Cubs

The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

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USA TODAY

The Cubs are mixing up their rotation as Jon Lester nears return

The Cubs don't actually need a fifth starter until April 27, but they're going with one anyway, handing Tyler Chatwood the ball for the finale with the Diamondbacks Easter Sunday.

Thanks to an off-day Thursday and another one on Monday, the Cubs could've gotten through until next Saturday with only a four-man rotation and everybody still working on regular rest. Thanks to last Sunday's snowout at Wrigley Field (when Chatwood was slated to start), that may have allowed them to weather the storm without needing anybody to take Jon Lester's place in the rotation after he injured his hamstring during the Cubs' home opener on April 8.

Speaking of Lester, he's doing "really well," manager Joe Maddon said Friday and the rotation's ace is close to throwing a simulated game. 

However, the Cubs are going to play matchups and roll Chatwood out on Sunday and push back Jose Quintana to face the Dodgers in the first game of that series Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

Maddon said the Cubs wanted to keep Chatwood involved and there's the added bonus of giving Quintana, Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks and Yu Darvish an extra day (or two) off to help keep them fresh throughout a long season.

But there's also a matchup advantage, in that the Diamondbacks struggle more vs. righties than lefties and the Dodgers — while still a prolific offense no matter who's pitching — are a bit worse against lefties. So tossing Chatwood Sunday means the Cubs throw a trio of righties against the Diamondbacks and now line up two lefties against the Dodgers (Quintana-Hamels-Hendricks).

The Diamondbacks lead the National League in many offensive categories off lefties — including runs, homers, total bases and batting average — and are slashing .304/.349/.532 (.881 OPS) off southpaws. They're hitting only .248/.322/.436 (.758 OPS) against righties. 

The Dodgers' disparity isn't as large — .825 OPS vs. LHP, .884 OPS vs. RHP — but many of their top hitters (Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager, Joc Pederson) are left-handed and struggle against southpaws. 

As for Chatwood, he hasn't pitched since April 10, when he threw an inning of relief against the Pirates in a loss. He has walked 5 batters in 6 innings this season and his outings have never gone longer than 36 pitches, so it's fair to wonder how long he'll be able to throw in Sunday's game. 

However, he got some work in the bullpen before going out to the mound for that April 10 appearance and he threw a lot in Miami earlier this week, Maddon said. 

"He really believes he can throw 75-plus pitches, which I don't doubt," Maddon said. "It's just a matter of how tough the outs are — if the outs are tough and he has to work too hard, it can be different.

"But if he keeps throwing like he has been throwing, it's reasonable to expect at least 80 pitches. We'll just watch it and let him go and he'll let us know just by observation."

Even if Chatwood can't give the Cubs much length, this lines up well in that the bullpen had Thursday to rest and another off-day Monday to recover if they're needed to pick up the slack on Sunday.

Chatwood has not started a game since Aug. 18 last year, when he lasted just 2 innings and allowed 3 runs on 3 walks and 2 hits. 

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Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

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USA TODAY

Brandon Kintzler, Cubs most consistent reliever in 2019, signs with Marlins: report

Brandon Kintzler officially won't be back on the North Side in 2020.

Saturday, ESPN's Jesse Rogers reported Kintzler has agreed to a one-year, $3 million deal with the Marlins. The deal includes a $4 million option for 2021.

Kintzler was the Cubs' most consistent reliever in 2019, sporting a 2.68 ERA and 1.02 WHIP (both career highs) in 62 appearances. He was effective against both righties and lefties, the latter of which hit .163 against him.

The Cubs haven't been connected to Kintzler this offseason and have instead accumulated a plethora of low-cost, high-potential relievers. The organization has been extremely cognizant of MLB's luxury tax threshold after surpassing it in 2019 and wants to avoid becoming a repeat offender in 2020.

Kintzler becomes the second reliable reliever to depart the Cubs in free agency this winter, along with sidearmer Steve Cishek (White Sox). Pedro Strop is still a free agent, and while the Cubs have been connected to him, a recent report says the race to sign him is down to the Marlins and Rangers.

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4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

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MiLB

4 Cubs crack MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list

MLB Pipeline unveiled its annual top 100 prospects list on Saturday, and four Cubs minor leaguers made the cut.

Nico Hoerner (SS; No. 51), Brailyn Marquez (LHP; 68), Brennen Davis (OF; 78) and Miguel Amaya (C; 95) cracked the list for the North Siders. It’s the first time the Cubs have had four players on the list since 2016: Ian Happ (No. 21), Eloy Jimenez (23), Albert Almora Jr. (82) and Dylan Cease (98).

So yeah, it’s been a minute.

Cubs fans are most familiar with Hoerner; the 22-year-old made his big-league debut last September in an emergency spot after Javy Báez and Addison Russell got hurt. Hoerner hit .282/.305/.436 in 20 games and held his own defensively.

Hoerner is ranked as the No. 9 overall shortstop prospect, and he’ll get an opportunity to make the 2020 Opening Day roster. With Báez entrenched at shortstop, Hoerner will shift to second base and potentially play some center field, though he's still learning the latter.

Marquez, 20, is Pipeline’s No. 9 left-handed pitching prospect. The Cubs have struggled to develop homegrown starting pitching under Theo Epstein. In fact, Marquez is the first Cubs pitcher (LHP or RHP) to crack MLB Pipeline’s top 10 pitchers list during Epstein’s tenure on the North Side.

Marquez sported a 3.13 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 22 starts between Single-A South Bend and advanced-A Myrtle Beach in 2019. The 20-year-old struck out 128 batters in 103 2/3 innings, walking 50.

Cubs senior director of player development Matt Dorey said the club has “really high expectations” for Marquez this season.

“Brailyn, his last half of last year in Myrtle was an epic run, just in terms of the raw stuff, the strikes, the breaking ball development,” Dorey said Sunday at Cubs Convention. “I think it’s a little early to decide where he’s going to start [the season], but I would guess Double-A.

“But I wanna see how he comes into camp — especially with our new pitching infrastructure — that we’re not missing anything with his delivery or anything from a pitch data perspective. We want to make sure that’s really tied before we send him out [for] a long, full season. It’s such a big year for him. But I think it would be foolish to put any cap on what he can do this year.”

Marquez allowed two earned runs or less in nine of his final 10 starts (he allowed three earned runs on Aug. 26 — the lone exception). The Cubs promoted him to Myrtle Beach on Aug. 6, where he posted a 1.71 ERA with 26 strikeouts and seven walks in five starts (26 1/3 innings).

The Cubs drafted Davis out of high school in 2018 (second round, No. 62 overall). The 20-year-old was more of a basketball player and had some Division I offers, but he ultimately signed with the Cubs and received a $1.1 million bonus.

Davis is considered to be a raw, athletic talent. He hit .305/.381/.525 with eight homers and a 160 wRC+ in 50 games with South Bend last season. He missed time after getting hit on the hand on two separate occasions.

Although Davis is listed as a center fielder (199 innings in 2019) he played left almost as frequently (193 2/3) in 2019. Pipeline projects him to make his big-league debut in 2022.

Amaya spent all of 2019 with Myrtle Beach, slashing .235/.351/.402 with a 122 wRC+ in 99 games. His defense has always been ahead of his bat, and he’s known to be an advanced catcher for his age.

The Cubs added Amaya to the 40-man roster in November in preparation for the Rule 5 Draft. However, he won’t make his big-league debut until 2021, at the earliest.

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