The invasion: What to watch for in Cubs-Red Sox


The invasion: What to watch for in Cubs-Red Sox

Bryan LaHair was surprised to look around Wrigley Field and see so many orange T-shirts.

The Detroit Tigers and the ancient ballpark were the draws that brought 124,782 fans here, the most ever for a three-game series at Clark and Addison in the middle of the week.

The Detroit fans who made a lot of noise went home happy, or out to the Wrigleyville bars, after Thursdays 5-3 win over the Cubs. Expect another invasion for this weekends marquee series against the Boston Red Sox.

But when Theo Epstein left what used to be his dream job on Yawkey Way last October to rebuild everything at Clark and Addison, you probably didnt script it like this.

Does this deserve two games on national television? Yes, because these are two historic franchises with no shortage of storylines. But the Red Sox are 31-32 and tied for last place in the American League East. The 21-42 Cubs are on pace to smash the franchise record for losses.

LaHair was a big Red Sox fan growing up in Worcester, Mass., and will have family and friends in town this weekend. He understands the dynamics between the two markets.

They have that Red Sox Nation thing, and theyre really big-time fans, LaHair said. I still think Cubs fans are the best fans in baseball. Cubs fans will support you whether youre winning or losing. It kind of seems like Red Sox fans will support you when youre winning. But both places usually sellout each game either way. So its good for baseball that the Cubs play the Red Sox.

Feeding that monster wore on Epstein, who seems to be remembered in New England as much for his big mistakes in free agency as his two World Series titles.

When Epstein finally took over as Cubs president after that period of limbo, he joked about feeling like the guy in Office Space locked in the Fenway Park basement with a cubicle and a stapler.

Epstein remains close with many inside Bostons baseball operations department, including general manager Ben Cherington. But it probably wasnt an accident that until the last minute in April, Epstein wasnt invited to Fenway Parks 100th anniversary celebration.

Epstein spent a lot of time this week rehashing his legacy with the Boston media. But for Cubs fans, this is a time to look forward and see what it all means.

Watch how hard Dustin Pedroia plays and remember that he was an undersized guy from Arizona State University before Cubs scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod picked the future MVP in the 2004 draft.

See how Starlin Castro responds on the national stage. Bobby Valentine will be on the top step of the Red Sox dugout instead of the ESPN broadcast booth, where Terry Francona now works.

Getting through to Castro is a priority for Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who also emerged as a finalist for the Red Sox job before underwhelming ownership.

Youre just trying to build that whole thing to where preparation is everything, Sveum said. Playing the game the right way is everything and if you dont do it, then well get somebody else.

One player came away from last seasons Cubs-Red Sox series at Fenway Park thinking about how exhausting it was to face that team. Two games lasted close to four hours, and the Red Sox saw 504 pitches that weekend.

This week Epstein fired Rudy Jaramillo, one of the best hitting coaches in the game, to start creating that identity.

You have to make tough decisions when theres a gap between where you are and where you want to be, Epstein said. We felt the importance of getting a new message in here outweighed everything else.

That means Ryan Dempster is almost certainly going to waive his no-trade rights and head to a contender, which in theory could make Friday his final start at Wrigley Field in a Cubs uniform.

Dempster could go to a place like Boston, where every night is treated like Game 7 of the World Series.

Its a reality that were setting that tone and building an organization (toward) that day (where) winning every game is life or death to get to the postseason, Sveum said. (Its building) an organization to where when we leave spring training, were going to win 90-plus games every season. Thats what the ultimate goal is, not to have a three-year window and then you got to rebuild all over again.

There will be a lot of noise this weekend, deconstructing what Epstein built in Boston and assessing how much work has to be done on the North Side. Fans in New England have been spoiled, but a kid from Worcester doesnt forget.

His legacy is reversing the curse, LaHair said, or having a lot to do with it. The curse of the Bambino, they took that down and then won again.

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

Should the Cubs bring Daniel Murphy back in 2019?

With MLB Hot Stove season about 10 days away, Cubs fans are on the edge of their seats waiting to see how Theo Epstein's front office will reshape an underperforming lineup this winter.

The first step in that will be determining if there is a future with Daniel Murphy in Chicago and if so, what that future might entail. 

Murphy's introduction to the North Side fanbase was rocky, but he drew rave reviews from his teammates and coaches for how he conducted himself in the month-and-a-half he wore a Cubs uniform. 

He also filled a serious hole in the Cubs lineup, hitting .297 with an .800 OPS in 35 games (138 at-bats) while spending most of his time in the leadoff spot, helping to set the tone. Extrapolating Murphy's Cubs tenure over 550 plate appearances, it would be good for 23 homers, 86 runs, 49 RBI and 23 doubles over a full season. That would be worth 3.4 WAR by FanGraphs' measure, which would've ranked third on the Cubs among position players in 2018 behind only Javy Baez (5.3 WAR) and Ben Zobrist (3.6). (By comparison, Baseball Reference rated Murphy a -0.2 WAR player with the Cubs due to a much worse rating on defense.) 

Murphy's performance defensively at second base left quite a bit to be desired, but it's also worth pointing out he had major surgery on his right knee last fall. The procedure wasn't just a cleanup — he had microfracture surgery and cartilage debridement and wasn't able to return to the field until the middle of June this summer despite an Oct. 20, 2017 surgery.

The Cubs will begin the 2019 season without a clear, everyday choice at second base and the lineup can use a guy like Murphy, who has a great approach each time up and leads baseball with a .362 batting average with runners in scoring position since the start of the 2016 season.

So could a reunion be in the cards?

"I wouldn't rule anything out," Epstein said the day after the Cubs' 2018 campaign ended prematurely. "It was a pleasure having Daniel here. He did a lot to right our offense right after he got here and contribute while being asked to play a bigger role than we envisioned when we got him because of some other injuries, because of our lack of performance offensively and then because of the schedule. He was asked to play a lot more than expected, than probably he was ready to based on the proximity to his knee surgery.

"So I think he's gonna have a real beneficial offseason, get even stronger and be ready to contribute next year. Which league that's in and for what team remains to be seen. But I certainly think he acquitted himself well here, was REALLY respected by his teammates. Our guys loved talking hitting with him. It was a daily occurrence. Long discussions about hitting with him, picking his brain. 

"We look a lot better with him than without him, so I wouldn't rule anything out."

There's a lot to unpack here. Epstein was refreshingly honest throughout his whole press conference and that continued with regards to Murphy.

For starters, notice how Epstein first said he wasn't sure "what league" Murphy will be playing in. The Cubs president of baseball operations is typically extremely measured when speaking with the public and he almost never says anything by accident.

Murphy will turn 34 April 1 and was never renowned as an elite fielder even before that major knee surgery. Meaning: The writing has been on the wall for over a year that the veteran may be best suited for a designated hitter role with his new contract and Epstein is clearly well aware of that perception/narrative.

The other aspect of Epstein's comments is how he began and ended his statement on Murphy — that he wouldn't rule anything out and the Cubs obviously thought it was a successful pairing.

It's hard to argue with that on the offensive side of things and his impact was also felt off the field, where he was praised often by his teammates and coaches for talking hitting with younger players like Ian Happ and David Bote. 

Imagine how the final 6 weeks of the season would've looked had the Cubs not acquired Murphy in the middle of August to agument the lineup. The Brewers would've probably nabbed the division lead well before a Game 163.

Still, Murphy's hitting prowess both on and off the field wasn't enough to help the Cubs lineup avoid a slide that led to a date with the couch before the NLDS even began. Epstein's statement about how the Cubs "look a lot better" with Murphy than without is probably more about how fresh the sting was from the inept offense that managed just 2 runs scored in 22 innings in the final two games of the season.

Given his consistency the last few years, his advanced approach at the plate and his (recent) unrivaled ability to come through in key spots, Murphy's bat would be a welcome addition to any Cubs lineup moving forward. 

But it would still be tough to fit Murphy on the Cubs' 2019 roster for a variety of reasons. 

For starters, if the Cubs truly have a desire to write out a more consistent lineup next year, it's tough to add another aging veteran to a mix that already includes Ben Zobrist (who will be 38 next year), especially when they both spend a majority of their time at the same position (second base) and shouldn't be considered everyday players at this stage in their respective careers.

Murphy's defense/range also doesn't figure to get much better as he ages — even with an offseason to get his knee back up to 100 percent health — and second base is a key spot for run prevention, especially in turning double plays with a pitching staff that induces a lot of contact and groundballs.

Offensively, Murphy isn't perfect, either. He's never walked much, but in 2018, he posted his lowest walk rate since 2013. He also struck out 15.7 percent of the time in a Cubs uniform and while that's a small sample size, it still represents his highest K% since his rookie 2008 season (18.5 percent). 

Then there's the splits — the left-handed Murphy hit just .238 with a .564 OPS vs. southpaws in 2018, a far cry from the .319 average and .864 OPS he posted against right-handed pitchers. That was a steep drop-off from the previous three seasons (2015-17), in which he put up a .296 average and .810 OPS against lefties.

Add it all up and Murphy's potential fit with the 2019 Cubs is questionable at best, especially if an American League team hands him more money and years to come DH for them and hit near the top of their order.

But like Epstein said, don't rule anything out.

Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way


Let's listen to the Bears-Patriots' wild finish in other languages, because it's way better that way

Remember Sunday's Bears-Patriots finish? The one where the Bears (and Kevin White -- shouts to Kevin White!) were one-yard away from tying the game on a hail mary? 

Here was the call that most viewers heard, which was Extremely Meh: 

Now here's the call that viewers in Germany and Portugal heard, which is SO MUCH BETTER: 

Turns out that being excited for an exciting play makes for good television, who woulda thought.