Cubs

Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

Trevor Cahill beats Brewers in Game 1, looking like good insurance if Cubs put John Lackey on DL

In a perfect world, the Cubs wouldn’t need to start Trevor Cahill again, riding arguably baseball’s best rotation into October and then figuring out which pitcher to drop for the playoffs.

But everything hasn’t gone according to The Plan, even as the Cubs pile up the most wins in baseball and the computer simulations on Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs almost give them a 100-hundred percent chance to win the National League Central.

Whatever the Cubs decide to do with their 25-man roster crunch, Cahill made a strong impression in Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader at Wrigley Field, shutting down the Milwaukee Brewers for five innings during a 4-0 victory.

The 26th man maxed out at 84 pitches and allowed only two hits to a weakened lineup that no longer has Jonathan Lucroy (traded to the Texas Rangers) while Ryan Braun came off the bench to get booed as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter.

“It’s obvious he gave us something to talk about,” Maddon said. “We will discuss that. And we have to have an answer by tomorrow.”

One potential way to keep Cahill around would be putting John Lackey on the disabled list after the veteran right-hander exited Sunday night’s start against the St. Louis Cardinals with a tight shoulder.

“No clarity yet” on Lackey’s health situation, Maddon said. “He felt a little bit sore today, so we’re still talking about it, and we haven’t concluded anything yet.”

Cahill stretched out with six starts at Triple-A Iowa after going on the disabled list with patellar tendinitis in his right knee on July 15, becoming an insurance policy the Cubs hoped they wouldn’t really need, but might have to cash in again if Lackey’s shoulder issue is more serious than first believed.        

“We’re absolutely looking at different scenarios,” Maddon said. “Those are different things that are within our purview right now – poom! – Larry David (reference). The fact that (Cahill) pitched as well as he did today – and he’s as stretched out as he is – just opens up possibilities.” 

A strong pitching infrastructure helped Cahill revive his career and reinvent himself as a playoff-caliber reliever late last season – after getting released by the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – and score a one-year, $4.25 million contract to return to Chicago.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]​

Maybe Cahill can again help stabilize a bullpen filled with questions marks, though Mike Montgomery and Hector Rondon did combine for three scoreless innings before Aroldis Chapman (fifth save in a Cubs uniform) bailed out Joe Smith (two walks) in the ninth. 

“Who knows?” Cahill said. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it. I don’t know. I don’t want to speculate. Whenever you speculate, it always seems like it ends up completely different.”

While Cahill, a one-time All-Star, rebooted his game, Matt Garza (4-5, 4.87 ERA) has struggled to find focus and consistency since getting traded from the Cubs to the Rangers in the summer of 2013, one of many win-later deals that transformed this franchise. The Cubs wore down Garza, making him throw 103 pitches across five innings and manufacturing three runs with an Addison Russell sacrifice fly, a wild pitch that scored Dexter Fowler and Cahill’s RBI sacrifice bunt.

For all the contributions they’ve gotten from all over the roster, Cahill is only the eighth starting pitcher the Cubs have used this season. Veteran catcher Miguel Montero – who worked with Cahill extensively on the Arizona Diamondbacks – briefly turned away from some of the reporters at his locker and did the knock-on-wood motion.    

“We count on every single individual in the clubhouse,” Montero said. “Everybody has to contribute someway, somehow. Cahill stepped it up.”

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

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USA TODAY

Glanville: Fall to Spring - A player’s offseason changes meaning with each changing season

A few weeks after the we (the Cubs) were eliminated from the 2003 playoffs, I got a phone call from my college professor. Since it was officially the off-season, I was in the early stages of a break from following a pocket schedule to tell me where to be every day for nearly eight months.

But this was a man I could not refuse. I chose my college major to go into his field of transportation engineering and he was calling because he needed a teaching assistant to accompany him on his trip to South Africa.

One minute I could barely move off of my couch in my Chicago apartment after losing Game 7 against the Marlins. The next minute, I would be standing within miles of the Southern most point in Africa at the Cape of Good Hope. Why not? I needed the distraction so I agreed to go.

The offseason is its own transition. Leaving the regimen of routine, of batting practice and bus times, to an open ended world that you have to re-learn again. When I finished my first full major league season in 1997, I lived in Streeterville at the Navy Pier Apartments.

That offseason, I decided to stay an extra month in Chicago only to wake up panicked for the first two weeks because I thought I was missing stretch time for a home day game. A major league schedule becomes etched in your DNA after a while.

It is also a time that you get to reflect. The regular season does not give you a moment to really get perspective on what was just accomplished, what it all means, what you would change. I always joked about the T-shirt I wanted to a sell that listed all of the things a major league player figures out during the off-season. From the perfect swing to the ex-girlfriend you need to un-break-up with next week.

It all becomes so clear when a 96 MPH fastball isn’t coming at you.

For years, I would arrange a training program to follow, but I quickly learned that I had to mix it up. There was only so much repetition I could stand in the off-season. So some years, I moved to the site of spring training and worked out early with the staff, other years I found a spot at home where I grew up or wherever I played during the season, to train.

I was single when I played, but now with a family, I have a better understanding of the challenges my teammates would express as they were re-engaging as a daily father again after this long absentee existence.

To keep it fresh and spicy, when I got older in the game, I enrolled in a dance studio and took a winter of dance lessons. Salsa, Foxtrot, Rumba, you name it. On Thursdays we had to dance for an hour straight, changing partners in the room every song change. Dancing with the Stars had nothing on me.

Of course, not every offseason is fun and games. There were years when I wasn’t sure I would have a job the next year, or I was in the throes of a trade rumor. In 1997, I was traded from the Cubs to the Phillies two days before Christmas. In 2002, my father passed away on the last game of the season, leading the offseason to be a time of mourning.

By my final season in 2005, I thought I was officially on my couch forever. I was going to fade away into oblivion like many players do. No fanfare, the phone just would stop ringing and I would just let the silence wash over me. The Yankees had called earlier in that off-season, acting like they were doing me a favor which I turned down, then they called back later with a more open tone, seeing me as a potential key piece in their outfield with Bernie Williams slowing down quite a bit at that point.

I did get off that couch for that call, only to get released the last week of camp, so I was back on the couch, with a fiancé and some extra salt in the wounds after that final meeting with Brian Cashman and Joe Torre, who boxed me into the coaches office to tell me I was released. Released? Come on. Never had that happen before.

The Cubs players will go through all of this if they have the good fortune of playing a long time. The wave of uncertainty, the meaning of age in this game spares no one. Each offseason is a time to reset, a period where you get away, seemingly adrift from the game, then as spring gets closer, the shoreline comes up in the horizon once again, magnetically drawing you to its shores for another season.

Amazingly, you don’t always know your age and what it has done to your body. 34 can’t be that old, right? I can still run, or throw 95. Then those 23-year-olds in camp are the wake up call, or maybe you are that 23-year-old and can’t believe your locker is next to Ryne Sandberg’s.

Then you blink, and you are advising Jimmy Rollins about etiquette and realize you have become that guy, the seasoned vet, preaching about locker room respect.

For the 2018 Cubs, they fell short of their goal to repeat their 2016 magic. Failed to meet their singular destination that meant success over all else. Yet, those who come back for 2019, will not be the same player, the same person, that left the locker room at the close this season. They will have grown, changed, aged, wizened up, rehabbed, hardened. All of which means that new perspective is the inevitable part of this time off, whether you like it or not.

Baseball is a game that has this unique dynamic. The highest intensity rhythm of any sport. Every day you are tested. You are pushed to the brink by sheer attrition. According to my teammate Ed Smith, who was playing third base at the time when Michael Jordan reached third, Jordan, after playing well over 100 games in a row, said to him “Man, I have never been this tired in my entire life.”

The grind.

Then it stops on a dime. Season over. Only on baseball’s terms.

But you may be granted another spring. Another crack at it. Until one day, the baseball winter never ends and its time for you to plant your own spring.

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Remember that guy? Former Cubs shortstop Ricky Gutiérrez

Ricky Gutiérrez played in the Majors from 1993-2004. He played shortstop for the Cubs from 2000-01 and later signed with them again in June 2004. 

However, Gutiérrez never got back to the Majors with the Cubs, who sent him to the Red Sox the following month. His final Major League game was with the Red Sox on Oct. 3, 2004, the final game of the 2004 regular season; he didn’t play in the 2004 postseason. Gutiérrez was subsequently signed and released by a few other teams, including the White Sox in 2005.

Gutiérrez holds the distinction of being the first Cubs player to hit a regular season grand slam against the White Sox (July 12, 2001). In his two seasons with the Cubs, he tied for the Major League lead in sacrifice bunts both years (16 in 2000, 17 in 2001) which was odd since he had a grand total of 18 sacrifice bunts in his 847 career games NOT in a Cubs uniform. He also had uncharacteristic power with the Cubs:  21 home runs for Chicago in 272 games, 17 home runs with everyone else (847 games).

What Cubs fans probably remember most is what Gutiérrez did against them. On May 6, 1998 he had the lone hit (many dispute it should have been ruled an error) for the Astros off Kerry Wood in Wood’s 20-strikeout masterpiece at Wrigley Field (Gutiérrez was responsible for two of the strikeouts). 

Later that season, on June 26, the number 20 and Gutiérrez were again connected when he had a 20-pitch battle against Bartolo Colón, which ended in a strikeout. It remained the last plate appearance in the Majors of at least 20 pitches until Brandon Belt flew out on the 21st pitch of an at-bat against the Angels' Jaime Barria on April 22, 2018.

Gutiérrez’s nephew, James Jones, played 14 seasons in the NBA for the Pacers, Suns, Trail Blazers, Heat and Cavaliers.