Hollandsworth aiming for 'little victories' for Cubs


Hollandsworth aiming for 'little victories' for Cubs

The Cubs entered 2012 without much in the way of championship expectations. Losing five of their first six has silenced even the most positive thinkers.

But CSN analyst Todd Hollandsworth isn't worrying about the Cubs' overall record right now.

No, he's more focused on the team doing the little things right.

"1-5 is going to leave a sour taste in your mouth," Hollandsworth said. "You have to look at the body of work. I have seen a different type of baseball than what I've seen in the past and that's been impressive so far.

"Do they have as much talent as the competition that they've gone up against? No, they don't, and that's a fact. Have they played better than expected? I think on some level they have. That being said, this is going to be a trying year for this ballclub. There's going to be a lot of battles. Each night is going to be a battle."

Hollandsworth points to the lack of firepower in the lineup as one of the reasons the Cubs may struggle to beat some of the top squads they go up against.

"This is a team that, at its best, is probably going to be scoring three or four runs a night," he said. "They're not going to score a ton of runs. They're going to rely on their starting pitching heavily and so far so good. The starting pitching has been lights out, outside of Maholm's start.

"They've been in every ballgame because the starting pitching has kept them there."

Starting pitching was the main weakness of the 2011 Cubs. They were last in the NL with a 4.79 rotation ERA. Only the Royals (4.82) and Orioles (5.39) were worse in all of baseball.

While he admits the offense is built to out-slug opponents, Hollandsworth isn't getting caught up in how many runs the offense puts up, especially in relation to the rest of the MLB.

"A lot of that levels itself out," he said. "Clearly, there's going to be better offensive teams. But there are more teams in the middle of that pack. You're talking about 20 teams that will probably be defined at the end of the year as very similar offensively.

"They may not hit as many home runs. But when you look at the number of runs that are scored, you end up talking about a difference of 15 runs over a 162 game season between the 7th best team and the 15th best run-scoring team."

The 12-year MLB veteran is on to something there. In 2011, just 39 runs separated the majors' sixth-best offense (Toronto at 743 runs scored) and the league's 16th-best offense (Cleveland at 704 runs). The Cubs were still 50 runs behind the Indians, but the point still stands -- there are top-heavy offensive teams (like the Red Sox, Yankees and this year, the Tigers) and then most of the other units fall right in the middle of the pack.

On paper, the Cubs figure to be toward the bottom of that middle grouping of offensive teams in 2012, but again, Hollandsworth is looking big picture.

"You have to do the small things in order to give yourself a chance to win," he said. "And the Cubs have been good about that. Hitting behind runners when you have runners in scoring position. Understanding counts, what you're looking to do with opportunities and RBI opportunities.

"That's an area where the Cubs have clearly struggled, not only in spring training but in the last few seasons...They don't have as much wiggle room as far as competing and being able to go out there and win each and every day. They have to do a lot of things right.

"I think it's important to look for small victories. Even in a defeat, especially since there's been more defeats than victories so far this season. Offensively, the power hasn't been there. We've only had a couple home runs to date. But I will say this: We've seen aggressive baserunning, we've seen walks, we've seen good at-bats. Good signs for a team building and trying to get better.

"I'm looking for incremental progress this year and so far, so good."

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

Bears could develop “twin towers” personnel package at WR with Robinson, White

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Coaches are loath to give away competitive information, which can cover just about anything from play design to flavor of Gatorade dispensed by the training staff. But Matt Nagy offered an intriguing what-if personnel grouping that his offense could confront defenses with in 2018. It’s one that has been overlooked so far, for a variety of reasons.

The what-if personnel pairing is Allen Robinson and Kevin White as the outside receivers, a tandem that would put two 6-foot-3 wide receivers at the disposal of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Bears have not had a tandem of effective big receivers since Alshon Jeffery (6-3) and Brandon Marshall (6-4) averaged a combined 159 catches per year from 2012-14.

White’s injury history has relegated him to found-money status in many evaluations, and he has typically been running at Robinson’s spot while the latter was rehabbing this offseason from season-ending knee injury.

But Nagy on Wednesday cited Robinson’s ability to play multiple positions and clearly raised the prospect of his two of his biggest receivers being on the field at the same time.

“The one thing you’ll see here in this offense is that we have guys all over the place in different spots,” said Nagy, who credited GM Ryan Pace with stocking the roster with options at wide receiver. “Ryan did a great job of looking at these certain free agents that we went after, some of these draft picks that we went after and getting guys that are football smart, they have a high football IQ and they’re able to play multiple positions.

“When you can do that, that helps you out as an offensive playcaller to be able to move guys around. Is it going to happen to every single receiver that comes into this offense? No. But we do a pretty job I feel like at balancing of where they’re at position wise, what they can and can’t handle, and then we try to fit them into the process.”

The organization and locker room can be excused for a collective breath-holding on White, who has gone through his third straight positive offseason but whose last two seasons ended abruptly with injuries in the fourth and first games of the 2016 and 2017 seasons.

White was leading the Bears in with 19 receptions through less than four full games in 2016, then was lost with a fractured fibula suffered against Detroit. The injury was all the crueler coming in a game in which White already had been targeted nine times in 41 snaps and had caught six of those Brian Hoyer passes.

White’s roster status has been open to some question with the signings of Robinson and Taylor Gabriel together with the drafting of Anthony Miller. All represent bigger deep threats in terms of average yards per catch than White (9.2 ypc.) at this point: Robinson, 14.1.; Gabriel, 15.1; and Miller, 13.8 (college stats).

But Trubisky’s budding chemistry with White was evident throughout the offseason. And the second-year quarterback has studied what Robinson has been and seen some of what he can be.

“We know he has great hands, he’ll go up and get it,” Trubisky said. “Explosive route-runner. The more reps we get, it’s all about repetitions for us, continue to build that chemistry. Just going against our great defense in practice is going to allow us to compete and get better.”

Folding in the expectations for an expanded presence at tight end (Trey Burton), “targets” will be spread around the offense. How often the Bears go with a Robinson-White “twin towers” look clearly depends in large measure on White’s improvement as well as his availability.

Opportunities will be there. The Kansas City Chiefs ran 51 percent of their 2018 snaps, with Nagy as offensive coordinator, in “11” personnel (one back, one tight end, three receivers, according to Pro Football Focus. Whether White earns his way into that core nickel-wideout package opposite Robinson is part of what training camp and preseason will determine.

“[White] has had a good offseason and just like our team, he needs to carry that momentum into camp,” Pace said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now, he’s very focused. The real expectation, just be the best he can be. Focus on himself, which is what he’s been doing.”

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

Cubs bolster pitching staff with minor trade, foreshadow more moves coming

The Cubs didn't wait long to make Joe Maddon's words come true.

Roughly 5 hours after Maddon said the Cubs are definitely in the market for more pitching, the front office went out and acquired Jesse Chavez, a journeyman jack-of-all-trades type.

It's a minor move, not in the realm of Zach Britton or any of the other top relievers on the market.

But the Cubs only had to part with pitcher Class-A pitcher Tyler Thomas, their 7th-round draft pick from last summer who was pitching out of the South Bend rotation as a 22-year-old.

Chavez — who turns 35 in a month — brings over a vast array of big-league experience, with 799 innings under his belt. He's made 70 starts, 313 appearances as a reliever and even has 3 saves, including one this season for the Texas Rangers.

Chavez is currently 3-1 with a 3.51 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 56.1 innings. He has a career 4.61 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching for the Pirates, Braves, Royals, Blue Jays, A's, Dodgers, Angels and Rangers before coming to Chicago.

Of his 30 appearances this season, Chavez has worked multiple innings 18 times and can serve as a perfect right-handed swingman in the Cubs bullpen, filling the role previously occupied by Luke Farrell and Eddie Butler earlier in the season.

Chavez had a pretty solid run as a swingman in Oakland from 2013-15, making 47 starts and 50 appearances as a reliever, pitching to a 3.85 ERA, 1.31 WHIP and 8.2 K/9 across 360.1 innings.

"Good arm, versatile, could start and relieve," Joe Maddon said Thursday after the trade. "I've watched him. I know he had some great runs with different teams. 

"The word that comes to mind is verstaility. You could either start him or put him in the bullpen and he's very good in both arenas."

It's not a flasy move, but a valuable piece to give the Cubs depth down the stretch.

There's no way the Cubs are done after this one trade with nearly two weeks left until the deadline. There are more moves coming from this front office, right?

"Oh yeah," Maddon said. "I don't think that's gonna be the end of it. They enjoy it too much."