Cubs

Why Joe Maddon sticking with Steve Cishek during loss to Padres made sense

Why Joe Maddon sticking with Steve Cishek during loss to Padres made sense

The biggest talking point following the Cubs' 9-8 loss to the Padres Tuesday is why Joe Maddon stuck with reliever Steve Cishek in the 10th inning.

Cishek entered the game in the 10th with the score knotted at 8-all. The Padres 6, 7 and 8 hitters were due up, making the appearance less strenuous than facing the top of their order. Considering how Cishek is one of the more reliable relievers on the Cubs, the matchup appeared to favor the visitors.

Although the inning got off to a solid start for Cishek – Ty France hit a ground ball to Anthony Rizzo that resulted in a 3-1 putout – things went downhill from there. Cishek allowed a ground ball single to Luis Urias before walking three straight Padres – Austin Hedges, Travis Jankowski and Manuel Margot (the latter on four pitches) – to secure a 9-8 walk-off victory for San Diego.

So, after Cishek walked Hedges and Jankowski, why did Maddon stick with the sidearmer rather than make a call to the bullpen? The answer is simple: Cishek was the Cubs' best bet at getting the game into the 11th inning.

Even with expanded rosters giving the Cubs 13 relievers in the bullpen, the group was stretched thin on Tuesday. Here are the statuses of those pitchers during the 10th inning:

-Tyler Chatwood: Unavailable (pitched innings 4-6)
-Brandon Kintzler: Unavailable (faced four batters in the 7th inning before exiting)
-Kyle Ryan: Unavailable (faced two batters in the 7th inning before exiting)
-David Phelps: Unavailable (faced two batters in the 7th inning before exiting)
-Rowan Wick: Unavailable (pitched 8th and 9th innings, allowing just one baserunner before exiting)

Perhaps one can argue that Maddon didn't have to use three pitchers in the seventh inning. However, Kintzler allowed three hits (granted, two on groundballs) and Ryan entered to face the left-handed hitting Eric Hosmer, whom he retired.

Ryan then walked Wil Myers on five pitches, and with the right-handed hitting Ty France due up, Phelps gave the Cubs a righty-righty matchup. Ryan has a 4.02 ERA vs. righties compared to 1.57 vs. lefties, hence Maddon going to Phelps in this spot.

After Wick's two shutout innings, the Cubs had Brad Wieck, Alec Mills, James Norwood, Derek Holland, Pedro Strop, Danny Hultzen, Duane Underwood Jr. and Cishek left in the bullpen. Wieck, Mills, Norwood and Holland pitched Monday, though outside of Wieck (who pitched a third of an inning), they each pitched just one frame.

Wieck was warming up in the bullpen in the 10th, but Margot (.365/.460/.494 slash line in 85 at-bats) excels against left-handed pitching. Therefore, the Cubs weren't going to insert Wieck, Holland or Hultzen – all lefties – to face Margot, even after Cishek walked two-straight batters. The same can likely be said about Mills and Norwood, since they pitched the day before, meaning the Cubs were left with Strop, Underwood and Cishek.

Underwood has shown flashes in limited big league action this season, but not enough for him to be considered more reliable than Strop or Cishek. Strop hasn't allowed a run in three-straight appearances (2 1/3 innings), but with how he's struggled this season, it wouldn't have made sense for him to come in for Cishek.

So, Maddon sticking with Cishek was the most logical move. It might have made sense to insert one of the aforementioned lefties to face Jankowski, but no one could've predicted that Cishek would walk him and then a third straight batter. Plus, Cishek (whose groundball percentage is 48.7 this season) was one pitch away from inducing an inning-ending double play.

The end result didn't go the Cubs' way on Tuesday, but sticking with Cishek was the best option at the game's tipping point. 

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As trade rumors swirl around Cubs, Theo Epstein advises to consume with 'mouthful of salt'

As trade rumors swirl around Cubs, Theo Epstein advises to consume with 'mouthful of salt'

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — It's that time of year again.

Almost one year to the day of the Kris Bryant trade rumor that stemmed from a comment Theo Epstein made at the MLB GM Meetings, the Cubs president of baseball operations is once again addressing whispers of potential deals involving Bryant, Willson Contreras and other key players on the roster.

Last fall, Epstein stood in front of a small group of Chicago reporters in Southern California and talked about how the team operates with no players under an "untouchable" tag — including Bryant. That's still the case and it's always been the case throughout Epstein's eight-year reign with the Cubs. 

Of course, the Cubs never traded Bryant last winter and he went on to have a resurgent season while working around a lingering knee injury.

But this winter, they are, admittedly, in a different position. Bryant is only two years away from hitting free agency (and only one year if he actually wins his service time grievance case, though many around the game aren't anticipating that) and the Cubs are coming off a season in which they not only didn't win the division, but they didn't even claim a National League Wild-Card spot. 

Under Epstein, the Cubs have invested a lot in the big-league club, but that has left the farm system rather barren and the future of the franchise in doubt beyond 2021 (when the current window of contention closes given all the contracts expiring at that time). 

So it's not surprising to see several Cubs players linked in trade rumors already and that only figures to increase as the offseason slogs on. The Cubs aren't looking into a full-on rebuild or anything like that, but acquiring young, controllable talent is the best way to set the franchise up for the long-term and that might mean having to let go of impactful players that are approaching free agency.

"The nature of any offseason, there are gonna be rumors about your major-league players and even your best players and that doesn't necessarily mean they're true," Epstein said. "No one knows how this winter's going to evolve. Even us. We have no idea who will be available for us, so I think taking any name that comes up in a trade rumor with a mouthful of salt is appropriate — not just a grain because I think they're usually untrue. 

"Not that [trade rumors] come from a malicious place, but sometimes they can have real-world negative consequences for a player and his family. So we're gonna do everything we can to operate respectfully and these guys whose names keep coming up in trade rumors have done a ton for our franchise and are among the very best players in the world. I don't want to do anything to make their lives more difficult. 

"Most trade rumors out there are not true. We have no idea how this winter's gonna go down, we have a ton of respect for our big-league team and the policy of having no untouchables is something we've had here for eight years. So we'll just see how the winter evolves, what's available to us and take it day-by-day, but we'll try to operate with a lot of respect for our players."

The Cubs have two years of control left on Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Baez and Kyle Schwarber and Contreras is a free agent after the 2022 season, so the clock is ticking on the roster's core players. A young talent like Nico Hoerner provides hope for the future, but the Cubs need more of that and they don't have waves of top prospects rolling into Wrigley Field like they did in 2015-16. 

This is also a core that won only 84 games in 2019 despite the breadth of talent on the roster. On top of that, the Cubs have plenty of pitching questions that will need to be answered, both in the short-term and long-term future.

Trading away a core member of the team (like Contreras or Bryant) and restocking the organization with young talent while keeping much of the group together could be the best of both worlds, allowing the Cubs to contend in 2020-21 while also building for the future.

"In an ideal world, you can enhance your major-league team and put a really compelling product out there — a team that has a legitimate chance to win the World Series and also take significant steps toward ensuring your future and make sure there's not that big of a dropoff after 2021," Epstein said. "There's probably a series of moves that we could pull off that could bring that about, but it won't be easy and you normally have to make sacrifices one way or the other and operate in a world where there are real tradeoffs.

"So we'll have to see what's available to us. This is the start of that process, really seeing what are realistic paths we can take, not just these sort of idyllic paths that we try to create in our mind."

Of course, the Cubs could also ink any of those aforementioned players to contract extensions and subsequently set the franchise up for a better future, too. The trade market isn't the only avenue to strengthen the organization beyond 2021, but it may be the most likely if players would rather test free agency or the Cubs find another team willing to meet their asking price in a deal.

Contreras, for example, is three years away from free agency, so there's not as much motivation for him to sign a long-term extension right now as there would be for a guy like Bryant or Rizzo. 

With all the change the Cubs are enacting behind the scenes on the coaching staff and in the front office, it makes sense that change would potentially carry over to the roster, too.

Still, Epstein doesn't want things to play out the way they did last winter with the Bryant trade rumor or how it's already gone down early this offseason with Bryant and Contreras whispers.

"We're not gonna contribute to this environment where there's a hysteria about a certain player getting traded on a given day and then it turns out not to happen and then the next day, it's on to the next player who's definitely gonna get moved," Epstein said. "...I don't love the 140-character news cycle and how quick it moves. We try never to be part of that and then this winter in particular, you're talking about some guys who are pretty important parts of the organization and trying to be sensitive to it."

Watch Yu Darvish practice throwing lefty at home

Watch Yu Darvish practice throwing lefty at home

The Winter of Yu continues. If you’re already itching for more baseball this post-season, Yu Darvish’s social media has got you covered.

Darvish uploaded a video to YouTube of him and a friend playing softball in their driveway, with Darvish throwing lefty. You can watch the video below.

In the description, Darvish says the throw types are: four seams, two seams, cuts, sliders, curves and change-ups. He also writes that “the control was bad today,” but it’s always cool to see a pro practicing casually at home during the offseason.

Despite being a right-handed pitcher and batter, Darvish has been known to occasionally throw left-handed in the bullpen or when just playing catch at Wrigley. There have been multiple reports that Darvish may be just as solid with his left as he is pitching right. Maybe this casual offseason practice session is a sign that he’ll want to bring more left-handed pitches in 2020. Regardless, we’re happy to see Wrigley’s resident social media star giving us some baseball content to tide us over until next spring. 

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