Cubs

Glanville offseason journal: The Loss of Valbuena and Castillo

valbuena-1208.jpg
USA TODAY

Glanville offseason journal: The Loss of Valbuena and Castillo

After years of being on the road of pro baseball, I knew that a late night call from my mom was not going to bring good news.

In the offseason after my first full season with the Phillies, this phone call was the entry point of what would become a spiral of bad news about the health of my father. A major stroke had sent him into a tailspin.

This would frame my career in the heart of my first and only multi-year contract with the Phillies, but also offered a window inside a game that had been simple. I had not considered often what I was missing in the rest of my family’s life. My father was invincible, even after knowing he was plagued with health issues along the way.

With the death of Luis Valbuena and Jose Castillo in a tragic car accident in Venezuela, we all take stock. We revisit the innocence of sports in a way that challenges us uncomfortably. Baseball players are like how I wanted to see my father, invincible. High-powered athletes, risk-takers, inspiring agents of youth. They bounce back, they comeback, they carry hope on our backs. They certainly never die young.

Throughout my career, I realized it was the sadness that arose from what became an annual funeral, that we often tried to separate from our daily world. Teammates, coaches, legends from our youth and even adversaries were all affected by this harsh reminder of our finite world.

Players know loss on a rational level, but it cuts them differently as the focus required to engage this game every day creates an alternate reality. We often work hard to remain insulated from distraction, in fact, we vehemently fight to stay focused. Until it is impossible.

When we lift up our heads, we see the aging in the mirror, we face our own insensitivity, we also recognize that although we can win in life’s quantifiable games, we will have to accept the great loss in the end and those left behind will have to carry on with memories.

Early in my minor league career, in my first full season in the Florida State League as a member of the Daytona Cubs, my teammate lost his sister in a tragic safety accident from a live wire in his home country. He got the news when he was with us, his teammates. What do you even say to someone in that moment? We know life is moving on for others intuitively, but our job as athletes is to freeze time as firmly as possible, so our youth holds and our productivity sustains.

It turns out that as players, we are navigating these choppy waters throughout our careers as I learned about the many members of baseball’s family who passed away. From teammates’ Frank Castillo’s and Jesse Hollins’ deaths which hit the Cubs family, or Cory Lidle or Josh Hancock or my roommate, Fred White, in Daytona who was killed in the offseason after intervening when someone tried to break into his vehicle. Senseless.

So we turn inward into baseball’s club to try and make sense of it. A small, elite, close knit unit. Once you are inside that unit, Luis Valbuena did not have to be your teammate to feel it like a brother. You do not have to be a current player to feel it like a brother. You do not even have to know him to feel it like a brother. The game is intricately connected through generations, across oceans, and time itself. Your years as a professional constantly puts you in the orbit of the game’s history where legends you watched on TV growing up become your mentors and the teenage fans in the stands could well be the next rising star who watched your career. We know each other, even when we don’t. So it hurts deeply.

In the offseason when my father’s health took the first of many devastating hits, I felt the powerlessness of being a player in the thick of his career, criss-crossing the world to perform, yet unable to do much about changing my father’s circumstances other than by being supportive from mostly afar. The offseason would change forever for me as I wanted to do as much as I could to help my mom in her caretaking, just as I had to wake up to the fragile nature of the lives around us. Illness or tragedy can strike anyone close to you at any time.

But time stays on its arrow towards the future regardless. Sending us forward anyway. Spring training will come around, we will keep those we lost close in honor of their time, but also as a reminder of the gift of being able to enjoy time in a uniform while playing a game we love. Something we should work hard to appreciate as much as we can.

I would start the next season with my father’s health in constant jeopardy, carrying with me a burden that I would not trade for the world since it was part of the gift of having had him in my life. I would play, grapple with the distraction and the guilt of my absence and the need to be focused on my craft despite how much I wanted to meet my family’s need too. It would be a tug a war for the rest of my career.

This is life and the offseason spares no one from reminding us that loss can be around the corner and we will all be forever changed by it.

And we should be.

 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Cubs easily on your device.

Craig Kimbrel struggles again, Cubs lose heartbreaker: ‘Today is not an easy day’

kimbrel_hands_on_hips_slide_for_tin_story.jpg
AP

Craig Kimbrel struggles again, Cubs lose heartbreaker: ‘Today is not an easy day’

After two consecutive tough, one-run losses, the Cubs showed plenty of fight on Saturday against the Cardinals. And yet, it still ended with what could be described as a knockout punch.

“We needed the 16-ounce gloves for that fight right there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said postgame. “We had the right guy there at the end. You talk about two shots to the jaw —like poom-poom — and they got the win.”

For the second time this weekend, Cubs closer Craig Kimbrel was victimized by the long ball. With the Cubs leading 8-7 in the ninth, Kimbrel surrendered solo home runs to Yadier Molina and Paul DeJong on consecutive pitches, giving the Cardinals a 9-8 lead — ultimately the game’s final score.

“Today is not an easy day,” Kimbrel said postgame. “First and second pitch of an inning, [I] felt like I made two competitive pitches that I wanted to, and it went out.

“It’s just frustrating, that’s the only thing I can say.”

Saturday’s loss all but eliminates the Cubs from NL Central contention, as their tragic number is down to two with seven games left. They’re also 2.5 games back of the Brewers for the last Wild Card spot, pending the outcome of Milwaukee’s matchup with the Pirates on Saturday.

The result is obviously all that matters, but it’s not like Kimbrel left two meatballs over the heart of the plate. Molina’s home run came off a 97-mph fastball that was up and out of the strike zone, while DeJong hit a 96-mph heater that was up in the zone.

“First one was out of the zone, second was up,” Kimbrel said. “Thought it was a good pitch to the hitter, based on what I saw. They just put the barrel on it, and it went out.

“I was pumped out there, I was excited, felt like I had good stuff. And then right there off the bat with two home runs. Frustrating.”

Kimbrel returned to the Cubs on Thursday following a two-week stint on the injured list with right elbow inflammation. With the minor league season over, the 31-year-old couldn’t go on a rehab assignment, though he did throw a simulated game on Tuesday.

However, Kimbrel insisted that his recent outings have nothing to do with his health. In fact, he said that he feels great.

“I feel great right now. I mean, my last two outings I’ve felt great,” he said. “I just didn’t get the results I wanted, the results I need to have to do my job.”

“He’s had ample time to build his arm strength back up, and it was nothing wrong with his arm strength,” Maddon said. “After [the homer runs], he made some really good pitches at the other guys.”

One of the tougher parts of Kimbrel’s last two outings is that they’ve followed rallies by a Cubs offense that has been inconsistent in September. Thursday, they scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to tie things up before passing the ball to Kimbrel.

After surrendering two runs in the seventh inning Saturday, the Cubs put up two runs of their own that inning, retaking the lead. That lead didn’t hold, but the Cubs still are confident in their closer.

“Of course,” Maddon said. “We were at that point where we’ve built the game towards him, and I want to continue to do so. I thought his stuff was actually better today than the other day.

“It felt really good about the moment right there, the way we fought back, him coming in the game, had already been in one game, has had ample time to get it back together. It was kind of surprising.”

“Craig’s a Hall of Fame closer. He’s got a track record for a reason,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “He puts in the work. We all see it.

“He’s an amazing guy in the clubhouse. We have his back. It’s tough. I know he feels bad, but he’s a competitor and he’s a champion and he’ll bounce back.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream Cubs games easily on your device.

Cubs playoff race: Hope on life support after another disastrous meltdown

cubs_death_blow_slide_photo.jpg
USA Today

Cubs playoff race: Hope on life support after another disastrous meltdown

The Cubs took the field Saturday afternoon with only a 21.3 percent chance of making the postseason.

That number will certainly go down after another epic meltdown in a season full of disastrous moments.

Just five days earlier (after Monday's win), the Cubs had a 76.7 percent chance of October baseball.

But that's what five straight losses will do, especially when the other teams in the race keep on winning. They still couldn’t get back to their winning ways Saturday despite a hard-fought effort in a wild 9-8 loss that saw seven lead changes.

The Cubs are now 6 games back in the division and 3 games out of the final playoff spot in the National League with only seven contests remaining.

"Obviously it sucks," said Javy Baez, who struck out to end the game. "But we are really close to the other teams. We just gotta play our game — try to get hot in the last two series and see what happens when the last game is over."

"It doesn't matter how you lose at this time of the year," Anthony Rizzo said. "It sucks. A loss is a loss. Especially with seven games left. It sucks." 

Quick thoughts

—Kimbrel’s disastrous weekend

This is not what anybody had in mind when the Cubs addressed their biggest weakness and signed Craig Kimbrel to a three-year deal in early June.

In his first 19.2 innings as a Cub, the closer on a Hall of Fame trajectory surrendered 9 home runs — the latter two coming on back-to-back pitches in the top of the ninth inning Saturday.

Called on to protect a 1-run lead, Kimbrel could only watch in disbelief as Yadier Molina sent his first pitch into the left-field bleachers and Illinois native Paul DeJong followed suit on the very next offering.

"It's tough. it is," Rizzo said. "Craig's a Hall of Fame closer. He's got a track record for a reason. He puts in the work. We all see it. He's an amazing guy in the clubhouse. You don't want to ever see anybody give up runs. We have his back. It's tough. It feels bad, but he's a competitor and a champion and he'll bounce back."

Kimbrel spent most of this month on the injured list with right elbow inflammation, but returned Thursday only to give up the lead and get saddled with the loss in the 10th inning after the Cubs had just pulled off an epic 3-run rally in the bottom of the ninth to send the game to extras.

Kimbrel now has a 6.53 ERA in 23 games with the Cubs this season.

—Javy suits up

Baez scored the tying run as a pinch-runner Thursday night, but his at-bat to end the game Saturday was his first plate appearance since breaking his left thumb three weeks ago. 

He struck out against Cardinals closer Carlos Martinez to end the game and admitted it was a tough at-bat given the layoff.

"It was hard, especially with him out there throwing 100 mph," Baez said. "It's tough, but you gotta give it a try and try something for the team."

Baez said he hopes to be able to start the game Tuesday for the Cubs in Pittsburgh.

"I've been feeling good," he said. "It's still bothering me a little bit, but I would do anything to help my team. We're in a hard situation right now that we gotta win games and if not, we'll be out of the playoffs. We're in this together. If we're gonna give everything, we're gonna give everything together. I'm trying my best to come back before the regular season is over. It's been a quick process, so hopefully I'll keep getting better and after the day off, I'll probably be out there."

—The winds of change

At first pitch Saturday, the wind was blowing straight out at Wrigley Field at 17 mph. That proved to be a huge factor in the game.

Each team felt the benefit of Mother Nature, with Marcell Ozuna somehow golfing this very low 0-2 pitch from Kyle Ryan into the bleachers in the top of the seventh inning for a go-ahead blast:

The Cubs’ big boost from the wind came on Tony Kemp's signature moment with the team in the bottom of the inning (though this game won’t be remembered for his heroics).

After Ben Zobrist had doubled with one out, Kemp was sent up to the plate as a pinch-hitter and appeared to strike out, only to get new life when it turned out a balk was called. He hit the next pitch in the air to center field — deep enough to at least get Zobrist home from third as the tying run — but it wound up carrying just a few rows into the bleachers for an enormous, game-changing home run.

The Cubs had been waiting for their baseball luck to turn and I think it's safe to say the balk call qualified, though it ultimately proved to only set the stage for even greater heartbreak for the fanbase.

—Brad Wieck's big moment goes for naught

Kemp wasn't the only player to deliver his signature moment with the Cubs Saturday afternoon.

Wieck was called on to protect the 1-run lead in the eighth inning of a crucial, Game 7-esque contest Saturday — just like everybody predicted back when the Cubs traded for him on July 31. Despite walking the leadoff hitter and plunking Tommy Edman, Joe Maddon left Wieck in the game to face the heart of the Cardinals order — righties Paul Goldschmidt and Marcell Ozuna — even though veteran Steve Cishek had been warming up in the Cubs bullpen.

Goldschmidt flied out to left field and Ozuna struck out, giving Wieck a huge boost of confidence and setting the Cubs on the path for a much-needed victory before the ninth-inning meltdown.

—Oh, that's where the offense was hiding...

Cardinals starter Dakota Hudson certainly helped out with back-to-back-to-back-to-back walks after Nicholas Castellanos' double in the first inning.

The team that scored only 1 run on 9 hits in Friday's ballgame then plated 3 runs on just 1 hit in the first inning of Saturday's contest.

Baseball, man.

The Cubs generally had a solid approach at the plate all day, drawing 6 walks and slugging 7 of their 10 hits for extra bases.

Rookie Nico Hoerner delivered a clutch go-ahead homer in the bottom of the sixth, his third longball of the homestand after hitting just 3 homers in 75 minor-league games this year.

—What bum ankle?

This weekend series hasn't gone the way the Cubs wanted, but Anthony Rizzo's shocking return to the field and subsequent play has been one of the consistent bright spots.

After a nasty-looking sprained ankle that was originally thought to keep him out for the rest of the regular season, Rizzo returned to the Cubs leadoff spot just 20 minutes before Thursday's game and he even provided a homer in that contest before the Cardinals pulled out a victory in the 10th inning.

In 11 plate appearances over those three games, Rizzo reached in six of them, including three hits Saturday. He even hustled out a double in the second inning, sliding into second on that injured ankle and trying to give his team a spark.

—Q's about Q

What is going on with Jose Quintana. He hasn't made it through 4 innings in any of his last three starts and has gone more than a month since pitching at least 6 innings (Aug. 18).

He's now given up 18 earned runs and 25 hits in 13.2 innings this month - good for an 11.85 ERA and 2.19 WHIP.

Quintana was a rock for the Cubs in the rotation for the first five months of the season, but he's taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction at the absolute worst time. His struggles are even tougher to swallow when taken alongside Cole Hamels' last couple months of injuries and ineffectiveness.

At the moment, Quintana would be in line to start the first game in St. Louis next weekend, but the Cubs could always utilize the off-day to change up their rotation a bit.

Brewers update

The Brewers beat the Pirates Saturday night and are 3 games up on the Cubs for the final playoff spot in the National League.

Nationals update

The Nationals beat the Marlins and have a 4-game lead on the Cubs and are 1 game up on the Brewers for the top Wild-Card spot.

What's next?

The Cubs finish their 2019 regular season home slate Sunday afternoon, though some serious storms are projected to hit Chicago.

If they are able to play, will this be the final game at Wrigley Field in 2019? If they're not able to play, the Cardinals have a game Monday night while the Cubs are off, so the makeup would have to be pushed back to Sept. 30 if it still holds weight for the playoff race.

Yu Darvish takes the hill for the Cubs against Miles Mikolas. Catch all the action on NBC Sports Chicago or the My Teams app, with pregame live beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream