Cubs

Who? Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson almost no-hits Cubs

Who? Milwaukee’s Chase Anderson almost no-hits Cubs

MILWAUKEE – It looked like the Cubs would be taking batting practice on Tuesday night at Miller Park against Chase Anderson and a rebuilding Milwaukee Brewers team that’s holding auditions and playing for the future. Like The Cubs Way between 2012 and 2014.

Dexter Fowler led off the game by driving a ball out to the warning track in center field, the Cubs playing inside a climate-controlled dome instead of the swirling, in-your-face winds at Wrigley Field. Anderson then needed Kirk Nieuwenhuis to make a leaping catch at the left-center field wall to rob Kris Bryant, ending his first inning against the team with the best record in baseball.

But a funny thing happened to the Cubs on the way to their Ric Flair “Woos!” and postgame dance party: Anderson took a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished one out away from a complete-game shutout.

Back-to-back homers from Jason Heyward and Bryant in the ninth inning became too little, too late for the Cubs in a 4-2 loss in front of 24,361 and a social-media audience that had to be wondering: Wait…who?

The trending topic became Anderson, a 28-year-old right-hander the Brewers acquired from the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Jean Segura trade and kept in the rotation with a 1-5 record and 6.11 ERA.

“He’s better than what the numbers show,” said Miguel Montero, who caught Anderson with the Diamondbacks and ended the perfect game by working an eight-pitch walk with one out in the sixth inning. “Honestly, I want to see him doing better, because I like the kid.

“It surprised me before the game that his ERA was (that high). He’s not an ace. And he’s not a No. 2 or a No. 3. But you know what, he was the best pitcher I had in 2014 over there.

“When he came up, he was consistent. He threw strikes. He had pretty good fastball command. He’s got a really good changeup and he had a good curveball. We knew when (to play off all that stuff).”

Ben Zobrist finally ended the no-hitter suspense leading off the eighth inning, blasting a double that sailed over Nieuwenhuis’ head and started a “Let’s go, Cubbies!” chant from the Chicago crowd.

Manager Joe Maddon pointed out how the Cubs (27-10) hit into defensive shifts, even in admitting that’s now part of the modern game. Heyward compared it to a “spring-training situation,” because the Cubs hadn’t seen much of Anderson. Maybe if Nieuwenhuis hadn’t shifted the momentum with that first-inning catch, the entire game would have played out differently for Milwaukee (17-22). But as Bryant said, “You got to give credit where credit’s due.”

“He was hitting his spots with every pitch,” said Heyward, the $184 million outfielder who waited 34 games before hitting his first home run in a Cubs uniform. “He got ahead with strike one and didn’t have to give in much.

“We also had a lot of loud outs, a lot of good swings, but he made good pitches with all his stuff.”

Anderson threw 110 pitches in a game that lasted two hours and 10 minutes, allowing those two home runs before Milwaukee closer Jeremy Jeffress struck out Anthony Rizzo swinging for the 27th out. If they didn’t before, the Cubs know something about Anderson now.

“That can happen, man,” Montero said. “It’s baseball. There are times where you’re going to face a guy and it looks like he doesn’t have anything. And then he’s going to go out and pitch a great game. Good for him.”

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Manny Machado’s value and other Cubs offseason wish list items

Did Manny Machado’s value take a hit at all after he openly admitted hustling isn’t his “cup of tea”? Our Cubs team (David Kaplan, Kelly Crull, Tony Andracki, Jeff Nelson) debate that, plus the potential fit of Machado or Bryce Harper for the 2019 Cubs and beyond.

The crew also runs down the top items on the Cubs’ offseason wish list – ranging from bullpen help to infield depth to a set leadoff hitter – in what may be the most impactful winter in Theo Epstein’s tenure in Chicago.

Listen to the podcast here or via the embedded player below:

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

The most underrated storyline of the Cubs offseason

There are plenty of intriguing Cubs storylines to monitor this offseason from their potential pursuit of the big free agents to any other changes that may come to the coaching staff or roster after a disappointing finish to the 2018 campaign.

But there's one question simmering under the radar in Cubs circles when it comes to this winter: How will the team solve the shortstop conundrum?

Just a few years ago, the Cubs had "too many" shortstops. Now, there are several different factors at play here that makes it a convoluted mess.

First: What will the Cubs do with Addison Russell? The embattled shortstop is in the midst of a suspension for domestic violence that will keep him off an MLB diamond for at least the first month of 2019.

Has Russell already played his last game with the Cubs? Will they trade him or send him packing in any other fashion this winter?

Theo Epstein mentioned several times he felt the organization needs to show support to the victim in the matter (Russell's ex-wife, Melisa) but also support for Russell. Does that mean they would keep him a part of the team at least through the early part of 2019?

Either way, Russell's days in Chicago are numbered and his play on the field took another big step back in 2018 as he fought through a hand injury and experienced a major dip in power. With his performance on the field and the off-field issues, it will be hard to justify a contract worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million in his second year of arbitration (prorated, with a month's worth of pay taken out for the suspension).

Even if Russell is on the roster in 2019, Javy Baez is unquestionably the shortstop for at least the first month while Russell is on suspension. 

But what about beyond Baez if the Cubs want to give him a breather or disaster strikes and he's forced to miss time with an injury?

At the moment, there's nothing but question marks on the current Cubs shortstop depth chart throughout the entire organization and they're certainly going to need other options at the most important defensive position (outside of pitcher/catcher). 

There's David Bote, who subbed in for Baez at short once in September when Baez needed a break and Russell was on the disabled list. But while Bote's defense at third base and second base has opened eyes around the Cubs, he has only played 45 games at short across seven minor-league seasons, including 15 games in 2018. There's also the offensive question marks with the rookie, who hit just .176 with a .559 OPS and 40 strikeouts in 108 at-bats after that epic ultimate grand slam on Aug. 12.

The Cubs' other current shortstop options include Mike Freeman (a 31-year-old career minor-leaguer), Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 in 2019 and has played all of 13 innings at shortstop since 2014), Ryan Court (a 30-year-old career minor leaguer) and Chesny Young (a 26-year-old minor-leaguer who has posted a .616 OPS in 201 Triple-A games).

Maybe Joe Maddon would actually deploy Kris Bryant at shortstop in case of emergency like a Baez injury ("necessity is the mother of invention," as Maddon loves to say), but that seems a lot more like a fun talking point than a legit option at this current juncture.

So even if Russell sticks around, there's no way the Cubs can go into the first month of the season with just Baez and Bote as the only shortstop options on a team that with World Series or bust expectations.

The Cubs will need to acquire some shortstop depth this winter in some capacity, whether it's adding to the Triple-A Iowa roster or getting a veteran who can also back up other positions. Right now, the free agent pool of potential shortstops is pretty slim beyond Manny Machado.

Epstein always says he and his front office look to try to mitigate risk and analyze where things could go wrong to sink the Cubs' season and through that lense, shortstop is suddenly right up there behind adding more bullpen help this winter.