Cubs

In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power

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In NL Central, injuries could shift balance of power

Monday, March 28, 2011
Posted 6:31 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Talk to enough Cubs people in Arizona and you notice they return to the same point: As long as we stay healthy

It will take months before anyone can finish that thought. But there is a sense of guarded optimism around camp, especially when you take a look at the rest of the National League Central.

The Cardinals have already lost 20-game winner Adam Wainwright, who will spend this year recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The Brewers are waiting for their Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke to heal from a fractured left rib suffered while playing pickup basketball. Milwaukee could begin the season with five players on the disabled list: Greinke; outfielder Corey Hart; catcher Jonathan Lucroy; and pitchers Manny Parra and LaTroy Hawkins.

The Reds rotation has also taken a hit, with Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey expected to be placed on the disabled list this week.

Through the course of 162 games, my guess is we will all have to deal with these situations from time to time, Cubs manager Mike Quade said. A couple of (teams) are going to have to deal with it early. If youre fortunate enough to stay healthy knock on wood we have all spring and I hope we do all summer then, yeah, thats a good thing.

But rarely does that happen. So whether its pitchers or regulars, during the course of (a season) youre usually going to be down some of your prime people.

Sure, injuries could shred what looks to be a very solid bullpen on paper. Check back in September to see if Kerry Wood wound up on the disabled list for the 15th time in his career, and confirm that John Grabows left knee held up for an entire season.

Both Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have made at least 30 starts in each of the past three years. During that time, Carlos Marmol has averaged 79 appearances per season.

That means they are extremely durable or you could argue that theyre eventually due for a physical breakdown, given all the collective stress on their right arms.

But this close to Opening Day, the Cubs are going to focus on the positives.

Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano worked out extensively at the teams facility in the Dominican Republic this winter. Not only are they in better shape, they say they were energized by being around all those hungry, young players.

Marlon Byrd took up boxing and didnt sprint as much in the offseason in order to save his legs. He feels his body is better prepared for all the day games at Wrigley Field. He vows to stay strong in the outfield and through the second half.

Catcher Geovany Soto hasnt felt this good in years, and has no restrictions after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder last September.

Carlos Zambrano was joking when he said that the psychologist gave him approval to be alone by himself. Either way the Cubs will be reminded of these two words: Im cured.

Zambranos mental health is a major issue in a division where the margins could be very thin.

Baseball Prospectus rates the Cubs as an 80-win team though thats not far behind the Brewers, projected to be in first place at 85-77.

Even without Wainwright, it would be foolish to dismiss the Cardinals, who have had one losing season in the past 11 years. Tony La Russa and Albert Pujols could be free agents at seasons end, but they wont make that a distraction.

The Reds are still the defending champions in the Central. Their core of young players should make them a factor for years to come.

But it wont take an unbelievable season to contend in a division without an overwhelming favorite. An NL Central team hasnt won a postseason series since the Cardinals won it all in 2006. To get in the tournament, the key could just be staying healthy.

We fully expect to be in contention in the National League Central. (I) dont have any doubt we can do that, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. We won two divisions in a row and then we were supposed to kind of cruise and St. Louis won easily (in 2009). Then they were supposed to cruise and Cincinnati had a great year. The division (got) better.

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Jason Heyward has become an offensive catalyst

Expecting Jason Heyward to carry a team offensively would be thought as foolish just a few short months ago. But here in the middle of July, Heyward has turned into the offensive firestarter the Cubs have been seemingly missing since Dexter Fowler left. 

Heyward walked away from Thursday night's 9-6 win over the Cardinals tallying three hits, two RBI, two runs scored and his first stolen base of the year, as the 28-year-old outfielder continued to poke holes in the Cardinals defense. 

Twice Heyward was able to slip a ball between the 1st and 2nd basemen that off the bat looked like neither had a chance to make it through the right field side. Later, Heyward would battle through a lengthy at-bat, finally being rewarded with an opposite-field hit that drove in the game-tying run. 

"It just happened," Heyward explained. " [Carlos Martinez] is not going to give you a whole lot to do damage on throughout the game. I was able to get one pitch there and get a guy home." 

Cubs manager Joe Maddon mentioned Heyward and his ability to move the ball around the field and how it's helped him become an effective piece to this Cubs offense. So effective Heyward's batting average crept up to .290 after today's three-hit performance. 

Heyward credits his quick hands as the major tool he's utilized to create so many successful at-bats lately, which has allowed him to take advantage of certain pitches and punch them through for hits.

He's certainly not driving the ball for consistent power, but the approach has put Heyward on pace to match the 160 hit total he amassed with the Cardinals in 2015. 

"I feel like Joe's mindset on moving the ball is putting the ball in play when you got guys on base," said Heyward. "It keeps the line moving, regardless of the result." 

It might be crazy to think that Heyward's incredible turnaround this season might simply be attributed to putting the ball in play. But even just taking a look at Heyward's contact rates shows he's increased his contact on pitches outside the zone by roughly three percent.

Not a massive difference, but if Heyward's hands are truly giving him an edge at the plate, making contact with pitches that may not be a strike but are hittable pitches could explain the increased offense we are seeing now. 

"That's kinda the biggest thing," said Heyward. "The more good swings you take, the more hits you have a chance to get." 

Shooters shoot, and Heyward continues to shoot his shot and keep the Cubs offense chugging along.