Cubs

LIVE: Cubs trailing Pirates 6-3

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LIVE: Cubs trailing Pirates 6-3

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 9:27 a.m.

CHICAGO (AP) Kerry Woodgot his old locker back in the Chicago Cubs clubhouse, even though he'dbeen away for two years. And now he'll enjoy something else heremembers well - another opening day at Wrigley Field."There's a buzz," Wood said Thursdayas the Cubs pulled on ski caps and hoods and headed out for a workouton a sunny day with temperatures in the low 40s.The forecast is for rain and maybesome snow flurries when the Pirates and Cubs start the season Friday.Wood felt the chill when he got off the plane from Arizona on Wednesdaynight. He expected it after six weeks-plus at spring training."It definitely hits you in the face," Wood said. "That's what it's about. It's baseball in April in Chicago."The Pirates went 57-105 a year ago, their 18th straight losing season. Of course, 10 of Pittsburgh's wins came against the Cubs."They always give us a good fight," said Ryan Dempster, who will start for the Cubs against Pittsburgh's Kevin Correia.Carlos Pena,who signed with Chicago as a free agent after playing for Tampa Bay thelast four years, is looking forward to playing in the second-oldestpark in the majors. He played briefly with Boston in 2006 and spentfour seasons in the AL East, so he's already spent time in the oldest,Fenway Park.But once he arrived to Wrigley on Thursday, he had to see for himself."I walked in this morning and Iwalked up on that concourse and got the fans' perspective and all Isaid was, 'Thank you.' I'm pumped to be here," he said.Pena's performance will be a pivotalone for the Cubs. He batted just .196 last season for the Rays but hehas the left-handed power and the great glove at first base thatChicago needs.Like teammate Matt Garza,who also came over from Tampa - his arrival via a trade - he'll have toadjust to the weather, a new league and a home schedule heavy with daygames."He's going to be fine. He's the kind of guy I think he'll love it," Cubs manager Mike Quade said.Pena and Garza are newcomers andWood is making his return after two seasons with Cleveland and theYankees, but it's Quade who really has a new task. He is going to runthe team for the first time as the full-time manager. He was theskipper on an interim basis for the final 37 games a year ago after LouPiniella retired in August. The Cubs responded with a 24-13 record.Quade entered a press room Thursdayand began counting the number of recording devices in front of him -11. There were also a half-dozen TV cameras aimed at him.Quade, who managed more than 2,000minor league games and was Chicago's third base coach before beingpromoted last season, brought along a familiar companion with him - hisfungo bat."I always feel like a little kid,"he said, looking forward to Friday. "I think there will be a millionemotions and I'll deal with them however I do. My folks will be there,that's great. Long journey and all that stuff."He has got a lot of work to do toimprove on the Cubs' fifth-place finish of last season. And no oneneeds to bring up that the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908,a record of futility that always surfaces.Clint Hurdle's job? Lead the Pirates out of their nearly two-decade stretch of losing baseball.Pittsburgh features young players to build with in Andrew McCutchen, Pedro Alvarez, Neil Walker and Jose Tabata, and they've also added a veteran in Lyle Overbay.Among Hurdle's ideas to change things up has been to give the team more structure on the road - workouts, breakfasts, meetings."We don't want guys rolling out ofbed at noon, coming to the park and eating three meals before we takethe field," he said. "We got to be smarter with our time."He said he and the coaching staff have also sought input from the players."We want them to take ownership," he said, something he said he stressed while managing the Rockies.And how about the cold that inevitably is part of early season baseball, especially in cities like Chicago?"It is what it is," Hurdle said. "Ihad a game here with (Colorado star) Ubaldo (Jimenez) and Ubaldocouldn't get a grip on the ball. For four innings, his command was allover the joint. What are you going to do? You go play. You just figureit out."Everybody would like it to be balmy and 75 or 80. It will. In June."

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Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

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USA TODAY

Podcast: Albert Almora Jr. dishes on his role and the Cubs’ unsung hero that keeps things loose behind the scenes

Albert Almora Jr. joins Kelly Crull on the Cubs Talk Podcast to weigh in on a variety of topics, including his budding bromance with rumored Cubs target Manny Machado, his expanded role and how he spends his time off away from the ballpark.

Plus, Almora has a surprise pick for the organization’s unsung hero, stating the Cubs would’ve never won the World Series without this guy.

Listen to the full Cubs Talk Podcast right here:

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."