Redskins

1st year of Epstein overhaul: 101 losses for Cubs

201210031645603082294-p2.jpeg

1st year of Epstein overhaul: 101 losses for Cubs

CHICAGO (AP) Theo Epstein made a lot of changes during his first season as the Chicago Cubs' president of baseball operations.

Players were traded, prospects were called up, star shortstop Starlin Castro got a big-time contract and front office personnel and coaches were fired.

The season ended this week after player gaffes, fundamental mistakes and losses - lots of them. The Cubs had 101 as the franchise reached 104 years without a World Series title. Now the overhaul continues and it appears to be a long road ahead.

The Cubs lost 100 games in a season for the first time since 1966 and just the third time in their history. They set a franchise record with 103 losses in 1962 and 1966.

``It was a very disappointing season in terms of wins and losses and ultimately that's what counts,'' Epstein said Thursday during a season-ending news conference. ``It's not like we wake up and we lost 101 games, `How did that happen?' ... we just didn't have quite enough talent on the field most of the time.''

The Cubs traded veterans like Ryan Dempster, Paul Maholm, Geovany Soto, Reed Johnson and Jeff Baker for prospects they hope will bring brighter days. Oneri Fleita, the vice president of player personnel who had been with the team in some role since 1995, was fired. Hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo was let go in June and third base coach Pat Listach was fired Wednesday.

Fan favorite and reliever Kerry Wood retired and Matt Garza, expected to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher, went on the disabled list in July with an elbow problem.

Calling up first baseman Anthony Rizzo was one the best moves of the season. He proved to be No. 3 hitter they'd been searching for, batting .285 with 15 homers and 48 RBIs in 87 games.

Castro, who had some mental gaffes like forgetting how many outs there were in an inning, got a seven-year, $60 million contract and batted .283 with 183 hits. Jeff Samardzija, the former Notre Dame wide receiver, became a starter for the future with a relatively strong season, going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA before he was shut down to preserve his arm.

And Darwin Barney is another major piece for what's ahead after setting an NL record and tying a major league record with 141 straight errorless games at second base before a miscue on the final road series ended the streak.

Carlos Marmol rebounded from a shaky start that saw him lose the closer's role for a while and had 20 saves and a 3.42 ERA. Alfonso Soriano had a comeback season that few expected. The 36-year-old left fielder, who still has two years left on his eight-year, $136 million contract, responded from the cleanup spot with a .262 average, 32 homers and a career-best 108 RBIs.

Soriano said he is open to being traded in the offseason if the Cubs don't plan on contending the next two years. Chicago called up two of its top young players for the final two months and they both struggled -third baseman Josh Vitters and center fielder Brett Jackson had trouble with major league pitching.

So what can Epstein tell the fans who had to pay some of the highest average ticket prices in the majors to watch what at times was a tryout for next season?

``I'm not going to sit here and say, `Don't worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win a World Series in 2013, it's going to happen, so be there now,''' Epstein said.

``That's not the case. I think we're trying to communicate that there is a plan, there is a vision,'' he said. ``It might be a little bit longer-term than we all want it to be, but that we're committed to it, and that there's a great reward at the end. We can't guarantee results, but I can tell everybody that we're not going to be satisfied until we're in the postseason year-in and year-out, and we're in contention every year.''

Even though the Cubs' plan is to build a strong foundation with younger players, Epstein said Chicago would likely have to add to its pitching staff through free agency. Chris Volstad, acquired last season in a trade for Carlos Zambrano, ended a 24-start winless streak and finished 3-12. Travis Wood, acquired in a trade from Cincinnati last December, was 6-13 with a 4.27 ERA, and the Cubs went through a host of would-be starters during the final stretch.

Third baseman Ian Stewart, who came from Colorado last season in a move that cost the Cubs promising outfielder Tyler Colvin, batted .201 with five homers in 55 games before needing wrist surgery.

All of this was going on while Chicago drew 2.9 million fans to Wrigley Field, the first time attendance was under 3 million since 2003. Those who came saw on-the-field mistakes aplenty. Base-running boo-boos drove first-year manager Dale Sveum batty, leading him to say they were like vitamins - one a day.

Inattentive players picked off bases was one thing. But twice in the latter stages of the season, the Cubs lost a run on a potential sacrifice fly when a runner was tagged out trying to go from second to third on the same fly ball - a double play.

Despite the rough start, Epstein said he was convinced that his overhaul is headed in the right direction. He was given a five-year, $18.5 million contract nearly a year ago to see if he would do for the Cubs what he did in Boston, where he ended a long championship drought and helped the Red Sox win two World Series.

``I really feel good about a lot of things that are going on behind the scenes. Sometimes there's a delay in how long it takes that to manifest at the big league level,'' he said. ``We're going through that right now, but I feel really good about our baseball operation as a while. ... This is a very disappointing baseline that we have to grow from. My hope is that years from now, when we're celebrating successes year-in and year-out we look back at 2012 and say, `Wow, look how far we came.' And I think we will.''

Quick Links

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

dunbar-vs.-cardinals-usat.png
USA Today Sports Images

Need to Know: What’s the outlook for the Redskins’ secondary in 2018?

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, June 25, 31 days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

Fan questions—The secondary

To be sure, there are reasons to be concerned about the secondary and we’ll get into those in a bit. But the popular notion that the secondary struggled last year is not accurate.

Do you want to go standard stats? They were ninth in the league in passing yards allowed and 10th in opponent passer rating last year.

Do you prefer more advanced analytics? They were sixth in defensive passing DVOA and 11th in adjusted net yards per attempt.

That’s not a great pass defense but it was a pretty good one. It should be noted that they also benefited from a solid pass rush; they were seventh in the league in sack percentage. Still, you don’t finish in the top third of the league in pass defense without at least a competent secondary.

The question is, will it remain competent? Kendall Fuller was indeed a key player, one of the best slot corners in the league. Bashaud Breeland was inconsistent, but he did shine on occasion. But the fact that he is still available as a free agent indicates what the league thinks of him, problems passing the physical notwithstanding. Those two will have to be replaced.

It is likely that Quinton Dunbar will take Breeland’s spot on the outside. That is at worst a lateral exchange if not an improvement. Dunbar has been working for three years to get this opportunity and there is confidence among the coaches and, perhaps more importantly, the players that he is ready.

Orlando Scandrick is the probable starter at slot. He is a downgrade from Fuller, no question about it. If he is healthy—a big if—Scandrick is good enough to get the job done. Don’t let the star he wore on the side of his helmet for so many years blind you to the fact that he’s a solid player.

The depth at slot consists of second-year player Josh Holsey, who played all of nine snaps on defense last year, and rookie Greg Stroman. That’s not ideal but most of the other teams in the NFL have a similar depth chart.

The wild card who could be the difference between this secondary being better than last year or worse is Fabian Moreau. He played only 59 defensive snaps as a rookie but he did show off his speed and hard-hitting style on some of his 349 special teams snaps. During the offseason practices that were open to the media, Moreau was mostly Josh Norman’s backup at left cornerback. The feeling is that he won’t remain a reserve. We will have to see how things sort out during training camp.

There should be some improvement at safety if Montae Nicholson figures out how to stay on the field in his second year. If he struggles with injuries again and Deshazor Everett has to line up alongside D.J. Swearinger for a good chunk of the season, the safeties are no worse off because that's what happened last year. 

The bottom line is that a secondary that was good last year may take a step down in 2018 but the decline should not be steep. And if Moreau can be the player the organization thought he could be when they used a third-round pick for him, it could be just as good if not better.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCS and on Instagram @RichTandler.

Tandler on Twitter

I tweeted this in response to a discussion about the relative popularity of the NFL and NBA. Albert Breer’s tweet on the TV ratings for the leagues’ respective drafts was the nexus of the discussion.

Timeline  

Redskins cornerback Josh Holsey was born on this date in 1994.

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 31
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 45
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 59

The Redskins last played a game 176 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 76 days.

In case you missed it

Quick Links

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

usatsi_10908133.jpg
USA Today

Nationals power through rain delay, come back against Phillies

WASHINGTON -- Daniel Murphy's two-run single drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the eighth inning and the Washington Nationals rallied past the Philadelphia Phillies 8-6 on Sunday night to salvage the finale of the three-game series.

Anthony Rendon homered and doubled, Bryce Harper tied a career high with three doubles and Michael A. Taylor and Murphy each had three singles in a game that was delayed 38 minutes by rain in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Rhys Hoskins and Nick Williams homered for the Phillies, who had won three straight.

Pinch hitter Brian Goodwin led off the eighth with a walk against Victor Arano. With one out, right-hander Seranthony Dominguez (1-2) came on to face Harper, who doubled to right, with Goodwin stopping at third.

After Rendon grounded out, Juan Soto was intentionally walked and Murphy lined a 1-2 pitch to shallow right. Taylor's single made it 8-6.

Ryan Madson (2-3) pitched the eighth inning, and Sean Doolittle finished it for his 21st save.

The Phillies took a 6-2 lead in the fifth on a two-run triple by Odubel Herrera and a two-run homer by Williams.

Washington pulled within a run at 6-5 in the sixth with four two-out hits, including an RBI triple by Trea Turner and RBI doubles by Harper and Rendon.

Nick Pivetta went five innings and allowed two runs on eight hits for the Phillies.

Washington starter Jefry Rodriguez was charged with four runs and five hits in four-plus innings.

The Phillies broke on top on Hoskins's two-run homer in the third.

Rendon made it 2-1 with a solo homer in the fourth. The next three hitters singled, tying the game, but with the rain intensifying, out came the tarp. When play resumed, Pivetta struck out three straight to end the inning.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Phillies: C Andrew Knapp left in the seventh with a right knee contusion. ... 3B Maikel Franco slipped on first base and fell hard in the eighth. He stayed in to run, but left after the half-inning. ... INF Jesmuel Valent?n was placed on the paternity leave list and OF Dylan Cozens (left quadriceps strain) was reinstated from the 10-day DL.

Nationals: RHP Jeremy Hellickson (right hamstring strain) allowed 11 runs in 4 2/3 innings of a rehab start at Class A Potomac on Sunday. "I'm more concerned with the way he feels," manager Dave Martinez said, downplaying the results. "We'll go from there." ... RH reliever Brandon Kintzler (right forearm flexor strain) threw a scoreless inning at Potomac. ... RHP Stephen Strasburg (right shoulder inflammation) played catch on the field again. "We'll keep doing his throwing progression and figure out when he can actually throw from the mound," Martinez said.

UP NEXT

Phillies: RHP Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.82) starts the opener of a series against the Yankees on Monday. He is 0-0 with a 3.24 ERA in two games vs. New York.

Nationals: RHP Gio Gonzalez (6-4, 3.08) opens a series at Tampa Bay on Monday. He is 2-2 with a 5.54 ERA in six games against the Rays.