Cubs

What win over Phillies and Vince Velasquez says about Cubs as contenders built to last

What win over Phillies and Vince Velasquez says about Cubs as contenders built to last

PHILADELPHIA – Pitching goes poof. That fundamental belief drove the Cubs during their rebuilding years, factoring into so many franchise-altering decisions made by Theo Epstein’s front office.
 
The Philadelphia Phillies watched Vince Velasquez throw two pitches clocked at 86 and 87 mph on Wednesday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park – and then walk off the mound with one out in the first inning.
 
The Phillies called it right biceps soreness for Velasquez, the talented pitcher acquired from the Houston Astros in the Ken Giles trade that came together during the winter meetings. This gave Andy MacPhail’s organization another reminder about the unpredictability of pitching – within the final 30 hours before making the No. 1 overall pick in a draft without any obvious franchise players. 
 
The Cubs simply wore down the Phillies during an 8-1 victory, showing why they are off to the majors’ best start (41-17) since Lou Piniella’s 2001 Seattle Mariners won 116 games – and have a built-to-last foundation that should be able to withstand the inevitable MRIs.
 
After throwing seven scoreless innings against the Phillies, John Lackey listened to a reporter who relayed the initial Velasquez diagnosis and said: “A lot of times that’s code for elbow.” 
 
“A guy with that kind of upside,” Lackey said, “you definitely don’t wish that on anybody.”
 
At the age of 37, Lackey is a Tommy John survivor who hasn’t lost his edge and definitely knows how to set up and attack hitters, limiting the Phillies to three singles and finishing with eight strikeouts against zero walks.  
 
At a time when the price of pitching is skyrocketing and nine-figure contracts look like awful investments, the Cubs locked up Lackey with a two-year, $32 million deal that looks like a bargain in this market. Lackey is now 10-for-12 in quality starts, allowing two earned runs or less eight times and putting up All-Star-caliber numbers (7-2, 2.63 ERA) behind Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester.       
 
“When you’re looking around as a free agent, that’s one of the reasons you come here – the talent base is really good,” Lackey said. “They’re really young and it’s something that can be together for a long time. I only got a few years left, but for a guy like ‘J-Hey,’ that’s a selling point, for sure. This is a team that can be good for a long time.”
 
The Cubs gave Jason Heyward the biggest contract in franchise history, guaranteeing $184 million to a 26-year-old Gold Glove outfielder, adding him and Lackey to a 97-win team and taking them away from the St. Louis Cardinals.  
 
The emphasis on defense helped Lackey in the first inning when Albert Almora Jr. – the sixth overall pick in 2012 and the first player drafted here by the Epstein administration – caught a flyball on the move in left-center field and made a one-hop throw to beat Odubel Herrera to home plate and execute the momentum-shifting double play.
 
Without Velasquez, the Phillies (29-31) would have trouble containing this offense. Kris Bryant crushed a two-run homer off Andrew Bailey in the sixth inning that generated an exit velocity of almost 107 mph and traveled 432 feet into the left-field seats. Two batters later, Ben Zobrist drove his eighth home run over the center-field wall.
 
Where Bryant (14 homers, 43 RBI) has anchored this lineup, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft developing into an All-Star third baseman and a Rookie of the Year, the switch-hitting Zobrist (.436 on-base percentage) has given it a different dimension and a veteran presence in the first season of a four-year, $56 million contract.  
 
The Cubs have stockpiled so many position players that Javier Baez can go 4-for-4 with three RBI – and develop a reputation as one of the league’s best defensive infielders – and still not have an everyday job.   
 
“You’re starting to see the teams with better records built like that,” Heyward said. “That’s the way it goes. When somebody goes down, somebody else is ready behind (them) to come in and contribute. (When) guys need days off, those guys contribute. In pinch-hit spots, they contribute. It just makes everybody’s job easier for the long run.
 
“You just understand it’s going to take a 40-man roster if you want to go out and accomplish what you’re trying to get done and win a World Series.”

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

Report: Giants interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for manager opening

The Giants' search for a successor to now-retired manager Bruce Bochy has led them to the North Side.

According to NBC Sports Bay Area's Alex Pavlovic, the Giants are interested in Cubs first base coach Will Venable for their own managerial opening. San Francisco's interest is intriguing, as Venable went to high school just outside San Francisco in nearby San Rafael. His father — Max Venable — played for the Giants from 1979-83. 

Venable also interviewed for the Cubs' manager job earlier this month, telling the Chicago Sun-Times that his interest is in the "organization in general." He is one of several internal candidates for the Cubs' job, along with bench coach Mark Loretta and front office assistant David Ross.

The Cubs also interviewed Joe Girardi and are set to meet with Astros bench coach Joe Espada and former Phillies manager Gabe Kapler.

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Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

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USA TODAY

Former Cub Mark Prior likely to take over as Dodgers pitching coach in 2020

Mark Prior's big-league playing career unfortunately fizzled out due to recurring injury woes, but he's making a name for himself in the coaching realm.

With Dodgers current pitching coach Rick Honeycutt transitioning into a new role, Prior is expected to takeover the position starting next season.

Cubs fans know the story of Prior's playing career all too well. The Cubs drafted him second overall in the 2001, with Prior making his MLB debut just a season later. He went on to dominate in 2003, posting an 18-6 record, 2.43 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 30 starts, a season in which he made the All-Star Game and finished third in the NL Cy Young Award voting.

However, Prior's season ended on a sour note, as he was on the mound during the Steve Bartman incident in Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS. Prior exited the game with a 3-1 lead, but the Cubs surrendered seven more runs that inning, eventually falling to the Marlins 8-3 before losing Game 7 the next day. 

Prior struggled to stay healthy after 2003, eventually retiring in 2013 after multiple comeback attempts. While many blame his injury-riddled career on former Cubs manager Dusty Baker, Prior does not. 

While we can only wonder what could've been with Prior to the pitcher, it's good to see him still making an impact in baseball in some fashion.

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