Cubs

The streak is over: Cubs win on neutral site to take first road series since May

The streak is over: Cubs win on neutral site to take first road series since May

Of course it happened this way.

After going more than three months without winning a series away from Wrigley Field, the Cubs exorcised their demons on Sunday. With their 7-1 win over the Pirates, the North Siders secured their first road series win since May 17-19 against the Nationals.

It only makes sense that the losing streak ended in such an unorthodox fashion, as there were no good explanations for why it persisted to begin with. After playing games Friday and Saturday at the Pirates’ home – PNC Park – Sunday’s series finale shifted to Bowman Field in Williamsport, PA, the city which hosts the Little League World Series.

The obvious explanation for the Cubs’ road woes is that they’ve pitched and hit better at Wrigley Field than elsewhere this season. How the team went 0-10-2 in road series since mid-May, not securing just one series win, is beyond any logical explanation, however.

That’s in the past now, and the Cubs will take the road series win, unorthodox or not. Sure, it came against the Pirates, who are now just 7-27 since the All-Star break. But Sunday’s game still was played outside of Wrigley Field, where the Cubs are now just 25-39 away from this season.

With the push for the postseason heating up, every win is important, and the Cubs can now move forward with a huge weight lifted off their shoulders.

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Cubs acknowledge meeting with free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama

Cubs acknowledge meeting with free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama

The Cubs have met with Japanese free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, general manager Jed Hoyer acknowledged Thursday. He also admitted the Cubs aren't the only team to have done so, however.

"Yeah, we met with him,” Hoyer said in San Diego. “Listen, a lot of teams were involved. Obviously he's a very good player and he's gonna have a good role on a major-league team this year, but I can't comment beyond that."

Akiyama would help the Cubs address their search for upgraded production from center field and the leadoff spot. The 31-year-old holds a career .376 on-base percentage in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He hit .303 with a .392 OBP with the Saitama Seibu Lions last season.

Five Cubs center fielders combined to hit .232 with a .305 OBP in 2019, 20th in MLB. Only the team’s second base production was worse. Meanwhile, 11 Cubs leadoff men combined for the worst average (.212) and OBP (.294) in MLB out of that spot.

Akiyama has also met with the Diamondbacks, Rays and Reds and is looking for a two-year deal worth $8-10 million total, according to WSCR’s Bruce Levine. That could be in the budget-conscious Cubs’ price range, but they'll leave the Winter Meetings having only made a minor move via the Rule 5 Draft.

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Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

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NBC Sports Chicago

Cubs leave Winter Meetings with a new pitcher

SAN DIEGO — The Cubs waited all the way until the final minutes of the MLB Winter Meetings to make a move, but at least they're not going home empty-handed.

For the first time since 2014, the Cubs made a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, adding pitcher Trevor Megill. The right-hander turned 26 last week and has spent his entire professional career in the San Diego Padres system.

Megill stands 6-foot-8 and posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 39 minor-league games last year, mostly at Triple-A. He struck out 87 batters in 60.2 innings, including an eye-popping 12.7 K/9 rate with Triple-A El Paso. 

He figures to slot into the Cubs' bullpen for now. Per MLB rules, Megill, who has yet to make his MLB debut, must remain on the Cubs' big-league roster all season; otherwise, he would be returned to the Padres.

It's obviously not a splashy acquisition, but it allows the Cubs to get Megill into their Pitch Lab this winter and evaluate him throughout spring training to see if he can be the type of buy-low arm they've been stockpiling over the past year. That process has worked out for Rowan Wick, Kyle Ryan and Brad Wieck so far, and the Cubs are hoping the trend will continue for their pitching acquisitions this winter (Jharel Cotton, Dan Winkler, CD Pelham and now Megill). 

"Megill is a guy we tried to trade for prior to the rosters being set in November," Jed Hoyer said. "He's a guy we've liked and got good reports on — big, physical right-handed reliever that had a good year last year in Triple-A. We've had some experience with him and we were excited he was there."

The Rule 5 Draft is not often an avenue to acquire impactful players, but it's not unheard of. 

The Cubs traded for Caleb Smith in the 2016 Rule 5 Draft, but ended up returning him to the Yankees that spring due to a roster crunch. Smith has turned into a solid starter with the Miami Marlins.

Back in 2012, the Cubs added Hector Rondon in the Rule 5 draft. He wound up saving 29 games for them two years later and emerged as a central piece of the bullpen for five seasons.

"When you have room on the roster, it's always a nice thing to do," Hoyer said. "There's times you can't do it — you don't have room on the roster sometimes and you can't fit it in. But in the years you do have that space on the roster, it's a nice thing to be able to do. Obviously there's challenges that come with it, but Megill is a guy we're excited about and excited to see him in spring training."

If the season started tomorrow, the Cubs' bullpen would probably look like this:

Craig Kimbrel
Rowan Wick
Kyle Ryan
Brad Wieck
Dan Winkler
Trevor Megill
Alec Mills/Tyler Chatwood/Adbert Alzolay/Duane Underwood Jr./Jharel Cotton

That's quite a different look from the veteran-laden relief corps of the last few seasons, but the Cubs are searching everywhere for reclamation projects, hoping to hit on a couple as they reshape their roster.

In the minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft, the Cubs added another pitcher: Brock Stewart, a 28-year-old who grew up in central Illinois and attended Illinois State University. He has 46 big-league games under his belt (including 11 starts) with the Dodgers and Blue Jays.

Stewart struggled mightily in 2019 (9.82 ERA in the big leagues and a 7.36 ERA in Triple-A), but he's only a few years removed from being a highly rated prospect in the Dodgers' system and presents as another low-risk reclamation project.

The Cubs also lost a couple notable players in the Rule 5 Draft Thursday: utility infielder Vimael Machin and right-handed pitcher Michael Rucker.

Machin, 26, was a 2015 10th-round pick who worked his way up to Triple-A in 2019. Overall, he posted an impressive .295 batting average and .390 on-base percentage in the minors last season (mostly in Double-A), but the Cubs ultimately chose not to protect him on the 40-man roster.

Rucker, 25, was a 2016 11th-round pick who appeared in 34 games for Double-A Tennessee and 2 games for Triple-A Iowa last year, pitching to a 4.18 ERA overall.