Cubs

If not Wade Davis, Cubs will need to find another closer with 'huge balls'

1031_wade_davis.jpg
USA TODAY

If not Wade Davis, Cubs will need to find another closer with 'huge balls'

Imagine a Cubs bullpen without Wade Davis, working under the bright lights of the World Series, trying to contain an explosive Houston Astros offense with the roof closed at Minute Maid Park.

That’s a scary Halloween thought for a manager who got second-guessed throughout October, a front office philosophically opposed to big-money, long-term contracts for closers and a fan base that now expects to be watching playoff baseball every year at Wrigley Field.

But the Cubs can’t be the team they envision — winning between 88 and 100-plus games every season for the foreseeable future and putting another World Series flag next to the iconic center-field scoreboard — without Davis or another elite ninth-inning pitcher.

“He’s got huge balls,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said. “No moment’s too big for him.”

Davis — who seemed to purposely avoid talking about The Streak when he set a franchise record by converting his first 32 save chances in a Cubs uniform — is about as low-maintenance and drama-free as an All-Star closer gets.

You might not remember any of those regular-season saves or his Wrigley Field warm-up music (Dr. Dre’s “Ackrite”). But Davis made a lasting playoff impression with his epic elimination-game save against the Washington Nationals (seven outs, 44 pitches) and gutsy Game 4 performance in the National League Championship Series (six outs, 48 pitches).

“He wants the ball,” Epstein said. “And he can get good hitters out, because he’s got stuff that when he executes it, it’s just about impossible to square up.”

If getting dominated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in that NLCS was an eye-opening experience — their relievers faced 58 hitters and gave up four hits and allowed zero runs in 17 innings — then the World Series should be another reminder of how much work the Cubs have to do to get back there.

While the Astros have so far been able to outhit their very shaky bullpen, Los Angeles is one loss away from a World Series failure because its relievers headed into Tuesday night’s must-win Game 6 at Dodger Stadium with a 5.32 ERA (15 total runs allowed in 23.2 innings).

Outside of Pedro Strop for an at-bat or two — and maybe Carl Edwards Jr. if he’s on that night or lefty Mike Montgomery in the right matchup — is there anyone on the Cubs roster now that you would trust to face George Springer, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa in a one-run game?

Another October with a hyper-focus on the bullpen means Davis will get paid as a free agent, the year after a record-setting winter for closers, though even he doesn’t seem to think that Aroldis Chapman’s five-year, $86 million megadeal with the New York Yankees is a realistic target.

But it’s also not realistic to think that the Cubs can take a mix-and-match approach with the ninth inning or hope an internal candidate can grow into the high-pressure job in 2018. Elite closers have an outsized influence on the contending teams the Cubs expect to be between here and 2021.

“What they’ve proven is — when you’re on the verge of extinction — how valuable they are,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Because not everybody can handle those moments. Aroldis was able to dominate. I can’t tell you necessarily that Wade has dominated, but Wade knows how to pitch to the point where he’s going to get both righties and lefties out, based on his pitch-ability.

“Chappy was more of this blunt object. He just could overpower people, but he could do it often. There are certain guys when you get really back to the wall ... there’s not many of them, but those that are out there are really, really valuable.”

Maybe the Cubs have valid concerns about a pitcher who recently turned 32 and spent parts of the 2016 season on the disabled list with a forearm strain and a flexor strain. There could be bigger needs —  like replacing 40 percent of the rotation —  and multiple holes to fill in the bullpen. But Davis went above and beyond what the Cubs could have hoped for when they traded Jorge Soler to the Kansas City Royals during last year’s winter meetings.

“We’d love to have Wade Davis back,” Epstein said during his year-end Wrigley Field press conference. “We all know it’s more complicated that that. Wanting doesn’t mean having. And it’s a complicated landscape in the offseason.”

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

bryant_cubs-cards_podcast_slide.jpg
USA TODAY

Podcast: Main takeaways from the 5-game Cubs-Cardinals series

Tony Andracki is joined by Phil Barnes, the senior editor of Vine Line, to break down the Cubs-Cardinals 5-game series at Wrigley Field that kicked off the second half of the 2018 MLB season.

The main takeaways from the weekend included an up-close look at a Cubs starting rotation is still struggling to find their footing almost 2/3 of the way through the season. 

The Cubs lineup and bullpen continue to be the saving grace of the team with the NL's best record and run differential, but there are serious question marks moving forward on the depth of the relievers as well as waiting for Kris Bryant to return to MVP form.

Check out the entire podcast here:

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Kaplan: Why Harry Caray was simply the best

Growing up in the Chicago area, we have been fortunate to hear some of the greatest names in sports broadcasting. From Jack Brickhouse to Harry Caray to Pat Foley to Jim Durham to Pat Hughes to Wayne Larrivee, the list is long and illustrious of the best play-by-play men in Chicago sports history.

For me, growing up listening to and watching many of these men on an almost daily basis only served to stoke my interest in pursuing sports broadcasting as my chosen career. All of the greats were obviously well prepared and technically excellent calling their respective sports, but for me one man stood above the rest because of his irreverence and ability to entertain people in a variety of ways. I ran home from Middleton School in Skokie to watch the final innings of many afternoon Cubs games in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, and I loved Jack Brickhouse and the enthusiasm he brought to each and every broadcast.

However, Harry Caray was the one that captured my heart and pulled me toward this great field of radio and TV broadcasting. Harry was one of the best technical baseball announcers in the history of the sport, but many people who only became aware of him as the announcer for the Cubs on WGN-TV only got to experience him in the twilight of his career, when he was best known for singing the Seventh Inning Stretch and his mispronunciations of players' names.

In the main portion of his 50-plus-year career, Harry called some of the game's greatest moments and saw many of the all-time greats. As the voice of the St. Louis Cardinals, Oakland Athletics and the White Sox, he became one of the best in the sport with his colorful calls and honesty about the team he was working for. Fans loved his willingness to tell the truth and to openly cheer for the team he was affiliated with. However, when he was hired as the voice of the Cubs on WGN-TV, he became larger than life. With the power of the superstation behind him, he reached another level. A whole new generation of young people became Cubs fans — even if the team wasn't very good — because of the man in the funny glasses who was wildly entertaining.

I fell in love with his style and his entertainment ability. He was must-watch TV even when the games weren't very good. Until the Cubs signed Jon Lester and he became a key member of a World Series champion, Harry Caray was the single best free-agent signing in the history of the Cubs. From 1982 to 1997, he was bigger than almost every player who wore Cubbie Blue. Former All-Star first baseman Mark Grace remembered with a wry smile a story from his days as a Cub that shows just how big Caray was in relation to even the biggest-name players.

"We were playing the Marlins in Miami, and I was signing autographs alongside Rick Sutcliffe and Ryne Sandberg," Grace said. "There were long lines for each of us, and then Harry poked his head out of the Cubs dugout. The fans spotted him and someone yelled: 'Hey everybody, there's Harry!'

"I'm not kidding, everybody ran over to him, and the three of us were left with no one to sign for. We looked at each other, and Sutcliffe says to us, 'Guys, now you know where we rank on the totem pole.'"

Harry Caray was a legend and for me. He was the most entertaining play-by-play man I ever listened to. I still find myself listening to old tapes of him, and I am still as entertained today as I was then. Harry was simply the best.