Cubs

Cubs know NL Central is going to be a dogfight: 'We have our work cut out for us'

Cubs know NL Central is going to be a dogfight: 'We have our work cut out for us'

The last time the St. Louis Cardinals played a postseason game, Jason Heyward and John Lackey were wearing redbird logos and had yet to suit up for the Cubs while Trevor Cahill picked up the win and Hector Rondon notched the save for the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

In other words, it's been a really long time since the Cardinals played in October. 

They're trying hard to change that fact, going all-in for 2019 by acquiring perennial MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt in a trade with the Diamondbacks Wednesday. This comes after they pulled off a big deal with the Marlins last winter by trading for slugging outfielder Marcell Ozuna.

"It was a great division before that trade and even better now," Theo Epstein said Thursday. "To be expected. The Cardinals do a great job of producing young talent and have a lot of depth with young players.

"Last winter, it made a lot of sense to consolidate their young talent and their resources into one really impactful player and they did that with the Ozuna trade. Not having made the playoffs three years in a row and having that depth of young talent, we expected them to make another consolidation-type move for a great player and they certainly got a truly elite player in Paul Goldschmidt.

"It just reinforces that the NL Central is to be earned. We have our work cut out for us."

The Cubs' eyes are wide open about the Brewers as a rival after Milwaukee surged from second place to take the division from the North Siders in Game 163 just two months ago.

The Cardinals have been a legitimate contender in the division the last couple seasons but wound up falling short each year. Now, they just added one of the best players in the game and are ready for more. The only players the Cards lost off their big-league roster this winter were ancillary players — pitcher Luke Weaver (traded away in the Goldschmidt deal) and a trio of free agents in Bud Norris, Matt Adams and Tyson Ross. 

And don't forget about the Pittsburgh Pirates, who featured a pitching staff full of Cy Young canidates if you just watched the games they played against the Cubs last year. They made the big move for Chris Archer at the trade deadline last year and are only losing Jordy Mercer and Josh Harrison this winter and have already added outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall on a free-agent deal.

Even the Reds — who lost 95 games last year — have three All-Stars in their everyday lineup (Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Scooter Gennett) and have some young talent coming up through a farm system that ranks No. 6 in baseball by FanGraphs' valuation

As if the Cubs didn't have enough of their own problems to worry about with their "broken" offense and pitcher injuries, now they have to contend with a division that may be the strongest it's been in recent memory.

 

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Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

Adbert Alzolay makes some memories on an otherwise forgettable night for the Cubs

The Cubs lost an entirely forgettable game on Tuesday night, dropping the second of their four games against the NL East-leading Braves by a score of 3-2. They left four men on base, only managed four hits, ran into two outs, and made one error in a game that was over well in time for a Clark Street nightcap, or three. 

What was memorable about Tuesday night was the performance of Adbert Alzolay, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect who was making his first major league start. The final line: 4.2 innings pitched, one hit, one run, four walks and four strikeouts. It’s certainly not the prettiest line you’ll see in tomorrow’s box scores, but the 24 year old passed the eye test with flying colors. 

“Everything was good - he was outstanding,” Joe Maddon said after the game. “I just think he hit a well there at the end. We just have to get him more used to that. Listen, he’s been injured in the past, he’s coming back - you’ve got to be real sensitive to the number of pitches and workload you put on him, because you can see how good he’s going to be.”

Things got off to an inauspicious start for Alzolay, whose first pitch of the game was crushed 413 feet into the left field bleachers for a leadoff homer, courtesy of Braves’ outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. It would prove to be the only hit and run that Alzolay allowed on the night. 

“It’s just one pitch,” he said. “You have to keep working - the game continues. I was just starting the game, so if you lose your mind in that situation than you’re not going to last a lot of innings.

“Even after the home run, he came right back and said, ‘I’m fine’,” Maddon added. “Then he went up and got three really good hitters out. I liked the mound demeanor, we’ve just got to get him a little further along in regards to being stretched out.”

After coming out flat with his secondary pitches during his 4-inning relief appearance on June 20th, Alzolay flashed better command and execution of both his curveball and changeup. Half of his strikeouts came on the curveball - one to get left fielder Austin Riley in the 2nd and one to get Acuña in the 3rd. After throwing 13 changeups in his debut, Alzolay double that number on Tuesday (27). 

“I’m feeling really confident throwing the pitch in any count,” Alzolay said of his changeup. “Tonight I threw it a couple times when I was behind in the count and I got a good result after that, so I’ll just keep on throwing it.

“For us to get confident at something, you have to practice, you have to execute it, and you have to use it in the game,” said catcher Willson Contreras, who plated both of the Cubs’ two runs with a double in the 4th. “For him to be able to throw the changeup for a strike, and strikeout people, it’s really good - especially at his age.”

Maddon couldn’t answer when Alzolay would make his next start. With Kyle Hendricks eyeing a return around the All-Star break, there would seemingly be a few more opportunities ahead of the rookie. Given what he showed on Tuesday night, it’d be hard to argue against it.

"He can be really good in the big leagues," Contreras said. "He still needs to make adjustments like all of us, but with the confidence he has, the ability he has, and the way he prepares before the games, it's going to take him a long way."

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Ryne Sandberg: Part 1

Luke Stuckmeyer sits down with Cubs legend Ryne Sandberg for a wide-ranging conversation centered around the infamous "Sandberg Game."

Ryne gives insight into his feelings upon being traded to the Cubs (2:00), and discusses the reason he ended up with the No. 23 (5:00). Plus, how the 1984 season changed everything and raised his personal expectations sky-high (9:00) and the "Daily Double" dynamic between him and Bob Dernier (16:00).

Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:

Cubs Talk Podcast

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