Cubs

How Xavier Cedeno's addition impacts Mike Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen

How Xavier Cedeno's addition impacts Mike Montgomery and the Cubs bullpen

The Cubs showed up to Wrigley Field Saturday with a drastically different bullpen than they had to begin the week.

Actually, the Cubs' bullpen has shifted dramatically even in the span of one day with Xavier Cedeno's addition into the mix after dealing with a wrist injury for the last couple months (Allen Webster hit the IL with a radial nerve issue in his right arm).

While the Cubs are still trying to maneuver everything without closer Pedro Strop (who hit the injured list Wednesday with a hamstring strain), they now have a trio of lefties in the bullpen after spending more than a week with Kyle Ryan as the only southpaw.

Cedeno's arrival changes the equation for the entire bullpen, but he will have a significant impact on how the Cubs will use Mike Montgomery. 

Montgomery was activated off the injured list in Strop's spot Wednesday and threw 5 innings of relief Thursday after Yu Darvish, shutting down the Marlins in impressive fashion.

With Cedeno in the fold, that permits the Cubs to keep Montgomery in a long relief role if they choose (which could include piggybacking Darvish's starts in the short term) without having to rely on him for a one- or two-batter stretch against an opposition's tough lefties.

"To have the other lefty really permits the wild-card moment that Monty's capable of doing," Joe Maddon said. "He was good the other day. He was really good. I told him right afterwards, I loved his assertiveness, his confidence. Everything about him was just like, whoa. Really lasered in - his focus was that good. He maintains that, you're gonna see him do that often. That's not an anomaly moment for him.

"That's as good as I've seen him in a while, period. We had heard he threw like that in the minor leagues, came back up here, the guys told me in the bullpen was spectacular and then we saw it in the game."

Montgomery got off to a slow start in spring training because of a shoulder issue that prevented him from getting as stretched out as he - or the team - would've liked heading into the season. He started the year in the bullpen and struggled, hitting the injured list with a lat issue after only a week of action.

The Cubs took their time bringing Montgomery back, letting him get stretched out in the minor leagues to the point where he threw 6 innings and 76 pitches in his final rehab outing. 

Now he's available for length out of the bullpen in extra inning games, if a starter is knocked out of a game early or even as an option to piggyback after Darvish, who is averaging just over 4 innings a start to date. Montgomery's length also allows the Cubs to give him a spot start if a need comes up or even go to a six-man rotation, though Maddon said the team probably wouldn't add an extra starter into the mix until after the All-Star Break at the earliest.

Meanwhile, Cedeno and Ryan form a valuable southpaw duo in the bullpen for shorter outings (though Maddon acknowledged Montgomery could still be available for brief appearances based on the availability of the other two lefties on a given day).

Ryan is solid against lefties, but induces a lot of weak contact and groundballs against right-handed hitters, too. He's had a tough week, but overall has a 2.04 FIP to go with 16 strikeouts in 13 innings and it did not take him long to enter Maddon's circle of trust.

The 32-year-old Cedeno has permitted a .223 batting average and .583 OPS against left-handed hitters over the course of his eight-year career. He was really good last year for the White Sox and Brewers, going 2-0 with a 2.43 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 48 outings. 

Cedeno can be particularly effective for the Cubs as they finish out their series with the Brewers, who have some tough lefties - led by Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas in the starting lineup, but also guys like Travis Shaw and Eric Thames off the bench.

After this weekend, the Cubs then move on to Cincinnati where some guy named Joey Votto resides and poses a big threat as a left-handed hitter.

This is exactly why the Cubs went out and signed Cedeno to a big-league deal right before spring training started.

"I've watched this guy pitch for a bit; been a big fan for a while," Maddon said. "He permits us to really match up left on left, however he's able to get righties out, too. Love his veteranship. It's exciting."

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Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Cubs to reportedly conduct second interview with Joe Espada for managerial opening

Astros bench coach Joe Espada has two days off before Houston hosts Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday, but it looks like some of that time will be spent in Chicago.

According to multiple reports, the Cubs will interview Espada a second time for their managerial opening. MLB Network's Jon Heyman reports that the interview is happening on Sunday.

Espada is one of the more sought after managerial candidates this offseason, as he's spent the last six seasons with two of baseball's leading franchises. The 44-year-old has been Astros bench coach since 2018, and prior to that, he spent four seasons with the Yankees — 2014 as a front office assistant, 2015-17 as third base coach.

David Ross was the presumed favorite for the Cubs' opening, when the process got underway. However, by landing a second interview, Espada has clearly given the team something to think about. In fact, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan reported on Thursday the Cubs came away "exceptionally impressed" from Espada's first interview on Monday. 

MLB prefers teams not to make managerial announcements during the World Series. So, it might be a few more weeks before the Cubs announce their decision, unless they do so on Sunday or Monday.

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As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

As he decides what's next, it's clear Ben Zobrist has something left in the tank

When Ben Zobrist rejoined the Cubs active roster on Sept. 1, it was fair to wonder how much he could provide offensively. After all, he spent the previous four months on the restricted list while tending to a family matter, last playing a big-league game on May 6.

Zobrist did no baseball activities from May to mid-July, only working out to stay in shape. Although he eventually ramped things up, he played in just 12 minor league rehab games in August before returning to the Cubs, a small number compared to the length of his absence.

Even Zobrist admitted upon his big-league return that his timing at the plate wasn’t where he wanted it to be. And yet, what he did in September was nothing short of impressive. In 21 games, he posted a .284/.377/.388 slash line, performing at a level many couldn’t have expected, considering the circumstances.

Zobrist's impact on the Cubs' lineup goes beyond what you see in the box score, however. Not only is he a switch hitter with some pop, but he has a keen eye for the strike zone and frequently puts together professional at-bats.

On a Cubs team that tends to expand the zone, Zobrist’s presence mattered. In his second game back, for example, he went 3-for-3 with two walks, helping the Cubs beat the Brewers 10-5. After the game, Brewers starter Chase Anderson pointed out how different the Cubs' lineup looks with Zobrist in it.

"They play the matchups really well and Zobrist makes that team so much better," Anderson said on Sept. 5. "Just bringing his presence to the top of the lineup, it changes their dynamic a little bit."

Where Zobrist stands entering 2020, though, is currently unclear.

Zobrist is set to hit free agency after the World Series and will turn 39 next May. Therefore, it’s possible that he’s played his last game in the big leagues, as he has little, if anything, left to prove at this stage in his career.

Ahead of the Cubs’ season finale on Sept. 29, Zobrist told reporters in St. Louis that he hasn’t thought about how much time he’ll take before deciding what’s next for him. His family situation will obviously play a big role in his decision, but if September showed anything, it's that he still has something left in the tank.

“I’m 38 but I got that feeling all over again,” Zobrist said following the Cubs’ season finale, a 9-0 loss to the Cardinals in which he pitched a scoreless inning. “Just really fun, you know? It’s a fun game. Sometimes you don’t come out on the winning end, but you still gotta have fun with it and enjoy it. I enjoyed it today."

The Cubs roster is expected to undergo changes this offseason, with center field, second base and the leadoff spot being just a few areas the team will look to address. The latter two spots became revolving doors during Zobrist’s absence, as the Cubs struggled to replace what he brought offensively.

Zobrist is past the point in his career of being an everyday player. However, he still could be a useful asset for the Cubs in a supporting role, bringing his veteran approach to the lineup when he plays while still offering an experienced voice in the clubhouse.

“I take a lot of joy in that role, just being a supporting guy and being a part of winning clubs and part of winning atmospheres and cultures,” Zobrist said on Sept. 29. “The Chicago Cubs have been that since I’ve been around. This year we didn’t make the playoffs — we still have a winning record — (but) the kind of relationships that are built here and the culture that’s been built here is definitely a winning one.”

After the Cubs announced that they wouldn’t retain Joe Maddon for 2020, Zobrist acknowledged that more changes were likely coming in the offseason. Only time will tell what that means for the veteran utilityman — should he continue playing.

Whether he retires or joins a different team for 2020, though, Zobrist will look back on his four seasons with the Cubs fondly.

“(They’re) just the most passionate fans I’ve ever met,” he said of Cubs fans. “They’re very loyal, very passionate and it’s been such a pleasure to be a part of that team that beat the curse back in ’16, so I feel that still, when I see Cubs fans, there’s a lot of them that hug me and thank me for being a part of that.

“I’ll always look back at [my] time here — I don’t know what’s going to happen in the offseason — but look back at these four years and [be] very grateful to be able to be part of a group like this and be able to do what we did while I was here.”

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