Cubs

Red Sox Way: How and why Cubs built American League lineup for Wrigley

Red Sox Way: How and why Cubs built American League lineup for Wrigley

The Cubs studied the architectural blueprints, renovating Wrigley Field in phases and trying to turn it into the Midwest version of Fenway Park. After years of rebuilding, this team now might have the American League-style offense that once transformed the Boston Red Sox.

Get ready for more commercial breaks, games approaching the four-hour mark and all those managers and pitching coaches walking back and forth between the visiting dugout and the mound. With “Go Cubs Go” playing at the end of the night in Wrigleyville.

The punting-on-2016-and-2017 Cincinnati Reds definitely aren’t the end-of-the-dynasty New York Yankees. But Theo Epstein’s front office certainly had Boston’s 2004 and 2007 World Series teams in mind while assembling this roster.  

This lineup buried the Reds during Wednesday’s 9-2 win, scoring five runs in the first inning and knocking out Cincinnati starter Alfredo Simon after 49 pitches. The Cubs are now 7-1, have the best record in the National League and still get 36 more games against the Reds and Milwaukee Brewers, the division’s have-nots.

Simon – an All-Star in 2014 who put up a 5.05 ERA in 31 starts for the Detroit Tigers last year – got two outs before five Cincinnati relievers combined to throw 139 more pitches. Manny Ramirez is a hitting consultant for this organization, while Kevin Youkilis is an assistant in baseball operations, and that imprint of The Red Sox Way can now be seen in Chicago.

“Having a relentless lineup full of professional hitters works on so many different levels,” Epstein said. “It works in terms of just pure baseball reason: If you get on base, you’re going to score runs.

“It works psychologically, because you have a chance to become that team that no starting pitcher wants to draw. You saw the look on a couple of the pitchers’ faces (last week) when they had to face us as we got into the fourth, fifth inning.

“Their pitch counts go up and there’s a cumulative effect within the course of a game. You get second time through the lineup, third time through a lineup, then you get into their bullpen.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

“There’s a cumulative effect during the course of a series. As you wear their bullpen down, they can’t go to their first options by the end of a series.

“And then there’s the cumulative effect over the course of a season, too, where you see so many pitches, have so many at-bats that you can wear down your opponents.”

The Cubs have outscored their opponents 56-20 this season, drawing 48 walks through eight games. That’s the cumulative effect of 286 losses between 2012 and 2014, a series of calculated decisions and some good fortune.

The Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo – a former Red Sox prospect – before the 2012 season and helped him develop into a two-time All-Star first baseman who finished fourth in last year’s NL MVP voting.  

The Cubs drafted Kris Bryant (homer, two walks on Wednesday) – whose dad had learned the science of hitting from Ted Williams as a minor-leaguer in the Red Sox system – with the No. 2 overall pick in 2013 and watched him emerge as last season’s NL Rookie of the Year.

The Cubs committed $253 million to the top three hitters in Wednesday’s lineup – Dexter Fowler, Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist – after winning 97 games and two playoff rounds last year.

“You don’t want the pitcher to ever feel like he can take a break,” Heyward said.

Fowler – who has reached base safely in all eight games this season – is manager Joe Maddon’s you-go, we-go leadoff guy. Heyward won’t turn 27 until Aug. 9 – the day after Rizzo celebrates the same birthday. Zobrist waited to sign until the Cubs could make it work by trading Starlin Castro – a free-swinging hitter with unbelievable hand-eye coordination – to the Yankees at the winter meetings.

FanGraphs published an analysis piece on Wednesday that once would have sounded like a headline from The Onion: “This Cubs Lineup Might Be the Most Disciplined Lineup Ever.”

“Once you develop that reputation as a club, year after year, players come in and they tend to fit in with that profile,” Epstein said. “It’s been a process, because we were kind of on the other end of the spectrum as an offense for many years.

“We were pretty aggressive. We didn’t see a lot of pitches. We didn’t get on base a ton. It’s not something you can change overnight. But I feel like now it’s part of our culture.”
 

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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