Cubs

Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade

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Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 4:39 p.m. Updated: 8:08 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Distractions always rush in on Opening Day. There was the overflow media crowd, Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch and steady rain on a cold, gray afternoon.

WATCH: High expectations among Cubs fans on Opening Day

Kerry Wood came home again and received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions, wearing a No. 10 hat to honor the late Ron Santo. Manager Mike Quade took the Red Line to work on Friday morning, after so many years of riding buses from one minor-league city to the next.

Finally, baseball was back for the 41,358 fans inside Wrigley Field. Even if it was 41 degrees, summer didnt seem quite as far away.

But once the adrenaline wears off and the initial excitement goes away, this much becomes clear: Anything the Cubs hope to do this season is premised upon pitching, from the front of their rotation to the back of their bullpen.

It didnt happen in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ryan Dempster cruised through 4 23 scoreless innings before giving up two home runs that made the difference. By the end, large sections of Wrigley Field were almost completely empty.

No storybook ending, but I dont believe in those things anyway, Quade said. Youre going to earn what you get and we didnt earn it today. We got beat.

Dempster lost a seven-pitch at-bat against Neil Walker with two outs in the fifth inning. Walker crushed a 3-2 fastball onto Sheffield Avenue for a grand slam that gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.

But what really burned Dempster was his 114th and final pitch sailing away, the two-out, two-run homer Andrew McCutchen drove into the left-field bleachers. That seventh-inning sequence opened Quade up to second-guessing.

Those add-on runs (usually) end up putting you away for the rest of the game, Dempster said. I still felt good and I felt strong, but I wasnt able to get the job done.

Quade visited the mound in the seventh but liked what he saw from Dempster the inning before. Dempster was still within his pitch-count range and McCutchen was going to be his last hitter anyway. The manager left the ball in the hand of his most reliable pitcher.

Hes earned the right to do that, Quade said.

Pitching depth is the obvious strength of this group, from a rotation fronted by Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, to a bullpen built around Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

Its supposed to mask a lineup that will struggle to score runs, make up for some shaky defense and protect the middle relievers. Opening Day almost flipped the script.

The Cubs pounded out 11 hits, but those were 11 singles and none broke open the game. The middle infield looked strong particularly the range, reactions and decision-making by 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. James Russell, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija combined for 2 13 innings of scoreless relief.

Sometimes we look at the whole entire season and it seems like a lot (to) carry on our shoulders, Carlos Pena said. But this group (is) wise enough (to know) how important its going to be to take a pitch at a time. As clichd as that may sound, its something that we can handle.

Lets keep pressing for every single pitch. And at the end of the day we know that we have given our best and hopefully that will be many, many wins.

Pena missed the take sign on a 3-0 pitch during one at-bat and popped out during his first game at Wrigley Field. But the new first baseman preferred to take away the positives. And pitching should keep the Cubs optimistic and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. If nothing else, it should be interesting Zambranos up next.

It wasnt the way we liked, Aramis Ramirez said, but we got 161 to go.

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

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

Theo Epstein brushes aside rumors: 'There's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs'

No, the Cubs are not currently talking to the Baltimore Orioles about bringing Manny Machado to the North Side of Chicago.

So says Theo Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations who met with the media at Wrigley Field ahead of Friday's series opener with the San Francisco Giants.

Epstein vehemently shot down the notion of trade talks and specified the major diffence between trade rumors and trade talks, while refusing to comment on Machado in particular.

"I'm not addressing any specific rumor or any player with another team," Epstein said. "I would never talk about that in a million years. The simple way to put it is there's been a lot of trade rumors involving the Cubs and there's essentially zero trade talks involving the Cubs.

"There's a real disparity between the noise and the reality and unfortunately, sometimes that puts a player or two that we have in a real tough circumstance. And that's my job to clarify there's nothing going on right now.

"We have more than enough ability to win the division, win the World Series and we really need to focus on our roster and getting the most out of our ability and finding some consistency. Constant focus outside the organization doesn't do us any good, especially when it's not based in reality right now."

The Cubs have presented a united front publicly in support of Addison Russell, whose name has been the one bandied about most as a potential leading piece in any move for Machado.

After all, the Cubs have won a World Series and never finished worse than an NLCS berth with Russell as their shortstop and he's only 24 with positive signs of progression offensively.

Trading away 3.5 years of control of Russell for 3-4 months of Machado is the type of bold, go-for-it move the Cubs did in 2016 when their championship drought was well over 100 years.

Now, the championship drought is only one season old and the window of contention is expected to remain open until through at least the 2021 season.

Epstein likes to point out that every season is sacred, but at what cost? The Cubs front office is still very much focused on the future beyond 2018.

"Everybody's talking about making trades in May — the first part of the season is trying to figure out who you are," Epstein said. "What are the strengths of the club? What are the weaknesses of the club? What's the character of the club? What position is the club gonna be in as we get deeper in the season? What's our short-term outlook? What's our long-term outlook? What's the chemistry in the clubhouse?

"All those things. It's a process to get there and figure it out. If you rush to those kinds of judgments, you can oftentimes make things worse. I think it's important to figure out exactly who you are and give guys a chance to play and find their level and see how all the pieces fit together before you make your adjustments."

So there's no chance we could see the Cubs once again jump the market and make an early deal like they did last year for Jose Quintana or five years ago for Jake Arrieta? Will they definitely wait another five weeks until July to make a move?

"It's just the natural order of things," Epstein said. "We wouldn't be opposed to doing something, but that's not the case right now. It's not happening."

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 10th, 11th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa is heating up, but even a red-hot Sosa doesn't automatically equal wins for the Cubs.

Slammin' Sammy notched his first multi-homer game in 1998 in a 9-5 loss to Kevin Millwood and the Atlanta Braves. Sosa drove in 4 of the Cubs' 5 runs on a solo shot in the 4th inning and a three-run shot in the 8th. 

Sosa tallied 830 feet of homers in the game, with his first blast going 410 feet and the second shot measured at 420 feet.

The big game bumped Sosa's overall season slash line to .337/.411/.551 (.962 OPS) with 11 homers and 35 RBI.

Fun fact: Mickey Morandini hit second for the Cubs in this game and went 4-for-4, but somehow only scored one run despite hitting just in front of Sosa all game. That's because Morandini was caught stealing to end the 3rd inning, leaving Sosa to lead off the 4th inning with a solo blast.