while Javier Baez added a two-run double to help Chicago win its fifth straight. The Cubs also improved to a major league-best 67-41.

Lester (12-4) pitched for the A's over the final two months of the 2014 season after getting traded from Boston. He returned to the Coliseum for the first time since then and faced a distinctly different Oakland team than the one he left.

"Any time you've been on the home side and come back as a visitor it's different," said Lester, who had eight strikeouts, and allowed two runs on nine hits.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

"I enjoyed pitching here. I wish it turned out a little different but I was with a good team and great fans. It's unbelievable to come here as a home player as opposed to a visitor."

Soler, out since June 6 with a hamstring injury, celebrated his return to the majors with his home run in the first inning off A's starter Dillon Overton (1-3).

That capped a four-run burst by the Cubs that included Fowler's fifth game-opening home run this season.

Soler also reached on a fielder's choice and scored on Baez's double in the third. Jason Heyward added an RBI single in the inning to help extend Chicago's lead to 7-0.

"I wasn't feeling any pressure, I just wanted to put a good swing on the ball," Soler said through an interpreter. "I was a little bit frustrated being out at least two months but I just wanted to keep the positive attitude and come here and try to do my best."

Brett Eibner, called up from the minors earlier in the day, homered against Lester leading off the sixth for Oakland. Marcus Semien added an RBI single.

ROOKIE ROUGHED UP

Overton allowed seven runs in three innings but suffered his third consecutive loss. The rookie left-hander is winless since beating the Los Angeles Angels in his major league debut June 25. "Believe it or not I was actually hitting my spots better tonight," Overton said. "They were just hitting everything I threw. You're going to have days like that You just have to work with it and keep grounded."

TRAINER'S ROOM

Cubs: Maddon said the plan is to ease Soler back in and get him some defensive work in the outfield before the team faces another NL team on Aug. 11. ... RHP Joe Nathan was designated for assignment. The 41-year-old was 1-0 in three appearances with the Chicago.

Athletics: Jed Lowrie was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a bunion on his left foot. ... RHP Jesse Hahn also went on the DL with a strained right shoulder. ... RHP Andrew Triggs was called back up from Triple-A Nashville along with Eibner.

Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

Steven Souza's healthy and ready to prove himself to Cubs fans and baseball in general

MESA, Ariz. –  Two years ago, things were looking bright for Steven Souza. At 28, he was coming off the best season of his career, one where he slashed .239/.351/.459 with 30 home runs, good for a 121 wRC+. The Rays are certainly never prohibitive favorites in the AL East, but the team was talented and the idea of catching up with the division’s juggernauts was no longer unrealistic. 

Then came the shoulder injury, which delayed the start of his 2018 season until mid-May. After that there was a pec injury, and before he knew it, the year was over and the right fielder had only played in 72 games. Think that’s bad? The following season, now playing for Arizona, Souza slipped while crossing home plate during one of the last games of Spring Training. He tore his ACL, and his season ended before it began. 

“It’s been a grind,” said Souza, who signed a one-year deal with the Cubs in late January. “Coming off the year I had in ‘17, I was excited for the future held for me, and I just kind of ran into a couple injuries that really derailed my last couple seasons. It’s been frustrating, but all that’s behind me, and even though it’s been a grind, I’m excited to get back out here and look forward to the future.” 

Freak injuries derailed what looked to be a promising prime of Souza’s career, and you wouldn’t blame him for harboring his fair share of resentment. It’s impressive, then, to hear him talk about what lasting effect the run of injuries has had on his psyche. 

“Personally, I don’t believe in accidents,” he said. “I believe everything happens for a reason. I don’t know what that reason was, but I know that I’m stronger for it. Mentally, I think if there’s a silver lining, it’s that I got to spend a full year with my son and my newborn daughter. As we all know, in this game, we don’t get to spend a lot of time with our families. So it was a huge blessing and I’m looking forward to moving on from that.” 

Unlike the years he spent playing alongside All-Star center fielders like Kevin Kiermaier and A.J. Pollock, Souza’s outfield positioning will be less set in stone with the Cubs. He’ll get ABs from the corners, but with Schwarber and Heyward not losing their starting positions anytime soon, the quickest road to more at-bats may come in center field. 

"Like I said, wherever I need to fit on the field,” he said. “Whether it’s first base, catcher, shortstop – I mean I’m not very good at those, and there are some really, really good players that are way better than me at those – but I’m just looking to help this team any way I can.” 

Not unlike new teammate Jason Kipnis, the draw of Wrigley was also too much to turn down. He has some moderate success there, too. Over 23 career plate appearances in the Friendly Confines, Souza’s hit .333/.391/.429 with an .820 OPS. It’s a small sample size, but it’s one that has him optimistic that he can prove himself the the North Side’s faithful. 

“I’ll tell you what, that was one of the things that brought me here, the fans and the environment. I’m super pumped,” he said. “And no offense, but I’ve played in Tampa and Arizona and those aren’t the greatest markets in the league. I’ve always enjoyed going to Wrigley, and I’ve had some good success at Wrigley, and I know the Cubs fans bring it every day and I’m looking forward to that.” 

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Can Cubs keep Báez and Bryant? Tom Ricketts says that's 'on Theo and Jed'

Can Cubs keep Báez and Bryant? Tom Ricketts says that's 'on Theo and Jed'

It's a pretty simple question with a pretty simple answer. Can the Cubs, one of baseball's wealthiest organizations, afford to keep both Kris Bryand and Javy Baez? Is there room in the infamous budget to make both of the team's homegrown stars Cubs for life?

“There’s certainly money out there. It’s a very, very profitable game," Bryant said, in regards to keep the core together. "It’s just a matter of if they want to. I don’t know, I really don’t. But it would certainly be cool.”

“It’s up to them,” Báez added. “I hope we both stay here. Obviously, we want to keep everyone here because we pretty much have the team that we want." 

Then, on Monday, "they" – being Cubs' owner Tom Ricketts – finally talked. So, Tom? You sign their checks, what do you think?

"Well, where we place our resources is a baseball decision," Ricketts said. "That’s Jed and Theo. But I mean, ultimately, we have to look at it from a bigger perspective."

It's been a week since Theo Epstein, David Ross and Jed Hoyer (he was there too!) addressed the media for the first time this spring, and no one seems to be able to get a straight answer on the team's most-pressing long-term concern. It's almost certainly by design, as the Cubs are adamant that speaking on finances publicly creates some sort of competitive disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with players and agents. KB and Báez say it's up to ownership, ownership says it's up to the front office (?) and the front office isn't going to speculate. Terrific! If you're to believe the rumor mill, the team seems marginally closer to an extension with Báez than they are with Bryant, and are maybe – according to some – more focused on moving the latter.

Epstein said Bryant was given no assurances about what the time between now and Opening Day holds, and regardless of Bryant's wishes to be in the loop, Ricketts also doesn't feel that an explicit guarantee is totally necessary. 

"I imagine there’s communication between Theo and Kris at some point," Ricketts said. "I think they met yesterday. But a lot of the stuff, what – do you communicate to say that the stuff you saw is a rumor? I mean, I don’t know. Like I said, we love KB. I think he’s ready to go and a full season of a healthy Kris Bryant is something we could really use." 

Put aside for a moment the fact that, yeah, that's exactly what you'd communicate. Compare the apparent transparency of an owner who said that the CBT "won’t define the situation" and "won’t determine the actual player moves" vs. what he said when pressed about all of the offseason turbulence surrounding Bryant and the Cubs. 

"Well obviously we love KB, he’s a great player and he’s a great teammate," he said. "He’s just a great part of the team. Most of the things that are out there are just rumors and noise. A lot of it is just not true. But with respect to all player decisions, if anything was going down that path, it’d obviously be a baseball decision."

Most of the things out there are just rumors and noise. A lot of it is not true. Can the Cubs' afford to keep Bryant and Báez? Yes. Will the Cubs' make that choice? 

"Once again, that’s in Theo’s camp. That’s his decision," Ricketts said. "We’d have to take a look at what that means for us all financially." 

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