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Quade hits on long shot, keeps his dream job

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Quade hits on long shot, keeps his dream job

Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010
Updated 8:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

One night in late September, near the end of the 37-game tryout for the job he always wanted, Mike Quade disappeared down Waveland Avenue. Walking home in jeans, sandals and a polo shirt, he went completely unrecognized.

That is about to change for a baseball lifer who was used to doing his job in the shadows -- until Lou Piniella abruptly resigned on Aug. 22. With the television cameras rolling, the Cubs reintroduced the 53-year-old Quade as their manager Tuesday afternoon at a Wrigley Field news conference.

Quade -- who managed 2,378 games across 17 seasons in the minors while waiting for this opportunity -- has essentially viewed his career as a series of 30 one-year contracts.

Born in Evanston and educated at Prospect High School and the University of New Orleans, Quade will now have the relative security of a two-year deal with a club option for 2013 -- in the city where surprised fans have seen him on the platform waiting for the L.

Yes, this is a manager who uses public transportation, doesn't carry much name recognition -- it's pronounced "KWAH-dee" -- and has vowed to be himself. He received a text message from a friend that referenced his first job in 1985, managing a Class-A affiliate in Georgia: It's a long way from Macon.

"I wanted to manage at this level," Quade said. "You get done playing and you're young and you're fired up and you're going, 'Ok, three years, four years, it doesn't matter, I'll be there.' And then five years go by. You're still staying after it. You love what you do.

"You're teaching and working and then 10 years go by. You change your goals. You're going, 'Wow, this is a tough gig.' But all the while getting to do what I love."

In rewarding Quade for the team's 24-13 finish -- and the way he showed faith in some of the young players they will need in 2011 and beyond -- the Cubs have bypassed a franchise icon in Ryne Sandberg as well as the chance to pursue Joe Girardi once his contract expires with the New York Yankees at season's end.

General manager Jim Hendry purposely did not use the interim label when he promoted the third-base coach and insisted that Quade would be a candidate. But it was still difficult to view Quade -- who played only 63 games above the Class-A level in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization -- as the long-term answer at that point.

Sandberg, the Hall of Famer whose retired No. 23 flies on the right-field pole at Wrigley Field, was serving his apprenticeship at Triple-A Iowa, nearing the end of his fourth season managing in the minor-league system.

There was also the buzz in baseball circles that Girardi -- the ex-Cubs catcher who grew up in Peoria and graduated from Northwestern University -- could be tempted to come home with his family after the Yankees finished defending their World Series title.

Perception changed gradually, beginning Aug. 23 in Washington. Quade took over a team that had won 11 of 40 series under Piniella and looked like it could be heading toward a 100-loss season.

The Cubs won eight of their next 12 series to finish 75-87. Ultimately, player development was just as important to upper management.

"It was imperative that we didn't waste the last (six) weeks," Hendry said. "We had to find out what we had in some of these young players and we had to see if the veterans could be pushed a little differently.

"You have to give (Quade) an A-plus for it."

A bullpen leaning heavily on rookie relievers demonstrated growth, ending the season with 28 consecutive scoreless innings and a 1.19 ERA in its last 25 games. Carlos Zambrano pitched up to his 91.5 million contract, going 8-0 with a 1.41 ERA in his last 11 starts.

Quade showed conviction by benching 20-year-old rookie Starlin Castro for his mental lapses at shortstop and a comfort level in dealing with the media. Those communication skills defined roles in the bullpen, set the lineup in advance and assured players who sometimes didn't know where they stood with Piniella.

By late September, clubhouse veterans from Ryan Dempster to Marlon Byrd to Aramis Ramirez were lining up to endorse the return of Quade, the man almost no one saw coming.

"Opportunity knocks at your door, man, and he answered the call," Dempster said Tuesday inside the Cubs clubhouse. "He just made it fun. There are a lot of pressures that come with playing here and managing here and coaching here (and) I know he's as good as anybody to handle that.

"(That's) not a knock on anybody who had their name in for this, whether it's Eric Wedge or Bob Melvin or Bob Brenly or Joe Girardi or Ryne Sandberg...It's (just) a great thing that it was given to somebody who worked their tail off and took advantage of that opportunity."

And there was Quade late Tuesday afternoon in a dark suit, a light blue shirt and a striped tie doing interviews in the stadium club instead of fishing off Florida's Gulf coast, where he lives in the offseason "and the speckled trout have been on fire."

Quade's chased his dream across Canada -- Ottawa, Edmonton and Vancouver. He's worked in cities like Rockford and Des Moines. He's managed a winter-ball team in the Dominican Republic. And he's come home again.

"I've been all over the planet with this career," Quade said. "But it's never over until you retire and I'm never satisfied. It's not like, 'Ok, you've arrived.' No, no, no, you got to prove yourself.'

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

The bullpen's rough stretch continues as Cubs blow two saves in series opener

The bullpen's rough stretch continues as Cubs blow two saves in series opener

Sound the alarm, the Cubs’ bullpen issues are back. 

Friday afternoon’s culprits were Brad Brach and Steve Cishek, who together allowed three earned runs on five hits over 2.2 innings of work in the Cubs’ 6-5 loss. It was the second blown save of the season for both pitchers. 

“I was locked in today, I really was,” Cishek said. “It was just a lack of execution. I’m not going to make any excuses.” 

After spending much of the last six weeks being one of baseball’s most reliable groups, the Cubs’ bullpen has hit a rough patch of late. Over the last two weeks, only the Red Sox have more blown saves than Chicago. In that span they rank 21st in ERA, 16th in FIP, and most foreboding of all, 4th in BB%. 

“The last couple times around we’ve had shorter outings from our starters, and I think that’s kind of caused us to use them more recently,” Joe Maddon said. “But they’re fine. They’re fine. It’s just one of those days, man.” 

It’s true that the Cubs’ bullpen is still relatively fresh; they’ve pitched 168.2 innings in 2019, more than only eight other teams. Over the last two weeks, however, they’ve pitched 48.2 innings - which is 8th most in the league. They came into Friday’s game shorthanded, as Maddon noted that they were looking to avoid using Brandon Kintzler, Carl Edwards Jr., Tyler Chatwood, and Kyle Ryan. 

“[Cishek] probably didn’t have a full tank,” Maddon said. “Probably ¾ maybe. So the stuff wasn’t as clean or crisp.”

Cishek declined to comment about how energy he felt he had on Friday. Only Tyler Chatwood has thrown more relief innings than Cishek over the last week, and both Chatwood and Kintzler rank among the top-20 most-used relievers going back to mid-May. 

“Those guys always get it done,” Kyle Hendricks said. “They’ve been being used a lot in the last few days, so they can’t come in every time and get the job done. But they’re making their pitches, and attacking, and there’s nothing more you can ask for. We know they’re going to be there for us, and they have been all year.”

Late innings have been especially difficult to navigate over the last few series. After the two blown saves today, the Cubs are now 9-for-20 in save situations on the year. There are internal reinforcements coming, though, as Pedro Strop is close to returning from his hamstring injury. 

“It’s more experienced guys coming back into the fold,” Maddon said. “Guys that have done that.

“When Strop comes back, then all these guys get pushed back. It’s just lengthens your bullpen. It lengthens it. By having him there, with what he’s able to do in the last inning or two. Stropy will lengthen us out.”

And while the noise to go get another proven reliever grows, and the date that signing Craig Kimbrel without losing a draft pick nears, the Cubs are confident that a few rough outings from a good group, going through a tough stretch, is no reason to panic. 

“I still think we’re in a good spot,” Cishek said. “As the fans ride the roller coaster, we do too. There’s ups and downs throughout the long season. We started off slow, then we rode a hot streak for a long time. It’s going to happen again, we’re going to be fine.”

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

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USA TODAY

Wrigley Field's outfield demands a lot, but the Cubs are answering the call

There’s no one reason that you could point to that explains why the Cubs have gone 27-12 since their horrid first road trip. You could point to Javy Baéz’s continuous star turn, or the rotation exceeding even the loftiest expectations so far. You could point to Kris Bryant’s healthy shoulder, or Brandon Kintzler’s sinker -- like plenty of people have -- and you’d be right. What’s gone under-discussed, at least in the eyes of some, is just how good the Cubs’ outfield defense has been.

“Who doesn’t love defense?” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said earlier in the week. “This group here, when everyone’s on the field and the really good defenders are out there, it’s as tight as I’ve had. The difference being I think is that the outfield defense has gotten better in the last couple years here.”

The numbers back it up. MLB keeps a statistic called Outs Above Average (OAA) that tries to convey just how good an outfielder is vs. replacement level. For the Cubs, Albert Almora is doing much of the heavy lifting, as the center fielder is worth 4 OOA -- good for 4th best in baseball -- on his own. Jason Heyward is holding is own with 2 OOA so far, and Kyle Schwarber continues to struggle (-2 OOA). As a team, here’s how many Outs Above Average the Cubs have been worth since they started keeping track in 2016:

2016: 22 (2nd)
2017: - 7 (20th)
2018: 0 (14th)
2019, so far: 4 (6th)

“I think we’ve got a lot of great athletes on our team,” Almora said. “We’re playmakers and I think we have a great coaching staff that puts us in the right spots.”

Another useful metric that Statcast keeps track of is called Directional OOA. Basically, MLB designates six directions (front right/middle/left and back right/middle/left) and gauges which direction certain teams and fielders are best at running. Almora, at least this year, has been strongest running in and left:

That was on display yet again on Friday, when Almora broke in and left to rob Derek Dietrich in the second inning:

When asked, Almora admitted that he was surprised to learn that, instead thinking that he was better in and to the right. He’s not wrong, either: in each of the previous three seasons, Almora’s finished with the most OOA coming in and to the right.

“I think most [routes] are pretty instinctual to me,” he said. “I kind of sell out when it’s a little runner. Sometimes I dive and don’t get to it because in my mind I’m programmed to where, if it’s hit to me, I’ve got to catch it.”

Heyward, on the other hand, has been stronger to his right his year:

“I just think it’s about your position” Heyward added. “You can say someone is really good at one thing, but if they don’t get as many plays to this way, or that way, you don’t really know.

One interesting wrinkle about the Cubs’ outfield is that neither Schwarber, Almora or Heyward have been worth an Out Above Average going straight backwards, and generally haven’t been great going backwards in any direction. One explanation? Between an unforgiving brick wall and the outward-jetting net that sits on top of it, robbing homers basically isn’t possible at Wrigley. Knowing that drastically changes the read on fly balls.

“You know you’re not going to go back as hard,” Heyward said. “If someone hits the ball over your head, most likely it’s going to be a double if it’s off the wall. There’s definitely differences between here and and the next place.”

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