Cubs

Mooney: Cubs prepare for long winter

275465.jpg

Mooney: Cubs prepare for long winter

Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010
4:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

HOUSTON Lou Piniella and a few of his staffers gathered in the lobby bar of a downtown Atlanta hotel on April 5 to watch Duke and Butler play for college basketballs national championship.

Hours earlier, in front of new ownership and the 53,081 fans at Turner Field, the Cubs absorbed their worst opening loss since 1884. Whatever reservations they may have had about the roster and a pitching staff that gave up 16 runs that day they couldnt have seen all this coming.

The Cubs wouldnt spend a single moment above .500 and play for three different managers. Core members of the teams that won back-to-back division titles Derrek Lee, Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot would be traded.

Carlos Zambrano would be shipped to the bullpen, banished to the restricted list and perform like one of the best pitchers in the National League.

Rookies Tyler Colvin, Starlin Castro and Andrew Cashner contributed faster than anyone expected. Colvin (pneumothorax) and Carlos Silva (cardiac ablation) would discover medical terms no one else had ever heard of before.

The season ended at 3:40 p.m. Sunday at Minute Maid Park with a 4-0 loss to the Houston Astros and now the question is where the Cubs transition from here.

Its a bittersweet kind of day, manager Mike Quade said. It will take about a month for me to get to ready to say whatevers going to happen (that) Im ready to get back into it. These guys finished like they meant business and Im real proud of that.

The players will go hunting and fishing. Within the next few days general manager Jim Hendry who doesnt need to meet with any more outside candidates will begin serious discussions with chairman Tom Ricketts about who should manage the Cubs in 2011.

With a 24-13 close to the season, Quade enjoys almost unanimous support in the clubhouse.

Hes done an amazing job, pitcher Ryan Dempster said. Hes been great to us and hopefully weve been good in return. Ive enjoyed every minute of him as a manager and hopefully hell have the chance to come back.

Several weeks ago, when a 75-87 record seemed absurdly optimistic, the Cubs pulled their advance scouts off upcoming opponents and redirected them to track players who were approaching free agency or might be available this winter.

Within the next few weeks, Hendry will assemble his talent evaluators and begin to prioritize offseason needs. He doesnt know how much money he will have to spend.

Opening Day payroll began around 145 million. The team has approximately 125 million committed for next season. Ricketts has indicated that payroll will drop from the 2010 level.

Tom and I have not had any final conversation in any way, shape or form about what the payroll number will be (or) what my thoughts are on improving the club, Hendry said. I take into consideration all the people that work out on the road doing the dirty work (scouting for us) before I talk to Tom about what we really think we need.

Hendry expects to see Zambrano, who has a no-trade clause in his 91.5 million deal, wearing a Cubs uniform next season.

Ive never assumed that he really wanted to go, Hendry said. He earned the contract that he got and Ive always assumed that he would be pitching for the Cubs. Im glad that hes obviously righted the ship and had a really good ending.

The Cubs, Zambrano and Quade will be eyed with the same suspicions. Some will question just how reliable those September numbers will be when making projections for 2011.

It depends on whether you think Zambrano can be trusted for 30-plus starts and at least 200 innings next season. And you might wonder how those young relievers will respond when Quade brings them into a game in the heat of a pennant race.

Decision-makers throughout the organization will be working under enormous pressure to guess right. The hope is that there will be a carryover effect into spring training, that six weeks can translate into six months, and that there will be a sense of momentum through Opening Day 2011.

A good April can set off everything, Alfonso Soriano said.

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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

maddon_stl.jpg
USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: If Cubs somehow miss the playoffs will Joe Maddon's seat start heating up?

David Haugh (Chicago Tribune), Nick Friedell (ESPN.com) and Patrick Finley (Chicago Sun-Times) join David Kaplan on the panel.

The guys discuss Welington Castillo’s 80-game PED suspension, the Cubs struggles and if Joe Maddon could be on the hot seat if the Cubs somehow miss the playoffs in 2018.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

The Cubs will never go with a set lineup, but it's time to accept the reality of this offense

There is no quick fix for what ails the Cubs offense.

Manny Machado would certainly help. That much is certain.

But dropping one of the game's elite hitters into any lineup would help boost that team's offensive profile. The only question is: Would the long-term cost be worth it for a short-term gain?

Because Machado wouldn't cure everything with this Jekyll and Hyde Cubs offense.

After hammering Reds pitching in Cincinnati last weekend, the Cubs managed to score just 1 run against the Indians in 18 innings and they didn't even have to face Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco.

They went a combined 1-for-17 with runners in scoring position.

It was also the 42nd different lineup the Cubs have rolled out this season in 46 games.

That's been a point of contention for many, many fans wishing Joe Maddon would stick with one set lineup from 1-through-8 in the order. 

But that will never happen. 

For starters, this way does work. The 2016 Cubs boasted 130 different lineups throughout the course of the season and we all know how that year finished.

A set lineup also won't work because this isn't 1970 and some players are better than others for different matchups against opposing starting pitchers (like Albert Almora Jr. vs. left-handed pitchers and Jason Heyward vs. right-handed pitcher). Also, players need rest to ensure they'll be fresh for the stretch run in August and September and the postseason after that.

"It's such a non-sophisticated conversation," Maddon said. "I don't know how it begins. I've heard it from old baseball dudes — I think fathers pass it down to sons on occasion. It's like teaching your kid how to drive a stick shift; it just gets passed along.

"I try not to comment on it, because really, it's such a poor discussion. There's no sophistication to it whatsoever. It makes zero sense. It doesn't belong in today's game and actually it never belonged in anybody's game."

So what can the Cubs do to find more consistency on offense?

Honestly, not much beyond just continuing to develop. Remember, this is still a very, very young and inexperienced core of position players and growing pains are inevitable.

It's also the nature of the game right now with strikeouts way up and basehits down. 

Offense is naturally an ebb-and-flow, up-and-down kind of thing. Words like "feel" and "confidence" are thrown around so often because they matter.

But with the way baseball has gone, the peaks and valleys have become as prevalent as ever. Try to point to other teams right now that have had no trouble scoring runs on a consistent basis this season.

The Yankees are close, but that's one team. The Braves and Red Sox are the next two closest, but they're not without flaws.

Atlanta has scored just 3 runs in their last 3 games as they dropped a series to Jake Arrieta and the Phillies this week. The Red Sox haven't score more than 6 runs in a game since April 30.

It may seem like the Cubs are on a roller coaster all on their own, but that may just be because of HOW they go through valleys. 

The Cubs still struggle with runners in scoring position, ranking 26th in baseball in that area (.222 AVG). They rank 24th with runners in scoring position and 2 outs (.194 AVG).

But delve deeper and you'll see the Cubs actually rank near the top of baseball in RUNS in such situations. 

With guys in scoring position, they sit 5th in MLB wiith 168 runs. With guys in scoring position and 2 outs, they rank 6th in runs, ahead of the Yankees.

So they're giving themselves plenty of opportunity by getting guys on base and in scoring position often.

Another elite hitter would help things, sure. You could say that for any team in baseball.

But the simple fact of the matter is the Cubs are 4th in MLB in runs scored, 2nd in OBP, 3rd in OPS and 5th in SLG.

They do feast on poor teams and have trouble scoring against better opponents, but every team has that issue to some degree.

Getting Anthony Rizzo — whose 2018 OPS (.661) is almost 200 points below his career mark (.842) — back to his standard MVP-candidate level would certainly help matters, too.

The Cubs are on the right path — trying to use the whole field, hit the ball on a line more, make more contact — but it's not something that will become consistent parts of their respective offensive profiles overnight.

Maddon was actually OK with where his team was at before being shut out Wednesday night.

"I think a lot of guys are doing pretty well right now," Maddon said ahead of the Cubs' 1-0 loss. "...Overall, I kinda like what I'm seeing on the offensive side. I just think that OK, are we doing a better job of not chasing? I think so.

"Are we utilizing the opposite gap a little better? I think so. Strikeouts, I don't think anybody's overtly striking out too much right now. So I kinda like what we're doing with the bats. I kinda do. ... I think a lot of guys are starting to get it."

But there is still one area Maddon will never be satisfied with — getting runners home from third base with less than 2 outs.

"Of course," Maddon laughed, "I'm gonna talk about that for the next 10 years and I'm not gonna like it, probably."