Cubs

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Brewers look like they're ready to go all-in this trade deadline

The Cubs woke up Wednesday morning 1.5 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central.

Sure, there's plenty of reason to be optimistic that the Cubs can overtake the Brew Crew in the division for the second straight summer, but it's not a guarantee Milwaukee fades in the second half again.

Especially if they go all-in before the July trade deadline.

A rumor from Jim Bowden popped up Wednsday morning indicating the Brewers could give up a huge group of guys to Baltimore for Manny Machado:

That is a RIDICULOUS package if true. Burnes is Milwaukee's top pitching prospect (No. 2 prospect overall, according to MLB.com), Broxton is a 28-year-old outfielder with extensive MLB experience and a 20-20 season under his belt (2017) before getting caught up in the numbers game in the outfield and Arcia is a stellar defensive shortstop who won't turn 24 until next month and was the organization's top prospect a couple years ago.

All for less than half a season of Machado? 

Adding Machado to a lineup that already features Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yelich, Travis Shaw, Jesus Aguilar and Ryan Braun is enticing from the Brewers' end, sure, but is all that really worth it?

Cubs fans balked at trying to give up Addison Russell in any deal for Machado. Arcia may not be as established as Russell, but he's younger, under team control for longer (won't become a free agent until after the 2022 season) and just put up a .731 OPS with 15 homers and 14 steals last season. He's taken a step back offensively this year, but it seems unwise to give up on a guy with only 274 big-league games under his belt.

Still, that's exactly the kind of package Cubs fans would hope the Brewers would give up — hurting the long-term hopes of the franchise while trying to go all-in for this season.

But Jon Heyman threw some cold water on that rumored three-player package Wednesday afternoon:

Still, the existence of the rumor is just another nod to the Brewers going all-in.

In a matter of hours over the winter, they signed Cain to a 5-year, $80 million deal and traded for Yelich, greatly improving the top of the lineup, the outfield defense and the clubhouse in the process.

And if the Brewers can't get Machado, there are plenty of other candidates out there who could be nice additions to Milwaukee's playoff run:

Both Escobar and Dozier are set to become free agents in November and the Twins certainly don't look like they're going to make a run at the AL Wild Card anytime soon. 

Escobar leads the league with 35 doubles and is posting a career-high .853 OPS as a switch-hitter who can play all over the infield. Dozier is in the midst of the worst season of his career, but started slow last year, too, before going on a blistering pace after the All-Star Break (.304 AVG, .985 OPS, 21 HR, 52 RBI, 67 R in 71 G).

Both players should be available at a much, much cheaper price than Machado and would still help boost Milwaukee's squad.

Keep in mind this latest round of Brewers trade rumors are all about position players and doesn't even address the team's biggest weakness: Starting pitching.

The Brewers have the clout in the farm system to acquire a guy like Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard if the Mets put either of their aces on the block. 

No matter what way you look at it, the Brewers aren't going to back down anytime soon as the Cubs continue to try to find their stride in 2018.

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

Jake Arrieta returns to Wrigley Field a different pitcher and a beloved icon

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound at Wrigley Field on Monday night, he will have officially pitched against all 30 major league teams. That alone is impressive; the messy results from his early seasons in Baltimore didn’t exactly scream 10-year veteran. There’s something charmingly poetic about Arrieta’s first return — and last new opponent — coming from the place that saved his career.

“He’s a different cat, and I appreciate that about him,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We talk — he’s a foodie, so we’ve talked a lot about restaurants. He was always making recommendations for me here in Chicago when he had more experience than I had here. Just in general, he likes to talk about things other than the game, which I always appreciated about him.”

Before coming to Chicago in a trade (that also included Pedro Strop), Arrieta had a 5.46 ERA in 358 innings pitched. After a slow beginning to his Cubs career, the righty was arguably the best pitcher in baseball during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. The latter season was especially impressive: 229 innings pitched, a 1.77 ERA, and a career-best K/BB% (21.6) - all on the way to a Cy Young award.

Maddon referenced two games in 2015 that still comes to mind when he thinks about Arrieta: the 2015 Wild Card game against Pittsburgh and a late-June (June 21) game in Minnesota. That afternoon against the Twins, Arrieta went all nine innings while striking out seven and only allowing four hits. More importantly, it started a run of 20 straight starts without ever allowing more than three runs in a game. Over that stretch, he allowed only 14 earned runs and had an ERA under 1.00.

“I remember the game in Minnesota, 8-0 I think it was,” Maddon said. “It was a complete game in Minnesota. I thought that this was like, this seminal moment for him. That complete game, I thought, meant a lot to him internally. I thought after that he really took off.”

Monday night won’t actually be the first time Arrieta’s returned to Chicago, though. He came through last season, his first as a member of the Phillies, but didn’t pitch. As far as reunions go, Monday’s at Wrigley figures to be overwhelmingly positive.

“Honestly, I think Jake deserves his due,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “His first time back here at Wrigley pitching against the Cubs. He deserves his due for everything he meant to this franchise. I don't look at it as a showdown or a referendum or anything like that. He deserves a warm embrace and a huge tip of the cap for everything that he meant for all of us.

“For me, personally, helping us all get to places we wanted to go. Doing it in such an exciting way. I'm a big Jake Arrieta fan, just not tonight."

2019 hasn’t been kind to Arrieta, who’s seen his walk-rate (9.8 percent) spike to a level not seen in over half a decade. His ERA is on the wrong side of 4 (though is there a right side of 4?) and he’s allowing some of the hardest contact of his career. The numbers say Arrieta’s not the pitcher he once was, but Maddon still sees shades of the Cy Young winner and World Series Champion.

“I would say the biggest difference is purely velocity on the fastball,” he said. “I’m watching the movement on the fastball, and I’m watching the break on the breaking ball. He’s probably more apt to throw the change up out there now than he had, but he looks he looks a lot the same.”

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Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

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USA TODAY

Cubs get a dose of good news, bad news on the injury front

Monday was a mixture of good news and bad news for the Cubs on the injury front.

Star shortstop Javy Baez was held out of the starting lineup Monday after suffering a heel injury in Sunday night's game, but manager Joe Maddon said he hopes Baez could be available to hit off the bench. 

Closer Brandon Morrow threw from flat ground (45 to 60 feet) Monday, his first day throwing since he suffered a setback earlier this spring in his return from offseason elbow surgery. 

That throwing session "went well," Theo Epstein said before the Cubs and Phillies faced off at Wrigley Field Monday night and Morrow will continue along a regular throwing progression from there, ramping up to throwing off a mound in the bullpen. The Cubs will evaluate along the way, exercising caution with the 34-year-old right-hander.

The Cubs also received encouraging news on Pedro Strop, who is recovering from a hamstring strain initially suffered in Arizona in late April. The veteran reliever threw a 25-pitch bullpen Monday, which went well, and is in line for another bullpen later this week. 

Then there was the bad news: Top prospect Nico Hoerner will miss at least a month with a hairline fracture in his left wrist. 

Hoerner — playing for Double-A Tennessee — was hit in the wrist with a pitch on April 23 and has been sidelined since then. 

"He went to start his hitting progression; it didn't go great," Epstein said. "After a couple days, they did a CT scan and this time they did find a hairline fracture right where his forearm meets his hand, so right at his wrist essentially. 

"So he's gonna be in a splint for three weeks and get out of it and evaluate it from there. He'll be out at least a month, obviously, with this."

That's bad news for the Cubs, given Hoerner has already missed nearly a month and looked to be on the comeback trail just a few days ago. The young infielder has done nothing but hit since the Cubs made him the 24th overall pick in the MLB Draft last June and was slashing .300/.391/.500 with nearly as many walks (7) as strikeouts (8) in 18 games this season.

Hoerner wasn't expected to impact the big-league level in 2019, but if he continued to flash the skills and production that made him the organization's top prospect all summer, it wouldn't have been surprising to see the Cubs put him on the fast track to Chicago. That seems unlikely now that he'll miss at least two months of development. 

However, the Cubs will certainly take the good news on Morrow and Strop. Morrow was shut down in late April after a suffering yet another setback in his recovery and spent about a month without picking up a baseball. 

Any impact he can make on the Cubs bullpen later in the season would be a welcome addition after he saved 22 games with a 1.47 ERA in 35 apperances last year. But he didn't throw a pitch in the second half and is still a long way off from rejoining the big-league bullpen, even if he continues to show well healthwise.

Strop has been the Cubs' closer in Morrow's stead, though he's had a pair of hamstring injuries (last September and now again this spring). He last pitched on May 6 when he blew a save against the Marlins.

Even without Morrow (and now Strop, more recently), the Cubs bullpen has the best ERA in baseball (2.66) since the rough start to open the season.

"Since that first road trip, they've been — by the numbers — one of the best, if not the best in baseball," Epstein said. "So they've been doing a great job. We've had our hiccups along the way the way like every club will, but even under some difficult circumstances after some short starts, they've found a way to really put some zeros up there. 

"It's been impressive. It's been a group effort, which is nice to see. And Joe's done a great job picking the right spots for those guys, too."

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