Cubs

Cubs win marathon game as Chatwood continues to thrive

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USA TODAY

Cubs win marathon game as Chatwood continues to thrive

In their 2-1 walk-off win against the Brewers on Saturday, the Cubs combined with Milwaukee for ten double plays and the longest Cubs-Brewers game ever played at Wrigley Field. And Willson Contreras' game-winning home run that landed on Waveland Avenue was the third walk-off homer the Cubs have hit just this week.

There are layers to winning any baseball game, and even more so in one that lasts for 15 innings. Among those layers are the obvious, things like Cole Hamels throwing 7 one-run innings and David Bote scoring on an El Mago-esque slide at home, but there's also the pitching performance of Tyler Chatwood, who threw the final four innings of Saturday's game.

"You’re not put into very good positions when you’re coming in late to a game. You cannot afford to give up runs, and he’s answering the call," Hamels said of Chatwood after the game.

When Chatwood was called upon in the 12th inning, the Brewers already had Christian Yelich on first base with no one out and the game tied 1-1. Chatwood responded by getting Jesus Aguilar to ground into a double play and then striking out pinch hitter Ryan Braun. There was no margin for error for Chatwood, and he walked that tightrope for four innings. Along the way, Chatwood struck out seven batters, walked three, and didn't give up a hit.

Even in the spots when the shaky command that cost him his rotation spot in 2018 looked like it might come creeping back, Chatwood adjusted and got out of the inning.

"That command is getting better and better and better. You’ll still see out of the zone once in a while, but he’s able to get it back," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after the game. "And man, it’s electric stuff."

In the 13th inning, Chatwood walked both Travis Shaw and Orlando Arcia, but he mixed in two strikeouts that inning as well, including leaving Eric Thames to look at his 96 mile-per-hour fastball for a third strike to end the frame.

"Chatwood, unbelievable. I mean, that dude has been unbelievable the last two, three weeks. He goes out there, just throws strikes hard," Bote said. "He’s throwing 95, 98 with that curveball and that slider, with starter stuff. To be able to do that is impressive."

Even as the pitches piled up in the cold drizzle that covered Wrigley for the entirety of the afternoon and into the early evening, Chatwood said that he made up his mind to stay on the mound as long as it took. He wasn't sure how much he had left near the end, Chatwood said, but he was determined for Maddon not to have to call upon anyone else to pitch. "I’m going to go out there as long as I can," Chatwood told him.

It's too early in the season to call this Chatwood's redemption story, but he has to be getting close. Last year was disastrous, but Chatwood put in the work to put that behind him.

"I knew something was off and I was fighting myself," Chatwood said of his 2018 season.

Though he felt fine physically and mentally year, Chatwood said, things just weren't right.

"Last year I knew I didn’t lose my stuff. I didn’t have a good year, but my stuff was still there. I think I had some of my best stuff, I just wasn’t able to throw it over the plate," Chatwood said. "So I went back, I refocused and worked on some stuff. Obviously right now I’m seeing the benefits of it."

Hamels, who was ostensibly acquired to take Chatwood's spot in the rotation late last season, was not short with praise not only for what Chatwood did Saturday, but also for what it's taken to get him to this point.

"You have to give him the credit because what happened last year and where he was coming into this season," Hamels said. "He’s got tremendous stuff. Some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen. He’s got lightning stuff that you have to give him the type of credit because he is, he’s attacking, and you see it, you see what he’s able to do."

Maddon said after Saturday's game that Chatwood's pitching improved as he went on. Thanks to some fatigue, Chatwood was not trying to do too much, Maddon said. Extra-inning games can turn otherwise disciplined hitters into big swingers, so winning can come down to pitchers continuing to execute. In Saturday's win, Chatwood was able to do that and give Contreras a chance to jump on a mistake pitch from Brewers reliever Burch Smith in the 15th inning.

Chatwood's performance in the win was another step toward being the kind of pticher Cubs fans hoped for when he signed prior to the 2018 season. And he's feeling it.

"I told you guys in spring I was feeling good. I put in a lot of hard work," Chatwood said. "So this year I’m out there having fun and enjoying it right now."

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Carlos Beltrán pulls out of Cubs' managerial search, seeks Mets' job, report says

Carlos Beltrán pulls out of Cubs' managerial search, seeks Mets' job, report says

Scratch one name off your list of candidates to replace Joe Maddon on the North Side.

Sunday, Carlos Beltrán said that although the Cubs are interested, he won't interview for the team's managerial opening. Beltrán, a nine-time All-Star who played 20 big league seasons, told Newsday's Anthony Rieber that he's only interested in the Mets' opening.

Beltrán's interest in the Mets' vacancy makes sense, as he played seven seasons with the team from 2005-11. The 42-year-old also currently works in the Yankees front office, so leaving for Queens would mean moving his office just across town.

Beltrán was one of the few reported candidates from outside the organization linked to the Cubs' opening. The group also includes Joe Girardi — who completed an eight-hour interview last Wednesday — and Astros bench coach Joe Espada. Houston is still in the postseason, though, meaning Espada has likely not been made available for interview at this point in time.

The Cubs have already interviewed several internal candidates, including bench coach Mark Loretta, first base coach Will Venable and front office assistant/former catcher David Ross. There is no timeline for when they will make their announcement, though.

"We're not gonna drag this out any longer than it needs to be, but we also want to be thorough," Cubs president Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "It's difficult. The interview process, you want to make sure you don't end up with the candidate who interviews the best.

"You want to end up with the candidate who's gonna be the best manager and that can be nuanced, so we want to do the best we can with that process. We're certainly not gonna hesitate."

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What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

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USA TODAY

What the Cubs can learn from the 2019 MLB postseason so far

For the 10 teams that qualify for MLB’s postseason, October represents a chance to climb baseball’s mountain and secure a championship. For the 20 other teams sitting at home, though, October is a chance to evaluate those in the Big Dance.

Less than two weeks into the postseason, here’s some things that the Cubs can take away from the action thus far.

1. Starting pitching matters

With bullpens being relied on more than ever, starting pitchers aren’t used the same way as just a few seasons ago. The Brewers rode their bullpen all the way to Game 7 of the NLCS last season, while the Rays used an “opener” (a reliever who starts a game and pitches 1-3 innings) in Game 4 of the ALDS this season – beating the Astros 4-1.

And yet, the Astros and Nationals are proving how important it is to have a difference-making rotation. The bullpening method can work, but being able to throw Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Zack Greinke at an opponent in a single postseason series is downright unfair.

The Nationals have Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin in their rotation, as formidable of a trio as any in the National League. They also have Anibal Sánchez, who took a no-hitter into the eighth inning of Game 1 of the NLCS against the Cardinals on Friday. No big deal...

And despite getting eliminated, the Rays — Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Charlie Morton — and Dodgers — Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler and Hyun-Jin Ryu — have talented rotations, as do the Cardinals and Yankees.

Meanwhile, the Cubs rotation didn’t have as big of an impact this season as they expected, a contributing factor to the team not making it to October.

“We had really high hopes for our starting group this year," Theo Epstein said at his end-of-season press conference. "You looked at it 1-through-5, we had a chance to roll out a really quality starter on a nightly basis, and that might be an area that was a separator for us versus some of the teams we were competing with. While we had a couple guys who had really good years and all our starters had their moments, it didn't prove to be a separator.

"There was some injury and regression (especially after injury) that led us to be closer to the pack certainly than we had envisioned. It’s an accomplished and experienced group, but with experience means that we could stand to add some younger talent, refresh the group as well. We certainly need to add depth and we need to add some youth and a little bit of a different look to the staff, as well, going forward.”

Yu Darvish, Kyle Hendricks and Jon Lester are under contract for 2020, while Jose Quintana has an $11.5 team option. The Cubs don’t have an Astros or Nationals-esque trio, but their rotation can still be good enough to lead the charge in 2020. They’ll need them to do just that if they are to return to the top of the NL Central.

2. Manager decision-making is far more important in October than regular season

The Dodgers’ season came to an abrupt close in Game 5 of the NLDS, with manager Dave Roberts being smack dab in the spotlight.

With the Dodgers leading 3-1 in the seventh inning, Roberts called Clayton Kershaw’s number to get Los Angeles out of a two on, two out jam. Kershaw did just that, but the Nationals opened the eighth with home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto (on consecutive pitches) to tie the game.

Kershaw is one of the best pitchers in his generation, a three-time Cy Young Award winner and one-time NL MVP. However, his postseason woes are real (4.43 ERA, 32 games/25 starts), and therefore, Roberts made a questionable decision going with Kershaw in that moment. 

Where was Kenta Maeda to face Rendon? Maeda had allowed just a single hit in 3 2/3 innings at this point in the postseason. He took over for Kershaw after Soto’s home run, striking out three-straight Dodgers to end the eighth. 

Roberts also didn't bring in closer Kenley Jansen to start the 10th inning, when the game was still tied 3-3. Instead, he left in Joe Kelly, who allowed a decisive grand slam to Howie Kendrick. Only then did Jansen come in, but the damage was done. Not bringing in your closer in an extra-inning postseason game is inexcusable, and while it may be outcome bias, this game proves why.

Roberts has 393 wins in four seasons as Dodgers manager, leading them to World Series appearances in 2017 and 2018. Even with that experience, though, he made a bad decision at a terrible time. The postseason is a different animal, not only for players, but the coaches in the dugouts, too.

Of the known candidates the Cubs have interviewed for manager — David Ross, Joe Girardi, Mark Loretta and Will Venable — only Girardi has big-league managing experience. And while Epstein noted at his press conference that it isn’t everything, he added that experience is important.

"Lack of experience - and I'm speaking broadly for the group, not necessarily [about Ross] - is always a factor,” Epstein said. “It's not a determining factor, but it's a significant factor. I always have greater comfort level hiring for roles in which the person has done the role before. Especially with manager.

“But I think there are ways for that to be overcome - there are a lot of different ways to get experience in this game - beliefs, skills, personal attributes, those can outweigh a lack of experience, but experience certainly helps.”

3. Winning in the postseason is tough

After the Cubs won the World Series in 2016, there was a feeling that baseball’s next dynasty was underway. After all, the Cubs had a talented, young position player group that reached the promised land early in their time together. It made sense.

Those talks have died down, of course, as the Cubs haven’t even appeared in the World Series since 2016. And while they've had plenty of success since 2015, it feels like they could’ve had more.

The thing about baseball, though, is that it’s extremely hard to sustain those high levels of success. A few teams (Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants) have won multiple World Series this century, none have repeated as champions since the Yankees, who won three-straight from 1998-2000.

The Twins won 101 games this season and were swept out of the ALDS. The Braves won 97, only to lose Game 5 of the NLDS in brutal fashion at home to the Cardinals.

The Dodgers made it to the World Series in 2017 and 2018 and came up empty both times. They won 106 games this season, a franchise record, only to be eliminated in the NLDS by the Nationals — a Wild Card team, nonetheless.

Does that make last few seasons even more frustrating for the Cubs and their fans? Probably. October is a crapshoot, meaning as long as a team gets in, they have a shot at winning it all, no matter their record.

At the same time, the Cubs made things look easy in 2016. They had brilliant injury luck, a historic defense, a deep position player group, a loaded starting rotation and the right manager for their young core. Even so, it took erasing a 3-to-1 series deficit against the Indians to win it all, not to mention a dramatic Game 7 win that nearly didn’t go their way.

This isn’t an excuse for the Cubs shortcomings in 2019, but merely a reminder: they won the 2016 World Series, and that's no small feat. This offseason offers the chance to improve as a team for 2020, when they’ll set out to win again.

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