Cubs

Cubs go with closer-by-committee just not Marmol or Cashner

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Cubs go with closer-by-committee just not Marmol or Cashner

The Boston media had fun with the closer-by-committee idea once Theo Epstein began running the Red Sox in 2003.

Thats where the Cubs are now, feeling their way through the ninth inning, though the stakes are clearly much lower, making a big-time closer a luxury item.

That Red Sox team made it to Game 7 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium, before a dramatic home run from Aaron Bleeping Boone ended it in the 11th inning.

By process of elimination, manager Dale Sveum is down to Shawn Camp and James Russell, and that will depend on matchups and the game situation.

The Cubs activated Carlos Marmol from the disabled list on Monday, and optioned Rafael Dolis to Triple-A Iowa. Dolis lasted about three weeks as closer and went 0-2 with a 24.00 ERA in his last five outings.

Sveum had a sarcastic response when a reporter asked if Marmol will go back to closing: He wasnt in the closer role when he left.

Its out of sight, out of mind, but there was Andrew Cashner sitting in the visiting dugout at Wrigley Field, a Padres hat on his head and sunglasses shielding his eyes.

Not that long ago, the Cubs seemed to have so many endgame solutions before Sean Marshall was traded to the Reds, Jeff Samardzija moved into the rotation and Kerry Wood retired.

People see the 6.35 ERA now, but Marmol earned that 20 million contract by going 49-for-54 in save chances during his first year-plus on the job.

Cashner, the 19th overall pick in the 2008 draft, had closed at Texas Christian University and the organization was split on his future through the final months of the Jim Hendry administration.

But Epstein and new general manager Jed Hoyer determined that Cashner would max out as a reliever, not a starter, and that wasnt as valuable as a future first baseman. So Cashner went to San Diego last winter in the Anthony Rizzo deal.

A lot changes when a new regime comes in, Cashner said. I wasnt their guy. I was one of Jim Hendrys guys. (Its) one of those things that you deal with and life goes on.

Cashner missed almost all of last season with a right shoulder injury, but is back throwing around 100 mph out of the Padres bullpen. He was widely viewed as a good guy in the Cubs clubhouse, but didnt appreciate a reporter inquiring about his health this time.

Really? Youre gonna ask me that question? Unbelievable.

Cubs officials once played up the comparisons between Cashner and Kid K. Growing up in Texas, Cashner idolized Wood. Cashner watched Woods final strikeout on television and sent him a text message the other day.

It was awesome, Cashner said. To get a chance to play with him for a year was pretty special.

Hoyer said the Cubs are targeting power arms in the upcoming amateur draft, and believes that the best bullpens are built from within. Thats a window into how the front office is thinking.

The Cubs are willing to experiment and try to develop their own closer. They seem less likely to go out and buy one. They know that relievers are notoriously difficult to project from one year to the next.

Marmol worked to regain the feel for his slider and fastball while recovering from his hamstring strain, and maybe the time away from Wrigley Field helped his state of mind.

It could be the same way for the 24-year-old Dolis, who skipped the Triple-A level on the way to the big leagues.

Its not even a rookie (thing), Marmol said. For everybody, its tough. When you go out there to close the game, you know its very important, because everybody before that did everything to put you in that position. It took them three hours.

When youre struggling to throw strikes, its not an easy thing. You got to be strong mentally.

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

It might have been just another dinger in homer-happy All-Star Game, but Willson Contreras will remember it forever

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Willson Contreras’ third-inning home run might not have ended up standing out too much in an All-Star Game featuring a jaw-dropping and record-shattering 10 dingers.

But, obviously, it will always stand out to the guy who hit it.

“I enjoyed every single second that I spent out there.”

Remarkably, Contreras repeated his feat from two seasons ago, when he hit his first big league homer on the first big league pitch he ever saw. Ditto on Tuesday night at Nationals Park, when he launched the first pitch he saw as an All Star out over the wall in left field.

“When I hit the ball and thought it was gone, I went back to 2016, playing in Chicago. It was the same thing, first pitch for a homer,” Contreras, all smiles, said following the American League’s 8-6 victory. “I’m really blessed with these kinds of situations. Those moments, they’re going to be history and they’re going to be in my mind and my heart.”

Contreras’ long ball was the highlight of the evening for fans watching back home in Chicago. Javy Baez got a hit in his first All-Star at-bat but was outdone by his teammate. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu was hitless in his two trips to the plate.

And while it will be a highlight on this night for Cubs fans, it will be a highlight forever for Contreras, who enjoyed the heck out of his first All-Star experience.

“‘I did it, I did it,’” he said when asked what was going through his head. “I knew it was something special. And I wasn’t trying to do too much because these guys are nasty, throwing 98 in the first inning. I just tried to get the hit out.”

The nasty guy he went deep against was Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Blake Snell, whose 2.27 ERA on the season made him a very worthy inclusion on the AL roster. But Contreras was more impressed with the guy who started the game for the National League, raving about Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer after the game.

“He was great, man. Great stuff, he gets so into the game,” Contreras said. “I would like to have him one day on my team or play with him for a few years. That guy is amazing.”

That’s not the current Nationals star Cubs fans are dreaming about, Willy, but point taken.

But it wasn’t Snell or Scherzer or even Baez or Jon Lester, also in the NL dugout, who Contreras was thinking about the most during his home run trot. Instead, Contreras was thinking about his grandfather, Ernesto, who passed away a few years ago.

“My grandpa, he died in 2015,” Contreras said. “I grew up with him.

“He didn’t play ball. But I feel like every time I go out there and step into the box, he’s at my back. It just feels amazing when you hit a homer or do something special, look at the sky and you know that he’s there smiling somewhere.”

It all made for a pretty incredible night for Contreras, who has officially and loudly taken his place among baseball’s best on the game’s biggest stage.

The only thing that was missing? The ball.

Yeah, Contreras didn’t get the ball, not that he really expected to. But if you’ve got it, he wants it.

“I don’t think they’re giving it back,” he said with a grin.

We’ll see. Social media’s a powerful tool. So reach out.

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Manny Machado as a Dodger creates a formidable foe out west for the Cubs

Well, it's finally happening, or at least it's going to happen. The Athletics' Ken Rosenthal reported during the MLB All-Star game that the Baltimore Orioles had agreed to officially move their franchise player Manny Machado. Neither team has confirmed anything at this time, but the deal has reportedly been as close to a done deal for the last day or so, and it would seem Machado is destined for finish his 2018 campaign in Hollywood. 

Of course, with this addition, the reigning National League champions look primed for another deep postseason run. Though, the club is clinging to a half-game lead in the NL West, with Machado in tow the Dodgers are right with the Cubs and Brewers as the elite squads in the National League. It could be argued the Dodgers didn't necessarily 'need' Machado, with an offense that was already in the top 10 in runs scored, but Machado might be the perfect addition for the Dodgers. 

After losing their young star shortstop Corey Seager for the season with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery, the Dodgers were in need of a more permanent solution at shortstop. And despite Machado's defensive metrics showing a steep decline in his glove at shortstop, the Dodgers will welcome his robust slash line of .315/.387/.575 while ignoring any shortcomings on defense. 

But what this means for the Cubs, who are only two games off the 2016 World Series club pace, is the path to another championship will likely require another run-in with the Dodgers. The club's biggest threat has been at this point the Brewers, but it's not hard to envision the Dodgers distancing themselves as the clear favorites in the National League with Machado in the heart of the order.

The good news for the Chicago is at least Machado didn't end up in Milwaukee, but that also could mean the Brewers make a more concerted effort to acquire pitching before the July 30th deadline. The Cubs will also see the return of Yu Darvish, who despite only managing to win one game this season in a Cubs uniform, will be a massive upgrade over the scuffling Tyler Chatwood. If the Cubs pitching can start producing like many expected them to before the start of 2018, and guys like Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant start to hit alongside All-Stars Javier Baez and Willson Contreras, it's not hard to imagine the Cubs separating themselves from the pack in the 2nd half of season. 

The Dodgers are no strangers to blockbuster deadline deals, acquiring Yu Darvish in a similar three-month rental situation, but the Cubs getting a bat like Rizzo right and an arm like Darvish healthy would be better than any deal Theo Epstein could make to improve this team. And if it's not enough, the Cubs have a solid track record of grabbing former Dodger rentals in the off-season. The push for the playoffs starts Thursday for the north-siders.