Cubs

The money doesn't drive Alfonso Soriano

The money doesn't drive Alfonso Soriano

Sunday, April 24, 2011
Posted: 4:18 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In your mind, there is only one number that defines Alfonso Soriano: 136 million. Its impossible to ignore.

Of course, Soriano drives luxury cars and wears fancy jewelry and enjoys all the trappings of being one of the richest men in the game. But the figure that really matters to him is 100 percent.

Soriano talks about it constantly, how strong his knees and his legs are now, and what that means to his overall game. He can move easily, side to side and front to back, across the outfield. Hes rediscovered better balance at home plate, and his mind isnt clouded by doubts about his health.

I feel like a different guy, Soriano said. I got my contract I could shut it down and not work and stay relaxed, but thats not me. I like to work. I like the game. I like to play good in the field. I never give up and try every day to be a better player.

Soriano will always be a reference point when a team does something like this: Last week the Milwaukee Brewers extended Ryan Braun through the 2020 season, when the outfielder will be approaching his 37th birthday.

Thats 145.5 million on top of the 45 million the Brewers already owed Braun through 2015, a huge bet on his character and that he will stay healthy and productive toward the end of his career.

The Cubs know that the 35-year-old Soriano is a flawed player who doesnt have the speed to steal 40 bases anymore. But they still expect him to be productive.

A few observers noticed that Soriano came to spring training with a little more muscle in his upper body. The offseason reports out of the teams academy in the Dominican Republic were that he dedicated himself to getting into better shape.

So far Sorianos on pace for around 30 home runs and 90 RBI, but knows all about his reputation as a streaky hitter, and wants to change that.

Thats what Im looking for this year, Soriano said. Im trying to be more consistent and not be hot for like one week, two weeks and (then) cool off for like one month. I dont want to be like that.

Soriano swears by hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, and together theyve been trying to make a conscious effort to hit the ball to the opposite field more often.

Soriano has a clear idea of what he wants to do at the plate and a sharper focus once hes there. Three of his six homers have come with two strikes in the count, and 10 of his 14 RBI have come with two outs.

Yes, Soriano will stand at home plate and admire his shots, and that will always bother some fans. But hes old-school in how he looks after Starlin Castro, the same way the great Yankees Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera used to take care of him.

Soriano certainly doesnt get all the credit when manager Mike Quade says something like this about Castro: Hes better in every aspect of his game.

But theres no doubt that Soriano has been influential, making the 21-year-old shortstop feel welcome and smoothing his adjustment to the big leagues. Theyre always playing catch or walking to the cage together.

I used to be 21, 22 years old. I want (Castro) to be the same guy he is now (in) 10 years, Soriano said. You got to work hard. (I) feel like I make the minimum now. I play hard. I like to play. I dont even think about what kind of money I make in this game.

But there are constant reminders, and maybe that will be part of Sorianos legacy, which probably wasnt part of the deal he signed in November 2006. But from here until the end of the 2014 season, he will catch extra fly balls and take extra swings and want to be in the lineup every day.

If I want to be a better player, I got to work, Soriano said. Its not coming from the sky.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

Cubs know it's time to flip the script regarding road woes

As the Cubs got set to kick off the Crosstown series with the White Sox on the afternoon of June 18, GM Jed Hoyer emerged outside the third-base dugout and talked about a variety of topics regarding his team.

One such topic was the Cubs' ugly home-road splits and at the time, Hoyer said this about his team coming off a 2-5 road trip:

"It's been a source of frustration. I think we've had three subpar road trips. There's no other way to say it. It's not something I read too much into. This is a group that's had a lot of success on the road. They've won in hostile environments in the playoffs before, so it's not like they're intimidated by crowds or intimidated by travel. 

"But it's an issue with this particular group in 2019. we've played great here [at Wrigley Field]. We've played poorly on the road. If we want to reach our goals, then we're gonna have to play better on the road. All that said, we've had some really tough road series — starting out like that on the road was difficult. At Houston and at St. Louis was difficult and at Colorado and at LA — those were series that you're happy when that part of the schedule is done. 

"But there's no excuses — we have to play better on the road. I don't have any answers for it. I'd be lying to say that I really do, but I think it will change."

The issue is, it hasn't changed yet for the Cubs. 

That day was the start of a long homestand for the Cubs and the ensuing road trip — three games in Cincinnati, four in Pittsburgh and two on Chicago's South Side — didn't yield any better results for the team. They went 3-6 total, dropping their overall road record to 18-27 this season.

By comparison, the Cubs are a whopping 36-18 at "The Friendly Confines," including 7-2 over the past week-a-half.

They've enjoyed the benefit of home cooking for the last couple weeks, between the All-Star Break and a nine-game homestand to open the second half. But now they head back out on the road, with maybe their toughest task yet. 

The Cubs begin a three-game series in San Francisco Monday night against a Giants team that has been among the hottest in baseball over the last few weeks. Then there are stops in Milwaukee and St. Louis, against the two teams immediately behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings.

This will be a huge test for a Cubs team that hasn't won a series on the road since May 17-19 in Washington D.C.

"I don't feel anything different from the group," manager Joe Maddon said Sunday morning before his team's final home game of the month. "We've been through it before — it's not like it's an intimidation factor or an uncomfortable moment. I'm not getting that. We're just not playing as well. 

"I don't even know how much it's that the other teams have gotten better. I don't even know where this all comes together. But we're playing decently now. ...I want to believe that just playing better here coming out of the break that we have a better chance of starting out better on the road. We need to. To get where we want to be, we have to do that. On this coming trip, three really good foes and we gotta be on our best behavior."

Like Maddon said, they've done it before, including winning three of the four road games in the 2016 World Series, a wild Game 5 in D.C. in the 2017 NLDS and the list goes on and on.

During the previous four years under Maddon, the Cubs have posted a winning record on the road in each campaign:

2018 - 44-37
2017 - 44-37
2016 - 46-34
2015 - 48-33

In order to keep that streak going, the Cubs would have to go 23-13 on the road the rest of the way.

That's a tall order when there are still two trips each to St. Louis and Milwaukee on the schedule plus stops in Philadelphia, San Diego and a couple dates with the always-pesky Pirates in Pittsburgh.

"Obviously at home, we've won. We gotta start playing that same game on the road. It's as simple as that," Maddon said. "To get where we want to go, we have to become that road team that we've been in the past and there's no reason that we can't."

So what's been the biggest difference between the road Cubs and the home Cubs?

That would be the pitching.

On the road, the Cubs have a 4.97 ERA and allowing opponents to hit .267 with a .798 OPS. At home, those numbers drop significantly to a 3.36 ERA and .233 average and .684 OPS against.

Meanwhile, offensively, the Cubs are actually slightly more prolific on the road than they are at home.

Away from Wrigley, this lineup is scoring 5.27 runs per game while posting a .257 batting average and .798 OPS. At home, they're scoring 4.91 runs per game with a .254 batting average and .785 OPS.

In search of the culprit of the road pitching woes, the blame lies with some of the Cubs' top arms.

Kyle Hendricks has a 1.89 ERA at home and 5.44 mark on the road. Jon Lester sits at 2.95 at Wrigley and 5.09 outside of Chicago. Brandon Kintzler carries an 0.75 ERA at home, but that number jumps to 4.32 on the road. 

Only a few guys — Yu Darvish, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop — have better marks away from Wrigley than they do at home.

As the Cubs look to flip the script on the road, they'll send Alec Mills, Darvish and Lester to the mound in San Francisco against a Giants offense that ranks sixth in baseball in OPS (.833) in July.

"We came out of the break, we got a good rest and we're playing really good baseball right now on this homestand," Kyle Hendricks said. "So we're just trying to keep that momentum going on the road. Just not think about where we are and embrace it, keep playing the same baseball. It starts with us on the mound, making good pitches. Set the tone on the road, be aggressive the same way we've been doing here and hopefully turn that around."

Up until recently, Maddon didn't even realize his team had so many run prevention issues on the road.

"That's really strange for me," Maddon said. "I would not have guessed that. So apparently we need to be just a little tighter with the pitching side of things and keep what we're doing offensively. I didn't realize there was that much of disparity involved. I didn't break it down any deeper than that.

"...I know San Francisco has been on a nice run, but sounds like we need to pitch better on the road. That's what I got out of it."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

lee_smith_hof.jpg
MLB NETWORK

Cubs Talk Podcast: Lee Smith Hall of Fame edition

Listen to Lee Smith's entire Hall of Fame induction speech in the embedded player below.

Cubs Talk Podcast

Subscribe:

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.