Cubs

Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

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Zambrano's trying to reinvent himself

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
12:49 AM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

The Cubs cant seem to pinpoint exactly what has transformed Carlos Zambrano and they cant know for certain it will last.

There are theories about his mechanics and finding the proper arm slot. Zambrano talks about faith in his secondary pitches and being able to throw them in any count. The media wonders about the impact of those anger-management sessions.

We are left with Zambranos numbers 6-0 with a 1.42 ERA in nine starts since returning to the rotation and even those are skewed by September rosters and the decreased pressure of pitching for a non-contender.

But the Cubs have known Zambrano, whos still only 29, since he was a teenager, and their eyes will be wide open as they assemble their pitching staff for 2011.

Zambrano emerged after a 71-minute rain delay Tuesday night and shut down the San Francisco Giants for six scoreless innings at Wrigley Field. It was a game the Giants needed to stay in first place in the National League West, and they got it 1-0 in front of an announced crowd of 36,364.

Im really impressed with the way hes kind of reinvented himself, Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. There was a time where you didnt think hed be a factor for anybody this year.

Afterward Zambrano was asked to assess this season as a whole and he came up with one word: Bad.

The Cubs pay me to win, Zambrano said. The fans want me to win and I only have nine wins. For me, its a disappointing season, but the most important thing is I have my confidence back.

I will be back next year with the same attitude and with the same passion for the game and ready to do some damage.

Family is why Zambrano says he will finish out his current contract, which will likely run two more years, and then retire. His mother and in-laws are in the process of receiving their visas and passports. He hopes his mother will be able to see him pitch in the majors for the first time next week in Houston.

The day before Zambrano called his nephew in Venezuela, who turned 12 and was recently released from the hospital. The young boy cant walk yet, but he is talking again and has begun his rehabilitation.

What a birthday, said Zambrano, who flew home last month to visit him in intensive care. I (wished) him many, many more birthdays.

There will always be skeptics, but he seems more focused and is starting over in a sense with a different group of teammates and a new manager, whos now 17-8 on the job.

Im a big believer in what Ive seen the last six weeks, Mike Quade said. (Zambranos) been great this entire stretch. So Im more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that hes still a guy thats passionate about pitching, (but) maybe is channeling it a little differently.

Im really happy with the guy Ive seen. And I have no reason to doubt that thats the guy Im going to continue to see.

This game pivoted in the eighth inning the frame the Cubs hope Andrew Cashner can one day dominate when Giants rookie catcher Buster Posey drove a 96 mph fastball that ricocheted in and out of the basket in front of the batters eye in center field.

Cashner who was taken 14 spots behind Posey in the first round of the 2008 draft has been growing into the role. Since Quades promotion on Aug. 23, Cashner had been 1-0 with eight holds and a 1.38 ERA in 13 relief appearances.

Thats the best stuff Ive had in awhile, Cashner said. I tried to go away there and the ball ran back in, but its still a good pitch. You just got to tip your cap and go on to the next guy.

The Cubs (68-82) are hoping the experience gained here during moments like that will pay off in 2011. You can believe it when you see it.

If we stay healthy and we start the season the way we finish, Zambrano said, its going to be very interesting next year.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

Road struggles continue for Cubs in late-game implosion against Giants

It’s no secret that the Cubs have had their fair share of struggles on the road this season. Entering Monday’s game the Giants – the first of a nine-game road trip -- the Cubs held an 18-27 road record, 21st in all of baseball.

Things took a turn for the worse in that department on Monday night.

Clinging to a 4-2 lead in the eighth inning, the Cubs called upon reliever Pedro Strop to shut down the Giants 3-4-5 hitters. Strop, who entered action with a 4.62 ERA in 29 appearances (5.40 in July), surrendered three runs on four hits – including three doubles. The end result was the Giants taking a 5-4 lead, ultimately the game’s final score.

While Strop’s outing will get the most face time due to it occurring in a high-leverage spot, the truth of the matter is that the Cubs struggled for much of Monday’s game. After taking an early 3-0 lead, they couldn’t pull away from the Giants, watching San Francisco slowly close the gap and cut the deficit to 3-2 in the fifth inning.

The Giants actually came close to tying the game at 3-3 in the seventh inning, though Steve Cishek was able to work out of a first and second, one out jam to keep the Cubs ahead. Plus, before consecutive two out singles in the eighth inning – one being an RBI from Anthony Rizzo to give the Cubs an insurance run, the Cubs offense went through a 1-for-15 drought that began with two outs in the third inning.

At the same time, Strop struggling again is quite concerning. The 34-year-old has been the team's most reliable reliever for the past five seasons, posting sub-3.00 ERAs in each campaign from 2014-18. However, he's in the midst of a forgettable month, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 7 2/3 innings. Strop also surrendered a game-tying home run in the eighth inning Friday against the Padres, though the Cubs were able to bounce back and win. 

Between their road woes and Strop's rough July, Monday's game did nothing to alleviate concerns over two unsettling Cubs trends. If there's one positive to take away from the game, it's that the Cubs were six outs away from picking up their third road win in seven tries this month.

Moral victories count for little when a team is in a heated pennant race, though, especially since the Cardinals took down the Pirates Monday to cut the Cubs' lead in the NL Central to 1.5 games. The Cubs have to find a way to get better on the road, and they have to find a way to get Strop back on track. Fortunately for the Cubs, there's still time to do both, as Strop pointed out postgame.

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What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

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USA TODAY

What Brewers ace Brandon Woodruff's oblique strain means for Cubs, NL Central

The Brewers’ pursuit of second-straight NL Central championship suffered a devastating blow on Monday, as staff ace Brandon Woodruff landed on the injured list with a left oblique strain.

Woodruff, who exited Sunday’s game against the Diamondbacks in the fourth inning, is expected to be out for about six weeks. The 26-year-old is enjoying a breakout 2019 season in which he was named an All-Star for the first time. He ranks first among Brewers starting pitchers in wins (11), strikeouts (136) and innings (117 2/3) while ranking second in ERA (3.75) among pitchers with at least 10 starts.

The timing of Woodruff’s injury is unfortunate for the Brewers, who enter Monday two games behind the Cubs for first place in the NL Central at 53-48. Most teams aren’t equipped to lose their best starting pitcher for an extended period, especially in the thick of a pennant race. This is especially true for the Brewers, whose starting pitching has struggled in 2019.

Entering Monday, the Brewers starting pitchers rank 18th in MLB with a 4.73 ERA. This is a far cry from last season, when they ranked 11th with a 3.92 ERA. So, while Woodruff’s injury complicates matters, the Brewers already had a need for starting pitching.

The Brewers have a tough decision to make. They could swing a trade (or two) to give their rotation a much-needed boost. Potentially available pitchers include Madison Bumgarner of the Giants, Mike Minor of the Rangers, Matthew Boyd of the Tigers, Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks and Marcus Stroman of the Blue Jays, among others.

Acquiring a single pitcher isn’t going to solve the team’s woes, however, which Matt Clapp from The Comeback pointed out.

As Clapp said, any trade will likely require some form of prospect capital, and teams would be unwise not to ask the Brewers for rookie phenom Keston Hiura in negotiations. Hiura, 22, is hitting .331/.387/.613 with nine home runs in 37 games, though, so it’s tough to imagine the Brewers parting with him in any deal.

Thus, the Brewers either must create an enticing enough package without Hiura or stand pat. If they were to do the latter, they risk losing ground in the NL Central standings to the Cubs and Cardinals amid a tough stretch in their schedule.

From July 15-Aug. 4, the Brewers will play 16 games out of 19 against teams with .500 or better records. Although they’re currently 5-2 in that stretch, Milwaukee went 9-17 from June 14-July 14, a stretch of 26-straight games against teams with losing records. Woodruff’s injury, therefore, comes at a point in the Brewers’ schedule where it’s make or break time.

The Cubs have come out of the All-Star break hot, going 7-2 to give themselves the slightest amount of breathing room in the NL Central standings. With how the Cubs are playing, the division could become out of reach for the Brewers if they can’t stay afloat during their current stretch – let alone until Woodruff returns. Not to mention the Cardinals, who are 7-3 since the break and sit just a half game behind the Brewers in the division standings.

Of course, the Brewers were five games back of the Cubs in the NL Central entering September last season, only to win the division in Game 163. Their current position is certainly not ideal, but the Cubs and Cardinals aren't out of the woods yet. There has been a great sense of urgency within the NL Central all season due to the compact standings. For the Brewers, that urgency certainly is higher than ever now.

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