Cubs

There is 'Nobody quitting or giving up' in Joe Maddon's clubhouse

There is 'Nobody quitting or giving up' in Joe Maddon's clubhouse

Approximately half of the Cubs 2017 campaign has been played and it can be perfectly encapsulated in a quote by pitcher Jon Lester Sunday night following their 14-3 loss, “It’s embarrassing.”

Yes, 14-3, you read that right and no that is not a Bears score. The veteran left-hander conceded 10 runs in the top of the first inning and was pulled after just 53 pitches and two outs. This made him the fourth pitcher in MLB history to allow 10 runs and fail to make it out of the first.

To put that astronomically bad performance into better perspective 10 runs is two more than Lester gave up in the months of August AND September during the 2016 run. Embarrassing.

Sitting at 43-45 the Cubs are certainly underperforming compared to their 2016 All-Star break record of 53–35, but that is not necessarily a fair metric to measure this year's team. The 2016 World Series champion Cubs had arguably one of the most impressive regular seasons that Wrigley Field has ever seen. We will likely never again experience something quite like that.

However, even the heroes of 2016 had their struggles. The Northsiders lost 15 of their last 21 games heading into the All-Star break. How quickly people forget.

The 2017 post All-Star break Cubs need one thing: a heavy dose of optimism. Skipper Joe Maddon said in an interview following Sunday's loss to the Pirates (42-47) that in the Cubs locker room there’s “nobody quitting or giving up.”

That type of morale is a great start to a strong second half. In addition to that, the boys in blue will hopefully get back their Ivy League stud, Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks, who finished third in 2016 Cy Young voting, has been dealing with a right hand injury for a good chunk of this season. He will certainly bring a boost to the mound where the Cubs are seemingly lacking this year.

Young talent like Ian Happ is grounds for optimism as well, hitting 12 home runs in this first half of the season at just 22 years old, Happ has made a name for himself.

Most importantly Cubs fans should remain optimistic that the second half of the season will awaken the sleeping giant from Middleton, Ohio. Kyle Schwarber, whose presence in the batter's box could help the Cubs offense and possibly spark something more as it did in the 2016 postseason.

If the Cubs aren’t “quitting or giving up,” then neither should Cubs fans. Let’s all take this four-day All-Star break to calm down, take a deep breath, and watch Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge trade-off launching baseballs into lunar orbit from Miami.

Cubs add catcher José Lobatón on minor league deal with invite to Summer Camp

Cubs add catcher José Lobatón on minor league deal with invite to Summer Camp

The Cubs signed catcher José Lobatón to a minor league deal on Tuesday with an invitation to Summer Camp, per the club's transactions page.

Lobatón is a career .215/.293/.319 hitter and known more for his work behind the plate. He last played in the majors with the Mets in 2018, spending 2019 in Triple-A with the Mariners and Dodgers. He's also previously played for the Padres (2009), Rays (2011-13) and Nationals (2014-17).

Lobatón gives the Cubs veteran catching depth in the unique 2020 season. Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini are one of baseball's best 1-2 punches, and Josh Phegley could secure a spot on the club's initial 30-man roster, which must then be cut to 28 players after two weeks and 26 two weeks after that.

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The club hasn't announced if Lobatón will join the Wrigley Field training group or head to the alternate site in South Bend.

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How Cubs' coronavirus precautions add challenge to already daunting season

How Cubs' coronavirus precautions add challenge to already daunting season

Maybe this is as good as baseball’s coronavirus testing gets.

Players, managers, coaches and staff want better, and many say they expect continued improvement.

But with a week left before teams start leaving individual bubbles to travel for games, this may be where tests of faith start to fill the gaps in testing for the virus.

And that means players might have decisions to make all over again. It already means teams have been troubleshooting how scenarios that played out at Wrigley Field twice this week might be managed during games days.

“I think some more players will opt out,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said Wednesday after the Cubs held out six players from workouts as a precaution over “pending” results from Monday’s test.

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That could be an immediate cost. Thirteen players already have declined to accept the health risk and play this season, including Giants star Buster Posey and former Cy Young Award winners David Price and Felix Hernandez.

Angels superstar Mike Trout and Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish are among several others who have said they haven’t ruled out joining the 13, depending how safe things look as the game inches closer to a 60-game season to be played in the 30 home ballparks — many of which are located in COVID-19 hot spots.

The Cubs got word late Wednesday that none of the players they held out of practice had tested positive. But it’s at least the fourth time in six rounds of testing that results have been delayed or inconclusive enough to force the Cubs to reschedule workouts or hold out players and staff — and came two days after manager David Ross was among the group to miss workouts.

“There’s definitely a level of fire drill some mornings,” Ross said.

And this is where the teams have their work cut out, regardless of how strong their numbers remain when the season starts.

“This will present a problem if it happens within the season, and we’ll have to adjust,” Ross said. “But I think they’re working through that so we don’t have these problems when the season starts. … This is all new.”

But it’s also not likely to go away anytime soon, and almost certainly not by next week's openers — at least not as dramatically as players and other team officials would like to see.

MLB is using labs in Utah and New Jersey to turn around thousands of coronavirus tests every other day, which is subject to occasional issues involving a stressed national shipping industry when it comes to getting the samples to the labs and occasional batches that require quick retests because of inclusive results — or in some cases a positive result within a given batch.

RELATED: What the Cubs' Summer Camp testing delays mean for the regular season

The vast majority of delayed and retested samples produce negative results — as in the case of the Cubs’ half dozen on Wednesday. And MLB’s positive rate overall is about 1 percent.

Based on conversations with baseball people, not every team is approaching its “pending” cases with the same level of “abundance of caution” as the Cubs seem to be taking. Other teams are using case-by-case approaches or waiting until specifically positive results (or symptoms/risk behavior) to restrict activities.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the Cubs remain the only team in the league without a known positive test among its players and coaching staff since intake testing began more than two weeks ago.

But what happens when the season starts, and a day like Monday or Wednesday comes up again — whether for the Cubs or an opponent?

“If we’re on a getaway day and Jon Lester’s our starter and has a pending test, it’s going to be hard for us to scramble,” Rizzo said. “I’m sure they’re working on it right now already to make sure that on Opening Day everything’s running as smooth as possible.”

But MLB does not appear to be in position to increase its testing capacity or delivery speed within the next week — especially when much of the country is experiencing surges in cases of COVID-19, positive rates and testing shortages.

One potential mitigating factor might be the fact that 48 of the Cubs’ 60 games (80 percent) are night games and two more are late-afternoon games. In theory, night games Monday and Wednesday of this week would have meant enough time in both cases to clear the “pending” results in time for the players in question to have played.

It may be small consolation to some.

“We didn’t sign up for these bad protocols as far as testing,” said Rizzo, whose Opening Day might already be in doubt as he battles a back issue. “The biggest thing for us is the safety.”

Neither he nor Ross are pointing fingers at MLB or the labs. They, along with other players and team officials, keep saying they expect the testing process to get even better.

But there may not be any specific reason to believe it will. And you can bank on roster rules staying where they are (nobody’s adding the kind of daily flexibility that would be certain to be abused — and would add to payroll costs).

So keep an eye on Mike Trout and Yu Darvish — and Sean Doolittle and Ryan Braun and everybody else who remains on edge about the risk this pandemic season poses?

“Listen, we are in a pandemic. We are all at risk,” Rizzo said. “We all want to play baseball because that’s what we love to do, and we have an opportunity to bring joy to a lot of people that are home, through these tough times.

“But we are all human. If guys start testing positive left and right and this gets out of control, I’m sure you’ll see some guys opt out.”

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