Rizzo delivers before Cubs face moment of decision at trade deadline


Rizzo delivers before Cubs face moment of decision at trade deadline

MILWAUKEE — If Joe Maddon was disappointed the Cubs didn’t trade for Cole Hamels or David Price, the manager wouldn’t show it to reporters or complain through the media.

“Both are in the American League,” Maddon said. “If we’re not going to get ‘em, push ‘em in the other league. That’s it. That’s about as emotional as I got.”

Pitching continues to be the focus leading up to Friday’s non-waiver trade deadline, with the Cubs said to be focusing on the San Diego Padres — Tyson Ross would be the prize (at age 28 and under club control through the 2017 season) while Ian Kennedy is more of a two-month Plan B.

The Cubs have discussed another rental pitcher — Dan Haren — with the Miami Marlins. identified the Cubs as one of at least five teams in on Texas Rangers right-hander Yovani Gallardo, a soon-to-be free agent. The Chicago Sun-Times reported the Cubs have also been in contact with the Atlanta Braves about Julio Teheran, an All-Star last season who is only 24 years old and might need a change of scenery.

[MORE: What Joe Maddon’s no-trade message means for Cubs and Starlin Castro]

Instead of a big-name pitcher walking through the clubhouse doors on Thursday, the Cubs got their shot of adrenaline from Anthony Rizzo, who crushed a go-ahead, three-run homer into Miller Park’s second deck in the eighth inning, leading his team to a 5-2 comeback victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Rizzo lined Will Smith’s 94 mph fastball out to right field, erasing a 2-0 deficit and making it 18 homers and 56 RBI in a season that will put the All-Star first baseman in the National League’s MVP conversation.

Win or lose, the Cubs feel like they’ve already made their major offensive investments, building out their lineup for the future.

“Honestly, whatever happens, happens,” Rizzo said. “One player on this team could get hot offensively and carry the load for awhile, and then another guy gets hot. It’s bound to happen (where) someone’s going to take off and start carrying us.”

The Cubs (54-47) are still a third-place team, trailing the St. Louis Cardinals by 10.5 games in the division and moving to two games behind the San Francisco Giants for the second wild-card spot.

[RELATED: Another frustrating development for Neil Ramirez]

That’s the reality for Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department, a less than 50-50 chance to make it to a one-game playoff, limited financial resources and what should be a long runway for all this young talent in 2016 and beyond.

Maddon had seen enough of Hamels by the time the Philadelphia Phillies ace had no-hit the Cubs for the first time in 50 years (after becoming the 2008 World Series MVP against his Tampa Bay Rays). The Cubs couldn’t offer the same package of prospects as the Rangers and would rather buy a marquee pitcher in free agency this winter.

Maybe that’s Price, who developed into a Cy Young Award winner while playing for Maddon in Tampa Bay. At least the Cubs won’t have to give up a draft pick to sign Price now that the Toronto Blue Jays have gone all-in, acquiring the left-handed ace from the Detroit Tigers for three minor-league pitchers.

The Cubs took care of business against the last-place Brewers (44-59), getting a quality start from Jake Arrieta and three scoreless innings from Rafael Soriano, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (14th save) out of the bullpen.

The Brewers are in sell mode, trading an All-Star centerfielder (Carlos Gomez) and a starting pitcher (Mike Fiers) to the Houston Astros for four prospects after a different Gomez deal with the New York Mets collapsed.

[NBC SPORTS SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans]

At some point in this rebuild, the Cubs will become huge buyers, sacrificing the future and trying to find the right finishing pieces for a World Series run. It just doesn’t sound like this will be the year.

“It’ll be interesting,” Arrieta said. “Around baseball, there’s been some really big moves made, which have excited a lot of people, surprised a lot of people, raised some eyebrows. You really never know. I think some of those things kind of transpire last minute, out of the blue.

“That’s the way these things tend to happen as you get closer to the deadline. It wouldn’t completely surprise me if they made a move — or didn’t make a move. We can win with what we have here. We’ve got the pieces. We’ve shown we can do it in stretches.”  

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

A messy night at Wrigley Field ends without a pitch being thrown

The NLCS rematch will have to wait another day.

Mother Nature and the power at Wrigley Field care not for your excitement about a "big series" between the Cubs and Dodgers.

Thunderstorms rolled over the North Side of Chicago, where the Dodgers ended the Cubs' postseason run 8 months ago. 

On top of that, the power at Wrigley Field was not cooperating with the lights down the right field line going out for hours during the rain delay. 

The lights came back on at one point before again going out again roughly a half hour before Monday night's game was officially called. After a delay stretching almost three hours, word finally filtered out just before 10 p.m. the game would be postponed a day.

The Cubs and Dodgers will make the game up as part of a day-night doubleheader Tuesday at Wrigley Field with the first game starting at 12:05 p.m. and the second at the regularly scheduled time of 7:05 p.m. Tyler Chatwood will start the first game for the Cubs with Mike Montgomery slated to go Game 2.

As of 10 p.m. Monday night, the Cubs were unsure what caused the power issue at Wrigley Field but were working on fixing the problem ahead of Tuesday's scheduled doubleheader.

The evening started with the tarp being rolled onto the field by the Cubs grounds crew roughly an hour before scheduled first pitch with a forecast calling for a 100 percent chance of rain.

Only a light rain fell until a downpour began around 8:15 p.m.:

That lasted only about a half hour before the grounds crew came back out around 8:45 p.m. to partially remove the tarp and attempt to get the field ready to play.

The only issue at that point was the light and a sinister forecast.

"It takes 45 minutes to get the field ready to play," said Julian Green, Cubs director of communications. "So once you take that tarp off, you saw them putting the chalk lines down, getting ready.

"We wanted to be ready — even in the face of rain — if the lights came back on, we wanted to make sure we could play baseball, even if it was a limited window of opportunity."

As of 11 p.m., that second bout of rain had yet to materialize, but the lights issue also wasn't corrected and play on the field would've been impossible.

Fans lingered throughout the stadium for nearly three hours before an official conclusion came down. The Cubs kept the same announcement on the right field video board about the weather delay while the left field video board displayed the Brewers-Pirates and other MLB games.

This is the only trip to Chicago the Dodgers make throughout the 2018 season so the two teams and Major League Baseball did all they could to try to get a game in and avoid any issue where these two teams would have to play on a mutual off-day later in the year. 

The Cubs were in the midst of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days without a day off. They're still on that same schedule, though now with an unexpected day off Monday and a doubleheader Tuesday.

The Cubs are no stranger to postponements this season as wacky weather has continued to hamper this MLB season.

"Not only for the Chicago Cubs, but Chicago in general, this has been a really interesting spring and summer season," Green said. "We're taking our licks just like everybody else is.

"Our plan is to play baseball tomorrow and make sure we can accomodate fans as best as possible. So fans who have tickets to tonight's game will be able to use them for tomorrow."

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

How the Cubs are trying to help Kris Bryant out of his slump

Whatever Kris Bryant does from here, it's just frosting on the cake that is his legacy.

That's one way to look at the lasting impact of a guy like Bryant, who morphed from "The Chosen One" as the No. 2 overall pick. He's lived up to the hype from Day 1, has a Rookie of the Year and NL MVP Award in his trophy case and — most importantly of all — led the Cubs to their first World Series championship in 108 years.

A slump in May and June of 2018 won't tarnish that legacy.

But you can also forgive Cubs fans if they're growing a little antsy with their stud player. 

Just rest easy that he's growing a little antsy, too.

After chronicling his "temper tantrums" and actually admitting he gets so angry he is prone to breaking bats in frustration (still find that really hard to believe) last week, Bryant still isn't quite over his slump.

Maybe he's just simply trying to do too much right now.

"Kris is fine," Jon Lester said. "I mean, I think anytime you have a guy like that, he's got such high expectations not only of himself but the other people outside of the baseball world.

"I think he feels that — he feels pressure from his teammates, he feels pressure from himself and he wants to perform and he wants to do well every night. When he doesn't, it seems like he just keeps adding on. The rock on his back gets a little bigger every time."

As recently as May 22, Bryant was hitting .303 with a 1.007 OPS.

But since then — a span of 21 games — he's hitting just .241 with a .316 on-base percentage and .310 slugging percentage, good for a .627 OPS. More alarming than anything, he's struck out 28 times in 87 at-bats, taking a step back in the area he has made the most improvement in since breaking into the league in 2015.

The power has been an issue for even longer. Bryant just recently went a month without a homer before sending one into the bleachers Friday night at Busch Stadium.

Still, since May 15, he has only 8 extra-base hits (7 doubles and that 1 homer) in 27 games.

The struggle is real right now, but that hasn't stopped the Cubs from going 17-11 during Bryant's dip in power.

GM Jed Hoyer reiterated again that Bryant is the last guy the Cubs worry about in the big picture.

"The way he runs the bases, the way he plays defense, I feel like he's contributing to wins even when he might be struggling at the plate a little bit," Hoyer said Monday evening. "With guys like him, I always look at it and think to myself — that means a hot streak is right around the corner.

"I said that about Anthony [Rizzo] in April when he was struggling and he's been great since May 1. I think Kris will have the same kind of turnaraound. With him, it's just a matter of when he breaks out.

"Over the course of the season, every great player goes through one or two big slumps. We're in a strange sport where even the greatest players are not slump-proof. He'll get out of it and we'll all reap the benefits when he does."

Even with the struggles, Bryant ranks 23rd among position players in WAR (Fangraphs) with 2.3, pacing the Cubs in that category. That still puts him on pace for a roughly 6-WAR pace, which would be his lowest throughout his MLB career but is still very clearly elite.

In an effort to get him back to the "KB" we've seen so much over the last four years, Joe Maddon has twice resorted to bumping him to the top of the lineup, including Monday night's game against the Dodgers.

Maddon is hoping a move to the leadoff spot will reinstill in Bryant's head that he doesn't need to be a power hitter to help the team win.

For right now, it works. After all, Bryant is still tied for 9th in baseball in OBP (.389). 

"You really do start trying too hard," Maddon said. "You try to force things as opposed to letting them come to you. Especially a power guy that's not hit home runs in a bit. My take on power guys is that it normally is cyclical. They'll get it for a while, then they'll get away with it, then it comes back."

Like Hoyer, Maddon talked up Bryant's abilities as a "winning player" in every other area of the game even when he's not going yard. That includes his daily hustle and effort.

"When a guy like him goes through this moment, I want him to focus on that — not homers," Maddon said. "He probably hears that way too much about the power situation and I'm really not interested in that. 

"Put him back in the leadoff spot for the reasons I just said — he can help win a game in so many different ways and I want him to just focus on that. ... He needs our support; he's gonna get it. I just put him in that top spot to readjust how he's thinking and that's all."