Cubs

Zambrano deal with Miami completed

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Zambrano deal with Miami completed

Sources have confirmed to me tonight that the Cubs have completed a deal that sends right handed starter Carlos Zambrano and 15 million to the Miami Marlins in exchange for Chris Volstad. The proposed trade was first reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports.

Zambrano has been a problem for the Cubs for much of the time since he signed a 91.5 million contract extension during the 2007 season and he has never lived up to the expectations that the organization had for him when they paid him to be the team's No. 1 starter.

Several players have confirmed to me that Zambrano would have to change dramatically to be welcomed back on the team because of the number of incidents that he has had during his Cubs career, many of which alienated his teammates. As one Cubs veteran told me recently, "if this was a one time thing we would welcome him back and do all we could to make it work. However, this is the fifth or sixth time he has had an incident and at some point you have to cut ties and move on."

The deal makes a strong statement that Epstein and Co. will not tolerate any nonsense as they go about rebuilding not only the on field product but as they remake the entire Cubs clubhouse culture.

Epstein appeared with me on WGN Radio today and had this to say about Zambrano: The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous cant fit into the culture that we have here, Epstein said. Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either hell change and buy in and fit into this culture and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that, and I understand that, and frankly, Im skeptical as well.

One thing that jumped out at me in talking with Epstein on the radio earlier today was that he seemed to be more hard lined about Zambrano than he has been in the past when asked about him since being named the Cubs president of baseball operations. That could be because when he sat down to do the radio show he knew Big Z was about to be a Miami Marlin. Sources tell me that a resolution should come down in the next 24-48 hours one way or the other.

Cubs' 'unbelievable' defense is bringing back 2016 vibes early on

Cubs' 'unbelievable' defense is bringing back 2016 vibes early on

The Cubs’ 9-2 start is their best through 11 games since 2016 (also 9-2). It’s probably not fair to compare anything about this team in this surreal set of circumstances to that team. But one element of this group that reminds the Cubs of that fateful season is the stellar defense they’ve played so far.

“Yeah, that’s certainly what it feels like right now,” said Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks Tuesday of whether the defense compares to 2016.

The 2016 Cubs lapped the league in advanced fielding metrics, finishing first in Defensive Runs Saved (91) and Ultimate Zone Rating (47.1). DRS rates how far or below average (0) a team is defensively, while UZR quantifies how many runs a team saves or gives up through their fielding.

Through 11 games, the 2020 Cubs are first in DRS (15; the Dodgers are second at 14) and fifth in UZR (2.8).

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“The defense has just been unbelievable right now,” Hendricks said. “It gives all the pitchers more confidence in the world to go right at guys.”

Hendricks is well equipped to make that evaluation because his game is all about inducing soft contact. That’s also the case for Alec Mills, who benefited in his start Monday from several excellent plays by David Bote at third base.

In the fourth inning, Bote, positioned near shortstop in a shift, ranged to his right, picked a grounder on a short hop and made a strong off-balance throw to retire Alex Gordon. In the seventh, he charged a bunt barehanded and threw out Adalberto Mondesi.

“Obviously, when that happens it’s a big energizer for the whole team,” Mills said Monday. “Bote made two really good plays. It does nothing but fire you up.”

Those are only a few examples of strong showings by Cubs fielders in recent days. Kyle Schwarber threw out Jacob Stallings at the plate on a single to leadoff the 10th inning against the Pirates Sunday. Javier Báez executed another magical tag on a Mondesi stolen base attempt Monday.

Kris Bryant made two diving plays at third on Tuesday, including a game-saver in the ninth. Cubs manager David Ross said Bryant looks as good as he’s seen him defensively, highlighting the work Bryant put in with bench coach Andy Green in spring training.

RELATED: Cubs' Kris Bryant's diving grab starts triple play vs. Reds — kind of

“I think KB’s played phenomenal defense this year for us, especially at third base, and that’s not easy to do as much as I’ve moved him around,” Ross said Tuesday. “He’s really athletic over there, moving well, the glove’s working. It’s fun to watch our defense right now. We’ve got some really slick gloves out there."

“All around, guys have been making all the plays, even making the great ones,” Hendricks said. “Everybody's in a really good spot right now.”

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Inside the bullpen: What Cubs' Craig Kimbrel is working on behind the scenes

Inside the bullpen: What Cubs' Craig Kimbrel is working on behind the scenes

Craig Kimbrel’s brief appearance in the Cubs’ 5-4 victory over the Royals on Tuesday offered a glimpse into what he’s working on in bullpen sessions behind the scenes.

“I've been working a lot,” the seven-time All-Star closer said Wednesday. “I felt like last night I did some things a little better, but when it comes down to it, you still have to execute a certain pitch at a certain location at certain times. And I wasn’t able to do that.”

Tuesday was the least troubling of Kimbrel’s three outings this season, which isn’t much of a vote of confidence after four walks in his first and back-to-back home runs in his second. On Tuesday, Kimbrel recorded one strikeout and put two runners in scoring position before Cubs manager David Ross replaced him with Kyle Ryan. Both runners scored.

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Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy said the focus for Kimbrel, as he works through mechanical issues, is consistency.

“I think that's the key to pitching in general,” Hottovy said, “consistency in mechanics, consistency in delivery, consistency in where your release points are. All those things add up to better stuff, better velo, better spin, but also better command.”

Hottovy has identified inconsistency in Kimbrel’s arm path and release point. Kimbrel’s control issues stem from that. Those control issues have shown up in different ways for his two pitches.

First, the fastball: Hottovy used two different at-bats in Kimbrel’s appearance Tuesday night as an example.

Against Royals pinch hitter Franchy Cordero, Kimbrel located a 97-mph fastball at the top of the zone for a swing-and-miss strike three. Against Adalberto Mondesi, that same pitch crept into the middle of the zone, and Mondesi scorched a line drive off the right field wall.

“What you see from Craig, the stuff is still trending in the right direction,” Hottovy said. “The breaking ball was better yesterday. The fastball life is coming back. But in the end, in this game, we're facing professional hitters.”

Professional Hitters who can make a pitcher pay for a mistake.

That becomes especially easy when teams can gear up for one pitch and ignore the rest.

“You have to get them to honor it,” Hottovy said of Kimbrel’s curve ball, “and to get them to honor it, you have to consistently be able to throw that pitch in the strike zone, and then be able to attack (with the) fastball.”

Kimbrel has faced three different teams: The Reds, Pirates and Royals. None of them have swung at his curve ball.

“I think at times it's one of two things,” Kimbrel said, “Either I'm showing it too early or it's not starting as a strike, or they've already had that game plan to eliminate the curve ball.”

In the Reds’ case, it was the latter. Cincinnati rookie Tyler Stephenson told reporters as much after the game. He laid off three curve balls in his at-bat against Kimbrel. Stephenson walked.

According to Hottovy, Kimbrel is working on slowing down his lower body – “staying taller, sitting more on his back side” – to consistently give his arm time to get to the right release point.

 “I'm still going out there trying to compete,” Kimbrel said. “I'm not going out there and saying, 'I think I'm going to get beat today, I don't want to be out here.' By no means am I anywhere close to that. I think if anything, it’s just more frustration towards myself (for) putting myself in I'm spot I'm in, … having to ask guys to get up and throw more, based on my performance.”

 

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