Cubs

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

1009-baker-eaton.jpg
USA TODAY

Chicago ties: How Dusty Baker and Adam Eaton could affect Games 3 and 4 of NLDS

Dusty Baker has been here before.

Meaning he was here, at Wrigley Field, for a long time. Baker, the Cubs’ manager from 2003 to 2006, was one of the few North Side skippers to experience postseason baseball prior to last year’s curse-smashing World Series win. And he managed a whole bunch of games, regardless of where the calendar was, at the corner of Clark and Addison.

So Baker, who’s managing against his former team Monday and Tuesday as the NLDS between the Cubs and Washington Nationals shifts to Chicago, will use his familiarity with the Friendly Confines to help his current squad advance deeper into October.

"Yeah, you know, I've got a bunch of homies here," Baker said with a smile ahead of Game 3 on Monday afternoon, "so I've got some backup.

"I mean, it's always nice to come to Chicago. I enjoyed coming here for years and years. You know, it's a nice place to come. A nice place, you know, for us to try and get a victory."

Baker knows all about the wind and the sun and all the extra stuff that comes with playing games on the North Side. While the Nationals pay a visit to Wrigley Field each and every season, his team is short on guys who have logged significant playing time here. For example, Bryce Harper's only played 14 games here. Anthony Rendon's played 15 games. Daniel Murphy's been here 25 times. Game 3 will be Trea Turner's first at Wrigley.

Meanwhile, Baker managed 324 regular-season games in his four years as the Cubs' manager. He visited plenty as the manager of the Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants and now with the Nationals. So he's far more familiar with the place than much of his current roster, meaning those players would be wise to ask him how to best go about playing in such a unique ballpark.

"You talk to them to continually check the wind," Baker said, "and what you see earlier in the game may not be what you see later in the game. I think that giant scoreboard in left-center field has changed how the ball plays some out there, because it used to — if the wind is blowing in or across, it used to knock everything down when it was open. But now it seems that it's blocking the wind, especially in that area.

"I found it, contrary to popular belief, when I was here, it seems like the wind blew in more than it blows out, or at least it was a cross-wind. Most of the time it's a from left to right, and so yesterday during practice, we didn't hardly have any wind. So you know, what it's like today, I don't know. It's a beautiful day out. It's short-sleeve weather. I'm sure it's going to be a good day for a ballgame."

But Game 3 brings an additional wrinkle. Hardly any Nationals hitters have faced Cubs starting pitcher Jose Quintana, just three to be precise: Matt Wieters, Howie Kendrick and Adam Lind. But the Nationals do have a valuable fountain of information on Quintana in the form of Adam Eaton, the injured outfielder who spent multiple seasons as Quintana's teammate with the White Sox.

Eaton played 433 games during his three seasons on the South Side, a three-season span during which Quintana was quietly one of the American League's best pitchers, posting a 3.29 ERA in 96 starts.

So, much like Baker can offer his team insight into the conditions at Wrigley, Eaton can offer insight into what his teammates can expect from Quintana.

"We've got scouting reports, there's nothing like the naked eye seeing a guy. I think the advantage most of the time goes to the pitcher if you haven't seen him," Baker said of Quintana. "So we're relying on some of the guys who might have played with him and some of the guys who played against him.

"I'm sure (Nationals hitting coach Rick) Shu has spoken to (Eaton), and since you made that point, if he hasn't, I'm going to make sure he does speak to him.

"Quintana, I was told a long time ago — I was told by (Kansas City Royals manager) Ned Yost about how difficult he can be to hit sometimes. I haven't seen him in other, other than on video or TV. This will be our first look at him for a bunch of players."

Of course, neither Baker nor Eaton will be the ones on the field making the plays during Games 3 and 4. But their respective experience could help narrow the gap between these two evenly matched teams in certain areas.

In a series where the slightest thing can go a long way in determining who advances, Baker and Eaton's Chicago ties could prove incredibly valuable.

Cubs met to discuss off-field COVID-19 risk: 'You can’t hold these guys’ hands'

Cubs met to discuss off-field COVID-19 risk: 'You can’t hold these guys’ hands'

Major League Baseball hasn’t had teams back on the field for even a week yet and already the Cleveland Indians banned a player from activities after somebody with the club saw a picture on social media of Franmil Reyes at a holiday party over the weekend without a mask.

The 25-year-old outfielder was allowed back into practice Wednesday following a subsequent negative test for COVID-19.

But Reyes just earned a prominent place in every clubhouse conversation over the next few weeks and months about safe practices during a pandemic — at least until the next video or picture surfaces showing a player putting himself and, by extension, teammates at risk.

That’s a conversation the Cubs already had as they convened last week.

“We all sat down and wanted to outline what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable just in terms of safety reasons for us off the field,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said Wednesday. “Because if one guy gets this thing, and you’re asymptomatic and you come to the field and you pass it off to other people, you give it to your teammates, their wives, their kids, grandparents, whatever it is — you don’t want that to happen.

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

“We’re going to be as safe as possible through our guidelines and take this very seriously.”

MORE: Jed Hoyer: Everyone in MLB has to take COVID-19 'equally' serious

The Cubs have taken it seriously enough to get through the first two rounds of club-wide coronavirus testing without a player testing positive — the only team, at least in the National League, without a known positive.

“There has to be a certain amount of luck involved in that, let’s be honest,” general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged. “We’re not immune from that. And we’re going to face our challenges with that at some point. I think that’s inevitable.”

The billion-dollar question is whether behavior like Reyes’ is inevitable.

How many club-hopping knuckleheads will it take to bring down a 30-team league effort?

If we find the answer, it won’t come with a punchline. 

Because this isn’t a joke. Just ask Cubs pitching coach Tommy Hottovy, who did everything right and still contracted a severe, monthlong case of COVID-19 — or ask Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, who’s battling his own rough case now.

“This virus can just pop up out of nowhere and get you,” Schwarber said.

It’s why Cubs star Kris Bryant said this week he considered opting out of playing this season with a newborn at home, echoing concerns and hesitation expressed by players across baseball, from Mike Trout and Buster Posey to those who have in fact declined to play — including David Price, Felix Hernandez, Ian Desmond and Nick Markakis.

MORE: Cubs' Kris Bryant chimes in on testing concerns: 'We've got a big hill to climb'

It’s also why the Cubs have made a point to come to terms as a team — from the top of the front office down through team leadership in the clubhouse — on how seriously they’ll treat the virus and safety protocols.

On Tuesday, when first baseman Anthony Rizzo was scratched from a scrimmage because of back soreness, fill-in P.J. Higgins and the other first baseman for the game, Josh Phegley, improvised at the last-minute and shared a first-baseman’s glove.

That’s against the rules in MLB’s health and safety operations manual.

“We saw that, and it’s been addressed,” manager David Ross said. “I was assured things were sanitized.

“We talked about it.”

That’s just one of countless examples of the micro-challenges players face as they try to perform their most familiar acts on and around a baseball field under conditions that are surreal at best.

And as much stress and anxiety as that already has involved for players — in no small part to MLB’s failures to handle its in-house testing schedule the past week — it figures to increase exponentially when teams start traveling.

And the knucklehead count starts in earnest.

“You can’t hold these guys’ hands. They’re grown men,” Ross said. “But I know this group is a professional group. They understand we’re here to do a job.

“For us to succeed and win, we’re going to have to follow some criteria, and we’re not going to be able to go out to bars. That puts our teammates at risk. That puts people’s family members at risk. We have high-risk teammates; we have guys with high-risk family members at home.

“That would be an extremely selfish move on their part, and I think they understand that.”

Jason Heyward said that’s the benefit of having a veteran team with a group that has been together for years. Bryant said he wants to set an example and be a role model for safe practices. Schwarber said if baseball pulls this off, it can be a role model for the country.

But as everyone involved acknowledges, the league’s effort will only be as strong as its weakest link.

That’s why the Cubs — at least so far — have taken all the uncomfortable new rules so seriously, Schwarber said, “knowing that we can do something special here and we’re going to need every single guy in it at the end of the day. And we’re not going to take any unnecessary risks to put ourselves in jeopardy.”

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.

Cubs release of Brandon Morrow becomes official

Cubs release of Brandon Morrow becomes official

Contrary to breathless reports Wednesday, the “news” of former Cubs closer Brandon Morrow’s release is anything but news.

Morrow, who signed a minor-league free agent deal with the Cubs over the winter, dealt with chest and calf injuries in February and March. He informed the team in April, soon after the COVID-19 shutdown, that his rehab wasn’t progressing well and he intended to shut it down for 2020.

The move became official June 30 after teams submitted their summer training camp rosters.

“He unfortunately has had a number of issues that he’s been dealing with and we didn’t see it as a realistic scenario where he would contribute this year,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said on July 2. “We certainly wish him the best going forward in and out of baseball.”

Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Cubs news and analysis.

Morrow, 35, has not ruled out trying to pitch again in 2021.

The power-pitching right-hander was dominant the first half of 2018 as the Cubs closer after signing a two-year deal with the club, but injuries derailed the rest of that season and all of 2019.

SUBSCRIBE TO THE CUBS TALK PODCAST FOR FREE.