Cubs

No gem from Hendricks, but Cubs have enough to come back on Braves

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No gem from Hendricks, but Cubs have enough to come back on Braves

The Cubs haven’t been getting the same kind of dominant starting pitching they’ve received from their rotation at times this season. But the sign of a great team is one group of guys picking up another. And that’s what happened Friday.

Kyle Hendricks wasn’t bad by any stretch, but he lasted just five innings after going 3 1/3 innings and 5 1/3 innings in his previous two starts. The offense and the bullpen picked up their starting pitcher, though, with the offense erasing a 3-1 deficit and the bullpen tossing four scoreless frames in the Cubs’ 5-3 win over the Braves at Wrigley Field.

Hendricks was in trouble early, as the first three hitters reached base and the Braves had a run in a hurry in the first inning. But Hendricks retired the next three batters, keeping Atlanta to just one run. After Chris Coghlan tied the game with a first-inning solo shot, Hendricks was hit again, tagged for another pair of runs on a two-run double by Nick Markakis in the fourth.

Though his outing wasn’t very lengthy, Hendricks and his manager felt good about the way he pitched. They were particularly pleased with Friday’s performance in the wake of his last start, when he gave up five runs in just 3 1/3 innings.

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“I felt a big improvement, honestly. That’s why it’s still a little frustrating, giving up three runs,” Hendricks said. “But in the end, I am happy. It did feel 100 times better. My arm felt more free, more on line. I made a lot more good pitches. I wasn’t expecting it to be 100 percent first start after we’d been working on it. But hopefully we can turn it around pretty quickly.”

“First inning, little bit sketchy, but he did settle into that,” Joe Maddon said. “I saw better down angle, I saw him get the ball down better, you saw some called strikes that they didn’t like, which normally means that the ball is moving at the last moment back over the plate. I thought game in progress, leading into his next start, he’s got to feel good about it. He’s starting to feel where it had been, and it’s going to benefit us next time out.”

After Hendricks’ opposite, Braves starter Shelby Miller, dominated the Cubs over the first four innings, the Cubs put on their comeback shoes. A Pedro Ciriaco throwing error allowed Miguel Montero to score the Cubs’ second run in the fifth. And after Anthony Rizzo walked with one out in the sixth, he came around to score and tie the game at 3 on a Kris Bryant double. Bryant came home on the next pitch, which Montero blasted into the right-center field gap for the go-ahead RBI. Rizzo drove in Addison Russell in the seventh to make it 5-3.

Meanwhile, the Bullpen shut down the Braves, with four different pitchers throwing four scoreless innings and retiring 12 of the 14 hitters they faced.

It’s just another one of those come-from behind wins, something that the Cubs are making a habit in this winning season.

“It’s a good feeling. We’ve done it a lot this year,” Bryant said. “And I think that makes a great team, the ability to come from behind. We did that today. We had some really good at-bats that (sixth) inning, and our pitchers, our bullpen did a great job. Was definitely a really good win for us.”

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Back to the starting staff for a moment, which has been a bugaboo of late for the North Siders. Rocky outings from Hendricks, Jason Hammel, Dan Haren and even Jon Lester have worried some who think the unit that has carried the Cubs to this point might be their downfall as the playoff race heats up.

Friday wasn’t exactly an ugly start from Hendricks, but it wasn’t a gem, either, the kind of efforts this rotation was turning in on a regular basis earlier in the season.

Maddon, as he’s stated all along, isn’t worried. And he actually thinks that a brief outing for Hendricks on Friday could benefit him and the team in the long run.

“They’re healthy, and they’re not overworked,” Maddon said of his rotation. “They were on a nice roll, hit a bit of a speed bump, but we’re going to get back on a good roll because they’re healthy and they’re not overextended. That’s what I look at. … I’m always looking at that stuff. And people are like, ‘Why does it really matter, 10 or 15 pitches?’ Well, in a cumulative situation, it does. In September, when the games get hot — hot being that the games are big, regarding you have to get that particular win — and the guy’s going to be fresh or not fresh. I want the fresh guy.”

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The Cubs boast one of baseball’s best win-loss records, and a playoff spot is certainly within their grasp. So as a bunch of youngsters who have never experienced the playoff chase before embark on the final 42 games of the regular season, are they feeling the pressure?

“We’re going out there, we expect to win,” Hendricks said. “And when you have that kind of confidence, the moment doesn’t really get to you.”

Enough said.

The Cubs' Achilles' heel is rearing its ugly head again this winter

The Cubs' Achilles' heel is rearing its ugly head again this winter

If the Cubs ultimately don't sign Bryce Harper or another big ticket free agent this winter and fans are wondering why, look no further than Rob Zastryzny.

It's not Zastryzny's fault, of course. 

But he is the poster boy of sorts for the Cubs' issues in drafting and developing pitching that can make any sort of an impact at the big-league level.

Zastryzny has made at least 4 appearances over each of the last three seasons, racking up 34.2 innings to lead the way for the 147 pitchers drafted by Theo Epstein's front office over the last seven summers. 

As a result, the Cubs have had to spend a lot of money to form their pitching staff over the last few years. That money adds up. 

Kyle Hendricks and Carl Edwards Jr. — who spent time in the Cubs farm system, but were originally drafted and largely developed by the Texas Rangers — are the only two truly impactful pitchers that have come up through the minor leagues and still a big part of the current roster. 

Where are the Josh Haders and Corbin Burnses and Josh Jameses and Walker Buehlers coming up through the Cubs system?

All four of those guys played major roles for their respective teams (Brewers, Astros, Dodgers) this fall.

Look, it's no secret to the Cubs they haven't developed a Hader-type weapon and they're disappointed about it, too.

"Candidly, those guys aren't found on the market very often," GM Jed Hoyer said last week. "Those guys are usually found internally. We haven't been able to develop that guy. Hopefully we will in the future. That guy makes a massive, massive impact."

Former Cubs draft picks accounted for 27 innings in the majors in 2018, and 1 of those innings came from Ian Happ (who is obviously not a pitcher). Of the remaining 26 innings, 5.1 came from Dillon Maples (who was drafted by Jim Hendry's front office in 2011).

That leaves 20.2 innings for a trio of draft picks — Duane Underwood Jr. (2012 selection) Zastryzny (2013) and James Norwood (2014). 

The Cubs are projected to pay more than $130 million (with arbitration included) to only 12 pitchers in 2019 and they still figure to add at least another late-inning bullpen arm or two to that mix.

That obviously hampers what they want to do this winter in a free agent class loaded with potential impact bats that could make a huge difference for an underachieving lineup, though would come with a hefty price tag.

Last winter, Epstein's front office committed $185 million to a trio of free agent pitchers — Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Tyler Chatwood — and all three guys were out of the team's picture by September either because of injury or ineffectiveness.

The contracts of those three guys are hanging over the 2019 squad and major questions follow each guy entering the new year. 

But the Cubs are also in a tight spot financially because their homegrown position players are now starting to get exponentially more expensive.

"Of course we want more out of our homegrown pitching and I think we will have more as we go forward," Epstein said. "But we also built around bats. We built around homegrown bats and developing a nucleus that way knowing that in our minds, the right strategic move was to develop bats and then acquire pitching that's already good or about to become good or known commodities. 

"If you look at our pitching track record, it's really good. Yeah, it's expensive. That's part of it."

The Cubs still have high hopes for young right-hander Adbert Alzolay, the top pitching prospect in their system who was shut down halfway through 2018 with a lat injury. But he's also only pitched 72.1 innings above A-ball in his career and will undoubtedly have an innings limit and other restrictions coming off the injury, so it's hard to count on him as a potential cost-effective part of the 2019 pitching staff.

The Cubs hope more pitchers are on the way along with Alzolay, but they don't know why the arms are lagging so far behind the bats.

"I think it's improving," Hoyer said. "I think our pitching depth is improving and hopefully that will start to bear fruit this year or next year. Overall, I think we've done an exceptional job of developing hitters. 

"The pitching has lagged behind that. That's no secret. We're very accountable to that and we need to figure out why."

2018 Cubs Trivia… in Reverse

2018 Cubs Trivia… in Reverse

Normally baseball trivia is consumed by the average fan in a question-answer format.  Today, we are going to try something different.  I’ll name a player from Cubs history, present a little background of that player, then finally reveal why the player is relevant in terms of 2018 Cubs trivia.  Let’s get started.

Ted Savage
Savage was the 1961 International League MVP for the Buffalo Bisons. After a promising rookie season with the Phillies, he was traded to the Pirates and ended up bouncing around the league for several seasons. In all, the outfielder played nine Major League seasons with eight different teams. His finest season was 1970 when he played for the Brewers in their first season in Milwaukee (they had been the Seattle Pilots in 1969), hitting .279/.402/.482 with 12 HR & 10 SB. 

In 1967 Savage was purchased by the Cubs from the Cardinals. He appeared in 96 games for Chicago, and he stole seven bases.  Three times he stole second.  Twice he stole third.  Twice he stole home.  And no Cub would again steal home twice in a season… until Javier Báez in 2018. 

Fred Pfeffer
Fred Pfeffer hit one home run in 85 games in 1882 as a rookie for the Troy Trojans.  He hit one home run the following season in 96 games for the Chicago White Stockings (the team we know today as the Cubs).  He hit 25 home runs in 1884.  This wasn’t really an incredible power surge, since the fences at Chicago’s Lake Front Park were about 180 feet away and prior to that season anything over the fence was a ground rule double.  Three of his teammates also hit at least 20 homers.  They ended up moving to a new park the next season.  But still, Pfeffer was the second baseman of the dominant Chicago teams of the 1880s. 

Back to that 1884 season.  Pfeffer not only hit 25 home runs that season, he also knocked in 101.  And he even made an appearance on the mound.  Does that sound familiar?  It should.  Because Anthony Rizzo also hit 25 home runs with 101 RBI and a pitching appearances this past season. Rizzo and Pfeffer are the only players in franchise history to do that.  Of course Rizzo had a higher degree of difficulty.

Ellis Burton
A switch-hitting outfielder, Burton played for the Cardinals for eight games in 1958 and 29 games in 1960.  After some more time in the minors, he resurfaced with the Indians in 1963 and was purchased that May by the Cubs. August 1963 was easily the most eventful month of his Major League career.  On the first of that month, he homered from each side of the plate – the second Cub ever to do that; the other was Augie Galan on June 25, 1937.  On the final day of August he had perhaps his finest moment.  The Cubs trailed Houston 5-1 entering the bottom of the 9th inning.  It was 5-2 with two outs after a pair of flyouts, three singles and a walk.  Burton stepped to the plate to face Hal Woodeshick (who replaced Hal Brown – unlikely we’ll ever see a two-Hal inning again), and hit an ultimate grand slam – a walkoff grand slam with the team down three runs.  

It was a feat which wouldn’t be duplicated by a Cubs batter until David Bote turned a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 win with one swing of the bat on August 12 against the Nationals.