Cubs

What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

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What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. It was 71 degrees here at first pitch, and from behind home plate you get a postcard view of the mountains. The San Francisco Giants are still celebrating their first World Series title in 56 years, and theres no better time to imagine the possibilities.

The Giants did it with pitching and defense and just enough offense, the brand of baseball the Cubs are trying to build on Mike Quades watch.

Maybe the Cubs will eventually fit that vision. But after Tuesdays 3-2 win over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, theyve committed nine errors through their first three Cactus League games.

Quades going to start cutting off fingers one at a time, pitcher Ryan Dempster joked. You better start making plays or youre not going to have a glove hand.

There are several takeaways from the Giants run to the World Series that you can apply to the Cubs.

They drafted and developed high-end starters like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They assembled a deep and versatile bullpen that was among the National Leagues best. They thrived without getting many returns on Barry Zitos seven-year, 126 million deal, showing that huge long-term contracts dont have to be crippling.

They did it when no one expected.

Pitching and defense is how you win championships, Dempster said. Anybody sees it as motivation. You dont have to be picked on somebodys preseason board to be the World Series champ.

San Francisco also finished with a fielding percentage (.988) that was tied for best in the majors. The Cubs committed 53 more errors than the Giants in 2010 and graded out as one of the leagues worst defensive teams. But its still too early for the manager to panic.

Get them out of the way now, Quade said. If I start raising hell after Game 1, first of all, it goes against who I am. And second of all, I dont know if you can lose 60 guys at once, (but) its possible.

The Giants came together at the right time. They spent only 37 days in first place last year, and lost 515 games of manpower to the disabled list. They needed the Cubs to win three of four games in San Diego during the final week of the season. They finished two games ahead of the Padres in the National League West.

Ex-Cubs Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa will soon be getting World Series rings.

Im still waiting for that bottle of champagne, Dempster said. Its crazy when you think about it.

So much can happen between now and October. Dempster went three innings on Tuesday and is feeling good. Todd Wellemeyer, who was released by the Giants last August and watched them on TV back home in Kentucky, threw two scoreless innings.

Wellemeyer thinks he might get his ring in April. Hes a non-roster invitee who figures: If these guys dont have a spot for me, maybe one of the other teams will.

Those are decisions for another day. On a gorgeous day in Scottsdale, the Cubs were reminded of the Giants, and how the Green Bay Packers didnt need to win their division to win the Super Bowl.

Its such a thin (line), Quade said. You just got to get in the tournament and then you dont know. Things fell into place for them. Its a good lesson for all of us.

Theres plenty of reasons to look around and say, Why not us?

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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