Cubs

Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching

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Risk-reward: Cubs pin hopes on young pitching

Friday, Sept. 24, 2010
5:47 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mark DeRosa was educated at the University of Pennsylvania, but played like a blue-collar guy from New Jersey, and that style endeared him to the fans at Wrigley Field.

The disappointment when he was traded off that 97-win team almost made it seem as if the utility infielderoutfielder should one day get his own statue at Sheffield and Addison.

Chris Archer is aware of the love DeRosa received during his two seasons on the North Side, and wants to prove that the front office made a smart decision in dealing for three minor-league pitchers from the Cleveland Indians system on New Years Eve 2008.

Next year the Cubs will likely cut payroll from the approximately 145 million they started with on Opening Day, as chairman Tom Ricketts told Bloomberg this week. That means they will have to develop young arms from within.

Twenty-seven-year-old Tom Gorzelanny (7-9, 4.28) feels he has already done enough to belong in the 2011 rotation, and he may be right. But on Friday afternoon he looked like someone who hadnt pitched in more than three weeks after a line drive bruised his left hand and fractured his pinky finger.

Allen Craig the fifth batter Gorzelanny has faced since Sept. 1 drilled a 3-2 fastball into the left-field bleachers. That two-out, three-run homer in the first inning set the tone in a 7-1 victory for a St. Louis Cardinals team that could be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention by the end of the weekend.

I just wasnt in a groove and couldnt find it, said Gorzelanny, who reported no health issues after giving up seven runs in 3.1 innings. Im not going to worry about: If I have a good start, I hope I make the team. Because then Ill have a terrible start if I think (like) that.

All season long, you get questions about that. (Its) the last thing on my mind. Im worried about my next time on the mound. Thats it.

The fastest way for the Cubs to get back to the postseason will be through the accelerated development of their young pitchers.

Archer, who will turn 22 on Sunday, could be the next big thing. He started his fifth professional season by going 7-1 with a 2.86 ERA at Class-A Daytona. He earned a promotion and began his time at Double-A Tennessee by throwing 31 13 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.

Considering that this season the Cubs incorporated 18 rookies and 11 making a big-league debut Archer will be someone to watch at spring training next year in Mesa, Ariz.

It gives you hope, he said. You know that theyre willing to use the younger players. And it definitely gets you excited and makes you even want to work harder (to) try to get there.

In front of the Cubs staff, the right-hander threw a side session on Friday at Wrigley Field. He is nearing his innings limit and will not play in the Arizona Fall League, though hes available to pitch for USA Baseball at next months Pan American Games qualifying tournament in Puerto Rico.

A combined 15-3 record with a 2.34 ERA made Archer the organizations minor league pitcher of the year. In 2008 that award went to Mitch Atkins, who this week was designated for assignment and outrighted back to Triple-A Iowa. The next season it went to Casey Coleman, who will start Saturday against the Cardinals (79-74).

Thats not to say Atkins is finished or Coleman has a spot locked up. Its just difficult to make these projections.

The Atlanta Braves selected Adam Wainwright in the first round of the 2000 draft and traded him away as part of the J.D. Drew deal. Wainwright, 29, first pitched out of the St. Louis bullpen before developing into an elite starter.

Wainwright allowed one run across six innings Friday and won his 20th game of the season in front of 36,553 fans. The Cubs (69-84) have now scored three runs in their past four games. Up next theyll see Chris Carpenter, Jake Westbrook and a San Diego Padres team thats built on pitching and fighting for first place in the National League West.

This aint the Yellow Brick Road, manager Mike Quade said. Im telling you right now this is going to be a tough task these next few days. (The) veterans know it and the kids are going to find out. Were going to have to scratch and scrape and do everything we can to try and stay in games.

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

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

Cole Hamels is out to prove the naysayers wrong, whether that's with the Cubs or elsewhere

How you evaluate Cole Hamels’ 2019 performance depends on which half of the season you look at.

Hamels was the Cubs’ most reliable starting pitcher through June, putting his name firmly in the conversation to make the All-Star Game. Through his first 17 starts, he held a 2.98 ERA, with 97 strikeouts and 35 walks in 99 2/3 innings.

That 17th start – June 28 against the Reds – represented a turning point for the left-hander, however. After throwing one warmup pitch ahead of the second inning, Hamels took a beeline for the Cubs’ dugout, exiting the game with a left oblique strain.

Hamels quickly detecting the strain was key, as he avoided a more significant injury and only missed one month as a result. However, he never got back to his pre-injury level after returning. In 10 starts, he posted a 5.79 ERA, walking 21 batters in 42 innings as opponents slashed .315/.397/.506 against him.

Which of the two pitchers does Hamels more closely resemble at this point? That’s what teams will have to evaluate this offseason, when the soon-to-be 36-year-old lefty hits free agency for the first time in his career.

On top of his oblique strain, Hamels also missed a start in September with left shoulder fatigue. By the time he returned, the Cubs were eliminated from postseason contention, but he wanted one last chance to show what he’s capable of before free agency.

“I don’t want to put that in the back of teams’ heads of how I finished,” Hamels said the day before his final start of the season. “I think I’m capable of what I was able to do in the first half - that’s who I am - and I can still get those good results for hopefully [the Cubs], if they consider that.

“But also, for other teams to know that I’m not the type of player that’s on the regression. This is what we’re gonna expect. It’s more so what I was able to do in the first half - the type of player that I am and the results that I can get out on the field.”

He certainly backed those words up, shutting down the Cardinals – who hadn’t clinched the NL Central yet – in the second-to-last game of the regular season. Hamels pitched four innings, allowing no runs on just two hits.

Hamels looked stellar in that game, but it doesn’t change the fact that returning from an extended injury absence isn’t easy on pitchers. They need time to regain command of their pitches, plus any amount of arm strength lost during their time on the shelf.

Hamels made two rehab starts at Triple-A before rejoining the Cubs on Aug. 3. He was determined not to return too quickly, as he did so with the Rangers in 2017 after straining his right oblique. That wound up negatively affecting him the rest of the season.

Still, maybe one or two more starts this time around would’ve served him well, though he felt that he could compete at the majors without his best stuff. Plus, it’s not like he was guaranteed to find his groove again by pitching in more minor league games.

Results are all that matter in the big leagues, however, and they show that while the Cubs starting rotation was okay, it wasn’t the difference maker capable of leading the team to October, as anticipated. Cubs starters finished the season with a 4.18 ERA, 10th in MLB and sixth in the National League.

Hamels’ post-injury woes played into those numbers, and he’s determined to bounce back in 2020 to prove his second half performance was a fluke. His first half showed that he still can pitch at a high-level, but he may not be in the Cubs’ plans for next season, regardless.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said of the team’s rotation at his end-of-season press conference. “It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well.

“We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Those comments seem to indicate that Hamels won’t be back next season. The Cubs have Adbert Alzolay, Tyler Chatwood and Alec Mills as internal rotation options for 2020 and could look outside the organization for more. Hamels also made $20 million in 2019, so freeing up his salary would help the Cubs address other roster needs.

The Cubs could do a lot worse than having a healthy Cole Hamels in their rotation, though. He’s enjoyed a resurgence since the Cubs acquired him and has had plenty of success against the NL Central and at Wrigley Field overall during his career:

vs. Brewers: 20 starts, 8-5, 3.53 ERA
vs. Cardinals: 17 starts, 5-6, 2.21 ERA
vs. Pirates: 13 starts, 5-4 record, 2.52 ERA
vs. Reds: 20 starts, 11-2 record. 2.30 ERA
at Wrigley Field: 25 starts, 7-4 record, 2.20 ERA

Granted, a large portion of those starts came earlier in his career. But with how competitive the NL Central was in 2019 and will be in 2020, the results can’t be ignored.

“Obviously I do very well at Wrigley, so I hope that’s a consideration - I love to be able to pitch there,” Hamels said about the Cubs possibly re-signing him. “For some reason, it’s just the energy and I’ve mentioned it before, it’s baseball to me. And that’s what I really feed off of and that’s hopefully what they think about.”

But if the Cubs decide to part ways with Hamels, he’ll have his fair share of suitors. The Brewers and Reds each could benefit from adding starting pitching this offseason, and Hamels would bring a ton of experience to two squads that will be competing for postseason spots in 2020.

“Otherwise, I know the other teams in the division are gonna think about it,” Hamels said with a laugh. “If you have to come to Wrigley three different times [as an opponent], I don’t pitch bad there.

“I just want to win. I think that’s it. When you get the taste of it early and then you don’t have it for a while, that’s what you’re striving for. To play this game and in front of sellouts and the energy and the expectation of winning, it’s why I enjoy the game.

“That’s what I want to be able to continue to do for the few years I have left.”

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Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is now the face of baseball

Javy Baez is one step closer to becoming the unquestioned face of Major League Baseball.

For the next year, El Mago will be the cover boy for video-game-playing baseball fans, as Baez announced on his Twitter Monday morning he is gracing the cover of MLB The Show 2020:

On the even of Game 1 of the World Series, Playstation released a video depicting why they chose Baez as the new face of the game:

Last year's cover featured Bryce Harper, announced before he even signed with the Phillies. 

Baez also joins the likes of Aaron Judge, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, Barry Bonds and David Ortiz as cover athletes for the PS4 game.

The 26-year-old Baez has become one of the most recognizable figures in the game, playing with a flair and swag that includes mind-bending baserunning maneuvers and impossible defensive plays. 

Case in point:

Baez missed the final month of the 2019 season with a fractured thumb, but still put up 29 homers and 85 RBI while ranking second on the team in WAR. In 2018, he finished second in NL MVP voting while leading the league in RBI (111) and topping the Cubs in most offensive categories. 

Theo Epstein said he never deems any player as "untouchable," but Baez is about as close as it gets for this Cubs team right now. He made the switch to shortstop full time this year and wound up with elite defensive numbers to go along with his fearsome offense and an attitude and mindset the rest of the Cubs hope to emulate.

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