No blockbusters, but the rebuild is on for Cubs


No blockbusters, but the rebuild is on for Cubs

The draft and the trade deadline are now over, and it will take years before we know whether Theo Epstein and his crew were right on these players.

In less than 24 hours from Monday night into Tuesday afternoon the Cubs had traded two rotation pieces (Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm), a former Rookie of the Year (Geovany Soto) and a valuable bench player (Reed Johnson) for five prospects.

The Cubs (43-59) are planning for a future that wont include many of the current players. For now, they will be playing short-handed.

A.J. Burnett flirted with a no-hitter until Adrian Cardenas who was just called up from Triple-A Iowa amid all the roster moves knocked a pinch-single into right field with two outs in the eighth inning.

The Pittsburgh Pirates (59-44) went on to win 5-0 at Wrigley Field, while the Cubs are glad they no longer have to listen to all the repetitive questions about the trade deadline.

Im very happy to stay here, Alfonso Soriano said. Its sad that a lot of people (left). Now the team looks a little different, but we got to come every day strong mentally and try to do the job.

We got to keep grinding, keep playing hard. I know they want to build a new team (with) young guys, and thats good, (but) you have to finish the season. Its not over yet.

The three deals werent exactly blockbusters, but the haul included four pitchers, trying to address what Epstein believes is a real deficit.

Were getting there, general manager Jed Hoyer said. I dont think you ever are satisfied. We have to have a lot more good drafts and make some good trades and keep adding over and over.

The best teams are able to replenish their bullpen internally. Theyre able to bring up starters from the minor leagues whenever they need to. Were not at that point yet.

Casey Coleman, another call-up from Iowa, will be auditioning again. The 25-year-old right-hander gave up four runs on seven hits and four walks in 4.2 innings. Every pitching staff needs a leader to set the tone, and for so many years that guy was Dempster.

The one thing about Ryan was how consistent he was on the mound and off the field, Coleman said. He kept everybody loose, no matter how the team was doing. The best quality I learned from him was he would have a bad outing and he would be the first one to say: Hey, you go to work.

He would have a good outing and come in and do the exact same thing. Thats what you model yourself after, thats what you learn from and look up to the guy that can separate (everything.)

Thats how Dempster will be remembered in the clubhouse, as a model teammate, no matter how his image seemed to change for Cubs fans after he tried to engineer a deal to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dempster will miss walking to work at Wrigley Field, and had a genuine appreciation for the city. He still plans to keep his charitable foundation in Chicago.

But the Cubs front office and the old fan favorites are moving in two opposite directions.

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

USA Today

Why what Mike Montgomery did against LA could go a long way toward keeping him in the Cubs' rotation

Joe Maddon needed Mike Montgomery to get through at least six innings given the circumstances presenting the Cubs' manager before Game 2 of Tuesday’s day-night doubleheader against the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Not only were the Cubs short a man in the bullpen (thanks to Brandon Morrow’s pants-related back injury), but Maddon had to use four relievers — including Pedro Strop for two innings — after Tyler Chatwood managed only five innings in Game 1 earlier in the afternoon. 

So when Montgomery — who had only thrown over 100 pitches once in the last two and a half seasons before Tuesday — saw his pitch count sit at 40 after two innings, and then 63 after three, he knew he needed to regroup to avoid creating a mess for the Cubs’ bullpen. 

What followed was a start that, statistically, wasn’t the most impressive of the five Montgomery’s made since re-joining the Cubs’ rotation earlier this year. But it was an important start in that the 28-year-old left-hander didn’t have his best stuff, yet didn’t give in to a good Dodgers lineup. And holding that bunch to one run over six innings was exactly what the Cubs needed in what turned out to be a 2-1 extra-inning win. 

“Especially when you don’t have have your best stuff, you always gotta — that’s when you really learn how to pitch,” Montgomery said. 

It’s also the kind of start that could be a major point in Montgomery’s favor when Maddon is presented with a decision to make on his starting rotation whenever Yu Darvish comes off the disabled list. Knowing that Montgomery can grind his way through six innings when his team needs it the most without his best stuff only can add to the confidence the Cubs have in him. 

Montgomery didn’t have his best stuff on Tuesday, issuing more walks (four) than he had in his previous four starts (three). He threw 48 pitches between the second and third innings, and only 25 of those pitches were strikes. Of the nine times the Dodgers reached base against Montgomery, six were the result of fastballs either leading to a walk or a hit. 

Even though the Dodgers were able to bother Montgomery a bit on his fastball, Maddon said that’s the pitch of his that’s impressed him the most over the last few weeks. 

“He never got rushed,” Maddon said. “In the past he would seem to get rushed when things weren’t going well, when he spot-started. Overall, fastball command is better — even though he was off a little bit tonight, the fastball command still exceeds what I’ve seen in the past couple of years on a more consistent basis. The changeup, really, good pitch. He got out of some jams but I think the fact that he knows where his fastball is going now is the difference-maker for him.”

Darvish will throw a simulated game on Wednesday after throwing two bullpen sessions last week. Maddon still doesn’t have a timetable for the $126 million right-hander’s return, and said he’s not entertaining what to do with his rotation until Darvish comes off the disabled list. But Maddon did mention Montgomery’s relative lack of an innings load — the most he’s thrown in a season in 130 2/3, which he did in 2017 — as a reason to perhaps not rush him into a permanent starting role the rest of the season. Going to a six-man rotation is a possibility, too, Maddon said. 

But the over-arching point is this: Montgomery will remain in the Cubs’ rotation as long as he keeps earning it. That can be the product of strong outings in which he has good stuff, or games like Tuesday in which he shows the Cubs the kind of resiliency most starters need to get through a full season. 

“I pitch well, good things happen,” Montgomery said. “I’ve always thought that. Opportunities, you just gotta make the most of them.”

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 28th + 29th homers in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

For the second time in 1998, Sosa went back-to-back games with multiple home runs. After going yard twice on June 19 of that season, Slammin' Sammy again sent two balls into the bleachers on June 20.

He singlehandedly beat the Phillies that night, driving in 5 runs in a 9-4 Cubs victory.

But that wasn't the most impressive feat of the day from Sosa. His second homer was actually measured at a whopping 500 feet! It was the longest of the season, but not the longest of his career. On June 24, 2003, Sosa hit a homer at Wrigley measured at 511 feet.

The back-to-back big games raised Sosa's season OPS to 1.083 with a ridiculous .685 slugging percentage. He began June 1998 with a .608 slugging percentage.

Fun fact: Kerry Wood struck out 11 batters in 7.1 innings on June 20, 1998 to pick up his 7th big-league victory. As Wood marched to the National League Rookie of the Year that season, he finished with a 13-6 record and 233 strikeouts in only 166.2 innings for a career-high 12.6 K/9 rate.