Cubs

Mooney: Cubs give new life to Pujols, Cardinals

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Mooney: Cubs give new life to Pujols, Cardinals

Sunday, Sept. 25, 2011Posted: 5:45 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney

Box Score
READ: For Cubs, Marshall has the right stuff
WELLS: To lose it the way we did just sucks
WATCH: Quade's postgame comments

ST. LOUIS Randy Wells stepped off the mound and let the applause wash over Albert Pujols. As the noise grew louder, the St. Louis icon tipped his red helmet and wiped the sweat from his bald head.

While Cubs fans seem desperate for a total teardown, the Cardinals have been a model of stability and consistency. The anxiety in this city is about keeping it all together.

A big story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports section ran with the headline: Will sun set Sunday on Pujols era here? Sensing that this could be his last game before getting a megadeal somewhere else, the self-proclaimed best fans in baseball gave him a standing ovation in the first inning.

There were plenty of empty seats inside Busch Stadium. But with a late surge, the Cardinals could soon be selling playoff tickets.

After a 3-2 loss, the Cubs were content to dress their rookies in ridiculous outfits MC Hammer, Hannibal Lecter, short dresses for the long flight to San Diego.

Another comeback victory, combined with Atlanta losing in Washington, left the Cardinals (88-71) one game back in the wild-card race. With three left to play, they travel to Houston while the Braves head back to Atlanta to host the Phillies. If these really are the final days for Pujols in a St. Louis uniform, it should be entertaining.

Everybody respects Albert, Wells said. Its a nice moment for him. To be honest with you, I thought he was just getting his regular cheers. (Im) not going to sit there and say, Lets go. This is his town and he definitely deserves it.

Wells who grew up nearby in Belleville, Ill. understands the Cardinals culture. But it wasnt Pujols who went 0-for-4 on Sunday doing the damage this time. Late home runs by Yadier Molina and Rafael Furcal ruined another quality start from Wells.

Whatever playoffs hopes the Cubs had probably vanished during the first week of the season, when Wells and Andrew Cashner were ticketed for the disabled list. Wells went eight innings on Sunday, finishing his season at 7-6 with a 4.99 ERA.

I still feel like I came a long way, Wells said, from the injury to all the (garbage) that went on in between there. But I feel like I bounced back nicely. (Going) into spring training, I should feel pretty confident.

That wont stop the next general manager from targeting starting pitching this winter.

The Cubs seem prepared to say goodbye to Aramis Ramirez. Manager Mike Quade said its up to the third baseman to decide whether his quad feels good enough to play again this season, setting the odds at 5050.

The loss of Ramirez will create a huge hole in the middle of their lineup. First baseman Carlos Pena who had to answer questions about Pujols the day he reported to spring training is also nearing the end of his pillow contract.

Prince Fielder, Pena and Pujols will all play off each other this offseason.

I see him in a St. Louis uniform, Pena said. Its so hard to see him in a different uniform. But of course he has (almost) reached free agency, and I assume that he will explore the market.

He deserves to see whats out there, even though I know his heart is here in St. Louis. How could it not be? All the fans would love to see him back.

Jim Hendry made national headlines when he hugged Pujols at Wrigley Field earlier this season. But at this point, a megadeal doesnt seem to fit into the immediate plans at Clark and Addison.

Like Pujols, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa could become a free agent after this season.

He set the tempo in spring training, La Russa said. He talked about his free agency that day and then he refused to talk any more about it, (so he wouldnt) distract the club. Hes not going to allow any distractions. Hes part of a team thats in contention.

Were all very optimistic that a great organization, a great player, will figure a way to make it work.

They still have something to play for. Why leave now?

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

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

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USA TODAY

2019 encore for Jesse Chavez?

On July 15, Brandon Morrow recorded his 22nd save of the season with a scoreless inning in San Diego. It wound up being the last time he pitched in a game for the Cubs in 2018. 

Four days later, during the All-Star break, the Cubs made a move to bolster their bullpen, acquiring Jesse Chavez from the Rangers in exchange for minor league hurler Tyler Thomas. It wasn’t even the biggest trade they’d make with the Rangers that month – a little over a week later they dealt for Cole Hamels. 

Despite pitching nearly half the innings, Chavez was almost as valuable as Hamels.

2018 with Cubs IP fWAR
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.1
Cole Hamels 76.1 1.5

Chavez made his Cubs debut on July 21; from July 21 through the end of the season, 187 pitchers tossed at least 30 innings. 185 of them had a higher ERA than Chavez, while 184 of them allowed more baserunners per 9 innings.

Best ERA, July 21-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP ERA
Blake Treinen 32.1 0.56
Jesse Chavez 39.0 1.15
Blake Snell 61.2 1.17
Trevor Bauer 35.0 1.29
Trevor Williams 71.2 1.38
Robert Stock 36.0 1.50

Fewest baserunners per 9 innings, July 32-end of season

(minimum 30 innings) IP BR/9 IP
Blake Treinen 32.1 5.85
Blake Snell 61.2 7.15
Jesse Chavez 39.0 7.15
Jacob deGrom 93.2 7.49
Scott Oberg 30.2 7.63
Josh Hader 33.1 7.83

But how did Chavez transform into one of Joe Maddon’s best bullpen arms down the stretch?  According to Chavez, his own transformation started on Mother’s Day.

Chavez entered a game in Houston with a 5.48 ERA in a dozen appearances, but pitched three innings with no hits, no walks and four strikeouts. From that point through the end of the season, he posted a 1.70 ERA and 0.892 WHIP. 

Chavez points to a change in arm slot which resulted in better consistency and a slight jump in velocity. A glance at his release point charts show that consistency, and he added roughly one mile an hour to his fastball.

"It's kept me more consistent in the zone," Chavez said. "Things have been sharper, velocity has been a lot sharper. I was huffing and puffing trying to get a 92 (mph fastball) out there and it wasn't coming.

"Next thing you know, I dropped it and it's right there, and I'm like, 'something's wrong here.' But I just took it and ran with it."

Jesse Chavez 2018 four-seam fastball velocity

  Average Max
Prior to May 13 92.6 mph 94.6 mph
May 13 on 93.6 mph 95.7 mph

Can Chavez be valuable in 2019?  The 35-year old reliever posted the best ERA (2.55), WHIP (1.059) and walk rate (4.5% - nearly two percent better than his previous best) in 2018, and he continued to get better as the season went on. 

He’s a former starter who can pitch multiple innings if needed, and that’s a valuable thing - especially for a manager like Joe Maddon, who uses his pitchers in a variety of ways. It’s unlikely he’ll have a second consecutive career year.

But he’ll likely be well worth the price tag; he only made $1 million in 2018, and even with a slight raise he should be very affordable. There’s definitely room in Maddon’s bullpen for a pitcher like Chavez.