21 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Bryant regains Minor League homer lead with No. 41

By Teddy Cahill

Cubs’ No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant retook sole possession of first place in the Minor League home run race Wednesday with a two-run home run in the third inning.

Bryant’s two-run blast, his first since last Thursday and 41st of 2014, wasn’t enough to power Triple-A Iowa to a victory, however, as Reno scored the final 10 runs of the game and won, 11-4.

Bryant, ranked No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, has hit 41 home runs between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee this season. He holds a slim edge over Rangers No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo, who has hit 40 home runs. Bryant's total is the highest by any Minor Leaguer since 2008, when Marlins farmhand Dallas McPherson bashed 42 in 127 games at Triple-A Albuquerque.

Bryant finished Wednesday’s game 2-for-3 with a walk. In 59 games since getting promoted to Iowa, the 22-year old is hitting .312/.426/.663 with 19 home runs.

Bryant’s home run Wednesday marked another milestone: It was his 50th home run as a professional. In 163 games since the Cubs made him the second overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, he is hitting .336/.432/.685 with 137 RBIs and 131 runs.

Cubs.com

Jackson struggles in Cubs’ loss to Giants

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Edwin Jackson’s spot in the rotation could be in question after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the Giants.

Jackson put up his shortest start of the season — 61 pitches over 2 2/3 innings — and allowed seven earned runs for the third time, manufactured on eight hits with two walks and two strikeouts against 18 batters.

When asked about a role shift for Jackson, whose season ERA ballooned to 5.74, manager Rick Renteria repeatedly said, “We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go.”

Of Jackson’s 26 starts this season, seven have been quality. He has averaged 6.3 hits, 4.7 strikeouts and just over 5 1/3 innings per outing. He has allowed four runs or more in 12 starts, and his only scoreless outing was a win over the Brewers on May 17.

"No one wants to be moved, but if it happens, it happens," Jackson said about a potential shift to the bullpen. "The only thing you can do if you don’t like it is go out and pitch your way out of jams. Like I said, you just have to relax and have fun and get back to having fun. And tonight was an example of absolutely not doing that.

"I haven’t really gone out and made it an easy decision for the organization and for the team."

Jackson has discussed mechanical changes throughout the season, which Renteria said have cleaned up his delivery despite a continued lack of command.

Jackson has allowed 26 earned runs in 26 first innings this season — the most of any frame, trailed closely by the 20 allowed in the second inning. He’s also thrown nine wild pitches this season — including one on Wednesday — tied for sixth most in the Majors.

"It’s command, because his velocities are still decent," Renteria said.

Jackson neither confirmed not denied when asked if he is 100 percent healthy, saying, only, “There are no excuses.”

"At the end of the day, you have a job, and your job is to go deep into games," he said. "If you ask around the league, there’s a lot of guys that are dealing with things, but no one is really making an excuse. I could have easily went out tonight and went six or seven innings, and the same questions wouldn’t be asked."

The Cubs trimmed the deficit to two runs in the second, when Chris Valaika launched his first homer of the season, a two-run, two-out shot over the right-field wall with a full count. Luis Valbuena added a solo shot in the eighth to score the game’s final run. Valbuena went 3-for-4 and finished a double shy of the cycle.

Three double plays in the first four innings curbed any offensive momentum for Chicago

"Obviously, double plays never are any team’s friend unless you’re on the defensive side," said Anthony Rizzo, crediting winning pitcher Jake Peavy for the many forced grounders. "But it’s just one of those days that you’ve got to get the ball in the air, especially with the wind blowing out."

Jackson’s early departure forced the bullpen to chew up the final 6 1/3 innings. Carlos Villanueva, Wesley Wright and Kyuji Fujikawa combined to allow just one earned run on six hits. with eight strikeouts and no walks.

"They ate up some innings, which was big, and allows us still to have some of our guys available for us tomorrow," Renteria said. "Obviously, it’s a couple games, but we’ll make some adjustments."

The Cubs will play essentially a game and a half on Thursday after Major League Baseball upheld the Giants’ protest over Tuesday’s rain-shortened game, citing mechanical malfunction. The teams will pick up in the bottom of the fifth inning at 4:05 p.m. CT and continue with the scheduled series finale at 7:05 p.m.

Cubs.com

Castro to be placed on bereavement list

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Shortstop Starlin Castro will likely be placed on the bereavement list in light of a family emergency, team officials said on Wednesday.

Castro had been slated in his customary cleanup spot for Wednesday’s game against the Giants, an 8-3 loss, but was scratched before the first pitch.

"It’s a family tragedy," manager Rick Renteria said, "so we’ll just take it one day at a time."

Players on the bereavement list are granted a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven away from the club.

As of late Wednesday night, the team had yet to make a roster adjustment to account for Castro’s absence.

Renteria said that Javier Baez, who played the bulk of his games in the Minors at shortstop, would take Castro’s post until he returned, as he did on Wednesday. Baez moved from second base, where he’s played since being called up on Aug. 5. Utility infielder Chris Valaika took over at second.

Castro is the team’s iron man, having missed just one start in 125 games before Wednesday. He has a slash line of .284/.333/.429, with 13 homers and 64 RBIs, and returned to the All-Star Game this year.

Renteria plans to give Szczur playing time

CHICAGO — Manager Rick Renteria said on Tuesday that recent callup Matt Szczur is in the thick of a bench that has four capable outfielders but that the rookie will see his time.

"He did a really nice job in Triple-A, and he’s actually been an individual we see as being able to try to platoon — see if that role kind of fits him," Renteria said.

Szczur and Justin Ruggiano are the only right-handed hitters among the five outfielders on the roster. Ryan Sweeney and Chris Coghlan bat left-handed, and Arismendy Alcantara can hit from both sides. Coghlan and Alcantara are everyday starters.

Renteria said that late-game situations would likely be the best scenarios in which he’d use Szczur, who pinch-hit during the eighth inning of the Cubs’ 8-3 loss on Wednesday. He struck out and remained in left field for the ninth.

"Obviously, the skill set that he brings in terms of speed is really big," Renteria said. "Maybe it helps generate a run, tack on a run, even a go-ahead run, tying run, whatever the case might be should the need arise."

Szczur is one of seven Cubs to have made his debut this season — six since June 28. Renteria said that the few tenured veterans, including Ruggiano and Sweeney, have been receptive to the changes in a clubhouse that is taking a youthful direction.

"I think those guys, as the season progresses, understand when young guys come up that they’re going to have to get some opportunities to play," Renteria said. "I think I’ve been very fortunate that the guys that are here are pretty understanding of the development and the movement that the organization is going in."

Szczur was recalled from Iowa on Sunday, and played in the final two games against the Mets in New York. He went 0-for-4 over the two games, starting in left field while Coghlan was sidelined with a sore toe.

Cubs.com

Giants, Cubs to play one and a half on Thursday

Bumgarner faces Wood after Tuesday’s rain-shortened game complete

By Ryan Hood

Cubs legend Ernie Banks famously coined the phrase “Let’s Play Two,” which is a bit catchier than “Let’s Play One and a Half.” But that’s precisely what will happen at Wrigley Field on Thursday.

The Giants won their protest of a rain-shortened loss on Tuesday night, when the Wrigley Field grounds crew struggled to deploy the tarp, which led to an unrecoverable amount of damage to the playing surface during a 15-minute rainstorm. More than four and a half hours later, the game was called — Cubs win, 2-0, in the bottom of the fifth. The ruling was overturned on Wednesday, and the game will be completed on Thursday prior to the regularly scheduled matchup.

Yusmeiro Petit is expected to pitch for the Giants in the continuation, with the Cubs expected to send the recently acquired Jacob Turner to the mound.

For the regularly scheduled matchup, ace Madison Bumgarner will take the mound for the Giants. He’s 9-3 with a 1.72 ERA in 14 road starts in 2014, compared with 4-6 and 5.17 at home.

Bumgarner’s 13 wins tie his second most and match his totals of 2011 and 2013. He is 2-2 with a 3.42 ERA in four career starts at Wrigley Field.

He’ll be opposed by fellow lefty Travis Wood, who has had a summer to forget.

Wood has not won in his last 11 starts and has a 5.40 ERA in that stretch. He took the loss in his most recent outing, vs. the Mets, giving up two runs on four hits, but he also walked four. His last home win came on May 18.

Given Thursday’s continuation and Edwin Jackson being chased from Wednesday night’s game after just 2 2/3 innings, necessitating a lengthy stretch by the bullpen, the Cubs will need Wood to bounce back.

Cubs: Baez learning on the job

In his first 12 games in the big leagues, hard-swinging rookie Javier Baez struck out 20 times, had 13 hits — including four home runs — and drew zero walks. That changed on Sunday, when he walked twice against the Mets.

"I think that was a byproduct of the process of his at-bats," manager Rick Renteria said. "He was staying to his strengths, seeing the ball in his zone and not being too overanxious.

"Over the long haul, he understands that if he’s swinging at pitches that [can’t be handled], they’re going to keep [throwing them], for sure. He’s 21 years old. He’s learning."

In 17 games since being called up from Triple-A Iowa, Baez is hitting .231, with five home runs and nine RBIs.

Giants: Panik has no problems with pinkie

Rookie second baseman Joe Panik showed no ill effects on Wednesday following his injury scare last Sunday, when he dislocated his left pinkie.

Panik went 3-for-5 with an RBI and a run scored in his first game action since the injury.

Panik has been on a torrid pace, hitting .438 in his last 13 games to lift his batting average, from .203 to .295.

Worth noting

• The Giants are the first team since 1986 to successfully protest a game.

• Renteria said on Wednesday that Felix Doubront will return before the club’s Aug. 30 doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Cubs.com

Giants’ protest upheld; rain-shortened game to resume

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Giants’ protest of Tuesday’s rain-shortened game was upheld on Wednesday, becoming the first protest overturned by Major League Baseball since 1986.

The game will resume at 4:05 p.m. CT on Thursday, with no outs in the bottom of the fifth and the Cubs leading, 2-0. The regularly scheduled series finale will follow at 7:05 p.m.

Major League Baseball made the announcement just before the first pitch on Wednesday, citing a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club” in its ruling, which falls under Rule 4.12(a)(3).

"All along, that’s part of why we were here until 2 in the morning yesterday, trying to find a way and look in the rule and finding a way to hopefully make it a suspended game," general manager Jed Hoyer said after the decision.

Through Joe Torre, executive vice president for baseball operations, MLB determined that the malfunction stemmed from a failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its prior use.

Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, said after Tuesday’s game that the rule wasn’t initially applicable because the tarp was hauled manually.

But MLB determined the crew’s inability to deploy the tarp appropriately through both video and dialogue with team officials and crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt.

"The more they watched it, the more it was clear that the thing got off angle right away," Hoyer said. "That was a big part of what happened."

Because MLB ruled that the grounds crew worked diligently to comply with a directive to cover the field, any basis for the game to be forfeited by the Cubs via Rule 4.16 was erased.

The controversy of the initial decision surrounded the importance of the game for the Giants in the National League pennant race. After Wednesday’s 8-3 win, the Giants have sole possession of the second NL Wild Card berth and are two games behind the Cardinals for the first. San Francisco trails NL West-leading Los Angeles by three games.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy commended the Cubs for making every effort to suspend and eventually complete the game.

"They were all for this — Theo, Jed and [Cubs manager] Rick [Renteria]," Bochy said. "They wanted to do the right thing."

Hoyer praised Major League Baseball for the quick pace of its ruling. The Giants and Cubs share a Sept. 4 off-day, but Hoyer hoped to avoid any situation in which the Giants would be forced to return to Chicago.

"I’m glad they were able to make sure we can play tomorrow, otherwise it would have been kind of awkward to have them come back here to finish this thing up," Hoyer said.

Those holding tickets from Tuesday may attend the 4:05 p.m. game and stay for the evening contest. Those with Thursday tickets may attend the early game as well.

Ticket-holders from Tuesday may instead opt to swap for a weeknight game during the remainder of the season.

"This organization, to me, always seems to do things the right way when it comes to taking care of their fans, so that’s no surprise," Cubs catcher John Baker said.

The snafu started in the middle of the fifth inning on Tuesday, just before 9 p.m. The grounds crew struggled to spread the tarp over the infield amid high winds and a heavy downpour that lasted roughly 10 minutes.

By the time the field was covered, it was unsalvagable. After a delay of four hours and 34 minutes — during which with the crew rapidly worked to repair the field — the game was called with the Cubs ahead, 2-0.

The storm was isolated in a small pocket over the north side of Chicago. The Orioles-White Sox game, 10 miles south at U.S. Cellular Field, was not affected.

"I just think that’s the nature of this area," Hoyer said. "There’s no question that the field was really wet when the tarp got out there. You don’t really have to be perfect in how you do it, because there’s no margin for error once the field gets wet, and it got wetter than usual because there wasn’t any warning, or very little warning."

Hoyer hopes that the malfunction rule is discussed at the General Managers Meetings this offseason, perhaps even for a vote to alter its application.

"Obviously, if I have a vote on it, I would make that rule change and allow that to be a suspended game," he said. "Hopefully, we’ll be able to convince some other people to vote the same way, having gone through this."

Hoyer also praised the grounds crew.

"Our grounds crew does a good job — pretty good batting average when it comes to getting these right," he said while also noting that the crew will discuss the matter internally. "Obviously, you’ve got to bat 1.000 in this situation, but they’re really good at their job. We like working with them. I don’t think it’s an indictment on anyone."

A 28-year streak of denied protests ended with Wednesday’s ruling.

The last time a protest was upheld was in 1986, a game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh. The Pirates claimed that the contest was improperly called early for rain after separate delays of 17 minutes and 22 minutes, which prematurely gave the Cardinals a 4-1 win.

Then-NL president Charles Feeney ruled a day later that the game be made up before the next evening’s regularly scheduled contest, with one out in the top of the sixth. NL regulations at the time required delays of 75 and 45 minutes during an initial and subsequent delay, respectively, before the game could be called.

Those laws have since been altered.

Current MLB rule 4.01(d) states that umpires have sole authority to determine when a game shall be called, suspended or resumed on account of weather or the condition of the playing field — as was the case on Tuesday.

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo won’t comment on suspended game

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Before Wednesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was diplomatic about the notion the San Francisco Giants probably didn’t get a fair outcome when umpires declared the Cubs winners the night before in a 4 1/2-inning game that was called because of unplayable conditions after a 15-minute downpour and a 4-hour, 34-minute delay.

"I can see why they are very upset, but it’s the rule," Rizzo said before the Cubs lost to the Giants 8-3 on Wednesday night. "A rule is a rule. We have no problems with the Giants. We respect them. It’s unfortunate. It just happened."

That was before the Giants won a protest of the game. About an hour before the first pitch Wednesday, the league said the game Tuesday would now be suspended and completed Thursday afternoon.

"I think it would be better if I didn’t comment on that," Rizzo said after the new decision was announced.

No one likes giving back a win, and in this case the Cubs’ hierarchy helped the Giants make their case. They admitted the tarp wasn’t properly ready to be deployed, opening the door for winning the protest.

"I will reiterate what I said last night, I believe in karma," manager Rick Renteria said. "And everyone was trying to do the right thing yesterday. We didn’t make the decision, the league made the decision, this is what should be done. We’re going to abide by it and hopefully we’ll go out there and finish it off."

But again, the Cubs helped the league make the decision by advocating for the Giants. Earlier, general manager Jed Hoyer admitted sportsmanship won out over the Cubs adding a win to their season. That might be easier to swallow for someone in management but not a player.

"I’m just not going to say anything about it," a clearly annoyed Rizzo said.

ESPNChicago.com

Jackson’s starting role coming to a close?

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The end of the line might be in sight for Chicago Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson’s hopes of remaining a starter after his latest performance. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings against the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday night and gave up seven runs in an 8-3 loss.

"No one wants to be moved," Jackson said about a possible new role in the bullpen. "The only thing you can do if you don’t like it is go out there and pitch out of jams. I have to get back to having fun. Tonight was an example of absolutely not doing that. Just being uptight and battling yourself."

Jackson has never shied away from explaining his woes, but the time for explanations is about over. The Cubs seemingly have to take action on the pitcher with the highest ERA (6.09) among regular starters.

"We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go," manager Rick Renteria said.

In fact, Renteria said that about three times, which revealed little in words but plenty in meaning.

"It’s command," he said. "His velocity is still decent."

Said Jackson: “It’s just terrible. There is no excuse for it. I didn’t help myself. I didn’t help my team.”

It was batting practice for the Giants, as the only out among the first seven batters came on a sacrifice fly. Jackson gave up line drives and several home runs.

"If it happens, it happens," Jackson said of being taken out of the rotation. "I haven’t made it an easy decision for the organization or the team."

The bigger picture is what to do with Jackson over the remainder of his contract. He is owed $22 million the next two seasons. Will the Cubs simply eat most or all of that salary? A team turning the corner with young players is going to have a hard time finding a place for him. But that’s for six weeks from now. At this moment, a move to the bullpen seems to be in order.

"If that’s the case, I haven’t fought to not make that a case," Jackson said. "Would I be happy? I haven’t done anything to help it. You have to pitch deep into games. … It’s pretty much black and white. There’s no gray area. I’ll deal with it when it comes."

ESPNChicago.com

Castro to go on bereavement list

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs expect shortstop Starlin Castro to go on the bereavement list as he tends to a death in his family in the Dominican Republic.

"It’s a family tragedy, so we’ll just take it one day at a time," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after the Cubs’ 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants on Wednesday.

Castro was scratched from the lineup about two hours before the game. It was the first time he hadn’t started a game this season.

"That’s life," teammate Anthony Rizzo said. "Anything can happen at any moment. You have to be grateful for a lot of things."

Per league rules, Castro will miss three to seven days. This season, Castro is hitting .284 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Giants 8, Cubs 3

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs lost to the San Francisco Giants 8-3 on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Edwin Jackson gave up seven runs in the first three innings as the Giants pulled away early. They scored four runs in the first inning with Pablo Sandoval, Joe Panik and Travis Ishikawa racking up the RBIs. The Cubs struck back when Chris Valaika hit his first home run as a Cub, a two-run shot in the second. But three more runs in the third by the Giants, including another RBI by Ishikawa and a two-run home run by Andrew Susac, put the game away. Hunter Pence hit a long ball the next inning. Luis Valbuena went deep in the eighth to complete the scoring.

What it means: There’s simply nothing left to say about Jackson that hasn’t been said. He lasted only 2⅔ innings, giving up eight hits, two walks and seven runs. His ERA is 6.09, by far the highest in baseball among regular starters. No other pitcher who qualifies for the ERA title has one over 5.00.

Turner for Thursday: Jacob Turner will take over on the mound for the Cubs when they resume play in their suspended game with the Giants at 4:05 p.m. CT on Thursday.

What’s next: After the completion of their suspended game Thursday afternoon, the teams will play the series finale later in the night with Travis Wood (7-10, 4.86 ERA) taking on Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 3.14).

ESPNChicago.com

Hoyer: ‘They get a fair shot now’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — In an unusual twist, the Chicago Cubs advocated for their opponent as the San Francisco Giants were able to win a protest of Tuesday’s game, which had originally been called after 4 1/2 innings and declared a Cubs victory.

"The idea of losing a game where you hit five times isn’t right," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday. "I hope we win the [suspended] game, but they get a fair shot at winning the game now."

The game will be picked up in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cubs leading the Giants 2-0. Hoyer faced some tough questions as Major League Baseball directed fault around the Cubs’ grounds crew, which — according to the league — didn’t properly “wrap and spool the tarp” after its previous use.

"Our grounds crew does a great job," Hoyer said. "A pretty good batting average when it comes to getting these right. Obviously you have to bat 1.000 in this situation."

Others think the grounds crew at Wrigley Field has a tougher task then at other stadiums.

"The dirt is thicker here, the grass is thicker here, there’s rocks on the warning track," catcher John Baker said. "When I played in the old Marlins stadium it would rain and rain hard and that field would be ready 25 minutes later.

"The blame is spread across multiple different parties. This field is really old, doesn’t drain the best, that’s an issue. … I was pretty confident, once it started raining [and] the tarp wasn’t on that there’s no way anyone was going to fix that field."

Hoyer was less sure of Baker’s assessment saying, “I think it [Wrigley Field] does a pretty good job. The outfield drains well.”

Whatever the case, all parties agree the league did the right thing, but the rules need to be re-evaluated so an occurrence like Tuesday’s doesn’t happen again.

"It’s not a good feeling when 15 minutes of rain causes the cancellation of a major league game," Giants outfielder Hunter Pence said. "I’ve never seen that before."

Baker says he thinks the whole thing went on too long. He’s probably not alone. A 4-hour, 34-minute rain delay seems a bit much.

"One of the things we might ask for in the future regarding the collective bargaining agreement is if you have a game and it’s a official game and you’ve waited an hour or two hours and it’s midnight, just call it at that point," Baker said. "It’s why we play 162 and not 30. If we were playing a football season with 16 games, yeah you have to play the game."

The Giants will get their chance to play but presumably only because of help from the Cubs.

"That’s why we were here until two in the morning yesterday," Hoyer said. "Looking at the rule and finding a way to make it a suspended game. Once we were able to look at video and look at the tarp, it was obviously a mechanical issue there with how it was put away. We’re glad it happened. It was a just outcome. We’ll play a real game. Hopefully we’ll win."

ESPNChicago.com

Family emergency keeps Castro out

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was not in the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the San Francisco Giants because of a family emergency, the club announced.

Castro played in all of the Cubs previous 125 games this season after playing in 161 games last season and 162 in 2012. He’s hitting .284 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs. The Cubs did not know if Castro would miss more than Wednesday’s game.

Starting second base Javier Baez is playing shortstop, and Chris Valaika will play second. Luis Valbuena is batting fourth, Castro’s normal spot in the order.

ESPNChicago.com

Giants win appeal of tarp game

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The San Francisco Giants have prevailed in their protest of Tuesday night’s game, when the field became an unplayable mess after the Chicago Cubs ground crew was unable to get the tarp on in time in the bottom of the fifth inning.

The game between the Giants and Chicago Cubs will resume at 4:05 p.m. CT Thursday before the teams’ regularly scheduled game. It will start in the bottom of the fifth inning with the Cubs leading 2-0.

It is the first time an MLB team has won a protest since 1986.

"I thought we had a strong case,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I’m just thankful and grateful that they [MLB] were open minded.

"They listened and they looked at it, and I think it’s the fair thing to do.”

The league determined the Cubs’ inability to deploy their tarp “was caused by the failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use,” according to an MLB statement.

The field got soaked in just 15 minutes of a hard downpour, halting play after 4 1/2 innings, the minimum length for a regulation major league game. That began a 4-hour, 34-minute delay that extended until the victory was awarded to the Cubs in the wee hours Wednesday morning.

The Giants decided to protest based on Rule 4.12 (a) (3), which states a game can be suspended due to a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club.” The Cubs’ tarp, as determined by Major League Baseball, fell under these guidelines.

The Giants also requested the Cubs forfeit the game but were denied that part of the protest, as crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt determined the grounds crew did everything in its power to get the field playable again.

"Our grounds crew does a great job," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "A pretty good batting average when it comes to getting these right. Obviously, you have to bat 1.000 in this situation."

The Giants said they were surprised by the decision.

"How couldn’t you be?" pitching coach Dave Righetti said. "How many have been upheld?"

Hoyer called it a “just” decision.

"The last thing you want is a playoff team feeling bitter about the result here,” Hoyer said. "And obviously it was caused by our organization. It’s a good outcome.

"Hopefully we win the game. We have a 2-0 lead and pick it up from there."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria agreed with Hoyer that the game should be completed.

"I believe in karma, OK,” Renteria said. "The league has made the decision that this is what should be done. We’re going to abide by it, and hopefully we go out there and finish it off.”

The Giants are the first to prevail in an MLB game protest in 28 years. On June 16, 1986, the Pirates won a protest that a game in Pittsburgh against St. Louis ended prematurely with the Cardinals leading 4-1. The game was resumed two days later, and the Cardinals held on to win 4-2.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs GM Hoyer says MLB got it right with Giants winning protest

By Patrick Mooney

This isn’t exactly how the Cubs envisioned impacting the pennant race, making waves with a rain-shortened game at Wrigley Field that ended after a delay that lasted four hours and 34 minutes.

But they agreed with Major League Baseball’s decision to uphold the protest filed by the San Francisco Giants. So a game that began Tuesday night and got called Wednesday morning will resume play on Thursday at 4:05 p.m., with the Cubs leading 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning.

“I definitely think it was the just outcome,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said after Wednesday’s ruling. “The last thing we wanted is a playoff team feeling bitter about the result here. It’s something that was obviously caused by our organization.”

The Giants became the first team in 28 years to win a protest like this, studying the video and arguing the field became unplayable after a mechanical issue, not a manual error. That sets up a quasi-doubleheader at Clark and Addison.

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, issued a statement highlighting Rule 4.12(a)(3), saying the Cubs failed to “properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use.”

“The more they watched it, the more it was clear that the thing got off-angle right away,” Hoyer said. “That was a big part of what happened.”

The crowd had chanted “Pull! Pull! Pull!” as the grounds crew struggled to quickly cover the infield on Tuesday night during a flash storm that lasted about 15 minutes.

“Our grounds crew does a great job,” Hoyer said. “They have a pretty good batting average when it comes to getting these right. Obviously, you got to bat 1.000 in this situation, but they’re really good at their job and we like working with them. I don’t think it’s an indictment on anyone. I’m glad the outcome is what it is.”

Backup catcher John Baker – who strummed his guitar in the dugout as the Cubs got a little punch drunk during the delay – looked at what was supposed to be a state-of-the-art drainage system, installed before Opening Day 2008.

“I don’t think there’s any blame necessarily, because it’s more of an accident,” Baker said. “Blame is, I think, spread across multiple different parties. This field’s really old. It doesn’t drain the best. That’s an issue.

“No human beings can fix that. Those poor guys put like 8,000 pounds of dirt literally on the field.”

Crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt also waited to call for the tarp as a “light mist” fell in the top of the fifth inning. The umpire told a pool reporter that he had no warnings there would be a downpour.

“This is Chicago,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “Try predicting the weather here, you’re crazy. From what I heard, this wasn’t on the radar at all. Our grounds crew does a really good job of handling the weather, especially with the lake spitting it back at us all the time.

“People are feeling bad for them, but, really, they do a great job. They tried their best and I can understand why the Giants are very upset. But this is Chicago. The weather here is insane all-year-round.”

The Cubs will give the ball to Jacob Turner on Thursday afternoon and try to make it through another long night on the North Side. The forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms with a 60 percent chance of rain.

“We’ve been in pennant races before,” Hoyer said. “You scoreboard-watch every single night and every game means so much. The idea of losing a game where you hit five times – it isn’t right. I hope we win the game. But they’ll get a fair shot at winning the game now.”

CSNChicago.com

Hard to see Rusney Castillo in Cubs uniform with decision coming

By Patrick Mooney

It’s getting harder and harder to picture Rusney Castillo in a Cub uniform.

If the Cubs aren’t quite out of the Castillo sweepstakes yet, there’s definitely a growing sense the Cuban outfielder will go to a higher bidder, a source familiar with the negotiations said Wednesday.

The Detroit Tigers and Boston Red Sox are viewed as frontrunners, with the San Francisco Giants said to be lurking in the background. CBSSports.com also identified the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and Seattle Mariners as “serious players” with a final decision coming soon.

As the market for Cuban players keeps exploding, an industry source confirmed Castillo’s price tag will wind up being much closer to what the White Sox guaranteed Jose Abreu ($68 million) than what the Los Angeles Dodgers invested in Yasiel Puig ($42 million).

Two weeks ago, the Cubs hosted Castillo for a private workout at Wrigley Field, putting his image up on the LED board in right field. They had also sent five scouts to South Florida to watch his showcase at the University of Miami in late July.

Baseball America listed Castillo at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds, with 70 speed graded on the 20-80 scale. Multiple team officials have said how much the Cubs like the 27-year-old athlete.

But that doesn’t mean the Cubs are prepared to go all-out now, given their strong collection of position-player prospects and especially if Castillo is being sold as someone who can immediately help a contending team in September.

With the Cubs playing for 2015, look for Theo Epstein’s front office to shop for an accomplished veteran hitter or two this winter, to help take the pressure off Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo.

CSNChicago.com

Edwin Jackson knows Cubs could make changes soon

By Patrick Mooney

The boos for Edwin Jackson started in the first inning on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, Cubs fans getting that here-we-go-again-feeling with the $52 million pitcher.

Manager Rick Renteria didn’t make any major announcements after an 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants that had zero suspense. But the Cubs and Jackson understand they can’t keep doing this.

Whether that means Jackson working on the side, getting skipped in the rotation or moving to the bullpen, he understands the questions will keep coming when you have a 6-14 record and a 6.09 ERA.  

“If it happens, it happens,” Jackson said. “I haven’t really gone out and made an easy decision for the organization or for the team. It’s one of those things where you just have to kind of take it in stride. Not going deep into games as a starter isn’t beneficial for the team, especially when you get paid to go deep into games.

“You have to deal with it as it comes. If it happens, it’s not the end of the world. You just have to continue to bust your butt and gain back what you feel you can do.”

Jackson couldn’t finish the third inning, giving up seven runs on eight hits and two walks, handing the Giants (66-58) another victory not long after they won their protest with Major League Baseball over TarpGate.

Jacob Turner will get the ball when the suspended game resumes on Thursday afternoon. Felix Doubront is only one more rehab outing away (Double-A Tennessee) from starting a game in the Aug. 30 doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. 

Even with those rotation options emerging, Renteria stuck to his Jackson talking point during the postgame news conference, three times saying some version of: “We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go.”

Jackson (four runs) again showed the first-inning issues that make the Cubs doubt he would be able to handle the transition to being a reliever.

“No one wants to be moved,” Jackson said, “but if it happens, the only thing you can do if you don’t like it is to go out and pitch your way out of jams.

“Would I be happy? I haven’t done anything to help it. You have to go out and you have to pitch deep into games (and) I haven’t done that. Like I say, there’s no excuses. I don’t really make excuses. It’s pretty much black and white. There’s not a gray area. So if that change comes, I’ll deal with it when it comes and continue to pitch.”

CSNChicago.com

Starlin Castro leaves Cubs to deal with family emergency

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs scratched Starlin Castro from Wednesday’s lineup as the All-Star shortstop left the team to deal with a family emergency.

Club officials respected Castro’s privacy, declining to release details or speculate exactly how long he might be away. The expectation is Castro will return home to the Dominican Republic and likely go on the bereavement list.

“It’s a family tragedy,” manager Rick Renteria said, “so we’ll just take it one day at a time.”

Castro had played in all 125 games this season and reported to work on Wednesday at Wrigley Field. He was hitting cleanup in the initial version of Wednesday’s lineup before the Cubs made the changes.

Javier Baez – the mega-prospect who started playing second base at Triple-A Iowa last month – went back to his natural position and took over at shortstop in an 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants. 

To this point, Castro had been enjoying a bounce-back year, returning to the All-Star Game and hitting .284 with 13 homers and 64 RBI, again looking comfortable and confident.

Iowa infielder Logan Watkins would appear to be the logical choice to take Castro’s roster spot in the short-term.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs GM Hoyer on field issues: ‘That really shouldn’t happen’

By Tony Andracki

The Cubs-Giants series at Wrigley got off to a wacky start Tuesday night when a brief rainstorm caused a four-and-a-half-inning win for the Cubs.

After the Giants batted in the top of the fifth inning, a downpour started at Wrigley Field and the Cubs grounds crew couldn’t get the tarp out in time, leaving a small lake in the infield. Four hours later, the field was still deemed unplayable and the game was called with the Cubs up 2-0.

That saddled the Giants with a tough loss to swallow in the middle of a pennant race and they have filed an official protest.

Cubs GM Jed Hoyer, who was down on the field during the fiasco, joined the “Kap and Haugh Show” Wednesday morning to discuss how everything went down:

"We wouldn’t have waited around all night if we didn’t want to play and want to get the game going," Hoyer said. "Theo [Epstein] and I, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how we could do that. We didn’t want to win the game that way.

"I wouldn’t blame anybody for what happened, but certainly as an organization, I think we take responsibility for the fact that a quick, little, 10- to 15-minute popup rain storm ended up canceling a Major League Baseball game. That really shouldn’t happen."

Check out more from Hoyer in the video above.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant hits 41st HR, Russell 12th HR

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Wednesday at Reno:  2-for-3, 2-run home run, walk, strikeout.

Trending:  15-for-46 (.326), 5 home runs, 13 RBIs, 13 walks, 18 strikeouts.

Season: 127 games, .336 batting average, 41 home runs, 105 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Wednesday at Reno: did not play.

Trending: 2-for-31 (.065), 2 doubles, RBI, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  57 games, .317 batting average, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Wednesday at Montgomery: 2-for-4, 2-run home run, 2 runs, double play.

Trending: 9-for-23 (.391), 3 home runs, 9 runs, 11 RBI.

Season:  59 games, .307 batting average, 13 home runs, 42 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Wednesday at Montgomery: 2-for-4, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 9-for-24 (.375), 3 runs, 3 RBI, 5 strikeouts.

Season: 114 games, .275 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Jackson’s starting status in jeopardy with Cubs

By Mark Gonzales

Edwin Jackson might have finally pitched himself out of the Cubs rotation, while Javier Baez will return to his original position on a temporary basis.

Jackson’s last debacle — a 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants — was so convincing that he realized he might have lost his final chance to turn around a miserable season.

“Nobody wants to be moved,” said Jackson, who was booed during a four-run first inning and allowed seven runs in 2 2/3 innings. “If it happens, the only thing you can do if you don’t like it is to pitch your way out of jams. You just have to relax and have fun and have to get back to having fun. (Wednesday) was an example of not doing it.

“It’s not the end of the world. Would I be happy? I haven’t done anything to help it. You have to go out and pitch deep into games.”

Jackson’s ERA swelled to 6.09, and this equaled his shortest outing dating back to Sept. 28, 2013 at St. Louis.

“It’s just terrible,” Jackson said. “No excuse for it. I didn’t help myself, I didn’t help my team. A prime example of not loosening it up and let the game come to you.

"If (a change) happens, it happens. You know I haven’t really gone out and made it an easy decision for the organization or the team. It’s one of those things you have to take it in stride, not going deep in games as a starter isn’t beneficial for the team especially when you get paid to go deep into games. You deal with it as it comes.”

With Monday as a day off, the Cubs could skip Jackson’s next start scheduled for Tuesday at Cincinnati, or they could insert Jacob Turner, who will start the resumption of the suspended game on Thursday.

“We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go,” manager Rick Renteria said of Jackson’s status.

Meanwhile, Baez played flawlessly at shortstop, as he was credited with four assists. Baez will remain at shortstop while Starlin Castro attends to a family emergency in his native Dominican Republic and appears destined for the bereavement list.

“He did look good,” Renteria said.

Ironically, Renteria was more expansive when asked about Major League Baseball’s decision to uphold the Giants’ protect and resume play Thursday in the bottom of the fifth inning from Tuesday’s game rather than grant the Cubs a victory.

“I believe in karma, OK?” Renteria said. “And I think everyone was trying to do the right thing. We didn’t make the decision. The league made the decision what should be done. We’ll abide by it and hopefully we’ll finish it off.”

First baseman Anthony Rizzo chose his words carefully.

“I think it would be better if I didn’t comment on it,” Rizzo said.

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday’s recap: Giants 8, Cubs 3

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Giants jumped on starter Edwin Jackson for four runs in the first inning and added three in the third to snap the Cubs’ two-game winning streak. Jackson could be bumped from the rotation.

At the plate

Chris Valaika hit a two-run home run, his first as a Cub, in the second inning off Jake Peavy. But Chris Coghlan struck out with runners at first and second to end the rally.

On the mound

Jackson allowed a two-run double to Travis Ishikawa that capped the Giants’ four-run first.

In the field

Javier Baez played flawlessly in his first major league start at shortstop in place of Starlin Castro, who appears headed for the bereavement list.

The number

9.00: Jackson’s ERA in the first inning this season.

The quote

Jackson: “Nobody wants to be moved. If it happens, the only thing you can do if you don’t like it is to pitch your way out of jams. You just have to relax and get back to having fun. Tonight was an example of not doing it.”

Up next

Giants (TBA) at Cubs (Turner 4-7, 5.80), 4:05 p.m. Thursday, CSN., resumption of suspended game.

Giants (Bumgarner 13-9, 3.14) at Cubs (Wood 7-10, 4.86), 7:05 p.m. Thursday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs satisfied even after protest goes Giants’ way

By Mark Gonzales

The Cubs and their fans can take solace that they didn’t have to forfeit Tuesday night’s game.

But their victory was erased as the Giants won the first protest in 28 years. Major League Baseball ruled Wednesday that a mechanical failure involving the Wrigley Field tarp caused a 4-hour, 36-minute delay.

As a result, the Cubs and Giants will resume Tuesday’s game at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, with the Cubs batting in the bottom of the fifth inning with a 2-0 lead.

The Cubs also will be without All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro, who left before Wednesday night’s game to attend to a family emergency in his native Dominican Republic that likely will result in his being placed on the bereavement list.

It might seem odd, but Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said he was satisfied that Tuesday’s game will resume instead of the Cubs being awarded a rain-shortened win.

“The last thing you want is a playoff team feeling bitter about the result here,” Hoyer said of the Giants, who are battling for the National League West title and wild-card berth.”It’s something that was caused by our organization. It’s a good outcome. Hopefully we win the game with a 2-0 lead.”

With Castro out, Javier Baez will play shortstop, and he played flawlessly in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss Wednesday that put Edwin Jackson’s status in the rotation in jeopardy.

“We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go,” manager Rick Renteria said after Jackson (6-14) allowed seven earned runs in 2 2/3 innings.

Although Hoyer and several Cubs players defended the grounds crew, Major League Baseball clearly pointed the finger at the crew in citing a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club.”

The Giants supplied videotape that showed the tarp being deployed improperly because it was not spooled correctly after its last use. That led to excess water being dumped onto the infield dirt when the crew attempted to remove the tarp. The crew tried to get the field dry, but the umpires called it at 1:16 a.m., awarding a 2-0 victory to the Cubs.

MLB determined the struggles to deploy the tarp put the field at peril after the rain worsened, but they ruled out grounds for a forfeit after agreeing with the contention of umpire crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt that the grounds crew worked diligently to prepare the field.

“The more they watched (video), the more it was clear the (tarp) got off angle right away, and that was a big part of what happened,’’ Hoyer said, adding: “The tarp pull has to be a 100 percent thing. We missed that one (Tuesday) night. And that will be discussed. They do a great job, given the fact we have so many delays.”

It was the first time a team won a protest that resulted in the resumption of play since 1986 and the 15th time in major league history.

“Surprised?” Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti said. “Yes. How couldn’t you be? How many years in this game? How many have been upheld? That’s incredible.”

Righetti recalled there were only a few thousand people in the stands for the resumption of the “Pine Tar Game” in 1983 when the Royals won a protest over Righetti’s Yankees.

Jacob Turner will resume pitching for the Cubs after Tsuyoshi Wada pitched five scoreless innings.

Anthony Rizzo didn’t seem happy about losing a win and having to resume Tuesday’s game.

“I think it would be better if I didn’t comment on it,” Rizzo said.

Extra innings: Ticket holders from Tuesday’s suspended game can redeem their tickets for Thursday’s 4:05 p.m. game and stay for the regularly scheduled 7:05 p.m. game. Ticket holders for the 7:05 game also may attend the 4:05 game from their ticketed seats. To redeem tickets, fans must present the ticket from Tuesday’s game at the Wrigley ticket office. Tickets may be redeemed for the best comparable seats and are subject to availability. Tickets cannot be refunded or exchanged for cash value. Ticket holders from Tuesday’s game who cannot attend Thursday’s game can choose for a complimentary weeknight game at Wrigley Field during the rest of the season. … Left-hander Felix Doubront is scheduled to make his Cubs debut on Aug. 30 at St. Louis. Doubront will make his final rehab start for Double-A Tennessee.

Chicago Sun-Times

Staffing issue may have been responsible for Cubs ‘tarp gate’

By Gordon Wittenmyer

A staffing decision by the Cubs’ stadium operations might have made as big a difference as any “mechanical’’ issue in creating the tarp-related mess Tuesday night that led to the historic decision Wednesday to uphold the San Francisco Giants’ challenge of what was originally ruled a rain-shortened Cubs victory.

Sources said the Cubs ordered grounds-crew staffing reductions this week to cover recent “overages” in hours by the crew.

The crew’s failure to quickly cover the field with the tarp during a sudden heavy shower in the fifth inning Tuesday night — and spillage while removing it — created unplayable field conditions that could not be resolved during a four-hour, 34-minute delay.

The Giants filed a protest. And a swift review by MLB officials resulted in the first successful protest in the majors in 28 years.

With Cubs’ baseball officials supporting the Giants’ efforts, MLB determined that the tarp had not been properly rolled up after its previous use, creating a “malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club” — the only provision in the rule book allowing for a “regulation” five-inning game to be suspended.

It’s scheduled to resume at 4:05 p.m. Thursday, with the Cubs leading 2-0 to start the bottom of the fifth inning. Pitcher Jacob Turner will take over for starter Tsuyoshi Wada. The teams then play their regularly scheduled game at 7:05.

“I think it was a just outcome,” said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, taking responsibility for the Cubs causing the problem. “I hope to win the game, but they’ll get a fair shot at winning the game now.”

Hoyer lauded the quality and efforts of the grounds crew and did not attribute the problems to staffing. The Cubs’ baseball department appeared to have no knowledge of the details of that department.

But he did say the club planned to review what went wrong Tuesday night. Widely respected head groundskeeper Roger Baird was not available for comment.

But a source with knowledge of the crew working Tuesday night said only 12 regular members of the grounds crew staffed that game, instead of the typical 25. Inexperienced “facilities employees” supplemented the more seasoned crew members.

Whether that was the direct cause of the problems, it took two tries by Tuesday’s crew to cover the infield — failing the first time after stopping the roll at a bad angle and winding up with third base and home plate uncovered.

The Cubs’ business and stadium operations dispute any unusual staffing measures for Tuesday’s game or any staffing decisions based on budget overruns.

Spokesman Julian Green said the “morning crew” stays to help the night crew if rain is in the forecast but that because rain was not in the forecast, that crew was not there.

“That said, we had enough people on the crew Tuesday night and every night to pull the tarp when warranted, and the number has never presented a problem,” Green said via email. “We believe we have the best grounds crew in the business and this was simply an extraordinary occurrence given the bizarre weather system.”

Yet one source said more than 20 crew members typically pull the tarp when needed, but an unofficial count from Tuesday showed 15 on the first try (with 10 jumping to the side to try to adjust the errant angle) and 20 then pulling on the second, more successful try.

NOTES: An unsuccessful part of the Giants’ protest included an effort to have the game forfeited by the Cubs.

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was put on the bereavement list Wednesday and returned home to the Dominican Republic after learning he lost four friends and family members in a car accident Wednesday. It’s unclear how long he’ll be gone.

Rookie Javy Baez moved from second to make his major-league debut at shortstop in Castro’s place.

Edwin Jackson (6-14, 6.09 ERA) suffered his worst start, allowing seven runs in 22/3 innings in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss. He has the worst ERA in the majors, by more than a full point, among qualifying pitchers.

Daily Herald

Giants’ protest upheld; Cubs game to resume Thursday

By Bruce Miles

Just call it going from the slime to the ridiculous to the sublime.

In a dizzying and wearying 24-hour period, the Cubs went from presumably winning a game against the Giants to having that game protested to being forced to pick up where they left off because of mucky playing conditions at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs went to bed in the wee hours of Wednesday thinking they had won a rain-shortened 2-0 victory. The game was stopped after 4½ innings because of a heavy but brief rainstorm and delayed 4 hours and 34 minutes while a beleaguered grounds crew worked frantically to dry out the infield dirt.

The suddenness and severity of the rain, coupled with the grounds crew’s inability to get the tarp onto the field quickly enough — the basis for the Giants’ protest — caused the skin of the infield to look something like quicksand.

Umpires called the game at 1:16 a.m. Wednesday, giving the Cubs a victory in a then-official game.

However, the Giants filed a protest with Major League Baseball, citing a mechanical failure with the tarp, which was their only hope of the game being suspended and picked up.

MLB agreed, and the teams will resume Tuesday’s game at 4 p.m. Thursday. The Cubs will come to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning. After that game is over, they’ll play Thursday night’s regularly scheduled game at 7:05 p.m.

Jacob Turner will pitch for the Cubs in relief of Tsuyoshi Wada, who gets a complete-game shutout removed from his record.

The Giants had sought a forfeit victory, but MLB’s executive vice president Joe Torre didn’t go that far.

"An examination of the circumstances of last night’s game has led to the determination that there was sufficient cause to believe that there was a ‘malfunction of a mechanical field device under control of the home club’ within the meaning of Official Baseball Rule 4.12(a)(3)," an MLB statement read. "Available video of the incident, and conversations with representatives of the Cubs, demonstrate that the Cubs’ inability to deploy the tarp appropriately was caused by the failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use.

"As a result, the groundskeeping crew was unable to properly deploy the tarp after the rain worsened. In accordance with Rule 4.12(a)(3), the game should be considered a suspended game that must be completed at a future date.

"In addition, Major League Baseball has spoken with last night’s crew chief, Hunter Wendelstedt, and has concluded that the grounds crew worked diligently in its attempt to comply with his direction and cover the field. Thus, there is no basis for the game to be forfeited by the Cubs pursuant to Rule 4.16. "

Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who was fuming early Wednesday, was more subdued before the teams met for the second game of the series Wednesday night.

"We just appreciate Major League Baseball reviewing this protest," Bochy said. "They did all they could last night. I’m talking about Major League Baseball trying to get this right, and the Cubs. I talked to Rick (Cubs manager Renteria). Certain other people talked to Theo (Cubs president Epstein). They wanted to do the right thing, too."

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer admitted that the right ruling was reached. He noted he wants the Cubs to win the game, “but they (the Giants) will get a fair shot at winning the game now.”

"I’m glad about the outcome," Hoyer added. "I think it’s a good result. The last thing we want is a playoff team feeling bitter about the results here. It was something, obviously, that was caused by our organization."

Hoyer also declined to characterize the ruling as an indictment of the grounds crew or anyone with the Cubs.

"No," he said. "Our grounds crew does a great job. Pretty good batting average. Obviously, you’ve got to bat 1.000 in this situation, but they’re really good at their job. We like working with them. I don’t think it’s an indictment of anyone and I’m glad the outcome is what it is."

The situation at Wrigley Field on Tuesday into Wednesday was a strange one, with players retreating to their clubhouses and coming back out to watch the grounds crew work in vain to save the field.

On the lighter side, Cubs catcher John Baker brought his guitar into the dugout for some music.

"That’s not my fault; it’s (Anthony) Rizzo’s fault," Baker said. "I was playing my guitar in here (the clubhouse). I played for like 3½ hours. He said, ‘Why don’t don’t you just bring it out? We’ll put it on the bench at this point,’ because we kept walking out, saying, ‘How much longer? How much longer?’ "

Previous to this protest, the last one to be upheld came in June 1986 between the Cardinals and Pirates. Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti was with the Yankees in 1983 for the infamous “pine-tar game.” Umpires had ruled the Royals’ George Brett had too much pine tar on his bat and took away a home run. The Royals protested and won. Righetti seemed surprised the Giants won their protest.

"How couldn’t you be?" he said. "How many have been upheld?"

He seemed to revel in Wednesday’s result.

"Chicago," he said with a smile. "Why not? It’s part of folklore. We’ll see. We should have a packed house, right? It’s a little history. We didn’t get anybody for the pine-tar game, the makeup game. The place was empty. It’ll be interesting, I guess. We’re looking forward to playing it. I know that."

Daily Herald

Castro sidelined by family emergency

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs could be without all-star shortstop Starlin Castro for several days because of what the Cubs termed a “family emergency.”

Castro was at Wrigley Field before Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants before leaving the park. Javier Baez, who played most of this year and most of his minor-league career as a shortstop, moved from second base to short, and he may remain there for the duration of Castro’s absence.

It’s more than likely the Cubs will put Castro on the bereavement list, which means he’d miss a minimum of three games and a maximum of seven. The Cubs would be able to replace Castro with another player on the 40-man roster. That player could be infielder Logan Watkins, who spent time with the big club last year and who is at Class AAA Iowa.

Castro had played in all 125 games entering Wednesday. He has a batting line of .284/.333/.429 with 13 homers and 64 RBI.

Jackson rocked again:

It was another rough outing for right-hander Edwin Jackson. He lasted only 2⅔ innings Wednesday in the Cubs’ 8-3 loss to the Giants. He gave up 8 hits and 7 runs as his record fell to 6-14 and his ERA rose from 5.74 to 6.09.

The Giants scored 4 runs on 4 hits against Jackson in the first inning. Manager Rick Renteria at least left open the possibility the Cubs could move Jackson out of the starting rotation.

"We’re going to assess and evaluate and see where we go," Renteria said about three times.

Jackson seemed ready for anything.

"If it happens, it happens," he said. "I haven’t really gone out and made it an easy decision for the organization or for the team. It’s one of those things where you have to take it in stride."

Cubs make ticket offer:

The Cubs are inviting ticketholders from Tuesday night’s rain-delayed and suspended to redeem their tickets for a complimentary weeknight game at Wrigley Field during the remainder of this season.

To redeem tickets, fans must present the Aug. 19 game ticket at the Wrigley Field ticket office. Tickets may be redeemed for the best comparable seats and are subject to availability.

"We have great respect for our fans and don’t take their loyalty for granted. We’d like to take this opportunity to apologize to our fans who were inconvenienced by last night’s lengthy delay and hope this gesture will provide another opportunity to enjoy a great game at Wrigley Field," said Colin Faulkner, vice president, sales and partnerships, in a statement on the Cubs website.

Minor matters:

Third baseman-first baseman Mike Olt went on the seven-day disabled list at Class AAA Iowa because of a strained left hamstring. Olt opened the season with the Cubs but was demoted after severe struggles at the plate … Third baseman Kris Bryant hit his 19th homer for Iowa on Wednesday night and his 41st between Iowa and Class AA Tennessee this year.

20 8 / 2014

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Szczur thrilled to be with big club

By Bruce Miles

It was a whirlwind two days in New York for rookie Cubs outfielder Matt Szczur. The native and resident of Cape May, N.J., was called up from Class AAA Iowa and made his major-league debut Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field.

On Tuesday, he was at Wrigley Field looking to make his Chicago debut.

"It was great," the 25-year-old Szczur said. "It was only a three-hour ride for friends and family. It was a great experience."

Szczur was a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Villanova. At the time, he was more known for his college-football exploits.

"It was a tough journey," he said. "Baseball wasn’t my primary sport, ever. Once I made it my primary sport is when the journey began. There were a lot of struggles getting here. And now they’re all worth it."

At Iowa, Szczur (pronounced “Ceasar”) had a batting line of .261/.315/.312 with 16 doubles, 1 triple, 1 homer, 24 RBI and 30 stolen bases.

"I think I had a pretty good season," he said. "I played well defensively. I had a lot of stolen bags. I really didn’t hit too well at the beginning of the season, but I stepped it up in the second half.

"It’s a great opportunity to show all my assets, from baserunning to playing defense and getting up there and just scrapping at the plate. I’m really excited to be here."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria did not start Szczur on Tuesday, and he’ll pick his spots with him.

"He did a really nice job at Triple-A," Renteria said. "He’s actually been an individual that we see as being able to platoon, see if that role benefits him. We’ve got four guys on the bench. He’s a guy I can use in many ways. He can pinch run, pinch hit, plays all the outfield positions. He’s a pretty astute baseball player, so I’m hoping all of those abilities I’ll be able to use for the rest of the season."

It’s all 4s:

Cubs pitching held the Mets to 4 hits in each of the four games over the weekend in New York.

It was just the second time since 1914 that the Cubs allowed 4 or fewer hits in four straight games. The other was in 1983, April 28 against the Padres and April 29-May 1 against the Dodgers. The Cubs cited research historian Ed Hartig for the information.

Elias reports that the Cubs are the first big-league team to hold its opponent to 4 or fewer his since 2008, when the Mets had a five-game streak in July. The Cubs became the first team to do so in four games of the same series since the Houston Colt .45s did it in September 1963 against the Mets at the Polo Grounds in New York.

Minor matters:

Player-coach Manny Ramirez hit his third homer of the season Tuesday for Class AAA Iowa in a 4-2 loss to Salt Lake.

First baseman Mike Olt, who started the season with the Cubs, left the game after going 1-for-3. Olt suffered an apparent hamstring injury.

Third baseman Kris Bryant, who bruised his left foot over the weekend, was 1-for-3 with a double and a walk.

Daily Herald

After 4½-hour delay, Cubs declared the winner at 1:15 a.m.

By Bruce Miles

One of the most bizarre night/mornings in Wrigley Field history unfolded Tuesday into Wednesday.

A brief but strong rainstorm that lasted maybe 20 minutes caused a delay that went from 8:42 p.m. Tuesday night to well past midnight and into the wee hours of Wednesday morning. Finally, at 1:16 a.m., the umpires called the game because of a wet infield, and by rule, the Cubs walked away with a 2-0 victory.

The rain hit as the Cubs were about to bat in the bottom of the fifth inning leading the San Francisco Giants 2-0 on a first-inning 2-run homer by Anthony Rizzo. It was Rizzo’s 29th homer of the year.

As the rain began lightly, umpires made no effort to stop the game and call on the grounds crew to bring out the tarp. A few minutes later, though, the skies opened with heavy rain and strong winds.

The grounds crew did its best to get the tarp onto the field, but between the heavy rain and wind, members had trouble moving the tarp, causing much of the infield to be soaked with water and resembling quicksand.

After the damage was done, the grounds crew worked for more than two hours to make the field playable.

After that, there was very little activity on the field as the entire ballpark went into wait-and-see mode. Neither the umpires, led by crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt, nor Major League Baseball, made any announcements leading up to 1 a.m. as to what they were waiting for. As it turned out, they were waiting for the infield dirt to dry, which it evidently did not do.

A few hundred hearty fans stuck around, at times yelling for play to begin and at times breaking into applause to get the proceedings moving.

At about 1:30 a.m., Cubs President Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer met with reporters, with both saying they wanted the game to be finished in fairness to the Giants. Epstein pointed that the only way for the game to have been suspended and picked up later in the day would be if the tarp were part of a mechanical system. Because the tarp was put on manually, the only conclusion the umpires could have reached was to call it an official game and award the victory to the Cubs.

"There was nothing we could put our hat on to suspend the game," said Wendelstedt, speaking to a pool reporter.

Hoyer and Epstein sounded almost apologetic.

"We wanted to wait as long as we possibly could because the Giants are in a pennant race and because we felt an obligation as an organization to do that," Hoyer said.

"I was talking to the umpires a lot tonight," Hoyers said. "Theo was talking to MLB (Major League Baseball) trying to make it so we could play this game the way it should be played. Obviously, it didn’t happen and it’s unfortunate. I don’t think anyone takes any particular pride in winning a game 2-0 in five innings in a situation lie that. Those are the rules, but as an organization, we really made a good-faith effort to try to play this game for the right reasons because it is a situation where they’re in a pennant race and we anted to give them an opportunity to play a full nine innings."

Hoyer said no one was to blame for the field conditions. Head groundskeeper Roger Baird is considered one of the best in baseball.

"I don’t think anyone’s at fault," Hoyer said. "It was a flash storm. The Cell (U.S. Cellular Field, where the White Sox played Tuesday night) didn’t get any rain whatsoever. It really showed up on the radar really late, and it was much harder than we thought. The volume of the storm was much harder than anyone expected. The tarp probably started getting on the field later than it usually does. Those guys are working with such alacrity to get the tarp out there it became difficult to pull because it was so heavy. It probably got a little off-kilter. Those guys did an incredible job. Our grounds crew is fantastic."

Wendelstedt said the weather reports they received had the rain lasting 5-10 minutes and being a light rain.

"No one had facts that saw this coming," the umpire said.

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was understandably upset.

"Look, I’m frustrated and beside myself," he said. "I’m probably not in the right frame of mind. I hope they listen and watch what happened there, because in this day and time … it can’t happen with the importance of these games. I’m gonna leave it at that."

As far as baseball goes, the Cubs are beginning a stretch of games against contending teams, beginning with the Giants and continuing this weekend when the American League East-leading Baltimore Orioles move from the South Side to the North Side during a weeklong visit to Chicago.

The Cubs are far from being contenders, but they can be spoilers. That’s a role no team likes, but Renteria said the Cubs will embrace it the best they can.

"It’s a test," Renteria said before the game. "These guys are going out every single game trying to prove to the other team that they belong with them. We certainly have to minimize any kind of mistakes we make. We’re playing contending teams. The reason they’re in contending positions is they have a combination of skills and a combination of playing the game a certain way."

Tsuyoshi Wada was the starting pitcher for the Cubs, and he pitched all 5 innings to improve to 3-1 with a 2.75 ERA. The 33-year-old lefty has done a creditable job since coming up from Class AAA Iowa, originally on July 8 and then again later in July. It’s possible Wada could figure into the Cubs’ rotation plans for next year.

"No doubt," Renteria said. "I think he’s come in and done a really nice job. This is the first time I’ve see him. Obviously, the organization signed him for a reason originally. The way he’s performed is probably the one thing they were hoping to get, and he’s done a nice job. He’s given us some good innings, some good starts. He went down to the minor leagues and kind of got himself straightened out. He came back and has been very good for us."

Cubs.com

Rizzo’s homer the difference in rain-shortened win

Game called early in middle of fifth inning after 4 1/2-hour delay

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs snuck away with a 2-0, rain-shortened win over the Giants to open a three-game series at Wrigley Field on Tuesday.

The game went four and a half innings, and was called after a four-hour, 34-minute delay despite rain that lasted roughly 10 minutes. The hiatus was due to swampy field conditions after the Wrigley Field grounds crew struggled to cover the infield amid windy conditions that accompanied the showers. The game was called as the field was deemed unplayable.

The Cubs rode Anthony Rizzo’s 29th homer to victory — a two-run shot in the first that literally left the ballpark. Javier Baez preceded Rizzo with his third career walk.

Rizzo finished 2-for-2 with a double and the homer.

Tsuyoshi Wada tossed all five innings, with six hits allowed, three strikeouts and no walks.

The Giants out-hit the Cubs, six to three, but left a runner stranded in each of the five innings played, including four in scoring position.

With the loss, the Giants fell to a tie for the final National League Wild Card spot with the Braves, who have won five straight. San Francisco is 4 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West.

"We tried to wait as long as we possibly could because the Giants were in a pennant race and because we felt an obligation to do that," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I was talking to the umpires a lot tonight and [president of baseball operations Theo Epstein] was talking to MLB, trying to make it so we can play this game the way it should be played. Obviously that didn’t happen and it’s unfortunate."

Cubs.com

Tarp troubles lead to long delay, shortened game

Game called early in fifth inning after grounds crew’s difficulties at Wrigley Field

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs and Giants endured a most imperfect storm Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

Their series opener was called after a four-hour, 34-minute delay in the early hours of Wednesday morning, with the Cubs getting a 2-0 win after four and a half innings of play.

The grounds crew strained in spreading the infield tarp and did so during the roughly 15-minute windy downpour. The result turned Wrigley Field into a swampy habitat that left playing conditions dangerous, and both teams discontent.

"I don’t think anyone takes any particular pride in winning a 2-0 game in five innings in a situation like that," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Those are the rules, but as an organization, we made a very good-faith effort to try to play this game."

Had the Giants led at the time of delay, the contest would have been postponed by virtue of MLB Rule 4.10, which states the game is complete if the home team is ahead through five trips to the plate by the visitors — the case Tuesday.

The game couldn’t be suspended through Rule 4.12(a)(3) for a field malfunction either, as the tarp was hauled manually.

Thus, the imperfect storm.

"The problem that all the parties faced was in the baseball rulebook there was nothing to put our hat on to suspend the game," crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt said. "The game became regulation with the home team winning in the top of the fifth inning. There was really no way around it."

"Honestly we tried every way possible to the sake of fairness and equity to get to a suspended game and allow the teams to get to the point of a suspended game and allow the teams to play nine tomorrow, but the rules just don’t provide for that," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. "We had both teams, the umpires and MLB wanting to do the right thing."

The Giants are in the thick of a competitive National League pennant race. With the loss, they fell 4 1/2 games out of first in the NL West and into a tie for the final Wild Card spot with the Braves, who have won five straight.

"Look, I’m frustrated, beside myself," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I hope they listen and watch what happened there because in this day and time it shouldn’t happen, can’t happen, I think, with the importance of these games."

The brief downpour was preceded by a mist with two outs in the top of the fourth, light enough to continue play. Buster Posey popped out to shortstop Starlin Castro to end the half inning, just as rain reared sharp, sideways and at a substantial rate.

"It was a 15-minute rain there and they couldn’t get the tarp on in time," Bochy said. "I just think with this day and time, something should have been done a little bit more."

Wendelstedt conferred between innings with Cubs groundskeeper Roger Baird, who he reported a “very light rain” that “was not even showing on the radar.” As soon as the downpour commenced, the tarp was called for.

"When we watched the radar loop, Mother Nature was not raining," Wendelstedt said. "No one had any facts that saw this coming."

"It was just a bad set of circumstances to get us where we are."

Bochy and Cubs manager Rick Renteria met to determine the infield conditions after just over 90 minutes into the delay, then again 45 minutes later. When asked if the hordes of Diamond Dry the crew hauled had made a worthy impact, Renteria offered little conviction.

"Significantly better? No," he said. "There was a lot of moisture in there."

"The one thing I think everybody has to be cognizant of is you don’t want any of those guys to get hurt. Period. From being a former infielder, I can tell you that the footing on that was going to be pretty bad."

Hoyer said the only thing that could’ve salvaged the field was sunlight. As midnight approached, one crew worker was dragging the field — everyone else was holding.

"If we felt like it was going to dry tonight, we’d still be waiting," Hoyer said. "Ultimately we got to the point where we realized that this is not going to dry."

The game lasted one hour and 35 minutes at the time of delay, and no rain came the rest of the night. The White Sox-Orioles game at U.S. Cellular Field 10 miles south wasn’t even affected.

"I don’t think anyone is at fault," Hoyer said. "It was a flash storm. As you know, Comiskey or the Cell didn’t get any rain whatsoever. Really showed up on the radar really late and it was much harder than we thought. … The volume of the storm was much harder than anyone expected, so the tarp probably started getting out on the field later than it usually does."

Cubs.com

Bryant returns to lineup in Triple-A Iowa

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Top Cubs prospect Kris Bryant returned to Triple-A Iowa’s lineup Tuesday, going 1-for-3 with a double, a walk and a strikeout against Salt Lake.

Bryant left Saturday’s game with a left foot contusion, diagnosed through X-rays that night and an MRI on Sunday.

Bryant was used a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning of Monday’s 7-5 loss, but he was lifted for a pinch-runner after drawing a walk. He batted third and played third in his return on Tuesday.

"He’s fine. He’s doing great — no issues," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Bryant on Tuesday.

Bryant has amassed 40 homers this season between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, tied for the Minor League lead with Rangers prospect and close friend Joey Gallo. Bryant is batting .307 with 18 homers, 45 RBI and 14 doubles with Iowa, where he’s played since being called up from Tennessee on June 19.

Coghlan happy to be healthy, leading off

CHICAGO — Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan was back at the top of the lineup Tuesday after not starting Monday with soreness in his left big toe. He pinch-hit during the eighth and remained in left for the final two innings in Monday’s series finale against the Mets.

Coghlan entered Tuesday batting .326 since July 1 after hitting .203 during May and June. During his much-improved stretch, Coghlan has a .942 OPS — second best in the National League behind Washington’s Jayson Werth (1.017).

This all from a former NL Rookie of the Year who was plagued with injuries during his five years with the Marlins. The Cubs signed him to a Minor League contract in January.

"Playing every day is a big part of it, and health," Coghlan said of his success in 2014. "I’ve always felt during my career that the two things were health and opportunity. So I thank the Lord that I’ve had both of those this year and things have played out."

Coghlan is batting .242 with 17 extra-base hits and 11 RBI in 32 games he’s started at leadoff. He’s reached safely in 36 of his last 43 games, hitting safely in 31 of those.

Center fielder Arismendy Alcantara hit leadoff on Monday, and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said that Alcantara “fits the leadoff profile” of a leadoff hitter, but had Coghlan back at the top on Tuesday. Alcantara hit seventh for the first time Tuesday against the Giants.

Coghlan said he’d hit anywhere in the lineup, but that he enjoys leading off.

"I really love the opportunity and the responsibility to be able to set the table," Coghlan said. "I think when you can get on, especially during that first at-bat, or have a long at-bat, it really helps the team out. So I like that. I also like that you get up more than anybody else. There are more opportunities to help the team win."

Cubs host ‘Buses for Baseball’ children

CHICAGO — The Cubs hosted children from the “Buses for Baseball” program to take part in pregame festivities before Tuesday’s series opener against the Giants.

Catcher John Baker and pitchers Edwin Jackson, Carlos Villanueva and Wesley Wright greeted 50 children from the Volunteers of America Illinois’ Child Welfare and housing developments serving veterans.

"It’s something I think is pretty cool, and I get a chance to intermingle with the younger fans and the people who are trying to make a difference in the community," Wright said. "It’s just something that I always wanted to be a part of."

"Buses for Baseball" is anchored by the MLB Players Trust, and is geared to give underprivileged children an authentic ballpark experience. Tuesday’s visit to Wrigley Field was the program’s final stop of the season.

"Baseball has given me everything I have pretty much," Wright said. "It’s opened doors for me to a lot of different situations and allowed me to see places that I probably would’ve never seen before. So I’m just grateful for the game, for what it’s given to me. I just want to give something back, hopefully help someone else achieve their dreams."

Worth noting

• Cubs pitchers have recorded 65 quality starts in 123 games this season. Renteria said the strong outings have presented opportunities to shift his managerial approach for both starters and relievers.

"We’re able to, depending on how it’s set up … we can push guys back, we can push them up, just depends on how much we’ve used them," Renteria said. "We’ve had some young arms here that we still have to continue to look at. As we move forward, depending on how we proceed, we’re going to hopefully have more arms to be seen."

• Loretta Dolan of Chciago celebrated her 100th birthday Tuesday by throwing out the first pitch. She was accompanied by nearly 80 guests, she said.

"This is the best way I could celebrate," Dolan said. "I enjoy coming here so much."

Cubs.com

Peavy leads Giants against prospects-laden Cubs

Chicago counters with veteran Jackson at Wrigley Field

By Ryan Hood

In the midst of a playoff race, the Giants aren’t necessarily catching the Cubs at the right time.

Chicago’s North Side team is far from a juggernaut — currently. The organization has stockpiled elite prospects for a few years, and some of those prized kids have arrived in Chicago, which has made trips to Wrigley Field a bit less friendly for the visiting team.

"They’re getting their wins. This team has some great young talent. They’re going to be even better because of these guys getting playing time," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said Tuesday. "They have a good heart of the order — young kids, of course. … I think that’s a team that could beat anybody.

"Today’s baseball has so much parity. If you look at what happened throughout both leagues, one team may get up [and] they’re coming back down. That’s the game now. [The Cubs] are loaded with talent there. I think this is a club that’s only going to get better with the young talent they’re throwing out there."

They’ll send well-traveled veteran Edwin Jackson to the mound on Wednesday night. Jackson is coming off a loss to the Brewers in which he gave up five runs over 4 2/3 innings. In his last three starts, he is 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA, as he’s served up 10 earned runs over 16 2/3 innings.

He’ll be opposed by Jake Peavy, who returns to the city he once called home as a member of the White Sox. The Giants won Peavy’s last outing, which snapped a 12-game losing streak for Peavy’s team in his starts. He earned the win, which was his first with the Giants and first overall since April 25. He is 1-3 with a 3.86 ERA in four starts as a Giant.

Cubs: Club aiming to play spoiler

After watching as three teams clinched playoff berths against them last season, the Cubs are hoping to play the role of spoiler as the season enters the stretch run. They’ll have plenty of chances, with each of their last 12 series comes against contending teams.

"These guys are going out here every single day to try to prove to the other team that they belong here with them," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday. "I’ll be honest, I think I’m really happy with the way we continue to play the game — even against some of the better clubs. Have we had some hiccups along the way? Yeah. Is this a good place for us to be at right now? Damn right. We need to embrace this and play the game and show everybody that we’re moving forward and we’re growing.

"We’re hoping to come out on the winning side obviously, but it’s something that we can use to measure ourselves with."

Giants: Panik hopes to play Wednesday

Recovering nicely from a dislocated left pinkie, Giants second baseman Joe Panik could return to the lineup as early as Wednesday.

Panik, who was injured Sunday, tested his finger by participating in pregame batting practice — he homered during his first round of swings — and taking about 25 swings off a tee. Joaquin Arias replaced Panik at second base, and batted seventh.

"It’s not going to be perfect," Panik said of the finger. "But it’s getting better."

Panik hit .419 (18-for-43) in his previous 12 games to lift his batting average from .203 to .282.

Worth noting

• Anthony Rizzo hit his 29th home run on Tuesday night, which ties him for fourth most in the Majors.

• Catcher Hector Sanchez was diagnosed with his second concussion in less than a month on Tuesday, so Andrew Susac will remain as Buster Posey’s backup for the foreseeable future.

Cubs.com

Russell’s and Edwards’ big games not enough

Cubs’ Nos. 3 and 6 prospects put up five RBIs and five scoreless innings, respectively

By Teddy Cahill

Shortstop Addison Russell drove in five runs and right-hander C.J. Edwards threw five scoreless innings, but big games Tuesday from the Cubs’ Nos. 3 and 6 prospects weren’t enough for Double-A Tennessee to stave off a late comeback by Montgomery. The Biscuits scored the final seven runs of the game and defeated the Smokies at home, 7-6.

Russell, ranked No. 6 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, hit an RBI double in the first inning and hit a grand slam in the seventh. He finished the game 2-for-5 and scored twice.

The grand slam was Russell’s second home run in as many days. In 39 games with Tennessee since he was acquired from the A’s in the Jeff Samardzija deal, Russell is hitting .301/.348/.556 with 10 home runs.

Edwards, No. 56 on the Top 100, was the beneficiary of Russell’s early run support. Making his fourth start since returning from a three-month long stay on the disabled list due to a shoulder injury, he struck out seven batters, walked two and held the Biscuits to two hits. He threw 80 pitches and extended his shutout streak to 14 innings.

In eight starts for Tennessee this season, Edwards is 1-1 with a 2.31 ERA. The 22-year old has struck out 37 batters and walked 15 in 39 innings.

ESPNChicago.com

Szczur’s skill set a need for winning team

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — There’s still a place in baseball for the Matt Szczurs of the world, and as the Chicago Cubs look to become a contending team, he might become even more valuable.

"He’s a guy I can use in many ways," manager Rick Renteria said Tuesday afternoon. "He can pinch run, he can pinch hit, plays all outfield positions. Pretty astute baseball player."

Szczur feels like a throwback. A defensive whiz without much pop — he hit one home run at Triple-A this season — he’s more interested in the brick behind the ivy than which way the wind is blowing.

"Usually, wherever I play is all padded," he said before his first game at Wrigley Field. "I got a feel for it walking out there to the batting cage. But how the sun plays is the most important. Walking out there [Tuesday] was like a day game before batting practice, so I got a feel. We’ll see how it plays when the sun goes down."

That’s hardly the talk of the next slugger to crack the Cubs lineup. There’ll be enough of those when it’s all said and done, but what contending team can’t use an athlete like Szczur? A two-sport (football) star at Villanova, he’s made it to the big leagues because of his defense and speed (30 stolen bases at Triple-A). As a fifth-round pick in 2010, Szczur showed the Cubs that athleticism.

"They are very valuable players," Renteria said. "They are components of a winning team — guys you can use later on in the ballgames. The skill set that he brings in terms of speed is really big."

Think about it: There is no Cub with that dimension who isn’t already a starter. When is the last time they brought in a player as a defensive replacement or pinch ran with someone? Darwin Barney earlier this year? Every winning team has that kind of a guy on its roster. It’s not a luxury. It’s a need. Szczur could be that guy, but he’ll have to prove himself at the plate first and foremost.

"These guys coming off the bench need to play, too," Renteria said. "You might have a player go 10 days, two weeks without playing. They still have to perform."

As much as his defense could help the Cubs win games, it’ll still be his bat that states whether Szczur has a future in Chicago. He knows that.

"I have to produce when given the opportunity," he said. "That could mean any number of things — taking a walk or pinch hitting. I hope to stay."

His type will be needed.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs prevail after long, messy delay

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs were declared 2-0 winners over the San Francisco Giants in 4½ innings on Tuesday night after it was determined Wrigley Field was unplayable after a 4 hour, 34 minute rain delay.

As the Giants came to bat in the top of the fifth inning a light mist turned into a heavy rainfall and the Cubs’ grounds crew was unable to properly cover the infield before it got drenched.

The rain stopped about 15 minutes later, but after several hours of maintenance work, including dozens of bags of drying material, the umpires declared the field wasn’t safe.

"It’s a very important game with playoff implications," crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt told a pool reporter afterwards. "We exhausted all efforts to get this game played. There was 20-30 communications on our side. Everyone was involved."

Giants manager Bruce Bochy said the Giants would most likely protest the outcome.

"That’s my last recourse," Bochy said, according to the Bay Area New Group. "I hope they listen."

The Cubs say they were in touch with MLB as they felt it was their responsibility to complete the game since the grounds crew didn’t properly care for the field.

"We tried to wait as long as we possibly could because the Giants are in a pennant race," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I don’t think anyone takes a particular pride in winning a 2-0 game in five innings in a situation like that. Those are the rules."

The Cubs and Giants explored suspending the game but there is no rule that allows for it under the circumstances. If the tarp was mechanical in nature and failed to work the game could have been suspended but a manual tarp has no such rule presiding over it. The only options were to call it an official game since the home team was winning after 4½ innings or wait until the field was playable.

"As an organization we really made a really good faith effort to play this game for the right reasons," Hoyer said. "It was a flash storm. It showed up on the radar really late and much harder than we thought."

Wendelstedt concurred with the surprise in the intensity of the rain.

"When the rain started it wasn’t anything more than a light mist," he said. "There was nothing to put our hat on to suspend the game. There was really no way around it."

Both managers, Bochy and Rick Renteria, along with the umpires, inspected the field several times but concluded the water underneath the drying agents wasn’t getting soaked up enough to play.

"The one thing everyone has to be cognizant of, you don’t want anyone to get hurt," Renteria said.

For a while into the early morning hours there was no movement on the field at all as the umpires tried to let the field dry. Ultimately it was determined more time and sunlight was needed so the game was called at approximately 1:16 am CST and the Cubs were declared winners.

"The biggest takeaway over the last four hours is a respect for the game," Hoyer said. "These guys are in a pennant race. It doesn’t seem like a real game in a pennant race."

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs will play a part in playoff push

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — If the Chicago Cubs were in the pennant race, the final six weeks of the season would be chock-full of intense games. It will be anyway — but only for the opponent, as everyone the Cubs play has postseason aspirations, beginning Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants. The Cubs want to avoid a repeat of last season, in which three teams celebrated playoff berths while playing the Cubs.

"I certainly would not want to be sitting in here while someone else is celebrating on the field," manager Rick Renteria said before Tuesday’s game. "But that’s kind of a moot point. No one wants that."

It might be unavoidable because the Cubs have so many games against teams that want to play into October; one or more is bound to clinch against Chicago, but don’t expect the opponent to believe it has an easy time against them.

"Today’s baseball has so much parity," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "When you look at what’s happened in both leagues. One team may get up then come back down. That’s the game now. They’re [the Cubs] loaded with talent here. This is a club that’s only going to get better."

Even though it is the New York Mets against whom the Cubs are coming off a four-game series in which they limited New York to four or fewer hits in each contest, the Giants took notice. And, of course, Bochy is wary of the Cubs’ budding lineup.

"This is a team that has some great young talent," he said. "They’re going to be even better because of these young guys getting playing time. They have a good heart of the order with young kids, with [Javier] Baez, and [Chris] Coghlan has experience. It’s a team that can beat anybody."

The experience against playoff contenders is what Renteria is interested in. He’s not just repeating clichés. There’s meaning to be had in these seemingly meaningless games.

"It’s a test," Renteria stated. "They’re trying to go out there and prove they belong here with them. We have to minimize mistakes. We’re playing contending teams. There’s a reason they’re in contending positions."

It’ll keep the Cubs focused, as this is the time of year focus can be diverted. It’s as if the schedule is partly doing the manager’s job for him.

"Is this a good place for us to be in right now? Darn right," Renteria said. "We need to embrace this and show everyone we’re moving forward and growing. We’re hoping to come out on the winning side of it, but it’s something we can use to make ourselves better."

And, as if Bochy was listening in, he responded in kind:

"You take no one for granted."

ESPNChicago.com

Time to welcome Sosa back to Wrigley

By Nick Friedell

CHICAGO — It’s time to bring Sammy Sosa back to Wrigley Field.

Sosa’s isolated status with the Chicago Cubs has been debated for years by fans and the media. But with the Cubs saluting the ’90s during the homestand that opens Tuesday as part of their season-long celebration of the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field, it’s time to welcome back the franchise’s most iconic player from that decade.

The 20th anniversary of the 1994 labor strike that wiped out a memorable season passed last week, a reminder of how frustrating it was that I couldn’t watch my favorite team on a daily basis. And I’m reminded how happy I was in the following years to be able to watch Sosa knock homers out of the park every day when I got out of school and flipped on WGN. The post-‘94 strike era in baseball will be forever defined by the performance-enhancing drugs that permeated the game. Twenty years later, the game is still tainted because of the decisions of players like Sosa to allegedly use illegal substances.

A New York Times story reported that Sosa was on the 2003 list of players who flunked tests for PEDs.

I don’t think fans should suddenly forget about the decisions Sosa, Mark McGwire and others made in regard to PEDs, and I don’t think the Cubs should forget the way he treated people within the organization as his star rose — and ultimately fell — in Chicago. But enough time has passed to at least recognize Sosa for what he accomplished in a Cubs uniform.

He gave fans huge doses of the one thing that has been missing from Wrigley the last few years: joy.

He made the games interesting, and he made people happy. I thought it was a joke that the organization didn’t invite him back to Wrigley for the 100-year anniversary in April.

"There are some things Sammy needs to look at and consider prior to having an engagement with the team," Cubs spokesman Julian Green said at the time.

As my colleague Jesse Rogers noted in April, “Sources indicate one thing Sosa has to do is make amends with some former teammates for his actions at the end of his Cubs career.”

What?

I’ve heard enough stories in the last few years to know that Sosa, who told ESPN Deportes in April that he is willing to make amends with the Cubs, wasn’t always the nicest guy to teammates, coaches, media, etc. But the organization’s stance doesn’t make sense to me as someone who watched many games in large part due to Sosa and his ability to lift the team.

For an ownership looking for any way to monetize various aspects of its team, wouldn’t a Sosa day at Wrigley be worth it? The stands would be packed, and the people at Cubs Authentics could have a field day selling an assortment of Sosa paraphernalia. More than that, it would bridge a gap between the old franchise and one of its most important players.

I wish that Sosa hadn’t allegedly used PEDs to lift his game to new levels, and I wish that he had been a much better teammate at times during his tenure. I don’t think he’s ever getting into the Hall of Fame, and I don’t think his 66-homer season should count in the record books because I don’t think it was earned without the help of those PEDs.

But as somebody who has lived and died with the Cubs for 30 years, I believe Sosa is owed an olive branch from the team that has turned its back on him. The numbers may be washed away over time, but the memories never will be. It’s time for Sosa to get at least one day to be honored by the people who used to adore him. I don’t feel the same way about him as I used to, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t stand and cheer when he returns.

Sosa is a flawed character, but everybody is in some regard. He’s paid a price to the game and will continue to do so because of his link to PEDs and the way he handled his business on the way out. But it’s time to forgive him for those past transgressions and remember the happiness he brought to people for years on a daily basis.

ESPNChicago.com

6th spot doesn’t suit ‘veteran’ CF Alcantara

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — He was the first to come up among the top Chicago Cubs prospects, so maybe it makes sense that Arismendy Alcantara is the first to experience an extended slump, as his batting average (.208) and on-base percentage (.277) have taken a nosedive.

The good news is his defense in center field has been good, especially considering the former infielder’s lack of playing time in the outfield before a few months ago.

"He looks like a veteran out there," a National League scout said recently. "I saw Junior Lake [another former infielder] when he first came up, and Alcantara is much further along."

Alcantara is especially good at getting quick jumps and reading balls correctly, which can be easier to learn in center than in right or left. But the ball hit right at the center fielder is the toughest one, and Alcantara hasn’t looked like a rookie handling those. He has made a few questionable throws allowing runners to advance a base, but that’s a fixable mistake.

Now comes the bad news. His slump coincided with being moved from the top of the order to No. 6.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, in 12 games batting sixth in the order — before returning to the leadoff spot on Monday — Alcantara hit .159. His walk percentage was cut in half and his line-drive percentage went from 19.4 to 6.3. Was this due to being dropped in the order, the league getting a scouting report on him or simply a slump with a small sample size? It’s probably a little bit of everything, but a further look inside the numbers might indicate a player experiencing some anxiousness.

For one thing, he’s chasing more pitches outside the strike zone: 26 percent batting first or second, compared with 33 percent batting sixth. Even more interesting is that he used to foul off those pitches more. His foul percentage on pitches outside the zone was 41 percent batting No. 1 or 2, and that’s dropped to 22 percent hitting sixth.

Additionally, while batting sixth he is 1-for-23 (.043) with 13 strikeouts when the count gets to two strikes. Hitting first or second, Alcantara is hitting a respectable .150 with two strikes. For a rookie, that’s not bad considering the league average is .177.

The bottom line is Alcantara simply had more success hitting at the top of the order, although he went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his return to the leadoff spot Monday against the New York Mets.

But he did draw a walk, just his fourth of the month. It’s unclear what manager Rick Renteria is thinking moving into the final six weeks of the season, as Monday’s leadoff role could have been a one-day thing to give Chris Coghlan a breather, or it could be a sign that Alcantara will get more time at the top.

But there’s no doubt it’s the spot where he’s had the most success in his short career.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs vs. Giants: What happened at Wrigley Field?

By Patrick Mooney

What just happened at Wrigley Field?

The Cubs and San Francisco Giants came to a standstill as Tuesday night turned into Wednesday morning, leaving both teams hanging around the dugouts for hours, waiting for answers that didn’t satisfy anyone. 

The bleachers and upper deck were almost completely empty by the time the umpires determined the field would be unplayable and called the game at 1:16 a.m. That handed the Cubs a 2-0 five-inning victory that left the Giants seething with frustration.

“I’m beside myself,” San Francisco manager Bruce Bochy said afterward. “In this day and age, it cannot happen. It shouldn’t happen.”

The Giants (65-59) are expected to protest after moving into a tie with the Atlanta Braves for the second wild card. But no one came up with an alternative solution during a delay that lasted four hours and 34 minutes.

“We exhausted all efforts to get this game played,” home-plate umpire Hunter Wendelstedt told a pool reporter, estimating his crew had made 20 to 30 communications with Major League Baseball. “There was nothing to put our hat on to suspend the game. There was really no way around it.”

The delay started around 8:42 p.m., with the Cubs leading in the middle of the fifth inning after Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer onto Sheffield Avenue and Tsuyoshi Wada’s shutdown performance.

It poured for roughly 15 minutes in a short, powerful burst and then the rain completely stopped. But the grounds crew had struggled to get the tarp all the way across the diamond.

The heavy rains weighed down the tarp as the crowd yelled “Pull! Pull! Pull!” Those reactions eventually turned to boos and then chants of “USA! USA! USA!”

“I don’t think anyone’s at fault. It was a flash storm,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said, pointing out the White Sox stayed dry on the South Side during their 5-1 loss to the Baltimore Orioles.

Wendelstedt described a “light mist” in the top of the fifth inning and got a report saying it would last only five or 10 minutes. According to the radar, he said, “Mother Nature was not raining. No one had any facts that saw this coming.”

“It showed up on the radar really late,” Hoyer said. “The volume of the storm was much harder than anyone expected, so the tarp probably started getting on the field later than it usually does, and those guys were working with such alacrity to get the tarp out there that it became difficult to pull because it was so heavy. It probably got a little off-kilter.”

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who stayed in contact with MLB, gave this explanation:

“The way the rule is written, had that been an automatic tarp that malfunctioned, that would have been grounds for a suspended game. But the fact it was a manual tarp – we had issues covering the field – the rules don’t provide for a suspended game.

“Honestly, we tried every way possible for the sake of fairness and equity to get to the point of a suspended game and allow the teams to play nine tomorrow, but the rules don’t provide for that.”   

Bag after bag, the grounds crew poured a drying agent all over the dirt. Over and over, they dragged and raked the infield, using a blower on the edge of the outfield grass. They didn’t need to repaint the lines or put the bases back in place.

By 10:15 p.m., a member of the TV production crew had fallen in the camera well next to the home dugout, needing the attention of the athletic trainers and paramedics and getting carted off in a stretcher to an ambulance waiting at the right-field gate underneath the LED board.

As the cart circled back around the warning track, Bochy and Cubs manager Rick Renteria surveyed the infield along with the umpiring crew. They would do the same nature walk again about an hour later. More coaches would test the field.

“There was a lot of moisture in there,” Renteria said. “The one thing everybody has to be cognizant of is that you don’t want any of those guys to get hurt. Period.

“The footing on that was going to be pretty bad. We did everything we could.

The Cubs (55-70) say the field needs sunlight, wind and time. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 Wednesday night.

“It doesn’t seem like a real game in a pennant race,” Hoyer said. “There were issues with the tarp coming out, and how that went, which contributed to it, and that’s the organization’s responsibility. So we tried to wait as long as we possibly could, because the Giants are in the pennant race, and because we felt an obligation to do that.”

CSNChicago.com

Sammy Sosa in exile while Manny Ramirez rewrites Cubs Way

By Patrick Mooney

While Manny Ramirez rewrites The Cubs Way, Sammy Sosa has been pretty much scrubbed from franchise history.

Sosa remains in exile during Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary season, because he doesn’t really have friends in high places or behind the scenes, and he hasn’t followed Major League Baseball’s roadmap.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein took on Ramirez and his baggage and made him Triple-A Iowa’s player/coach after winning two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox and getting MLB’s blessing. Team personnel have talked up the way Manny Being Manny has helped young right-handed power hitters Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler.

Whether or not you think Sosa should be posing for the cameras at Cubs Convention or singing the seventh-inning stretch, it’s definitely weird timing with the team doing 1990s tributes during a six-game homestand that began Tuesday night against the San Francisco Giants.

Chairman Tom Ricketts got the Sosa question again from a fan at a recent event for Class-A Kane County in Geneva.

“I have a lot of people that are on either side of that discussion that contact me,” Ricketts said. “It’s something I really need to be thinking about. But at this point, I’m not sure what happens next.

“It’s strange. On the one hand, obviously, there’s an era that everyone’s a little embarrassed about and saddened by. On the other hand, you can’t just pretend that never happened and these players didn’t exist. It’s a complicated question, and one I think about a lot, but I see both sides of it.” 

The Red Sox inducted Roger Clemens into their Hall of Fame last week. The Giants had Barry Bonds come to spring training as a guest instructor. Mark McGwire admitted he used steroids, did the media tour and now works as the Los Angeles Dodgers hitting coach.

Like Manny, could Sammy help the next generation of players ticketed for Clark and Addison? 

“Why not?” catcher Welington Castillo said. “(But) that’s got to start from those guys to want to be open to be here, and teach the young guys and (share) the success they had in the past.”

Castillo grew up in the Dominican Republic idolizing Sosa and spent time around Ramirez in June at the team’s Arizona complex. Castillo rehabbed an injury while Ramirez tried to get into playing shape after signing a minor-league deal that shocked the baseball world.

“I tried to absorb all that I can from him,” Castillo said. “He’s really open to teach, especially with young guys. Manny was Manny. He was a really good player – and then he did all the stuff that he did. But who doesn’t want to be like him, you know what I’m saying? He was a superstar.

“All the other guys learned from him, even the new guys (who) just got drafted. Right away, they’re just asking, ‘Hey, can I go with you to the cage?’ He said, ‘Sure, let’s go, I’ll be there 7 o’clock every day.’”

Ramirez violated the drug policy twice, walking away from the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011 rather than face a 100-game suspension. Epstein said Ramirez ultimately cooperated with MLB investigators, finding religion, turning his life around and wanting to give something back to the game.

“He was great,” Baez said. “I learned a lot of stuff from him, my approach to right-center, (watching) his routine every day, going to the cage and the way he works. I mean, he’s always got a bat in his hand doing something, either swinging the bat or just hitting in the cage. He talked to all the guys and a lot of guys learned a lot from him.”

A 2009 New York Times report identified Sosa as one of the 100-plus players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during the anonymous survey in 2003. Even with 609 career home runs, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has shown no love in the Hall of Fame vote, Sosa falling from 12.5 percent to 7.2 percent during his two years on the ballot.

The Cubs sent out a press release last week that ran almost 1,800 words, promoting the 1990s homestand, mentioning Sosa’s 1998 National League MVP award in passing while highlighting a specialty drink for sale inside Gate D:  

“Adults 21-and-over can enjoy a Home Run Hop. This Dominican-inspired cocktail is made with island flavors including Captain Morgan Spiced Rum, Myers’s Silver Rum, pineapple juice and coconut water.”

The Cubs weren’t shy about promoting Sosa during the 1990s, but almost the entire organization has turned over since his messy exit in 2004. There was also no denying his box-office appeal, making Wrigley Field the place to be and creating the team’s international brand. 

“When I was a kid, I would have to find out anywhere someone had a TV,” Castillo recalled. “Because back in those days, Sammy and McGwire were big. Everybody wanted to see those guys play. Everybody enjoyed it in the Dominican every time Sammy hit homers.

“One day, I said, I want to be like them, because that was the No. 1 star from the Dominican in my time.”

It’s up to Sosa if he wants to be a marquee name in Chicago again, or a Sammy Being Sammy hitting coach.     

“That has to come from Sammy,” Castillo said. “I think he doesn’t miss anything like this now, because he’s doing his own thing. But it will be good for a young team like the Cubs (having) a player/coach like Sammy and Manny.

“Who knows? Those guys have to be open to it, and I guess the front office has to be open to them doing the job, too. Let’s see.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Matt Szczur hopes to be a piece of the puzzle

By Patrick Mooney

Once Matt Szczur made the decision, he never planned to be a Monday morning quarterback on his own career.

Szczur had been training for the NFL combine in January 2011 when former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry traveled to Boca Raton, Fla., to watch another workout. They went to dinner at a nearby Morton’s steakhouse and eventually agreed to a $1.5 million bonus that meant riding buses and trying to hit the curveball.

Instead of Halas Hall, Szczur went to work on Tuesday at Wrigley Field. The 25-year-old outfielder got validation over the weekend at New York’s Citi Field, becoming the seventh Cub to make his big-league debut this season, surrounded by his Villanova buddies and family from Cape May, N.J.

“It was a long road,” Szczur said. “I didn’t even know I was going to be playing baseball. Out of my junior/senior year, I thought I was going to be in the NFL.

“It’s been a great journey. There’s been struggles. There’s been ups and downs. I’m glad I’m here now, but it doesn’t stop here. I got to continue to work and continue to try and get better.”

Szczur played in the 2011 Futures Game and emerged as a Southern League All-Star last season at Double-A Tennessee. He has the athleticism that helped Villanova football win a national championship in the old Division I-AA. He was the MVP of the 2009 title game, drawing pro scouts as a returner/receiver/Wildcat quarterback.

Szczur also gets high marks for his makeup. He donated peripheral blood cells to a 19-month-old leukemia patient in 2010. It was a 1-in-80,000 shot at being a match, and the patient survived, as documented in an excellent ESPN profile.

Those experiences give Szczur some perspective. His speed – 30 stoles bases at Triple-A Iowa this year – and defense could help a team. The Cubs are nearing the point where they will have to really focus more on the depth of their roster 1 through 25, not simply looking at players as part of The Core or not.

But there are questions about whether or not Szczur’s bat will play at this level after he hit one homer and put up a .626 OPS in 116 games at Iowa. It’s getting harder to see how he fits with the Theo Epstein administration and an outfield mix that could include Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant, Arismendy Alcantara, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber.  

Szczur’s also shown that he’s not afraid of a challenge.

“I feel like I could be a really big piece of the puzzle,” Szczur said. “I can contribute a lot defensively, offensively, on the bases. I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to help us win.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Getting back on track, C.J. Edwards knows his time is coming

By Tony Andracki

With seemingly all of the Cubs’ top prospects forcing their way into a call-up discussion, C.J. Edwards has become something of a forgotten man.

Edwards, the top pitching prospect in the Cubs’ system, was shut down in late April with a shoulder injury and is just now getting back into a groove on the field.

The 22-year-old makes his fourth start for Double-A Tennessee Tuesday night since coming off the disabled list and told Smokies announcer Mick Gillispie “it’s amazing” to be back on the field.

"I’m so excited to be back that I’m not really thinking about my shoulder," Edwards told Gillispie. "I’m just glad to be back playing baseball. It’s my dream. It’s something I love to do."

The Cubs acquired Edwards from the Texas Rangers in the Matt Garza deal last July. Since being selected in the 48th round of the 2011 draft, the righty has posted a 14-6 record with a 1.86 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 47 minor-league games (46 starts). He has also only given up two home runs in 223 professional innings.

Despite the injury, Edwards has continued that dominance this year at Double-A Tennessee, going 1-1 with a 2.65 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in seven starts. He threw six shutout innings his last time out (Aug. 14), allowing only four hits and a walk while striking out one.

As he sees the success of Kyle Hendricks - another former Rangers prospect - and Neil Ramirez - the final piece of that Garza deal - at the big-league level, Edwards can’t help but dream about getting a shot to showcase his stuff in Chicago.

With people trying to figure out where the Cubs will get impact pitching from, Edwards is hoping to become an answer to that question.

"You never know when your time is coming," he said. "All of us continue to work hard and sooner or later, we’ll all be where we want to be."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs don’t gloat after rain-shortened win

By Mark Gonzales

The Chicago Cubs weren’t gloating about a 2-0 victory that hurt the playoff hopes of the San Francisco Giants.

That’s because President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer insisted they wanted to play all nine innings. A brief but convincing rain shower of about 15 minutes, combined with struggles to cover the infield, resulted in a bizarre set of circumstances that eventually led to the game being called after 4 1/2 innings with the Cubs declared winners at 1:16 a.m. Wednesday — after a total delay of four hours, 34 minutes.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria and Giants manager Bruce Bochy agreed the conditions were terrible, but Bochy wasn’t in the mood to say whether the Giants would file an official protest.

“Look, I’m frustrated, beside myself,” Bochy told Giants beat writers. “It’s probably not in the right frame of mind. It’s my last (recourse). I hope they listen and watch how what happened there because in this day and time it shouldn’t happen, can’t happen, I think, with the importance of these games. I’m going to leave it at that.”

Bochy wasn’t sure what recourse the Giants had.

“It was a 15-minute rain there, and they couldn’t get the tarp on in time,” Bochy said. “I just think with this day and time, something should have been done a little bit more.”

All parties — the Cubs, Giants and umpires — were in agreement that there was constant dialogue among themselves and with the Commissioner’s Office. The fact that the Giants are battling for a National League West title and wild card berth placed extra emphasis on attempting to have the game completed to its entire nine innings.

“The biggest takeaway over the last four hours was respect for the game, and these guys (the Giants) are in a pennant race,” Hoyer said. “No one wants to win a game, a 2-0 game. They hit five times, we hit four. It doesn’t seem like a real game in a pennant race, and obviously there were issues with the tarp coming out and how that went and contributed to it, and that’s the organization’s responsibility.

"So we tried to wait as long as we possibly could because the Giants are in a pennant race, and because we felt an obligation to do that."

But the Cubs, on the strength of a two-run home run by Anthony Rizzo in the first inning and Tsuyoshi Wada’s crafty pitching, led after the minimum 4 1/2 innings needed for an official game.

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Cubs 2, Giants 0 (5 inn.)

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs, playing the first of their 38 final games against playoff contenders, leaned on a two-run home run in the first inning by Anthony Rizzo, his 29th of the season and his second in as many games. Tsuyoshi Wada put a runner on base in each of the first four innings but escaped each time.

The game was delayed by rain before the Cubs batted in the bottom of the fifth. Grounds crew workers had difficulty covering the infield as a torrential downpour flooded the infield and some outfield areas. About one hour, 40 minutes after the delay, crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt and managers Rick Renteria of the Cubs and Bruce Bochy of the Giants inspected the infield before grounds crew workers applied more drying compound to the shortstop area. Nearly one hour later, the field was inspected again. After the inspection, the infield was dragged by grounds crew workers, with an emphasis around the shortstop area. The game was eventually called after a four-hour, 34-minute rain delay.

At the plate

Javier Baez drew a walk on a 3-2 count before Rizzo hit his home run but took a 92 mph fastball for a called third strike in the third.

On the mound

Wada struck out counterpart Ryan Vogelsong to strand Joaquin Arias in the second.

In the field

Shortstop Starlin Castro lost the grip while transferring the ball from his glove to his hand, resulting in an infield hit for Arias with two outs in the fourth.

The number

69: speed, in mph, that Wada threw to Buster Posey in the third inning.

The quote

Renteria: “We certainly have to minimize any kind of mistakes we make playing contending teams. There ‘s a reason why they’re contending. A combination of skill and playing the game a certain way. I’ll be honest. I’m very happy with the way we’ve continued to play the game, even against some of the better clubs.”

Up next: Giants (Peavy 2-12, 4.57) at Cubs (Jackson 6-13, 5.74), 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, WCIU-26.

Chicago Tribune

Giants’ suspicions with Cubs, rain delays

By Mark Gonzales

Tuesday night’s rain delay brought even more suspicions by the San Francisco Giants regarding the Chicago Cubs and rain delays.

The Giants’ leeriness dates back to 15 years ago, when they were furious over the Cubs’ decision to postpone a game on Aug. 23 at Wrigley Field after a three-hour, 45-minute rain delay in which there was no rain for at least the first two hours.

Then-Giants Managing General Partner Peter Magowan, usually mild-mannered in his words, witnessed the debacle and described the Cubs as a “bush league operation” to Giants beat writers.

The Giants were battling for a playoff spot (only to fade rapidly in September) and suspected that the Cubs wanted to postpone the game so that they could use Kevin Tapani, who pitched two days later but was shelled in the first game of a doubleheader two days later.

Cubs President Andy MacPhail fiercely rejected the Giants’ allegations.

This year, on March 1, heavy showers fell on new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. The rains cleared about 45 minutes before the start of the scheduled spring training game between the Giants and Cubs, but the grounds crew workers’ attempt at pulling the tarp off the field resulted in a lake in the outfield areas and resulted in a cancellation.

That cost the Cubs a healthy pay day but left the Giants and manager Bruce Bochy perplexed by the work of grounds crew and the subsequent decision.

The Giants did play a “B” game at Mesa against the Cubs a few days later.

Which leads us to Tuesday night’s follies. Rain fell with two out in the top of the fifth with the Cubs leading 2-0 and needing only one more out to make it an official game with the home team leading after 4 1/2 innings.

Shortstop Starlin Castro battled rain drops to catch the final out of the inning. But as the Giants took the field, the rain fell harder.

Several Giants players gestured that the conditions were unplayable, and home plate umpire/crew chief finally stopped play at 8:42 p.m. before Tsuyoshi Wada came to the plate.

The grounds crew workers had extreme difficulty in covering the field in miserable conditions, as the tarp got stuck and forced them to pull back the tarp and attempt to cover the infield again as the fans chanted “pull, pull, pull” and later booed them until their mission was completed.

The torrential downpour stopped, and ground crew workers dumped dozens of a drying compound onto the infield while the area behind second base resembled a lake.

At about 10:20 p.m., managers Rick Renteria of the Cubs and Bruce Bochy of the Giants; Carl Rice, the Cubs vice president of ballpark operations, and Wendelstedt inspected the field. After a review, the play wasn’t deemed playable and more drying compound was applied to the affected areas until the same parties inspected the field again about 55 minutes later.

Virtually all the work came to a standstill as the tarp remained in right field while one grounds crew worker dragged the infield while his co-workers awaited their orders while standing around the Cubs dugout.

The Giants, battling for a playoff spot, want to resume play.

Chicago Tribune

Good chemistry between Cubs veterans, rookies

By Mark Gonzales

Manager Rick Renteria appreciates a clubhouse where veterans and rookies blend.

No rookie hazing. No jealousy.

That’s the current mission of Cubs veterans who welcome the balancing act of trying to finish the season strong while aiding rookies who could end up taking their positions in the near future.

"I think everything that they’re doing here is going in the right direction," outfielder Ryan Sweeney said. "It’s fun to be a part of it and talk to the young guys about different things."

Rookie Javier Baez is learning the importance of taking pitches. After not drawing a walk in his first 13 games, Baez has drawn three walks in his last three, the most recent one on a 3-2 count Tuesday night that preceded a two-run homer by Anthony Rizzo against the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong.

Baez took over at second base about three weeks after Darwin Barney was designated for assignment. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara’s move to the outfield has cut into the veterans’ playing time a bit, but Justin Ruggiano, Chris Coghlan and Sweeney continue to see plenty of action.

"You’re not trying to take away from the guys who have been grinding it out the whole season," said manager Rick Renteria, who started Coghlan and Sweeney on Tuesday. "As the season progresses, they understand when young players come up they’ll have to get some opportunities to play. I think we’ve been very fortunate the guys who are here are pretty understanding (of) the development and the movement the organization is going in, so I don’t think it’s really an issue.

"At this point, I think they’re all playing for each other."

Sweeney, who has been relegated to splitting time in right field with Ruggiano, has aided in the transition of Alcantara from second base.

"He’s been playing well in center field, and I’m trying to teach him different things, such as throws from the outfield," Sweeney said. "He’s a great kid who wants to get better. It’s fun to watch these guys play and just help them in any way I can.”

Renteria noticed the blending of veterans and prospects in spring training, with the veterans recognizing the talent and supplementing it in several ways.

"Now they’re seeing them here on the field," Renteria said. "They’re seeing them as teammates. They’re seeing them as guys who can contribute and help you win ballgames. Ultimately, that’s the whole goal of any organization.

"When your talent starts to surface, when they’re going out to play, they’re going to have hiccups. But in the end, they need to perform and give the major league club a chance to win. They’re pretty comfortable and confident in each other right now. I think they believe the organization is going in the right direction, and I’m glad the confidence in the clubhouse is consistent."

Look to the future: Renteria diplomatically answered questions regarding Baez’s eventual home in the batting order and fellow rookie Neil Ramirez’s future as a starter or reliever.

Baez can “grow into a No. 4 or No. 5 hitter,” Renteria said. “Sure, he can be maybe a No. 3 hitter.”

Renteria said batting Baez in the No. 2 spot ahead of Rizzo gives him protection.

As for Ramirez, who has flourished as a reliever since joining the organization nearly a year ago, “Does he have starter stuff?” Renteria asked. “Probably. Does he have potential closer stuff? Probably. It’s a great problem to have.”

Minor news: First baseman Mike Olt left in the eighth inning of Triple-A Iowa’s 4-2 loss to Salt Lake because of a hamstring injury. Manager Marty Pevey didn’t know the severity of the injury.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Russell hits grand slam, Bryant doubles

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Tuesday vs. Salt Lake:  1-for-3, double, walk, strikeout.

Trending:  13-for-43 (.302), 4 home runs, 11 RBIs, 12 walks, 17 strikeouts.

Season: 126 games, .333 batting average, 40 home runs, 103 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Tuesday vs. Salt Lake: 0-for-3, walk, strikeout.

Trending: 2-for-31 (.065), 2 doubles, RBI, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  57 games, .317 batting average, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Tuesday at Montgomery: 2-for-5, double, grand slam, 5 RBIs.

Trending: 7-for-19 (.368), 2 home runs, 7 runs, 9 RBI.

Season:  57 games, .300 batting average, 11 home runs, 38 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Tuesday at Montgomery: 1-for-5, double, strikeout.

Trending: 7-for-20 (.350), 3 runs, 3 RBI, 3 strikeouts.

Season: 113 games, .273 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Sun-Times

Veteran mentor is high on Cubs’ shopping list

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — By now, anybody who follows the Cubs has heard the front office’s vow to aggressively pursue pitching over the next two winters to catch up to the quality of young Cubs hitters believed to be coming down the pipeline.

But the idea of signing a big-shot pitcher such as All-Star lefty Jon Lester makes it easy to forget the other big need the Cubs’ top execs have identified: a veteran every-day player to help ease the pressure and transition of all the young guys expected to be on the 2015 roster.

General manager Jed Hoyer said again over the weekend that this remains a priority for a team that — despite the growth of Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo — still doesn’t have a productive, veteran, lean-on-me presence in the clubhouse.

‘‘It’s hard. There’s not a lot of bats available,’’ Hoyer said. ‘‘And there’s a lot of positions on the field that we want to dedicate to the guys that are here or to young players.

‘‘But I do think it’s important to have some veteran guys with good approaches that these guys can lean on, because I do think right now we don’t really have guys that have played for a long time in the big leagues that have been through the ups and down as much.’’

The Cubs considered going after that type of player last winter and talked internally about free agent Curtis Granderson before focusing their limited resources at the time on a bid for pitcher Masa­hiro Tanaka.

With Javy Baez already in the lineup, Jorge Soler expected next month and top prospect Kris Bryant due in the first half of next season, the Cubs may be forced to use some of their newfound payroll flexibility to act on that need this winter.

Granderson, who said he never heard from either Chicago team with an offer over the winter despite rumored links before he signed with the New York Mets, wouldn’t have been ideal in retrospect. He has off-the-charts qualities as a teammate, a student of the game and a work-ethic guy. But he cost a four-year commitment for $60 million and would have cost the Cubs their second-round draft pick as compensation.

The free-agent pool for what the Cubs are seeking isn’t particularly deep this time around, especially for valuable veterans who might be willing to take a contract short enough to keep from blocking a young guy.

Chase Headley of the New York Yankees has a relationship with Hoyer and others in the front office. The Detroit Tigers’ Torii Hunter could be a fit if he’s willing to take on a role like that with a team that’s not ready to win. Maybe even ex-Cub Aramis Ramirez is a possibility if the Milwaukee Brewers don’t pick up his option.

Granderson knows the value of a guiding veteran for a young guy trying to break in, especially in the uncertain environment of a rebuilding team. He was one of those young players with 90-loss Tigers teams in 2004 and ’05 before sticking in ’06 with the Tigers’ American League pennant winner.

‘‘It can have some positives,’’ Granderson said. ‘‘When I came up with Detroit, there were a few young guys — Justin Verlander, Joel Zumiya, myself, Ryan Raburn. But then you add a couple guys that were there like [veterans] Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, and you had Dmitri Young. . . .

‘‘I think you add that combination of guys that have had success [with young talent], then you start to go ahead and put things together.’’

Said Hoyer: ‘‘It’s certainly something we want to find. It’s hard to find right now. But I do think it’ll help all those young guys to have that.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs all wet, win 2-0 after four-plus-hour rain delay

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Leave it to the Cubs to have a rain delay that winds up on Deadspin.

As Tuesday night slipped into Wednesday morning at Wrigley Field, the Cubs remained stuck on the fifth inning of a game against the San Francisco Giants, more than two hours after the passing storm that started all the havoc.

A delayed call for the tarp by umpire crew chief Hunter Wendelstedt and an ensuing series of tarp snafus by the grounds crew — forced to scramble in an increasingly heavy downpour — turned a passing shower into a perfect storm and a classic Cubbie Occurrence.

If the Cubs hadn’t led the contending Giants 2-0 with the top of the fifth inning complete, most of the issue would have been resolved; the game would have been suspended into Wednesday or postponed.

But because the rules make the 2-0 score the official result if the game cannot be resumed — and because the problem was created by the field becoming oversaturated because of home-team tarp issues — the grounds crew was put into overdrive to fix the field.

The Giants trailed the Los Angeles Dodgers by 3½ games in the National League West entering the day and were tied with the St. Louis Cardinals for the NL’s top wild-card spot, with the Atlanta Braves one game behind the Giants and Cardinals. Both the Cardinals and Braves won Tuesday.

Wendelstedt allowed the top of the fifth to be completed under a heavy rain, then waited until warmups in the bottom half were complete before calling for the tarp — as the rain increased, with the grounds crew forced to rush through what then turned into a sideways-blowing deluge.

It got so bad for the crew that the tarp roll appeared to get stuck slightly out of position, creating a problem pulling it over the entire infield.

At one point, as the crew struggled to fully unfurl the tarp, the crowd booed and then chanted, ‘‘Pull! Pull! Pull!’’

It wasn’t until the crew pulled the tarp back off the field and tried again that it finally got the field covered, at which point the crowd gave a large ovation and chanted, ‘‘USA! USA! USA!’’

More than 2½ hours later — more than 1½ hours after the rain stopped — the grounds crew was still spreading drying agent on a soggy infield. That’s about when the first public-address announcement told fans the teams hoped to eventually resume play.

But between Wendelstedt’s late call and the tarp problems, rain drenched the field before the tarp went down, and it was spilled on again as the tarp was removed, created pond-sized puddles behind the infield.

The two managers joined the umpires and stadium officials twice to determine playability, the first time sending the crew back out with drying agent, the second time deciding to play but only after another lengthy wait for the field to dry more.

19 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Renteria says Cubs won’t shut down pitcher Jake Arrieta

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — A day after blindsiding his best pitcher by suggesting to the media that right-hander Jake Arrieta might be shut down before the end of the season, Cubs manager Rick Renteria reversed course.

‘‘We have no plans to shut him down,’’ Renteria said Monday. ‘‘That’s something we’re not considering.’’

Renteria said he wasn’t sure why his comments Sunday were interpreted as suggesting a possible shutdown.

‘‘I don’t recall being asked if he was being shut down,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe I’m wrong.’’

Renteria first was asked generally about the late-season status of Arrieta, who opened the season on the disabled list because of a sore shoulder, partially in the context of the Cubs’ desire to find starts for three recently acquired pitchers down the stretch.

After responding by saying, ‘‘We’re still monitoring everybody and trying to make sure we don’t put them in any peril,’’ he then was asked specifically about whether Arrieta might be shut down at some point.

Renteria closed a lengthy response to that with: ‘‘We’ll just continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.’’

Arrieta, who pitched seven scoreless innings Sunday against the New York Mets to lower his ERA to 2.61, seemed caught off-guard by the suggestion after the game.

Arrieta, whose career high as a pro is 1731/3 innings in 2010, has shown no signs of fatigue or other problems with the shoulder through 19 starts (1171/3 innings). Both he and Renteria said that’s not a concern.

Whether Arrieta and/or others in the rotation are pushed back or even skipped to give newcomers a look, Renteria was emphatic about the Cubs’ intention to keep Arrieta pitching through September.

‘‘We’re not shutting him down,’’ he said. ‘‘Were not looking at shutting him down. We haven’t talked about shutting him down.’’

Shutdown rookie

Seven starts into his big-league career, right-hander Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.66 ERA) is looking like a guy who won’t be denied a place in the Cubs’ rotation next April. He drew another comparison to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux from Renteria after pitching seven stellar innings in a

4-1 victory Monday against the Mets.

Hendricks allowed three hits and two walks in his sixth consecutive quality start, making him the first Cubs rookie to do that since Kerry Wood had two streaks of seven such starts in 1998.

‘‘That’s good company right there,’’ said Hendricks, who has a 1.05 ERA in those six starts. ‘‘I met [Wood] a couple of weeks ago in the clubhouse when we were at home. So that’s an honor.’’

Hendricks is the first Cubs rookie to win four consecutive starts since Randy Wells in 2009.

Notes

The Cubs held the Mets to four hits or fewer in all four games in the series. It was only the second time in 101 years of available research that Cubs pitchers had a four-game streak like that against anybody. They did it against the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1983.

† Matt Szczur made his first big-league start and went 0-for-3 as the left fielder.

† Recently acquired left-hander Felix Doubront (calf) fared well in a second minor-league rehab start Sunday, but Renteria said a decision about whether he’ll need another rehab game hasn’t been made.

Chicago Sun-Times

K’s come with the territory for Cubs’ young sluggers

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — Get used to it.

The Cubs struck out 11 times again Monday in New York, most of them against a guy who pitched in relief the day before and was ­making an emergency start for a late scratch.

In fact, that’s their average over their last 11 games, covering three series.

Whew. That’s a lot of outdoor air conditioning.

But then there also was this:

Anthony Rizzo followed a first-inning strikeout with a slump-busting day that included a go-ahead home run in the eighth. And after another multi-strikeout start to his day, rookie Javy Baez crushed the hardest-hit ball by anybody in the four-game series against the New York Mets for an upper-deck, two-run shot in the ninth to help finish off a 4-1 victory for a split at Citi Field.

Whew. That’s a lot of airmail.

A lot of special delivery.

And that’s the point — even the vision that the architects include in this long-term Cubs Plan they’re putting together.

“I do think we’re going to have a fairly high strikeout team going ­forward,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “just by nature of the type of hitters we have.

“Looking at our players going forward I’d be surprised if we didn’t have strikeouts. But I also think we’ll have power.”

That is at least as much the offensive priority in the rebuilding process as “grinding” at-bats and the Moneyball ethos of walks-first, ask-how-you’ll-score-them-later.

Hoyer and team president Theo Epstein have repeatedly mentioned the increased rarity of power in this post-testing era.

And they’ve responded to it with a drafting strategy that included taking Kris Bryant (40 minor-league homers this year) with the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, trading for Rizzo, whose 28 homers rank second in the National League, and signing power-hitting Cuban free agent Jorge Soler to a nine-year, $30 million deal.

Hoyer said he expects some of the strikeout totals to decline as the young power hitters gain experience and learn to adjust to different hitting situations.

And they still like on-base ­percentage.

But in a strikeout age, with a lineup of kids with power, that ­second-in-MLB total of 1,093 K’s might be the one number that doesn’t improve a lot when all the big prospects arrive.

The hyper-swing Baez, who led the Pacific Coast League in strikeouts when he was called up Aug. 5 for his big-league debut, has struck out 24 times in 14 games since. He didn’t draw a walk until Sunday, when he had two. But on Monday, he also became the only player besides Glenbrook North grad Jason Kipnis in the last 100 years to hit at least five home runs as a second baseman in his first 14 big-league games.

And he’s done it so far with a must-watch explosive quality.

Even as he has struggled to force big-league pitchers to throw him strikes, Baez has defied the percentages of good pitches he has seen to — in order — hit an opposite-field game-winner in his debut, deliver his first multihomer performance in his third game, drive his first Wrigley Field home run onto Waveland Avenue on Wednesday night and on Monday hit a 434-foot shot to left that was called his longest homer yet.

“That’s typical right there,” said winning pitcher Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.66 ERA), who spent much of the season with Baez at AAA Iowa. “It’s not really shocking for us. He can do that any time.”

Baez, 21, seemed almost as disappointed with his two strikeouts as he was happy with his big home run. But he also said he already feels “pretty comfortable” facing big-league pitching.

Wait till Bryant gets here.

“Those guys are going to strike out,” Hoyer said of his top two prospects. “That’ll be part of their game. But if they’re doing damage, you probably feel differently.”

Cubs.com

Rizzo, Baez crush Mets behind stellar Hendricks

Pair of homers leads offense, while rookie goes seven strong frames

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Rookie Kyle Hendricks has seen Javier Baez hit monster home runs before, so he wasn’t awed by the upper deck blast in the ninth on Monday at Citi Field.

"That’s typical right there — it’s not really shocking for us," Hendricks said. "He can do that any time he’s up."

Baez belted a two-run homer in the ninth and Anthony Rizzo hit a go-ahead solo homer in the eighth to back Hendricks and lead the Cubs to a 4-1 win over the Mets to split the four-game series.

It was Hendricks’ sixth straight quality start, and the right-hander has fit into the Major Leagues without many hiccups.

"Having a lot of young guys coming up, we’ve played together for a long time, so it makes it more comfortable and it’s easier to play — you feel more comfortable out there," Hendricks said.

Baez apparently is feeling pretty good, too.

"For me, it’s the same game, just more fans and bigger [ballparks]," Baez said. "They still have to throw the ball over the plate."

Rizzo’s homer was his 28th and Baez’s was his fifth, and both helped the Cubs pick up their ninth win of the month, one more than they totaled in August 2013, when they went 8-20.

The Cubs need to make sure Baez and Hendricks are in the lineup at the same time.

"Usually when he’s pitching, and he has a good game, I have a good game, too," Baez said.

"He’ll just continue to get better, I hope," manager Rick Renteria said of Baez.

The rookie infielder is the first player to hit five home runs in his first 14 games since Evan Gattis did so, April 3-20, 2013, for the Braves. Baez has tied Kevin Roberson (1993) and Carmelo Martinez (1983) for the most homers in a player’s first 14 games in Cubs history.

And Baez didn’t think he had a very good day because he struck out twice.

"I just have to realize with the guys behind me, they’re going to pitch to me so they don’t have to pitch to Rizzo," said Baez, who bats second ahead of Rizzo. "I just have to be patient and learn from it."

Hendricks scattered three hits over seven innings, and is the first Cubs rookie to post six consecutive quality starts since Kerry Wood had two stretches of seven in a row in 1998. In his Major League debut on July 10 against the Reds, Hendricks gave up three runs in the first inning, but he has been charged with seven earned runs over 47 2/3 innings since then.

"I wasn’t making that many good pitches early, to be honest," Hendricks said. "I made that mistake to [Lucas] Duda [in the fourth] and it locked me in after that.

"I was trying to keep them in the game when were down 1-0, and ‘Riz’ was huge there with that home run and Javy with the insurance at the end — it doesn’t get much better than that."

The streak of quality starts is impressive.

"I’ll take it every single time he goes out to be the same guy — I’ll take it every single time," Renteria said.

Renteria didn’t want to compare Hendricks to anyone. And then he did.

"I know it’s a short snippet, and he’s been very, very good, but he is Maddux like in his execution and approach," Renteria said of former Cubs pitcher and recent Hall of Fame inductee Greg Maddux.

Cubs pitching held the Mets to four hits in each of the four games of the series. The last time they held a team to four or fewer hits in three-straight games was May 15-17, 1995, against the Giants.

"We had a really good meeting before the series and everybody went out there with a real good game plan, and both catchers called real good games," Hendricks said.

The Mets’ David Wright was impressed.

"He’s got good numbers," Wright said. "He’s been shutting some other teams down, so you know he can pitch. He’s got a good idea of what he’s doing on the mound, but offensively we’re not clicking, either. Probably a combination of the two.

"It’s easy to look at this pitch count and say we were too aggressive, but if you don’t go up there and swing, you’re going to be down 0-1, 0-2 and that’s no fun either," Wright said.

Bartolo Colon was scheduled to start for the Mets, but he was scratched so that he could travel to the Dominican Republic to be with his mother, who was ill. Carlos Torres, who pitched one-third of an inning in relief on Sunday, started and struck out the side in the first. This was his first start of the year after 53 relief appearances.

The Cubs used a defensive shift against Duda, and it paid off in the second as third baseman Luis Valbuena made the throw from the right side of the infield to get him out. But Duda beat the shift with one out in the fourth, hitting his 22nd home run into the Cubs’ bullpen for a 1-0 lead.

Cubs.com

Baez having a blast while learning on the job

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — In Javier Baez’s first 12 games in the big leagues, he struck out 20 times, had 13 hits, including four home runs, and zero walks. That changed on Sunday when the hard-swinging Cubs rookie drew two walks against the Mets.

"I think that was a byproduct of the process of his at-bats," manager Rick Renteria said before Monday’s 4-1 win in the series finale. "He was staying to his strengths, seeing the ball in his zone and not being too over anxious.

"Over the long haul, he understands that if he’s swinging at pitches that are really unhandable, they’re going to keep [throwing them], for sure," Renteria said. "He’s 21 years old. He’s learning."

Baez did what he does best in the ninth inning on Monday, belting a two-run homer into the second deck in left field. It was his fifth home run, and he is third Cubs player with five homers in his first 14 career games since Kevin Roberson (1993) and Carmelo Martinez (1983) did so.

"I just have to realize there’s a guy behind me and they are going to pitch to me so they don’t have to pitch to [Anthony] Rizzo," Baez said. "I just have to be patient."

At Triple-A Iowa, Baez batted .260 with 34 walks and 130 strikeouts. His .323 on-base percentage and .510 slugging percentage were good for an .833 OPS.

Arrieta set to keep pitching down the stretch

NEW YORK — Jake Arrieta missed the first month of the season because of tightness in his right shoulder and he has been monitored all year, but the Cubs have no plans to shut down the right-hander before the regular season ends.

Manager Rick Renteria said before Arrieta’s start on Sunday that they were keeping an eye on Arrieta, and wanted to clarify that they do that for all of the pitchers.

"There’s no plan in shutting Jake down," Renteria said before Monday’s game against the Mets. "That’s not something we’re considering. We’re not shutting him down. We’re not looking to shut him down, we haven’t talked about shutting him down."

Arrieta has 13 quality starts this season, and threw seven shutout innings on Sunday in a 2-1 win at Citi Field. After the game, he said he’d like to finish the season.

"I want to make every start that I have lined up throughout the end of September," Arrieta said. "If something comes up, I guess that will be addressed. I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note."

Arrieta struck out nine, and the first eight K’s ended on curveballs.

"Jake’s stuff is so good that days like [Sunday], the scouting report doesn’t even matter," catcher John Baker said.

Most scouting reports have Arrieta throwing his curve about 15 percent of the time.

"He threw more [Sunday]," Baker said on Monday. "Against the last batter he faced [Matt den Dekker], I kept calling curveballs so maybe we could strike him out and get a 10th strikeout.

"That’s how fun the game was — you’re trying to call the game to strike somebody out instead of trying to get them to put the ball in play on three pitches or less, which is how I usually call a game," Baker said. "That breaking ball — it was like he was throwing Wiffle balls up there. I felt bad for the opposing hitters because that’s something you don’t usually see is somebody throwing an 82-mile-an-hour curveball that’s that big."

Arrieta’s last strikeout in the sixth came on a fastball.

"He struck out [Daniel] Murphy looking on the fastball because we thought he was looking for a curveball at that point," Baker said.

Alcantara remains leadoff candidate for Cubs

NEW YORK — Arismendy Alcantara has struggled in the leadoff spot, but he was back at the top of the Cubs’ lineup on Monday against the Mets.

"I think [Alcantara] fits the leadoff profile," manager Rick Renteria said on Monday. "He is a good candidate. His numbers may not be what everybody wants to see in terms of production but he is a leadoff candidate."

In eight games, Alcantara was 8-for-39 batting first. He was needed there because Chris Coghlan has been batting a sore left big toe.

Another option was Matt Szczur, who called up to the big leagues on Sunday. Szczur made his first start on Monday at Citi Field.

"We’ve been talking about getting [Alcantara] back into that slot because we want him to get comfortable there because in the end, we see him as a potential leadoff guy," Renteria said. "He’s got a history of getting on base. There are a lot of qualities that allow you to view him as a potential leadoff candidate."

Alcantara actually has been having a tough time in the No. 6 spot in the lineup as big league pitchers continue to throw the rookie more offspeed pitches. He was batting .206 in 16 games this month.

Extra bases

• The Cubs have yet to determine the next step for Felix Doubront, who made his second rehab start on Sunday for Triple-A Iowa.

Doubront was placed on the disabled list with a strained left calf after being acquired from the Red Sox on July 30. On Sunday, he gave up three runs on eight hits over six innings in Iowa’s 3-2 loss to Salt Lake.

• The Cubs will celebrate the 1990s during the next homestand, which begins on Tuesday. On Sunday, the Cubs will wear throwback uniforms from 1994 with “Cubs” written in red script across the front of the jersey. The visiting Orioles will wear a throwback road uniform from 1994 as well.

Among the promotional items on this homestand are a floppy hat Tuesday night and a Kerry Wood 20-strikeout Bobblehead on Friday. On Saturday, the first 10,000 fans will receive a Wrigley Field Tote Bag, and on Sunday, the first 5,000 children 13-and-under will receive a ’90s Throwback “Gracie the Swan Beanie Baby.”

The Cubs also will host Star Wars Night on Wednesday. Every ticket holder for this special event will receive an exclusive “Jedi Rizzo” bobblehead, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation.

The promotions are part of Wrigley Field’s season-long 100th anniversary celebration.

Cubs.com

Giants hope road remains kind to Vogelsong

Cubs’ Wada looking to continue roll in seventh start of season

By Jamie Ross

Ryan Vogelsong will get the start as the Giants begin a six-game road trip against the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

That Vogelsong is starting on the road could benefit the Giants, who have lost his last seven home starts dating to May 24. They’ve won each of his last three road starts, though.

The 37-year-old right-hander pitched seven innings and allowed two earned runs on three hits in the Giants’ loss to the White Sox last Tuesday.

"If we keep playing hard … things are going to be all right," Vogelsong said. "We have to keep showing resilience."

Vogelsong is 3-3 in nine career appearances (six starts) at Wrigley Field and 5-5 in 16 appearances (10 starts) against the Cubs overall. The Giants are coming off a series victory over the Phillies.

Tsuyoshi Wada takes the ball for the Cubs in what will be his seventh start this season. Wada picked up his second straight win with a quality start vs. the Brewers last Wednesday. The lefty has developed a two-seam fastball that has a lot of deception, but he did serve up two home runs. He’s 2-0 with a 2.49 ERA in his last four starts.

"He was very strong in his execution and made his pitches," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He seems to have some deception. His fastball plays 88, 89 [mph] on the board, but to the hitter, he’s throwing balls that are getting by very good hitters. The deception factor he has is very important."

Wada is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA.

Cubs: Baez learning offensive intricacies

In Javier Baez’s first 12 games in the big leagues, he struck out 20 times, had 13 hits, including four home runs, and zero walks. That changed on Sunday when the hard-swinging Cubs rookie drew two walks against the Mets.

In Monday’s 4-1 win at Citi Field, Baez belted a two-run homer into the second deck for a pair of insurance runs.

"I think that was a byproduct of the process of his at-bats," Renteria said before Monday’s game. "He was staying to his strengths, seeing the ball in his zone and not being too over anxious.

"Over the long haul, he understands that if he’s swinging at pitches that are really unhandable, they’re going to keep [throwing them], for sure. He’s 21 years old. He’s learning."

At Triple-A Iowa, Baez batted .260 with 34 walks and 130 strikeouts. His .323 on-base percentage and .510 slugging percentage were good for an .833 OPS.

Giants: Morse’ confidence returns

Outfielder Michael Morse went 3-for-3 with three singles before he was pulled for defensive purposes in the sixth against the Phillies on Sunday, but he finished the recent homestand 9-for-14 with a home run, triple, two doubles and four RBIs.

"I’m getting hits," Morse quipped when asked what’s been different. "I’m trying to just get my pitch to hit and put it in play."

Worth noting

• Sergio Romo on Saturday earned his first save since losing the Giants’ closer’s role in a 6-5 victory over the Phillies.

• The Cubs recalled outfielder Matt Szczur from Triple-A Iowa and optioned right-handed pitcher Dan Straily ahead of Sunday’s win over the Mets. Szczur went 0-for-3 in his first start on Monday.

Cubs.com

Cubs split challenges in finale against Mets

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Cubs manager Rick Renteria won a challenge, but he lost a second an inning later.

In the Mets’ fourth inning, Renteria challenged whether Matt den Dekker had stole second, and the call was overturned.

With two outs in the fourth, starter Kyle Hendricks walked den Dekker, who broke for second. The Cubs felt catcher Welington Castillo had thrown den Dekker, out but he was initially called safe by second-base umpire Phil Cuzzi. Chicago’s Javier Baez motioned to the dugout, and Renteria asked for a review. After less than one minute, the call was overturned to end the inning.

With the Mets holding a 1-0 lead and two outs in the Chicago fifth, Baez hit a ball to shortstop Wilmer Flores, who was on the left side of the infield for a defensive shift. First-base umpire Adrian Johnson called Baez out, but Renteria challenged the call. After a review that lasted less than 30 seconds, Baez was called out and the play ruled as stands.

The Cubs are now 19-26 on replays. They fared better in the game, beating the Mets, 4-1, to split the series.

Cubs.com

MRI on prospect Bryant reveals foot bruise

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Cubs fans can exhale.

Kris Bryant’s MRI on Sunday revealed only a bruise on his left foot. He’s day to day. The Triple-A Iowa third baseman apparently fouled a ball off the foot a few days ago, and on Saturday, he felt some pain on the bases after drawing a walk in the first inning in Des Moines.

Bryant was pulled from the game before the third inning and underwent X-rays on his left big toe on Saturday. The X-rays were inconclusive and precipitated the MRI.

There was no timetable for Bryant’s return.

"He’s been dealing with it for the last couple of nights and sucking it up because he’s a freaking gamer," Iowa manager Marty Pevey told the Des Moines Register on Saturday.

Bryant, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, is batting .306 at Triple-A. He leads all Minor Leaguers with 40 home runs combined at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa. His 40th homer was a walk-off blast in the 12th inning Thursday to give Iowa a 6-5 win over Las Vegas.

ESPNChicago.com

6 things we’d like to see in final 6 weeks

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs begin the final six weeks of the season on Monday and, at 53-70 going into their game against the New York Mets, it’s all about getting ready for next season. They might play spoiler along the way, but that’s secondary to finding out more about them heading into 2015.

Here are six things we’d like to see in the final six weeks:

1. Call up Soler: The Cubs have more than intimated that 22-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler will likely make it to the majors before season’s end. The only question is when? At the time of outfielder Matt Szczur’s call-up on Saturday in New York, Soler was in an 0-for-15 skid, so maybe that has delayed things. Just as likely was allowing the hard-working Szczur to make his debut not far from where he grew up in New Jersey and later became a two-sport star at Villanova. Soler is batting .329 with 12 home runs and 47 RBIs — to go along with 28 walks — in just 55 games this season in the minors. Arguably the most disciplined hitter of all the top prospects, Soler should get more than just a cursory look in September. The more at-bats he gets now, the better he’ll be next season. He’s one guy who will take a walk. Let’s see if that carries over to the majors.

2. Adjust the lineup: Manager Rick Renteria admittedly isn’t putting guys in their long-term spots in the order. That’s been all right considering the batting order might be the most over-argued notion in baseball. General manager Jed Hoyer often paraphrases statistician Bill James when it comes to the lineup: Put your good hitters near the top and everyone else near the bottom. Pretty simple. In the Cubs’ case, it’s just a reworking at the top that would be interesting to watch over the final six weeks. On Monday, Renteria had Arismendy Alcantara back batting leadoff. Good. Leave him there. Alcantara slumped when moved to the No. 6 hole. He just doesn’t feel right there. He had an on-base percentage of .314 batting in the 1 or 2 spot when he first came up. It dipped to .196 hitting sixth. And it’s time to move Starlin Castro out of the cleanup spot. Let’s see Alcantara and Castro hitting first and second the rest of the season. Anthony Rizzo is fine at No. 3, then try Javier Baez at No. 4 and Soler at No. 5. If the Cubs wanted to debut Soler in the No. 2 hole, that would also make sense. They slotted Alcantara and Baez there when they arrived.

3. Start Turner: Jacob Turner looked good in his first relief stint for the Cubs since being acquired from the Miami Marlins, so let’s see him in the rotation for a turn or two. Turner could step in if the Cubs could finally banish Edwin Jackson to the bullpen. Or they could just add a sixth starter as they just did in giving Dan Straily a turn. Turner’s results won’t matter as much as seeing his stuff. Pitching coach Chris Bosio needs a full offseason and spring training to get the most out of him, but a quick look wouldn’t hurt the process.

4. Let others close: The Cubs allowed Pedro Strop to close out a few games last season to see what he could do, so why not do the same this year with some other relievers? It has nothing to do with the job Hector Rondon (17 saves in 22 opportunities, 3.23 ERA) has done. He’s been nothing short of fantastic considering his place in baseball entering this season, but it doesn’t hurt to know who might have the mental makeup for the job other than Rondon. Neil Ramirez, who has three saves already, is an obvious choice to get a few more chances. Blake Parker has been the main closer at Triple-A Iowa, but the Cubs know what they have in him. Some might want to see how Armando Rivero would react or flamethrower Arodys Vizcaino. But the latter has struggled (6.06 ERA) since being promoted to Iowa, while Rivero has thrived (1.78). Either way, expect Rivero to be in a Cubs uniform soon.

5. Give Olt another shot: With third base still lacking an everyday starter, there is no reason not to bring Mike Olt back up as the calendar turns to September, then play him every day. Olt has been tearing up Triple-A pitching. Maybe that’s all he’ll ever do, but he deserves another chance with no one standing in his way, at least over the next six weeks. Olt is batting .313 with a .361 on-base percentage, seven home runs and 24 RBIs in 26 games at Iowa. Maybe he’s found his stroke again.

6. Leave Bryant at Iowa: Bryant’s misfortune could be Olt’s gain because the Cubs say he’s not coming up to the big leagues this season. Plus, he just hurt his toe, so he’ll miss some time anyway. If you didn’t know by now, leaving Bryant in the minors until at least mid-April next year would set him up to become a free agent after the 2021 season. Any earlier and free agency would come a year sooner. At this rate, it’s better to accept that fate than lose sleep over it. Undoubtedly, he’ll be named the minor league player of the year, which would add to an already stocked trophy case: He was collegiate player of the year in 2013, then won the MVP of the Arizona Fall League, won the home run derby title in Double-A this year and would top it off with his monster year in the minors, which has already produced 40 home runs and over 100 RBIs. Leave him where he is.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro shows Mets what they’re missing

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The flavor-of-the-week obsession with prospects means someone will always be coming for Starlin Castro’s job.

Maybe the Cubs eventually move their shortstop to get some pitching. He’s under club control through 2020, he doesn’t have a no-trade clause and no one’s untouchable. But right now it’s time to appreciate everything he’s done before his 25th birthday.

The New York Mets should have a better idea after Monday’s 4-1 loss, the Cubs splitting this four-game series at Citi Field and ending StarlinFest.

In the media capital, Castro ended the seventh inning with a diving stop to his left, flipping the ball to second baseman Javier Baez. Castro picked up another hit and another walk in his renaissance season, leaving him with a .765 OPS. He has more homers (13) than errors (12) after Sunday’s ninth-inning, game-winning homer in Queens.

“I just try to do my job every day,” Castro said. “Not only here. Whatever stadium I go to, I just try to be on the field every day and do the best I can.”

The New York Times, New York Post and New York Daily News had put together stories over the weekend about Castro and the shortstop surplus in Chicago. That would make the rebuilding Mets (59-67) a natural trading partner with their inventory of young pitching and huge hole up the middle.

But it’s way too early to put Castro in blue and orange. Unless you’re prepared to watch Addison Russell, the 20-year-old shortstop at Double-A Tennessee, go through all the same growing pains when the Cubs (54-70) are finally supposed to be contenders.

For all his power, Baez has struck out 24 times during his first 14 games in the big leagues. Remember Arismendy Alcantara? After the initial burst of excitement, he’s 4-for-38 in his last 10 games and now hitting .208 while trying to learn how to play center. Another converted infielder, Junior Lake, just got sent back to Triple-A Iowa.

That’s not picking on Baez, Alcantara and Lake. It’s just a reminder of how hard it is to find a shortstop able to hit for power and average while playing close to 162 games. It’s a lot easier to admire all the porcelain dolls on the Baseball America shelf.

“(Castro) came into the spring probably just looking to put last year’s season behind him,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He did a lot of things to try to put himself in a position to be fit and do a lot of different things. But I think he’s just having fun.

“He’s working extremely hard on his defense. Obviously, his approaches at the plate have improved. You got to give him credit, because he’s been very consistent.”

A Chicago reporter joked about understanding why Met fans want Castro.

“I think a lot of people want him,” Renteria said with a smile.

Of course Castro believes he can play shortstop the rest of his career. What else is he supposed to say?

“He’s been an All-Star three of the five years he’s been in the league at shortstop, so he should want to stay there,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I’m glad to hear him say that, and that’s how we see it.”

A New York reporter asked a follow-up question: So you don’t necessarily think you have to make a trade?

“No, not at all,” Hoyer said.

After leaving New York, Castro sees himself making more of the double-play flips and barehanded grabs with Baez.

“I think we’ll be here together,” Castro said. “We got great talent. If we’ll all be together, I think the team’s going to be much better.”

CSNChicago.com

Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks aren’t showing any nerves with Cubs

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – Kyle Hendricks doesn’t have the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck, but he acts likes he belongs in The Show.

Javier Baez doesn’t have an economics degree from Dartmouth College, but he’s a serious student of the game, a baseball rat who loves the subject matter.

It’s an odd couple on the surface, but Hendricks and Baez haven’t shown any nerves since coming up from Triple-A Iowa. That’s part of the reason why the Cubs believe they can be core players for years to come.

With Monday’s 4-1 victory over the New York Mets, Hendricks (5-1, 1.66 ERA) became the franchise’s first rookie to put together six consecutive quality starts since Kerry Wood in 1998.

“That’s good company right there,” said Hendricks, who scattered three hits and gave up one run in seven innings. “That’s an honor.”

Baez created the highlight-reel clip in the ninth inning, crushing a two-run homer 434 feet out to left and into Citi’s Field second deck.

“That’s typical right there,” Hendricks said. “Not really shocking for us. He can do that any time he’s up.”

Combine that with Anthony Rizzo, who blasted his 28th homer, a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning, and you get an idea of the offensive attack the Cubs (54-70) envision. But Baez isn’t digging himself, saying he didn’t have a good game after going 1-for-5 with two strikeouts, giving him 24 in his first 14 games. That’s the trade-off for his five bombs.

“Pretty comfortable,” Baez said. “For me, it’s the same game with more fans and bigger (stadiums). They still got to throw the ball over the plate. They just know how to pitch to you.”

Who knows what the ceiling will be, but Hendricks definitely knows how to pitch. When asked who reminds you of Hendricks, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he wouldn’t go there and then mentioned a Hall of Famer.

“I reserve the right to (not) pigeonhole him or compare him to anybody,” Renteria said. “I think he’s establishing himself. I know it’s a short snippet, but he’s been very, very good. He is Maddux-like, a little bit, in his execution, his approach.”

Hendricks – who’s posted a 0.97 WHIP through almost 50 innings – has never looked rattled or in awe of his surroundings.

“In the very beginning, maybe, there was some of those moments,” Hendricks said. “Now I’m kind of settling in.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs have no plans to shut down Jake Arrieta

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The Cubs aren’t pulling the plug on their best pitcher.

However the Cubs reconfigure their rotation across the last six weeks, those plans don’t include shutting down Jake Arrieta.

Rick Renteria had to put out that fire on Monday morning, the day after the manager’s comments made it sound like Arrieta might not make it to Game 162.

“I don’t know how that came about,” Renteria said at Citi Field. “But, no, there’s no plan of shutting Jake down.”

It started before Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the New York Mets, when a reporter asked Renteria about having Arrieta on the mound as a stopper after a three-game losing streak. Renteria talked about how Arrieta’s done a great job – particularly coming off a rehab assignment (right shoulder tightness) in early May – and then pivoted the conversation.

“We’re all cognizant of the fact that it’s getting later on into the season,” Renteria said. “We’re still monitoring everybody and we’re trying to make sure that we don’t put them in any peril.”

Given that the front office wants to get looks at Dan Straily, Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner – general manager Jed Hoyer mentioned getting creative – another reporter asked a follow-up question: Would you expect Arrieta to finish out the season through the end of September?

Renteria’s vague comments – the Cubs will keep monitoring Arrieta’s pitch counts and innings, evaluating and assessing the situation, etc. – framed the postgame line of questioning. That caught Arrieta off-guard as he stood by his locker after throwing seven shutout innings in another dominant start that had the Mets flailing at his curveball (two hits, nine strikeouts).

Renteria clarified the plans during Monday’s pregame media session, saying that keeping an eye on Arrieta was nothing out of the ordinary. 

“We monitor everybody,” Renteria said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know how that would be construed as shutting anybody down.”

The Cubs gave Jeff Samardzija the September shutdown after his breakthrough as a starter in 2012. Samardzija and Jason Hammel had both expressed frustrations with pitch-count limitations before getting traded to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July.

The Cubs also got their wires crossed with the Neil Ramirez situation last month, trying to option their best reliever to Triple-A Iowa for a timeout before putting the right-hander on the disabled list with a sore triceps muscle.

Protecting and preserving arms is a clear mandate for a last-place team building toward the future.

Arrieta is 6-4 with a 2.61 ERA through 19 starts, accounting for 117-plus innings in the big leagues. He threw 20 more innings during five rehab starts in April. He has no interest in taking an early vacation.

Arrieta’s 28 years old and solidly built with a 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He tossed almost 155 innings last year between his time with the Cubs, Baltimore Orioles and their Triple-A affiliates.

Depending on your perspective, this was either a simple misunderstanding, a media-driven narrative or Renteria’s blind spot when it comes to his daily obligations as a voice for the organization.

Either way, Renteria called Arrieta’s right shoulder a non-issue that doesn’t require a precautionary shutdown.

“That’s not something that we were considering,” Renteria said. “If it was interpreted as that…we’re not shutting him down. We’re not looking to shut him down. We haven’t talked about shutting him down.”

CSNChicago.com

Former Cub Nate Schierholtz signs with Nationals

By Tony Andracki

Two weeks after being designated for assignment by the Cubs, Nate Schierholtz has caught on with another team.

The 30-year-old outfielder could become a part of the National League pennant race after inking a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals Monday:

Mark Zuckerman via Twitter: #Nats have signed veteran OF Nate Schierholtz to minor-league contract. Will report to Syracuse. Would imagine we’ll see him in September.

Schierholtz could become a nice left-handed bat off the bench for Washington down the stretch. He’s a plus defeneder at the corner outfield spots and has some pop, hitting 21 homers with the Cubs in 2013.

After a career season last year, Schierholtz could never get on track this year and became the odd man out in Chicago with top prospect Arismendy Alcantara joining the outfield mix last month. Schierholtz finished his Cubs career hitting just .192 with a .541 OPS in 99 games in 2014.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Core Four report: Bryant walks, Russell homers

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Monday vs. Salt Lake:  walk (pinch hit).

Trending:  12-for-40 (.300), 4 home runs, 11 RBIs, 11 walks, 16 strikeouts.

Season: 125 games, .333 batting average, 40 home runs, 103 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Monday vs. Salt Lake: 0-for-4, walk, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 2-for-28 (.071), 2 doubles, RBI, walk, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  56 games, .322 batting average, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Monday at Montgomery: 2-for-5, double, home run, 2 RBI, double play.

Trending: 5-for-14 (.357), home run, 5 runs, 4 RBI, walks.

Season:  56 games, .297 batting average, 10 home runs, 33 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday at Montgomery: 2-for-5, double, strikeout.

Trending: 6-for-15 (.400), 3 runs, 3 RBI, 2 strikeouts.

Season: 112 games, .274 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Finding playing time for all a challenge for Cubs

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Jake Arrieta will continue to pitch through September, but finding innings for other Cubs players the rest of the season will be a challenge for manager Rick Renteria.

The Cubs outfield figures to get more crowded in September if Jorge Soler is promoted from Triple-A Iowa, as anticipated, along with recently demoted Junior Lake.

And the Cubs still want to evaluate left-hander Felix Doubront and right-hander Jacob Turner as starters to give them some clarity heading into 2015.

Of the newcomers to the rotation this season, rookie Kyle Hendricks continues to make the biggest contribution. He pitched seven innings of three-hit ball Monday as the Cubs pulled away to a 4-1 win over the Mets on home runs by Anthony Rizzo and rookie Javier Baez in the eighth and ninth innings.

Rizzo’s 28th homer snapped a 1-1 tie, and Baez’s homer, his fifth in his first 14 games, reached the second deck in the ninth.

"I’ve just got to realize there’s a guy behind me, and they’re going to pitch to me so they don’t have to pitch to Rizzo," Baez said. "I’ve just got to be patient."

Hendricks (5-1) became the first Cubs rookie to post six consecutive quality starts since Kerry Wood had two streaks of seven quality starts in 1998.

"That’s good company," said Hendricks, who lowered his ERA to 1.66. "I met (Wood) a couple weeks ago when were at home in the clubhouse. That’s an honor."

As for Arrieta, Renteria made it clear to four beat writers Monday that there is no intention of shutting down the ace for the final month. A day earlier, Renteria acknowledged that Arrieta had pitched deep in a few games and the Cubs would continue to evaluate and “make that determination as we move forward.”

"There’s no plan of shutting Jake down,” Renteria said. "We monitor everybody. I’ll be honest. I don’t know how that was construed as shutting him down."

Arrieta has thrown 1171/3 innings this season, just two shy of his career high.

"I monitor everyone’s pitch counts," Renteria said. "That’s just part of it."

Alcantara returned to the leadoff spot partly because Coghlan has been nursing a sore toe and is batting .174 in his last six games.

"(Alcantara) fits the leadoff profile," Renteria said before Alcantara went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "He is a good candidate. His numbers right now might not be what everyone wants to see in terms of production. But he is a leadoff candidate.

"We still want him to get comfortable … because in the end, you’ll ultimately see him as a leadoff guy."

Before his July 9 promotion, Alcantara had a .353 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases in 89 games at Iowa.

Extra innings: Doubront was scheduled to play catch Monday, one day after throwing 94 pitches and six innings in his second rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs haven’t decided whether Doubront will need another rehab start.

Chicago Tribune

Monday’s recap: Cubs 4, Mets 1

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

After being blanked for five innings by Carlos Torres, who started after Bartolo Colon left to attend to his ill mother, the Cubs pulled away. Anthony Rizzo hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth, and rookie Javier Baez hit a two-run homer in the ninth that traveled an estimated 434 feet and reached the second deck. Cubs pitchers held the Mets to 16 hits in the four-game series.

At the plate

Rizzo hit a double in the sixth to snap an 0-for-12 slump and scored the tying run on Luis Valbuena’s single.

On the mound

Kyle Hendricks’ only blemish was a home run to Lucas Duda in the fourth.

In the field

Valbuena, playing near second base as part of a shift, ranged far behind second to make an off-balance throw, with Rizzo stretching far to take the throw to retire Duda in the second.

The number

3 – Home runs Baez has hit in games started by Hendricks.

The quote

Hendricks on Baez’s homer: “That’s typical. Not really shocking for us, but he can do that any time he’s up.”

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Giants at Cubs

By Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Giants 2-1.

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

RH Ryan Vogelsong (7-8, 3.71) vs. LH Tsuyoshi Wada (2-1, 3.15).

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., WCIU-26.

RH Jake Peavy (2-12, 4.57) vs. RH Edwin Jackson (6-13, 5.74).

Thursday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

LH Madison Bumgarner (13-9, 3.14) vs. LH Travis Wood (7-10, 4.86).

Who’s hot: Giants left fielder Michael Morse is 9-for-14 with two doubles, a triple and a home run. Bumgarner has a 1.50 ERA over his last three starts. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro has hit safely in 16 of his last 17 games. Wada has allowed two earned runs or fewer in each of his last four starts.

Who’s not: Giants right fielder Hunter Pence is 5-for-31 (.161). Shortstop Brandon Crawford is 2-for-22. Jackson hasn’t pitched more than six innings in his last 16 starts. Wood is winless in his last 11 starts.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Renteria: Arrieta not being shut down

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Manager Rick Renteria doused a potential debate by emphasizing that Chicago Cubs staff ace Jake Arrieta will continue to pitch this season.

“There’s no plan of shutting Jake down,” Renteria said Monday morning, “We monitor everybody. I’ll be honest. I don’t know how that was construed as shutting him down.”

The Cubs are in the midst of auditioning starting pitchers for 2015, and Arrieta, who missed the first month of the season because of a shoulder strain, got extra rest after the All-Star break.

Arrieta, who has a 2.61 ERA and is only two innings shy of his career high of 119 1/3 innings, stated a preference to continue pitching this season.

He pitched seven innings of two-hit ball Sunday but was pulled after 98 pitches.

Before Sunday’s game, Renteria said: “We have to see how he’s feeling and he’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things where we still monitor his pitch counts and innings, and it’s been something he’s been grinding it out pretty good. He’s given us quite a few outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”

Friday, general manager Jed Hoyer said the Cubs might have to get “creative” to give other pitchers an opportunity to start, but Hoyer didn’t name Arrieta as a possible victim of a shakeup to allow auditions to other pitchers.

After Arrieta expressed his desire to continue pitching, Renteria made a point Monday to state that Arrieta would not be shut down in September.

"We’re not shutting down," Renteria said. "We’re not looking to shut him down. We haven’t talked about shutting him down.

"I monitor everyone’s pitch counts. That’s just part of it."

 

18 8 / 2014

Tribune

Cubs’ Arrieta sharp, doesn’t want his season cut short

Mark Gonzales

NeW YORK — A gale of relief swirled from Des Moines to Citi Field on Sunday after the Cubs learned that mega prospect Kris Bryant suffered only a bruise on his left foot that will enable him to finish the season.

The third baseman is expected to remain at Triple-A Iowa for the rest of the season, but some pitching prospects may get called up when 25-man rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.

Cubs ace Jake Arrieta hopes the prospects don’t cut into his time on the mound, since he would like a chance to finish the year as impressively as he displayed Sunday.

"I’d love to remain and finish the season with however many starts I have left," Arrieta said after striking out nine with a sharp curve and limiting the Mets to two hits in seven innings of a 2-1 victory over the Mets. "I feel fresh and healthy.

"I just want to make every start I have lined up to the end of September. If something comes up, I guess that will be addressed. But obviously I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note."

Arrieta, who has a 2.45 ERA since June 3, paused when informed that general manager Jed Hoyer said on Friday that the Cubs might have to get “creative” to give more starts in September to candidates.

"I don’t know anything about it at this point," Arrieta said. "Sure, if something comes up, we’ll be informed, deal with it and move forward."

After missing the first month because of a shoulder strain, Arrieta would like to continue his progression. He is two innings shy of his major league high of 1191/3 innings set with the Orioles in 2011, and he has six scheduled starts left.

Arrieta acknowledges he benefited from a change of scenery after being dealt from the Orioles — whom he’ll face on Friday in his next start — a year ago.

"It was one of those things where I was at a point where one small thing needed to happen, and that happened to be it," Arrieta said. "I feel like I was in a situation where I was standing on the edge.

"I know there are guys who need looks and want to get looks, and that’s part of transforming from a developing team to a winning team. You have to find out what you have to move forward. "

As for Bryant, a team executive said the third baseman, who has 40 home runs and 103 RBIs for Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, will return as soon as he’s healthy. Cubs followers feared the worst after Bryant left after only two innings Saturday night, and X-rays on his big left toe were inconclusive.

Bryant fouled a pitch off his foot in a game a few days ago and attempted to play through the discomfort. He drew a walk in the first inning Saturday and felt pain while running to second on a force play. He played one more inning before going to a local hospital.

Extra innings: Arrieta got out of a jam in the third when shortstop Starlin Castro made a nice stop before flipping the ball to second baseman Javier Baez, who made a bare-handed catch and quick throw to complete a double play. “It’s going to be awesome,” Castro said of playing with Baez, who moved from short to second last month at Iowa before his promotion two weeks ago. “He plays like he’s always been there.” … Outfielder Matt Szczur became the seventh Cubs player to make his major league debut this season and said he wasn’t nervous because of his spring training experience and joining former Iowa teammates like Baez. … Castro is batting .400 (26-for-65) in his last 16 games.

Tribune

Cubs’ Bryant suffers toe bruise

Mark Gonzales

NeW YORK — The Chicago Cubs and their legion of fans released a large sigh of relief Sunday when an MRI revealed that Triple-A Iowa slugger Kris Bryant suffered only a bruise near his big left toe and was listed as day-to-day.

Bryant, who has hit 40 home runs and driven in 103 RBIs in 124 games at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa with two weeks left in the minor league season, will return as soon as he’s healthy, a team executive said.

Bryant left Iowa’s game against Salt Lake on Saturday after only two innings. He initially hurt the toe after fouling a pitch off his foot in a game last last week and tried to play through some discomfort.

Saturday, Bryant drew a walk in the first inning but felt discomfort before running to second on a fielder’s choice. He remained in the game for one more inning before leaving Principal Park in Des Moines with a trainer. X-rays taken at a local hospital were inconclusive.

Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Cubs 2, Mets 1

Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs snapped a three-game losing streak behind Jake Arrieta’s seven innings of two-hit ball and an opposite-field home run by Starlin Castro that snapped a 1-1 tie in the ninth. The Cubs overcame a game-tying single in the eighth by Curtis Granderson that snapped an 0-for-17 slump.

At the plate

Javier Baez drew his first major league walk in the fourth and scored on a two-out single by Luis Valbuena, who had been hitless in his last 11 at-bats.

On the mound

Arrieta displayed more use of a sharp-breaking curve to earn several of his nine strikeouts.

In the field

First baseman Anthony Rizzo committed a throwing error but was bailed out when Castro and Baez teamed up for an inning-ending double play in the third.

The number

1: Career go-ahead home runs by Castro in the ninth inning or later.

The quote

Rookie outfielder Matt Szczur: “I felt if it was my first time up and hadn’t been to big league camp, I would have been a lot more nervous. I remember the first time I went to big league camp, my legs were shaking. I felt very comfortable, and we’re in mid- to late season.”

Up next

Cubs (Hendricks 4-1, 1.73) at Mets (Colon 11-10, 3.85), 11:10 a.m. Monday, CSN.

Tribune

Happy homecoming for Cubs’ Szczur

Mark Gonzales

NeW YORK — It’s nearly a three-hour drive from Cape May, N.J., to Citi Field, but it feels like a homecoming for Chicago Cubs newly promoted outfielder Matt Szczur.

“I proposed in New York, spent a lot of time in New York, so it’s good to be here,” Szczur said Sunday morning.

Szczur, 25, a football-baseball standout at Villanova, also participated in his first pre-draft workout after his junior season at Citi Field before the 2010 draft. Szczur added that he also worked out in front of scouts at since-defunct Shea Stadium in New York after his senior year of high school.

Szczur said he will have up to 20 family members at Sunday’s game, including his fiancée Natalie Cooper.

Szczur’s father Marc won’t be in attendance Sunday, but he has a legitimate excuse.

“I didn’t expect (the promotion) at all,” said Szczur, who said he was in the hot tub before Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey summoned Szczur to his office before Saturday’s game. “My dad was in town in Iowa, dropped me off and headed to the State Fair (in Des Moines). I gave him a call. He was in town to pack up and take some stuff home for me.

“I called him up and said you might want to come back. We’re packing up for a different reason now. “

Szczur said his father will drive his car to Chicago and reunite with him when the Cubs return home Monday night.

This marks a complete journey for Szczur, who passed up a chance to pursue a football career.

“I didn’t think I’d be playing baseball,” Szczur said of his journey. “I thought I’d be going to the NFL and play football for a career. It just so happened my opportunity at the time was better to play baseball. And I just wanted to work hard and get to the highest level. It’s been a great journey. There have been some struggles. But there are struggles everywhere. You learn from your struggles.”

Sun-Times

Starlin Castro a favorite of N.Y. media, fans

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

NEW YORK — With all the hype surrounding super prospect Javy Baez’s first two weeks in the majors and all the angst over super-duper prospect Kris Bryant’s left big toe, it might be easy to forget the Cubs actually have a three-time All-Star already plugged into the long-term plans.

“I don’t forget that he’s here,” manager Rick Renteria said of shortstop Starlin Castro.

Neither have New York Mets fans and media, who got a couple more reasons to fawn over the object of their baseball desires Sunday in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory over the Mets that snapped a three-game losing streak.

Castro’s fielding wizardry in the third inning to start a run-saving double play and his leadoff home run in the ninth inning to reclaim a lost lead again stoked the one-sided love affair that has made the Queens baseball community look like Starlin stalkers ever since the Cubs made that trade last month for touted shortstop prospect Addison Russell.

“I’m just trying to do my job every day,” Castro, 24, said with a smile when asked again about fanning the desires of Mets fans to see their team trade for him. “Not only [in New York]. Whatever stadium I go to, I just try to be the best on the field I can be every day.”

Castro, who drew a throng of New York writers upon his arrival to town Friday, insisted that he wants to stay with the Cubs, that he plans to keep getting better and that he expects to be part of the team that eventually starts competing again at Wrigley Field for championships.

And on a day that another prospect — outfielder Matt Szczur — became the seventh to debut for the Cubs this year, and that Baez added the base on balls to his major-league arsenal, Castro showed how he plans to do some of that.

After first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s throwing error put runners at the corners in a scoreless game in the third, Castro picked a hard-hit chopper by Juan Lagares, flipped in one motion to second, where Baez barehanded the flip and threw to Rizzo for an inning-ender.

“It’s one of those plays that you should make, especially with men in scoring position,” said Castro, who gave Baez — who has played second for barely a month — credit for the impressive turn. “He’s going to be awesome. He already looks like he’s been playing there all the time.”

Castro picked up his teammates again in the ninth with his first-pitch leadoff home run off Jenrry Mejia, driven just over the wall down the opposite-field line in right.

It came after John Baker’s passed ball in the eighth allowed pinch runner Eric Young Jr. to take second, and Curtis Granderson’s ensuing single off Pedro Strop allowed him to score the tying run.

“We’ve been playing a lot of extra-inning games,” Castro said of his approach in the ninth. “I just wanted to be aggressive.”

If New Yorkers want to gawk and leer, or even drool, Castro doesn’t seem to mind. And neither does Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer, who told New York baseball reporters on Friday that the team doesn’t feel compelled to trade any of its shortstops, much less the one guy in the organization who has proved something at the big-league level.

“I know myself, and I know I can be a good player, and I know a lot of teams can want me,” Castro said. “But I’m here, and I don’t want to leave here. I want to be a part of this team when we compete and when we win in the playoffs.”

So bring on Bryant, he says, and Russell and Jorge Soler and Albert Almora.

But don’t forget the guy in the middle already.

“We have great talent, great young talent,” he said. “And this team is going to be awesome.”

Sun-Times

Kris Bryant injury not serious; Cubs can exhale

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

NEW YORK — The best news for the Cubs Sunday wasn’t about the victory over the New York Mets, but rather the MRI results of the left big toe of star prospect Kris Bryant.

The team says results showed no structural damage and that the slugging third baseman has only a bad bruise, and his playing status will be evaluated daily.

Bryant, the top-ranked prospect in some rankings, aggravated an injury Saturday he suffered earlier in the week when fouling a ball off his foot.

He was forced to leave Saturday’s game after the second inning, and inconclusive X-rays Saturday night fueled speculation the injury could be severe enough to end Bryant’s season, which runs only about three more weeks.

Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in last year’s draft, leads professional baseball with 40 home runs. He’s hitting .333 with 103 RBIs and a 1.118 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 124 games split between Class AA Tennessee and Class AAA Iowa.

The club has made it clear he was not a candidate for a September call-up even before the big-toe drama.

Sun-Times

Cubs might give Jake Arrieta a precautionary shutdown

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

NEW YORK — Could the Cubs’ theater of the absurd escalate to the point of taking their best pitcher out of circulation down the stretch to give young guys tryouts?

Cubs manager Rick Renteria seemed to suggest as much before Sunday’s game when asked about the status over the final weeks of right-hander Jake Arrieta — who opened the season on the disabled list because of shoulder soreness.

“We’re all cognizant of the fact that it’s getting later into the season and we’re still monitoring everybody and trying to make sure we don’t put them in any peril,” Renteria said of his de facto ace, who lowered his ERA to 2.61 with seven more scoreless innings in his 19th start Sunday (117 1/3 innings this season).

If that means shutting Arrieta down at some point over a health precaution, workload precaution or anything else, that’s news to Arrieta, whose career high is 173 1/3 innings in 2010 (Class AAA and majors combined).

“I’ve heard nothing about that,” he said. “Obviously, I would love to finish the season out for however many starts I have left. I feel fresh and healthy. I’m good.”

Arrieta has shown little sign of wear or fatigue since coming back from the injury, and Renteria lauded his performance.

But the manager was noncommittal at best about the likelihood Arrieta would be allowed to make his final seven starts.

“I think we have to see how he’s feeling,” Renteria said. “He’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things where we still monitor his pitch counts and his innings. It’s something where he’s been grinding it out pretty good. He’s given us quite a few outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll just continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”

Arrieta, who has put together the best extended run of his career, said it’s because he has harmonized the physical and mental sides of his game for the first time and that he sees no need to stop now.

“I just want to make every start that I have lined up throughout the end of September,” he said. “If something comes up, I guess that’ll be addressed. Obviously, I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note.”

Daily Herald

Kasper: Making predictions makes very little sense

Len Kasper

I always chuckle to myself when people ask me to make predictions in this game.

When will Kris Bryant be here?

Who’s going to win the National League Central?

Do you think Javier Baez will make the proper adjustments and become more patient?

We live in an opinionated world, our thoughts quickly conveyed in 140 characters or less. I am as guilty as anyone, especially when watching an NFL or NHL game in the off-season. That’s when I can just react to each moment with overblown, unreasonable proclamations.

But when it comes to baseball, I have learned that predictions are, by and large, a foolish exercise.

That is especially the case when it comes to figuring out which team is going to be left standing at the end of October. And the one-game, wild-card round has added an extra wrinkle for good measure.

I don’t want to criticize any colleagues, but who among baseball’s punditry gets most everything right?

That’s a serious question, by the way. I don’t track columnists and analysts and their picks, especially after the fact. It is completely possible that there is a “Hall of Fame” baseball prognosticator in our midst, but I wouldn’t know who that person is if I had to guess.

This is not to disparage those who make predictions. I get that it comes with the job of talking about baseball and sports in general.

But for all the executive producers and sports editors out there who need to fill airtime and website/newspaper space, just understand that these are at best a stab in the dark.

In any given three-day period, even the worst team in the game can sweep the best one. Then you put 10 of the best clubs in a tournament and the gap gets even smaller and trickier to sort out.

And while you want experts to present the landscape beforehand, asking them to actually say who is going to win the game or series or division is really unnecessary.

So, with all that in mind, let’s get to my playoff picks!

I like the Royals to edge the Tigers on the final day of the season on a Billy Butler game-winning home run against the White Sox. Not to get too specific, but the blast will come on a Daniel Webb hanging breaking ball on a 2-2 pitch (sorry, Daniel).

Tigers fans, don’t fret. Your team will grab a playoff spot, but Mike Trout will end your hopes on an 23rd-inning, game-ending single in the wild-card round off Don Kelly, who is forced to pitch because Brad Ausmus needed five relievers to navigate the bottom of the eighth.

The O’s and A’s will match up in the ALCS, with Oakland taking Game 7 at AT&T Park after the Coliseum’s plumbing acts up again.

In the National League, Washington, Milwaukee and the Dodgers will win their respective divisions, with Pittsburgh and St. Louis battling in the wild-card game.

The Marlins will make a furious late-September push but will fall 1 game short on a overturned call via replay of a home-plate collision at Nationals Park in the bottom of the 12th.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond will be so upset he will not only rip off his jersey, but strip completely at home plate in front of a national television audience before realizing he’s no longer a player, he’s not in the batting cage, and it’s not 2003.

I see the Giants winning the pennant even though they won’t actually make the National League playoffs. I base this on the fact that Hunter Pence will find a way to make it happen.

And my World Series winner? Cubs in six, of course.

Cubs.com

Castro’s late homer clinches win over Mets

Arrieta continues dominant ways with seven scoreless in no-decision

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Starlin Castro delivered when the Cubs needed him to, just not quite in time to give Jake Arrieta the win.

Castro belted an opposite-field home run leading off the ninth to lift the Cubs to a 2-1 victory on Sunday over the Mets at Citi Field, after New York had tied the game in the eighth on Curtis Granderson’s RBI single.

Arrieta was in line for the win before the Mets rallied. The right-hander held New York to two hits over seven innings, while striking out nine — including eight on his curveball. Since June 3, he has given up more than three runs only once while compiling a 2.45 ERA.

"Jake was very, very good today," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "The curveball was tremendous, which we knew he had going into the game. You have to battle him."

Arrieta used his fastball to set up the curve.

"I just had a good feel for [the curve], and was able to throw it in multiple counts for a strike below the zone — so it was there for me when I needed it," Arrieta said. "[Catcher John] Baker saw that it was a pretty effective pitch, especially with the life off the fastball. Those two combined, the way they were going, I didn’t have to use the cutter as much today. It was nice to have that feel and adjust on the fly."

Castro knew what he wanted to do in the ninth. With the game deadlocked at 1, he smacked the first pitch he saw, a fastball, for his 13th home run of the season and second since June 20 to right off Jenrry Mejia. Castro is now one shy of matching his career high in home runs, set in 2012.

"That was a big one," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "When he hit it, it came off his bat, and we were hoping it would get away from [the right fielder] — and it just carried enough to get out. That was a big at-bat for him, big at-bat for us."

"It’s a big swing of the bat," Arrieta said. "He’s having a real nice year and doing big things offensively, and he’s playing great defense. A big-time hitter for us stepped up in a big-time spot. First pitch he sees, to deposit it dead right, right down the line, that’s tough to do."

Mejia said he was trying to throw the ball outside, but Castro reached out and poked it far enough.

"The guy threw me fastball first pitch, and that’s what I’m looking for," Castro said, "and I was going to try to hit it hard."

Castro also helped out Arrieta in the third. The Mets had runners at first and third with one out, and Arrieta got Juan Lagares to hit into a 6-4-3 double play, although Castro had to run to snare the ball, then flip to Javier Baez, who made a barehanded catch and threw in time to complete the play.

"That was pretty awesome," Castro said of the play. "That ball was hit pretty hard."

And Baez looked like a natural at second.

"He plays like he’s always played [at second base]," Castro said of the converted shortstop.

New York starter Rafael Montero was nearly as tough, limiting the Cubs to five hits over 7 1/3 innings. Baez walked to lead off the fourth, his first in 55 plate appearances since his callup on Aug. 5. One out later, Baez moved up on a groundout by Castro and then scored on Luis Valbuena’s single to center. Baez had struck out 21 times, including in the first inning, before the walk.

Ruben Tejada singled with one out in the Mets’ eighth off Pedro Strop, moved up on a passed ball charged to Baker, and then scored one out later on Granderson’s single to tie the game. Granderson’s hit ended an 0-for-17 skid.

Arrieta missed the first month of the season as he rehabbed from tightness in his right shoulder. The Cubs’ front office has said it wants to see some of their recently acquired pitchers — such as Jacob Turner, Dan Straily, who made a spot start on Saturday, and Felix Doubront, who made his second rehab start on Sunday. Arrieta wasn’t sure what the plan will be. He just wants to keep going.

"I want to make every start that I have lined up throughout the end of September," Arrieta said. "If something comes up, I guess that will be addressed. I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note."

Nearly every time the Cubs have acquired a pitcher, they mention the success Arrieta has had since he arrived from the Orioles in July 2013.

"I know there are guys who need looks — and they want to give them looks — and that’s part of transforming a developing team to a winning team," Arrieta said. "You have to find out what you’ve got to move forward."

Cubs.com

MRI on prospect Bryant reveals foot bruise

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Cubs fans can exhale.

Kris Bryant’s MRI on Sunday revealed only a bruise on his left foot. He’s day to day. The Triple-A Iowa third baseman apparently fouled a ball off the foot a few days ago, and on Saturday, he felt some pain on the bases after drawing a walk in the first inning in Des Moines.

Bryant was pulled from the game before the third inning and underwent X-rays on his left big toe on Saturday. The X-rays were inconclusive and precipitated the MRI.

There was no timetable for Bryant’s return.

"He’s been dealing with it for the last couple of nights and sucking it up because he’s a freaking gamer," Iowa manager Marty Pevey told the Des Moines Register on Saturday.

Bryant, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, is batting .306 at Triple-A. He leads all Minor Leaguers with 40 home runs combined at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa. His 40th homer was a walk-off blast in the 12th inning Thursday to give Iowa a 6-5 win over Las Vegas.

Cubs.com

Szczur makes his Major League debut

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Matt Szczur’s father was in Des Moines this weekend to help his son pack some of his belongings. Szczur has spent the season at Triple-A Iowa, and with the year winding down, the plan was for his father to make a stop at the Iowa State Fair on Saturday, then load up the car and drive to New Jersey. But plans changed.

"I called him and said, ‘You might want to come back — we’re packing up for a different reason now,’" Szczur said.

Szczur was called up from the Minors on Sunday and joined the Cubs at Citi Field, where he played once before in a workout for Major League scouts. He entered the game in the eighth as a pinch-runner to become the seventh player to make his Major League debut with the Cubs this season. He wasn’t nervous.

"I feel if it was my first time up and I hadn’t been in big league camp, I would’ve been a lot more nervous," Szczur said. "I remember the first time I was in big league camp, my legs were shaking. I felt very comfortable today. I wasn’t nervous. It was good to hear the crowd go crazy — it brought me back to my football days."

He had a cheering section from Cape May, N.J., which is about 2 1/2 hours away from New York City. A lot of his former Villanova classmates and teammates were at Citi Field.

"It was a great day," said Szczur, who was given the lineup card as a souvenir.

He stayed in the game in right field, and hit into a fielder’s choice in his first at-bat in the ninth.

"To be honest, I didn’t even think I’d be playing baseball," said Szczur, who was a star wide receiver at Villanova. "I thought I was going to go to the NFL and play football. It happened my opportunity was better at the time to play baseball.

"I just wanted to work hard and get to the hardest level. It’s been a great journey. There have been struggles. But there are struggles everywhere and you learn from your struggles."

Szczur knows first hand about struggles. He donated blood cells to a leukemia patient who had a 1-in-80,000 chance of finding a match. He missed 10 games in 2010 because of side effects from the medication he had to take.

A fifth-round pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Szczur has impressed the Cubs organization with his work habits. He doesn’t just stand in the outfield during batting practice, he “power shags” and chases after balls hit as if it’s a game situation.

"It’s helped me a lot," Szczur said. "What helped get me here is being a defensive help in the outfield."

Iowa manager Marty Pevey broke the news to Szczur in a lighthearted way. Szczur was called into Pevey’s office before Saturday’s game.

"He asked if I was hitting off the curveball machine today," Szczur said. "I said, ‘Yeah, I planned on it.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re not going to hit it with us, you’re going to the big leagues.’ I was excited, everybody else was excited. They see the hard work I put in and they were happy for me."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria wants to take advantage of Szczur’s speed, since the fleet-footed outfielder had 30 stolen bases at Iowa; the Cubs have 49 as a team.

"He did a nice job for us in the spring. He’s a nice defensive player, he had some really good at-bats, runs the bases well," Renteria said.

Szczur arrived in New York shortly after midnight. Was he excited about the callup?

"I couldn’t sleep at all last night, there was no way," Szczur said. "It’s exciting. You have to realize it’s your job and you have to go out there and work. Once you make it, [the work] doesn’t stop. You have to just keep it up."

Alcantara getting on-the-job training in center

NEW YORK — Arismendy Alcantara has primarily played second base in his career. But right now, the rookie is the Cubs’ center fielder and learning how to play there in the big leagues.

Alcantara made his 19th start in center on Sunday in the Cubs’ game against the Mets. He made a nice catch on Curtis Granderson’s fly ball in the second inning on Saturday, but his error in the Mets’ sixth contributed to two runs.

"One of the biggest things we wanted to do is that now that he’s here — and I know it’s tough at the Major League level — but we wanted to give him a look in center, as long as he can play out there," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a tough play in center field [on Saturday], coming in — but he also made a great catch against the wall.

"He’s showing signs that there are some good things coming from the defensive end of it in center field, and he’s not going to get any better unless he’s out there playing it."

Alcantara, who made 15 starts at second before moving to center, could develop into a versatile player and provide what Emilio Bonifacio did for the Cubs at the start of the season.

"You can’t fault these young guys when they’re going out there and giving you the type of effort they’re giving you," Renteria said. "If [a play] doesn’t work out, you’re a little less worried about it — because they’ll learn from the experiences and they’ll get better."

Alcantara made another highlight-reel catch during Sunday’s game, robbing Kirk Nieuwenhuis of a hit in the eighth inning of Chicago’s 2-1 win.

Extra bases

• Third baseman Luis Valbuena was back in the Cubs lineup on Sunday, after missing two games because of a sinus infection.

Valbuena, who had five hits in his last 44 at-bats (.114) entering Sunday, told Renteria he was feeling better.

"[Saturday], he was taking ground balls and working extremely hard," said Renteria, "and came out and said, ‘Hey, I’m ready to go.’"

Cubs.com

Battle of the ages shapes Cubs-Mets finale

Vet Colon out to give New York series win against rookie Hendricks

By Jake Kring-Schreifels

The Mets won’t have an opportunity for a sweep on Monday afternoon against the Cubs, when the teams wrap up their four-game set. The finale features two pitchers with a 17-year age gap between them.

A series win for New York would provide a redemptive end to a seven-game homestand that began with a three-game sweep at the hands of the Nationals. The Mets will hand the ball to 41-year-old Bartolo Colon, with New York still within in striking distance of a National League Wild Card berth. Colon will look to continue yet another impressive stretch during his first season in Queens. He is fresh off a loss to the Nationals on Wednesday, despite allowing only two runs (one earned) over seven innings. The right-hander struck out eight and walked one — his only walk in 19 2/3 innings this month.

That outing was part of a longer stretch in which he has lasted at least seven innings and allowed no more than two earned runs in four of his last five starts. The lone aberration was a six-run, 4 2/3-inning blip on Aug. 3.

"Outstanding," said manager Terry Collins after Colon’s start on Wednesday. "Threw a lot of zeroes up there against a good team. He’s done a good job."

The Cubs have a combined 18 plate appearances vs. Colon. Luis Valbuena has homered twice in five at-bats (six plate appearances) against the righty.

Chicago will try to even the series behind 24-year-old rookie Kyle Hendricks, who will be making just his seventh career start. He enters the contest with some confidence, coming off of 7 1/3 scoreless innings against the Brewers. Part of his success has been a result of observation. The day before his starts, he watches each hitter’s at-bats to see what he’s trying to do.

"I just try to sear the game plan into my mind by watching a ton of video," Hendricks said. "That way, when I’m on the mound, I don’t have to think about, ‘What was this guy supposed to do again?’ It’s just kind of there because I’ve watched so much video.

"It’s studying, for sure. You’re looking at the hitters. The scouting report is just a bunch of words. You have to read it and have to be able to retain it. It’s fun studying, it’s not like school. It’s fun sitting there watching hitters. You’re watching baseball."

Doing his homework has paid off. Hendricks notched his fifth quality start on Tuesday, and the Cubs have won in six of his seven outings.

Mets: d’Arnaud enjoys anniversary of debut

Travis d’Arnaud celebrated the one-year anniversary of his first Major League game on the bench on Sunday, with backup catcher Anthony Recker getting the start in a day game after a night game. But that didn’t stop the rookie from looking back on the whirlwind that’s been his past 365 days.

"It flew by," said d’Arnaud, whose last year has included a late-season cup of coffee, questions in Spring Training regarding his offense, two-plus months of struggles at the plate, a demotion to Triple-A Las Vegas, another callup and, most recently, newfound offensive success in the Majors. "It’s pretty cool, though, so I’m going to try to soak today in as much as I can."

All that isn’t lost on Collins, who noted that while the defensive side of d’Arnaud’s game continues to progress, his work at the plate has grown by leaps and bounds since he debuted.

"And I know last year when he came up, [defense and working with the pitchers] was his biggest concentration," Collins said. "This year, he had to work on the offensive side. Now, it’s a matter of putting them together."

Cubs: Alcantara getting on-the-job training in center

Arismendy Alcantara has primarily played second base in his career. But right now, the rookie is the Cubs’ center fielder and learning how to play there in the big leagues.

Alcantara made his 19th start in center on Sunday in the Cubs’ game against the Mets. He made a nice catch on Curtis Granderson’s fly ball in the second inning on Saturday, but his error in the Mets’ sixth contributed to two runs.

"One of the biggest things we wanted to do is that now that he’s here — and I know it’s tough at the Major League level — but we wanted to give him a look in center, as long as he can play out there," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He had a tough play in center field [on Saturday], coming in — but he also made a great catch against the wall.

"He’s showing signs that there are some good things coming from the defensive end of it in center field, and he’s not going to get any better unless he’s out there playing it."

Worth noting

• Starlin Castro had his career-high-tying 14-game hitting streak end on Saturday night, but went right back to work on Sunday, hitting the go-ahead home run in the Cubs’ 2-1 victory.

• This four-game series at Citi Field represents the Cubs’ lone road contests in a 17-game stretch from Aug. 8-24. Additionally, this is the 26th game in a stretch in which Chicago will play 33 games in 34 days — including 23 of those at home, through Aug. 24.

• Buddy Carlyle extended his scoreless streak to the Mets’ bullpen season-high 11 1/3 innings on Saturday night. He has the lowest ERA (0.55) among all pitchers with 15 or more innings.

ESPNChicago.com

Bryant day-to-day with foot injury

By Jesse Rogers

Chicago Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant has a left foot contusion and is day-to-day after undergoing an MRI on Sunday morning, the team announced after the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the New York Mets.

Bryant left Saturday’s Triple-A Iowa game against Salt Lake after aggravating an injury he’s reportedly been battling for a few days.

Bryant has 40 home runs and 103 RBIs split between Double-A and Triple-A this season. There was speculation he might get called up to the major league in September when rosters expand, but the Cubs say that won’t be the case in his first full professional year.

Bryant was not in the lineup on Sunday. He was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft. The injury is not expected to be serious.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs send down Dan Straily

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs optioned pitcher Dan Straily to Triple-A Iowa while recalling outfielder Matt Szczur, the team announced on Sunday.

Szczur, 24, was a fifth-round pick of the Cubs in 2010. He was hitting .261 with a home run and 24 RBIs and 30 stolen bases in 116 games this season at Triple-A. He’s known for his defensive prowess in the outfield, having committed just one error this season. He’ll make his major league debut the first time he enters a game for the Cubs. He’s not in the starting lineup against the New York Mets on Sunday.

Straily made his Cubs’ debut on Saturday night lasting 5 1/3 innings while giving up five earned runs on four hits and three walks. He suffered the loss in a 7-3 defeat to the Mets.

CSNChicago.com

Whatever Cubs have in mind, Jake Arrieta plans to finish strong

Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK — Whatever the Cubs have in mind, Jake Arrieta plans to finish strong.

Arrieta continued his breakthrough season on Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, dominating the New York Mets and allowing only two hits across seven shutout innings in a 2-1 victory. After everything it took to get to this point, he doesn’t want it to stop.

Arrieta (2.61 ERA) has become the change-of-scenery billboard for The Cubs Way after last summer’s trade from the Baltimore Orioles, harnessing the stuff that was once supposed to make him a frontline starter at Camden Yards.

Now that Dan Straily, Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner are in the organization after another round of deal-making, general manager Jed Hoyer says the Cubs will have to get creative to give looks to their new group of talented-but-flawed pitchers.

Arrieta wants the ball — the Mets couldn’t touch his curve, striking out nine times — through the end of September.

“As far as being shut down, I’ve heard nothing about that,” Arrieta said. “Obviously, I would love to remain (in the rotation) and finish the season out, however many starts I have left. I feel fresh, I feel healthy. So, yeah, I’m good.”

Arrieta wound up with the no-decision after Pedro Strop’s blown save in the eighth inning and Starlin Castro’s game-winning homer leading off the ninth.

After all the speculation — Castro essentially being trade bait to get an elite pitcher to pair with Arrieta — the All-Star shortstop showed Met fans and the New York media what they’re missing by lining Jenrry Mejia’s 94-mph first-pitch fastball over the right-field wall for his 13th homer.

Arrieta began the season on the disabled list with right shoulder tightness and didn’t make his first start until May 3, going on a run that still put him in the All-Star conversation despite the late start. He’s 6-4 through 19 starts, accounting for 117-plus innings.

Manager Rick Renteria left it open-ended during his pregame media session after getting a question about his expectations for Arrieta’s finish.

“We have to see how he’s feeling,” Renteria said. “He’s obviously been pretty good, so it’s still one of those things — I think — where we monitor his pitch counts and his innings. It’s been something where he’s been grinding it out pretty good.

“He’s given us quite a few outings where he’s gone deep into ballgames. But we’ll just continue to assess and evaluate and make that determination as we continue to move forward.”

The Cubs could be looking at their potential 2015 Opening Day starter.

“I just want to make every start that I have lined up throughout the end of September,” Arrieta said. “If something comes up, I guess that will be addressed. But obviously I’d love to stay in the mix and finish out on a high note.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs aren’t shutting down Kris Bryant at Triple-A Iowa

Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The Cubs aren’t shutting down Kris Bryant at Triple-A Iowa.

After Sunday’s MRI, the Cubs listed Bryant as day-to-day with a left foot contusion, meaning the uber-prospect could still potentially help his team in the push for the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

The Cubs never had any intentions of calling up Bryant during his first full season in professional baseball, even with the 22-year-old third baseman putting up 40 homers and 103 RBI in 124 games split between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

But that power potential had Twitter buzzing on Saturday night after Bryant was pulled from the game in the third inning, ultimately leaving Principal Park and going for X-rays at a hospital in the Des Moines area.

Bryant had recently fouled a ball off his left foot and aggravated an injury that didn’t really concern team officials.

CSNChicago.com

Curtis Granderson believes in Jackie Robinson West

Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK — Curtis Granderson believes in Jackie Robinson West, knowing those South Side kids can send a powerful message at the Little League World Series.

That’s not PR spin or jumping on the bandwagon for Granderson, the New York Mets outfielder who grew up in Chicago’s south suburbs, not far from Morgan Park. It’s personal.

That’s why Granderson planned to get updates from South Williamsport, Pa., during Sunday’s game at Citi Field. While the Cubs beat the Mets 2-1, the Jackie Robinson All-Stars are one loss away from elimination after a 13-2 mercy-rule decision against Las Vegas.

He already put his money where his mouth is, donating $5 million to help build Curtis Granderson Field at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he earned his business degree and met some of the Jackie Robinson West coaches and players during an outreach event last fall.

That West Side stadium with a great view of the Chicago skyline gets inner-city kids playing in a safe environment and seeing what a college campus looks like. All those issues ran through Granderson’s mind during a conversation at his locker that lasted more than 20 minutes.

[MORE: Jackie Robinson West is now one game from elimination]

“Hopefully something like a team from Chicago — (though) they are an all African-American team — can help spike the interest back into the baseball community,” Granderson said. “Not just the African-American community. Just baseball in general, because the numbers are down, and where I grew up was a very diverse neighborhood.

“It’s not just the black kids that aren’t playing. It’s the white kids. It’s Hispanic kids, the Asian kids. Kids aren’t playing it as much as they used to.”

Some of Granderson’s friends grew up playing in Jackie Robinson West. The 33-year-old three-time All-Star estimated the league he played in as a teenager has dropped from around 750 kids to about 330. He pointed out how his local qualifying tournament for the Little League World Series has been slashed from roughly 16 teams to four now.

“It’s amazing to look back,” Granderson said. “I just remember seeing that bracket and it was our city, Lynwood. There was Lansing, there was Glenwood, there was Homewood, there was Olympia Fields, there was Country Club Hills, Sauk Village, Crete, all these different teams.

“So as you start to see there’s only four, well, which ones of these have folded? And how many of them have combined? And that’s just in my 15-mile radius. Now you start to expand that and move further and further…

“You’re seeing the number of fields is still high. But the number of kids on the field as you drive by on a normal summer day is drastically low.”

That’s a huge issue for Major League Baseball’s next commissioner, Rob Manfred, making sure this doesn’t become a sport for rich kids whose parents can afford sending them to showcases and tournaments, paying for personal trainers and sessions with private coaches.

“It’s gotten very costly,” Granderson said. “The willingness to play shouldn’t be deterred by the cost. I have cousins and friends and know families that are playing travel ball. It’s great exposure. You get a chance to play a lot of games and do amazing things. But when the cost starts to get up into the $1,000-to-$5,000 range, most families can’t afford that, especially if you have more than one kid.”

The Manfred administration will have to grow the game, making it more accessible to a younger generation and widening the audience. Because, ultimately, who else is going to buy tickets and deliver TV ratings?

As the son of two Chicago Public Schools teachers, and an MLB Players Association representative, Granderson already sees the big picture. He immediately quoted the NCAA cap on college scholarships – 11.7 for each baseball program – and explained how that drains elite athletes from the sport.

Granderson recalled being invited to play for an AAU basketball team as an eighth-grader and having the uniforms, sneakers and travel costs taken care of by a sponsor.

“I remember all the different AAU teams in the city of Chicago that my friends played on,” Granderson said. “The kids that I remember watching, such as the Dwyane Wades, the Eddy Currys, I’m thinking: Wow, all of a sudden, they’re in Orlando, or they’re in Vegas. How are they financially coming up with this?

“Well, somebody’s footing that bill. Is it the NBA? Is it adidas? Is it Nike? Is it Juwan Howard having an AAU basketball team in the city of Chicago? Someone’s providing the opportunity for the kids to play.”

Granderson is trying to find the answers to those questions, working through his foundation and as an MLB ambassador. For the record, he didn’t get much interest from the Cubs or White Sox last winter before signing a four-year, $60 million contract with the Mets: “The stories made it look like I was getting a bunch of offers from both Chicago teams, but that was just the newspapers.”

The Chicago Tribune reported last week’s Jackie Robinson West game on ESPN got a higher rating in the market than the average Cubs or White Sox game. No matter how far they advance in the Little League World Series, Granderson knows the kids from Morgan Park can be a powerful symbol for the game’s potential.

17 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Hot prospect Szczur to be called up on Sunday

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Outfielder Matt Szczur is headed to The Show.

Pitcher Dan Straily was added on Saturday to make a spot start, part of the Cubs’ plan to give the other starters a breather. But the right-hander will rejoin Triple-A Iowa on Sunday, and Szczur will get called up to the big leagues for the first time. The Cubs optioned outfielder Junior Lake to Iowa to make room for Straily, and played short-handed on the bench Saturday in a 7-3 loss to the Mets.

It’ll be a homecoming for Szczur, 25, a Cape May, N.J., native. He was batting .261 in 116 games at Iowa with 16 doubles, one triple, one home run, 24 RBIs and 30 stolen bases. He was hitting .292 in 14 games this month after batting .275 in July.

A solid defensive player, Szczur also was a talented wide receiver on the Villanova football team, winning a national title in 2009.

"We talked for a long time about the move and how it fits with our team now and how it might fit in with some of the things that might happen going forward," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday.

Hoyer didn’t want to comment on other players they considered for the promotion, including highly touted outfielder Jorge Soler, who was batting .243 at Iowa.

Top prospect Bryant to have MRI on foot

NEW YORK — Cubs top prospect Kris Bryant had to leave Saturday’s game with Triple-A Iowa before the third inning after apparently aggravating a minor foot injury.

In a game at Principal Park in Des Moines, the 22-year-old third baseman drew a walk in the first against Salt Lake to load the bases. It was his only at-bat of the night. Before the third inning, Bryant headed to the Iowa clubhouse with one of the athletic trainers and did not return to the game. He was taken to a Des Moines hospital for X-rays.

A Cubs spokesman said Saturday night that X-rays on Bryant’s left big toe were inconclusive. He will have an MRI on Sunday.

Lake sent to Triple-A in effort to regroup

NEW YORK — It’s been a struggle this season for outfielder Junior Lake, who the Cubs are hoping can get back on track playing every day at Triple-A Iowa.

Lake was optioned to Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for pitcher Dan Straily, who started Saturday against the Mets. The outfielder was batting .216 with 102 strikeouts in 98 games. He hit .114 in July.

"We’ll try to get him back on his feet again," manager Rick Renteria said. "It’s tough for me to have him here. The window right now is just right" for him to go to the Minors.

Lake was told he would be back with the big league team when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

"Any time you have someone who has been with you as long as he’s been with us, and you send him down late, it’s obviously disappointing," Renteria said, "but I think he understands he’ll get some at-bats and he knows he’ll be back."

Cubs trying to determine reason for fan fest

NEW YORK — Ryan Sweeney can’t explain all the strikeouts.

The Cubs batters rank second in the National League in K’s, fanning 77 times in the just completed seven-game homestand. On Friday on the road, it didn’t get much better as the Mets combined to strike out 14 Chicago batters.

"We’ve just been facing some good pitching," Sweeney said. "This game is unfair in a lot of ways. It’s tough to get hits now, especially with shifts and scouting reports and replay.

"I don’t know why we’re striking out more," he said. "We’ve just been facing some good pitching and sometimes we try to do a little too much in certain situations."

Manager Rick Renteria said the high number of K’s could be a matter of inexperience.

"I just want them to stay positive," he said. "You’d be surprised — strikeouts come when you’re a little passive and a little timid and you’re caught in between in terms of pitches you’re looking for and the zone you’re trying to sit on. Those are adjustments they’ll have to continue to make, and they will."

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer described this as an “extreme” stretch. He isn’t counting the K’s but would like to see the Cubs improve their situational hitting.

"I think you have to be able to change your approach and hit the ball to the right side, and know when a ground ball to second is as good as a single, and things like that," Hoyer said. "That’s where I think we have to improve. With that, the strikeout numbers will get better. I’d be surprised looking at our players going forward that we wouldn’t have strikeouts, but I also think we’ll have power."

Javier Baez has contributed to the high strikeout numbers in his short time with the team. In 11 games, he’s fanned 19 times, but he’s also hit four home runs.

"Those guys are going to strike out, and that’s going to be part of their game," Hoyer said of Baez and top prospect Kris Bryant, "but if they’re doing damage I think you would think differently. As they mature, they’ll learn, ‘This is an at-bat where I can’t strike out and I need to put the ball in play.’"

Sweeney doesn’t miss Baez’s at-bats.

"You never know what’s going to happen or what he’s going to do, so it’s fun watching how hard he swings and the way he plays the game," Sweeney said. "It’s not like anybody else I’ve played with. Watching him, you’re always excited when he comes up because you never know what’s going to happen."

Extra bases

• Third baseman Luis Valbuena did not start Saturday, sidelined with a cold that apparently is running its course through the clubhouse. Renteria said he expected Valbuena back in the lineup on Sunday. The time off couldn’t hurt; Valbuena was batting .233, and 0-for-8 in his last three games.

Cubs.com

Mets’ Montero gets another shot to strut his stuff

Arrieta looking to continue his surge as new ace of Cubs staff

By Jake Kring-Schreifels

Rookie Rafael Montero already made his first impression for the Mets organization earlier this season with mixed results. But Sunday afternoon, in the third game of a four-game series with the Cubs, he’ll be concerned with making an even better last impression.

That’s because no matter how his turn on the hill goes, it could likely be his final start in the Majors for the foreseeable future. Jacob deGrom is expected back from the disabled list soon, possibly as early as this spot’s next turn in the rotation, which would make Montero an odd man out.

That said, it is an important outing for the rookie right-hander, who has mostly struggled in his five Major League starts this season. He owns a 6.12 ERA and 1.64 WHIP while giving up eight homers in 25 innings.

The most recent of those outings came Tuesday against the Nationals, who scored five runs on seven hits (three homers) in five innings. He struck out four and walked two.

"You see he’s got the weapons that he can be successful here with," said manager Terry Collins. "But he’s got to locate them better, he’s got to learn when to use them, mix them up a little bit. He’s got a good arm, got good movement. We’ve got to continue to work."

Added Collins: “When you’re throwing it in the middle of the plate and you’re throwing it up like that, you’re going to get hit.”

Montero’s counterpart Sunday is more worried about making a good impression for the remaining month and a half at the top of the rotation. Since Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to Oakland, Jake Arrieta has fit in rather well as the ace of the staff.

In his last game, Arrieta posted his 11th quality start in his last 12 outings — his only blemish was a nine-run outlier against the Rockies on Aug. 6. In his last start, he held the Brewers to two runs over 7 1/3 innings, although one was a homer by Mark Reynolds.

"We want to come out and win ballgames," said Arrieta after the start. "A byproduct of that is being able to have a chance to spoil someone’s season. Our schedule is going to be a tough one from here on out, but we’ll be ready for it."

Cubs: Lake sent to Triple-A in effort to regroup

It’s been a struggle this season for outfielder Junior Lake, who the Cubs are hoping can get back on track playing every day at Triple-A Iowa.

Lake was optioned to Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for pitcher Dan Straily, who started Saturday against the Mets. The outfielder was batting .216 with 102 strikeouts in 98 games. He hit .114 in July.

"We’ll try to get him back on his feet again," manager Rick Renteria said. "It’s tough for me to have him here. The window right now is just right" for him to go to the Minors.

Lake was told he would be back with the big league team when rosters expand on Sept. 1.

Mets: d’Arnaud’s safety behind the plate a concern for Mets

When Travis d’Arnaud got whacked on the arm by a backswing of a Cubs batter Friday night, Collins and a team trainer immediately came out of the dugout to check on the catcher, who has already missed time this season due to a concussion from a similar incident.

Part of it is simply the danger of catching, but that doesn’t stop it from worrying Collins.

"Right now he’s OK. We are concerned about this. This guy has had one concussion, three in his career," Collins said. "We have to make sure this guy stays healthy because his bat is going to play, as we’ve seen. You can’t keep losing this guy for seven days every month. He said he was fine last night, and we’ll see how he is.

"It’s an issue for sure. We’ve tried different masks, we’ve tried all the things. He’s just one of those guys, when he gets a foul tip, we’re in danger of losing him for a period of time."

Worth noting

• Starlin Castro saw his career-high-tying 14-game hitting streak end Saturday when the shortstop went 0-4 with a strikeout.

• The Mets have won nine of their last 13 one-run games. They are 19-24 in one-run games overall, including 9-10 at home.

Cubs.com

Straily rolls an unlucky 7 in Cubs debut

Right-hander, traded by A’s in July, shows promise but lasts only 5 1/3

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Dan Straily had never given up seven runs in a game at any level until Saturday, which wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do in his Cubs debut.

Straily served up seven runs — five earned — over 5 1/3 innings as the Mets posted a 7-3 win Saturday night over the Cubs in front of 30,744 at Citi Field.

Welington Castillo and Justin Ruggiano each homered but it wasn’t enough for Straily, 25, called up from Triple-A Iowa so the Cubs could give their other starters a breather. Acquired from the Athletics on July 4, Straily had not allowed an earned run over 19 innings in his last three starts with Iowa.

He still doesn’t know the names of all his teammates, but won’t have much time to learn who they are. He was headed back to Iowa on Sunday.

"It felt pretty new until I got going," Straily said. "Once I started playing catch, it was another day of baseball. All day today, it felt pretty new. The excitement of getting to pitch for a new team and all that good stuff that goes along with it. It’s just not the way I want to finish."

The 10th pitcher to start for the Cubs this season, Straily retired the side in order in an efficient first. But the Mets had runners at first and second with one out in the second when Juan Lagares hit a ground-rule double to right. Wilmer Flores followed with a two-run single to open a 3-0 lead.

The Cubs began the day with the fourth-best batting average against left-handed pitchers in the National League, but couldn’t muster much against Jon Niese, who allowed Castillo’s leadoff homer in the fifth.

Then came the Mets’ sixth. Straily retired the first batter, but hit David Wright with a pitch. He then gave up a walk, single and walk before being pulled. Lagares greeted Kyuji Fujikawa with a fly ball to center that Arismendy Alcantara got his glove on but dropped. Two runs scored — one on a sacrifice fly, another on Alcantara’s error — and one batter later, Niese grounded out to drive in another run.

Straily “was probably one hitter away from getting out of that one inning when he mislocated and got Wright,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “He was really close to getting out of that inning.”

Straily agreed.

"It went pretty well until I hit Wright, and things kind of unraveled for me," he said. "I had them on the ropes right there and then lost the fastball in. You can’t follow it up with a walk, a hit and another walk. It’s unaccepteable.

"I was trying to keep them off balance," he said. "I didn’t have my best stuff out there. I was able to keep them off balance until I couldn’t find the strike zone in the sixth."

As for Alcantara’s play in center, it’s still a work in progress. Alcantara did make a nice catch of Curtis Granderson’s fly ball in the second, but muffed Lagares’ ball.

"He asked if it was the right thing — I was in the dugout, yelling, ‘Dive, go for it,’" Renteria said. "He just short-armed it a little bit. Otherwise he makes that catch and it’s a little bit different story."

Ruggiano led off the seventh with his home run and the Cubs then loaded the bases on three straight singles. Pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney knocked Niese out literally and figuratively with a hard-hit comebacker. A run scored, and Niese was pulled.

Starlin Castro went 0-for-4 to end his hitting streak at 14 games, which matches his career high.

Straily will head back to Iowa, hoping to build on the stretch when he retired 12 in a row until Wright’s HBP.

"I think that middle stretch of inings is more the type of guy I am," he said. "That was the most runs I’ve ever left the field giving up in my career at any level. It’s not exactly the way you want the first one to go. There were definitely positives in the middle innings. The two big innings hurt me."

"I’m sure we’ll see him again," Renteria said. "He gave us a good look."

ESPNChicago.com

Kris Bryant injures toe in Triple-A tilt

By Jesse Rogers

Top Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant left Saturday’s Triple-A game against Salt Lake with an injury to his left big toe.

The X-ray on Bryant’s toe proved inconclusive, according to the Cubs. He is slated to have an MRI on Sunday.

Bryant has 40 home runs and 103 RBIs split between Double-A and Triple-A this season. He was the No. 2 overall pick in 2013.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Mets 7, Cubs 3

By Adam Rubin

NEW YORK — Now that the undercard is over, it’s on to the Boyz II Men postgame concert!

Vic Black bailed the Mets out of a precarious predicament in the seventh, and the Amazin’s held on to beat the Chicago Cubs 7-3 on Saturday at Citi Field.

Jonathon Niese had cruised into the seventh with a six-run lead, having only allowed a Welington Castillo solo homer, when things quickly cratered.

Justin Ruggiano led off with a homer, and the next four batters singled. By the time Niese departed, the Cubs had pulled within four runs, and the bases remained loaded, still with none out.

Black rescued the Mets.

He coaxed a fly out to left field from Chris Coghlan, and the runners decided to hold. Black then got Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo to pop out in the infield to preserve the 7-3 lead.

Black has now stranded 19 straight inherited baserunners.

Oh captain: Eric Campbell replaced David Wright at third base for the seventh inning, a half-inning after the captain was drilled by a pitch from Cubs starter Dan Straily in the left shoulder blade. The Mets labeled the injury shoulder soreness.

Early lead: After Wilmer Flores drove in two runs with a single to stake the Mets to a 3-0 lead in the second, Straily retired 12 straight batters in his Cubs debut. Things then unraveled for the former Oakland Athletics right-hander in what became a four-run sixth, despite the Mets’ producing only one hit in the frame.

With one out, Straily drilled Wright, walked Lucas Duda, surrendered a single to Travis d’Arnaud and walked Matt den Dekker to force in a run and give the Mets a 4-1 lead.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria pulled Straily at that point.

Kyuji Fujikawa inherited loaded bases and immediately experienced a letdown behind him. Center fielder Arismendy Alcantara had Juan Lagares’ line drive glance off his glove for a sacrifice fly and E-8, as two runs scored. After an intentional walk to Flores with first base open, Niese followed with a run-scoring groundout, and the Mets grabbed a 7-1 lead.

Buddy! Buddy Carlyle tossed a scoreless ninth to extend his scoreless-innings streak to 11 1/3 innings.

What’s next: Rafael Montero makes his second and potentially final start as a sub for Jacob deGrom at 1:10 p.m. Sunday. Montero (0-3, 6.12 ERA) opposes right-hander Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.77).

DeGrom is due to throw off a mound Sunday and, if all goes according to plan, should return Saturday at Dodger Stadium.

Montero allowed homers to Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond and was charged with five runs in five innings Tuesday against the Washington Nationals in the rookie’s return to the majors. He also made four major league starts in May.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs option Junior Lake

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs optioned outfielder Junior Lake to Triple-A Iowa while recalling right-handed pitcher Dan Straily, the team announced on Saturday.

Lake, 24, had been in the majors since debuting last season after the All-Star break. He hit .284 with a .332 on-base percentage and an OPS of .760 in 64 games in 2013. He burst on the scene as a dynamic player displaying both power as well as the ability to bunt for a hit.

But he regressed this year, hitting only .216 at the time of his demotion with a strikeout percentage of 33.5. He had 102 strikeouts and just 10 walks in 305 plate appearances. Lake began the season in a platoon role playing mostly against left-handed pitching. Eventually he lost playing time to hot-hitting left fielder Chris Coghlan and was reduced to a bench role.

Straily, 25, was acquired on July 4 along with minor leaguers Addison Russell, Bill McKinney and a player to be named later from the Oakland Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Straily was 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts for Iowa this year. He’s 13-11 with a 4.11 ERA in 41 starts in the big leagues over three seasons, all with the Athletics.

Straily is scheduled to start on Saturday night against the New York Mets but is expected to return to Triple-A Iowa after the game.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Kris Bryant will get MRI after leaving Triple-A game

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The biggest news surrounding the Cubs on Saturday night happened more than 1,000 miles away from the big-league club, because Kris Bryant is supposed to be a franchise player.

Bryant leaving Triple-A Iowa’s game in the third inning ignited the speculation on Twitter, but the elite prospect won’t get called up this season.

Bryant will get an MRI on Sunday after X-rays on his left big toe were inconclusive. The Cubs didn’t sound too concerned about a major injury, but they also didn’t have many details immediately available to the media.

Bryant – who had recently fouled a ball off his foot – went to a hospital in the Des Moines area.

After a 5-3 loss to Salt Lake at Principal Park, Iowa manager Marty Pevey told The Des Moines Register: “He’s been dealing with it himself for the last couple of nights and sucking it up because he’s a freaking gamer.”

Bryant, last year’s No. 2 overall pick, has actually exceeded the hype this season, putting up 40 homers and 103 RBI in 123 games split between Iowa and Double-A Tennessee. Baseball America ranked the 22-year-old third baseman as the game’s No. 2 prospect.

That’s why Cubs fans freak out – and the Chicago media makes it a headline – almost anytime they see Bryant’s name on social media.    

CSNChicago.com

What it means for Cubs: Rob Manfred’s rise and MLB’s labor battle

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK — The Cubs will find out what Major League Baseball’s next commissioner is all about. Rob Manfred is the ultimate insider, but no one knows exactly how he will put his imprint on the game.

But if the ownership hawks really want to fight another labor war, the MLB Players Association will say: Bring it on.

The stakes will be high for a Cubs franchise that believes a long run of contention could begin right around the time the current labor agreement expires — after the 2016 season — and the battle lines already appear to be forming.

Cubs reliever Carlos Villanueva, who’s on the union’s executive board, doesn’t think the two sides have to go nuclear when the industry could be zooming past $9 billion in revenue. But it’s another warning sign when Bud Selig can’t perfectly choreograph his succession plan.

As expected, Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer, beat out Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, who’s best known for producing “The Cosby Show.” But it didn’t happen without White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf reportedly leading a behind-the-scenes movement trying to defeat Manfred and institute a hardline approach toward the next rounds of collective bargaining.

“There’s never fear from our side,” Villanueva said before Saturday’s 7-3 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. “We’re prepared. That’s what’s been put out there — that they wanted a harder-type guy — but every time that the owners’ side has tried to be bullish or hard, that only makes the players united even more.

“I think they know by now that’s not the right way to approach it, because we have the best union for a reason.”

Earlier in the day, Villanueva had brought teammates Neil Ramirez and Kyle Hendricks to the MLBPA’s Manhattan headquarters to visit with former All-Star first baseman Tony Clark, who rose to the union’s top leadership position after Michael Weiner’s death last November.

As MLB’s top labor lawyer, Manfred had helped craft three consecutive deals without a strike or a lockout, giving the game at least 21 years of labor peace.

Manfred grew up in upstate New York, graduating from Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and Harvard Law School. A former partner at a Washington law firm, he worked as MLB’s outside counsel before going in-house in 1998.

Manfred will have to deal with a union that will refuse to accept a salary cap. After getting his hands dirty in the Biogenesis investigation, he might have to make a tough drug-testing program even tougher.

“We believe in our principles and we have never really swayed from them,” Villanueva said. “That’s what we’re going to continue to do. We’re involved in the future generation and the older generation, everybody together. That won’t change.

“I don’t think we were worried at all who it was going to be. (We’re) ready for anything that comes our way, any negotiation. We’ve been getting ready for the last couple years now. We just wait now.”

It’s another X-factor for The Plan at Clark and Addison, where the Theo Epstein administration initially hoped to pour money into the draft and international market, until the labor deal severely regulated what teams could spend on amateur talent.

Manfred has to organize billionaires and keep the small- and big-market owners on the same page. He has to secure long-term futures — Las Vegas? Montreal? — for the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays. He has to settle the messy legal dispute between the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals over MASN, the regional sports network.

Manfred has to worry about the pace of the game in a short-attention-span world where everyone is staring at their phones checking Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

It’s not just Cubs manager Rick Renteria making so many pitching changes. Expanded instant replay has slowed the game down. There’s too much dead time with pitchers walking off the rubber while hitters constantly step out of the box.

Who knows if soccer or the NHL can capitalize on the momentum and capture more of a fractured audience? But it was hard to miss the huge crowds for World Cup viewing parties at Grant Park and Soldier Field. The Blackhawks have turned their playoff games into must-see events, drawing a much younger crowd to their summer fanfest while the Cubs play bingo at their winter convention.

The entire media landscape has changed since Werner produced sitcoms a generation ago. There are too many options competing for your attention, from Netflix to nonstop NFL coverage to on-demand entertainment.

Manfred will have to keep growing the game at a time when the Cubs will be hoping the cable bubble doesn’t burst before they can cash in with a TV megadeal in 2020.

Manfred has a reputation for being pragmatic at the bargaining table, but it’s not like he’s been soft on labor. He was said to be furious when the Cubs bought out Jeff Samardzija’s potential NFL career and gave $10 million to the Notre Dame All-American.

Now, as the Cubs try to renovate Wrigley Field and accelerate their rebuild, Manfred’s fingerprints will be all over the game.

“He’s an incredibly bright guy who knows this business inside and out,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “When it comes to his intelligence and his experience, I think he was certainly the right guy.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs promoting Matt Szczur after Dan Straily’s up-and-down start

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – Cubs fans will have to wait to see Jorge Soler.

The Cubs are promoting Matt Szczur from Triple-A Iowa and will have the 25-year-old outfielder join the team on Sunday in New York. The final six weeks of the season are becoming open auditions for a 52-70 team.

The Cubs made the move official after Saturday night’s 7-3 loss to the Mets at Citi Field. It was an up-and-down start for Dan Straily, who pitched into the sixth inning and still made a decent impression despite giving up seven runs (five earned).

“We’ll see him again,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He gave us a good look. He had a snippet in there of working through it with really good tempo.”

Straily settled down after a rocky second inning and had retired 12 in a row before hitting David Wright with a fastball in the sixth, and it unraveled from there. The Mets (59-65) wound up scoring seven runs on a night where they got only four hits, taking advantage of Straily’s three walks and Arismendy Alcantara’s error in center field.

“I just didn’t get it done,” Straily said. “That middle stretch of innings right there – that’s more of the type of guy I am. That was the most runs I’ve ever (given) up in my career, at any level. Not exactly the way you want your first one to go, but there’s definitely some positives.”

Straily – who won 10 games for the Oakland A’s last year and came over in the Jeff Samardzija trade – is part of the change-of-scenery group that includes Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.

With Straily ticketed for Des Moines, and outfielder Junior Lake optioned to Triple-A, Twitter speculation had instantly focused on Soler. The Cubs discussed the possibility of promoting Soler – or at least didn’t immediately dismiss the idea – but the $30 million Cuban outfielder appears to be waiting for a September call-up.

Szczur doesn’t profile like Soler (.903 OPS through 23 games) or the other power hitters in the Iowa lineup, but he’s been an interesting story and could add a different dimension with his speed (30 stolen bases) and defense.

Szczur was hitting .315 since the Pacific Coast League’s All-Star break, raising his overall average to .261. He’s been trying to catch up ever since he stopped preparing for the NFL combine and agreed to a $1.5 million bonus in 2011.

The two-sport star at Villanova University had helped the football team win a national title in the old Division I-AA as an explosive wide receiver/returner/Wildcat quarterback. That athleticism led the Cubs to take him in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, trying to convince him to focus on baseball.

Now Szczur’s on the verge of making his big-league debut, about three hours from his hometown of Cape May, N.J.

Chicago Tribune

Getting a whiff of Cubs’ future?

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Cubs followers flustered by the offense’s recently high strikeout rate might have to get accustomed to this shortcoming as more highly-touted prospects arrive.

"I think we’re going to be a really high strikeout team going forward," general manager Jed Hoyer said Saturday night, one night after the Cubs struck out 14 times in a loss to the New York Mets and had whiffed 91 times in their previous eight games. "I just think it’s the nature of some of the guys we have."

The hope is that the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler will provide enough power, as their history suggests, to generate enough offense to offset the plethora of strikeouts.

In the meantime, the Cubs need to find some clutch hitting. In the first inning of Saturday night’s game, they left runners stranded at first and second with no outs as Anthony Rizzo flied out and Starlin Castro grounded into a double play.

"Strikeouts with power can be OK," Hoyer said. "But when you look at the situational hitting metric right now, we’re at the bottom, and that has to get better. You have to be able to change your approach, hit the ball to the right side and know when a ground ball to second is as good as a single and things like that.

"That’s where we have to improve. With that, the strikeout numbers will get better. But I’d be surprised if you’re looking at our players going forward that we didn’t have some strikeouts but also a lot of power."

Entering Saturday’s game, the Cubs ranked 14th in the National League with a .222 batting average with runners in scoring position, 13th with a .200 mark with runners in scoring position with two outs and 13th with a .194 mark with the bases loaded.

The Cubs were third in the NL with 111 home runs, but 51 percent of their homers have been hit with no one on base.

Hoyer understands that offenses are more susceptible to strikeouts because more staffs filled with hard throwers than in past seasons.

"I still think if the strikeouts come with some power and production, it’s one thing," Hoyer said. "But you definitely see some guys with low power and high strikeouts. It’s a deadly combination.”

Bryant, who left his game Saturday night after two innings with an apparent foot injury, has 143 strikeouts at Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa but they are offset by his 40 home runs. And Baez’s four games of three strikeouts or more have been overshadowed somewhat by his four home runs in his first nine games.

But Hoyer would like to see more instances where Baez is willing to hit to the opposite field, as he did Wednesday with a single that set up two runs in the first inning of a victory over the Brewers.

"Right field is such a strength for him that a lot of times some of those wilder swings will go away as he realizes a run is still a run, whether it’s in the upper deck or not," Hoyer said. "He has so much power the other way that he’ll use that to his advantage more."

Rob’s the man: Hoyer was delighted with the owners’ selection of Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner.

"No. 1, he’s an incredibly bright guy who knows this business inside and out," said Hoyer, who has worked with Manfred on several contract issues dating back to Hoyer’s days with the Red Sox. "He has worked on a number of (Collective Bargaining Agreements) and has been right with Commissioner (Bud) Selig and all his decisions that have been made on drug testing and stuff like that.

"So when it comes to his intelligence and experience, he’s certainly the right guy. We’ve all worked with him a lot, which from our perspective, it’s a person that not only GMs and assistant GMs know well, but also the owners know well. It’s a familiar face for all of us. It’s well deserved, given his experience and how hard he has worked for it.”

Extra innings: Outfielder Matt Szczur was expected to join the Cubs before Sunday’s game. Szczur, 25, was 11 for his last 31 at Iowa and had stolen 30 bases in 37 attempts. … Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who hasn’t started the last two games because of a 1-for-26 slump and cold-like symptoms, is expected to return to the lineup Sunday.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ top prospect Bryant suffers toe injury

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Chicago Cubs top slugging prospect Kris Bryant left Triple-A Iowa’s game against Salt Lake after only two innings because an injury to his left big toe.

X-rays taken at a local hospital were inconclusive, and Bryant will undergo an MRI on Sunday morning.

Bryant, who has hit 40 home runs and driven in 103 runs in 124 games at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, left Principal Park in Des Moines with a trainer after the second inning.

The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bryant fouled a pitch off his foot a few days ago before drawing a walk in the first inning and was later forced at second base but played another inning before leaving.

Bryant was the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, and his 40 home runs lead all of professional baseball.

The Cubs weren’t expected to promote Bryant in September and hoped he would continue his development at Iowa.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Straily suffers sixth-inning setback

By Mark Gonzales

Dan Straily retired 12 batters in a row in his Chicago Cubs’ debut.

Unfortunately for Straily, that streak ended when he drilled New York Mets slugger David Wright behind the left shoulder with a pitch that led to four runs and turned a respectable effort into a 7-3 loss at Citi Field.

“It’s something that just can’t happen,” said Straily, who was pulled after allowing a bases loaded walk to Matt den Dekker with one out in the sixth. “I had (Wright) on the ropes right there and lost the fastball in. and you can’t follow it up with a walk, a hit and another walk. It’s unacceptable.’’

As expected, the Cubs optioned Straily to Triple-A Iowa after the game and promoted outfielder Matt Szczur. The Cubs sounded encouraged by Straily’s debut, but the next time he makes his next start for the Cubs appears uncertain.

“I’m sure we’ll see him again,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He gave us a good look. He had a snippet of working through it with a very good tempo.”

Straily, whose fastball touched 90 mph a few times, said he didn’t have his best stuff and opted for  more off-speed pitches. He also had to get acclimated to a new team.

“It felt pretty new until I got going,” said Straily, who joined the Cubs’ organization on July 5 following a trade from the Oakland Athletics. “Once I started playing catch, it was just another day of baseball. But all day it felt very new with the excitement of getting to pitch for a new team and all that good stuff that goes along with it. It’s just not the way I wanted to finish.

“I’ll take it for what it’s worth, keep working and get better.”

The same could be said for a Cubs’ offense that struck out 10 times, marking the sixth time in their past nine games they struck out 10 or more times.

The biggest sign of frustration occurred in the seventh when they scored twice with no out and had the bases loaded, only for the top of the order to fail to advance any runners.

Rookie  Javier Baez spiked his bat after popping to first for the second out, and Anthony Rizzo flipped his bat after popping to short to end the rally.

“At times when you‘re not able to get that big hit or big at-bat that keeps the line moving, it can become frustrating,” Renteria said. “We got to come back and find a way to redeem ourselves.”

Chicago Tribune

Saturday’s recap: Mets 7, Cubs 3

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs, who are in the midst of constant roster shuffling, received only 51/3 innings from recently promoted starter Dan Straily. Two of the three Cubs’ runs came on home runs from Welington Castillo in the fifth and Justin Ruggiano in the seventh.

At the plate

The Cubs scored once more in the seventh with the bases loaded and no outs after Ruggiano’s homer but failed to add more runs. Starlin Castro’s hitting streak ended at 14 games.

On the mound

Straily walked three, but hitting David Wright with a pitch started a four-run sixth.

In the field

Rookie center fielder Arismendy Alcantara was charged with an error after Juan Lagares’ drive skipped off his glove and led to two unearned runs in the sixth.

The number

10: Starting pitchers the Cubs have used this season.

The quote

Straily: “The middle stretch of innings was more the type of guy I am. Those were the most runs I’ve given up at any level (seven, five earned), so it’s not the way you want your first one to go. There’s definitely some positives in there in the middle innings. The big (sixth) inning really hurt me.”

Up next

Cubs (Arrieta 6-4, 2.77) at Mets (Montero 0-3, 6.12), 12:10 p.m., Sunday, CSN.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs fans go into tizzy when hot prospect Kris Bryant hurts foot in Iowa

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — The Cubs unveiled a new pitcher Saturday, a right-hander hoping to exploit a change of scenery to take a step toward becoming part of the Cubs’ long-term pitching plans.

Yet, somehow, everything about Saturday night in New York still seemed to be about what was going on with minor-league hitters 1,000 miles away in Des Moines, Iowa.

In fact, when top prospect Kris Bryant of Class AAA Iowa limped to the clubhouse in the top of the third inning in Des Moines — about the same time Dan Straily lost the strike zone in the sixth inning in New York — it sent Cubs-related Twitter activity into overdrive.

#Panic.

Cubs officials remain hopeful the kid who leads professional baseball with 40 home runs — the No. 1 prospect in the game, according to some rankings — isn’t seriously hurt.

He appeared to aggravate a left-toe injury suffered a few days earlier when he fouled a ball off of it. X-rays Saturday night were “inconclusive,” the team said. He was to have an MRI exam on Sunday.

While his playing status this week was not clear, he is expected to be fully recovered by next season’s anticipated big-league debut.

If anything, the reaction served as another reminder of how upside-down the common perception of this team has become as fans and baseball insiders wait for the long-promised impact of hitters such as Bryant and AAA teammate Jorge Soler to join Javy Baez, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo in the majors.

Meanwhile, the state of the Cubs’ pitching future is a far more serious issue than Bryant’s health — a big factor on this night in the Cubs’ third consecutive loss, 7-3 to the New York Mets

That’s a big part of why Straily was on the mound — six weeks and a day after he was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the 4-for-2 trade that sent homegrown ace Jeff Samardzija packing.

Straily, who raved about the change-of-scenery impact on his mind and performance at AAA since the trade, showed a mixed bag in his Cubs debut, barely reaching 90 mph while giving up three quick runs in the second, settling down until the sixth, and then “unraveling” in a four-run inning he couldn’t finish.

“That’s something that can’t happen,” he said of the problems in the sixth that turned a 3-1 game into a late-inning rout. “I had them on the ropes right there and then lost a fastball in [to hit David Wright with one out]. … I didn’t have my best stuff out there and was able to keep them enough off balance until I couldn’t find the strike zone in the sixth.”

Until hitting Wright, Straily had retired 12 consecutive batters and looked on the verge of a quality start.

“He was probably one batter away from getting out of that one inning,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has actually really good tempo. After that initial [trouble in the second] he settled in.

“I’m sure we’ll see him again.”

Straily, a 10-game winner for Oakland during a playoff season in 2013, was called up for the one spot start and optioned back to Iowa after the game. He is expected to rejoin the club in September, along with recently acquired left-hander Felix Doubront.

Those two, along with right-hander Jacob Turner (currently in the bullpen), will get starts down the stretch as the Cubs evaluate what they have in-house before looking at the free agent and trade markets this winter.

“That middle stretch of innings, that’s more the type of guy I am,” said Straily, who remains optimistic about showing more of that next time.

“All day today it felt pretty new, with the excitement of getting to pitch for a new team and all the good stuff that goes along with it,” he said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Carlos Villanueva: Players have no fear of new commissioner

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — The election of Rob Manfred as baseball’s next commissioner isn’t going to help the Cubs much in resolving their problems with the rooftop owners.

But if the Cubs are right about where they are in their rebuilding process, they could become one of the bigger beneficiaries of White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf’s failure this week to pull off a labor-hawk coup and install Red Sox chairman Tom Werner as Bud Selig’s replacement.

That’s because Manfred, baseball’s top labor executive during the last two decades of labor peace, was the likeliest candidate to keep a handful of festering issues from turning into a labor stoppage when the collective bargaining agreement expires in 2016 — about the time the Cubs expect to be ­competitive.

“We’ll see. Now that both sides have their structure and their people that are going to be at the hell, now we wait,” said Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva, the team’s players’ union rep and a member of the union’s executive committee.

Acknowledging the opposition candidacy of Werner by a Reinsdorf-led bloc of hard-line owners, Villanueva dismissed concerns members might have had over an upset of Manfred.

“There’s never fear from our side,” said Villanueva. “We’re prepared. That’s what’s been [said], what they wanted a harder type guy. But every time that the owners side has tried to be bullish or hard, that only makes the players unite even more.

“They know by now that’s not the right way to approach it, because I know we have the best union for a reason. We believe in our principles, and we have never really swayed from them, and that’s what we’re going to continue to do.”

It’s with that in mind that Villanueva scheduled an informal meeting with union leader Tony Clark on Saturday at the union’s New York office, where he took rookies Neil Ramirez and Kyle Hendricks.

“I want to give the guys a little bit of the history of why we have the rights that we have, why they’re making half-a-million dollars in the first year — all this,” Villanueva said. “When I started playing baseball, I didn’t even know a union ­existed. Once you get more into it you see what other players go through, and strikes, work stoppages and all this, and sacrifice their livelihood for the future generations. That’s when you start ­appreciating [that history].”

More immediately, Manfred’s election should give the sides their best chance avoiding a repeat of some of that history.

General manager Jed Hoyer said he was “excited” about Manfred’s election.

“He’s an incredibly bright guy who knows the business inside and out, and he’s worked on a number of CBAs and been right with commissioner Selig when all the decisions have been made on the drug testing and stuff like that,” Hoyer said. “When it comes to his intelligence and experience, he’s certainly the right guy.”

NOTES: The Cubs announced after Saturday’s game that outfield prospect Matt Szczur will be called up from AAA Iowa to take the roster spot of right-hander Dan Straily, who returns to Iowa after Saturday’s spot start.

† Top prospect Kris Bryant left Saturday’s game at Iowa in the top of the third inning, limping and accompanied by a trainer. The severity of his injury was not immediately known.

16 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs content to keep their coveted middle infielders

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — Six weeks to the day, the Cubs returned for the first time to the East Coast, where they saw reminders of last month’s process-rattling trade everywhere they looked.

Or at least heard reminders of it from New York reporters every time they turned around in the Citi Field visitors’ clubhouse before the 3-2 loss Friday against the Mets.

Those are the same Mets who are starving for even one young shortstop with the ability of Starlin Castro or the promise of Javy Baez, Arismendy Alcantara or Addison Russell, the touted prospect the Cubs acquired in that 4-for-2 Jeff Samardzija trade with the Athletics on July 4.

General manager Jed Hoyer was asked if the Cubs really can find other positions for three shortstops and be able to use all four.

“I think we can be a better team for it in a lot of ways if we end up doing that,” Hoyer said.

So the Cubs don’t feel compelled to trade even one?

“No,” Hoyer said. “Not at all.”

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen once the Cubs get a better measure of their needs and what other teams might be offering for one of their prized middle infielders next winter and beyond.

But New York’s fascination with the Cubs’ stable of well-regarded shortstops only underscores the position of strength the front office believes the surplus provides.

Like New York fans and media six weeks ago, reporters focused on Castro as the guy the Mets might successfully target in exchange for the young pitching the Cubs lack.

But Castro might not be as expendable as many apparently think as a three-time All-Star who has improved his fielding and focus this year. He remains the only one of the four who has proved anything in the big leagues. And he’s just 24.

“I know myself, and I can do more,” said Castro, who equaled his career-high 14-game hitting streak with two more hits. “I can have better seasons every year.”

And he doesn’t want to change positions: “I showed people I can play that position my whole career.”

“He should want to stay there,” Hoyer said. “I’m glad to hear him say that. And that’s how we see it.”

It’s not going to stop the questions or the speculation — never mind that sources say the Mets have long coveted Russell far more than Castro. And they say that’s the shortstop it would take to get the kind of pitching the Cubs want from the Mets (think Zack Wheeler, who struck out 10 Cubs in 62/3 innings).

And what if the Cubs kept all the shortstops?

Dan Straily, the righty acquired in the Samardzija deal, vouched for the kind of impact that might have when he joined the club for a spot start Saturday (likely a prelude to a longer look in September).

He played with Baez in Class AAA Iowa until Baez’s big-league debut last week and saw just enough of Russell in drills at spring training to know the kind of talent the Cubs acquired in that deal.

“There’s a lot of talent down there,” said Straily, who compared what’s going on in the Cubs’ system to the A’s. “There’s just a whole culture of winning that’s being instilled. It was something I felt when I was with Oakland coming up. . . . We won, and you see that group of guys, and then that’s just kind of the trend that you keep going down there, and eventually it starts to translate. It’s exciting to be here.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs send down struggling OF Junior Lake

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — For those who weren’t sure earlier this week when the Cubs held bunting drills and pitchers’ fielding practice, it should be clear by now that 2015 spring training has begun in earnest.

Recently acquired right-hander Dan Straily joined the roster for a show-me spot start Saturday at Citi Field — with struggling outfielder Junior Lake optioned to Class AAA Iowa for the rest of the month to make room.

General manager Jed Hoyer said the front office might “try to do something creative” in a couple of weeks to open up more starts in the rotation down the stretch for Straily and two other recent acquisitions, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront.

And by Sunday, another position-player prospect could join rookies Javy Baez and Arismendy Alcantara on the roster for a chance to make his case when Straily is sent back out.

With speculation already burning up Twitter late Friday night over the possibility of a Jorge Soler promotion, the $30 million outfield prospect was not expected to get that call as team officials prepared to huddle Saturday to make the decision.

Whether it’s somebody such as infielder Logan Watkins, outfielder Matt Szczur or even recently demoted (and raking) Mike Olt, the wheels are spinning like a turnstile on the Cubs’ late-season preparations for evaluating the 40-man roster and attacking offseason needs.

“Things are shaping up, for sure,” said left-hander Travis Wood, whose two walks in the fourth were his undoing in a 3-2 loss Friday to the Mets when Eric Campbell turned them into a three-run homer two batters later.

“You see how Alcantara’s doing, and Baez. Everybody’s coming up. [Kris] Bryant is still killing it down in the minors. And seeing them get their big-league experience can only benefit for next year. Straily’s going [Saturday], and hopefully he can have a good game and continue to learn.”

In the short term, that’s also what the demotion was about for Lake, who has played sparingly in recent weeks and remained on the big-league roster all year despite hitting .216 with a team-leading 102 strikeouts in 291 at-bats.

“This gives him an opportunity to get some at-bats the next 2½ to three weeks,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We tried to do everything we could throughout the season, especially early, to put him in a decent place. . . . He’s a little disappointed, but he’ll catch a breath of fresh air.”

By the time Lake returns in September, Soler could be coming with him.

And the learning process could be kicking into another gear for a front office starting to turn the corner from tear-down to buildup in this third-year overhaul.

That includes looks in the rotation at former Red Sox left-hander Doubront and former Marlins right-hander Turner, both acquired in trades over the last 2½ weeks.

The Cubs already cleared a 40-man spot as part of the roster planning with Thursday’s late-night trade of 2009 first-round pick Brett Jackson to the Diamondbacks.

And the “something creative” to open rotation opportunities could involve anything from late-season limits on younger pitchers to short-term use of six-man rotations to skipping struggling veteran Edwin Jackson or Wood.

Hoyer said the hope with Jackson is that he pitches enough — and well enough — to “find a solution” and “go into the offseason with a little momentum.”

Until then, nobody in the rotation is asking for even a day of extra rest.

“I know I don’t need one,” Wood (7-10, 4.86 ERA) said. “But if they need to see guys, hey, we’ll see them. They’ve got to get them in here and see what we’ve got.”

Cubs.com

Win eludes Wood as Cubs keep whiffing

Southpaw gives up three runs in 5 1/3; Chicago strikes out 14 times

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — The last pitcher the Cubs needed to see was Zack Wheeler.

Rookie Eric Campbell belted a three-run homer to back Wheeler’s 10-strikeout game and lead the Mets to a 3-2 victory Friday night over the Cubs and Travis Wood, who has not won since June 15.

The Cubs had struck out 77 times in seven games prior to Friday’s series opener against the Mets. Wheeler ranks among the top 20 pitchers in the National League in strikeouts, which created a bad combination. The right-hander struck out 10 over 6 2/3 innings for his third career double-digit strikeout game. It’s the fifth time in the last eight games the Cubs batters have reached double-digit K’s.

"I think the strikeouts are coming across the board with everyone," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "What can you [do to] help minimize [them]? Probably [face] pitching that isn’t as good as it’s been. We’ve been facing some pretty good pitching.

"This guy [Wheeler] today was pretty good," Renteria said. "I thought we had a lot of really strong at-bats in terms of driving his pitch count up. They left him out there for 120-plus pitches. The at-bats they had were good at-bats. … These [pitchers] have good pitches to finish hitters with."

The Cubs had an opportunity in the second when Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo both singled. But Wheeler then struck out the next three batters, including Arismendy Alcantara, who was trying to bunt for a base hit.

"He can overpower some teams," Mets manager Terry Collins said of Wheeler. "He was throwing the ball very well early, he got some strikeouts early, and I think he went back to pitching to contact where he got some easier outs. He got some outs with two and three pitches as opposed to seven. He cut down on his pitch count and was able to get deeper into the game."

The Cubs did take the lead in the third. Wood walked to lead off and one out later, reached third on Javier Baez’s single before scoring on Anthony Rizzo’s groundout. Castro then singled to drive in Baez to take a 2-0 lead.

But Wood walked David Wright and Lucas Duda to start the Mets fourth, and one out later, Campbell launched a fastball that the Cubs lefty left over the plate into the left-field seats for his second home run.

"Walks killed me," Wood said. "If you take out half the walks, it’d be a pretty solid game. That was the game. I had the two walks to start the fourth and the guy hit the ball out of the park. I gave up four hits, and one of them happened to be a long ball with two walks, and that was the game."

Wood had posted quality starts in his two previous outings, but couldn’t finish the sixth on Friday, and served up four hits and walked four over 5 1/3 innings. The lefty is 0-5 with a 5.40 ERA (36 earned runs over 60 innings) in his last 11 starts.

"I had a really tough time getting the ball down in the zone today, and that’s what ended up leading to the homer and the walks," Wood said. "Other than the walks, hits are going to happen, homers are going to happen. I threw a bad pitch and the guy hit it and made me pay for it. It’s just unfortunate that I walked two before that."

This series is the Cubs’ last against an NL East opponent, and they now are 14-15 for the season.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game that the staff will try to map out how to use certain pitchers in the final month of the season so they can get a look at some of the potential starters, including Felix Doubront, Dan Straily and Jacob Turner. Straily will make a spot start on Saturday against the Mets.

Straily is also getting the start so the others in the rotation can get a little breather.

"I don’t need one," Wood said. "I’m a routine guy who likes pitching on the fifth day. If they need to see guys, we’ll see them, and get them in here. We’ll see what we’ve got."

Wood does like what he’s seen so far with the young players who have been promoted from the Minors.

"You see how Alcantara is doing, Baez, [Kris] Bryant is still killing it in the Minors," Wood said. "To see them get their big league experience can only benefit for next year. Straily is going tomorrow and hopefully he’ll have a good game and continue to learn."

Cubs.com

Cubs send Lake to Triple-A to make room for Straily

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Junior Lake will finally get some regular playing time, but it will be at Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs announced after their 3-2 loss to the Mets on Friday that they were optioning the struggling outfielder, who was batting .216, to Iowa to make room on the active roster for Dan Straily, who is scheduled for a spot start Saturday.

Lake, who batted .284 in his rookie season last year, has not looked like the same hitter, and his at-bats have been limited.

"This gives him an opportunity to go down there and get some at-bats for the next two and a half, three weeks," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said after Friday’s game.

"We tried to do everything we could throughout the course of the season, especially early, to put him in a decent place," Renteria said. "Obviously, it’s very difficult for the young man. Right now he’s a little disappointed, but I think he’ll catch a breath of fresh air, play again, get some at-bats, have some fun again, and we’ll see him here soon."

Lake has struck out 102 times in 98 games, and hit just .114 in 19 July games. The young outfielder is popular on the team, and Cubs catcher John Baker brought him a beverage postgame for a toast.

"I need to play," Lake said. "I don’t know if [going down] is good. Everybody wants to play here. I need more [at-bats]. That’s what I think — I need to play."

Lake was told he’ll be back in 15 days when Major League rosters expand.

"I’ll be throwing bats and helmets if he’s not back," Baker said. "If I don’t see Junior Sept. 1, I’ll be snapping every bat."

Renteria said he and the Cubs’ staff have discussed what to do to get Lake on track.

"I think we have a window here, and we have a need for a spot right now," Renteria said.

The Cubs will be shorthanded on the bench for Saturday’s game. The addition of Straily to the roster will give them 14 pitchers.

Cubs giving Jackson chance to ‘right the ship’

NEW YORK — The Cubs’ Edwin Jackson led the National League in losses last season, and he is tied for the most this year with the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett and the Padres’ Eric Stults, who have 13. And Jackson is staying in the Cubs’ rotation in hopes of getting back on track.

The Cubs do want to give innings and possibly starts to Jacob Turner, Dan Straily and Felix Doubront in September when rosters expand, and general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday that he will meet with pitching coach Chris Bosio and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to map out a strategy.

Jackson’s situation is puzzling. On Thursday, he lasted 4 2/3 innings against the Brewers in a 6-2 loss, and he hasn’t finished the sixth inning in 15 of his 25 starts.

"We’re trying to give [Jackson] an opportunity to right the ship," Hoyer said. "It seems like the first inning, we’re in a hole right away, and he’s battling right away, and we haven’t been able to solve that problem. Hopefully, we can find a solution by the end of the year and go into the offseason with some momentum."

Jackson, who is in the second year of a four-year contract, is 14-31 with a 5.31 ERA in 56 starts so far with the Cubs.

"I don’t think it’s stuff-related, I think it’s location-related," Hoyer said of Jackson’s struggles. "It’s been frustrating for him and frustrating for us."

The Cubs do expect rookie Kyle Hendricks to pitch into September, Hoyer said. The right-hander has totaled 41 2/3 innings with the Cubs to go with the 102 2/3 innings he collected at Triple-A Iowa. Last season, he totaled 166 1/3 innings in the Minor Leagues. Hoyer said Hendricks is so efficient that he hasn’t thrown as many pitches as the other Cubs starters.

Amid rumors, Starlin says he wants to stay with Cubs

NEW YORK — Apparently, the word on the street in New York is that some Mets fans would like to do something about the overload of shortstops in the Cubs’ system. Specifically, they want Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro.

"I don’t really think about this," Castro said Friday about the rumored interest. "We have a lot of shortstops in the Minor Leagues, but it doesn’t matter. We’re athletes. We can play wherever in the infield."

The Cubs do have depth with Castro plus Javier Baez, now playing second, and prospect Addison Russell, acquired July 4 from the Athletics for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria doesn’t see it as a problem.

"The beauty of having shortstops is that they actually can transition to other positions," Renteria said. "If you think about it, when you draft players out of high school and college, the guys who seem to be the strength in Drafts are guys who played up the middle."

When the Cubs did acquire Russell, Castro’s agent talked to Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. Castro is signed through 2019, and when he agreed to the deal, he did so with every intention of staying with the Cubs his entire career.

"We talked after the trade," Castro said of conversations with Epstein. "They told me, ‘Don’t even think about it.’ They told me, ‘You’re the shortstop now,’ and that’s what I did. I’m here. I’m going to play here every day and I’m going to try to play hard every day.

"I don’t want to leave here," Castro said. "I want to stay here all of my career. Whatever happens, happens."

New York reporters asked Castro prior to Friday’s game if he’d consider a move.

"I know myself I can be a good player, I know a lot of teams could have me and want me, but I’m here and I don’t want to leave here," Castro said of the Cubs. "I feel comfortable here and I want to be part of this team for when we compete, when we win in the playoffs. That kind of thing is not in my mind. Whatever happens, happens. I don’t have control over this."

Castro is also eager to see the Cubs with himself, Baez and Russell in the same lineup.

"We have a lot of talent," Castro said. "As soon as all of those guys are here, we’ll be better."

Straily feels solid with mechanical tweaks

NEW YORK — Dan Straily feels like himself, and that’s a good thing for the Cubs.

The right-hander, acquired from the Athletics on July 4, will make a spot start for the Cubs on Saturday in the second game of their series against the Mets. In his last outing for Triple-A Iowa, Straily gave up two hits over six innings and picked up the win. He has not given up an earned run in his last three starts.

"I got out of the little funk I was in, some mechanical flaws, if you will, that had taken over my game," he said Friday. "You have one good game, and it’s like, ‘OK, I had a good game.’ Two in a row, OK. Three in a row, OK. Hopefully, we got it.

"I definitely feel more like the pitcher I know I am, not the guy I had been this year," he said. "It’s a real good feeling to go out there and throw the baseball and feel like I was in command."

What’s been a surprise for Straily is that his velocity has increased since Spring Training. At the beginning of the year, his fastball was clocked in the mid-80s. Now, it’s 87-92 mph.

"It’s nice to know I have it back there again," he said of his velocity.

He was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts with the Athletics last season, but was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season. He also has made 10 starts at Triple-A Sacramento.

Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton, Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio and others have studied Straily’s mechanics and combined to make some minor changes. The right-hander feels good about where he is.

"Maybe this whole change-of-scenery thing is what it’s made out to be," he said. "Maybe that’s all it is."

Extra bases

• Third baseman Luis Valbuena, who went 1-for-22 on the Cubs’ seven-game homestand, did not start Friday and was not expected to start Saturday for a breather, Renteria said.

Valbuena, who is batting .233, snapped an 0-for-19 streak with a single Tuesday. He also was battling a cold, Renteria said.

• WGN Radio’s regular broadcast team of Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer missed the Cubs’ series in New York, and they were replaced by Dave Eanet and former big league pitcher Dave Otto. Hughes and Coomer requested the weekend off for personal reasons.

• Reliever Wesley Wright wasn’t the only Cubs pitcher to provide some financial support to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team of Chicago. At least five Major League players donated money so the players’ families could travel to attend the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. Jackson also chipped in to help the Little Leaguers.

Cubs.com

Straily ready for Cubs debut at Citi Field

Mets call on Niese, looking to build on last solid start

By Jake Kring-Schreifels

As August starts its official descent into September, teams are especially conscious of how their pitchers are feeling. With many clubs’ young hurlers reaching their career highs in innings tossed, an extra day of rest for them here and there sometimes becomes a necessary practice.

That is the strategy the Cubs will implement Saturday when they send spot starter Dan Straily — one of the pieces in the Jeff Samardzjia trade — to the hill for his first National League start. For now though, Straily won’t confuse his temporary role for a long-term ticket to the team.

"My job is to pitch, and not make decisions," said Straily. "I’m just going to do what I’m told. One start on Saturday, that’s what I’ve been told. That’s what I’m here for."

He was 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 27 starts with the Athletics last season, but was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season until transferring to Triple-A Sacramento. In his last outing for Triple-A Iowa, Straily gave up two hits over six innings and picked up the win. He has not given up an earned run in his last three starts.

"I got out of the little funk I was in, some mechanical flaws, if you will, that had taken over my game," he said. "You have one good game, and it’s like, OK, I had a good game. Two in a row, OK. Three in a row, OK. Hopefully, we got it."

The Mets, who snapped their three-game losing streak Friday, used a similar strategy before the All-Star break in the hopes of resting Jon Niese, who will get the ball opposite Straily on Saturday. But those plans backfired when they discovered a shoulder injury that landed Niese on the 15-day DL.

Niese has been uneven since returning from that stint. One of his sharper starts came Monday against the Phillies, when he limited them to two runs in seven innings.

In his five starts after the All-Star break, however, Niese owns a 5.06 ERA and 1.47 WHIP while allowing opposing batters a .302/.362/.484 slash line. That Niese and Dillon Gee, who entered the season as the veterans of the Mets’ rotation, have not been pitching particularly well of late has proven troublesome.

"That’s hurt us," said manager Terry Collins. "They were both pitching so well when the injuries came. Not to have them bounce back to where they were before they got hurt has been a big problem for us. I know they’ve worked hard at it. I know certainly they’ve shown flashes, but we’ve got to get them back, and we’ve got to get them back now."

Mets: Collins takes stock of Cubs’ talented youngsters

The Cubs’ grand plan has started to come to fruition with the likes of Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara getting called up to the big leagues, and Collins is among those who have taken note. The Mets haven’t seen a lot of either player, but they know enough to be careful, especially with Baez, who has four home runs in his first 11 games.

"We were just commenting today when we were going over the video of some of those guys, boy, [the Cubs have] got some athletic people coming out," Collins said. "They’re pretty athletic. You look at them, start with [Junior] Lake. We haven’t seen a lot of Baez, except for we’ve seen [him] play the infield, we know he can hit. Alcantara, this guy was an infielder, they put him in center field — you talk about being athletic. He’s got a plus-arm, they stuck him in center field, he’s a switch-hitter. They’re really athletic.

"[Baez has] big-time power. Big — big-time power. Real aggressive at the plate. Right now, probably the wisest thing is to keep the ball out of the middle."

Cubs: Jackson hoping to turn things around

The Cubs’ Edwin Jackson led the National League in losses last season, and he is tied for the most this year with the Phillies’ A.J. Burnett and the Padres’ Eric Stults, who have 13. But Jackson is staying in the Cubs’ rotation in hopes of getting back on track.

The Cubs do want to give innings and possibly starts to Jacob Turner, Straily and Felix Doubront in September when rosters expand, and general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday that he will meet with pitching coach Chris Bosio and Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein to map out a strategy.

Jackson’s situation is puzzling. On Thursday, he lasted 4 2/3 innings against the Brewers in a 6-2 loss, and he hasn’t finished the sixth inning in 15 of his 25 starts.

"We’re trying to give [Jackson] an opportunity to right the ship," Hoyer said. "It seems like the first inning, we’re in a hole right away, and he’s battling right away, and we haven’t been able to solve that problem. Hopefully, we can find a solution by the end of the year and go into the offseason with some momentum."

Worth noting

• Niese has pitched better at home (2.89 ERA, .247 opponents’ batting average) than on the road (3.83, .272).

• Starlin Castro enters Saturday with a 14-game hitting streak (24-for-57/.421 average), the club’s season high. Castro has nine hitting streaks of 10 or more games in his career, including two other career-best 14-game streaks.

• Boyz II Men will perform a concert at Citi Field following Saturday’s contest.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ Wada making a pitch for 2015 rotation

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — While the Chicago Cubs will search for pitching this offseason, they may have found a couple of hurlers for their starting staff already. Rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks is garnering most of the headlines — as he should be — but 34-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada is carving out a nice second half run himself.

He’s 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA in six starts since being called up from Triple-A Iowa, including a gem Wednesday against the talented right-handed lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers. Wada gave up two solo home runs in his final inning of work en route to a 4-2 win. What’s working for him?

"Executing," his catcher John Baker said. "Everything that he’s throwing. He puts the ball where he wants to put the ball. And he’s not shaking me off. Maybe twice [Wednesday]. So I can take the pressure and he can just pitch."

Wada signed with the Baltimore Orioles at 31 years old after coming over from Japan in 2012. After undergoing Tommy John surgery, he pitched in Triple-A last season but the Orioles let him go after his two-year deal was up and the Cubs grabbed him.

His major league debut was anything but assured after a rough spring training, giving up 14 hits and eight walks in 9 2/3 innings with an 8.38 ERA. He was actually released and then re-signed to a minor league deal but it included an option for 2015.

"It was my first spring training in Arizona so at first I was kind of struggling to grip the ball and the command of it," Wada said through an interpreter. "After a while I got a better handle of it."

It’s well known spring training in Arizona isn’t always kind to pitchers. The ball flies. Still, Wada knew something was up.

"There are guys that still put up the numbers," he said. "I was thinking, ‘What’s the best solution to get the results that I want.’ As time went by I was able to figure it out."

There was concern from others as they watched him in the spring. He simply couldn’t get anyone out.

"His velocity was down too," Baker said. "He was throwing 83-84 mph on his fastball; it’s pretty easy for guys to hit the ball. When he tops out at 92 mph it looks even faster. He built up the arm strength, I guess."

There’s some deception to Wada’s delivery, which has thrown hitters off balance. Manager Rick Renteria saw it right away but also saw reason for concern.

"The only thing I was concerned with when he was pitching was his arm side command," Renteria said. "It was about his command. You could see he had some sneaky life, but it was a matter of if he was going to get it into a zone."

As soon as Triple-A Iowa’s season started Wada found what he was looking for. As good as Hendricks has been in the majors, that’s how dominating Wada was in the minors this season, going 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 18 starts. Now he’s finding his groove with the Cubs.

"He has that pause in that windup that’s thrown off their timing just a little," Baker said. "But it’s not all about the deception. It’s deception plus command."

Which brings us to next year. The Cubs may be on a search for more pitching, but they’re still going to need bodies like Wada. At this point there’s no reason they wouldn’t pick up the option on 2015 as just about nothing else is for certain with the Cubs on the mound.

"I don’t want to characterize it as No. 1 quality or whatever but we know we have to add pitching," general manager Jed Hoyer said recently of the upcoming search. "We know we have an imbalance [of hitting prospects vs. pitching in the minors] and I think that will be a main area of focus in the offseason and probably several offseasons."

The Cubs aren’t yet in that add-at-all-costs mode. They’ll search and probably sign a bigger name but they’ll definitely bring in some more arms for depth. Wada is already here and despite his age, he’s the perfect stopgap for another year — unless of course the Cubs end up competing next season. Then he might become even more valuable.

"He’s been around," Renteria said. "This isn’t a young kid."

As rebuilds go, a rotation of Jake Arrieta, Hendricks, Travis Wood, Wada and Edwin Jackson — if he’s still around — could be what the Cubs go to spring training with. There’s also 25-year-old Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, who will make his Cubs debut Saturday, and the recently acquired Jacob Turner, who was sharp in relief Thursday.

More than likely they’ll add a top-of-the-rotation hurler moving everyone down one. It still could mean Wada is throwing every fifth day.

"I’m not thinking about that," he said. "I’m just trying to finish strong."

CSNChicago.com

Is Jorge Soler next man up with Cubs sending down Junior Lake?

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – Does Jorge Soler become the next man up with the Cubs sending Junior Lake down to Triple-A Iowa?

The Cubs hadn’t completely ruled out the idea late Friday night, though a team source predicted it will be a much less exciting move than dropping the Cuban outfielder into The Big Apple this weekend.

Still, the Soler speculation started as soon as manager Rick Renteria announced the Lake news after a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets. Technically, the Cubs will first activate right-hander Dan Straily to make a spot start on Saturday night at Citi Field.

But once Straily goes back to Des Moines, the Cubs will have an open roster spot that could be used for Soler, who’s put up a .952 OPS in his first 22 games at the Triple-A level. Those discussions are said to be ongoing, with no final decision made yet.

Soler is showing the combination of power (five homers, 18 RBI) and plate discipline (12 walks) that once pushed the Cubs into a bidding war and compelled them to make a $30 million investment.

Soler – who’s already on the 40-man roster with a major-league contract – projected to be a September call-up. It would be another coming-attractions moment, Soler hitting in a lineup featuring Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

The Cubs hoped Lake would take another leap forward this season, but the 24-year-old outfielder struggled to make adjustments and earn playing time. All of his nine homers and 25 RBI came before the All-Star break, and he’s hitting .216 with 102 strikeouts in 305 plate appearances this season.

“We’ll see Junior soon,” Renteria said. “Right now, he’s a little disappointed, but I think he’ll catch a breath of fresh air down there, play, get some at-bats, have some fun again.”

Renteria indicated the plan is for Lake to be back in the big leagues in three weeks.

“I need to play,” Lake said. “Everybody wants to play here, but I need (to) play every day. That’s not a bad idea.”

CSNChicago.com

Meet the Mets? Starlin Castro sees bright future with Cubs

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – Starlin Castro, “Meet the Mets.”

The New York media immediately started connecting the dots when the Cubs made Addison Russell the centerpiece in the Jeff Samardzija trade with the Oakland A’s. The rebuilding Mets are rich in young pitchers and need a shortstop, while the rebuilding Cubs have a surplus of up-the-middle players.

Let’s make a deal? Castro hadn’t heard about those rumors until reporters surrounded his locker inside Citi Field’s visiting clubhouse before Friday’s 3-2 loss. But the All-Star shortstop doesn’t really care, because his confidence keeps growing and he believes the Cubs are on the verge of doing something special.  

“I can’t control that,” Castro said. “We got a lot of shortstops in the minor leagues, but it doesn’t matter, because we’re athletes. We can play wherever in the infield, but they have the decision.”

On a night where 24-year-old right-hander Zack Wheeler shut them down and the Cubs struck out 14 times, Castro went 2-for-4 and notched his 63rd RBI, extending his hitting streak to 14 games.

Castro has fended off challengers before – uber-prospect Javier Baez is a second baseman for now – but he’s not showing it if he ever feels like: What else do I have to prove? Remember this is a three-time All-Star with 830 career hits (and counting) before his 25th birthday.

“I know I can do more than this,” he said. “I’m learning a lot. I’m a man right now. I know a lot more about this game. I think I can keep grinding and have a better season every year.

“I got this talent. I got my mind right. Just be here every day and show who I am.”

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein quickly reached out to Castro’s agent, Paul Kinzer, after the Fourth of July blockbuster to say his client would still be a big part of the organization’s plans.

Castro said: “They told me, don’t even think about this, you’re the shortstop for us right now.”

But it’s not all outside speculation driven by the New York tabloids. There have been rumblings the Cubs are considering moving Castro – possibly as soon as this winter – to acquire the frontline pitching they need (someone like Wheeler).

Castro could handle New York’s bright lights after playing inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl.

But Castro – an aggressive swinger with great hand-eye coordination and a knack for hitting pitches outside the strike zone – doesn’t profile like a Sandy Alderson guy. The Mets general manager has instituted a rigid, disciplined, top-down hitting philosophy throughout the organization.

Still, Castro offers a ton of cost-controlled value with five more seasons left on a reasonable $60 million extension he signed in 2012 (which includes a club option for 2020).

“Of course I want to stay here,” Castro said. “I want to be part of the team when we make the playoffs and we have a good team that can compete every year.”

Castro politely listened to the New York reporter asking if he’s willing to change positions if that means staying in Chicago. The shortstop’s on track to post a career-high in fielding percentage (.977), while his errors have declined steadily across the last four seasons, from 29 to 27 to 22 to 12 so far this year.

“I think I showed a lot of people that I can be good at my position,” Castro said. “Again, I don’t have the control (over that). But I think a lot of people see – and a lot of people know – that I can handle that position.”

Russell is Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect. The 20-year-old shortstop is hitting .300 with eight homers and 19 RBI through his first 34 games at Double-A Tennessee. But don’t forget all the ups and downs Castro experienced while trying to adjust to the big leagues.

Castro doesn’t want to look too far into the future, taking the attitude of “whatever happens, happens” and knowing it’s a business. But the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse can see himself playing with Russell, Baez and Arismendy Alcantara at Wrigley Field.

“Yeah, for sure,” Castro said. “We got a lot of talent out there. And the sooner those guys get here we’ll be better. Because we got great young talent, and the team’s going to be awesome.”

CSNChicago.com

Brett Jackson and the pressure of being the next big thing for Cubs

By Tony Andracki

Two years ago, the Cubs wanted to see if Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters would sink or swim, hoping they could stay afloat in the big leagues. They didn’t.

Now, both players have become cautionary tales for putting lofty expectations on unproven prospects.

As the Cubs integrate top young players like Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, they parted ways with Jackson late Thursday night, dealing him to the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for 26-year-old pitcher Blake Cooper.

“We were gonna have a roster crunch coming up,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’re sort of trying to get ahead of that a little bit. Sometimes, it is change-of-scenery time. It had been two straight years at Iowa where he had been struggling. I wish him luck. Hopefully, it is a good change of scenery for him.

“Here, it was probably going to be a situation where we were going to have to take him off the roster and we were able to work out a deal with Arizona and get something done ahead of that decision.”

Jackson, now 26, was a first-round pick in 2009 and had been ranked as Baseball America’s No. 32 overall prospect prior to the 2012 season. He has never made it back to the majors after that 44-game stretch at the end of 2012.

After hitting just .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats with the Cubs, Jackson got sent back to the minors to start 2013, but couldn’t solve his contact issues and wound up being demoted to Double-A Tennessee to close out the season.

"From the beginning, I’ve always thought that I’d always be a Cub," Jackson said in early July. "I think that’s where my mentality [has stayed]. The Cubs have been really good to me. They’ve believed in me when I’ve been at the bottom of the bottom.

"I’m very grateful for the Cubs. I’m very proud to [have worn] their emblem on my chest. What happens from here on out the rest of my career isn’t really up to me. I’m just trying to prepare every day to get back to playing the way I think I’m capable of playing."

Jackson hasn’t seen regular playing time this year as the Cubs have transitioned a new generation through the farm system, one led by Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

At the time of Thursday’s deal, Jackson was hitting .210 with a .646 OPS in 81 games at Triple-A Iowa. The power-speed combination that made him such an intriguing prospect was all but gone, with only five homers in 224 at-bats and four steals in 10 attempts.

Jackson said in last month’s interview that he still had visions of winning it all in Chicago and hoped to stay with the Cubs forever. He didn’t feel he needed a change of scenery to get his career back on track.

Jackson’s shadow will linger over the organization after his departure, serving as a reminder that not every young player on Baseball America’s rankings will turn into a star. The Cubs won’t hit on all these new top prospects.

During his four-and-a-half months at Iowa this year, Jackson saw Baez and Alcantara promoted and watched as Bryant came up and continued to rake, all the while knowing the true weight of being a face of the future for a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in more than a century.

"I’ve experienced a lot of what they’re experiencing, going through the whole top prospect thing," Jackson said. "How to handle the media, how to handle the fans and what it’s like to have that pressure of being the savior for Chicago on your back and how you push that aside and take care of your business.

"Do what you can do to help the team win, and what happens at the end of the day, happens. Obviously, those are really tough things to live up to, but that is part of being a Cub."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs running out of patience with Edwin Jackson

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The Cubs will be going big-game hunting this offseason, maybe even walking out of the winter meetings with the deer antlers Jed Hoyer once joked about, signing a pitcher to a megadeal that makes the entire industry take notice.

So looking back now, what’s the takeaway from Edwin Jackson’s $52 million contract? Where did the Cubs go off the track? The general manager didn’t want to touch those questions yet.

“We’re trying to give him an opportunity to right the ship,” Hoyer said before Friday’s 3-2 loss to the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Jackson has gone 14-31 with a 5.31 ERA through 56 starts in a Cubs uniform, and you wonder how much longer he’ll be in this rotation with Dan Straily, Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront all expected to get looks in the season’s final six weeks.   

No doubt, the Cubs have built a strong pitching infrastructure, hitting on several change-of-scenery guys while whiffing on the biggest free agent signed by the Theo Epstein administration.

This is not trying to second-guess the Jackson deal, which has two years and $22 million remaining after this season. It just makes you wonder what that says about The Plan – and which direction it should go next.

“Candidly, I feel like that’s a question that’s probably more appropriate at a different time than now,” Hoyer said. “Going back to the signing, he’s a 29-year-old guy at the time, and for the most part with pitchers, they usually get better and better as long as they’re healthy and they keep their stuff, because they learn how to command the ball better.

“A big part of our attraction to him was his durability. He had always stayed healthy. He had always been in the rotation and taken his innings and that part hasn’t changed. That’s sort of the head-scratcher. Usually, guys that do stay healthy and stay on the mound keep getting better and better. Obviously, we’ve taken a step back here.”

Jackson made 31-plus starts every year between 2007 and 2012, posting five seasons with at least 10 wins, helping the Tampa Bay Rays get to the World Series and earning a championship ring with the St. Louis Cardinals.   

“He was always pretty consistent in terms of innings and performance,” Hoyer said. “This has really been a change from what he had established, and it’s been frustrating to him and frustrating to us. I think he’s been searching for answers and obviously we have been as well.

“He’s been a great teammate. We know he cares. He’s accountable. The results just haven’t been there yet.”

Using Jackson for a quick burst out of the bullpen would be a bad fit – look at his 7.92 ERA in the first inning this season. Ex-manager Dale Sveum used to talk about wanting to see Jackson throw “with conviction” from the first pitch. A teammate observed that Jackson seems to get stronger later in games.

“The stuff is still there, the velocity’s there, he’s still got a good slider,” Hoyer said. “Really, I think his issues have been location. When he pitches up in the zone, he gets hit. The times he’s been able to stay down in the zone, locate his fastball away, he’s had some success. I don’t think it’s stuff-related. It’s location-related. Whether you’re a starter or a reliever, that’s really the focus.”

Hoyer talked about a rough draft to the pitching plan for the rest of this season, how the Cubs might have to get creative to get innings for everyone. 

So where does that leave Jackson?

“We haven’t talked through that yet,” Hoyer said. “It seems like the first inning, we’re in a hole right away and he’s battling right away. We haven’t been able to solve that problem, so hopefully we’ll be able to find a solution by the end of the year. That would be our goal, to go into the offseason with a little momentum.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Albert Almora adjusting step by step

By Paul Sullivan

KODAK, TENN — The last of the original “Core Four” prospects to make it through the Cubs’ system is likely to be center fielder Albert Almora, the initial first-round draft pick of the new regime in 2012.

By the time Almora makes it — perhaps in September 2015 if all goes well — Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant no doubt will have joined Javier Baez at Wrigley Field while newly acquired impact hitter Addison Russell, the “fifth Beatle” of the group, could be on the fast track as well.

But Almora isn’t too worried about timelines or anything else relating to his promising career. After watching his father, Albert Almora Sr., go through cancer surgery last spring there’s nothing that can really faze him.

"He’s fighting every day," Albert said of his dad. "He’s a strong man, and my mentor and best friend. I can’t ask for anything more.

"That scare puts everything in perspective. This is just a game. We get upset after going 0-for-4 with a couple of strikeouts, but he’s fighting for his life. It makes everything clear to me. At the end of the day, I have a family."

The senior Almora is recovering from surgery and was in Tennessee recently watching his son play. It hasn’t been the kind of start the Cubs’ prospect expected after a recent promotion from Class A Daytona, where he hit .283 with seven homers, 20 doubles and 50 RBIs.

Almora was hitting .214 with one home run and four RBIs in his first 19 games for the Smokies, struggling to become consistent against higher competition.

"The numbers aren’t there, but I feel like I’m having great at-bats," Almora said. "It’s just a matter of they’re not falling in right now. I feel great."

Almora got off to a similarly slow start in Daytona before rebounding, so this is nothing new for the 20-year-old. The Cubs are confident he will come around during this final month of the regular season, and hopefully into Southern League playoffs.

"Certainly he has been someone who has hit his whole life," Cubs scouting/player development director Jason McLeod said. "I think this year he has tried some different things, from a mechanical standpoint, with his stride. So maybe he has been searching a little bit throughout the year.

"He certainly has had some good streaks and (he) had the great streak in Daytona that preceded his move to Double A. And he also has battled himself sometimes too. Development-wise, it still has been a good year for him. We always like to see how some guys go through adversity and how they come out of it."

McLeod also said dealing with his father’s health problems may have affected Almora’s concentration level.

"Everyone loves their parents, and that’s a special, tight-knit family," he said. "And when that happened toward the end of spring training (it) affected him greatly, probably more than he wanted to let on."

Despite the inconsistent hitting Almora has been a standout defensive player in center.

"He’s the best defensive outfielder I’ve ever seen," Tennessee pitcher Pierce Johnson said. "A great guy in the clubhouse and off the field. An all-around good dude, plus his talent speaks for itself. I’m excited to see what he has in the future."

Almora suffered a freak injury before his first season at Class A Kane County, when a Johnson pitch that hit him during an intrasquad game fractured the hamate bone in his left hand. He wound up playing only 61 games, hitting .329 with three home runs and 23 RBIs.

"I felt terrible," Johnson said. "It was a high fastball and he fouled it off. I guess that’s when it happened."

But the setback didn’t keep Almora down long, and once he got acclimated at Daytona this spring he took off.

Though Almora is strong at 6-foot-2, 180 pounds, he’s not the kind of power hitter the Cubs have in Baez, Bryant and Soler. He prefers to line balls into the gaps and use his speed.

Will Almora eventually develop more power or is he going to be a table-setter instead?

"I don’t know about the power," Almora said. "I can’t control any of that. Obviously you want to get stronger and I’m going to mature more. If it comes, it comes, but right now it’s not my game."

So what is his game?

"Getting on base for the guys to drive me in," he said. "Getting base hits, doubles, spraying the gaps. I don’t think about homers. I just think about the guys behind me who can hit them, and I know they can hit them far."

The Cubs aren’t concerned about the power part of his game. McLeod said he “wouldn’t be shocked” to see Almora hitting 15-plus home runs in the majors with greater physical development.

Where he will bat in the Cubs’ lineup is another question. He has hit second for the most part but is an aggressive hitter who doesn’t walk much.

"I can hit first or ninth, wherever they put me," he said.

McLeod said future lineups are a “constant discussion” in the organization, with the possibility of four true power hitters — Anthony Rizzo, Baez, Soler and Bryant — playing together down the road, plus Starlin Castro.

"It’s easy to sit here in a vacuum and say, ‘Since we have all these power guys here, we’ll put this guy here and this guy here,’" McLeod said. "We all know it’s not that easy. I think he could hit two — or maybe three if his average gets there — to six or seven. These guys (Bryant, Soler and Baez) will have a say in that."

When Baez got the call to the majors recently, Almora was stoked to see what his friend could do. Asked if it made him think about his own future call-up, Almora demurred.

"Oh man, I’m not thinking about that," he said. "I just have to do my own thing, and when my time comes my time will come. I can’t think about that yet. I’d put too much pressure on myself."

The Core Four know each other well from being in the Cubs’ system, and Almora also played with Russell on Team USA when both were in high school.

Some day they hope to be together at Wrigley Field with the Cubs, ending the legendary World Series drought and changing the way people think about the organization.

"This is a big family," Almora said. "We’ve heard a lot of talk about us, but there’s no pressure on us because we can’t control anything right now. Kris and ‘George’ (Soler) are in (Triple A) and I’m here with ‘Addy’ (Russell) and a lot of other great guys.

"Javy just got his opportunity. We’ll just concentrate on where we are and work hard where we’re at. Me? I’m pretty much an open book. Play hard and that’s it."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: 0-for-16

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Friday vs. Las Vegas:  0-for-4, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  12-for-40 (.300), 4 home runs, 11 RBIs, 9 walks, 16 strikeouts.

Season: 123 games, .333 batting average, 40 home runs, 103 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Friday vs. Las Vegas: 0-for-4.

Trending: 0-for-15 (.000), 5 strikeouts.

Season:  53 games, .335 batting average, 12 home runs, 46 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Friday vs. Huntsville: 0-for-4, RBI, strikeout.

Trending: 10-for-32 (.313), 2 RBI, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts.

Season:  53 games, .293 batting average, 9 home runs, 29 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Friday vs. Huntsville: 0-for-4, strikeout.

Trending: 4-for-11 (.367), RBI, strikeout.

Season: 110 games, .268 batting average, 8 home runs, 54 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs demote Lake to Iowa

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK – After outfielder Junior Lake was informed after Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the New York Mets that he was being optioned to Triple-A Iowa, there was even more reason for the Chicago Cubs to look ahead to September.

That’s when 25-man rosters can be expanded, and the Cubs will be in full force with their auditions for 2015.

“It’s shaping up, for sure,” left-hander Travis Wood said after allowing a three-run home run to Eric Campbell in the fourth inning of a 3-2 loss in which he was more angry at the two walks he allowed that preceded Campbell’s homer.

“You see how (Arismendy) Alcantara and (Javier) Baez are doing, everyone is coming up. (Kris) Bryant is still killing it in the minors. And to see them get their big league experience can only benefit for next year. (Dan) Straily is (pitching Saturday), and hopefully he can have a big game and continue to learn.”

Wood leads the Cubs with 144 1/3 innings after reaching the 200-mark last year. He would like to stay in his normal routine of pitching every fifth day but understands that the Cubs might get creative in finding way to see pitchers like Straily and left-hander Felix Doubront, who will make at least one more start for Iowa on Sunday.

“If they need to see guys, hey, we’ll see them,” Wood said after losing his fifth consecutive decision. “They got to get them in here and see what they got.’’

As for Lake, the Cubs didn’t play him enough after a slow start that eventually led to him stagnating on the bench. Lake, 24, batted .130 in 23 at-bats as a pinch hitter and .218 in 257 at-bats as a starter, but he started in only two games since June 2.

“I need the at-bats,” Lake said. “I need to play a couple games down there and then in September get called up. I need to play. I don’t care if it’s here or what.”

Manager Rick Renteria hopes that Lake will experience a revival at Iowa in the same manner as Mike Olt, who was optioned on July 23 after batting .149 with 84 strikeouts in 187 at-bats but has rebounded with a .323 batting average with seven home runs and 23 RBIs in 24 games at Iowa.

A strong three weeks at Iowa also can’t hurt Lake’s trade value, as the Seattle Mariners showed interest in Lake dating back to spring training.

“It’s been tough,” Renteria said of Lake. “We tried to do everything we could throughout the course of the season, especially early, to put him in a decent place. But obviously it’s very difficult for a young man. And the way we’ve been limited his usage as of late makes it more difficult. So maybe right now he’s a little disappointed, but I think he’ll catch a breath of fresh air, go down there, play, get some at-bats, have some fun again and we’ll see him here soon.’’

That’s likely to be in September, when Wood hopes he and his teammates can end the season on a successful note.

“For myself, to finish strong would be huge,” Wood said. “And as for the team, we got a lot of young guys. To watch everybody unfold and play hard and grind out at-bats, grind out the games, win as many as we can, would be huge for the team going into next year.”

Chicago Tribune

Starlin Castro wants to stay just where he is

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Starlin Castro said he was unaware many Mets fans have targeted him as their shortstop of the future.

But as far as Castro is concerned, he prefers to stay with the Cubs and at shortstop, where the organization is well-stocked with high-caliber prospects.

"I showed a lot of people that I can be good at my position," Castro said Friday night before extending his hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the second inning against the Mets. "I don’t have control (over my future). I think a lot of people see me and know that I can handle that position my whole career. That’s the position I always play."

Many see the Mets as a possible match for the Cubs because of their young starting pitching depth and the Cubs’ stock of shortstops, with marquee prospect Addison Russell at Double-A Tennessee after Javier Baez moved to second base from there before his major league promotion 11 days ago.

Mets pro scout Roy Smith watched Castro for four games in late July.

General manager Jed Hoyer and Castro, however, see no problem having shortstops play other positions, such as Arismendy Alcantara shifting to second and then center field.

"It doesn’t matter because we’re athletes," Castro said. "We can play wherever in the infield."

Hoyer was delighted to hear Castro wants to stay at shortstop.

"He should," Hoyer said. "He has been an All-Star three of the five years he has been in the league at shortstop. I’m glad to hear him say that, and that’s how we see it.”

Hoyer said firmly the Cubs don’t have to make a trade involving one of their shortstops. But that could change if the Cubs believe Russell is ready and there’s an offer for a frontline pitcher that’s too good to pass up.

The Cubs have cost certainty with Castro, 24, who is signed through 2019. They also called agent Paul Kinzer after acquiring Russell from the Athletics on July 5 to inform him that the trade didn’t relate to Castro’s performance.

"I know I can do more than this," Castro said. "I have pretty good talent. I’m learning a lot. I’m a man right now. I know a lot about this game. I can keep grinding. I can (have) a better season."

Castro also wants to stay with the Cubs when the bulk of their top prospects arrive in the majors.

"As soon as those guys get here, we’ll be better," Castro said. "We have great talent and great young talent, and the team is going to be awesome.”

September shuffle: The Cubs want to take a look at Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily (who starts Saturday night) in the rotation in September. But they seem to be leaning toward letting embattled Edwin Jackson try to fix his problems in the interim.

“Obviously he has been struggling and we’re going to give him an opportunity to right the ship,” Hoyer said of Jackson, who is 6-13 with a 7.92 ERA in the first inning.

Jackson is 14-31 with a 5.31 ERA in 56 starts with the Cubs and is signed through 2016.

"The biggest attraction was durability, and that hasn’t changed," Hoyer said. "That’s the head scratcher."

Hoyer said there have been rough drafts of the rotation but that discussion with President Theo Epstein, manager Rick Renteria and pitching coach Chris Bosio will take place in the future.

"We may well try to do something creative and think through different ways to get guys innings," Hoyer said.

Doubront will make at least one more start at Triple-A Iowa on Sunday.

Rookie Kyle Hendricks, who is 22 innings shy of his professional high of 166 1/3 innings set last year, will pitch at least into the start of September.

Straily optimistic: After spending nearly six weeks at Triple-A Iowa, Straily saw some comparisons between the Cubs’ organization and what he experienced in six seasons with the Athletics.

"Especially with the guys in Iowa, I felt there’s a whole culture of winning being instilled," Straily said. "It was something I felt with Oakland. The first and foremost thing on the minor leagues was the culture of winning. And it’s the kind of culture where there with a good group of guys.

"There was a lot of talent. We won, and you see that group of guys (here). You keep that trend going on down there, and eventually it starts to translate. I’m definitely glad to be here."

Roster spot open: The Cubs’ trade of former No. 1 pick Brett Jackson to the Diamondbacks cleared a spot on their 40-man roster that they’re expected to fill when 25-man rosters are expanded on Sept. 1.

Reliever Blake Cooper, who was acquired for Jackson, could be assigned to Double-A Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs Game Day: Cubs strike out 14 times, lose 3-2

By Mark Gonzales

The summary: The Cubs, who struck out 77 times during their seven-game homestand, whiffed 14 times against Mets starter Zack Wheeler and relievers Vic Black, Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia. Left-hander Travis Wood, who entered Friday’s game with a 2-0 record and 3.03 ERA in five lifetime starts against the Mets, surrendered a three-run home run to Eric Campbell in the bottom of the fourth inning.

At the plate: Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to 14 games with an infield hit in the second, and his single in the third scored the Cubs’ second run. But the Cubs didn’t collect a hit the rest of the way.

On the mound: Wood walked the first two batters in the fourth to set up Campbell’s homer.

In the field: Rookie second baseman Javier Baez sprinted near the right field line to catch a pop by David Wright to end the first.

The number:  5 – Games in which the Cubs have struck out 12 times or more in each of their past eight games.

The quote: Outfielder Junior Lake (after optioned to Triple-A Iowa): “I need the at-bats. I need to play a couple games down there and then in September get called up. I need to play. I don’t care if it’s here or what.”

Up next: Cubs (Straily 0-0, 0.00) at Mets (Niese 6-8, 3.46), 6:10 p.m., Saturday, WGN.

15 8 / 2014

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant hits game-winning 40th HR

Mark Gonzales

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Thursday vs. Las Vegas:  1-for-5, game-winning 2-run home run, walk, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  12-for-36 (.333), 4 home runs, 11 RBIs, 9 walks, 13 strikeouts.

Season: 122 games, .336 batting average, 40 home runs, 103 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Thursday vs. Las Vegas: 0-for-5, strikeout.

Trending: 9-for-33 (.273), 2 home runs, 9 RBIs, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  52 games, .339 batting average, 12 home runs, 46 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Thursday vs. Huntsville: 1-for-4.

Trending: 10-for-28 (.357), RBI, 3 walks, 5 strikeouts.

Season:  52 games, .299 batting average, 9 home runs, 28 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Thursday vs. Huntsville: 2-for-4, strikeout.

Trending: 5-for-27 (.185), 5 strikeouts.

Season: 108 games, .272 batting average, 8 home runs, 54 RBIs.

Tribune

Dan Straily’s career takes new angle with Cubs

Mark Gonzales

Triple-A Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton put his All-Star break to good use, and he didn’t devote his entire free time to rehabilitating his surgically repaired left knee.

Walton spent a portion of the break looking at videotapes of newly acquired pitcher Dan Straily in an effort to solve some of Straily’s problems — most notably a dip in his velocity.

"That impressed me right off the bat," said Straily, who was dealt to the Cubs’ organization July 5 as part of the six-player trade with the Athletics that involved Cubs ace Jeff Samardzija. "He really cared about trying to get me fixed."

As a result, Straily, 25, hasn’t allowed a run in his last 19 innings while striking out 18 during that span thanks to an uptick in his velocity. The Cubs will reward him this weekend with a start Saturday night against the Mets.

"The angle of my fastball was flat," said Straily, who said Walton suggested he concentrate on releasing the ball farther in front of his body. "Once we found the right angle, everything felt much easier."

The Cubs, who have developed a knack recently for resurrecting the careers of pitchers who have struggled, might be on the verge of finding another success story with Straily, who posted an 10-8 record with a 3.98 ERA in 27 starts for the Athletics last season and struck out eight in six innings in the fourth game of the American League Division Series against the Tigers.

Unfortunately for Straily, his 2014 season has been an extended learning lesson. He made seven starts with the Athletics but was optioned to Triple-A Sacramento after posting a 4.93 ERA, and his low 90-mph velocity failed to resurface during his 10 starts with the River Cats.

"When I broke camp (with the Athletics), I planned on staying and didn’t foresee going back to the minors," Straily said Thursday morning before the Cubs promoted him. "In baseball, everything changes and those who adjust have a better chance of surviving.

"I just have to take care of myself. You can’t let things bother you or worry about who is going to get promoted (to the majors).”

After the trade, Straily was happy to join a young organization like that of the Cubs, and he was impressed instantly playing with sluggers such as Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Mike Olt.

"I’ve never played with so many guys with power," Straily said. "Every time one of them comes to the plate, you make sure you don’t go to the clubhouse or bathroom. That was the case even when Javy (Baez) was here. Kris Bryant has hit some of the most impressive home runs I’ve seen."

Tribune

Thursday’s recap: Brewers 6, Cubs 2

Mark Gonzales

The summary

The Cubs failed to win their fourth series in their last five tries as they struck out 16 times and Edwin Jackson was knocked out after 4 2/3 innings. The Brewers scored five runs in the first four innings in maintaining their lead in the National League Central.

At the plate

Pinch-hitter Chris Valaika had a two-run single in the seventh and Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to 13 games.

On the mound

Reliever Jacob Turner pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings in his Cubs debut, and manager Rick Renteria said Turner could be stretched out. He has started 45 of 54 career games.

In the field

Third baseman Luis Valbuena made a backhand stop and Anthony Rizzo scooped Valbuena’s one-bounce throw to retire Jonathan Lucroy in the second.

The number

6 — Starts in which Jackson has thrown fewer than five innings.

The quote

Jackson: “At the end of the day, the organization has chances to look at some guys and they’re going to make the move they want to make. At this point, you just have to worry about the things you can control, which is worrying about yourself.”

Up next

Cubs (Wood 7-9, 4.86) at Mets (Wheeler 7-8, 3.53), 6:10 p.m., Friday, WGN-9.

Tribune

Edwin Jackson’s troubles an opening for others

Mark Gonzales

The happy medium that the Cubs repeatedly mentioned Thursday when discussing the struggles of Edwin Jackson and the high strikeout rate of their offense could face a cold reality in the future.

Jackson’s inconsistency, coupled with an offense that struck out 16 times, reached a new low in a 6-2 loss to the Brewers that extended Jackson’s streak of failing to pitch into the seventh inning to 16 consecutive starts.

After the game, the Cubs announced Dan Straily will be promoted from Triple-A Iowa to pitch Saturday night against the Mets. Straily’s promotion serves merely as a breather for the starters during a stretch of 20 consecutive games without an off day.

But since the July 5 trade of ace Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs have been eager to give auditions to pitchers, and Jackson’s 6-13 record and 5.74 ERA make it increasingly difficult to keep him in the rotation with the Cubs placing a tremendous emphasis on youth.

"I don’t think that’s in the forefront, not my thinking or the organization’s," manager Rick Renteria said of the possibility of pulling Jackson out of the rotation. "I’m sure that if something were to change, we’ll let you guys know.”

Jackson, who’s signed through 2016, is fully aware of the changing pitching landscape but maintained faith in his ability.

"The organization has chances to look at some guys and they’re going to make the move they want to make," said Jackson, who allowed five runs in 4 2/3 innings. "You just have to worry about the things you can control, which is worrying about yourself."

After retiring the first two batters on four pitches, Jackson walked two before Scooter Gennett hit a two-run double that gave the Brewers the lead for good.

"I felt I was like a robot," Jackson said of his mechanical issues. "Trying to find this and trying to find that and worrying about all the wrong things instead of throwing to the glove."

Meanwhile, the Cubs struck out 77 times on their seven-game homestand, and they whiffed 14 times in six innings against starter Mike Fiers. Their 1,049 strikeouts are second highest in the National League, and they’re on pace to surpass the franchise record of 1,269 in 2002.

When asked if the high strikeout rate set off alarms, Renteria replied, “no.”

"I’d have to tally all the strikeouts and who has sustained them and evaluate in those particular at-bats what it was or what might have been the process and the approach at that particular time or individual," said Renteria, who credited the angle and deception of Fiers’ pitches.

Rookie Javier Baez struck out four times, and each Cubs starting position player struck out at least once.

The high strikeout rate was one “aspect” general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday the Cubs must reduce.

Before the game, Renteria responded to the debate of whether strikeouts aren’t frowned upon as much as they used to be.

"It’s no secret you can talk about in the old days when if you don’t put the ball in play with two strikes, it was a bad thing to walk out of the box with a strikeout," Renteria said. "There has to be balance. Maybe the pendulum has swung to one extreme.

"I follow my eyes and numbers speak to me a lot, but I have to put them together. I don’t choose one or the other. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts, too."

Starlin’s spotlight: The Cubs’ four-game trip to New York undoubtedly will cause more focus on shortstop Starlin Castro because the Mets need a shortstop for the future.

 Castro, 24, who is signed through 2019, extended his hitting streak to a season-high 13 games and is batting .423 during that stretch. Castro can tie his longest career hitting streak Friday night.

Renteria has been encouraged that Castro has stopped trying to uppercut and over-swinging at pitches in an effort to generate more power. Instead, he has concentrated more on hitting the ball up the middle and to right field.

The Mets have a surplus of young high-ceiling pitching that might entice the Cubs, and Mets pro scout Roy Smith watched Castro play during the Cubs’ series against the Rockies before the trading deadline.

The Mets could shift their emphasis to Castro because the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki hasn’t played since July 19 and is scheduled to undergo season ending left hip surgery Friday.

Tribune

Cubs trade former first-round pick Brett Jackson

Paul Sullivan

The Cubs sent former first-round draft pick Brett Jackson to Arizona on Thursday night for reliever Blake Cooper.

Cooper, 26, is 16-15 with a 3.27 ERA in 192 relief appearances over five minor league seasons with a 3.27 ERA. He was 4-2 with a 3.57 ERA in 41 appearances at Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno and was named to the Southern League All-Star team.

Jackson, a first-round pick in 2009, had a brief call-up to the Cubs in 2012, hitting .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats. He was hitting .210 with five home runs this year at Triple-A Iowa.

Tribune

Series preview: Cubs at Mets

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Cubs 3-0.

Friday: 6:10 p.m., WGN-9.

LH Travis Wood (7-9, 4.86) vs. RH Zack Wheeler (7-8, 3.53).

Saturday: 6:10 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Dan Straily (1-2, 4.93 with A’s) vs. LH Jonathon Niese (6-8, 3.46).

Sunday: 12:10 p.m., CSN.

RH Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.77) vs. RH Rafael Montero (0-3, 6.12).

Monday: 11:10 a.m., CSN.

RH Kyle Hendricks (4-1, 1.73) vs. vs. RH Bartolo Colon (11-10, 3.85).

Who’s hot: Starlin Castro has hit safely in 13 consecutive games. Rookie Javier Baez has hit four home runs in his first 10 games. David Wright had a 12-game hitting streak entering play Thursday night. Zack Wheeler has allowed three runs or fewer in eight consecutive starts.

Who’s not: Luis Valbuena is 1-for-22. Arismendy Alcantara is 3-for-24. Curtis Granderson is 1-for-15. Lucas Duda is 5-for-24.

Sun-Times

Edwin Jackson’s job in jeopardy after another poor start

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Jon Lester? Max Scherzer? The return of Jason Hammel?

It all might sound like a nice little to-do list for the Cubs’ front office this winter as it makes its “aggressive” push toward better pitching.

But six weeks remain this season, and the Cubs have no shortage of in-house starting-pitching issues to sort out long before they get to the offseason. Some were on display during the 6-2 loss Thursday to the Milwaukee Brewers that closed out a 3-4 homestand.

Edwin Jackson — 56 starts into a four-year, $52 million deal — struggled again and has been the worst performer on the staff since 2013 (14-31, 5.31 ERA).

With news that recently acquired right-hander Dan Straily is being recalled from Class AAA Iowa to make a spot start Saturday in New York and with a seven-up, seven-down Cubs debut for more recently acquired Jacob Turner, Jackson’s hold on his starting job looked more tenuous than it has all year.

Could he lose starts down the stretch as the Cubs try to get looks at some of their new pitchers, including another recent acquisition, rehabbing Felix Doubront?

“Not necessarily,” manager Rick Renteria said.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the highest-paid guy on the team who has 18 non-quality starts to show for 25 outings in ’14.

“The organization [has] chances to look at some guys, and they’re going to make the moves they want to make,” Jackson (6-13) said. “At this point, you just have to try to worry about things you can control.”

For now, the Cubs say Straily’s start is at least in part about a stretch of 21 games in 21 days and giving the five rotation guys an extra day of rest.

But Turner’s “promising” outing in relief of Jackson suggests the clock is running to create another opening in the rotation for at least a look or two, and possibly before the rain-created doubleheader in St.  Louis at the end of the month.

“I imagine that as we move forward, the intent will be to stretch him out,” Renteria said.

Turner, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft who started for the Marlins as recently as July 27, said he could start again now.

“Just being able to get back out there and get that feel back is good,” said Turner, whose fastball reached 93 mph.

“I know the type of pitcher I am. I know the type of pitcher that I can be. It’s just a matter of consistency.”

The same could be said of Jackson, a former All-Star who once threw a no-hitter.

He gave up two runs in the first after two quick outs, eventually snapped the Cubs’ streak of seven quality starts and said one of the problems was thinking too “mechanically” instead of finding a comfort zone.

“I kind of felt like I was a robot, trying to find this, trying to find that,” Jackson said.

But even through all the struggles — and with all the changes coming around him on the starting staff — he said he hasn’t lost confidence.

“At this level, you can’t afford to get down,” he said. “Obviously, you’re disappointed. Clearly, you don’t like the way you’ve pitched. And clearly, I know I’m a way better pitcher than I’ve been showing.

“We can sit here and talk about it all day, but you still have to go out on the field and prove it. But as far as confidence, I haven’t lost any.

‘‘I don’t walk around with my head down, and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. You’re a professional athlete. You’re not going to feel sorry for yourself, and you don’t want anybody else feeling sorry for you. It’s just a matter of continuing to battle.”

Sun-Times

Cubs’ homestand truly was a fanfest

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

Just a few days after setting a franchise record for most strikeouts (44) in a three-game series, the Cubs threatened for six innings Thursday against Milwaukee’s Mike Fiers to challenge the single-game club mark of 20.

They stopped at 16 — including 14 in six innings against Fiers, a 29-year-old right-hander who was pitching for Class AAA Nashville until this month.

It was the third time during a seven-game homestand the Cubs struck out at least 15 times and put their seven-game total at 77.

Alarming?

“No,” manager Rick Renteria said without elaborating until being asked why and being reminded how many different pitchers feasted on his hitters this week.

“I would have to go back and tally all the K’s and who has sustained them and evaluate those particular at-bats, [for] what might have been the process or the approach at that particular time for certain individuals,” he said. “Today you had to tip your cap to a guy who had great angle, great deception.”

Left unsaid is the obvious youthful bent to the total, including 14 by big-swinging, second-week big-leaguer Javy Baez (four on Thursday) and seven more by Arismendy Alcantara, who made his debut last month.

But the Cubs have been striking out all year. Junior Lake, who leads the team with 102, struck out only once in rare playing time during the homestand.

It’s something general manager Jed Hoyer said on Wednesday the Cubs have to improve on, calling the record-setting weekend series against Tampa Bay “humbling.”

Renteria seemed less concerned, possibly trying to sugarcoat it to keep from focusing on the kids.

“In terms of the totality of strikeouts through the homestand, some of them might be more linked to approaches,” he said with a straight face. “So those are things that we’ll continue to work on.

“But alarming? No. They’re just little signals. Things that we have to work on.”

NOTES: Since slumping in July (.221 with only four extra-base hits), All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro is hitting .423 with a home run and three doubles. He has hit safely in all 13 games this month, one short of his career-high hitting streak (once each of the last two seasons).

The Cubs announced after the game that right-hander Dan Straily — acquired from the Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija deal July  4 — will be called up from Class AAA Iowa to make his Cubs debut in a spot start Saturday against the Mets in New York.

Sun-Times

Cubs trade 2008 1st-round pick Brett Jackson

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

A few hours after the Cubs’ 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant hit a walk-off homer in the 12th inning for Class AAA Iowa, the Cubs cut ties with 2008 first-rounder Brett Jackson, trading the AAA outfielder to the Arizona Diamondbacks Thursday night for minor-league relief pitcher Blake Cooper.

Jackson, 26, hit .210 with five homers for Iowa before the waiver-claim trade. In a 44-game debut with the Cubs two summers ago, he hit .175 with four home runs and 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats. He has not played in the majors since.

Cooper, 26, was a Southern League All-Star for AA Mobile (1.85 ERA in 24 appearances) before a promotion to AAA Reno, where the right-hander had a 6.00 ERA in 17 appearances – with only two runs allowed in his last six outings (8 2/3 innings), with eight strikeouts.

Daily Herald

Jackson breaks Cubs’ quality-start streak

Bruce Miles

Back to reality.

After getting 7 straight quality starts, the Cubs trotted Edwin Jackson out to the mound Thursday against the Milwaukee Brewers.

Jackson had 1 of those quality starts in the run of 7, but it was back to the pitcher Cubs fans have come to know all too well during a 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers before 38,157 on an unseasonably cool day at Wrigley Field.

It just hasn’t happened for Jackson in his nearly two years with the Cubs, and Thursday’s performance was emblematic of his entire stay so far.

He lasted just 4⅔ innings and gave up 7 hits and 5 runs as his record fell to 6-13 with a league-worst (among qualifiers) 5.74 ERA.

Jackson lost a National League-high 18 games last year with an ERA of 4.98.

"I feel like I was way too mechanical, thinking about a lot of things than I should have been instead of keeping the ball down in the zone and throwing strikes," he said. "I never felt like I got into a rhythm. I felt like I was here and there. I never found that happy medium, either. I was too low or too high."

Jackson presented a stark contrast in approaches from the previous two Cubs pitchers. Rookie Kyle Hendricks and lefty Tsuyoshi Wada each worked quickly in their victories over the Brewers.

It seems Jackson might have picked up on their examples, but at nearly 31 years old, he’s pretty much set in his ways, and stepping up the pace isn’t likely to happen even though his manager might like to see that.

"I think a lot of things we see, quite frankly that we talk about a lot, is his tempo, to see if we can get him on the hill a little quicker," said Rick Renteria, who added there are no plans to bump Jackson out of the rotation. "See if he can speed up that process. I imagine if I have to look back at all of his starts through his whole career, he’s kind of been a slower tempo-type guy.

"We all know if you have a guy that has a quicker pace, a little quicker tempo, the whole game seems to flow a little bit better. But at the same token, if you know that’s the type of guy you have, if you’re on the defensive side of it, whatever the case might be, you still have to stay on your toes."

On the offensive side of it, the Cubs didn’t do much with Brewers starting pitcher Mike Fiers, who struck out a career-high 14.

In the seven games on this homestand, against Milwaukee and Tampa Bay, Cubs batters struck out a whopping 77 times while walking just seven. Rookie Javier Baez fanned four times to lead the way Thursday, and three other Cubs struck out twice each.

Renteria, however, dug in his heels on this issue when asked if he was alarmed.

"No," he said. "I think what you’re looking at is — I would have to go back and tally all the Ks to see who has sustained them and evaluate in those particular at-bats what it was or what might have been the process or the approach at that particular time for certain individuals.

"Today you have to tip your cap to a guy (Fiers) who had great angle, great deception. It seemed like he was commanding everything he had today. He struck out 14 today, correct? OK. So I tip my cap to him because he’s getting paid to do what he did to us, too. In terms of the totality of the strikeouts through the homestand, some of them might be just more linked to approaches. So those are things we’ll continue to work on.

"Alarming? No. They’re just little signals things we have to work on."

Daily Herald

Cubs tweak starting rotation

Bruce Miles

The Cubs are tweaking their starting rotation beginning with this weekend’s series in New York against the Mets.

Lefty Travis Wood will start Friday night as scheduled, but the Cubs will call up right-hander Dan Straily from Class AAA Iowa to pitch Saturday night. The rest of the rotation will get bumped back one day with Jake Arrieta pitching Sunday and Kyle Hendricks going in Monday’s series finale.

The reason, the Cubs say, is that they’re in a stretch of 20 games in 20 days and that they want to keep their pitchers as fresh as possible.

Straily came to the Cubs in the July 4 trade with the Athletics that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

The 25-year old Straily has spent much of this year in the minor leagues after starting 27 games for the A’s last year. He was 1-2 with Oakland this year with a 4.93 ERA in 7 starts. For the Cubs’ Class AAA Iowa affiliate, he is 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA.

Leaders of the pack:

Since the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, the Cubs’ three best starting pitchers are players who were not on the opening-day roster: Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada. Arrieta opened the season the disabled list while Hendricks and Wada were in the minor leagues.

Veterans Edwin Jackson — who lost Thursday’s game 6-2 to the Brewers — and lefty Travis Wood have been major disappointments this season.

As for the three guys who have stepped up, manager Rick Renteria said: “I think it speaks volumes for those young men. I think that everybody’s always believed that those young men had the ability to potentially do what they’re doing. We’re glad that it’s happened, obviously. We’re very pleased with the way they’ve performed. Hopefully, it will continue. Is it a pleasant surprise? It’s just pleasant.”

A happy debut:

Right-hander Jacob Turner made his Cubs debut in relief of Edwin Jackson. Turner worked 2⅓ hitless and scoreless innings, striking out one. The Cubs obtained him Aug. 8 in a trade with the Marlins.

"It’s been awhile since I’ve thrown in a game," he said. "I was just excited to get out there and get my feet back underneath me."

Castro extends streak:

Shortstop Starlin Castro extended a hitting streak to 13 games with a single in the fourth inning. He is 22-for-52 (.423) in the streak. Castro is one game shy of his career-best hitting streak. His 136 hits for the season are tops among National League shortstops.

Daily Herald

Cubs trade former first-rounder Brett Jackson

Bruce Miles

There’s no doubting that Brett Jackson had gone from prospect to suspect in the Cubs’ system.

The Cubs finally cut ties with the former first-round draft pick, sending the center fielder to the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-handed pitcher Blake Cooper.

The trade was made late Thursday night.

Jackson, 26, was playing for the Cubs’ Class AAA Iowa affiliate, where he had a hitting line of .210/.298/.348 with 5 home runs, 20 RBI, 24 walks and 94 strikeouts.

The Cubs took him out of the University of California-Berkeley with their first-round pick (31st overall) in the 2009 amateur draft. In a brief trial with the big club in 2012, Jackson hit .175/.303/.342 with 4 homers and 9 RBI. He also had 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.

Cooper, 26, was 4-2 this year with a 3.57 ERA in 41 relief appearances between Class AA Mobile and Class AAA Reno. He was named to the Southern League all-star team.

For his minor league career, Cooper is 16-15 with 16 saves and a 3.27 ERA in 192 outings, all in relief, over five seasons.

Cubs.com

Jackson out of sorts as Cubs whiff vs. Brewers

Starter takes 13th loss after exiting in fifth; offense stifled by Fiers

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Edwin Jackson said he was thinking too much, felt like a “robot” and couldn’t get in a good rhythm, which resulted in an abbreviated outing and another loss for the Cubs right-hander.

Cubs starting pitchers had posted seven straight quality starts, but that streak ended Thursday as the Brewers posted a 6-2 win over Jackson in front of 38,157 at Wrigley Field.

Mike Fiers struck out a career-high 14 batters over six innings and became the first pitcher with that many K’s against the Cubs since the Diamondbacks’ Curt Schilling fanned 14 on Aug. 22, 2003.

The only thing interrupting Fiers’ K’s were the jets from the upcoming weekend air and water show, which were practicing along the lakefront and buzzing the ballpark. Khris Davis and Mark Reynolds each hit solo home runs for the division-leading Brewers.

Jackson is an enigma. He has thrown a no-hitter, he’s pitched in the postseason, and yet he’s struggled since joining the Cubs. Last year, he led the National League in losses, with 18, and on Thursday, he suffered his 13th loss.

"At this level, you can’t afford to get down," Jackson said. "Obviously, you’re disappointed, clearly you don’t like the way you pitched. Clearly, I know I’m a way better pitcher than I’ve been showing.

"You can talk about it all day, but you still have to go on the field and prove it. As far as confidence, I haven’t lost any confidence. I don’t walk around with my head down and don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me. You’re a professional athlete, you’re not going to feel sorry for yourself, and you don’t want anyone to feel sorry for you.

"It’s just a matter of continuing to battle and find that rhythm and find it early, and once you have it, to go with it."

Tempo is a problem for Jackson, who is very deliberate. He did retire the first two Brewers batters quickly, but then walked Jonathan Lucroy and Davis, and both scored on Scooter Gennett’s double to right-center. Jackson now has served up 22 earned runs in the first inning of his 25 starts for a 7.92 ERA.

The Cubs right-hander was charged with five runs over 4 2/3 innings and his ERA rose to 5.74, highest among qualifying NL starters. It’s the sixth time in 25 starts he’s been unable to finish the fifth inning.

"I think a lot of things that we see is his tempo, to see if we can get him on the hill a little quicker, and see if he can speed up that process," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We all know when you have someone who has a quicker pace, quicker tempo, the whole game seems to flow better."

In May, Jackson threw seven shutout innings against the Brewers. Not this time. When he can’t find his rhythm, he doesn’t have success, which is what happened Thursday.

"At the end of the day, you can’t be on the mound thinking about mechanics," Jackson said. "It doesn’t allow you to throw quality pitches or have the effectiveness on your pitches as you normally would. If you get too mechanical, you’re kind of out there like a robot, like I was thinking about way too many things instead of simplifying: see the ball down, see the glove and throw the pitch."

What’s next? The Cubs plan on calling up right-hander Dan Straily from Triple-A Iowa to start Saturday against the Mets and give the regulars a breather. The team is playing a stretch of 20 straight days. As of now, Jackson is scheduled to start Wednesday against the Giants.

"The organization has chances to look at guys, and they’ll make moves they’re going to make," Jackson said. "You have to worry about things you can control, and that’s worrying about yourself and the things you can do once you have the ball."

Cubs.com

Turner turns in flawless Cubs debut at Wrigley

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Jacob Turner made the most of his Cubs debut.

The right-hander, acquired Aug. 8 from the Marlins for two Minor League pitchers, retired all seven batters he faced in the Cubs’ 6-2 loss to the Brewers on Thursday. Turner, 23, entered with two outs in the fifth and two on, and got Mark Reynolds to fly out to left to end the inning.

"It’d been a while since I threw in a game," Turner said. "I was just excited to get out there and get my feet back underneath me."

He had not pitched since Aug. 3, when he started for the Marlins against the Reds and gave up five runs over four innings. Turner has thrown a few bullpens with Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio offering pointers.

"I know the type of pitcher I am, the type of pitcher I can be," Turner said. "It’s just a matter of consistency, and that’s what I said Day 1, and that’s still the case. You have to go out there every day and be consistent. That’s what great pitchers do."

Whether Turner will get a start has not been determined.

"It was good to get him out there to see him," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said. "I think it’s very promising, quite frankly."

Starlin’s 13-game hit streak a promising sign

CHICAGO — Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro singled with two outs in the fourth inning against the Brewers on Thursday to extend his hitting streak to 13 games, one shy of his career high.

Castro now has 10 hitting streaks of 10 or more games, including two career-high 14-game stretches.

It’s an encouraging sign for Castro, who had some struggles. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said the shortstop was trying to generate power and drive the ball, and he wasn’t concentrating on hitting the ball to center or right. Castro batted .296 in June, but followed that with a .221 July.

The key, Renteria said, is minimizing the peaks and valleys.

Wright assists family, friends of Chicago LLWS team

CHICAGO — Wesley Wright didn’t play Little League growing up in Montgomery, Ala., but the Cubs reliever did play what was called Dixie Ball. He remembers his parents driving him to games and tournaments all over the state.

Which is why Wright didn’t hesitate to chip in money to help parents and friends of the Jackie Robinson West players go to Williamsport, Pa., for the Little League World Series.

Wright, 29, joined the Rockies’ LaTroy Hawkins, the Braves’ B.J. and Justin Upton and the Tigers’ Torii Hunter in donating money to cover travel expenses for many of the families.

"I felt that the kids worked so hard to get to that moment, the people they deserve to share it with is their family and friends," Wright said Thursday. "It was an easy sell for me. I’m glad they’ll have their mom and dad and brothers and sisters there to cheer them on."

The Chicago Little League team will be the Great Lakes representative in the Little League World Series, which gets underway Thursday.

"They sent a ‘thank you’ video to us and some of the guys," Wright said. "It was pretty cool. I’m glad to be able to help. Hopefully they enjoy their time in Williamsport. Even if they don’t win a game, I just hope they have a good time and it’s lasting memories."

Wright said he was happy to see the community and the city rally in support of the team.

"It’s a good thing for the community to see these young guys — and in some cases girls — playing ball and being a motivational tool on national TV for the rest of the kids back home to see they can do something positive," Wright said. "I think it’s a great story overall. I’m sure that part of the city is excited and hoping they’ll bring home a title."

Cubs players showed their support before Thursday’s game by wearing T-shirts that said, “Cubs (heart) JRW.”

Wright was in the weight room at Wrigley Field when the Jackie Robinson West team rallied to beat Indiana and advance to the World Series in the regional final. Rob Bufford, whose son, Cameron, hit a grand slam in that game, told the Chicago Tribune that if it weren’t for last-minute donations from the pro players, they would have to watch the games from Chicago.

"It brought back a lot of memories for myself," Wright said of watching the kids.

Castillo appreciates umps’ aid with Rule 7.13

CHICAGO — Welington Castillo said umpires have helped him with subtle reminders regarding new Rule 7.13 as to where he can stand at the plate, but the Cubs catcher is still a little vague on the restrictions.

The rule states that “a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate).” It came into play Wednesday during the seventh inning of the White Sox’s game against the Giants, which resulted in manager Robin Ventura getting ejected.

"When the play happens, you worry about getting the ball and tagging the guy," Castillo said Thursday. "You never see where you’re going to stand on the plate. You’re just in front of the plate. Some umpires tell me before [the pitch], ‘Hey, give me the line.’ Before stuff happens, you have to anticipate what’s going to happen and they say ‘Hey, just give me the line.’"

Castillo said he often just reacts, but he does appreciate the umpire’s reminders.

"As a catcher, you never think about it, you just react to [the play]," he said.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said the rule has accomplished reducing the number of collisions at home plate. He also knows how there can be some confusion. Of course, he can turn to his brother for help.

"My brother is an attorney, and says there’s the spirit of the law and the letter of the law," Renteria said. "The letter of the law says if he’s in front of the plate without the ball, that the runner shall be granted home plate. The spirit of the law was intended to eliminate injury to the catcher by baserunners going outside the lane and attacking the catcher. I’m sure there will be a happy medium somewhere in the future."

Did Renteria win many arguments with his brother?

"Not very many," he said.

Extra bases

• Tsuyoshi Wada did not have a good Spring Training, giving up nine runs on 14 hits over 9 2/3 innings. But the left-hander won his second straight decision Wednesday and has given up seven runs over 25 1/3 innings in his last four starts for a 2.49 ERA.

"This isn’t a kid," Renteria said of the 33-year-old Wada. "He’s a young man who has pitched effectively. He’s gone out in his last few outings and shown everybody he’s capable of getting big league hitters out and commanding the zone. That’s what he went down to the Minor Leagues to work on."

• Anthony Rizzo has 11 first-pitch home runs, most in the Major Leagues. The Orioles’ Nelson Cruz is second, with nine.

• Javier Baez is the first Cubs player to hit four home runs and have seven RBIs through his first nine career games since Carmelo Martinez did so in 1983.

• Mark Zagunis, the Cubs’ third-round pick in the June First-Year Player Draft, was promoted from short-season Boise to Class A Kane County. In 41 games at Boise, Zagunis was batting .299 with two home runs and 27 RBIs. He was named to the Northwest League All-Star team.

Cubs.com

Cubs deal former first-round pick Jackson to D-backs

Chicago receives Minor League right-hander Cooper in exchange for outfielder

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs dealt 2009 first-round Draft pick Brett Jackson to the D-backs late Thursday for Minor League right-handed pitcher Blake Cooper.

The clubs have not confirmed the deal.

Cooper, 26, was 4-2 with a 3.57 ERA in 41 relief appearances combined for Double-A Mobile and Triple-A Reno this year. He was named to the 2014 Southern League All-Star team, posting a 1.85 ERA in 24 games with Mobile. However, Cooper had a 6.00 ERA in 17 games at Reno, giving up 16 earned runs on 25 hits and 17 walks over 24 innings. A 12th-round pick in 2010, Cooper is 16-15 with 16 saves and a 3.27 ERA in five Minor League seasons.

Jackson, who turned 26 on Aug. 2, was the 31st player taken overall in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. Injuries slowed the outfielder, limiting him to 61 games last season at Triple-A Iowa.

In 81 games at Iowa this year, Jackson was batting .210 with eight doubles, four triples, five homers and 20 RBIs. Jackson was called up to the big leagues in August 2012, but batted .175 in 44 games. Jackson’s strikeout totals were high — in 2012, he fanned 158 times over 106 games at Iowa.

The move opens a spot on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. According to the Arizona Republic, Jackson will be assigned to Triple-A Reno.

Cubs.com

Bryant’s 40th homer is walk-off shot

By Teddy Cahill

Thursday night was Kris Bryant jersey T-shirt night at Triple-A Iowa’s Principal Park. And the Cubs’ No. 1 prospect celebrated his day in style, hitting a walk-off home run in the 12th inning to beat Las Vegas, 6-5.

The home run was Bryant’s 40th of the season — the most in the Minor Leagues. He is just the second player in the last five years to reach the mark, joining Rangers No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo, who did so last year.

Bryant had been hitless in four at-bats Thursday before coming to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning to face Las Vegas reliever Chase Bradford. He had struck out three times when he was intentionally walked in the ninth inning.

But Bryant erased all of that in the 12th. Facing Bradford, he belted a deep fly ball over the fence in center field for a two-run home run. He finished the game 1-for-5.

Bryant, ranked No. 4 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, began the season with Double-A Tennessee. After a dominating first half (he was leading the Southern League in all three Triple Crown categories at the All-Star break), he was promoted to Iowa. In 122 games between the two levels, he is hitting .336/.442/.684 with 40 home runs and 15 stolen bases. He has scored 108 runs and driven in 103.

Cubs.com

Starters riding momentum as Cubs, Mets meet

Wood, Wheeler looking to maintain consistency in opener of four

By Caitlin Swieca and Jamal Collier

Heading to the mound to open the team’s four-game set against the Mets, Travis Wood will look to build on his last start and continue a stretch of hot pitching for the Cubs.

Prior to Thursday’s loss to the Brewers, Cubs pitchers had recorded seven straight quality starts, posting a 2.09 ERA and a 32/11 strikeout to walk ratio over that span. Wood contributed to the streak with six innings against the Rays in which he allowed only four hits and one unearned run. The lefty has been up and down this season but says he feels his command is improving.

"Last couple games, I’ve felt it’s gotten better," Wood said. "I still had three walks, but felt I cut down on that. I was able to attack the zone and keep them off the board."

The Mets will pitch Zack Wheeler, who has been exceptionally consistent over his last eight starts. Dating back to June 30, he has posted a 1.93 ERA and 1.25 WHIP while allowing just more than two earned runs once.

One of his most impressive starts during this season came on June 3 against the Cubs, limiting Chicago to two hits and fanning seven in 6 2/3 scoreless innings.

"I think he’s showing people now he is the competitor everybody thought he was when he was coming up," Mets manager Terry Collins said. "He’s bound and determined. When he needs to step it up, he steps it up to get out of innings. … Those guys will do anything for him now. I told him it’s made a huge difference in how he approaches the game, with his mindset now."

Cubs: Unlikely pitchers contributing to Cubs’ streak

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the Cubs’ recent stretch of seven straight quality starts is that the main contributors have been players who weren’t on the Opening Day roster. Jake Arrieta started the season on the disabled list, and Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada were in Triple-A.

"I think it speaks volumes in those young men," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I think everyone has believed they’ve had the potential to do what they’re doing. We’re very pleased with the way they’ve performed. Hopefully it continues. Is it a pleasant surprise? It’s just pleasant."

Dan Straily, Arrieta and Hendricks will follow Wood in the rotation in this series against the Mets.

Mets: Questions remain regarding home-plate collisions rule

A day after the Mets’ would-be tying run was ruled out at the plate on a play that featured Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos’ left leg partially blocking baserunner Matt den Dekker’s path to home, Collins didn’t have much in terms of answers regarding Rule 7.13.

He agreed that those sorts of calls are similar to flipping a coin.

"I went out [Wednesday] night and said, ‘Listen. I want you to look at this. I have absolutely no idea if he’s out or safe. None. But you have to look at it,’" Collins said. "There’s nothing else to say. If you went out and said, ‘Do you think he blocked the plate?’ And [the umpires] look at you and they’ll [shrug their shoulders]. ‘We have to look at it.’

"I know it’s a work in progress. I’ve talked to Joe [Torre, executive vice president of baseball operations] about it. Certainly by next year there will be some definite things that clear up the rule."

Worth noting

• Chicago’s Anthony Rizzo leads the Majors with 11 first-pitch home runs this season.

• Starlin Castro enters Friday with a 13-game hitting streak, a season high for the Cubs.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs trade OF Jackson for RHP Cooper

Rogers By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs traded former first-round pick Brett Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks for right-handed pitcher Blake Cooper, the team announced Thursday night.

Cooper, 26, was a 12th-round pick of South Carolina in 2010. He was 4-2 with a 3.57 ERA working out of the bullpen in Double- and Triple-A this season.

Jackson, 26, was the 31st pick in the 2009 amateur draft and made his major league debut for the Cubs in 2012. He struggled making contact, striking out 59 times in 120 at-bats.

He hit .175 with four home runs that season but has been in the minors the past two years. He was hitting .201 with five home runs and 20 RBIs for Triple-A Iowa this season.

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Mets vs. Cubs

By Adam Rubin

METS (57-65, fourth place/NL East) vs. CHICAGO CUBS (52-68, fifth place/NL Central)

Friday: RHP Zack Wheeler (7-8, 3.53) vs. LHP Travis Wood (7-9, 4.86), 7:10 p.m. ET

Saturday: LHP Jonathon Niese (6-8, 3.46) vs. RHP Dan Straily (1-2, 4.93), 7:10 p.m. ET

Sunday: RHP Rafael Montero (0-3, 6.12) vs. RHP Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.77), 1:10 p.m. ET

Monday: RHP Bartolo Colon (11-10, 3.85) vs. RHP Kyle Hendricks (4-1, 1.79), 12:10 p.m. ET

Cubs short hops

• Right-hander Dan Straily, who was acquired in the July 5 trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics, will be promoted from Triple-A Iowa for a spot start Saturday against the Mets. That gives the other Cubs starters an extra day of rest and pushes Tsuyoshi Wada out of the Mets series. The crown jewel of that Cubs-A’s trade is shortstop prospect Addison Russell, who is assigned to Double-A Tennessee. Straily, 25, made seven starts for Oakland this season, going 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA.

• Rookie Javier Baez produced three homers in his first three major league games. However, after a four-strikeout performance Thursday, the hard-swinging Baez has K’d in 17 of his 45 major league at-bats. He has yet to walk. Baez became the third player in major league history to have a pair of four-strikeout games in his first 10 games in the majors, joining infielder Esteban German (2002) and pitcher Norm Bass (1961), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The 21-year-old shortstop prospect was promoted from Iowa on Aug. 5 and has manned second base. Baez’s only professional experience at second base before his promotion came in 16 games this season in Triple-A.

• Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to 13 games Thursday. It is the longest streak by a Cub this season. Castro’s career high is a 14-game streak, done twice. Castro tweaked his left knee this week, but remained in the lineup.

• Rookie Kyle Hendricks has completed seven innings and allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his first six major league starts. He is the first Cub to accomplish that since Frank Castillo in 1991. Hendricks, 24, was acquired from the Texas Rangers at the non-waiver trade deadline two years ago for Ryan Dempster. He has drawn comparisons to Greg Maddux because of his quick pace and a fastball that only has averaged 88 mph. Since allowing four runs in his July 10 major league debut, Hendricks has produced a 1.01 ERA in five starts.

• Left fielder/leadoff hitter Chris Coghlan, a former NL Rookie of the Year with the Miami Marlins, is hitting .345 (48-for-139) with 16 doubles, four homers and 19 RBIs in his last 39 games. Coghlan’s average sat at .139 on June 1 and .206 on July 1.

• First baseman Anthony Rizzo ranks second in the National League with 27 homers, trailing only Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton (31). Eleven of Rizzo’s homers have come on first pitches, a major league high.

• The Cubs acquired right-hander Jacob Turner in a waiver-claim trade from the Marlins on Aug. 8 for right-handers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer. Turner, 23, tossed 2 1/3 perfect innings Thursday in relief. He could get starts in September in place of Edwin Jackson.

• Outfielder Justin Ruggiano returned to the lineup Thursday. He had departed Tuesday’s game after seven innings and missed Wednesday’s game with a groin injury.

• The Cubs traded Darwin Barney to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 28. L.A’s motivation partly may have been to prevent Barney from being acquired by the rival San Francisco Giants to play second base. Barney had been designated for assignment by Chicago five days before the deal.

• The Cubs traded outfielder Brett Jackson to the Arizona Diamondbacks for minor-league right-hander Blake Cooper on Thursday.

ESPNChicago.com

Jackson’s job could be in jeopardy

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson says he’s not concerned with losing his starting job in the final weeks of the season because it’s not something he can control. He’s only half right. He doesn’t make the decisions, but if he was pitching better it certainly wouldn’t be on the table.

“I know I’m a way better pitcher than I’ve been showing,” Jackson said after giving up five runs in a 6-2 loss to the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. “I don’t walk around with my head held down and I don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for me.”

It’s doubtful anyone is feeling sorry for Jackson, considering he’s going to make $52 million from the Cubs despite posting the worst ERA (5.74) this year among all starters who have pitched enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. But with a 6-13 record, will he lose his starting gig?

“Not necessarily,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I don’t think that’s anything that’s in the forefront of my thinking or the organization’s thinking. If something were to change we’ll let you guys know.”

Jackson has to see the writing on the wall. The Cubs already announced that Dan Straily will make his Cubs debut on Saturday, pushing everyone back a start while newcomer Jacob Turner threw 2.1 clean innings of relief for Jackson on Thursday. After the game Turner said he was ready for a starting role if called upon.

“At this point you have to worry about the things you can control,” Jackson said. “I was way too mechanical. Thinking of way too many things then I should have been. I never felt like I got in a rhythm.”

Despite his willingness to take the blame for his performance since becoming a Cub, patience has worn out among fans and the team can’t be far behind. At this moment of the rebuilding process, Jackson sticks out like a sore thumb. He’s not young and he can’t be much of a leader with the results as they are. The two rookies that pitched on Tuesday and Wednesday — Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada — make Jackson look even worse right now as they shut down the Brewers. Renteria has tried everything. Now they’re talking about his pace.

“See if we can get him (going) on the hill a little quicker,” the manager said. “See if we can speed up that process.”

At this point there may not be much to salvage, at least not for this season. Straily and Turner are just a couple of pitchers the Cubs might want to take a look at down the stretch. Once rosters expand in September it would be easy to stash Jackson in the bullpen as a long reliever then re-evaluate what to do with him this winter. He’s owed $22 million over the next two years.

“I’ve had a stretch where I felt comfortable,” he said. “Today was the first time in a while I felt super mechanical. Today I felt like I was a robot.”

ESPNChicago.com

Dan Straily to start for Cubs on Saturday

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Triple-A Iowa starter Dan Straily will make his Chicago Cubs debut Saturday when the Cubs take on the New York Mets, the team announced Thursday afternoon. The plan is to give him one start and then send him back to the minors.

“We have a stretch of no days off, so we’re going to have Straily come up and give us a start,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We’ll push everyone back and give us a breath.”

Straily, 25, was acquired last month as part of a blockbuster deal that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics for top Double-A prospect Addison Russell, Straily and Single-A outfielder Billy McKinney. Straily struggled with his fastball command this season but is pitching better of late. He’s 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts for Iowa.

The Cubs might also look at newly-acquired pitcher Jacob Turner as a starter after his debut performance out of the bullpen Thursday. Turner threw 2 1/3 innings against the Brewers without allowing a runner to reach base. He was claimed off waivers from the Miami Marlins last week and says he’s ready to start.

“It was good to get a couple innings in and get my feet underneath me,” he said.

Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 this season for the Marlins before being designated for assignment.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Brewers 6, Cubs 2

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 6-2 on Thursday afternoon to split their four-game series. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: After two outs in the first inning, Cubs starter Edwin Jackson walked the next two batters before Scooter Gennett doubled them home for an early Brewers lead. They added to it when Khris Davis sent a ball into the left field stands for a solo shot in the third. Elian Herrera and Carlos Gomez added RBI hits in the fourth to extend the lead further. Meanwhile, Mike Fiers was striking out Cubs left and right. He fanned 14 in just six innings. A day after hitting a home run out of Wrigley, Javier Baez struck out four times. The Cubs scored a couple of runs in the seventh as Chris Valaika’s pinch-hit brought two home but that was it offensively. Milwaukee tallied once in the eighth on a Mark Reynolds home run off of Kyuji Fuikawa.

What it means: Jackson continues to struggle and may not be long for the starting staff. With September call-ups around the corner, he could be stashed in the bullpen to allow others to pitch. The Cubs haven’t hinted at this but that doesn’t mean they aren’t considering the options. His 5.74 ERA is dead last (93rd) in the major leagues among qualified starters. Next to last is nearly a point better at 4.96. He’s done nothing to improve his status from last year.

Fiers fans 14: Fiers is the first pitcher since Curt Schilling in 2003 to strike out 14 Cubs. This, after striking out 13 against Triple-A Iowa earlier this year. On Thursday, he got Baez three times while Chris Coghlan, Arismendy Alcantara and Just Ruggiano all went down twice. Reliever Will Smith had two more strikeouts to up the total to 16 on the day for the Cubs.

Turner debut: Newly acquired righty Jacob Turner relieved Jackson and threw 2 1/3 innings of perfect baseball. Turner is a candidate to get some starts down the stretch, maybe in place of Jackson.

What’s next: The Cubs play a weekend wrap-around series with the New York Mets beginning at 6:10 p.m. Friday at Citi Field. Travis Wood (7-9, 4.86) takes on Zack Wheeler (7-8, 3.53).

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Coghlan proving he belongs with Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — On June 1, Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan was hitting .139. On July 1, he was “up” to .206.

That’s when things took off. Coghlan has been on a six-week tear, solidifying the leadoff role and left field as well as rejuvenating a career that got off to a promising start with a National League Rookie of the Year debut in 2009 with the then-Florida Marlins.

"I came out here one off day with [assistant hitting coach] Mike Brumley and hit," Coghlan said Wednesday before going 3-for-4 in a 4-2 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. "I can’t remember when, but it was around that time [early July]. We looked at some video and I just wasn’t getting consistently to the same hitting slot as I should have. We made some changes on that and it’s just carried over."

Coghlan is hitting .291 after a .376 July. His OPS (on-base plus slugging) has been off the charts. After Wednesday’s game it’s 1.033, tops in the National League and second in all of baseball since July 1.

"It’s health and opportunity," Coghlan said. "I’ve had some freak stuff happen to me, which has hindered my career, but it’s made me a better player and teammate so it’s tough to say it was all a bad thing."

The mechanical change has resulted in a lot of hard-hit balls. That’s all any player can ask for. And most of the time they’ve been falling in. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Coghlan is posting a career high 27.5 percent line-drive percentage. Since July 1, it’s up to 31 percent. His hard-hit average in the same time, assessed by the Inside Edge Scouting service, is .276, second in the NL only behind Paul Goldschmidt of Arizona.

Has Coghlan proved enough to return in 2015? You better believe it. He’s under team control for two more years after this one and the Cubs have already said they could use a few veterans as they transition to a younger group. At 29, Coghlan is no longer the prospect who batted .321 with a .390 OBP to win NL Rookie of the Year in 2009. He has had to fight his way back from some struggles that landed him in spring training as a non-roster invitee.

"When you’re a prospect, they open the doors for you, and rightfully so. But when you’re older it’s just tough to get another shot," Coghlan said.

He waited his turn, starting the season at Triple-A Iowa. Ryan Kalish beat him out but didn’t last long, and when Junior Lake’s season started to tailspin, Coghlan got his chance.

"I don’t hang my hat on anything," he said of the future. "I’ve played enough and done enough of the one-year thing and seen enough of non-tenders and stuff like that I can’t think about it. The only time it comes up is when a reporter asks me. I’ve got to grind for five more weeks."

After a 2-for-17 mini-slump, he asked for more time with Brumley and hitting coach Bill Mueller. Well before Wednesday’s game, he could be seen in the cage working on his game. He doubled and then singled in his first two at-bats. Later, he doubled again.

"About two months ago, we changed some things in his approach and that’s made the difference for him," Mueller said. "He’s very cognitive of his mechanics."

Everyone likes a comeback story and Coghlan is it for the Cubs.

"One hundred percent I like the swings I’m taking," he said. "I can only control my approach. I try to win each pitch and each at-bat. That doesn’t mean I’ll get a hit."

But it certainly has happened a lot more often since July.

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Rizzo, Castro transitioning into leaders in Cubs clubhouse

By TONY ANDRACKI

The future is now for the Chicago Cubs.

With the arrival of rookies like Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks, suddenly Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro are looking like the seasoned veterans in the Cubs clubhouse.

But at ages 25 and 24, respectively, can the pair of franchise cornerstones become the leaders the organization needs?

"I think they’ve [embraced leadership roles]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They’re young, but those are our guys that are here. They’ve gone through the same kind of situations in terms of attention and expectations and I’m sure that they’ll be able to connect and help each other out."

  

Both Baez and Alcantara have credited Rizzo and Castro with helping to make them feel comfortable at the big-league level.

Alcantara says he has talked to both players about in-game situations and as he’s adapted to his new position in center field, the 22-year-old rookie said he has sought a lot of counsel from Castro - a lifelong infielder - on where to play and how to deal with the conditions at Wrigley Field.

"It’s helped a lot," Alcantara said. "They make you feel comfortable to come up and talk to you. If you want to talk to them, you can talk to them. Antyhing that you need, they’re there."

Baez started his MLB career hitless in his first five at-bats, including three strikeouts. But he ended that game in Colorado with the winning hit - his first career homer. The 21-year-old said Rizzo and Castro talked to him before to prepare him for his big-league debut.

"They told me all the things that were gonna happen and it is like that," Baez said. "The first game, I struck out a few times and Rizzo said, ‘Hey, don’t worry about it. My debut, my first three at-bats, I struck out and I’m doing good now.’"

  Other veterans around the clubhouse have seen Castro take some of the young Latin players under his wing.

Castro may still only be 24, but he’s already in his fifth big-league season and has 726 games under his belt.

"These guys don’t know all the ups and downs of the game yet because they haven’t experienced it," Luis Valbuena said. "Starlin has more of an idea of what to do now since he’s been here for a while."

Castro and Rizzo have experienced the highs and lows of this game, suffering through down seasons in 2013, but rebounding with trips to the All-Star Game last month. They’ve also gotten acquainted with the Chicago market and the quirks of playing at Wrigley Field - like the wind or the high number of day games.

There has been some doubt among fans and media members if either player has the temperament or personality to be vocal and to lead by example. But as the faces of a franchise with so much turnover, it will have to be something of a trial by fire.

"They are learning everything on the fly right now," Renteria said. "…A lot of times in this game, it’s a lot of trial and error. I think you have to be comfortable in your own skin.

"You don’t want guys to take on the mantle of ‘leader’ and not be able to express themselves to their teammates. But they’ve been kinda taking on that approach, taking the mantle, so to speak, and trying to just communicate with each other and keep each other in check."

  With his relief appearance Thursday, Jacob Turner became the 107th different player used by the Cubs since Theo Epstein’s front office took over prior to the 2012 season.

All those personnel changes means Castro is now the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse. It also means veteran leaders like Ryan Dempster, Alfonso Soriano and David DeJesus have been shown the door as Epstein and Co. have tried to add to their stable of young prospects.

Eventually, the Cubs will have to keep some veteran players around to help take some of the pressure off Castro and Rizzo.

Renteria has pointed to guys like Justin Ruggiano, 32, and Ryan Sweeney, 29, as players on the current roster who have provided that presence, while 33-year-old catcher John Baker has helped ease some of the young pitchers along.

"I’ve always said, with us coming up, some of the young guys, you need the veteran presence on the team," Kyle Hendricks said. "A lot of great guys on this team to break you in, get you comfortable and when you’re comfortable, you’re going to be able to perform better."

CSNChicago.com

Luis Valbuena wishes he could stay with the Cubs ‘forever’

By TONY ANDRACKI

Luis Valbuena isn’t a part of “The Core.” Not technically, anyway.

As The Javier Baez Show hit Chicago last week, the pieces have started to come together for the Cubs.

Baez joined the young nucleus of Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcantara already in place from the position-player group. And there’s more on the way with Jorge Soler, Kris Bryant and others knocking on the door.

  

At 28, Valbuena is still in the prime of his career and could be a valuable role player for the Cubs moving forward.

The veteran infielder is under team control through the 2016 season and hopes he has found a permanent home in Chicago.

"I want to be here," he said. "Good things are coming for everybody here, with Baez, Alcantara, Soler, Bryant. I want to be here because I like the team, I like the coaches, I like the organization.

"I love it all. They’ve made me feel so comfortable here. It’s beautiful here [in Chicago]. The fans are awesome and come out strong all the time. There are always a lot of people. For me, I want to be here forever. But I can’t control that."

After bouncing around between the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Toronto Blue Jays, Valbuena joined the Cubs as a waiver claim at the start of the 2012 season.

He has since become a constant in the clubhouse, seeing time at third base, second, designated hitter during interleague games and even left field and posting a 2.3 WAR (Baseball Reference) in that span while hitting 26 homers and driving in 103 runs. He’s been playing nearly every day at third base since Mike Olt was sent back down to Triple-A last month.

 Valbuena got hot at the beginning of June, raising his average to .291 and OPS to .861 on June 14. But he’s fallen back to Earth since, hitting just .180 with a .603 OPS in 49 games.

The Venezuelan native has shown an ability to work counts and take a walk and has adopted sort of a big brother role with some of the young Latin players in the clubhouse, including Castro, the 24-year-old franchise cornerstone.

With the Cubs integrating prospects, they will need a veteran presence in the locker room to help bring the kids along. Can Valbuena be one of those leaders?

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Dempster happy trade landed Cubs building block in Hendricks

Staff

Ryan Dempster irked a lot of Cubs fans when he didn’t accept a trade to the Atlanta Braves. But it turns out maybe they should be thanking him.

Dempster vetoed that trade to Atlanta back in 2012, and instead the Cubs shipped him to the Texas Rangers. That trade netted them Kyle Hendricks, who’s looked sensational in the early going of his MLB career.

The former Cubs couldn’t help but take a bit of a bow when discussing the current Cub on Thursday morning’s edition of Kap and Haugh.

  ”I don’t know how he got here or who he was traded for, but it sure looks like it really turned out to be a great trade for the Chicago Cubs,” Dempster joked.

"It does make me feel good that I held out a little bit longer and got some good pieces. At the end of the day, in Chicago, I played here a long time and I think the world of being a Cubs player. I think the world of the Cubs organization and especially the Cubs fans. I did want to see whoever came in a return for me — you never know what kind of prospects pan out, who turns out to be good and who doesn’t, who stays healthy and who doesn’t — so to see at least a little bit of an early return on that, it does give me some sort of satisfaction that me going to Texas was able to give them a piece of the puzzle, hopefully, for the future."

  In addition to enjoying the fruits of his labor on the North Side, Dempster had plenty of good things to say about the guy he was traded for, complimenting Hendricks on what he’s been able to do so far: go 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA in six starts.

"I think he’s a guy that pitches," Dempster said. "When you talk about tools, and everybody talks about fastballs — and obviously plus velocity and those kind of things are great. But to be able to have command and poise, you see a lot of guys that that’s what they get it done with. And really at the big league level, that’s what matters. And he’s done a really good job."

14 8 / 2014

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Javier Baez hits one to the street

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo isn’t one to get caught up in the hoopla about the future of his team. Even as things are going better, he’s sticking to the day-to-day, though he let himself slip after the Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 on Wednesday night. He and stud prospect Javier Baez hit back-to-back home runs in the third inning of the win.

"We just want to keep getting more everyday guys," Rizzo said of the Cubs’ rebuild. "There’s three, four everyday guys [now], pretty soon there will be five, six and pretty soon we’re going to have a really, really scary lineup."

The ones who are here now did some damage against starter Kyle Lohse and the first-place Brewers. Chris Coghlan, Baez, Rizzo and Starlin Castro combined to go 9-for-15 on Wednesday. No other Cub had a hit in the game. Two of those nine hits left the ballpark, including a massive display of power by Baez. He hit a low slider onto the street beyond the left-field bleachers.

"I hit the ball pretty good," he said. "As soon as I hit it everyone went crazy and I knew it was gone."

Baez was asked if he watched his first Wrigley Field home run leave the yard.

"I just run the bases," Baez said. "I don’t want to show anyone up."

Rizzo followed with a blast on the next pitch despite admitting it was “probably a ball.”

"I just kind of fed off the energy of the crowd right there," Rizzo said. "It was exciting to go back-to-back with him."

That energy has been missing for quite some time at the Cubs’ iconic ballpark. The power the organization is amassing could change everything. And while the Cubs are still searching for arms, the past two starters — Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks — are proving the team might be able to develop from within better than people think.

"It’s nice because we lost two of our front-end guys," Rizzo said of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. "Kyle and Wada have really stepped up and it’s nice."

The show is just beginning at Wrigley Field but as quick as Rizzo was in sounding excited about it, a few seconds later, he put on the brakes.

"There’s definitely excitement and there’s reason for excitement here, but I’m not going to get caught up in all that," he said. "We have almost 50 games left to come out and prove to everyone we’re going to be good very soon."

In the meantime, everyone can just enjoy the power show.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Brewers 2

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 4-2 on Wednesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Cubs scored twice in the first inning as Chris Coghlan led off with a double, Javier Baez followed with a single, Anthony Rizzo hit a sacrifice fly and then Starlin Castro drove in the second run with an RBI hit. Baez and Rizzo went back-to-back in the third inning as the former put a ball onto Waveland Avenue for his first Wrigley Field home run. Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada had few issues with the Brewers until the seventh inning when they went back-to-back as well, with Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado hitting homers. Wada’s night was done, but the bullpen finished the job. Hector Rondon earned his second save in as many nights.

What it means: The top of the Cubs’ lineup was devastating as Brewers starter Kyle Lohse was pounded in the early going. It’s a sign of things to come as Baez and Rizzo brought the crowd to its feet with their home runs on consecutive pitches. And while Castro didn’t go deep, he extended his hitting streak to 12 games despite a hurt knee. He had three hits and the top four in the Cubs’ lineup went 9-for-15. The good news is all those players will be part of next year’s lineup — barring a trade — including Coghlan.

First pitch Rizzo: Rizzo extended his major league lead on first-pitch home runs with his 11th of the year and 27th overall. He was hitting .396 coming into the game when putting the first pitch in play.

Lohse leaves: Brewers start Kyle Lohse left the game after three innings when he tweaked his right ankle during an at-bat.

Ailing Cubs: Castro tweaked the outside of his left knee running the bases earlier in the week but hasn’t missed time. … Outfielder Justin Ruggiano has a groin strain but was available.

Doubront update: Recently acquired left-hander Felix Doubront will make at least one more rehab start at Triple-A Iowa after lasting four innings on Tuesday.

"We look at it like [Jake] Arrieta was," general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game. "He’s had moments of success in the American League East. He was struggling when he came over. Getting his confidence and stuff back is important. We know he has potential. We just have to bring it out of him."

What’s next: The series concludes on Thursday afternoon when Edwin Jackson (6-12, 5.61) opposes Mike Fiers (1-1, 1.80).

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Call-ups affected by playoff race

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs haven’t decided who they will call up from Triple-A Iowa or when as the calendar inches towards September. The playoff race in the minors will have an effect on those decisions.

"In a situation where we’re not in a pennant race, they’ve worked hard down there. We don’t want to raid them and leave them with nothing," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday afternoon. "That will be a consideration. If your big-league club is in the pennant race that’s the only consideration, but it’s a little different in this situation."

The Iowa Cubs had a one-game lead in the Pacific Coast League American North Division heading into play on Wednesday evening. Their regular season ends on Sept. 1 and the playoffs would not be complete until mid-September allowing for few major league games for call-ups if Iowa went all the way.

"Pretty big discussion we’re having right now," Hoyer said.

Hoyer indicated nothing has changed for slugging third baseman Kris Bryant. He won’t be making it to Wrigley Field this season. But fans can still expect outfielder Jorge Soler to debut, it’s just a matter of when. Either way, the Cubs will call up a few pitchers come September to bolster their staff.

The Cubs are also debating who will play in the Arizona Fall League this October and November. Soler and top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards are both candidates after missing time this year because of injuries.

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Hoyer on Baez’s first week: ‘As expected’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs and Javier Baez are trying to find that “happy medium” at the plate as he begins his second week in the big leagues. So far, the reviews have been mixed.

"There’s been some high-highs and been some lows," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday before the Cubs played the Milwaukee Brewers. "We’ll probably settle in the middle at some point."

The highs have been some hard-hit balls, including three home runs in his first three games. But then came the strikeouts. He has 10 over the past five games but just one since Sunday. Overall, he’s hitting .243 with three home runs and 13 strikeouts. His on-base percentage is the same as his batting average.

"More than anything he needs to [pick] a zone that he’s able to create some damage with," manager Rick Renteria said. "That’s a process. He’s a man trying to show everyone he belongs here. It’s a fine line."

Baez has yet to earn a walk and he knows he’s swinging out of the zone at times but each day is a learning experience. He knows walks will help keep the opposing pitcher honest. Renteria was asked if he’s instructing Baez to earn the free pass when it’s there.

"It’s got to be in a subtle way," he said. "It takes a little time."

Time is what the Cubs and Baez have right now. Calling him up now gives him about 45 days to get his feet wet, in Hoyer’s estimation.

"This is why he’s here," Hoyer said. "So he can play every day and have those experiences. … I think you see the talent and the things he does well. He’ll keep learning."

As for his defense, the Cubs are more than pleased with Baez’s transition to second base. Hoyer reminded reporters that former Cub Darwin Barney also converted from shortstop.

"Barney was playing second base for three-quarters of a year," Hoyer said. "We noted things he wanted to work on. [Then] he was the best defender at second base for the next two years.

"It takes time to get comfortable there. I think once Javier gets comfortable there he’s going to be a really elite second baseman."

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Baez still getting into swing of things

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — He’s just a week into his big-league career and Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez is still swinging, and he’s shown he will swing at anything.

When he makes contact, he usually hits the ball pretty hard, as he did in smashing three home runs, two doubles and four singles, including several that broke his bat, over his first seven games.

Even the outs are hit hard, like the first-inning shot to the wall in center field in a 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday.

But when the 21-year-old slugger misses, it can look ugly.

"He swings hard no matter what," Brewers starter Yovani Gallardo said Tuesday. "From the first swing to the last swing."

Gallardo faced Baez for the first time Monday night and was asked if he thought Baez’s mammoth cuts were unique in baseball.

"I think everyone does," Gallardo responded with a smile. "He’s a power hitter. It’s one of those things where you use that against him."

That’s a little insight into what Baez is going to be facing once the league gets to know him. In fact, he’s already facing that kind of strategy, as the minor league scouting reports haven’t really changed on him since coming up. Basically, the book on him says not to throw a pitch over the plate until it’s necessary. Going into Tuesday’s game, Baez had missed on 34.7 percent of his swings, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That’s way above the league average of 23.2 percent.

"It’s amazing the torque he creates," Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said.

Mueller isn’t tinkering with Baez’s swing just yet. That might not come until spring training, if at all. But he is amazed at the power Baez can generate.

Mueller was asked if there could be an injury risk with such a violent swing. Obliques have been known to get hurt with much less violence involved.

"He’s been doing it his whole life, so he has the body that can do it," Mueller said. "He’s strong."

Baez, who hit 60 home runs the past two seasons in the minors, says he won’t change anything and nor should he, at least not this early in his career. As teammate Anthony Rizzo told him recently, “You’re here for a reason.”

Baez didn’t get to the majors by taking it easy in the batter’s box. But that doesn’t mean adjustments won’t come. In fact, Baez is already looking more comfortable. Consider this: In his home debut Friday, Baez struck out four times, Saturday it was three, Sunday two and on Monday just once. He went 0-for-4 on Tuesday but made contact in all four at-bats.

"We understand that if you make a mistake over the plate and he connects with it, it has a chance to go a long way," Gallardo said. "But we also know he likes to swing. I have to use that in my favor."

Baez is batting .243 with an identical on-base percentage because of the absence of a walk to go with 13 strikeouts in 37 at-bats. The Cubs will be OK with a high strikeout-to-walk ratio, but not that high. The hope is balance will come with experience.

For now, enjoy the big swings.

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Cubs still deciding what to do with Jorge Soler this year

By Tony Andracki

Alright, who’s next?

Javier Baez has been in the majors for more than a week, Kyle Hendricks has made six starts and Arismendy Alcantara has patrolled second base and center field in Chicago for over a month.

So as the Cubs integrate their top prospects into the big-league team, who’s next?

Jorge Soler, the 22-year-old Cuban sensation, could be the next guy with a one-way ticket from Triple-A Iowa to Chicago. He’s already on the 40-man roster by nature of his initial contract with the Cubs and those around the organization have acknowledged the possibility that he could be a September call-up.

Soler fought through hamstring injuries in both leagues and missed most of the first few months of the season. But when he’s been on the field, he’s been the best hitter in the Cubs organization. Yes, even better than Kris Bryant.

The 6-foot-4, 215-pound outfielder has posted a 1.217 OPS across three levels, hitting 12 homers, 20 doubles and driving in 46 runs in just 50 games. He hit .415 in Double-A Tennessee before a promotion to Iowa, where he’s kept right on raking to the tune of a 1.100 OPS in 20 games.

Soler’s ability to work the count - he has 28 walks compared to 35 strikeouts - has drawn rave reviews from around the game.

"He’s always shown an ability to manage an at-bat," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "Probably just about as good as any power hitter in the organization, if not better. I think that’s showing up more consistently now.

"Ever since he’s come off the DL the second time, he’s had very consistent, high-quality at-bats in Double-A and Triple-A. He’s not swinging at chase pitches, he’s focused throughout the at-bat and he’s getting pitches he can do some damage on. That’s not something we taught him, that’s something he showed up with and we’re just trying to harness it."

Soler struggled to stay healthy last year, too, appearing in only 55 in games in his first full professional season. He missed almost the entire second half of the season after fouling a ball off his shin and suffering a stress fracture.

The Cubs sent Soler to the Arizona Fall League after the minor-league season ended last year, where he got received 85 at-bats against some of the top prospects in the game.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday the organization is still debating about whether or not to send Soler to the AFL this year.

"That’s certainly part of the debate," Hoyer said. "He’s been playing great. He’s certainly locked in right now - great at-bats, great attitude, playing good defense.

"We have to decide if he’s had enough at-bats or not. Probably over the next couple of weeks, we’ll decide that."

If the Cubs do call up Soler next month, that could give him another three to four weeks of regular at-bats.

Hoyer said the Cubs have gotten further in discussions for the AFL roster than with September call-ups. He also said Cubs top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards - who has missed several months with a shoulder injury - could be a candidate to head to the fall showcase.

Soler’s potential journey to Chicago could hit a bit of a delay if Triple-A Iowa makes the playoffs. The I-Cubs entered play Wednesday in first place by a game.

If Iowa does make the postseason, the Cubs may keep Soler and others down in the minors for the playoff run, rather than gut the team with call-ups.

But no matter what happens, the Cubs insist Kris Bryant - who mashed his 39th homer of the season Tuesday - will not make his big-league debut at all in 2014.

"Nothing’s changed. I still don’t foresee a scenario where Kris would get called up thsi year," Epstein said. "First full professional season, it would really take extraordinary circumstances to call up anybody.

"I think Kris is doing extraordinary things, but for us to consider calling a guy up in his first full pro season, I think not only the player has to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big-league team, too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost…

"I think people forget because of the success that he’s had, he was just drafted 14 months ago. When he reaches the end of the season, he should be awfully proud. We’ll be awfully proud of him and there will be a lot to go home and reflect on already. It’s not necessary for someone in his first pro season to make it all the way to the big leagues for it to be a thoroughly successful development year."

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Cubs take down first-place Brewers again behind stellar pitching

By Tony Andracki

Seven up, seven down for the Cubs starters.

The Cubs rotation has rattled off seven quality starts in a row and beat the first-place Milwaukee Brewers behind a rookie pitcher for the second straight night Wednesday in a 4-2 win in front of 31,191 at Wrigley Field.

Tsuyoshi Wada, the 33-year-old rookie southpaw from Japan, threw 6 2/3 shutout innings before allowing back-to-back homers to Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado in the seventh.

Wada — whose night was done after the longballs, allowing the two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out five — picked up his second career victory.

"He’s throwing strikes. He’s commanding the zone," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s got a sneaky life to his fastball. He’s able to elevate it when he wants. He uses his offspeed pitches very well. He’s keeping the ball down.

"He’s not missing like he was in the spring. Everything he’s doing right now looks like everything he was doing in Triple-A, which is attacking the zone and mixing pitches."

Wada only throws 89-91 mph at his highest, but induced several late swings from a very solid Brewers lineup. Renteria and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer credit Wada’s deception for his ability to throw the ball by the big-league hitters, using a two-seam fastball to change speeds and relying less on his four-seam fastball.

"He’s been very good," Hoyer said before Wednesday’s game. "He obviously has deception. There’s no doubt about that. He throws a lot of pitches that might catch a lot of the plate, but he throws the ball by guys at 90 mph, which is impressive."

At 33, Wada is already on the downslope of his prime years, but the Cubs will need guys who can give them quality innings, both for the rest of this year and moving forward.

Wada allowed five earned runs in his second big-league start on July 23, but in the other five starts, he’s allowed only seven earned runs in 30.1 innings, good for a 2.08 ERA.

Does he think about trying to carve out a future in the Cubs’ rotation?

"Right now, one game at a time is very important for me," Wada said. "I’m just doing my best for the Cubs to say, ‘We want you for next season.’"

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Can Felix Doubront be the next Jake Arrieta?

By Tony Andracki

Theo Epstein’s front office loves starting pitcher reclamation projects.

And why not? Their brief history in Chicago proves it works, from Paul Maholm to Scott Feldman to Jason Hammel and Jake Arrieta.

But the first three guys on that list were all flipped before the trade deadline. Can Felix Doubront take the Arrieta path and become a piece in the Cubs’ rotation long-term?

The Cubs traded for Doubront on July 30, buying low on the Boston Red Sox product. The 26-year-old lefty has been on the disabled list with a calf strain and made his first rehab start for Triple-A Iowa Tuesday, tossing 80 pitches over four innings and allowing three runs.

"With [Doubront], I think he’s gotta work his way back," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "We look at it similarly to where Arrieta was - a guy that has had moments of success in the American League East.

"He was struggling when he came over and getting his confidence and his stuff back is important. Theo, Jason and I all know him, we know he has potential and we just gotta bring it out of him."

Doubront was a vital part of the Red Sox’ rotation from 2012-13, going 22-16 with a 4.59 ERA in 58 games (56 starts) during that two-year stretch while striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings.

But something wasn’t working for the southpaw in Boston this year. After a rough start, the Red Sox moved him to the bullpen and he asked to be traded. On the season, Doubront was 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA and 1.60 WHIP.

He will get at least one more rehab start before joining the big-league club, though his role with the Cubs has yet to be defined for the final month or so of the season.

As the Cubs stay aggressive in the search for impact pitching, they will consider guys like Doubront, who have are still young, have some upside and are under team control.

Throw Dan Straily and Jacob Turner into that mix as well.

Straily, 25, came over in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal with the Oakland A’s in early July and has pitched well for Iowa, going 3-3 with a 3.00 ERA in seven starts. He finished fourth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last year, but fell out of favor with an Oakland club that has its sights set on a World Series this season.

Turner is the 23-year-old former top prospect whom the Cubs acquired in a waiver deal with the Marlins late last week.

The Cubs already have a rotation led by a budding ace in Arrieta and a promising rookie in Kyle Hendricks. Travis Wood has struggled to build off his 2013 All-Star campaign, but has been better of late and is under team control through the 2016 season. Then there’s Edwin Jackson, who is still only 30, but has failed to live up to his $52-million contract.

The Cubs will head into the winter on the hunt for other rotation options as potential frontline pitchers like Jon Lester and Max Scherzer will be available.

"Pitching in general is going to be something we’re aggressive on," Hoyer said. "And the better that pitching is, the more desirable it is. I don’t want to characterize it as, you know, No. 1 quality or whatever.

"We know we need to add pitching and we know we have an imbalance and I think that’s going to be our main area of focus in the offseason and for probably several offseasons."

CSNChicago.com

Javier Baez on first Wrigley homer: ‘Everybody went crazy’

By Tony Andracki

In what could be a nice match for years to come, Javier Baez got acquainted with Waveland Ave. Wednesday evening.

The Cubs’ 21-year-old slugging prospect hammered a slider out onto the street just beyond the left field wall to lead off the fourth inning of Wednesday’s 4-2 win.

Technically, it was Baez’s first Wrigley Field home run, but it didn’t spend much time in the historic ballpark.

"It was great," Baez said. "I hit the ball pretty good. As soon as I hit it in the air, everybody went crazy. I knew it was gone because I hit it really good."

Baez hit his first three big-league homers on the road at Coors Field, but said he wasn’t anxious for his first longball in front of the Cubs faithful at Wrigley. He also said he didn’t take time to admire the blast because he “doesn’t want to show anybody up.”

But he showed off a little of his confidence and swagger when asked about the pitch in detail.

"It was a slider. He threw me two sliders in a row," Baez said. "It [did] slide, but I got to it."

Baez’s first at-bat was maybe his most impressive of the night, however.

After Chris Coghlan led off the bottom of the first with a ringing double off the wall in center, Baez battled to a full count and went the other way, lining a single to right field.

Both Coghlan and Baez came around to score on RBIs from Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

"He’s making adjustments every single day. … He’s aware of what he’s gotta do," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It just takes time. He’s 21 years old."

Baez now has four homers and seven RBI in his first nine MLB games.

"He’s amazing," veteran infielder Luis Valbuena said. "I’ve never seen a player like him."

Chicago Tribune

Baez’s 1st Wrigley homer memorable

By Mark Gonzales

Javier Baez’s first home run at Wrigley Field didn’t travel as far as Glenallen Hill’s rooftop shot in 2000, but Baez’s homer Wednesday night that landed on Waveland Avenue brought extra meaning to many of the 31,191 fans who witnessed the fourth home run for the Chicago Cubs’ phenom.

“It feels great,” Baez said. “I hit the ball pretty good. As soon as I hit it in the air, everybody went crazy. I knew it was gone because I hit it pretty good.”

Baez has hit four home runs in only 41 at-bats, but he’s acting as if he’s done this before. He didn’t stand to admire his home run.

“I just run the bases,” Baez said. “I don’t want to show anybody up.”

Baez continues to take positive steps toward becoming more than just a slugger. He poked an opposite field single to right field in the first inning that advanced Chris Coghlan to third base and set up the first of two runs.

Over his past seven games, Baez is 10-for-31 (.323).

“It takes time,” manager Rick Renteria said of Baez’s ability to make adjustments. “He’s 21 years old, too.”

Anthony Rizzo followed Baez’s homer with a solo shot to right field, marking the fifth time the Cubs have hit consecutive home runs this season. But Rizzo, who has 27 home runs, was careful not to get too wrapped up in the current successes of the Cubs’ youngsters, such as left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks.

“Obviously there’s excitement and reason to be excitement here,” Rizzo said. “But I’m not going to get caught up in all that. We have 50 games left to come out and prove to everyone we’re going to be good pretty soon.’’

Wada, who is under club control for 2015, limited the Brewers to three hits and no runs until Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado hit home runs with two out in the seventh.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs like rookies getting playoff ‘indoctrination’

By Mark Gonzales

General manager Jed Hoyer views many of the Cubs’ remaining games against playoff contending teams as an “indoctrination” for rookies who were promoted from Triple-A Iowa in the past month.

But even before rookie phenom Javier Baez launched a home run Wednesday night that landed on Waveland Avenue, the reality is the Cubs are destined for a third consecutive last place finish in the National League Central, so it makes sense for team officials to start assessing the future.

One area that could see increased competition as well as an increase in options is the bullpen, where Hoyer would prefer to carry seven relievers instead of the eight that the Cubs have had for nearly the entire season.

The extra reliever has limited manager Rick Renteria’s ability to use pinch hitters, although the Cubs are batting only .161 with one home run in 174 at-bats in this department.

"We have to focus on durability and have a mix of young (relievers) and veterans," Hoyer said. "Individually, a lot of good things down there. As a unit, we have to get toward seven and make sure we have that mix right.”

Relievers Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez began their careers as starters, and Hoyer said discussions on any relievers moving to the rotation will take place after the season.

Hoyer reiterated the Cubs would be aggressive in the pitching market for the next few seasons but declined to state they are seeking a No. 1 starter.

"We know we have to add pitching," Hoyer said. "We have to add balance."

Most of the recent organization discussions have involved who’s going to the Arizona Fall League. One of the biggest debates involves Iowa outfielder Jorge Soler, who missed a large chunk of the first half because of hamstring injuries but is batting .355 with 12 home runs and 46 RBIs in 155 at-bats (51 games) at Double-A Tennessee, Iowa and the Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League affiliate.

"He has been playing great," Hoyer said. "He’s locked in now, having great at-bats with great attitude and playing great defense. We have to decide if he has had enough at-bats or not."

Soler could join the Cubs in September, but his arrival could be delayed if Iowa qualifies for the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

C.J. Edwards, one of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects, has pitched only 332/3 innings because of a right shoulder strain. He appears destined for the AFL.

Hoyer said the staff has been pleased with the performance of Baez after his first week in the majors and didn’t rule out Baez getting work at shortstop, his original position.

"But I don’t think we need to," said Hoyer, adding that the Iowa staff raved about Baez’s defense.

"Once Javy gets comfortable, he’s going to be an elite second baseman," Hoyer said. "We know he can play shortstop."

While prospects such as Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks, Soler and Kris Bryant have received high marks, Hoyer acknowledged the Cubs have experienced some humbling moments, such as their 44 strikeouts and only two walks last weekend against the Rays.

"There are aspects we’re happy with, and there are aspects we have to get better at," Hoyer said. "That’s certainly one of them.”

Extra innings: Outfielder Justin Ruggiano experienced right groin tightness but was available to play. … Felix Doubront will need at least one more minor league rehab start with Iowa. … Outfielder Nate Schierholtz cleared waivers and will be released.

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday recap: Cubs 4, Brewers 2

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

The last-place Cubs showed no fear as left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada blanked the National League Central-leading Brewers for 62/3 innings before allowing home runs to Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado. The Cubs scored all four runs in the first three innings off 11-game winner Kyle Lohse, who left after three innings after tweaking his right ankle during an at-bat.

At the plate

Rookie Javier Baez hit his fourth home run and it landed on Waveland Avenue, and Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer in two games.

On the mound

Reliever Neil Ramirez induced Ryan Braun to pop to second with a runner at third base to end the eighth.

In the field

Left fielder Junior Lake, making his first start since Aug. 5, made a running catch to rob Jonathan Lucroy of a hit in the fourth.

The number

2.09 — ERA of Cubs’ starting pitchers in past seven games.

The number II

2.49 — Wada’s ERA in his last four starts.

The quote

Rizzo: “We just want to keep getting more every-day guys. There are three or four every-day guys, and pretty soon there will be five or six, and pretty soon we’ll have a very scary lineup.”

The quote II

General manager Jed Hoyer: “(Wada) obviously has deception. He throws a lot of pitches that might catch a lot of the plate, but he throws the ball by guys at 90 mph, which is impressive, so it’s deception. This is a big test for him.”

Up next

Brewers (Fiers 1-1, 1.80) at Cubs (Jackson 6-12, 5.61), 1:20 p.m., Thursday, WGN-9.

Chicago Sun-Times

Javy Baez launches another tape-measure shot in Cubs’ win

By Gordon Wittenmyer

If anybody wants to nitpick, Javy Baez still hasn’t drawn a walk in nine major-league games.

He hasn’t stolen a base, hit a triple or figured out this global-warming problem yet, either — though he did threaten to punch another hole in the ozone layer Wednesday night with a third-inning home run.

When that shot off Milwaukee Brewers starter Kyle Lohse cleared the left-field bleachers and continued onto Waveland Avenue, it was another long-distance call to the Cubs’ future — if not another ad for ticket sales the rest of the season.

“There’s definitely excitement and reason to be excited,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit the next pitch for another homer. “But I’m not going to get caught up in all that.”

Four innings later, it looked as if Baez nearly pulled every muscle in his body on swings and misses against Marco Estrada before popping up the third pitch to first base during a 2-for-4 performance in the Cubs’ 4-2 victory over the Brewers.

“We come here to play hard every day and learn something every day,” Baez, 21, said.

“It’s probably as expected,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said of Baez’s first week and a half in the majors. “There’s been some high-highs and been some lows. We’ll probably settle somewhere in the middle at some point.

“But this is why he’s here, so he can play every day and he can have those experiences. And the way he is as a player, he’ll learn from those things.”

The Cubs are counting on it. And on Jorge Soler learning a few things when he joins the club, likely in September. And Kris Bryant next year. And so on.

“We just want to keep getting more every-day guys,” Rizzo said. “There’s three or four now. We just need to get five or six, and pretty soon we’re going to have a really, really scary lineup.”

For now, Baez is the first real taste of The Plan for Cubs fans. Not just the flavor of the month — like Junior Lake a year ago. And not just the super-utility appetizer Arismendy Alcantara might prove to be.

The guy with 40-50-homer, 175-strikeout potential and a Gary Sheffield-like swing.

The guy who showed Wednesday night he’s worth watching every time he comes to the plate — even if the team’s results and place in the standings aren’t.

“You can already see the talent,” Hoyer said. “You see the things he does well. He’ll just keep ­learning.”

Just look at the weekend. After hitting three homers in his first three big-league games last week in Colorado, Baez struck out four times in Friday’s Wrigley Field debut and three more times Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

By Sunday, the kid who might love swinging the bat more than anybody in a Cubs uniform this side of Starlin Castro stood at the plate for a six-pitch at-bat in which he didn’t swing once.

“He’s trying to find his happy medium,” manager Rick Renteria said. “That’s all part of the game.”

If nothing else, it shows that the wheels are turning inside the powerful infielder almost as quickly as the spin of his swing on the outside.

Nine games is no guarantee of any kind of success. But after an opposite-field single in the first and the mammoth homer in the third, Baez already has three multihit games, four home runs, seven RBI and an .878 OPS.

He even had two full counts Wednesday, on the brink of that elusive first walk.

“It should be a good 45 days or so for him,” Hoyer said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Comment by Jon Lester viewed as a positive for Cubs

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Likely Cubs free-agent target Jon Lester’s assertion in recent days that he won’t necessarily look for the most money on the ­market as one of the top available pitchers next ­winter seems to put the Cubs and Red Sox in the front-runner positions more than two months out.

Lester, who told media this week his comfort level is more important, was drafted and developed by Cubs’ regime, when several of the top execs were in Boston. The Red Sox traded him to the Athletics last month and are said to be first in line to try to sign him back as a free agent.

When asked about specifically pursuing a frontline starter this winter with some of the anticipated payroll flexibility or in trade, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer stayed away from specifics.

“Pitching in general is going to be something we’re aggressive on,” he said. “We know we have to add pitching. That’s going to be our main area of focus for the offseason and probably several offseasons.”

Dog-day deals?

The Cubs might not be done dealing even though many teams are done putting players through waivers, and the Cubs already have gone at least 1-for-2 in waiver-claim trades this month (acquiring pitcher Jacob Turner from the Marlins; not acquiring Cole Hamels from the Phillies).

“There could be some action at the end of the month as [remaining] teams decide to finally put their guys through,” Hoyer said.

Delayed fall call

Hoyer confirmed that the Class AAA postseason could delay September call-ups such as outfielder Jorge Soler if the division-leading Iowa Cubs make the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

“They’ve worked hard down there. We don’t want to raid them and leave them with nothing if they do make the playoffs,” he said. “If the big-league club is in the pennant race, that’s your only consideration. But it’s a little different in this situation.”

The Cubs aren’t especially close to finalizing their list of players they plan to call up at this point.

“Some will depend on how much pitching we need,” he said. “Some will depend on the 40-man roster situation.”

Notes

Starlin Castro said he felt fine the day after aggravating the knee he twisted in Monday’s game. He then drove in a run during the Cubs’ two-run first with a single up the middle.

Jed Hoyer said Felix Doubront, the struggling lefty acquired from the Red Sox, has at least one more minor-league rehab start after throwing 80 pitches in four-plus innings Tuesday. The GM compared him to Jake Arrieta, who used several minor-league starts to rediscover his form after being acquired last year.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Baez shows some Wrigley power

By Bruce Miles

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer paid a visit to the field during batting practice Wednesday, before his Cubs beat the visiting Milwaukee Brewers 4-2.

It came as no surprise that the first question to Hoyer was about second baseman Javier Baez, who was called up from the minor leagues last week. How does Hoyer evaluate Baez’s play so far?

"Good," he replied. "Probably as expected. I think there’s been some high highs and there’s been some lows. He’ll probably settle somewhere in the middle at some point. This is why he’s here, so he can play every day, he can have those experiences. The way he is as a player, he’ll learn from those things.

"I think you’ve already seen the talent. You’ve seen the things he does well. He’ll just keep learning. I really do like the fact that the guys seem to have embraced him. They like having him here and teaching him what to do. It should be a good 45 days for him."

Baez provided quite a high “high” in the third inning, when he launched a home run onto Waveland Avenue, right before Anthony Rizzo followed on the next pitch with a homer to right. Baez’s homer was his fourth since his call-up and his first at Wrigley Field.

"It feels good," he said. "I hit the ball pretty good, and as soon as I hit it, everybody went crazy. I knew it was gone because I hit it really good."

That was exciting enough, but the 21-year-old second baseman generates so much speed and force with his swing that even foul balls are sights to behold.

Of course, there is still much for Baez to learn in all facets of the game. He’s yet to draw a walk in the big leagues, but that puts him in pretty good company with the rest of his teammates, who struck out 44 times and walked just twice in this past weekend’s series against Tampa Bay.

Hoyer also was asked how he’d rate this season, and he brought up the sore subject of walks.

"It’s a difficult thing to assess with one number," he said of the season. "I think we’re very satisfied, obviously, with the way things have gone this last month-and-a-half as far as our talent in the minor leagues, as far as bringing guys up to the big leagues.

"We’re not even close to satisfied with the record on the field. We’ve had some humbling moments. This weekend was humbling as far as our walk-to-strikeout ratio against good right-handed pitching. We need to get better at that."

Another interesting phenomenon played out Wednesday. The Cubs got a fourth quality start from left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who won his second straight start to improve to 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA. Wada worked 6⅔ innings, giving up 5 hits.

His night ended on back-to-back homers by Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado to bring Milwaukee within 4-2.

Wada originally was called up from Class AAA Iowa to fill a spot after the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. He’s since taken a spot.

"I watch a lot of video and had a plan coming into the game," Wada said through a translator. "(Kyle) Hendricks pitched a good game yesterday, which kind of probably threw the hitters off. I just followed (catcher John) Baker’s lead, and he caught a very good game."

Daily Herald

Kranitz honored by Maddux’s Hall mention

By Bruce Miles

It’s a long way from Pikeville, West Virginia, to Cooperstown, New York.

And it’s a long time from 1984 to 2014.

But Hall of Famer Greg Maddux remembered, and for that, Rick Kranitz is grateful.

Currently the pitching coach of the Milwaukee Brewers, Kranitz spent 22 years in the Cubs organization in various major-league and minor-league roles.

He crossed paths with Maddux at Rookie League Pikeville in 1984, and Maddux made sure to thank Kranitz in his Hall of Fame speech at Cooperstown.

"After 30 years, are you kidding me?" Kranitz said Wednesday at Wrigley Field. "Obviously, I’m very honored he would mention me. It was my first year as a pitching coach and his first year as a pitcher. Quite frankly, I didn’t want to screw the kid up.

"He just came up to me sometime after he got there and said, ‘You need to start teaching me something.’ Not a lot of people ask me about that."

The Hall of Fame induction annually takes place on a Sunday, when teams are playing or getting ready to play. Kranitz said he didn’t know Maddux had thanked him until he received a text from someone on the Brewers. Later that day, general manager Doug Melvin also mentioned the Maddux speech to Kranitz.

"That just shows you want kind of class the guy is," Kranitz said of Maddux. "From what I hear, he kind of took it all the way through the system and talked about the pitching coaches along the way."

Kranitz won’t claim to have known he had a future Hall of Famer on his hands.

"We didn’t have radar guns," he said. "It wasn’t like, ‘It’s 92 or 93 (mph).’ But all I knew was it was different coming out of his hand than anybody else because his hand speed was so quick. The ball just absolutely jumped out of his hand.

"He didn’t have his great command, but he was a strike thrower. He had a really good curveball, which he totally canned later. All we did was put a little (new) grip with his hand on his changeup, and off he went with it.

"I tell you what, you could have put a rock in his hand with a changeup grip, and he would have been successful with it. That’s how talented the guy was."

Making his case:

Rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks has opened eyes with his 4-1 record and 1.73 ERA to begin his big-league career. He could be forcing his way into a rotation spot for next year.

"He’s starting to make a pretty strong statement, obviously," said Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer. "He’s pitched really well. Those last 5 starts have been excellent and against really good competition.

"His first 2 starts in the big leagues were kind of (against) skeleton lineups by the nature of doubleheaders and off-days and things like that. But these last 4 or so have been against good lineups.

"His preparation is outstanding. He knows what he wants to do with the ball. So far, his poise has been really notable."

This and that:

Lefty Felix Doubront will make at least 1 more rehab start at Class AAA Iowa. Doubront, who is on the disabled list with a calf strain, worked 4 innings Tuesday in his first rehab start. He gave up 4 hits and 3 runs in 4 innings, … The Cubs have released outfielder Nate Schierholtz, whom they designated for assignment Aug. 6 … Outfielder Justin Ruggiano was not in Wednesday’s lineup because of groin tightness, according to manager Rick Renteria.

Cubs.com

Baez’s first Wrigley homer leads Cubs to win

Rizzo follows Baez with 27th; Wada allows two runs over 6 2/3 innings

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The ballhawks who patrol Waveland Avenue outside Wrigley Field must be giddy.

Javier Baez gave them reason to celebrate with his first home run at Wrigley, a towering shot that cleared the left-field bleachers, and Anthony Rizzo followed with his 27th of the season to power the Cubs to a 4-2 victory on Wednesday night over the National League Central-leading Brewers.

The fireworks came in the third against the Brewers’ Kyle Lohse in front of 31,191. Chicago had taken a 2-0 lead in the first on a sacrifice fly by Rizzo and RBI single by Starlin Castro.

Baez, playing in his ninth big league game, led off the third by launching a 1-1 slider over the left-field bleachers for his fourth home run. Rizzo rocketed the next pitch, a curveball, from Lohse into the right-field seats for his second homer in as many games, and 27th of the season, second in the NL to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton, who has 31.

"The second pitch [of the inning] to Javy was a homer, and I fed off the energy of the crowd right there," Rizzo said. "It was probably a ball, but I went down and got it. Luckily, I got it up high enough."

It’s the fifth time the Cubs have hit back to back blasts this season, and the first time Baez and Rizzo have done so. Cubs fans are hoping for many more by the pair.

"It feels great," Baez said. "I hit the ball pretty good. As soon as I hit it, everybody went crazy. I knew it was gone because I hit it really good."

Lohse then served up a single to Castro and struck out Luis Valbuena. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke and an athletic trainer went to the mound to check on the right-hander, who finished the inning, striking out both Arismendy Alcantara and John Baker. But Lohse apparently tweaked his right ankle in the third, and was lifted.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria was impressed at how Baez made adjustments during the game.

"His strength is swinging the bat in terms of what he can produce," Renteria said. "He showed you he can drive the ball the other way in situations, so he’s making adjustments. He’s aware of what he’s got to do. It just takes time. He’s 21 years old. They’re pitching him pretty tough, too."

During the game, Renteria didn’t join in the dugout dance the players do after Rizzo homers. But after the game ended, the Cubs manager could understand the fans excitement.

"Sitting back, you look at them and say, ‘I’ve got a 21-year-old and a 24-year-old doing the things they’re doing,’ and yeah, it’s pretty exciting," Renteria said.

"There’s reason to be excited here," Rizzo said, "but I’m not going to get caught up in it. We have 50 games left to prove to everyone that we’re going to be good very soon."

Tsuyoshi Wada posted the seventh straight quality start by a Chicago pitcher despite giving up two runs on back to back home runs by Rickie Weeks and Martin Maldonado with two outs in the seventh. Cubs starters now have a 2.09 ERA in that stretch, serving up 11 runs over 47 1/3 innings.

Last year, Wada started using a two-seam fastball when he realized his four-seamer wasn’t enough to get Major League hitters out. He now possesses what Renteria called “sneaky life” to his fastball. Roenicke said Wada’s fastball “jumped” and surprised his hitters early.

"It was the first time we faced him," Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez said. "I don’t think we’re going to have the same luck next time we face him."

"He was very strong in his execution and made his pitches," Renteria said of Wada. "He seems to have some deception. His fastball plays 88, 89 [mph] on the board, but to the hitter, he’s throwing balls that are getting by very good hitters. The deception factor he has is very important."

What did Wada do that was so effective?

"I think [Kyle] Hendricks pitched a very good game yesterday which threw the hitters off, and I just followed [catcher John] Baker’s lead and he called a very good game," Wada said.

On Tuesday, Hendricks posted his fifth straight quality start in the Cubs’ 3-0 win over the Brewers. Hendricks and Wada both are candidates for spots in the 2015 rotation. The Cubs do plan on pursuing pitching this offseason, although general manager Jed Hoyer said they aren’t necessarily looking for an ace.

"Pitching, in general, is something we’re aggressive on, and the better that pitching is, the more desirable it is," Hoyer said before the game. "I don’t want to characterize it as ‘No. 1 quality’ or whatever. We know we have to have pitching, and we know we have an imbalance and I think that will be our main area of focus in the offseason."

That’s because they know they don’t have to worry about hitting.

Cubs.com

Study habits paying off for Ivy Leaguer Hendricks

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Facing big league hitters is a lot easier than the abstract algebra class Kyle Hendricks took in his final semester at Dartmouth.

"It sounds kind of simple, with ‘algebra’ in the name of it, but it was the hardest class by far that I took at Dartmouth," Hendricks said.

The Cubs pitcher, who did complete his economics degree at the Ivy League school, has applied his study techniques to baseball. He begins to prep before his starts with the scouting report supplied by coach Mike Borzello and one of the Cubs’ advance scouts. He’ll watch some video, and two days before his game, Hendricks will watch film of the opponent’s recent games.

"Guys are always changing their approaches, changing their swings, so I like to watch recent stuff," Hendricks said.

The day before his start, Hendricks will watch every hitters’ at-bat to see what he’s trying to do.

"I just try to sear the game plan into my mind by watching a ton of video," Hendricks said. "That way, when I’m on the mound, I don’t have to think about, ‘What was this guy supposed to do again?’ It’s just kind of there because of watching so much video.

"It’s studying for sure. You’re looking at the hitters. The scouting report is just a bunch of words. You have to read it and have to be able to retain it. It’s fun studying, it’s not like school. It’s fun sitting there watching hitters. You’re watching baseball."

Doing his homework has paid off. Hendricks notched his fifth quality start on Tuesday in a 3-0 win over the Brewers.

Give credit, too, to Rangers Minor League pitching coach Brad Holman, who was Hendricks’ mentor at the high Class A level. The right-hander said he sat next to Holman every day in the dugout to pick his brain and talk pitching.

"He was unbelievable and he did a lot for me to get to this point," Hendricks said.

There are others. Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton was a huge help this year, Hendricks said, as is Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio.

But Hendricks deserves a lot of the credit himself. He was named the Cubs’ 2013 Minor League Pitcher of the Year, then returned to Dartmouth to finish his classes.

"The best part was the professors — they’re willing to help you any time, any day," Hendricks said. "It’s the same here. [The coaches] are great, they put together scouting reports, talk about the hitters. It’s very similar."

Why Dartmouth? Because baseball coach Bob Whalen promised Hendricks he could pitch his freshman year and would be one of the Big Green’s weekend starters.

"That’s all I wanted to do, was play," Hendricks said.

He left his southern California home and headed east.

"I wouldn’t trade it for the world — the friends I met there and the atmosphere," Hendricks said. "The last thing you think about is the weather. You’re there with all your buddies."

So, if he wasn’t pitching, what would Hendricks be doing with his degree?

"I’d be looking for a job somewhere," he said, laughing. "I honestly have no idea. I took [economics] because it was kind of interesting to me. I never thought of it as providing a job for me later. My heart was in baseball. Even though I went to Dartmouth for an education, I knew I wanted to play baseball and was going to play baseball. All I needed was the opportunity. There was never a second option for a job."

After first week, Baez learning his way

CHICAGO — Javier Baez now has one week in the big leagues, and it’s been a learning experience.

"As expected, there’s been some high highs and some lows," general manager Jed Hoyer said Wednesday of the infielder, ranked No. 2 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects. “He'll probably settle somewhere in the middle.”

Baez was promoted last Tuesday in Colorado, and hit three home runs in his first three games, including a game-winning homer in the 12th inning of his debut on Aug. 5, and two homers two days later. In Wednesday’s 4-2 victory over the Brewers, Baez hit his first homer at Wrigley Field and went 2-for-4, raising his batting average to .268 with 13 strikeouts in 41 at-bats.

"This is why he’s here, so he can play every day and have those experiences," Hoyer said. "The way he is as a player, he’ll learn from those things. You can see the talent and see the things he’s done well."

The other Cubs players were eager for Baez to be promoted, and Hoyer said he was happy to see them embrace the 21-year-old second baseman.

"It should be a good 45 days or so for him," Hoyer said.

There are no plans to have Baez play at shortstop, which is where he has primarily played in the Minor Leagues.

"I think once Javy gets comfortable there, he’ll be a really elite second baseman," Hoyer said. "We know he can play shortstop."

Cubs considering Soler for September callup

CHICAGO — Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said the front office is currently debating September callups and who will play in the Arizona Fall League. Triple-A Iowa outfielder Jorge Soler is one player being considered for both.

Soler, ranked No. 6 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, was injured much of the first half of the season, but has been getting regular at-bats, and was batting .300 in 20 games.

"[Soler] has been playing great, and is locked in now, and great at-bats, great attitude, playing good defense," Hoyer said. "We have to decide if he’s had enough at-bats or not."

C.J. Edwards, ranked No. 7 on the Cubs’ top 20 list, was expected to pitch in the AFL, which starts Oct. 7.

As for September callups, Hoyer said who gets promoted may depend on whether Iowa makes the Pacific Coast League playoffs.

"They worked hard down there," Hoyer said. "We don’t want to raid them and leave them with nothing if they do make the playoffs."

Extra bases

• Outfielder Nate Schierholtz was released and will become a free agent by Friday. Schierholtz was designated for assignment on Aug. 6 after batting .192 in 99 games with six home runs, 10 doubles and 33 RBIs.

• The Cubs were encouraged by Felix Doubront’s first rehab start with Triple-A Iowa. Doubront threw 80 pitches over four-plus innings on Tuesday night against Las Vegas. He has been on the disabled list since July 31 with a left calf strain.

"With him, he has to work his way back," Hoyer said. "We do look at it similarly to where [Jake] Arrieta was [last year]. [Doubront] is a guy who has had moments of success in the AL East. Getting his confidence and stuff back is important."

The left-hander will make at least one more start for Iowa.

• Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano did not start Wednesday because of some soreness in his right groin, but he was available to pinch-hit. Ruggiano was pulled from Tuesday’s game after seven innings.

• To help Wrigley Field celebrate its 100th anniversary, American rock band O.A.R. will perform an Extra Innings Show as part of a free music event presented by Budweiser on Aug. 23 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. CT, in the Red and Purple Lots on the west side of the ballpark.

O.A.R. will take the stage for a 90-minute post-game set following the conclusion of the Cubs’ Interleague game that day against the Orioles.

This summer, O.A.R released their eighth studio album, The Rockville LP, and recently played at the 2014 All-Star game in Minneapolis. Their song, “This Town,” is played while the Cubs are introduced before home games.

The event is free to the general public and limited to a first-come, first-served basis.

Cubs.com

Fiers seeks repeat performance in finale vs. Cubs

Jackson takes hill as Chicago goes for series victory over Brewers

By Caitlin Swieca

After a spectacular performance in his first start of 2014, the Brewers are hoping for a repeat performance from Mike Fiers on Thursday afternoon as they look to split their four-game series with the Cubs.

Fiers, starting in place of the injured Matt Garza, allowed one run on three hits over eight innings in a win over the Dodgers. After a difficult 2013, Fiers couldn’t have asked for a much better start to his Major League campaign in 2014.

"He’s got a lot of deception," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "You saw tonight, most of his pitches are 90, 91 mph. There’s a lot of 89s, but they all have a lot of life on them. When he’s feeling good physically and mentally, that ball really comes out well. That’s a good-hitting team. He threw a lot of fastballs that were getting by guys."

Fiers will face a Cubs lineup that has found some life as of late with the promotion of young players such as Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said this is a good stretch for those young players because of the tough competition they’ll be facing, such as the first-place Brewers.

"It’s something we talked about with Javy," Hoyer said of Baez, promoted from Triple-A on Aug. 5. "You look at our schedule the rest of the way and there’s only a handful of series where we’re not facing contenders. Those guys are going to get a real indoctrination. They’re not going to be facing another team who is out of the race. Everything we do the rest of the year will be against contenders."

How does Hoyer view the organization’s progress?

"We’re very satisfied with the way things have gone with our talent in the Minor Leagues. We’re not even close to being satisfied with our record on the field."

Edwin Jackson will take the hill at Wrigley Field on Thursday, looking for his third straight quality start. He went six innings and allowed three earned runs against the Rays on Saturday.

Brewers: Gomez takes hands-on approach to protection

By Carlos Gomez’s own count, nine of the Major League-leading 13 times he’d been hit by a pitch entering Wednesday, he was hit on the hands or wrists.

After being struck the night before on the right wrist, near the base of his thumb, Gomez wore a sleeve embedded with a protective plate into Wednesday’s game against the Cubs.

"I’ve gotten lucky so far," Gomez said.

The free-swinging leadoff hitter also wears a protective guard on his left elbow, but his hands and wrists are often exposed because opposing pitchers pound him inside, and Gomez often begins to offer before recognizing the location and trying to get out of the way.

Cubs: Soler considered for September call-up

Hoyer said the front office is currently debating September call-ups and who will play in the Arizona Fall League. Triple-A Iowa outfielder Jorge Soler is one player being considered for both.

Soler, ranked No. 6 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, was injured much of the first half of the season, but has been getting regular at-bats, and was batting .300 in 20 games.

"[Soler] has been playing great, and is locked in now, and great at-bats, great attitude, playing good defense," Hoyer said. "We have to decide if he’s had enough at-bats or not."

Worth noting

• Cubs president Theo Epstein has received several requests to take part in the “Ice Bucket Challenge” for ALS awareness, and on Thursday, he’s going to give fans a chance to dump water on him and some of the players. During Thursday’s series finale between the Cubs and Brewers, fans will be asked to donate to the team’s 50-50 raffle, with proceeds going to ALS research. The Cubs will determine who gets to dump the bucket of ice water on Epstein, which will take place after the game. Among those who have challenged Epstein is Blackhawks president John McDonough.

13 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Another game, another quality start for Hendricks

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Kyle Hendricks continues to pass all the tests.

Anthony Rizzo belted his 26th home run to back Hendricks — who held the National League Central-leading Brewers to six hits over 7 1/3 innings — and lift the Cubs to a 3-0 victory on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

This was Hendricks’ fifth straight quality start, and he’s the first Cubs rookie to post that many in a row since Randy Wells in 2009. The Brewers loaded the bases on three singles with one out in the eighth to force Hendricks’ exit after 96 pitches, but Pedro Strop got Jonathan Lucroy to ground into an inning-ending double play.

"When guys get on base, they’re saying he’s tough, he’s sneaky, he has good pitches, he commands them," Rizzo said of Hendricks. "The best part is, it seems he can induce a double-play ball whenever."

Hendricks began his run on July 22, against the Padres, in his second big league start, and followed with quality starts against the Cardinals at home, then the Dodgers and Rockies on the road, and now the Brewers. The rookie right-hander doesn’t overpower hitters, just outsmarts them with good location and movement. He’s efficient and quick, and was able to zip through this game, which wrapped up in a tidy two hours and 22 minutes.

"It’s something I’ve always done, since I was little," Hendricks said. "The pace of the game is big for me. It keeps the infielders in the game and keeps them on their toes, and it’s my pitching style."

He got some defensive help, as second baseman Javier Baez made a nice over-the-shoulder catch of Khris Davis’ liner with one out and one on in the second, and shortstop Starlin Castro snared Lucroy’s grounder on the grass and threw in time for the out to end the sixth.

How does Hendricks do it? He prepares. He takes the advance scouting report, plus the notes from coach Mike Borzello, and studies video.

"He’s got conviction in what he wants to try to do, so there’s no reason for him to panic or [have] a sense of fear," manager Rick Renteria said. "He knows how he’s going to get out of this problem."

Perhaps the methodical approach is what helped him earn his economics degree at Dartmouth.

Hendricks wasn’t upset at the Brewers’ eighth, when they got half of his total hits allowed.

"They were all good pitches, and they’re great hitters — a first-place team with that kind of lineup, you just have to tip your cap to them," he said.

"It’s tough when you have a guy that relies on movement, and he does," the Brewers’ Mark Reynolds said. "He was spotting up real well. Hopefully, the next time we face him, we have a better idea of what his pitches do."

This was the first time the Brewers saw Hendricks in action.

"Maybe he’s like [Kyle] Lohse a little bit — you know, not overpowering, but pinpoints," Reynolds said. "Some of them you walk away scratching your head like — ‘What happened?’"

Brewers starter Wily Peralta may be thinking the same. He began the night tied for first in the National League in wins, yet took the loss. The Cubs took a one-run lead in the second on Justin Ruggiano’s RBI single, and opened a two-run lead in the fourth on Arismendy Alcantara’s RBI single.

Rizzo belted his first home run since July 22 — and 26th of the season — leading off the sixth, launching the first pitch from Peralta into the bleachers in left-center. Rizzo now is 9-for-21 in his career against Peralta, with five home runs.

"It was supposed to be down and away, and I made it up," Peralta said of the pitch to Rizzo.

For Cubs fans eager to get a peek at the future, Tuesday was a good night.

"You get to see the young men everybody has been talking about for the last couple years, and you’re seeing them contribute in some way, shape or form in a positive way," Renteria said. "Maybe it starts to validate the direction the organization is going in, which is good. We all understand it’s been a long time, and it’s going to take a while to chip away and have everybody feel positive about the organization, but it’s going that way."

Former Cubs third baseman and current Brewers infielder Aramis Ramirez sees it.

"We’ve seen Baez and, obviously, Rizzo, Castro, some young power arms out of the bullpen," Ramirez said. "They’ve got some players there. They’re not that far away."

Cubs.com

Rizzo’s smarts show in 13-pitch at-bat

By Carrie Muskat and Teddy Cahill

CHICAGO — Brewers manager Ron Roenicke knows that his team is going to have to figure out some way to get Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo out. The problem, Roenicke says, is that Rizzo is becoming a smarter hitter.

"Rizzo, when we first saw him, he’s a guy that we knew was dangerous," Roenicke said on Tuesday. "And we know the pitches that he’s dangerous on, and if you stayed away from those pitches, you got him out.

"The guy has improved a lot in a short time. Now we go to some places where we used to get him out, and we didn’t get him out. He’s not chasing as many pitches out of the zone. So … he becomes more dangerous."

And the Brewers know they have to face Rizzo and the National League Central-rival Cubs a lot. In the ninth inning of Monday’s 3-1 loss, Rizzo went head to head against Francisco Rodriguez, and the two battled in a 13-pitch at-bat before Rizzo struck out. Rodriguez even threw a cutter, a pitch he admitted to never having thrown in a game.

"You get in an at-bat like that, and battle and battle and battle, and obviously, I didn’t get the result I wanted, but I won that at-bat," Rizzo said. "[I’d say that if] it had been [Cubs catcher] John Baker pitching. To foul pitches off — Frankie had some really good stuff. For me, personally, I’m just happy battling and getting my swing back to where it’s good."

Rizzo struck out on the 13th pitch; in a perfect world, teams want pitchers to throw 12 to 15 pitches per inning.

"You always have to keep things in perspective — who you’re facing, what you’re up against, what you have, how you’re feeling, where the guys are at, and be realistic with that," hitting coach Bill Mueller said on Tuesday. "That’s how I approach Riz. I’m realistic. I’m looking to the next at-bat, the next situation where you can have success, be positive and help your team. That’s the approach."

And Roenicke? He’d rather not see Rizzo at the plate.

"This guy keeps getting better and better," Roenicke said. "It worries me. … When you see a guy improve and do that kind of stuff … This guy is going to be a really good player. He’s a really good player now, but he’s going to continue to get better."

Mueller takes Cubs’ K’s in stride

CHICAGO — Hitting coach Bill Mueller wasn’t even aware that the Cubs had struck out 44 times in three games against the Rays. All he knew was that Tampa Bay’s pitching staff leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts, and did so even before the Interleague series against the Cubs.

"Sometimes it’s not who you’re facing but when, and they’re rolling pretty good," Mueller said on Tuesday. "You look at any teams they’ve been facing, and you’re going to see a lot of strikeouts."

In fact, the Cardinals fanned 43 times in four games against the Rays. The Cubs do rank second in the National League in strikeouts, and have at least 10 whiffs in 39 of their 117 games. But Mueller is quick to point out that the series against the Rays was the only one in which the Cubs totaled double-digit Ks all three games.

"The bad part about that is, we only get one small glimpse at them," he said. "We don’t get to come back and get them back. We get three games, and we’re done. You face a tough strikeout team only one time, I think they’re going to have the advantage."

But he’s not proposing a home-and-away Interleague series against Tampa Bay, at least not yet.

"It’s August; our guys have been playing their [tails] off," he said. "We had great series in Colorado and [Los Angeles]. You’re going to have some ebbs and flows throughout the season."

The 44 K’s against the Rays was a Cubs’ franchise record for most in a three-game series. Ever.

"When I hear, ‘Oh, you had 55 or 40 something [strikeouts],’ I’m like, ‘OK, if you look at the league, they’re No. 1,’" Mueller said. "We knew that going in."

Bryant takes Minor League homer lead

The Cubs’ No. 1 prospect, Kris Bryant, hit his 39th home run of the season on Tuesday to take sole possession of the Minor League lead. It wasn’t enough for a victory, however, as Triple-A Las Vegas defeated Iowa, 6-5.

Bryant, ranked No. 3 on MLBPipeline.com's list of Top 100 Prospects, went 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs.

Bryant entered the day tied with Rangers’ No. 1 prospect Joey Gallo atop the Minor League leaderboard. Gallo led all Minor Leaguers with 40 home runs last season and is trying to repeat as home run champion, but he has been locked in a tight race with Bryant all summer.

The Cubs sent Bryant, 22, to Double-A Tennessee to begin the season, and he bashed 22 home runs in the first half. He was promoted to Iowa in June and hasn’t stopped slugging in the Pacific Coast League. In 52 games since the promotion, he is hitting .322/.434/.672 with 17 home runs and seven stolen bases.

Bryant has done nothing but hit everywhere the Cubs have sent him since selecting him with the second overall pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. In 156 games across five levels, he is hitting .340/.435/.689 with 48 home runs and 16 stolen bases. He has scored 129 runs and driven in 132.

Extra bases

• On Saturday, 40 of the best high school baseball players in the country will take part in the 2014 Under Armour All-America Baseball Game at Wrigley Field, including two-sport star Kyler Murray of Allen, Texas.

Murray is the first to be selected for both the Under Armour All-America Baseball and Under Armour All-America Football games. He is best known as the top dual-threat quarterback in the country, and he has led Allen High School to two straight Texas 5A state titles.

Saturday’s game will be played at 6:05 p.m. CT, and this will be the first time the annual summer showcase will be played under the lights at Wrigley. Since the game’s inception in 2008, 185 of the 208 eligible players from the Under Armour All-America Baseball Game were selected in the First-Year Player Draft, including 51 first-round picks.

• On Tuesday night, in his first Minor League rehab start, left-hander Felix Doubront threw 80 pitches over four-plus innings for Triple-A Iowa in Des Moines against Las Vegas. Doubront, who has been on the disabled list since July 31 with a strained left calf, gave up four runs on four hits and two walks while striking out seven. The Cubs acquired Doubront from the Red Sox on July 30 for a player to be named.

• Outfielder Justin Ruggiano left Tuesday’s game because of leg fatigue, but Renteria said the situation is not serious. Shortstop Starlin Castro stayed in the game despite aggravating his left knee, which he twisted running to first base on Monday.

Cubs.com

Wada, Lohse headline Cubs-Brewers matchup

By David Adler

The Cubs will send left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada to the mound at Wrigley Field on Wednesday looking to take a 2-1 lead in their four-game series with the Brewers.

Chicago, which is at the opposite end of the National League Central from Milwaukee — the Cubs are well in last place, while the Brewers lead the division — evened the series with a 3-0 win on Tuesday night.

Wednesday’s game will be the second straight in which the Brewers face a pitcher who was in the Minors the last time the two teams met. Both Wada and Tuesday’s starter, Kyle Hendricks, were at Triple-A at the end of May.

"It’s more difficult when a guy comes up from Triple-A to figure things out," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "There is video in Triple-A, but obviously, they have more video on our guys and what we do as hitters, so he’ll be able to get more off us than we’ll be able to get off him."

Wada is 1-1 with a 3.25 ERA in his five starts since being called up. Most recently, he took a no-decision in an extra-innings loss to the Rays, pitching six innings, allowing two runs and striking out six.

Right-hander Kyle Lohse will pitch for Milwaukee. Lohse is 11-6 with a 3.33 ERA and also took a no-decision his last time out, tossing six innings of one-run ball against the Dodgers.

In two starts against the Cubs this season, Lohse is 2-0. He gave up three runs in seven innings to beat the Cubs in Chicago on May 16, then pitched a shutout in Milwaukee on June 1.

Cubs: Cubs take extra infield practice before Tuesday win

The clubhouse was particularly quiet before Tuesday’s game — most of the team was on the field taking early infield and batting practice.

"It’s just a refresher course," manager Rick Renteria said. "You talk about it. The coaches, obviously, are … trying to get them to do the things they need to do. They put their eyes on them, too, and make sure that they’re doing it the way we want it."

Renteria wasn’t critical of the team’s fundamental play but said that the extra exercise serves well for his young core, particularly recent callups Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara.

"When you’re trying to put your eyes on guys and then just try to keep them, maintain them, it’s really important to make sure they get their work," he said. "These are young men. They’ve got a lot of energy, and we want to make sure they’re doing the things that they need to keep moving forward."

Brewers: Garza optimistic, but not throwing

Though he expressed optimism that his strained left rib cage is improving, right-hander Matt Garza is unsure when he will be cleared to resume throwing.

"When it all clears up," Garza said. "That’s all I can say. I’d like to [speed things up]."

But Garza knows that returning to action too early could cause a setback. He has been shut down since injuring his side in an Aug. 3 start in St. Louis and is on the 15-day disabled list. Because of the fickle nature of rib-cage muscle strains, team officials have offered no timetable for a return.

Garza had a similar issue last season while with the Cubs but is certain that this current injury is significantly less severe.

"I’m still as optimistic as I was," he said. "Until it goes away, you can’t really do much, [or you can] re-aggravate it. So we’re just kind of waiting until it all clears up."

Worth noting

• Cubs starters have a 1.99 ERA over their last six games — all quality starts — while holding batters to a .203 average during that span.

• Roenicke said that both Scooter Gennett and Jean Segura are well on their way to recovery from their respective quad injuries. Both started on Tuesday, with Gennett going 1-for-4 and Segura going 1-for-3.

"Jean is doing a lot better — he goes in for treatment just to make sure," Roenicke said. "It’s maintenance. Scooter, [he’s] still a little bit limited. I saw him run home yesterday, then jog there just to kind of take it easy. So I know it’s still there. But they’re both continuing to get better."

ESPNChicago.com

Hendricks wins again — and fast

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The comparisons to Hall of Fame great Greg Maddux aren’t going to go away anytime soon for Chicago Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks. Not after he threw a gem against the Milwaukee Brewers in 2 hours, 22 minutes to beat them 3-0 on Tuesday night.

That’s Maddux-like.

Hendricks is a throwback, to a day when radar guns didn’t dominate the conversation and working quickly was the norm.

"That’s something I’ve always done since I was little," Hendricks said after lasting 7 1/3 innings. "The pace of the game is big for me. Every time I go out there I just feel like I can make pitches. It grows each start."

His fan base is growing with each start as well. In his last three, he won in Los Angeles against the first-place Dodgers, beat the Colorado Rockies in hitter-friendly Coors Field and took down the Central-leading Brewers. He’s doing it with a mental approach to the game we haven’t seen in Chicago since, well, let’s just say in a long time. His ERA is a nifty 1.73 after six career starts.

"He’s repeated his outings in terms of execution and the calmness he shows out there," manager Rick Renteria said. "He did a nice job of keeping them off balance, and was very efficient."

In some previous starts, Hendricks has given up some hard contact but not a lot of damage. On Tuesday, he gave up neither as the Brewers barely got good wood on the ball. According to ESPN Stats & Information, of the 25 balls put in play against Hendricks, only four were considered hard hit. Hendricks admitted he made only a few mistakes. The Brewers concurred, at least according to the Cubs first baseman.

"When guys get on base they’re saying he’s tough," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "He’s sneaky. The best part is he can induce the [double-play] ball, whenever."

That came in the fifth inning when the Brewers finally got a baserunner to second. Hendricks quickly got Jean Segura to hit into a 6-4-3 inning-ender.

"It’s movement and location," Hendricks said. "I haven’t thrown many pitches over the middle of the plate."

Before we get ahead of ourselves, the last Cubs rookie to throw this well was Randy Wells in 2009. He didn’t last long in the Cubs’ rotation. Before that, it was Mark Prior. And we all know what happened to him.

No one has a crystal ball, but this just feels different. Maybe it’s Hendricks’ confidence or maybe it’s simply the head on his shoulders. He’s quickly becoming known as a very smart major league pitcher.

"One thing that has really helped is the [scouting] reports we get," Hendricks said. "It makes it much easier just to follow that."

That coincides with what team President Theo Epstein said recently regarding Hendricks’ chances at this level with more information available to him in the majors than in the minors.

"We speculated he might take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody," Epstein said. "We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have them this extensive. He just attacks the video, attacks the scouting reports. It’s a huge weapon for him."

And he’s a pleasure to watch. With baseball slowing down more and more, the idea of a young, quick worker is almost unheard of. And his temperament isn’t bad either. That’s also a reminder to his boyhood idol, Maddux.

"You do get a smile out of him, but he’s as even-keeled as you can get an individual to be," Renteria said.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 3, Brewers 0

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-0 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Cubs scored single runs in the second, fourth and sixth innings, and starter Kyle Hendricks was magnificent on the mound. A Justin Ruggiano single scored Arismendy Alcantara for the game’s first run. Later, an Alcantara RBI hit scored Starlin Castro. Anthony Rizzo belted his 26th home run of the season, and that was all the offense Hendricks would need. He went 7⅓ innings, giving up only six hits with three coming in his final inning. Pedro Strop induced a double play to end the eighth inning and preserve the shutout. Hector Rondon earned his 15th save.

What it means: Hendricks has arrived. After wins in Los Angeles and Colorado last week, he shut down one of the best hitting teams in the league Tuesday. Not only did he shut out the Brewers, they had very little hard contact off him. When they finally got a man to second, he induced a double-play grounder to quickly end that threat. He struck out Ryan Braun twice after Braun took him to the wall in the first inning. His innings got easier, not tougher, until the eighth. But even then he gave up three singles, two softly hit. After six starts, Hendricks’ ERA checks in at 1.73.

Doubront pitches: Newly acquired pitcher Felix Doubront made his debut for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday night. He went four innings, giving up three runs and four hits, with two walks and seven strikeouts.

What’s next: Game 3 of the series takes place Wednesday night when Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.25) takes on Kyle Lohse (11-6, 3.33).

ESPNChicago.com

A change works for Cubs rookie Hendricks

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Every pitcher has that pitch. The one he goes to when trouble is brewing and he desperately needs an out. For Chicago Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, it’s his changeup.

“I feel really confident with it,” Hendricks said. “Really comfortable. It’s 100 percent been my go-to pitch when I get into jams. It’s nice to be confident in one, maybe two pitches because it’s something you can fall back on.”

The right-hander is scheduled to take the mound Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers for his sixth career start. But already his changeup is getting buzz around the league. According to ESPN Stats & Information, opposing batters are hitting .156 (5-for-32) against Hendricks in at-bats that end with a changeup. That’s third best in all of baseball, behind only Johnny Cueto and Felix Hernandez — not bad company. You can see why Hendricks throws it when he does.

“He has a couple different ones,” Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio said. “He’s unpredictable — that’s what makes it good. The biggest thing with Kyle is the element of surprise.”

Hendricks said he isn’t concerned with the velocity of his off-speed pitches as much as the movement. And he’s getting that movement, particularly against left-handed hitters. Fifty-seven of 59 (96.6 percent) changeups to lefties have been to the outer third of home plate or farther away. Overall, he’s thrown his changeup to that area 77.8 percent of the time. That would rank first in the league, if Hendricks had enough innings under his belt.

“He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said recently. “He’s as polished and prepared as you’ll see with any rookie.”

Hendricks is off to a fast start to his career and is coming off road wins against the Los Angeles Dodgers (the National League West leaders) and the Colorado Rockies (in their hitter-friendly park). He’s done it throwing his changeup almost 18 percent of the time. He’s 3-1 with a 2.10 ERA entering Tuesday.

But that doesn’t mean everything has been easy. Hard-hit balls have often found his fielders, though a lot of that is by design. Not unlike a pitcher to whom the 24-year-old’s approach is often compared — Greg Maddux — Hendricks isn’t afraid to put runners on via hits, just not via walks. As long as balls don’t leave the park — hit hard or not — it’s fine with him.

“A lot of those that have been hit right at people have been pretty good pitches,” Hendricks said. “I don’t worry about those results. If those had fallen in for a hit, then I have to approach the next guy different, like pitching to get a ground-ball double play. My focus is to go out there and just make the pitches. You can’t focus on results.”

So Hendricks doesn’t mind that he’s allowed line drives 26 percent of the time (fourth highest in the majors, per ESPN Stats & Info) or that the ball is hit hard off him 22.4 percent of the time. The league average is 15.2. But when hitters do hit it hard, they are batting .607 off Hendricks; that’s nearly 100 points (.699) below the league average. Maybe there is an element of luck right now with him, but Hendricks is OK with that too. Will these numbers come back to haunt him? The Cubs think his work habits and ability to break down a batter will allow him to overcome any deficiencies.

“We speculated he might take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody,” Epstein said. “We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have this much video. We have scouting reports in the minor leagues, but we don’t have them this extensive. He just attacks the video, attacks the scouting reports. It’s a huge weapon for him.”

The benefit of all the knowledge is confidence. Hendricks has the confidence to face any situation. Why not throw hittable pitches and let fielders do the work? Even if a few fall in, Hendricks knows he can break down the next guy — usually with his changeup.

“No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to identify one area that he can attack and put himself in a good position to get him out,” Epstein said. “We’re awfully proud of the way he’s adjusted.”

CSNChicago.com

Kyle Hendricks keeps right on rolling as Cubs shut out Brewers

By Tony Andracki

Kyle Hendricks has silenced the doubters to a whisper.

The 24-year-old rookie has never been considered a top prospect because he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but he just keeps right on rolling. Tuesday night, Hendricks shut down the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in a 3-0 Cubs win in front of 28,819 fans at Wrigley Field.

Hendricks went 7.1 innings, allowing six hits and one walk while striking out five. It was his fifth straight quality start and lowered his season ERA to a sparkling 1.73.

Since giving up three earned runs in the first inning of his big-league debut, Hendricks has allowed just five earned runs in 40.2 innings (good for a 1.11 ERA). He’s 4-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his last five starts, showcasing his sky-high confidence.

"It’s unbelievable right now," Hendricks said. "Every time I go out there, I just feel confident that I can make pitches. It grows each start and it’s going to keep growing, hopefully.

"The work I’ve been putting in in between starts with [Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio] has been unbelievable and we’ve just been rolling. The team has been playing great every time I go out there, scoring runs, making plays behind me. I couldn’t ask for anything more."

Hendricks departed in the top of the eighth after allowing three singles to load the bases, but Cubs setup man Pedro Strop came on and promptly induced a double play to end the threat and keep the shutout intact.

In the fourth inning, Hendricks really showed what he was made of in striking out Ryan Braun. Hendricks went right after the former MVP, dialing it up to 91 mph on an elevated fastball to get Braun swinging.

"When he needs 91, 92, he can throw it in there," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "He knows what he’s doing on the mound, so that makes my job very easy."

The Cubs flashed the leather behind Hendricks Tuesday with some nice plays from middle infielders Starlin Castro and Javier Baez.

Hendricks is starting to get into Mark Buehrle territory with his quick tempo, finishing off the Brewers in two hours and 22 minutes.

"That’s something I’ve always done since I was little. Just pitch quick. The pace of the game is big for me," Hendricks said. "It keeps the infielders in the game and hopefully keeps them on their toes. That’s just my pitching style."

And it’s working for the position players, who say they like playing defense behind a guy that throws strikes and works quickly.

The Cubs tallied solo runs in the second, fourth and sixth as Arismendy Alcantara (2-for-3 with a run and RBI) and Justin Ruggiano (2-for-3, RBI) did some damage at the bottom of the order and Anthony Rizzo hit his 26th home run.

Hector Rondon closed it out in the ninth for his 15th save.

In a bit of a statistical oddity, the Cubs have now beat Brewers starter Wily Peralta (14-7, 3.46 ERA) three times this season, outscoring Milwaukee 15-0 in that span.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: What does the future hold for Junior Lake?

By Tony Andracki

A year ago, Cubs fans were clamoring for Junior Lake to be a part of “The Core.”

On Aug. 12 last year, Lake was 25 games into his MLB career and was hitting .324 with an .841 OPS and four homers.

Fast forward to Aug. 12, 2014 and Lake’s stock couldn’t be much lower. The 24-year-old converted outfielder still has a world of raw talent, but last homered June 17 and he has only 78 plate appearances since then.

Manager Rick Renteria has been opting to go with veterans Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano in the outfield alongside youngster Arismendy Alcantara, who  should get almost all of the playing time in center field the rest of the season.

"[Lake] has been the odd man out," Renteria said. "We’re going to continue to see where we can get him some at-bats. Obviously, he hasn’t had many here over the last [week], but we’ll continue to find ways.

"He’s been working very hard on his mechanical approach. When we can, we’ll keep trying to get him in there."

The Cubs have only given Lake 11 starts since the beginning of July. But, it’s not exactly like he’s forced their hand, hitting .167 with a .468 OPS and 54 strikeouts in 53 games since May 24.

Lake finished 2013 hitting .284 with a .760 OPS, flashing the power-speed combo that once had Alfonso Soriano thinking 40/40 potential.

You can point to luck - Lake was pretty fortunate last year with a .377 BABIP (batting average on balls in play), but that number is down to an even .300 in 2014.

You can also point to Lake himself - he’s striking out 33.4 percent of the time (up from 26.8 percent last year) and walking just 3.3 percent of the time (down from 5.1 percent) while his line drive percentage has been cut almost in half (from 27.8 percent in 2013 to just 15.6 percent this year).

No matter what way you slice it, Lake has struggled.

So what can the Cubs do? They could follow the Mike Olt path and send Lake back down to Triple-A to get regular playing time. It’s worked for Olt, who has five homers, 19 RBI and a .969 OPS in 20 games with Iowa since his demotion.

But Iowa ends its season in three weeks, which wouldn’t give Lake much time to get back on track.

Things won’t get any easier in Chicago if the Cubs do call up Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler in September, as is rumored. Soler would further complicate the outfield situation, possibly forcing Coghlan and Ruggiano into a platoon in one of the corner spots and leaving even less room for Lake.

Lake is under team control through the 2019 season, but the clock is ticking on his future in Chicago.

Chicago Tribune

Hendricks among Cubs’ elite rookies

By Mark Gonzales

One of the most interesting scouting reports on Chicago Cubs rookie standout Kyle Hendricks was provided Tuesday night by first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

“He works well, he works fast,” Rizzo said after Hendricks pitched 7 1/3 shutout innings to lead the Cubs to a 3-0 win over the National League Central leading Brewers in a game that took only two hours, 22 minutes.

“He knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t have overpowering stuff, and he knows that. When guys get on base, they’re saying he’s tough, he’s sneaky, got good pitches and commands them. It’s nice. The best part he can induce a double play ball whenever.”

While the likes of Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara, Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are receiving most of the attention regarding the Cubs’ promising future, Hendricks continues to establish himself as a part of the rotation for 2015.

After limiting the Brewers’ lineup to three hits through the first seven innings, Hendricks reached new heights. Hendricks (4-1) has pitched five consecutive quality starts (pitching at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or fewer), equaling the most by a Cubs rookie since Randy Wells from May 16-June 7, 2009.

Hendricks has a 4-1 record and 1.00 ERA during that span.

“It’s movement and location,” Hendricks said of his success. “I haven’t thrown many pitches over the middle of the plate. I did get away with one with (Ryan) Braun. Other than that, there were three or four other pitches I wish I had back, but that didn’t hurt me.”

Braun hit a deep fly to center for the final out in the first, and then chased a high 91 mph fastball for a strikeout in the fourth, and Braun also whiffed in the seventh.

Hendricks was pulled after allowing his third hit of the eighth, but he threw only 96 pitches pleased his teammates and a large majority of the 28,819 fans by working quickly.

“That’s something I’ve done since I was little, just pitch quickly,” Hendricks said. “The pace of the game is big to me. And it keeps the infielders in the game, hopefully keeps them on their toes. It’s just my pitching style.”

And it’s very satisfying to his teammates.

“He’s very good going in and out with his fastball,” catcher Welington Castillo said. “He’s not afraid to pitch inside. And the good thing is he’s got secondary pitches that he can throw behind on the count. That’s what makes him good. His two-seam fastball gets a lot of ground balls. He’s going to be good.”

Hendricks, 24, stood out among a cast of Cubs players that included 22-year-old center fielder Arismendy Alcantara (two hits, RBI single), and 24-year-olds Starlin Castro (who extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a  double) and Rizzo (who hit his 26th home run).

“When you get to see the young men everyone has been talking about for the past couple years and how they’re coming here, and seeing them contribute in some way in a positive way, maybe it starts to validate the direction the organization is going in, which is good,” manager Rick Renteria said.

“We all understand it’s been a long time and that it’s going to take a while to chip away and have everybody feel positive about the organization, but it’s going that way.”

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Cubs 3, Brewers 0

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

Kyle Hendricks blanked the first-place Brewers for 71/3 innings in extending his streak of quality starts to five — the longest for a Cubs rookie since Randy Wells from May 16-June 7, 2009. The Cubs beat 14-game winner Wily Peralta with single runs in the second, fourth and sixth.

At the plate

Justin Ruggiano had two hits, including an RBI single in the second, and Anthony Rizzo hit his first homer since July 22.

On the mound

Pedro Strop bailed Hendricks out of a bases-loaded jam when he induced Jonathan Lucroy to ground into an inning-ending double play in the eighth.

In the field

Rookie second baseman Javier Baez sprinted to shallow center field to take a hit away from Khris Davis in the second.

The number

1.00: Hendricks’ ERA in his past five starts.

The quote

Catcher Welington Castillo: “When (Hendricks) needs to throw 91-92 mph, he can throw it. I saw it when he threw the fastball to (Ryan) Braun to strike him out. He knows what he’s doing on the mound. That makes my job very easy.”

The quote II

Manager Rick Renteria: “(Hendricks) has an even-keel temperament. In terms of his intelligence, he’s using it to gather information. This guy is a baseball player. He’s really confident in himself and comfortable in his own skin and really knows how to go about his business when he gets on the hill.”

Up next

Brewers (Lohse 11-6, 3.33) at Cubs (Wada 1-1, 3.25), 7:05 p.m., Wednesday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant hits 39th HR

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Tuesday vs. Las Vegas:  3-for-5, home run, 2 RBIs.

Trending:  11-for-27 (.407), 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season: 120 games, .341 batting average, 39 home runs, 100 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Tuesday vs. Las Vegas: 0-for-1, strikeout (pinch hitter).

Trending: 9-for-23 (.391), 2 home runs, 9 RBIs, 5 walks, 5 strikeouts.

Season:  50 games, .367 batting average, 12 home runs, 46 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Tuesday vs. Huntsville: 1-for-3, walk, stolen base.

Trending: 8-for-19 (.421), RBI, 3 walks, 3 strikeouts.

Season:  50 games, .304 batting average, 9 home runs, 28 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Tuesday vs. Huntsville: Did not play.

Trending: 2-for-22 (.091), 4 strikeouts.

Season: 106 games, .268 batting average, 8 home runs, 53 RBIs.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta open to long-term contract

By Gordon Wittenmyer

After only 13 months with the Cubs, right-hander Jake Arrieta

already seems to feel pretty strongly about two things:

First, that he can be the ace of the pitching staff, even if the Cubs sign a front-line starter such as Jon Lester.

‘‘I don’t see why not,’’ Arrieta said.

And second, that he wants to stay in Chicago for the long term, even if it means potentially overriding the counsel of agent Scott Boras, who typically likes to take his best clients to free agency as early as possible.

‘‘I don’t think I’m a guy that’s going to ask for an astronomical amount of money,’’ Arrieta said Tuesday. ‘‘But I think if there’s a fair deal to be reached, I’m in

100 percent.

‘‘I like pretty much everything about Chicago and the team that’s in place now, with the guys that are coming up. It’s hard not to want to stay here.’’

Arrieta (6-4, 2.77 ERA) has been the Cubs’ de facto ace since right-hander Jeff Samardzija was traded to the Oakland Athletics on July 4.

After opening the season on the disabled list because of a sore shoulder, he has settled into an 18-start run unlike any he had in his 72 career starts before this season.

If Arrieta had enough innings to qualify for the league leaders, a level he should reach next week against the San Francisco Giants, his ERA would rank seventh in the National League.

‘‘I’ve made a lot of strides; I’ve kind of developed,’’ said Arrieta, who thinks he has, at 28, finally unlocked all the potential his stuff promised since he started climbing the best-prospects lists in 2009 and 2010. ‘‘I’ve put myself, as far as I’m concerned, into those sorts of categories. But that said, there’s still a lot of work to be done. . . . Just all the rigors that go into being in a rotation at the highest level, in a spot like that, as a No. 1 guy. I think I’ve put myself in that conversation.’’

Whether the Cubs’ pursuits of Lester, 2012 Cy Young Award winner David Price or anyone else are successful.

‘‘With the guys that we have here and the guys that are coming, we put a couple of guys like that in this rotation, it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch over the next couple of years,’’ Arrieta said.

Which brings him back to long-term thoughts and that ‘‘fair deal’’ thing. Arrieta is headed into his first winter of arbitration eligibility. That’s where left-hander Travis

Wood was last winter, coming off an All-Star season, when the Cubs raised the idea of a long-term

extension. Wood chose to wait.

‘‘I don’t think it’s out of the question,’’ Arrieta said of his willingness to sign a long-term deal. ‘‘I don’t think there’s been anything formal in the works, but this is an organization that I’ve really seen a transformation take place — from a team that was scuffling for a number of years to one now that’s really trying to compete for a world championship. And I want to be a part of that for years to come.’’

So did Samardzija. And the sides never came close to agreeing to what the other side thought was a ‘‘fair deal’’ during extension talks.

Whether anticipated payroll flexibility in coming years makes a difference from the Cubs’ side this time around or faith in the rebuilding process does from Arrieta’s side, Arrieta said having Boras for an agent doesn’t preclude a deal.

‘‘The decision comes down to what I want to do,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘Scott is very good about giving me all the information and letting his clients make the final decision.

‘‘There’s a lot of negative talk about the way Scott does things, but I think it’s pretty clear he’s the best in the business. What it really boils down to is what I want, what the team wants, and we kind of go from there.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Kyle Hendricks shuts down Brewers in Cubs’ 3-0 victory

By Gordon Wittenmyer

One of the Cubs’ top rookies did it again Tuesday, this time against the Milwaukee Brewers.

And we’re not talking about second baseman Javy Baez or center fielder Arismendy Alcantara.

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks, the Dartmouth graduate with deceptive stuff and exceptional command, beat a first-place team for the second time this month, pitching 71/3 innings in the Cubs’ 3-0 victory against the Brewers at Wrigley Field.

With all the player-development focus on power hitters and shortstops, Hendricks quietly has shown up with a less-than-blazing fastball and spent six starts suggesting he deserves a spot in the Cubs’ 2015 rotation, if not a place in the long-term rebuilding plans of the front office.

‘‘It’s unbelievable,’’ Hendricks (4-1) said of his confidence and the eye-opening start to his career. ‘‘Every time I go out there, I’m feeling confident I can make pitches. It grows each start. The work between starts with [pitching coach Chris Bosio] is unbelievable. The team is playing great every time I go out there, making plays behind me. I couldn’t ask for any more.’’

Except maybe to be a part of the Cubs’ future.

‘‘I think people can get caught up in that,’’ Hendricks said before the game. ‘‘Right now, I’m just trying to go day by day and just get my work done.’’

His work against the second-highest scoring lineup in the National League lowered his ERA to 1.73, including 1.01 in his last five starts. During that time, he has averaged seven innings.

‘‘He’s a very poised young man,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘I hope he’s making believers out of a lot of people.’’

The Cubs plan to add pitching during the next year, be it through free agency or trades.

But Hendricks, who beat the Dodgers on Aug. 1 in Los Angeles and followed that up with a victory last week against the Rockies in Colorado, is gaining support for a place in the Cubs’ pitching plans next season.

Whatever his future might hold, Hendricks said he and the other prospects feel the promise

of opportunity.

‘‘The energy in the clubhouse is unbelievable with all these young guys,’’ he said. ‘‘We have a great team. We’ve been able to win a little bit lately, and we’re just going to try to keep it rolling.’’

NOTES: First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s home run in the sixth was his 26th and first since July 22.

† Recently acquired left-hander Felix Doubront threw 80 pitches in a rehab start for Class AAA Iowa. Doubront (calf) allowed three runs and four hits, struck out seven, walked two and hit a batter in four innings.

Doubront, who was acquired two weeks ago from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named, is a candidate to join the Cubs’ rotation in the next few weeks.

† Right-hander Dan Straily, who was acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the trade for right-hander Jeff Samardzija last month, turned in his best start at Iowa since the trade with six scoreless innings Monday. He is working on rebuilding his velocity.

† Rookie Arismendy Alcantara broke a 4-for-34 slump with a single and a double.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ 1990s celebration awkward with or without Sosa

By Mike Imrem

Man, time really flies when you’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field.

Before you know it the 1990s will show up at the reputed “party of the century.”

The Cubs are commemorating every decade of the old ballpark and came upon the ’80s during the current homestand that included Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory over the Brewers.

Featured at various times have been throwback music, throwback uniforms and stray throwback players from the period.

Next up will be the ’90s, which is when the cute little marketing campaign gets a little sticky.

Like, what about the Samminator’s immense presence during that decade? Or is merely raising the question awkward?

If past sentiments are any indication, the Cubs will continue to deny the existence of Sammy Sosa.

I sat in Wrigley for the Cubs’ victory over Milwaukee and listened to Sting soccer players from the ’80s sing the seventh-inning stretch … yet the Cubs still might view Sosa as unworthy of representing the following decade?

How many home runs did those guys boot out of Wrigley?

Snubbing Sosa would be like inviting the Rolling Stones to a “party of any decade” and leaving out Mick Jagger.

The ’90s belonged to Sosa, and he belonged to the ’90s. He filled Wrigley. He filled media notebooks. He filled fans’ hearts.

Maybe Cubs management will surprise us and have Sosa return to Wrigley, throw out a first pitch and sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” in his language of choice.

Or more likely not.

Yes, I’m going to invoke the name of Manny Ramirez, who is a player-coach in the Cubs’ farm system.

Sammy walked out on the Cubs? Manny did on the Red Sox. Sammy used a corked bat? Albert Belle couldn’t have been the only Indians player who used a corked bat when Manny was his teammate. Sammy used performance enhancers? Manny was suspended for doing so.

Any time I support Sosa in any way — especially for the Hall of Fame — the response is nasty.

But it still seems to me that if it’s all right for the Cubs to welcome Manny into the family, it couldn’t be all wrong to welcome Sammy back in.

Yet the Ricketts ownership hasn’t deemed it in the franchise’s best interests to even invite Sosa to the Cubs Convention.

Hypocrisy aside, the salute to the 1990s in Wrigley Field will be awkward either way.

It will be if the Cubs include Sosa nostalgia, and it will be if they exclude Sosa nostalgia.

If the Cubs want to pretend Sosa never happened they might as well skip the ’90s altogether and proceed into the 21st century.

Fantasy: Sammy Who?

Reality: Where’s Sammy?

Seriously, I was there as a journalist when Sosa chased the single-season home run record in 1998. Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts was there, too, as a fan at the time.

Both of us saw Sosa hit those homers, heard the Wrigley Field crowd cheering and felt the excitement that almost shook the ballpark to the ground.

Today, Ricketts and I both are aware of what occurred after the 1994 World Series was canceled due to a labor dispute.

Sosa’s home runs — PED-fueled as they were — helped save baseball and generate revenue streams for the Cubs.

The game’s culture in the 1990s included steroids. Countless hitters and pitchers alike used them. Some still are despite a testing program that wasn’t in effect two decades ago.

Cubs fans have been booing Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun this week because of his involvement with and suspension for PED use.

OK, do that. Bring back Sammy Sosa so fans in Wrigley Field can boo him if they want.

If the Cubs exclude him, they’ll have to hope the 1990s fly by without anyone noticing.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Hendricks gets it; he really gets it

By Bruce Miles

Kyle Hendricks got rhythm. Kyle Hendricks got tempo. And Kyle Hendricks probably got a little bit o’ soul.

Whatever the 24-year-old rookie has, the Cubs gladly will take a whole bunch more of it.

Hendricks made quick work of the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, dispatching the Cubs’ first-place neighbors 3-0 in a snappy 2 hours and 22 minutes. The heady young right-hander worked 7⅓ innings and improved to 4-1 with a 1.73 ERA since his call-up from Class AAA Iowa on July 10.

The quality start was the fifth in a row for Hendricks, who is using a tried-and-true method for success: Get the ball and throw it. There’s no messing around, no stepping off the rubber and no peering in endlessly for the sign from the catcher.

"Definitely," he said. "That’s something I’ve always done since I was little, honestly. Just pitch quick. The pace of the game is big for me. It keeps the infielders in the game. Hopefully, it keeps them on their toes. It’s just my pitching style."

That kind of approach got a tip of the cap from one of those infielders.

"It’s great, a 2½-hour game after a long week," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who hit his 26th home run of the season, a drive to left-center against Brewers starter Wily Peralta in the sixth inning to give the Cubs their 3-0 margin. "It’s definitely nice to have. He looks very comfortable. It’s nice to watch."

Hendricks came to the Cubs two years ago from the Texas system in the trade that sent pitcher Ryan Dempster to the Rangers. A bright kid out of Dartmouth, he’s impressing everybody with the way he works.

"He’s really got a good preparation, that conviction in what he’s going to try to do," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team improved to 51-67. "It translates to practical terms, how he pitches."

The exciting part for the Cubs and their fans is that Hendricks figures to be a big part of the team’s future, a future that is getting here now.

Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro are young all-stars. Arismendy Alcantara (2-for-3 Tuesday) and Javier Baez are up from the minor leagues, and Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler are coming fast.

"When you get to see the young men that everybody’s been talking about for the last couple years coming here and you see them contribute in some way, shape or form in a positive way, maybe it starts to validate the direction the organization is going, which is good," Renteria said.

"We all understand it’s been a long time. It’s going to take awhile to chip away and have everybody kind of feel positive about the organization. It’s kind of going that way."

Hendricks seems to be enjoying his part of the sneak preview.

"The energy in the clubhouse is unbelievable," he said. "With all these young guys … I’ve been saying that you need veteran presence. I think we have a great team here, and we’ve been winning a little bit lately. We’re just going to try to keep it rolling."

Daily Herald

Cubs continue to stress the fundamentals

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs were out in full force well before Tuesday night’s game against the Brewers for some early fielding work.

Manager Rick Renteria was asked if he was pleased with his team’s overall fundamental play this season. Entering Tuesday, the Cubs were tied for fifth in the National League in fielding percentage, and their 67 errors ranked them sixth best in the NL.

"I think to this we point we haven’t been bad," Renteria said. "I think there are some aspects we still want to work on, both on the offensive and defensive side. But all in all, we’ve kept our heads in the game a little bit."

He added that the idea of early work had been talked about, especially with the Cubs having young players Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara in new positions. Renteria credited third-base and infield coach Gary Jones for working with both players.

"Jonesie’s been doing a nice job," the manager said. "He had Mendy and Javy out yesterday or the day before doing some early work. Always, when you’re trying to put your eyes on guys, it’s really important to make sure they get their work.

"These are young men. They’ve got a lot of energy, and we want to make sure they’re doing the things they to do to keep moving forward."

A new invention:

Anthony Rizzo drew a first-inning walk Tuesday against Wily Peralta. That was newsworthy because Cubs batters had drawn just 2 walks while striking out 53 times over their previous four games.

However, Rick Renteria did praise Rizzo for working Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez to a 13-pitch strikeout in Monday’s ninth inning. Rodriguez told reporters in the Milwaukee clubhouse that he had to invent a pitch against Rizzo.

"Pretty much, I threw every pitch I have," Rodriguez said. "I even invented a cutter, which I’ve never thrown in my life. I was just trying to get him to put the ball in play."

"That’s neat that he admitted that," Renteria said. "It was a 13-pitch at-bat. We’re having a lot of good at-bats.

"We talk about strikeouts. I know guys come in and maybe they don’t get the hit. But when you push a guy who has faced one hitter in 13 pitches and you’re hoping a pitcher will go 12-15 on average for an inning, that’s pretty good."

Rehabbing lefty:

Left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront made his first rehab start Tuesday for Class AAA Iowa, working 4 innings against Las Vegas and giving up 4 hits and 3 runs. He walked one and struck out seven, throwing 80 pitches, 52 strikes.

Doubront, obtained from the Red Sox last month, is on the disabled list with a left-calf strain.

12 8 / 2014

Daily Herald

Renteria says give credit to Rays pitching

By Bruce Miles

Despite his batters striking out 44 times in the three-game weekend series against Tampa Bay, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Monday he felt the approaches were good.

"I thought we had some ground-out at-bats," he said. "Again, when you get a pitching staff … they have good pitching. At the time it may seem like approaches aren’t very good, but you’ve got to tip your cap to the opposition’s, too."

While all that striking out was going on, Cubs batters walked only twice. Again, Renteria credited the Rays’ pitchers.

"They were attacking the zone," he said. "Guys had a lot of movement. It’s not an easy thing to hit a moving baseball at the big-league level. All in all, I think they’ll continue to learn from it.

"I still think even with (Rays pitcher Alex) Cobb, we kind of drove his pitch count up a little bit more so than I’ve seen in the past with the other clubs. The good comes with the bad."

The Cubs entered Monday with their batters having the second-most strikeouts in the National League, at 1,016. The Marlins led with 1,056. In walks drawn, Cubs batters ranked 10th, with 322. The Cubs’ on-base percentage of .301 was 14th in the 15-team NL.

Doubront to Des Moines:

Left-handed pitcher Felix Doubront will make his first rehab start Tuesday for Class AAA Iowa. Doubront is on the disabled list with a strained left calf. The Cubs obtained him from Boston on July 30.

Right-handed reliever Brian Schlitter is headed to Arizona to recover from the right-shoulder inflammation that landed him on the DL Sunday.

Minor matters:

Mike Olt, demoted to Iowa on July 22, hit his fifth home run of the season Sunday in a 10-2 victory at Oklahoma City. It was Olt’s fifth homer for Iowa and his third in two days. He entered Monday with 12 RBI in his last six games.

Third-base prospect Kris Bryant was 1-for-3 with 2 walks, 2 runs and his 40th RBI. He entered Monday with at least 1 hit and 1 run in 13 straight games.

Northwestern product Eric Jokisch got the win, working 6⅔ innings and giving up 9 hits and 2 runs. Jokisch is 9-8 with a 3.54 ERA.

Shortstop Elliot Soto, a graduate of Dundee-Crown High School, hit his first home run of the year and the third of his minor-league career.

Daily Herald

Cubs strike out against Brewers 3-1

By Bruce Miles

Cubs manager Rick Renteria has recoiled from using the dreaded “S” word in the recent past.

That word would be “spoiler.”

But that’s exactly what the Cubs are these days, and they’ll get plenty of chances to play the role for the rest of the season.

They got their first late-season chance at being spoilers Monday night when the Milwaukee Brewers visited Wrigley Field to begin a four-game series.

No need for a spoiler alert here as the first-place Brewers beat the Cubs 3-1 with Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo outdueling Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.

As for Cubs hitters, they drew no walks and struck out nine times, giving them 53 strikeouts and 2 walks over their last four games.

After an upcoming weekend series at New York against the Mets, the Cubs’ schedule gets interesting, with home series against the Giants and Orioles next week. The Cubs have games against all of their National League Central rivals coming up, and they’ll also play the Blue Jays in Toronto and the Dodgers at Wrigley Field next month.

"We’re going to be playing a very tough schedule for the next 6½ weeks or so," Renteria said. "I think these young men are getting a taste now of being in the big leagues, playing against a lot of clubs that are competing for the postseason.

"We hope that we’re relevant in that process in terms of how we go out and play the game, that we compete, that we continue to get better. Any club that plays well together at any given time can put together a good run.

"Some of these young men, some of them obviously came up most recently, are learning the feel of the big leagues. We’re not thrust into the pennant race other than through osmosis by playing these other clubs, which is a good thing, though, because they can see what other clubs are doing that make them good."

The Cubs do have some better guns to fire down the stretch than they did the previous few years when they were hopelessly out of the race. One of those guns is pitcher Jake Arrieta, who started Monday and worked 7⅓ innings, giving up 5 hits and 2 runs. He fell to 6-4 with a 2.77 ERA.

After giving up a second-inning home run to Mark Reynolds, Arrieta retired 13 in a row before Ryan Braun opened the seventh with a single. The Brewers scored once in the seventh and got an insurance run in the ninth against Justin Grimm.

As for Arrieta, being a spoiler seems OK with him.

"The mindset stays the same," he said. "We want to come out and win ballgames. The byproduct of that is being able to have a chance to kind of spoil someone’s season. But we’re going to continue to fight and try to rack up as many wins as we can.

"Our schedule is going to be a tough one from here on out, but we’ll be ready for it."

Cubs.com

Cubs provide little support for Arrieta in loss

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The highlight of Monday night’s Cubs game came in the Brewers’ second, when a 65-year-old fan in the left-field bleachers caught Mark Reynolds’ home run and avoided falling backward over the railing.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t help the Cubs stop the Brewers.

Reynolds hit his 20th home run and Khris Davis smacked a tie-breaking RBI double to lead the National League Central-leading Brewers to a 3-1 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

"They’ve got a really, really deep lineup, and it just shows by what they’re doing and how they’re playing as a team this year," starter Jake Arrieta said. "They’re doing good things in the division and out of the division. It’s a tough ballclub. There’s really not a break there. Going up against [Yovani] Gallardo, he’s one of the better hitting pitchers. It’s a tough lineup to contend with."

Gallardo scattered six hits over seven innings for the win, only his second in his last nine starts.

But the web gem came in the Milwaukee second. Mike Pullin, 65, of Rochelle, who was sitting in the last row of the left-field bleachers, made The Catch, snaring Reynolds’ home run with his glove. Pullin avoided toppling backward and threw a ball back onto the field, which is tradition at Wrigley. However, it wasn’t the game ball, but another one he happened to bring, one that his dog liked to play with.

"I saw it," Arrieta said of the home run. "Good catch by the fan, good swing by Mark there. I had a pretty good idea he was going to be swinging there with the fastball. It kind of leaked back, inner third, and that’s what he likes."

Reynolds didn’t see the catch but was able to sneak into the video room and check it out. As for Arrieta, Reynolds is well aware of what his former teammate can do.

"Nasty, dude," Reynolds said. "I played with him in Baltimore, and he’s always been dirty. He was keeping the ball down with his curveball, locating his cutter real well. He just made a couple mistakes, and that’s all it takes. But he pitched real well. ‘Yo’ just kept them off balance. We needed this one."

The Cubs had two on and two outs in the fifth against Gallardo after Justin Ruggiano and Welington Castillo both singled. Chris Coghlan doubled down the right-field line to drive in Ruggiano and tie the score at 1.

Arrieta was coming off a loss to the Rockies in which he gave up nine runs on 13 hits over five innings. After Reynolds’ homer, Arrieta retired 13 in a row; Ryan Braun ended that streak with a leadoff single in the seventh. One out later, Braun tried to score on Scooter Gennett’s double but was thrown out at home on an 8-6-2 relay. Davis then delivered an RBI double to put the Brewers ahead, 2-1.

"[Arrieta] did a nice job and took us deep and was pretty efficient and kept us in the ballgame," manager Rick Renteria said.

"It was, from start to finish, a little better consistency with everything down in the zone, and a lot of ground balls, early outs early in the game," Arrieta said. "In the seventh, a couple pitches didn’t have the bite and stayed in the zone without a lot of movement, and they put some good swings on it."

The Cubs, who set a franchise record with 44 strikeouts in three games against the Rays this past weekend, fanned nine times against the Brewers. No. 8 on Monday came in the ninth, when Brewers closer Francisco Rodriguez outdueled Anthony Rizzo in a 13-pitch at-bat.

"I just wanted to put him away," Rodriguez said. "I was, ‘Here, hit it as hard as you can.’ He put up a battle. That’s what I expected. He’s a really good young hitter."

The at-bat was so long, Rodriguez said, he even invented a cutter, which he had never thrown.

"I was just trying to get him to put the ball in play," he said. "It was like, ‘Oh, wow. This can be a long inning.’ So I gave him something out over [the plate] so he could put it in play. He just kept missing it."

One other head-scratching stat: The Cubs have drawn two walks in the last four games.

"They’re chasing balls out of the zone a little bit," Renteria said. "They’re facing guys who have pretty good stuff — Gallardo is no slouch, and the relief corps is pretty good."

The Cubs dropped to 4-6 against the Brewers, and 17-31 against the NL Central.

"The mind-set stays the same," Arrieta said. "We want to come out and win ballgames. A byproduct of that is being able to have a chance to spoil someone’s season. It’s going to be a stretch where we play a lot of games in the division. … Our schedule is going to be a tough one from here on out, but we’ll be ready for it."

Cubs.com

Patience promises to be a virtue for Baez

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — The Cubs are hoping that Javier Baez finds a happy medium at the plate.

In his half-dozen big league games, Baez has struck out 12 times in 29 at-bats, but what’s encouraging is that he’s shown more patience at the plate.

The Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter leads the National League in pitches per plate appearance, with 4.36, and the Cubs’ Luis Valbuena is third, with 4.17. So far, Baez is averaging 4.24.

"It’s a process," manager Rick Renteria said on Monday of Baez, who was promoted last Tuesday from Triple-A Iowa. "A young man with the kind of explosive bat he has, if he puts the barrel on the baseball, he’s going to do some damage."

In his first at-bat against the Rays on Saturday, Baez took six straight pitches and was called out on strikes. Renteria said that Baez most likely was looking for the right pitch to hit, and just happened to take six in a row.

"When you’re talking about a young man’s development, you’re talking about finding a happy medium," Renteria said. "He’s doing some searching, too. He’s getting into the box — ‘Maybe I can pull back, get a little better pitch to hit.’ That’s all part of the process, too."

Alcantara working through growing pains

CHICAGO — Javier Baez isn’t the only Cubs rookie still adjusting to the big leagues. Arismendy Alcantara is going through some growing pains, too.

Alcantara went 9-for-23 in his first five games but entered Monday’s series opener against the Brewers with seven hits in his last 39 at-bats.

"He’s learning how big league pitchers are adjusting to him," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think they’re attacking him in different ways. He’s got the skill set to adjust.

"I’m not going to panic for him. He steps into the box feeling he’s going to have good at-bats, which is what we want him to have. If his at-bats are solid, he’ll have more positive results than not. He’s learning. He doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed. It’s not like he’s down.

"He goes in there every single time and tries to work a good at-bat and get on base or drive in a run and do what he can to help the club."

Alcantara already has a four-hit game under his belt, having gone 4-for-5 against the Reds on July 10 in his second big league game.

Valaika adding catching to defensive repertoire

CHICAGO — Though Travis Wood bought a child-size Radio Flyer wagon to help utility man Chris Valaika carry all of his gloves, Valaika may need a wheelbarrow, as he’s decided to add catching to his defensive repertoire.

When Valaika was promoted from Triple-A Iowa last week, Cubs coaches asked if he’d ever caught. Valaika has played first, second, third and short, and also some outfield, and takes four gloves to the field with him to prepare.

"The next day I told [coach Mike Borzello], ‘If [catching] is something you want me to do, I want to work on it,’" Valaika said on Monday. "If it’s something I can help with, or be the emergency guy — for me personally, it’s another feather in my cap. And [Borzello] is one of the best guys to learn from."

The Cubs had named Darwin Barney as their unofficial emergency catcher, and manager Rick Renteria has said that if pressed, he would use Luis Valbuena.

But Valaika was in the bullpen on Monday, working with Borzello.

"I’m into it," Valaika said. "It can give me a chance to stick around, be another resource. I can go out there and catch between innings so [John Baker] and [Welington Castillo] don’t have to."

What about the wagon?

"Now I can put some catcher’s gear in there," he said. "We’re loading it up."

Extra bases

• Felix Doubront, acquired from the Red Sox on July 30 for a player to be named, will make his first rehab start for Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday. Doubront, 26, has been sidelined with a strained left calf. This season he went 2-3 with a 4.54 ERA in eight starts with the Red Sox, then was placed on the disabled list with a strained left shoulder. He pitched in relief upon his return, and in 17 appearances (10 starts) went 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA.

• Right-hander Brian Schlitter, placed on the DL on Sunday with inflammation in his right shoulder, will rehab at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz. Schlitter compiled a 2.98 ERA in 43 games before the All-Star break, but teams were batting .379 against him in 10 games after the break, and he had a 6.43 ERA in that stretch.

Cubs.com

Hendricks, Peralta have milestone wins in sight

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Talented rookie Kyle Hendricks will go for his fifth straight quality start, and first win over a National League Central foe, in Tuesday’s tilt with the Brewers.

Hendricks has quietly emerged as the Cubs’ No. 2 starter since the All-Star break with three wins and a loss — the loss a 1-0 contest against Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright on July 27. Hendricks held the Rockies and Dodgers, two of the NL’s four most productive offenses, to a combined three runs over 15 innings during his last two starts.

If not for the July 4 trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, Hendricks might still be pitching in the Minors.

"The results have been awesome," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Anybody would take what he’s been doing and take it gladly. Should I be surprised? Probably not, because I think that how he was going about his business in the Minor Leagues is basically reflective of what he’s doing here."

Milwaukee’s Wily Peralta will go for a league-leading 15th win that would snap a tie with Clayton Kershaw and a pair of NL Central pitchers, Johnny Cueto and Wainwright. Wainwright is scheduled to start on Tuesday against Miami.

Peralta boasts a 1.64 ERA and 24 strikeouts over his last five starts — all of them wins. He’s coming off a nine-K, 115-pitch — both season highs — outing against the Giants in which he allowed seven hits but just one earned run.

"There’s a lot of great starting pitchers out there, and to be able to be leading the league, that’s amazing, a great feeling," Peralta said after his most recent start. "That’s a thing that I’ve been working hard [for] in the offseason and been working hard in the season to be on top."

Cubs: Chicago in middle of most competitive slate

Renteria is a believer that strong finishes can lead to a sustained morale boost through the offseason. The Cubs find themselves in arguably their toughest slate en route to season’s end.

Of the Cubs’ final 14 series, including this week’s against the Brewers, the only one against a team that isn’t in a pennant race is this weekend’s four-game set against the Mets, who sit six games out of the second NL Wild Card spot.

"It’s much nicer to go through a season and finish strong. At that point guys don’t want to stop playing," Renteria said. "I remember being in a lot of different situations where maybe you weren’t in a pennant race, but when you’re playing well, you don’t want the season to end."

Renteria added that the slate of formidable competition could prove beneficial to his young roster, which includes four everyday starters 25 or younger.

"We’re not thrust into the pennant race other than by through osmosis — kind of playing these other clubs, which is a good thing, though," Renteria said. "[The young players] can see what other clubs are doing that make them good — How do they run the bases, how do they play defense, how do they pitch, what are the things that put them where they’re at?"

Brewers: Milwaukee mindful of new-look Cubs

The last two Cubs starters the Brewers faced before Monday’s 3-1 win were Hammel and Samardzija on May 31 and June 1, respectively.

Hendricks and Wednesday’s starter, Tsuyoshi Wada, were still with Triple-A Iowa during the previous matchup, as were Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara, now everyday starters.

Brewers manager Ron Roenicke says that competition against younger talent is “always dangerous.”

"That’s why I say we never take any teams lightly. Whenever you do, you don’t win the game. It’s pretty simple," Roenicke said.

During Spring Training, Baez belted a mammoth homer against Milwaukee, and Roenicke said it was one of the longest he’d seen at the Brewers’ preseason complex. Baez went 1-for-4 on Monday with a double.

"He’s got tremendous power," Roenicke said. "He’s swinging hard every pitch. We’ve got to be careful with him."

Worth noting

• Anthony Rizzo’s season-high streak without a home run extended to 21 days after the Cubs’ loss on Monday. Rizzo last homered against the Padres on July 22, belting two to take a then-NL lead with 25. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Monday.

• Francisco Rodriguez earned his Major League-leading 36th save on Monday.

Cubs.com

Renteria unsuccessfully challenges out call

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria unsuccessfully issued a challenge on Monday night after Starlin Castro was called out trying to steal second.

With the Cubs trailing the Brewers, 1-0, with two outs in the second inning, Castro broke for second base during Justin Ruggiano’s at-bat. Second-base umpire Clint Fagan called Castro out following the throw from catcher Jonathan Lucroy to second baseman Scooter Gennett, but Renteria challenged the play.

After a review, the ruling on the field was confirmed, and the inning was over.

ESPNChicago.com

Arrieta making his claim as a No. 1

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Is Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta an ace?

The final six weeks of the season could answer that question as the Cubs attempt to play a spoiler role in the National and American Leagues. Milwaukee, Toronto, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are just a few of the contending teams the Cubs and Arrieta will face down the stretch.

“Our schedule is going to be a tough one from here on out,” Arrieta said Monday after the Cubs lost 3-1 to the Milwaukee Brewers. “We’ll be ready for it.”

We know Arrieta will be ready. The right-hander threw another quality start against Milwaukee and gave up just five hits and two runs in 7⅓ innings pitched. He walked one hitter — his last batter of the night — and lowered his ERA to 2.77.

“From start to finish, it was a lot of consistency,” he said. “There’s not a break in [the Brewers’ lineup]. Even with [counterpart] Yovani Gallardo. He’s one of the better hitting pitchers.”

Arrieta gets higher marks for his performance because the Brewers are indeed one of the better hitting teams in the league, though from the mound Monday, Gallardo was just as good on paper as Arrieta. The only difference is the Cubs’ lineup does give an opposing pitcher a few breaks. Whatever the case, the Cubs’ search for a No. 1 pitcher could start and end with Arrieta.

“It’s a position I’ve kind of been in in the past,” Arrieta said. “I relish that opportunity. It’s important for our ballclub and for every ballclub.”

Arrieta was an Opening Day starter for the Baltimore Orioles in the rugged American League East back in 2012. He knows all about expectations and is getting another chance to prove he’s the guy. Cubs president Theo Epstein is looking for top-end pitching; he might have some in his own backyard.

“Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like Jake Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen,” Epstein said recently.

Can you envision Arrieta starting Game 1 — or Game 7 — of a postseason series? He’s starting to have that feel simply because there are days when his stuff is unhittable. And besides a blip this past week at hitter-friendly Coors Field, even on days when he’s not at his best, the opposition isn’t doing much damage. After a second-inning home run by Mark Reynolds on Monday, Arrieta retired the next 13 batters. A few hard-hit balls in the seventh led to the Brewers’ second run, but that’s all he would yield.

“I have to continue to work hard and do everything possible to make strides,” Arrieta said. “If I’m able to do that, I’ll be in that [ace] position for quite a while.”

The string of playoff-caliber opponents will be a big test for him at the end of a long season that has seen him move up the ladder on the starting staff. With the departures of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the 28-year-old became the de facto No. 1 pitcher.

He hasn’t backed down.

“There’s a lot of responsibility there,” Arrieta said of being the ace. “It’s a position I’m confident to be in.”

But are the Cubs confident? Time will tell.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Brewers 3, Cubs 1

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs lost to the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Monday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Khris Davis drove home the eventual winning run with a two-out RBI double in the seventh inning; Yovani Gallardo shut down the Cubs from the mound. Mark Reynolds hit a long home run to left field to put the Brewers up 1-0 in the second inning. The Cubs tied it after Chris Coghlan doubled to left to plate Justin Ruggiano in the fifth. It was the first hit by a left-hander on a night when right-hander Gallardo was tougher on them than the righties. The Brewers added an insurance run in the ninth on a Scooter Gennett single. Cubs starter Jake Arrieta retired 13 in a row after the Reynolds home run, but three hits in the seventh put the Brewers back in front for good. Arrieta lasted 7⅓ innings, giving up just five hits while walking his final batter of the night. His ERA is 2.77.

What it means: The Cubs’ offense is getting a lesson this homestand, as this isn’t the Colorado Rockies pitching to them. Gallardo gave up a few hits but no walks; that’s been the norm for the Cubs lately. The strike zone is getting pounded so free passes are rare — Chicago has earned two walks over the past four games. Meanwhile, the Cubs aren’t stringing enough hits together or making enough contact to force opposing pitchers to nibble more. They’ve scored seven runs in four games since returning from their last road trip — and have struck out 53 times.

Doubront to Triple-A: Recently acquired lefty Felix Doubront is scheduled to make a rehab start at Triple-A Iowa on Tuesday night. Doubront is on the disabled list with a calf strain.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series is set for 7:05 p.m. Tuesday when Kyle Hendricks (3-1, 2.10 ERA) takes on Wily Peralta (14-6, 3.42).

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs playing spoilers with a purpose

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The pennant race has begun.

Not so much for the Chicago Cubs, but for almost every opponent they’ll face in the final weeks of the season. Fourteen series remain in 2014 and all but one –— against the New York Mets on the road this weekend — will have playoff implications for the Cubs’ opponent. It all started Monday with the opening of a four-game set against the Milwaukee Brewers.

“We’re going to be playing a very tough schedule for the next 6½ weeks or so,” manager Rick Renteria said before Monday’s game. “Good. These young men are getting a taste of being in the big leagues, playing against a lot of clubs that are competing for the postseason. We hope that we are relevant in that process in terms of how we go out and play the game.”

“Being relevant” would mean pulling off a few upsets and maybe winning more than losing. The Cubs have shown some signs of life since the early days after trading starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. They’re 10-9 in their past 19 games. It’s nothing to write home about, but being competitive now — while learning some things along the way — can only help going into next season.

“We’re not thrust into the pennant race other than by osmosis, kind of, playing these other clubs,” Renteria said. “It’s a good thing. [The Cubs players] can see what other clubs are doing that make them good. How do they run the bases? How do they play defense? How do they pitch? Hopefully, we’ll be able to rise to the occasion and do what we need to to compete against them and win some ballgames.”

It’s good to hear Renteria break from the normal “every game has the same meaning” rhetoric. Playing in some intense, playoff-style games has a different feel than the kind the Cubs will undoubtedly experience this weekend against the Mets. It should bring out the best in everyone.

“We want that winning mentality,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “It’s starting to come more. Everyone is just coming together. We’re far out [of the playoff chase], but you want that good feeling.”

As with any leftover veteran, Rizzo wasn’t loving the idea of moving Samardzija and Hammel, but the further the Cubs get from that trade, the more perspective they can find. There’s a new nucleus growing within the clubhouse, and everyone around the team can feel it. Now is the time to learn how to play together.

“The reality is any club that plays well together at any given time can put together a good run,” Renteria said. “These young men are learning the feel of the big leagues.”

The end result might not matter all that much months down the line — time will tell what carries over — but Renteria wants his team to have that winning feeling as much as possible.

“It matters to the players,” he said. “You build confidence. At that point, guys don’t want to stop playing. I’ve been in a lot of different situations — when you’re playing well you want to keep it going.”

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Brewers at Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs begin a four-game series with the first-place Milwaukee Brewers on Monday night.

• Monday: Jake Arrieta (6-3, 2.80) vs. Yovani Gallardo (6-6, 3.54), 7:05 p.m.

• Tuesday: Kyle Hendricks (3-1, 2.10) vs. Wily Peralta (14-6, 3.42), 7:05 p.m.

• Wednesday: Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.25) vs. Kyle Lohse (11-6, 3.33), 7:05 p.m.

• Thursday: Edwin Jackson (6-12, 5.61) vs. Mike Fiers (1-1, 1.80), 1:20 p.m.

Extra innings: The Cubs have played six extra-inning games in their last 12 marking the most in that time frame since 1983.

Baez watch: Due to striking out 12 times in his first six games, Javier Baez is seeing a lot of pitches. He’s averaging 4.24 pitches per plate appearance so far compared to the league average of 3.83. But he has yet to earn a walk in his first six games.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Starlin Castro has a nine-game hitting streak heading into the series on Monday. He’s 15-for-37 (.405) during that stretch. Arismendy Alcantara was 1-for-10 (.100) over the weekend while Chris Coghlan was 2-for-14 (.143).

ESPNChicago.com

Fun lineup decisions face Renteria soon

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Wouldn’t it be fun to be the manager of the Chicago Cubs in the coming years? Nothing is for certain but at the very least Rick Renteria will be able to pencil in a starting nine that could do a lot of damage.

The prospects who are here now, and the ones on their way soon, are going to get a good chance to prove themselves.

"Now that they’re up here, it’s easier to see how it all fits together," team president Theo Epstein said recently of the current crop of big leaguers.

So how will it all fit together? If Jorge Soler makes it to the Cubs before year’s end, as expected, and Kris Bryant sometime next year, Renteria will have some decisions to make. Let’s start at the top.

Javier Baez is not going to be the No. 2 hitter and Starlin Castro isn’t going to bat fourth. That much we know.

"There are times you put hitters in the 2 or 3 hole that are probably swinging the bat appropriate to those slots at that particular time," Renteria said recently. "That doesn’t mean they are long term [2], 3 or 4 hitters."

Renteria went on to say Castro was the most “logical person to fall into that spot” when he was moved to cleanup earlier in the season. At No. 2 right now, Baez is simply being insulated by the guys hitting behind him including No. 3 hitter Anthony Rizzo.

"Because he’s 21 years old and in the big leagues for the first time," Renteria said of Baez batting second instead of fourth.

So when everyone’s feet are wet, Renteria will undoubtedly move things around. Unless Chris Coghlan returns in the leadoff role, the likely top two in the order are Arismendy Alcantara and Castro. The Cubs won’t need or want Castro to be the old school, classic No. 2 hitter who can handle the bat. They’ll want him to get on base, in his case via hits. That will set the table for what’s to come.

"Is that possible? Sure it is," Renteria said of Alcantara and Castro batting 1-2. "It’s not something that’s out of the realm of reality. As we start to understand more and more how their skill sets play out and how they develop, it will give us a better idea in the future what that lineup will look like."

Renteria doesn’t want to play the “lineup game” too much, but the rest of us can. He’s dealing with the day to day, so getting some long-term commitment out of him isn’t realistic or even necessary. Anyway, let’s assume Alcantara and Castro go first and second in the lineup — though some might think Rizzo could be a good choice for No. 2 considering he’s most likely to take a walk and would give the Cubs a righty/lefty combination at the top. But let’s keep things simple for now.

After Alcantara and Castro, Rizzo could stay at No. 3. His walks will come in handy with Bryant up after him. Baez might seem like a cleanup hitter, but Bryant was born for the role.

"He’s got the raw natural power of a true 4 hitter," Renteria said of Baez.

So does Bryant.

Baez might fit well hitting fifth, putting Soler sixth. Baez is most likely to go outside the zone with his swing, so having him sandwiched between Bryant and Soler might get him better pitches rather than batting him lower. Soler is naturally more disciplined so he might need less protection. If Coghlan is still around then, he and catcher Welington Castillo could bat 7 and 8 depending on how the Cubs want to mix the lefty/righty combination at that point. How does this starting eight look assuming Coghlan and Castillo are back?

1. Alcantara CF

2. Castro SS

3. Rizzo 1B

4. Bryant 3B

5. Baez 2B

6. Soler RF

7. Coghlan LF

8. Castillo C

Again, thinking outside the box, Rizzo could move up to No. 2 with Castro dropping below the top four. Or maybe Castro leads off and Alcantara moves down. In that lineup, Baez seems destined to bat No. 5 or No. 6. It’s way premature but that’s the fun Renteria has coming his way. He gets to play fantasy baseball with a young, athletic team.

"In the end, time will tell us where they actually fit in with their skill set," Renteria said.

If we include 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber or recently acquired infielder Addison Russell to the mix, it complicates things even more. One slugger will be batting low in the order. Not all will make it long term but all will get their shot.

Renteria has good problems coming his way.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs see Kyle Hendricks taking his game to the next level

By Tony Andracki

Enough of the Greg Maddux comparisons.

And no, this is not the second coming of Mark Buehrle in Chicago.

It’s not fair to compare Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks to those who have come before him - in the Windy City or in Major League Baseball.

Sure, Hendricks doesn’t light up the radar gun or have a nasty slider, so he has to get by on guile, location and preparation.

But it’s that last bit that is setting Hendricks apart. The Cubs believe the 24-year-old, Dartmouth-educated kid has taken a step forward since his call-up to the big leagues last month, thanks in large part to the preparation he does before each start.

"He’s got a chance to stick around for a while," Cubs president Theo Epstein said. "He’s doing exactly what he did in the minor leagues. He’s as polished and as prepared as you’ll see with any rookie. We speculated that he might even take it to another level when he got to the big leagues because he uses all the tools available to him as well as anybody.

"We have video in the minor leagues, but we don’t have scouting reports this extensive. He just attacks the video and attacks the scouting reports. It’s a huge weapon for him. You’ve seen the confidence he has.

"No matter how good a hitter he’s facing, he’s likely to identify one area that he can attack and put himself in a good position to have a chance to get him out. I think that’s been big for him. We’re awfully proud of the way he’s adjusted."

Hendricks credits that preparation and all the time and work he puts in between starts as the reason why he’s been able to stay so composed on the mound, from his big-league debut to his last outing against the Rockies.

A kid in his fifth MLB start took on Coors Field and a Rockies team that had just hammered Cubs pitching to the tune of 16 hits and 13 runs the night before.

But it was no big deal to Hendricks: He went eight innings, allowing two runs on six hits and a walk.

It was his fourth straight quality start and he’s gone at least six innings each time out to kick off his career. The 6-foot-3 right-hander enters Tuesday’s game against the Brewers with a 2.10 ERA and 1.02 WHIP.

"On a scale of 1-10, he’s probably an 11 [when it comes to poise and demeanor]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s pretty good. He has a really good idea of how to prepare. He follows gameplans. He’s got a good feel for hitters during a ballgame.

"He’s just a guy that continues to execute. He’s had tremendous shows to this point. You can’t expect that every single time, but the way he’s been pitching, we do kind of expect it every single time."

Success is nothing new for Hendricks. Neither is silencing the doubters.

He’s never been included in top prospect rankings, but that didn’t stop him from becoming the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 after dominating Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, posting a 13-4 record with a 2.00 ERA and 1.058 WHIP.

He continued to have success in Triple-A to begin 2014 - 10-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 17 starts - but now has more weapons in his arsenal with the addition of the extensive scouting reports and video at the big-league level.

Down in the minors, Hendricks had access to some video, but had to watch it on his own and formulate his own scouting reports. Even in Triple-A, the Iowa Cubs only had three coaches (well, four including Manny Ramirez). It’s not like in Chicago, which carries a coaching staff of 11, plus a large group of scouts and then any other assistants or interns added to the mix.

"It’s pretty much the same as up here, just on steroids, basically. It’s at another level. They got so much information," Hendricks said. "It can be a little overwhelming, but you just have to know what to look for and just simplify it, basically.

"With my stuff, I don’t have overpowering stuff, obviously. I have to go out there and I have to be prepared. I gotta mix speeds and above all, know the scouting report and gameplan."

Hendricks said he pretty much memorizes the gameplan and doesn’t have to brush up on them in between innings of his starts. Credit that Dartmouth mind.

As the Cubs search for impact pitching, could Hendricks become a part of the coveted “Core”? Could he become a vital piece of this rotation for years to come?

"Yeah, absolutely. I would love for that," he said. "But just for now, I have to focus on the opportunity they’ve given me and to do that, I have to focus on coming to the field every single day and just getting better, basically - doing my work, whether it’s the side session that day, a short throwing that day.

"Whatever I have, I have to focus and get better and hopefully I will have that opportunity in the future."

CSNChicago.com

Jake Arrieta comfortable playing the ‘ace’ in Cubs rotation

By Tony Andracki

It doesn’t matter how you define the term “ace.” Every good team in baseball needs one.

Can Jake Arrieta be that guy long-term for the Cubs?

An “ace” stablizes the rotation, plays stopper when the team is on a losing streak and sets the tone for the pitching staff.

Sure, there are maybe only a select few “No. 1” starters out there in Major League Baseball right now. And this isn’t a comparison between Arrieta and, say, Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez.

But the Cubs are looking for some impact pitching and they’re using Arrieta as the example.

The 28-year-old righty came over to the Cubs in the Scott Feldman deal in July 2013 after failing to live up to his top-prospect status with the Baltimore Orioles.

He put together nine nice starts down the stretch for the Cubs last season (4-2, 3.66 ERA), but after getting a delayed start to the 2014 campaign with a shoulder issue, he has emerged as a true frontline pitcher this year. Arrieta is under team control through the 2018 season.

Is he good with being tabbed the Cubs’ ace?

"It’s a position that I’ve kinda been in in the past," Arrieta said. "I kinda relish that opportunity. It’s something that’s very important for our ballclub and for every ballclub. There’s a lot of responsibility there.

"It’s a positon that I’m confident to be in and comfortable in. Just have to continue to work hard and do anything and everything possible to continue to make strides. If I’m able to do that, I’ll be in that position for quite a while."

Arrieta took the tough-luck loss Monday night, working into the eighth inning and holding the Brewers to just five hits and two runs in 7.1 innings. He now sits at 6-4 with a 2.77 ERA and 1.05 WHIP on the season.

"Start to finish, it was a little bit better consistency," he said. "A lot of ground balls, a lot of early outs early in the game. … They’ve got a really, really deep lineup and it just shows by what they’ve been doing and how they’ve been playing as a team thus far this year."

Arrieta got rocked his last time out, giving up 13 hits and nine earned runs in 5-plus innings in Denver. But he’s not the first pitcher to have a rough day in the Coors Field altitude, and the Rockies lineup was loaded with six guys hitting .285 or higher, plus two-time All-Star Carlos Gonzalez.

Prior to that game in Colorado, Arrieta had rattled off 10 straight quality starts. The Cubs are a last-place team on the fast track to 90 losses, but they’re 10-8 when they hand Arrieta the ball.

As the Cubs try to transition into a winning ballclub, Arrieta figures to be a big part of their future.

CSNChicago.com

Arismendy Alcantara’s education continues with Cubs

By Tony Andracki

Arismendy Alcantara has suddenly become the forgotten prospect on the Cubs.

Alcantara made big headlines when he was first called up in mid-July, collected four hits in just his second big-league game and injecting some life into the Cubs lineup.

But the 22-year-old outfielder has since gone into a slump while the Javier Baez Show has been the main attraction.

The Cubs moved Alcantara down to sixth in the order last week, but the results haven’t come yet. He entered Monday’s game mired in a 3-for-25 (.120 AVG) slump.

After posting a .337 on-base percentage and .764 OPS in July, Alcantara is hitting just .179 in July with an OPS below .500.

"He’s learning how big-league pitchers are adjusting to him," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They’re attacking him in different ways and I think he’s gonna continue to adjust. He’s got the skillset to adjust.

"I’m certainly not gonna panic for him. He’s not gonna panic. He still goes up to the box like he’s going to have good at-bats, which is what we’re wanting him to have. The results will ultimately take care of themselves, whether they’re good or bad.

"He’s still learning and he doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed. It’s not like he’s down or anything."

Alcantara, who spent most of the season hitting leadoff or second, said he doesn’t mind hitting sixth.

"I’m comfortable there. Less pressure," he said. "In the first two spots, you have to worry about taking pitches. When you hit sixth, you can see what he’s doing to the other hitters first."

Alcantara burst onto the top prospect scene with a breakout 2013 campaign and posted an .890 OPS in 89 games at Triple-A Iowa this season. He’s one of those guys that fills up a stat sheet, hitting for power and average while taking his walks and using his impressive speed on the basepaths and on defense.

But even if he’s not hitting, he’s still impressing the Cubs with his play in center field.

Alcantara came through the Cubs system as a shortstop and flipped over to second base to accomodate Javier Baez at Double-A Tennessee last year. As both Alcantara and Baez crept closer to the big leagues, the Cubs moved “Mendy” to center and Baez to second, since Starlin Castro was already manning shortstop in Chicago.

Alcantara had played just 11 career games in the outfield prior to his promotion, but looks like a seasoned vet out there with the Cubs, getting great breaks and utilizing his world-class speed to track down fly balls.

The 5-foot-10 Dominican Republic native said he’s feeling more and more comfortable in the outfield every day and made a handful of nice diving catches at Wrigley over the weekend while the Tampa Bay Rays were in town.

"He’s starting to take to [center field]," Renteria said. "I think we all see that there are certain things that we still need to work on. But in terms of us sitting in the dugout and watching him read a ball off the bat, his reaction time, it’s all very good.

"Over time, his angles will continue to clean up. His approach and understanding of the situations in when to attack a ball a little stronger or if it will hold up a bit more, all those things will start to develop as he continues to play more."

Alcantara will get plenty of playing time over the final six-plus weeks of the regular season as the Cubs try to get him and Baez acclimated to big-league life.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs can’t quite come through for Arrieta in loss to Brewers

By Tony Andracki

It’d be easy to look at the final score and say the Cubs let down Jake Arrieta.

But that wasn’t quite the case.

Chicago’s new ace took his start into the eighth inning against the Brewers, but the Cubs ultimately lost 3-1 in front of 28,927 rain-soaked fans at Wrigley Field Monday night.

The Cubs only managed to push across one run against Yovani Gallardo and two Brewers relievers. But that one run - an RBI double from Chris Coghlan in the fifth - could’ve been two if Arrieta had helped himself.

The pitcher failed to lay down a sacrifice bunt in that inning, meaning slow-footed catcher Welington Castillo couldn’t score with Justin Ruggiano on Coghlan’s extra-base knock. But if Arrieta gets the bunt down and Castillo moves up to second, he would have crossed the plate easily on the two-out hit.

The Cubs also bailed out Arrieta in the seventh when centerfielder Arismendy Alcantara and Starlin Castro executed a perfect relay to nab Ryan Braun at home plate on a Scooter Gennett double.

Arrieta gave up the go-ahead run to the Brewers on the next batter anyways, as Khris Davis looped a double to left.

The first run in the game came on a moonshot from Milwaukee first baseman Mark Reynolds in the second inning that elicited a fantastic catch from a fan in the left-field bleachers. The Brewers added to the lead when Gennett drove home former Cub Aramis Ramirez with a ninth-inning single.

After getting banged around at Coors Field last time out, Arrieta put together a nice bounceback start, but took the tough-luck loss. He tossed 7.1 innings, allowing only five hits, one walk and the two earned runs while striking out four.

Javier Baez doubled in his seventh career MLB game and Starlin Castro extended his hitting streak to 10 games with a 2-for-4 day.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Arrieta doesn’t want to be aced out

By Mark Gonzales

It’s no secret the Chicago Cubs will look to fortify their rotation this offseason through every avenue available, but Jake Arrieta reiterated he still welcomes the challenge of being the ace of their staff if that’s placed upon him.

Arrieta, who moved to the forefront of the rotation following the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel last month, knows he’ll face tough tests similar to the one that the Milwaukee Brewers gave him Monday night in a 3-1 loss.

Arrieta retired 13 consecutive batters at one point, but Khris Davis hit a double with two out in the seventh inning to snap a 1-1 tie and hand Arrieta (6-4) his second consecutive loss despite allowing only five hits.

“Our schedule will be a tough one from here on out, but we’ll be ready for it,” Arrieta said.

The loss was Arrieta’s first at Wrigley Field since Sept. 7, 2013 — also to the Brewers. Nevertheless, he could fit well as a top of the rotation starter partly because of his 1.94 lifetime ERA in eight starts at Wrigley.

“It’s something that’s very important for our ballclub and for every ballclub,” Arrieta said.

“There’s a lot of responsibility there, but it’s a position that I’m confident to be in and comfortable to be in. I just have to continue to work hard and do anything and everything possible to continue to make strides.

“If I’m able to do that, I’ll be in that position for quite a while.”

Unfortunately for Arrieta, he watched Mark Reynolds’ home run in the second that would have landed on Waveland Avenue had it not been for a spectacular catch by a fan standing on the top row of the bleachers.

“I talked to Mark on first (base) and said, ‘you got to do me like that?’ Come on,’” Arrieta said.

“Good catch by the fan, good swing by Mark. I had a pretty good idea he’d be swinging there with a fastball. It leaked back to the inner-third (of the plate), and that’s what he likes.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant’s hitting streak ends at 13

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Monday at Oklahoma City: 0-for-4, 13-game hitting streak ended.

Trending:  8-for-22 (.364), 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, 8 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season: 119 games, .338 batting average, 38 home runs, 98 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Monday at Oklahoma City: 1-for-4, double, RBI, double play.

Trending: 9-for-22 (.409), 2 home runs, 9 RBIs, 5 walks, 4 strikeouts.

Season:  49 games, .369 batting average, 12 home runs, 46 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Monday: Off.

Trending: 7-for-16 (.438), RBI, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts.

Season:  49 games, .304 batting average, 9 home runs, 28 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday: Off.

Trending: 2-for-22 (.091), 4 strikeouts.

Season: 106 games, .268 batting average, 8 home runs, 53 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Monday’s recap: Brewers 3, Cubs 1

By Mark Gonzales

The summary: The Cubs scored three runs or fewer for the fourth consecutive game as they wasted an exceptional effort from Jake Arrieta, who limited the National League Central-leading Brewers to five hits in 7 1/3 innings.

At the plate: Chris Coghlan ripped a double down the right-field line to score Justin Ruggiano with the tying run in the fifth, but Javier Baez lined out to left with runners at second and third.

On the mound: Arrieta retired 13 consecutive batters after a home run to Mark Reynolds, but Arrieta surrendered a tie-breaking double to Khris Davis in the seventh.

In the field: Center fielder Arismendy Alcantara and shortstop Starlin Castro teamed on a relay to nail Ryan Braun at home in the seventh.

The number: 10, Consecutive games Castro has hit safely in.

The quote: Arrieta: “In the seventh, a couple pitches that really didn’t have the bite stayed in the zone with not a lot of movement, and they put some good swings on it. They have a really deep lineup, and it shows by what they’re doing and how they’re playing as a team thus far this year.”

Up next: Brewers (Peralta 14-6, 3.42) at Cubs (Hendricks 3-1, 2.10), 7:05 p.m. Tuesday, CSN.

Chicago Sun-Times

Villanueva hopeful union sets right tone with new commish

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Rich Renteria, the Florida Marlins infielder who would one day become Rick Renteria, the Cubs manager, had returned from a hamstring injury less than week earlier when he took over for Gary Sheffield at third base in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals.

In the seventh, he grounded out to short. In the eighth, the South Florida rain finally ended the game early. The Marlins lost.

Renteria lost more. He never played another big-league game.

That was 20 years ago Monday. The players walked out on strike after that day’s games, triggering the labor stoppage that took out a World Series, and, it turned out, a 32-year-old infielder’s career.

‘‘We thought it was going to last only [a couple weeks]. We stuck around,’’ he said. ‘‘Then it kept going, and we packed up and went home. And then, sheesh, it lasted a long time.’’

Renteria claims no bitterness.

‘‘I think all the players have the benefits that are borne of all those moments,’’ he said. ‘‘It was what it was.’’

It is with sacrifices such as Renteria’s in mind that Cubs veteran Carlos Villanueva goes to Manhattan this week, with rookies Kyle Hendricks and Neil Ramirez in tow, for meetings at the players’ union office starting Friday, the day after Major League Baseball is expected to determine Bud Selig’s replacement as commissioner.

Villanueva, a Cubs player rep and a member of the union’s executive committee, typically visits the union office when the team goes to New York. This time, the union has a scheduled meeting, he said, for news and ‘‘updates’’ on issues and the new commissioner, who will be in charge for negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement beginning sometime next year.

The three finalists are Boston Red Sox chairman Tom Werner, MLB business exec Tim Brosnan and Selig’s candidate, Rob Manfred, MLB’s chief operating officer.

‘‘We don’t know who we’re going to be dealing with from the commissioner’s side,’’ Villanueva said. ‘‘Hopefully it’s somebody that’ll come in and understand it’s all about the people, and we want to keep our game obviously going. Nobody wants a lockout or strike.

‘‘There’s still a lot of people around that remember those dark days [of 1994-95]. I was probably 9 or 10 years old in ’94, and I was a super baseball fan. And I couldn’t understand why we weren’t playing ball. And my dad tried to explain the best he could. But for a kid like me, I was super sad. Being in a position where I am now, I feel a little bit of responsibility now to not let that happen again.’’

For the first time since long before the ’94-’95 stoppage, both sides will have new leadership, with Tony Clark having succeeded the late Michael Weiner as head of the union.

And for the first time since the threat of contraction and fights over drug testing more than a decade ago, lasting labor peace could be challenged. Issues include free-agent compensation and strict draft-pick slotting that resulted in the Houston Astros’ reneging on a predraft agreement with the No. 1 pick over a disputed medical exam.

‘‘There are things that we’re going to try to tweak a little bit,’’ Villanueva said. ‘‘I’m not very worried yet. I feel good about it. I was a little worried last time because it was my first time [involved in the process]. . . .

‘‘If we have a new guy and MLB has a new guy, I don’t think that should matter. I don’t think anybody at this point is going to come in and try to flex their muscles because we know we have a common goal at the end, to keep making money as a group, as a brand. And we want to keep expanding. And we can’t expand individually. We have to work together.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Hard schedule will put Cubs call-ups to test

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Looking for a method to the madness of the Cubs’ sudden reversal on not rushing to call up Javy Baez after the trade deadline? How about in Arismendy Alcantara’s extended big-league stay, or in the hints that Jorge Soler could be the next touted prospect making a 2014 debut?

Then look at the rest of the Cubs’ schedule. For all the other reasons it might have made sense for ranking Class AAA hitters to play down the stretch, add the fact that the Cubs face a brutal gauntlet of almost nothing but playoff contenders the rest of the season.

‘‘That’s when you find out who can play and who can’t,’’ said rookie starter Kyle Hendricks, who faces the National League Central-leading Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night in his sixth big-league start. ‘‘It’s a good measuring stick to see where we’re at and to see what the team needs going forward. This is a perfect time to have good teams coming in.’’

Starting with a 3-1 loss to the Brewers in the opener of a four-game series Monday, the Cubs’ final 46 games include 42 against teams that took winning records into the week — including 17 against division winners and 10 more against teams in wild-card contention.

‘‘Hopefully we’ll be able to rise to the occasion,’’ manager Rick Renteria said, suggesting there are benefits for a building team, especially for first-year players.

Starter Travis Wood is looking for his own strong finish to an up-and-down follow-up to last year’s All-Star season.

‘‘It’ll be nice to see every game mean something to everybody,’’ Wood said. ‘‘Not just the guys trying to get to the postseason on the other teams, but for us as a team, knowing that we are a good team and can move forward, with the young guys doing their thing.’’

Just how many starters will the Cubs feel they need to acquire this winter in addition to whichever frontline guy they go after?

That’s where Hendricks, Wood and Monday’s starter, Jake Arrieta, come in. Arrieta, who lowered his ERA to 2.77 with another 7 1/3 strong innings, looks like a top-two member of next year’s rotation, regardless of whether the Cubs can land former Boston Red Sox ace Jon Lester or anyone else.

Little else is firm in the pitching plans.

And who knows what the Cubs have, exactly, in some of their young hitters? They should get a better idea quickly.

On Monday, Baez doubled leading off the fourth against Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo. He also grounded out and lined to left against Gallardo and struck out against reliever Will Smith in the eighth.

Alcantara was hitless for the third straight game, taking a 4-for-34 skid (including 12 strikeouts) into Tuesday’s game against 14-game winner Wily Peralta.

But that’s the point.

This is why they’re here — to find out what they can do, to struggle and adjust, so they — and the team — know what’s needed when the real assembly begins next season.

11 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs’ Chris Coghlan, Jacob Turner: Pressure on prospects doesn’t help

By Toni Ginnetti

Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan had his share of accolades as a young player, from being a top draft pick of the Florida Marlins in 2006 to winning National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2009.

And yet, when he saw Cubs prospect Kris Bryant being interviewed on national television not long ago, he was taken aback.

‘‘People didn’t even know who was in Triple-A 10 years ago,’’ said Coghlan, 29. ‘‘People didn’t know your name. Now ‘prospects’ are at an all-time high.

‘‘I feel bad for the young kids now because people are putting so much pressure on them. People try to box you in to what type of player you’re going to be. Who’s to say they won’t be great players, but it’s an unfair expectation to put them in an image of what people think they might become.’’

Pitcher Jacob Turner, just acquired by the Cubs from the Marlins, had a sterling pedigree, too, when he was the Detroit Tigers’ first-round pick in 2009. He debuted in the majors in 2011 at age 20 and was ranked the Tigers’ top prospect before the 2012 season.

He became a key player that ­season in a five-player deadline trade that sent him to the Marlins for pitcher Anibal Sanchez. Turner made seven starts for the Marlins by the end of 2012, but split time between the majors and minors last season.

Turner was demoted from the rotation to the bullpen this year, making him available with a 4-7 ­record and 5.97 ERA.

At 23, he also has learned things about ‘‘expectations.’’

‘‘Once you get to this level, everyone’s talents are close,’’ Turner said Sunday, his first day with the Cubs. ‘‘Some guys can do more — but it’s about consistency. That consistency of doing it day in and day out is what’s crucial.’’

There was no getting around the amplified anticipation that ­surrounded Javy Baez last week in his long-awaited Cubs debut. And as the daily grind of the game sets in, the Cubs — from the front office to players — are working to tamp down the hype.

‘‘We want Javy to trust his skill set but not feel he has to carry the team,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.

Experience is the way to learn that, but just as valuable are the lessons teammates can teach.

Coghlan knows how injuries can derail the best of plans. For him, an injury to his left knee in 2010 required surgery and lingered into 2011. He spent most of 2012 in the minors and then played in only 70 major-league games last season while sitting out almost three months with an injured right calf.

For Turner, being a touted prospect meant being part of a big trade. Coming to the Cubs means another reset for his career.

‘‘The reality is he’s got a pretty good arm, he’s pretty young and has been in the big leagues for parts of three years already,’’ ­Renteria said. ‘‘He hasn’t had some of the success people might have envisioned for him, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. We’ll be the ones to see if we can get it going in the right direction.’’

That approach would well serve all the young players here and those on the horizon, Coghlan ­believes.

‘‘There has to be a grace period for them,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s just the way it goes. It’s good to get them up here and get some exposure, and then next season go with it.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Anthony Rizzo’s winner nice after Cubs set record for Ks

By Toni Ginnetti

Anthony Rizzo didn’t change his plate approach in the 12th inning Sunday when the Tampa Bay Rays deployed a five-man infield with Cubs runners at first and third with one out.

‘‘I knew I had to put the ball in the air, and I’m a fly-ball hitter,’’ Rizzo said.

His solid fly single to left against lefty Cesar Ramos (2-4) drove in Ryan Sweeney for a 3-2 victory, the only win for the Cubs in the three-game series.

The Cubs had 13 hits but stranded 11 as they struck out 17 times, setting a dubious franchise record in the process. The series saw Cubs batters strike out 44 times, surpassing the record of 43 strikeouts in a three-game series set in May 2003 against the Houston Astros.

‘‘[The Rays] have a good pitching staff,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘We ran into some good pitching and good relievers, and we don’t see them a lot, either.

“Strikeouts are part of the game now. You have to move on from it.’’

Carlos Villanueva (5-6) was the seventh Cubs pitcher used. The Rays also used seven.

Cubs starter Travis Wood struck out five in six innings, giving up one unearned run before manager Rick Renteria opted for reliever Neil Ramirez for matchups in the seventh.

‘‘My last couple games I thought my command was back,’’ said Wood, who left in a 1-1 tie. ‘‘I walked three, but I was attacking the zone and kept them off the boards.’’

Roster moves

The bullpen shuffle saw Ramirez return from the disabled list, Jacob Turner arrive from Miami and Chris Rusin return to Class AAA Iowa. Right-hander Brian Schlitter (2-3, 3.47 ERA) also was put on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation. The bullpen continues to have eight relievers.

Turner, 23, acquired Friday from the Marlins for minor-league right-handers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer, eventually may find his way into the rotation. He was a starter for the Marlins and the Detroit Tigers, who drafted him in 2009. But his struggles in Miami this season led to a move to the bullpen before the trade.

‘‘For whatever reason, there were times that it seemed to work out and times when [the Marlins] felt they had to go in a different direction,’’ Turner said. ‘‘I’m just excited to be here, and I think it’ll be a good opportunity to get a fresh start and just kind of regroup a little bit.”

‘‘I do [want to start again], but I don’t know where their thought process is on that. Whatever situation, it’s the same game.’’

Rookie Ramirez, 25, was pitching well just before going on the DL with a sore triceps. The Cubs initially said he was being sent to Iowa for a brief rest.

‘‘The team was looking out for me there,’’ Ramirez said.

Notes

The Cubs have gone to extra innings in six of their last 12 games.

 The walk-off victory was the Cubs’ first since their 4-3 win in a marathon 16-inning game against the Colorado Rockies on July 29.

Chicago Sun-Times

Javy Baez’s sister has spina bifida, but it doesn’t stop her from being his No. 1 fan

By Rick Morrissey

He’s a big-leaguer now and very much big-league cool in the way he carries himself, but Javy Baez also happens to be a big brother.

So when he stepped into the on-deck circle recently at Wrigley Field, he couldn’t help but take a peek at his sister, who was sitting in a section behind home plate.

That would be Noely, his biggest fan. The big-leaguer gave her a Little Leaguer’s smile.

‘‘She loves when I come to the plate,’’ Baez said Sunday before the Cubs’ game against the Rays. ‘‘When they announce my name, she goes crazy.’’

Noely, 20, has spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal cord isn’t completely developed. She is confined to a wheelchair but not defined by it. Baez’s fledgling Cubs career has been notable for its ups and downs: three home runs in his first three games and 10 strikeouts in his first 23 at-bats. He had a throwing error and a run-scoring single in the fifth inning Sunday.

His sister is at peace with the extremes.

‘‘I cheer for him no matter what,’’ Noely said as she sat with her family.

When she was born, doctors didn’t think she’d live long. They were wrong.

‘‘People think we’ve got a sister with a problem, but it’s not a problem; it’s a miracle from God,’’ her brother Rolando said. ‘‘We’re real blessed to have her. That’s the way we all think. That’s the way we all grew up — with a blessing from God in our family.’’

The family, including mother Nelly and brother Gadiel, flew to Denver for the 21-year-old Baez’s major-league debut Tuesday. When he crossed home plate after hitting a 12th-inning home run, he pointed to Noely in the stands.

The family moved on to Chicago for the three-game series against the Rays. As expected, Cubs fans gave the rookie a huge ovation in his Wrigley debut Friday. As expected, Noely loved it.

The Baez family doesn’t see her limitations.

‘‘We don’t treat her different,’’ Baez said. ‘‘She’s a normal person. We take it slow with her. She can do everything a normal person can do. She’s in a wheelchair. You’ve got to help her to do some things, but that’s it.’’

The family moved from Puerto Rico to the United States nine years ago, looking for better medical care for Noely. She has thrived, graduating from high school.

‘‘It was way better for her in the U.S. than it was in Puerto Rico,’’ Baez said. ‘‘It was getting worse over there, so my mom decided to move here.’’

‘‘Here’’ initially was North Carolina, where the medical care was excellent but the baseball wasn’t year-round. A certain 12-year-old informed his mother they had to move to an area where he could play more often or he would move back to Puerto Rico with one of his brothers. He knew he was good. He wanted to see how good he could be.

That’s how the family ended up in Jacksonville, Fla. When Baez transferred to Arlington Country Day School for his junior year of high school, he soared as a baseball player. The Cubs signed him out of high school, and his ride to the big leagues has been a blur of big swings.

Being a major-leaguer was a dream of his as a child, but it was distant and faint. The older he got, the more distinct the dream became.

‘‘When you’re in Triple-A and Double-A, you keep working and come back the next day and do what you do,’’ Baez said. ‘‘I knew I was going to be a big-leaguer any time. It could have been this year. It could have been next year. But I was working every day like it was the last day of the season.’’

Baez knows about persevering. His father, Angel, died in 2004 after falling in the shower.

‘‘Life changed,’’ Baez said. ‘‘But I bet he’s happy for me and for my family. I always have him in my mind. I’m doing this for my sister and for him.’’

It’s one of the reasons he took the time to turn and acknowledge his sister.

‘‘He knows what he’s doing and what he needs to do,’’ said Rolando, who played minor-league ball in the Padres’ system. ‘‘He’s gone through a lot of things and put in a lot of hard work. Now he’s here, and he gives a look back because he knows where he came from.’’

And who is always there for him.

Daily Herald

Rizzo rescues Cubs in 12th for 3-2 win

By Bruce Miles

By the time Anthony Rizzo came to the plate in the bottom of the 12th inning Sunday, all the Cubs needed was some kind of good contact, any kind of good contact.

The way things went this weekend, that was a tall order.

But Rizzo obliged, lofting a single to the warning track in right field to score Ryan Sweeney with the winning run as the Cubs beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 at Wrigley Field to salvage the finale of this three-game series.

"Right spot right there," Rizzo said. "Five-man infield, I know I just got to put the ball in the air. I got a good pitch to do it with and I put it in the air."

The Cubs had runners at first and third with one out when the left-handed hitting Rizzo stepped up against lefty Cesar Ramos. A wild pitch, Ramos’ second of the inning, moved Javier Baez to second. Still, Rays manager Joe Maddon elected to pitch to Rizzo. Maddon played with five infielders behind Ramos instead of walking Rizzo to get to the right-handed hitting Starlin Castro.

"I thought the next guy (Castro) was more difficult," Maddon said. "I thought (Ramos) had a better chance of putting Rizzo on the ground."

Here is where the numbers make this game and its result a little crazy. Tampa Bay pitchers struck out 17 Cubs. On Saturday, they struck out 15, and in Friday’s series opener, Rays pitchers fanned 12.

The 44 strikeouts over three consecutive games set a dubious Cubs record. The 2003 Cubs struck out 43 times over three games against Houston in May of that season.

Making matters worse is that Cubs batters drew a grand total of 2 walks in the three games against the Rays.

It’s a subject Cubs manager Rick Renteria didn’t relish discussing.

"You can see why they (Rays) are competing the way they compete," Renteria said. "They have good pitching. I thought Woody (Travis Wood) did a nice job for us today, too. Quite frankly, at the end of the day, both sides were minimizing damage. We were just fortunate enough to outlast them."

Rizzo was philosophical about the high number of strikeouts by Cubs hitters.

"They have a good staff," Rizzo said. "They lined up three good (starting) pitchers, and their bullpen is very good, too, Obviously, we don’t see them a lot, so that makes it even tougher. Strikeouts are part of the game now. They happen, but we should move on from that."

The other bright spots for the Cubs included the pitching of Wood, who gave up 4 hits and 1 unearned run over 6 innings.

Although it was one of the Cubs’ so-called core players who got the big hit, unheralded guys such as Chris Coghlan and Ryan Sweeney made the victory happen. Sweeney doubled with two outs in the seventh and came home on Coghlan’s triple that tied the game at 2-2.

In the 12th, Sweeney led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Coghlan, setting up Rizzo’s game-ending heroics. Coghlan, signed to a minor league contract in the off-season, is 44-for-123 (.358) with 13 doubles, 4 homers and 18 RBI in 35 games since June 30.

"Huge," Renteria said. "All these guys, at one point in time, contributed in some way, shape or form."

Daily Herald

Cubs front office steps on the accelerator

By Len Kasper

Bob Dylan’s anthem “The Times They Are a-Changin’” would be an appropriate theme song for the current state Chicago Cubs.

Roster moves have been coming at a fast and furious pace. Over the last five weeks or so, the Cubs have traded away or cut Jeff Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Darwin Barney, Emilio Bonifacio, James Russell and Nate Schierholtz.

They have added youngsters Kyle Hendricks, Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez to the roster and soon may bring up Jorge Soler.

They have acquired struggling pitchers with big league experience whom they hope can get back on track — Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner — and brought in one of baseball’s top prospects in minor league shortstop Addison Russell.

While the talent-compiling process went at a rather slow and steady pace, it feels like the Cubs have suddenly shifted from second to fifth gear in a snap of their fingers.

That’s how this game can work. You have to know when to be patient and when to strike, and it is clear this front office is pressing the accelerator as it looks ahead to 2015.

I was surprised as anyone when the Cubs brought up Baez last week. I figured he’d dip his toes in the big league pool in September during a short trial period. Instead, they decided to give him a longer look after he checked off all the appropriate boxes at Class AAA.

As we look ahead, it is worth reiterating a couple of key traits of this regime.

Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are upfront with the media. When they speak publicly, they tell you pretty much what they are thinking. People just need to listen carefully.

At every turn, Epstein and Hoyer have mapped out the process in almost excruciating detail. Epstein even predicted (correctly) the end of the honeymoon period after some difficult times with the big league club.

One hint that keeps being repeated is that they know they are light on pitching. So, if you are wondering how they will proceed on the trade and free agent market moving forward, you can impress your friends by predicting that area as being the main target the next couple of offseasons.

The other interesting thing about this group is their unpredictability.

How can they be transparent and unpredictable? Very easily. The transparency is in the big picture. The clever maneuvering is in the details.

It is not as if the Cubs are trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes in baseball. That’s difficult to do these days with so much technology and brainpower available to every club.

But subtle moves such as increased spending on the international market last year, targeting undervalued starting pitchers every year and hoarding young shortstops and catchers are meant to gain slight advantages here and there. When put together over the long haul, those moves could add up to significant edges over the competition.

This is also a front office that understands that the mercurial nature of this business forces you to be adaptable.

Dale Sveum, this regime’s first manager, was let go after two seasons. Arismendy Alcantara, at first a two-day fill-in for Darwin Barney at second base, now plays every day in center field while Barney is no longer in the organization.

Nobody working under Theo Epstein, let alone the man himself, is gloating right now. There is a long way to go and more detours and sharp turns along the way.

But for the moment at least, they’ve hit a little straightaway, allowing them to open the throttle a bit and let the process pick up some speed.

This is getting fun.

Daily Herald

Cubs activate relievers Turner and Ramirez

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs made a flurry of roster moves Sunday affecting their bullpen.

Right-hander Jacob Turner, obtained last week in a trade with the Florida Marlins, reported to the club and was activated. The Cubs also activated reliever Neil Ramirez off the disabled list and optioned lefty Chris Rusin back to Class AAA Iowa.

 To make room on the roster, the Cubs placed right-handed reliever Brian Schlitter on the disabled list with right-shoulder inflammation. Schlitter has been a workhorse in the bullpen, appearing in 53 games, 1 short of club leader Justin Grimm. Schlitter is 2-3 with a 3.34 ERA and a WHIP of 1.17.

Turner will begin his Cubs career in the bullpen after he went 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA with the Marlins in 20 games, 12 as a starter. All parties hope the change of scenery will be good for the 23-year-old Turner, a former first-round pick of the Detroit Tigers in 2009.

"I’m excited for it," Turner said. "I think it will be a good opportunity to kind of restart.

"For whatever reasons, there were times when it seemed to work out, and there were times that I felt like I had to go in a different direction. I’m just excited to be here, and I think it will be a good opportunity."

Ramirez went on the DL effective July 26 with soreness in his right triceps. He had been one of the club’s most effective relievers, going 1-1 with an 0.96 ERA and a WHIP of 0.93. He struck out 36 in 28 innings. In Sunday’s 3-2, 12-inning victory over the Rays, he pitched two-thirds of an inning in the seventh, giving up 2 hits, a run and a walk.

"I feel a lot better than when I initially got out there," he said. "I feel like the ball is coming out good again. I feel loose, and I’m ready to go.

"One of the things I wanted to make sure is that I didn’t shut down all the way. It’s tough to come back and finish off the year if you take a lot of time off. I wanted to make sure I kept throwing. There was a little soreness."

Lake being left out:

Outfielder Junior Lake has not started since Aug. 5. Arismendy Alcantara has moved to center field with the recent call-up of second baseman Javier Baez. Lake also has been squeezed out for playing time by Chris Coghlan, Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney.

"He has been the odd-man out," said manager Rick Renteria. "We tried to run him out through all the lefties. We’re going to continue to see where we can get him some at-bats. Obviously, he hasn’t had very many here over the last three or four days. But we’ll continue to find ways. He’s been working really hard on his mechanical approach. When we can, we’ll keep trying to get him in there."

Lake entered Sunday with a line of .216/.243/.366 with 10 walks and 101 strikeouts in 301 plate appearances. He bunted for a pinch single in the 11th inning and was thrown out trying to steal second base.

Bryant, Olt power Iowa:

Third-base prospect Kris Bryant hit his 16th home run for Iowa Saturday in a 9-6 loss to Oklahoma City. Between Iowa and Class AA Tennessee, Bryant has 38 home runs. He also entered Sunday having recorded at least 1 hit and 1 run in 12 straight games, going 15-for-39 (.385) in that stretch.

Mike Olt, recently sent from the Cubs to Iowa, had 2 homers Saturday, giving him 4 for the I-Cubs. He entered Sunday with multihit efforts in four of his last five games.

Daily Herald

Matt Spiegel: For Baez, the song has just begun

By Matt Spiegel

The rookie hit town a week after Lollapalooza did.

Fitting.

That music festival in Grant Park is filled with people looking for the next big thing. They want to see a new band early, to find out whether the buzz is deserved amid a throng of the curious.

And they want bragging rights. They want to get there first.

Javier Baez is a really exciting new band. He swings as hard as any young punk guitarist thrashes. Time will tell if he can keep it up, and whether he will add the nuance needed to be a more complete hitter. Maybe that guitar player has a decade of mature songs in him he doesn’t even know about yet.

I fear for Baez’s oblique muscles every time his bat crosses the plate. Healthy longevity with that violence of motion is difficult to conceive. But there is precedent.

You’ve heard the comps by now about Gary Sheffield. My colleague Barry Rozner sees some George Bell. Maybe like me you’ve also picked up some Vladimir Guerrero.

Baez thrashes at the ball, in or out of the strike zone. If Baez is going to be a star, he will need to approach the contact rate of Guerrero. Even though he walked more than 80 times just once in a season, Vlad had a lifetime OBP of .379. There were six seasons with an OBP over .390.

It would be a dream to find the plate discipline of Sheffield. That man struck out more than 70 times in just five of his 22 seasons, while piling up 1475 walks.

Is Bell’s career an acceptable goal for Baez with this kind of hype? Bell had 265 home runs and 1002 RBI in a 12-year run, with just two seasons of 30 or more homers. His body was done at 33.

But defining Baez’s future isn’t really the point. He’s the phenom of the moment, all around the game. Baseball writers are redirecting travel toward Wrigley at their publication’s command.

Cubs fans are waking up every day looking forward to games on the big-league level like they haven’t in a long time. A lineup with Baez, Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo, Arismendy Alcantara and even a rejuvenated Chris Coghlan makes August baseball feel relevant.

Javy is just the latest in what is going to be an onslaught of Cubs prospects to dissect.

Next month, we’ll probably meet Jorge Soler. Kris Bryant may come, too, or perhaps not until next June. Albert Almora could find his way to the outfield sometime in 2015.

When do we get Addison Russell at shortstop? Will Kyle Schwarber keep slugging his way through the system quickly? How far away is young center fielder Billy McKinney?

They won’t all work out, of course, and they don’t have to. There’s enough volume that you can afford a miss or two. And if you decide to cut bait before other teams get wise, go get some much needed pitching in trade.

Theo Epstein is banking on right-handed power hitters being the new market inefficiency. Corner that market as best you can and go from there.

For now, Cubs fans have Javy.

We love that young band and ballplayer because the possibility exists that the truly great may have just arrived before our eyes. They have to show up some time.

We didn’t know Mike Trout was going to be this good, this consistently. I didn’t know that Fleet Foxes’ second album would be even better than their first.

So we pay attention. We let our minds wander toward those Sheffield comparisons, like I hear CSNY in Fleet Foxes.

And we hope the music keeps getting better.

Cubs.com

Rizzo rips walk-off single to lift Cubs in 12

First baseman hits liner over five-man infield to drive in Sweeney

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo wasn’t bothered when he saw the Rays move outfielder Sean Rodriguez to the infield as an extra defender in the 12th inning Sunday with runners at first and third.

"I can see why they did it," Rizzo said. "Five-man infield, I know I just have to put the ball in the air. I was looking for a pitch to do it with and luckily, I put it in the air."

Rizzo delivered a walk-off RBI single with one out in the 12th to lift the Cubs to a 3-2 Interleague victory over the Rays and avoid a sweep.

"Fortunately for us, we outlasted them today," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

With the game tied at 2 in the 12th, Ryan Sweeney greeted Cesar Ramos with a single to center, and advanced on Chris Coghlan’s sacrifice. Javier Baez, who hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning in his Major League debut last Tuesday in Denver, struck out, but he was able to reach first on a wild pitch. Another wild pitch allowed Baez to move up. The Rays then moved Rodriguez from right field to the infield, but Rizzo lined the ball into right for the game-winner.

"He didn’t panic," Renteria said of Rizzo.

Rays manager Joe Maddon said he didn’t consider walking Rizzo.

"No, because I thought the next guy [Starlin Castro] was even more difficult," Maddon said. "I thought Cesar had a better chance to put [Rizzo] on the ground. We tried to get [Rizzo] out, walk [Castro], then pitch to [John] Baker with the bases loaded, that’s where I was going."

With the win, the Cubs are 6-8 in Interleague play with six games remaining against the Orioles (Aug. 22-24) and Blue Jays (Sept. 8-10).

It was a historic series for the Cubs, although they reached a milestone they’d rather not achieve. Chicago set a franchise record by striking out 44 times in three games. The previous high was 43, set May 28-31, 2003, against the Astros. Every Cubs starter fanned at least once on Sunday when the team totaled 17 K’s.

Rizzo wasn’t worried that hitting coach Bill Mueller would lecture the players on Monday.

"[Mueller will] tell us they were great at-bats and great swings," Rizzo said. "I try to get something negative out of him and I can’t. I think that’s why he’s so great. Even if he does see something, he knows how mental this game is. He’ll tell you you look great and keep battling. He’s fresh out of the game and still remembers what it’s like."

Rizzo is doing the same with Baez, the highly touted prospect whose big league career is now six games old. Baez has struck out 12 times, including his whiff in the 12th. The Rays utilized a defensive shift against Baez, something Rizzo is familiar with, although the defense lines up on the opposite side of the infield against the first baseman. Will Rizzo offer the rookie any advice?

"I’m just going to let him play," Rizzo said. "I don’t think he’s too overwhelmed. Now, just let him play."

The crowd of 33,039 was hoping to see Baez hit his first home run at Wrigley Field — he belted three at Coors Field last week — but he went 2-for-6 with an RBI single in the fifth.

"I’m ecstatic he’s here," Rizzo said. "He’s struck out a few times, but it doesn’t bother him. Me, at 21, I strike out seven times in two games, I’d be up the wall. He’s playing, and he’s got the type of attitude that is a winning player that I like to see. He backs down from no one, nothing. It doesn’t phase him. The aura around him, I’m very impressed with."

Rizzo has done everything he can to make sure Baez feels at ease.

"I congratulated him after his first three punch-out game," Rizzo said. "I said, ‘I hope you have a lot more because it’ll mean you’ve been in the big leagues for a long time.’"

The Cubs had chances early. They had runners at first and second with two outs in the ninth, but lefty Jeff Beliveau struck out Coghlan to force extra innings. Coghlan had tied the game with a two-out RBI triple in the seventh. This was Chicago’s sixth extra-inning game in the last 12.

The Cubs totaled 12 strikeouts Friday, 15 on Saturday and 17 on Sunday, and according to Elias, it’s the first time in the modern era the Cubs have fanned at least 15 times in back-to-back games.

The Cubs wore throwback uniforms from 1988. The Rays didn’t even exist then, and wore blue and yellow retro uniforms that looked like a variation on the Padres’ jerseys from the late ’70s.

Chicago starter Travis Wood, who is winless in his last 10 starts, did not get a decision or a chance to pinch-hit, which is something he likes to do. The lefty did single and score, though, and he gave up one just one unearned run over six innings.

This was the Cubs’ first walk-off win since July 29 when they beat the Rockies in 16 innings. The only disappointment Sunday was that pitcher Edwin Jackson, who was used as a pinch-runner in the ninth, didn’t get to score.

"It would’ve been nice to see Jacks come in and score the winning run," Wood said. "He was excited."

Cubs.com

Turner excited for ‘fresh start’; Schlitter to DL

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Right-hander Jacob Turner, acquired Friday from the Marlins for two Minor League pitchers, joined the Cubs Sunday, and will be used out of the bullpen in the beginning.

The Cubs placed right-handed pitcher Brian Schlitter (right shoulder inflammation) on the 15-day disabled list to make room for Turner on the 25-man roster. Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with the Marlins, and last pitched on Aug. 3 against the Reds, giving up five runs on nine hits over four innings in a start.

"The reality is, he’s got a pretty good arm, he’s pretty young, just turned 23 in May, and has been in the big leagues for parts of three years already," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He came to the big leagues pretty young. We’re in a unique position where we have a young man who has had experience here already, hasn’t had the success that people might have envisioned for him yet, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. We’ll be the ones to see if we can get it going in the right direction."

The right-hander made his Major League debut at 20 on July 30, 2011, with the Tigers, and was traded to the Marlins in July 2012 in the Anibal Sanchez deal. A first-round Draft pick in 2009, Turner has been used primarily as a starter.

"For whatever reason, there were times that it seemed to work out and times when they felt they had to go in a different direction," Turner said. "I’m just excited to be here and I think it’ll be a good opportunity to get a fresh start and just kind of regroup a little bit."

He’d like to be a starter again, but wants to see what the Cubs’ plans are.

"I don’t know what their thought process is," Turner said. "Whatever situation they put me in, it’s still the same game. Just go out there and execute pitches."

Cubs activate Ramirez from DL, option Rusin

CHICAGO — Neil Ramirez took advantage of time off to prepare for his offseason wedding and rest his arm.

The Cubs reliever was activated from the disabled list Sunday after missing time because of a sore right triceps. Left-hander Chris Rusin was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room.

Ramirez had a 0.96 ERA in 33 games before he was placed on the DL. He went to Mesa, Ariz., to rehab and pitched in two games, totaling 1 1/3 innings.

"I just feel like the ball is coming out good again," Ramirez said Sunday. "I feel loose and ready to go."

He credited athletic trainer P.J. Mainville and strength coach Tim Buss with putting him on a program that has helped him build up arm strength.

"I just have to keep up with that and finish out the year strong," Ramirez said.

He did nothing except play catch for the first four or five days on the DL.

"The team is looking out for me," Ramirez said. "I want to finish the year strong."

Cubs trying to help Lake get back on track

CHICAGO — The Cubs have been trying to find spots for Junior Lake to get the outfielder back on track, but he’s continued to struggle at the plate.

Lake batted .273 in May, then hit .190 in June and .114 in July. Manager Rick Renteria has started the right-handed hitter against lefties, but the Cubs had not faced many until their two series against the Rockies, and Lake went 3-for-15 in six games.

"We tried to run him out there against the lefties, and we’ll continue to see where we can get him some at-bats," Renteria said. "He hasn’t had many over the last three or four days, but we’ll continue to find ways.

"He’s been working really hard on his mechanical approach, and when we can, we’ll try to get him in there."

Last season, Lake batted .284 in 64 games with six home runs. This year, he’s hitting .216 in 95 games with nine home runs and 101 strikeouts.

Renteria encouraging Baez to ‘be himself’

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Rentera said his message to Javier Baez was simple.

"[I told him] that he should be himself," Renteria said Sunday of the Cubs’ No. 2 prospect, promoted on Tuesday. "He’s a more vocal guy in the infield, and we want him to continue to do the same thing.

"At the plate, I want him to be himself," Renteria said. "He’s chipped away at some of the approach aspects of his game to get here. We want him to trust his skill set."

In his first five games, Baez was 6-for-23 with 10 strikeouts, and has hit three home runs, including a game-winning shot in the 12th inning in his debut game. Renteria told Baez he doesn’t have to do that all the time, either.

"We also don’t want him to feel like he has to carry the team," Renteria said of the 21-year-old infielder. "He has to continue to maintain to start zoning in on those areas he’s capable of taking advantage of. If they don’t want to pitch to him, we have another guy behind him who can hit. We’re still imparting those type of messages to him."

Baez has spent most of his career at shortstop but is being asked to transition to second base on the Cubs.

"There’s a tendency by shortstops when you move to the other side to think it’s easier, and it’s just as difficult as playing short in many respects," Renteria said. "You can’t lose your focus and you have to make sure you’re covering your basis and understand it’s a different dynamic, but you still have to have the same intensity."

Extra bases

• Outfielder Ryan Kalish, who was designated for assignment, has cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Iowa. Kalish, 26, was batting .219 in 67 games at Iowa before he was designated to make room on the 40-man roster for Jacob Turner, acquired last week from the Marlins.

Cubs.com

First-place Brewers won’t overlook Cubs

Gallardo heads to the hill for Milwaukee; Arrieta starts for Chicago

By Daniel Kramer

The first-place Brewers gained a bit of separation from the teams trailing them in the National League Central on their last homestand after going 4-2 against the Giants and Dodgers. Milwaukee will hope to keep gaining ground in a four-game set at Wrigley Field.

Manager Ron Roenicke said he feels confident that his team won’t have a drop-off in intensity despite taking on a last-place club.

"These guys realize: We have been really good, and we go into Chicago, and we get beat," Roenicke said. "There’s no teams you can take lightly. For one, the pitching staffs are too good in baseball now. It’s not just the team you’re playing. If you face a good pitcher that night and he’s on and you don’t score, you’re going to lose. We realize that if we’re not on our game, it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we’re going to get beat."

Emerging ace Jake Arrieta will take the mound for Chicago, bringing with him a 3.00 ERA against the Brewers over three career starts. Arrieta is coming off his worst start of the season — nine earned runs against the Rockies, which snapped a 10-game streak of consecutive quality starts.

"I know their starting staff has changed because they’ve lost some guys in trades," Roenicke said. "We know that, but I still look at the guys there. They’re still capable of shutting you down. They’ll stay focused. That’s not to say we won’t get in there and get beat, but they know what they need to do."

The Brewers will counter with Yovani Gallardo, who’s also coming off a rough outing. Gallardo allowed four earned runs on nine hits over four innings against the Giants on Wednesday.

Gallardo is 8-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 17 career starts against the Cubs, including a 4-1 mark at Wrigley Field.

Brewers: Ramirez enters Cubs series on hot streak

Former Cub Aramis Ramirez had his 11-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday, but he’s still hitting .458/.458/.604 over his last 12 games. Prior to the hot streak, he was batting .213/.247/.263 through the first 22 games of July.

"He’s locked in, but this is the type of hitter he is," said Roenicke. "I don’t think this is like a great streak for him. I think this is what he is. He’s a guy that always drives in runs, or at least always has good at-bats with those guys out there. When he had that bad streak two weeks ago, that was really surprising that that lasted as long as it did."

Ramirez carries a .307/.373/.533 line at Wrigley Field, where he played from 2003-11. He’s hit 127 of his 367 career homers there.

Cubs: North Siders downplay intensity

The Cubs are 4-5 against the first-place Brewers this year, and 17-30 against NL Central teams — worst in the Majors against division foes.

"I think the whole rest of the season is going to be a pretty good test," manager Rick Renteria said. "We’re playing some really good clubs, guys who are in the hunt."

Renteria downplayed any mounting intensity of the rivalry.

"We’re going to play a lot of guys in our division. It’s a great test," he said. "We just have to keep grinding and playing. We have to minimize the mistakes we make, mental and physical, and keep trying to get after it."

Worth noting

• The Cubs will play two teams currently in first place in August, starting with the Brewers. The Cubs will also play the Orioles.

• The Brewers have been in first place since April 5.

ESPNChicago.com

The Cubs and the hunt for pitching

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — By now you know that the Chicago Cubs are in search of pitching to augment their position-player prospect base. The Cubs could fill out a starting eight of prospects — and then some — but finding a five-man rotation to help them compete in the coming years is still a work in progress.

Any fan knows this by now, and when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel earlier this season, that task became larger. Jake Arrieta is coming along, as is Kyle Hendricks, but neither is worthy just yet of a World Series Game 7. We don’t even know if the Cubs have Series starters 1 through 5 on the team, or in the system, right now. They need plenty more and have acknowledged as much. The plan is to keep acquiring as much pitching talent as they can while looking for that big fish.

“We’ve been open about the fact we’d like to add an impact pitcher,” team president Theo Epstein said recently. “If you look over the next 18 months or so, it’s certainly a priority for us.

“Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like Jake Arrieta or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen.”

In the meantime, the Cubs are taking advantage of their position in baseball. As one of the majors’ worst teams, they get early claim on players going through waivers — where priority goes in reverse position of the standings. So in recent weeks, the Cubs have grabbed Felix Doubront from the Boston Red Sox and Jacob Turner from the Miami Marlins.

“Just 23 years old with a really good arm,” Epstein said of right-hander Turner. “We feel like we got him at a low point of value. There’s plenty of upside left with him. … He was one of the better starting-pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple years ago. We feel like that talent is still in there.”

Left-hander Doubront, 26, and Turner have a couple of things in common, starting with their youth and the fact that they’ve struggled recently. It’s given the Cubs a chance to get them for next to nothing and integrate them into the pitching infrastructure team brass likes so much.

“We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who’ve gone through tough periods,” Epstein said. “Getting them here, let them reset a little bit. Give them some things to think about.”

The Cubs are buying low right now because they can. Why not take fliers on guys who need a change of scenery and see if pitching coach Chris Bosio can work some magic? In the coming years, the Cubs hope the team is good enough that they aren’t drafting high or the first to put in waiver claims.

“We’ve always been aggressive for talent wherever we can be,” Epstein said.

That brings us to the Cubs’ reported claim on Philadelphia Phillies lefty Cole Hamels last week. The 30-year-old is a major step up in class from the Doubronts and Turners of the world — and so is his contract. With Hamels owed at least $90 million over the next four seasons, it seemed a peculiar time for the Cubs to grab their No. 1 starter. More than likely, the claim was a fact-finding mission, as a deal between the Cubs and Phillies never materialized and Hamels was pulled back off waivers.

It can’t hurt the Cubs to gauge now what it will take to land a big name come the offseason. They’d rather do it without giving up young talent, but they need to be prepared for all scenarios. Names never leaked, but the Cubs should have an idea of what other teams think of some of their prospects and how many of them it might take to bring in a No. 1 pitcher. At the very least, they know what the Phillies want for Hamels.

So as the Cubs catch the minnows with their high position in the claiming process, they’ve always got their eye on the big fish. The Cubs are being deliberate while uncovering every rock to find pitching. The only question is, where and when do they acquire the Game 7 starter?

ESPNChicago.com

Beyond K’s, Cubs seek on-base formula

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer should know all about high-strikeout teams. They ran the Boston Red Sox when they won the World Series in 2004 while leading the American League with 1,189 strikeouts. In a counterintuitive twist, the Red Sox also led the league in on-base percentage (.360) that season. By definition, they made their outs by making less contact, but it didn’t deter them from getting on base.

The team Epstein and Hoyer run now is about halfway to that accomplishment. Unfortunately, it’s the strikeouts the Cubs have mastered, not so much the on-base percentage.

"Strikeouts are part of the game now," Anthony Rizzo said Sunday after the Cubs’ 3-2, 12-inning victory. "They happen but you just have to move on from them."

Before winning the game by making contact in the form of a drive to the right-field wall, Rizzo struck out twice against the Tampa Bay Rays as part of a 17-strikeout day by the home team. For the weekend, the Cubs struck out 44 times, tying a modern-day record for most in a three-game series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

"It’s been trending that way for a while," manager Rick Renteria said.

Anyone who follows baseball knows strikeouts are up, but Renteria couldn’t put his finger on why. He indicated only that it’s how a player strikes out that’s important.

"You have to look at how the strikeouts are coming and then address it that way," he said.

So when Javier Baez — a nine-strikeout victim over the weekend — is swinging wildly as he did on Friday, it’s a concern. When he’s making the pitcher work and battling through an at-bat that ends by strikeout, then it’s not as bad. His at-bats were better and better throughout the three games. He struck out four times Friday, three Saturday and two Sunday. The irony came on his final whiff and 44th for the team as a dropped third strike allowed him to reach base and keep the inning going before Rizzo’s heroics.

"It depends how the strikeouts are occurring with your hitters that you concern yourself with," Renteria said. "If it’s chasing or swinging at bad pitches you address that."

But nowhere are the actual strikeout totals addressed because they are simply more part of the game now. The Cubs are building a powerful team, but it’s going to strike out a lot. Currently, they are second in the National League and third in all of baseball with 1,016 strikeouts. A lot of those belong to Junior Lake and Mike Olt, but Baez will add to that total — as will Kris Bryant when he gets here from the minors.

"Putting the ball in play and fighting are things guys will continue to develop as hitters," Renteria said.

What’s interesting about an Epstein-led team is that he had just taken over the Red Sox when they won in 2004. By the time they won again in 2007 he had more of an impact and his team once again had a high on-base percentage (.362) but dropped to ninth in the American League in strikeouts. In 2013, two years removed from Epstein, the Red Sox won the World Series with the highest on-base percentage in the league but with more strikeouts, ranking fourth in the AL. Coincidence? Maybe. But there’s little denying at some point Epstein is going to put a team on the field that gets on base. Right now the Cubs are second to last in the National League in that category. It probably means moving a slugger or two and making way for guys who can reach base.

There’s another option that can work but probably won’t make for a consistent winner. The Atlanta Braves most closely resemble the Cubs right now. The Braves made it to the playoffs last year with a 96-66 record while striking out an NL-high 1,384 times. But they were only 13th in baseball in on-base percentage. Right in the middle. They made the postseason because of their power. They led the NL with 181 home runs. The Cubs finished second behind them with 172 long balls.

The Cubs could be the Braves of the near future but that formula is risky. An off-year in the power department — the Braves rank 11th this year — could doom a team with no other ways to score runs. Epstein and Hoyer may put up with a softball type of team for now, but high on-base percentages with or without strikeouts and with or without power (probably with) is still going to be their goal.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 3, Rays 2 (12)

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Tampa Bay Rays 3-2 on Sunday in 12 innings, avoiding the sweep. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Anthony Rizzo drove one to the wall to bring home Ryan Sweeney with the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning. A Javier Baez throwing error on a tough bare-hand play scored the first run of the game in the fifth inning, but the Cubs quickly tied it when Baez drove in Travis Wood in the bottom of the inning. The Rays re-took the lead in the seventh as Desmond Jennings doubled home a run off of Neil Ramirez, who was just activated from the disabled list. But again the Cubs responded when Ryan Sweeney hit a two-out double and Chris Coghlan followed with a triple to tie the game 2-2. Wood and fellow starter Alex Cobb gave up just 10 hits combined over the 12 innings they pitched.

What it means: After a decent showing on the road the Cubs offense mostly went into hibernation against the Rays, but they still managed one win. They scored a total of six runs in the three games, including two that went extra innings. Baseball may be more accepting of strikeouts these days, but the Cubs took it to another level, fanning 32 times in the final two games alone. It’s the first time they have struck out 15+ times in consecutive games in the modern era (since 1900), according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The weekend was a reminder the Cubs offense is far from complete and will eventually need to manufacture runs when balls aren’t leaving the yard.

Baez looked better in each game of the series, working counts and battling. He was 2-for-6 on Sunday, including reaching on a dropped third strike in the 12th.

The Cubs played their sixth extra inning game in their last 12.

What’s next: The Cubs continue the homestand when the Milwaukee Brewers come to town for four games, starting on Monday night when Jake Arrieta (6-3, 2.80) takes on Yovani Gallardo (6-6, 3.54)

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs add Jacob Turner to roster

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Newly acquired right-handed pitcher Jacob Turner was added to the Cubs’ 25-man roster for Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays while reliever Neil Ramirez was activated from the disabled list, the team announced before the game.

Turner, 23, was acquired earlier in the week in a trade with the Miami Marlins and will pitch out of the bullpen for the time being. He was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances, including 12 starts, for the Marlins this season.

"It’s a good opportunity to get a fresh start and regroup a little bit," Turner said Sunday morning.

Ramirez, 25, is in the midst of a breakout rookie season as a set-up man and occasional closer. He had a 0.96 ERA with three saves when he went on the disabled list with triceps soreness last month.

To make room on the roster for the moves, pitcher Chris Rusin was optioned to Triple-A Iowa and middle reliever Brian Schlitter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder soreness.

ESPNChicago.com

Alcantara adjusting easily to CF

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — You wouldn’t know it by watching him, but Chicago Cubs infielder-turned-outfielder Arismendy Alcantara has played exactly 22 games in centerfield heading into Sunday’s series finale against the Tampa Bay Rays. Eleven came at Triple-A Iowa earlier this season and 11 have come for the Cubs. His play suggests a more seasoned veteran of the outfield.

“In terms of us sitting in the dugout and reading a ball off the bat, his reaction time is very good,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Over time his angles will continue to clean up.”

His angles are pretty good now and he showed off his range, speed and natural instincts on Saturday with a sliding and a diving catch in the Cubs’ 4-0 loss to the Rays. And he makes the routine plays look, well, routine.

“I just wait for the pitch,” Alcantara says of his style. “No cheating. If a guy pulls a lot I play a little bit more to that side. If he’s an opposite-field guy I move that way.”

So his reaction is truly where the ball is being hit. His jumps have been right on the money.

“His first step out there is pretty immediate,” Renteria said. “He gets to balls pretty easily. Many times I see him get under it very quickly. (I’m) impressed with the ability to get to that spot.”

If Alcantara can solidify his standing in the outfield it’s a big boost to the Cubs heading into 2015. A backlog of young infielders has cluttered the diamond, and while there will be a learning curve for others who move to the outfield it looks like Alcantara isn’t going to need several years to get used to the position. He’s closing in on it already.

“I don’t think about it,” he said. “I just go out and play.”

That’s the instincts of the game which can’t be taught. All he seemingly needs is some polishing. Alcantara was asked if he realized how impressed people were with his outfield play after only 22 games there.

“Not that much,” Alcantara responded. “I just have to keep playing and getting better.”

CSNChicago.com

As Baez-Mania settles, Cubs know better days are ahead            

Tony Andracki

There has been a definite buzz around the Cubs over the last week.

Javier Baez’s promotion - and subsequent historical start - was a big reason for the optimism, but it’s more than that.

It’s about what Baez represents: The Cubs are coming.

With his call-up, Baseball America’s midseason No. 7 prospect joined Arismendy Alcantara, who was promoted from Triple-A Iowa a few weeks before Baez. Add that duo to a pair of All-Stars - 24-year-old Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo (who just turned 25 Friday) - and “The Core” is starting to take shape in Chicago.

"These are players who have been part of our plan and part of the vision for a long time and now that they’re up here, it’s easier to see how it all fits together," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "I think more people can get excited about it. That creates a little bit of momentum, which is nice to have around the organization.

"Our fans deserve to get excited. I’m just happy for them that there’s something for them to get excited about. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is winning and that’s what’s on our mind and we’re working hard to get there, but having young players that are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss, that’s something.

"We’re human and that makes us feel good that our fans have something like that in their lives at this point, because certainly there have been some tough times."

Yeah, a century of tough times - 105 years without a championship.

The Cubs are headed toward a fifth straight fifth-place finish in a division that sent three teams to the postseason a year ago. The players in the Cubs clubhouse want the losing culture to change and they hope to end the year with some momentum.

"We didn’t start off so great, but we can definitely finish off on a pretty good note and show what’s to come in the future," pitcher Edwin Jackson said. "Things are definitely headed in a positive direction."

"We just want that winning feeling," Rizzo said after Sunday’s walk-off win. "Everybody is just coming together. We’re far out, but we just want that winning feeling, we want that good feeling."

But Epstein and his hand-picked front office aren’t trying to take the easy path toward that “winning feeling.” They’re not signing overpaying for high-priced free agents or placing Band-Aids on the issues.

Epstein and Co. are trying to build a foundation for sustained success and they’ve taken a step in that direction by earning the top farm system in baseball.

Chris Valaika, who signed with the Cubs as a minor-league free agent prior to the season, spent the first few months of the season in an Iowa lineup with Baez and Alcantara and then Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler later in the season.

"It’s been really impressive," Valaika said. "Signing as a free agent over here, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I knew they had a lot of young guys. I had no idea the talent level that they had.

"Spending the last few months in Triple-A, getting the chance to play with Javy, Kris Bryant, there’s some special players. I think the way they’re doing it, this organization is going to be really good for a long time."

Bryant and Soler are knocking on the door at Iowa right now. Bryant was recently named the top prospect in the game by ESPN and has 38 homers across two levels this season. Soler has struggled to stay healthy, but when he has been on the field, he’s posted a 1.237 OPS, including a 1.142 mark at Iowa.

Soler could be up in Chicago sometime this September and Bryant should arrive sometime around May 2015. Addison Russell, Albert Almora and others - like 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber - are not far behind.

Baez struggled mightily to start the season, but made some serious strides and earned a call-up where the Cubs are giving him nearly two months to get acclimated to life in the big leagues.

"That’s always been a goal of our organization is to vertically integrate the entire system," Epstein said. "When you have homegrown players that you can promote, it does wonders for that, because it boosts morale for our minor-league players. They can look out and see a guy they were just playing with and see him on TV, maybe playing Sunday nights and ultimately playing in October.

"It’s great for the staff, too, because they can look at the big-league team and feel a sense of pride and ownership that they helped a player who is now playing at the big-league level for us.

"It really ties the whole organization together in a way that we like and we want that to be a big part of ‘The Cubs Way.’ We want to be known for developing players and we want the entire organization to be bought in."

The Cubs have arguably the best stable of position players in baseball, but they also believe strongly in their pitching infrastructure, led by big-league pitching coach Chris Bosio.

Jake Arrieta has emerged as a frontline starter while Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ 2013 minor league pitcher of the year, has taken his game to another level in the majors and looks like a core part of the rotation.

Travis Wood was an All-Star last year and the Cubs have some intriguing options for the rotation next season in Japanese starter Tsuyoshi Wada and a trio of reclamation projects - Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily - who could take a similar path to Arrieta’s.

And then there’s free agency where guys like Jon Lester - who has the Boston connection with Epstein and Cubs GM Jed Hoyer - and Max Scherezer will be available this winter. The Cubs have already been aggressive in trying to acquire elite pitching on the open market, going hard after Masahiro Tanaka and Anibal Sanchez in free agency and placing a waiver claim on Phillies ace Cole Hamels last week.

The Cubs have also followed the St. Louis Cardinals’ model and stockpiled a bunch of high-upside arms in the bullpen - Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Arodys Vizcaino.

Toss in some solid veteran role players - outfielders Chris Coghlan and Justin Ruggiano, as well as infielder Luis Valbuena - and the days of the Cubs being sellers at the trade deadline could be a thing of the past.

As Epstein said, that’s the ultimate goal. It’s not enough to have baseball’s top-ranked farm system.

The fans in Chicago are growing impatient as Epstein’s third year with the organization winds down.

"On the one hand, we try to divorce ourselves from any sort of public reaction or media perceptions of what we’re trying to do because we’re so bought into this plan that we have," Epstein said. "We’ve felt really good about it for a period now.

"We also felt - and we still feel - like there’s so much more work to do and we don’t deserve any type of kudos or pats on the back. On the other hand, we’re all human and we feel the optimism of our fans, of our players.

"It only makes us want to work harder and finish it off and we’ll feel like it’s finish when we win the last game at the end of October."

CSNChicago.com

Javier Baez strikeout helps Cubs walk off to victory over Rays

By Tony Andracki

Even when Javier Baez strikes out, he helps the Cubs win.

After Ryan Sweeney singled and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt to lead off the 12th inning of Sunday’s game, the 21-year-old uber-prospect swung and missed at a ball in the dirt and as the ball skipped to the backstop, Baez trotted to first while Sweeney advanced to third.

The next batter, Anthony Rizzo, drove a ball to the right-field wall, bringing home Sweeney with the game-winning run as the Cubs took the series finale with the Tampa Bay Rays, 3-2 in front of 33,039 fans at Wrigley Field.

"We bounced back - once they scored, we scored. And we scored last," Rizzo said. "It was a good team win."

"Our guys kept grinding it out and fortunately for us, we outlasted them today," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

The Cubs set a franchise record with 44 strikeouts in the weekend series with the Rays, eclipsing the previous high of 43 in a three-game stretch.

Baez had nine of those himself - four Friday, three Saturday and two Sunday (including the dropped-third in the 12th) - but did have four hits in the series. He collected two singles Sunday, including a two-out RBI hit in the fifth to bring home the Cubs’ first run.

Even though he still hasn’t drawn a walk, Baez did work the count Sunday, seeing 26 pitches through his six at-bats.

"I wouldn’t categorize it as seeing more pitches as much as maybe staying more focused in his particular zone and thereby seeing more pitches," Renteria said. "He was more conscientious. I think he was that way a little bit [Saturday], too.

"I think it will get to the point where there is a happy medium. He’s trying to discover and find that set that will work for him. He’s gonna have time to work it out."

Rizzo credited the Rays pitching staff - and the Cubs’ unfamiliarity with them - as a big reason for the high strikeout totals.

How will Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller sum up the lineup’s production over the weekend?

"He’s gonna tell us that they were great at-bats and great swings. I try to get something negative out of him and I can’t," Rizzo deadpanned. "I feel like that’s why he’s so great is because even if he does see something, he knows how mental this game is. He’ll tell you you look great and to just keep battling."

Renteria wasn’t too concerned about the number of strikeouts, focusing instead on the type of whiffs.

"If it’s chasing, if it’s swinging at bad pitches, you address that," Renteria said. "If it’s guys that are really just staying within their zone, you’ll take a pitch every now and then that you might think is borderline, but sometimes you gotta tip your hat to the pitcher, too. If he paints one on the black and you walk away, there’s nothing you can do.

"Putting the ball in play, fighting, those are all things that guys will continue to develop as hitters. You have to look at how the strikeouts are coming and then address it."

CSNChicago.com

Chris Valaika hopes he can play a part in Cubs rebuild

By Tony Adracki

Where does Chris Valaika fit on this Cubs team?

As Theo Epstein’s front office continues to overhaul the roster, looking to hone in on core pieces for the future, role players like Valaika have a tendency to get lost in the shuffle.

Valaika turns 29 this week and has fulfilled the role of utility man for the Cubs after they dealt Emilio Bonifacio at the trade deadline.

Valaika - who played all four infield positions as well as left field and designated hitter at Triple-A Iowa - has already seen time for the big-league club at first base, third base and shortstop while providing a right-handed bat off the bench.

A former third-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2006, Valaika’s future in Chicago is uncertain, but he wants to make a lasting impression during the final six-plus weeks of the season.

"I hope I get a chance to stay here," he said. "I want to be a Cub. … I like the role I’m in - playing utility, being able to play wherever they need me, giving guys days off. So hopefully I can finish this year strong and get a chance to be here again next year."

Valaika grew up outside of Los Angeles, but was raised a Cubs fan by his dad, who is from Chicago. He made his Cubs debut in front of friends and family in L.A. last weekend and came back to Chicago to make his Wrigley debut Friday, the same game Javier Baez was welcomed to the North Side.

"It was unbelievable. It’s always been a dream of mine to play for the Cubs," he said.

Valaika signed with the Cubs as a minor-league free agent before the season started and helped Baez make the switch to second base before the rookie’s promotion.

Valaika also played behind Kyle Hendricks and hit in the middle of an Iowa lineup that included Kris Bryant, Baez and Jorge Soler at various times throughout the year. He’s seen this Cubs rebuild from every angle.

"I got a chance to play with these guys coming up, so hopefully I can help them," he said. "It’s a special team down there. As they keep developing, they’re going to keep getting better and better.

"There will be an adjustment period when they get to the big leagues, but the way they’re doing it, from having all these guys come up together, they’re going to learn how to win together and hopefully bring something special to Chicago."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Neil Ramirez, Jacob Turner just trying to finish strong

By Tony Andracki

The Cubs are adding a pair of arms to a bullpen that has been pretty solid all year despite its heavy workload.

The Cubs activated Neil Ramirez off the disabled list Sunday and Jacob Turner is joining the team after being acquired in a weekend trade with the Miami Marlins. Chris Rusin has been optioned to Triple-A Iowa and Oak Park, Ill., native Brian Schlitter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

Ramirez, acquired in the Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers last summer, emerged as a bright spot since making his MLB debut in late April. The 25-year-old had a sparkling 0.96 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 33 games for the Cubs, striking out 36 in 28 innings and collecting three saves.

But Ramirez ran into some arm soreness and with a shaky injury history in the minor leagues and his bright future, the Cubs played it safe and sent him back to the minors before backtracking and placing him on the disabled list.

Ramirez worked with Cubs head athletic trainer P.J. Mainville and strength coach Tim Buss before heading down to Arizona to rehab, where he got into a couple games in the rookie league, tossing 1.1 innings.

"The team was just kinda looking out for me right there," Ramirez said. "I’m happy with that. I just wanna finish the year strong. I think all the stuff I did with P.J. and Buss, we’re gonna continue doing that for the rest of the year and I should be good.

"I’m kinda happy that we caught it early and were able to deal with it and now I can come back and finish strong."

Ramirez said he never shut down completely because he knew it would be hard to ramp it back up and be in game shape for the final six weeks. The Cubs intend to stick Ramirez back in the same role he was in before, working the seventh, eighth or ninth innings in high-leverage situations.

Turner was placed on waivers by the Marlins last week after running out of options and struggling in the majors (5.97 ERA).

The 23-year-old carries the pedigree of a top prospect (ranked as high as No. 21 by Baseball America) and a first-round pick (selected ninth overall by the Detroit Tigers in 2009), but has never quite put it all together in the big leagues with a career 4.77 ERA.

"For whatever reason, there were times where it seemed like it worked out and there were other times where they felt like they had to go in a different direction," Turner said, summing up his professional career to date. "I’m just excited to be here. I think it will be a good opportunity to get a fresh start and just regroup a little bit."

The Cubs — and Turner — are hoping a change of scenery will help out the tall right-hander. The Cubs believe in their pitching infrastructure, led by pitching coach Chris Bosio, and hope they can harness Turner’s potential in much the same way Jake Arrieta has turned into a frontline starter after years of inconsistency in Baltimore.

"I don’t think it’s so much trying to get back to anything that I have or haven’t done in the past," Turner said. "There’s been times this year where I pitched really well. It’s just a matter of being more consistent for me.

"I just want to build on the success that I did have when I was in Miami and really show them what I could do and how I can be a helpful piece to this team."

Even though he’s been mostly utilized as a starter in the past, the Cubs will use Turner out of the bullpen, at least initially.

Both Turner and Ramirez — who also came up as a starter - have expressed an interest to start in the future and could become intriguing options for the Cubs down the road as Theo Epstein’s front office searches for impact pitching.

But for now, both guys are just trying to get back on track and close the year out strong.

Chicago Tribune

Major league education for Baez continues

By Paul Sullivan

Javier Baez doesn’t know where the phrase “Javy time” came from, but he definitely knows it didn’t come from him.

"Somebody made that up," he said.

But six games into his major league career, the phrase has already become part of the Cubs fans’ lexicon, like “Holy Cow” and “Cubbie Occurrence.”

Whenever Baez comes to the plate, attention must be paid.

The education of Baez continued on Sunday at Wrigley Field in a 3-2, 12-inning win over the Rays, when the rookie second baseman drove in one run, let another in with an error and kept the game-winning rally alive by reaching first while striking out on a wild pitch.

"I’m happy for him and ecstatic he’s here," said Anthony Rizzo, who delivered the walk-off hit in the 12th. "He looks great. He’s struck out a few times, but it doesn’t bother him. To me, if I had struck out seven times in two games, I’d be like up the wall."

Baez is hitting .276 with three home runs, 12 strikeouts and no walks in his first 29 at-bats. He’ll remain in the No. 2 hole until further notice, manager Rick Renteria vowed, despite the low on-base percentage.

Cubs fans are going to have to live with the strikeouts, at least for now.

"I congratulated him after his first three punch-out game," Rizzo said. "I said, ‘Hopefully you have a lot more, because that means you’ll be in the big leagues for a long time.’ "

The Cubs believe one day we’ll all look back on this summer as the one where everything started to happen.

The arrivals of Baez, Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara has put a noticeable jolt into the Cubs’ front office, which spent two years pleading for patience. Opening up the pipeline to them is like uncorking a vintage bottle of wine.

"Since we’ve been here, we’ve been talking about when these guys get up there," senior vice president of scouting/player development Jason McLeod said. "By no means are they established, obviously. They’re just breaking in. But now it’s not so far down, it’s not looking way into the future and talking about it.

"Kris (Bryant) is having the year he’s having in Triple A, Jorge (Soler) is in Triple A and there’s a chance we may see him soon, or at some point. In Double A you’ve got Albert (Almora) and Addison (Russell) and in Single A you’ve got (Dan) Vogelbach and (Kyle) Schwarber and (Billy) McKinney.

"Those are all the position guys, but on the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks coming up and doing what he’s done, and we’ve had such good performances from Eric Jokisch and Dallas Beeler in Triple A, and C.J. (Edwards) and Pierce (Johnson) in Double A.

"So now you’re starting to see that side of the pipeline happen too. So from an organization standpoint, everyone is excited about it. We’ve got a little taste of the excitement with guys finally touching the big league team, and I think once they get more and more ingrained into the clubhouse, into the players they become … and now you see the wave right behind them."

The challenge for Baez is maintaining his calm demeanor while everyone, including the media, wants a piece of him. Outfielder Chris Coghlan was the National League’s rookie of the year with the Marlins in 2009 and then non-tendered last winter, so he knows firsthand that attention can be fleeting.

Coghlan’s message is to enjoy it but know it’s all just pixie dust.

"When you’re young you love it, because this is what you’ve wanted to do your whole life," Coghlan said. "I remember when I cared about answering questions about every game when I was in Miami. It’s the first time playing on TV, and people see you and send you texts. As a young player you like it. I did.

"And as you get older, you realize it’s more for the birds, and it’s about you focusing (on your job). But it’s a tough challenge because there are so many things that are new to you, and you’re trying to balance it all."

Roster moves: The Cubs added newcomer Jacob Turner to the bullpen Sunday and activated Neil Ramirez from the disabled list. They sent Brian Schilitter to the DL with right shoulder inflammation, and Chris Rusin was sent to Triple-A Iowa. Ryan Kalish cleared waivers and was sent back to Iowa.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs Future Four report: Russell’s hot as Alabama

By Paul Sullivan

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A).

Sunday at Oklahoma City: 1-for-3, 2 runs, RBI, two walks.

Trending:  12-for-33 (.364), 2 doubles, 4 home runs, 9 RBIs, 11 walks, 12 strikeouts.

Season: 118 games, .341 batting average, 33 doubles, 38 home runs, 98 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Sunday Oklahoma City: 1-for-3, 2 runs, double, 2 RBIs, two walks. 

Trending: 10-for-34 (294), 5 doubles, 3 home runs, 13 RBIs, 7 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  47 games, .373 batting average, 12 home runs, 18 doubles, 43 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Sunday at Mobile: 3-for-7, 2 runs, 1 double, 2 strikeouts. (Doubleheader)

Trending: 13-for-41 (.317), 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts.

Season:  49 games, .304 batting average, 9 home runs, 8 doubles, 28 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Sunday at Mobile: 1-for-6, one run.  (Doubleheader)

Trending:  2-for-22 (.091), 4 strikeouts.

Season: 105 games, .267 batting average, 8 home runs, 22 doubles, 53 RBIs at Daytona, Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Cubs 3, Rays 2 (12 inn.)

By Paul Sullivan

The summary: Anthony Rizzo’s walk-off single against a five-man infield in the 12th inning gave the Cubs the win, avoiding a sweep. It was their sixth extra-inning game in their last 12 contests. Ryan Sweeney’s leadoff double set up the rally.

At the plate: The Cubs struck out 17 times, after a 15-strikeout game on Saturday. Their 44 strikeouts in the series set a franchise record for three straight games. The old record was 43, set on May 28-31, 2003, against Houston.

On the mound: Travis Wood allowed one unearned run over six innings, throwing 93 pitches. Carlos Villanueva got the win with one inning of perfect relief, throwing seven pitches.

In the field: Javy Baez committed a throwing error in the fifth, after bare-handing a grounder off the bat of Desmond Jennings. The wild throw brought home the game’s first run.

Baez watch: Baez went 2-for-6 with an RBI and two strikeouts.

The number: 11. Cubs players who struck out at least once, including everyone in the starting lineup.

The quote: “We just want that winning mentality and it’s really starting to come more. Obviously we’re far out, but we just want that good feeling.” — Anthony Rizzo.

Up next: Brewers (Yovani Gallardo, 6-6, 3.54) at Cubs (Jake Arrieta, 6-3, 2.80), 7:05 p.m. Monday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Ramirez, Turner added to Cubs’ bullpen

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs made a few bullpen moves Sunday, bringing back Neil Ramirez from the disabled list and putting newly acquired Jacob Turner on the roster.

Chris Rusin was optioned to Triple-A Iowa, and Brian Schlitter was placed on the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation.

“Fortunately we’ve got (Ramirez) back, and it strengthens our pen now with (Pedro Strop) and Hector (Rondon),” manager Rick Renteria said.

The Cubs bullpen is around the middle of the pack this year, ranked 17thin the majors with a 3.61 earned-run average. Last year they finished 25thwith a 4.04 ERA, but the additions of Ramirez (0.96 ERA) and Wesley Wright (2.86), and the improvement of Strop (2.76) have solidified the back end.

Turner said he expects to be used out of the bullpen, but had not been told as of Sunday morning. Renteria said he would talk to pitching coach Chris Bosio about how Turner would be used, but didn’t know before the game.

Turner struggled with the Marlins, but is only 23 and has some experience in both Detroit and Miami. 

“I just met him this morning, so I don’t know where his confidence level is,” Renteria said. “He’s a big leaguer, so I’m sure he’s pretty confident about himself.”

Turner was glad to get a fresh start in an organization that seemingly will give him a chance to start again, even if it’s next year. Does he still consider himself a starter?

“I do,” he said. “I don’t know where their thought process is. I haven’t talked to them a whole lot about it. But whatever situation they put me in, it’s still the same game so just go out there and execute pitches.”

10 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara looks good, fields good in center

By David Just

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara looked like he was born to play center field Saturday, making diving catches in the third and fourth innings.

Alcantara had played only 11 games in center before his July promotion from Class AAA Iowa. He has played the position 11 times in the majors.

“He is starting to take to it,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We all see that there are certain things he needs to work on, but in terms of us sitting in the dugout and watching him read the ball off the bat, his reaction time is very good.

“Over time his approach and understanding of the situations and knowing the wind and attacking the ball stronger — all those things are going to develop as he continues to play out there.”

Alcantara slid to catch a shallow fly off the bat of Kevin Kiermaier in the third inning, and he dove to his left on a fly ball by James Loney in the fourth.

In the minors, Alcantara was a middle infielder, racking up 181 games at second base and 266 at shortstop.

Turner in Bosio’s hands

Renteria hasn’t formulated a plan for newly acquired pitcher Jacob Turner.

A hard­-throwing right-­hander and 2009 first-­round draft pick by the Tigers, Turner opened the year as a starter for the Marlins before being relegated to the bullpen in June.

So how to best use Turner, who hadn’t joined the team yet, remains up in the air.

“I don’t know what that plan is,” Renteria said. “He had been used in the pen in Miami toward the end there, so it’s for us to have the discussion and see how we move forward.”

Turner, acquired for two minor-leaguers, will be the latest young arm entrusted to pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has overseen the debuts of six rookies this season, including Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada.

The Cubs’ six rookie pitchers have combined for a 2.82 ERA in 105 games.

Turner will be a different kind of undertaking. He was Baseball America’s 22nd-ranked prospect entering the 2012 season and was the centerpiece of the Tigers’ trade for Anibal Sanchez.

He has struggled since his promotion to the majors and was 4­-7 this season with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances, 12 of them starts.

“All of us react differently to different situations,” Renteria said. “He’ll get a change of scenery, and it could help.

‘‘He was a highly touted prospect and has a good arm. So get him here, put our eyes on him in real terms, get the staff to work with him, and we’ll see how things develop.”

No timetable for Doubront

Renteria said there is no timetable for the return of left­handed pitcher Felix Doubront, who threw a bullpen session Saturday.

Doubront, acquired in a trade from the Red Sox on July 30, is on the disabled list with a calf strain. Renteria said there isn’t a rehab outing scheduled for the 26­year­old lefty.

Whoops!

The Cubs’ official Twitter account proclaimed the game over before the last out was made.

The tweet, which a team spokesman said was sent by employees of MLB Advanced Media in New York, declared a 4-0 Rays victory with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Chicago Sun-Times

Joe Maddon’s advice for Javy Baez: Play to your strengths

By David Just

As Javy Baez settles into his role on the North Side this weekend, the Cubs can peer across the diamond to see a club that has figured out how to develop talent.

The Rays, who beat the Cubs again 4-0 Saturday, have been successful since their run to the World Series in 2008 with buy-low, sell-high trading and quality drafting.

Tampa Bay has gotten good trade value in the last decade from quality players such as Aubrey Huff, James Shields and, more recently, David Price. The Rays also have traded for and drafted a slew of young talent to develop — players who were once considered top prospects such as Price, Evan Longoria, Delmon Young and Scott Kazmir.

So what advice might Rays manager Joe Maddon have for the 21-year-old Baez less than one week after his much-ballyhooed promotion to the bigs?

“I wouldn’t tell him anything,” Maddon said. “You can only make them think, which is the worst thing you can possibly do today. If he can turn his mind off and just go play, that’d be the best thing.”

Baez, who before the season was Baseball America’s fifth-ranked prospect, said he wasn’t nervous during his Wrigley Field debut Friday, but it was clear he was anxious while chasing pitches well outside the strike zone.

Saturday saw a significant improvement despite three more strikeouts and an error at second base.

Baez was patient to a fault during his first at-bat. He watched six pitches and struck out looking. But he saw 10 pitches in his third trip to the plate and blasted a double over left fielder Matt Joyce.

The extra-base hit drew the loudest cheer from the crowd of 36,739, and it might have been the boost Baez needed.

“You’re always trying to live up to the expectations,” Longoria said of hyped prospects. “For a lot of guys, it [provides incentive]. It’s something that as a young player you understand, and you just try to perform on a daily basis and not try to do too much.

“For him, that will be the struggle, and that will be the ultimate goal — to not try to go up there and do something that he’s not capable of doing.”

Baez surpassed all expectations in his first three games, belting an extra-inning, game-winning home run in his major-league debut against the Rockies and adding two more homers to close the series in Colorado.

Those performances added pressure to his homecoming. Manager Rick Renteria also compared Baez — before and after the series opener Friday — to 13-time All-Star Ken Griffey Jr. Griffey came up with the Mariners during Renteria’s time in Seattle.

The comparisons to Griffey aside, Baez said he hasn’t felt any extra weight on his shoulders. He also said the strikeouts won’t change his approach.

If Maddon were his manager, he’d be glad to hear that.

“I’d just tell him to go up there and be himself and play to his strengths,” Maddon said. “Don’t worry about all the data, video and that kind of stuff. It’s not gonna help him.”

Baez certainly wasn’t alone in struggling at the plate.

Rays pitchers had 15 strikeouts, including nine from starter Jake Odorizzi in the first four innings.

Baez was the only Cub to reach second base.

“[Baez’s] at-bats today were visibly more controlled,” Renteria said. “He was trying to work the pitcher a little bit more. He was very conscientious [at the plate].”

Daily Herald

Cubs’ loss to Rays comes with conditions

By Bruce Miles

The shadows make for strange doings at Wrigley Field.

Saturday was another of those great 3:05 p.m. starts for the Cubs. They’re great, that is, unless you’re a right fielder battling the sun or a batter trying to pick up a ball out of the dark and light.

Things were so strange that even the Cubs’ Twitter account reported their 4-0 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays a half-inning before it became official.

The Cubs say the tweet did not emanate from Chicago, but from Major League Baseball Advanced Media in New York. The way things were going, though, the equivalent of “enough precincts reporting” made the tweet prescient, as that score held up. (The same Twitter account later expressed an apology for the premature concession.)

On the field, the Cubs did little with Rays starting pitcher Jake Odorizzi and the Tampa Bay bullpen. Cubs batters struck out 15 times and did not walk once.

"He was smart," Cubs right fielder Justin Ruggiano said of Odorizzi. "He was using the wind and the field elements to his advantage. He was throwing the ball up in the zone, making us swing at it. If we did and put it in play, it was probably in the air."

A hefty wind blowing in kept everything that was hit in the air confined to the ballpark.

For Ruggiano, it was a tough day in right. In the fourth inning, he went back to the wall trying to catch Ben Zobrist’s drive. The ball hit off Ruggiano’s glove and was swallowed up by the vines for a ground-rule double. Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson got one out before Evan Longoria doubled Zobrist home.

After a strikeout, Yunel Escobar singled into short right. Ruggiano came in and then stepped back to play the ball on a bounce. However, he could not make a play in time on Longoria, who scored.

Ruggiano answered for both plays, starting with the double.

"Probably should have caught it, but between the sun and the wind and the wall, I just kind of alligator-armed it a little bit," he said.

Of the single he said: “I pulled back on it and then after that point I didn’t think I had a play. I looked up, and I definitely had a play and should have continued on with it home. Just a mental mistake.”

The Rays scored twice in the fourth and twice in the sixth, with 1 of the runs in the sixth being unearned because of an error by rookie second baseman Javier Baez, who dropped a relay throw from third on a potential double-play ball. Jackson wound up pitching 6 innings and giving up 5 hits as he fell to 6-12 with a 5.61 ERA.

As for Baez, he struck out his first two times up, giving him 6 straight strikeouts going back to Friday. In the sixth, he battled for 10 pitches, hitting a double to left. He finished with a strikeout in the ninth.

In his first five major-league games, Baez is 6-for-23 (.261) with a double, 3 homers, 5 RBI, no walks and 10 strikeouts. As power hitter, he knows that strikeouts will be part of his game.

"I’m not going to change my approach because I strike out a lot," Baez said. "I’ve just got to be patient and get a pitch to hit."

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Alcantara looks right at home in center field

By Bruce Miles

Arismendy Alcantara has taken to this center-field thing.

The Cubs rookie made a pair of nice catches in center during Saturday’s 4-0 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. He made a sliding grab on Kevin Kiermaier’s sinking drive in the third inning. In the fourth, he made a nice running catch on James Loney’s drive.

Alcantara, who came up from Class AAA Iowa on July 9, has been an infielder for most of his professional career. He played both second base and center field after first coming up, but with the promotion of Javier Baez to the big club last week, Alcantara has been a center fielder.

So far, so good.

"For a young man who previous to getting to us had probably played 10 or 11 games, he’s starting to take to it," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think we all see there are certain things that we still need to work on. But in terms of us sitting in the dugout and watching him read a ball off the bat, his reaction time, it’s very good."

Alcantara gets good jumps on flyballs, with Renteria calling his first step “pretty immediate.”

"He gets to balls pretty easily," the manager said. "His jumps are very good. You can see when the ball comes off the bat what his movement is, and it’s pretty good."

Pitching progress:

Pitcher Felix Doubront had a throwing session Saturday. The Cubs obtained him July 30 from Boston and put him on the disabled list with a left-calf strain.

"He’s feeling better," Rick Renteria said. "He’ll continue to progress."

Pitcher Jacob Turner, obtained Friday in a trade with the Marlins, is due to join the Cubs any day. He’ll be placed on the 25-man roster because he is out of minor league options.

The Cubs will have some work to do with Turner to get him turned around. He was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with Miami.

"I don’t know what that plan is yet," Rick Renteria said. "I would say once he gets here we’ll talk about it. He had been used in the pen in Miami toward the end there."

This and that:

Starlin Castro singled in the fifth to extend a hit streak to eight games, tying a season high for him. Castro is 14-for-33 (.424) in the streak. Castro’s 128 hits led National League shortstops at game’s end. … Edwin Jackson tossed his first quality start at Wrigley Field since May 17. His 12 losses are tied for second in the NL.

Daily Herald

Cubs hoping to find value in new pitcher Turner

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs added what they believe is a buy-low pitcher Friday.

They obtained right-hander Jacob Turner in a trade with the Miami Marlins in exchange for two minor league right-handers: Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer.

Turner, 23, originally was selected by the Tigers in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2009 draft. He was part of the July 2012 trade that sent pitcher Anibal Sanchez to Detroit. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Tuner is 9-21 with a 4.77 ERA in 53 big-league appearances (45) starts from 2011-14. This year, he was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA with the Marlins in 20 appearances, 12 as a starter.

The Cubs will add him to the 25-man roster when he arrives in Chicago.

"He’s just 23 years old and has a really good arm," said Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We feel like we got him at a low point at value. There’s plenty of upside left in him, so we’re excited about that.

"He was one of the better starting-pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple of years ago. We feel that talent is still in there. If you look at his velocity, it’s still there. Some of his peripheral numbers are pretty decent. He’s had an accelerated development path because of the major-league contract he signed coming out of high school. We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who are going through tough periods, getting them here, letting them reset a little bit, give them some different things to think about, whether it’s a different grip or a different spot on the rubber or just boosting their confidence."

Not yet for Bryant:

It’s possible the Cubs will bring outfield prospect Jorge Soler to the major leagues when rosters expand in September. However, it’s still unlikely they’ll call up third-baseman Kris Bryant from Class AAA Iowa.

Bryant is considered the organization’s best prospect, and he’s enjoyed a good season between Class AA Tennessee and Iowa.

"Nothing has changed," said Theo Epstein. "I still don’t foresee a scenario where Kris would get called up this year. His first full professional season, it would really take extraordinary circumstances to call anybody in his first full professional season. I think Kris is doing extraordinary things, but for us to consider calling someone up in his first full pro season, I think not only the player would have to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big-league team, too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost."

Epstein said there are a number of factors working against a Bryant call-up this year and that they weren’t related to “business.”

"He’s also got some developmental issues that he’s working on — his defense and continuing to work on his approach in certain parts of the strike zone," Epstein said. "He’s doing a phenomenal job that I think people forget because of the success that he’s had that he was just drafted 14 months ago. When he reaches the end of the season, he should be awfully proud, we should be awfully proud, and there will be a lot to go home and reflect on already. It’s not necessary for someone in his first full season to make it all the way to the big leagues for it to be a thoroughly successful development year."

Cubs.com

Prospects learning to adjust, but Cubs’ bats quiet

Baez doubles, whiffs three times; Alcantara flashes leather in outfield

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — For someone who has never pitched at Wrigley Field before, Jake Odorizzi took advantage of the conditions, which didn’t favor Justin Ruggiano.

Odorizzi struck out nine in the first four innings and Yunel Escobar drove in three runs to lead the Rays to a 4-0 Interleague victory over the Cubs on Saturday in front of 36,739 fans hoping to see Javier Baez hit a home run at Wrigley Field.

Baez, one of the Cubs’ heralded prospects who was promoted last Tuesday, did double with two outs in the sixth, but also struck out three times. Manager Rick Renteria was encouraged by the rookie’s approach.

"He wants to prove to the whole world that he belongs here," Renteria said of Baez. "It’s part of the conversations are that, ‘You don’t have to carry the team on your back, you just have to be yourself. You have a lot of teammates.’ I think he’ll continue to make adjustments and I think he’ll be fine."

Does Baez feel he needs to do more to prove he belongs in the big leagues?

"Not really," he said. "I think I’ve already proved what I can do."

He hit 23 home runs at Triple-A Iowa before his promotion, and has three in his first five games, although they were on the road in Denver. Baez, 21, has struck out 10 times in 23 at-bats.

"I’m not going to change my approach because I strike out a lot," Baez said. "I have to be patient and get a good pitch to hit."

"[Baez’s] at-bats today were visibly more controlled," Renteria said. "I think he was trying to work the pitcher a little bit more. He was very conscientious of his at-bats. In terms of results, I take it one step at a time."

Odorizzi finished two strikeouts shy of his career high of 11, set May 9 against the Indians. The Rays right-hander, who leads all Major League rookies with 136 strikeouts, scattered three hits over six scoreless innings.

"[Odorizzi] was smart," Ruggiano said. "He was using the wind and the field elements to his advantage. He was throwing the ball up in the zone and making us want to swing at it, and if we did, we put it in play in the air and it’s not going anywhere today. I watched countless video on the guy, and he’s never been up in the zone much, and today I think he had a plan and he executed it."

This series is Rays manager Joe Maddon’s first time ever at Wrigley, and he learned about the ballpark’s quirks in the fourth. Ben Zobrist hit a ball to right that deflected off Ruggiano’s glove and into the ivy. Ruggiano couldn’t find the ball, and Zobrist was awarded a ground-rule double. Maddon argued the call, asking the umpires to consider giving Zobrist at least a triple. It didn’t matter. One out later, Zobrist scored on Evan Longoria’s double. One out after that, Longoria scored on Escobar’s single that dropped in front of Ruggiano to open a 2-0 lead.

The 3:05 p.m. CT starts do create problems for right fielders because of the late afternoon sun and shadows.

"I think I should’ve caught [Zobrist’s ball], but between the sun and the wind and the wall, I just kind of alligator-armed a little bit," Ruggiano said.

And Escobar’s single?

"I pulled back on it, and after that point, I didn’t think I had a play, and I looked up and definitely had a play," Ruggiano said. "It was just a mental mistake by me."

The Rays loaded the bases with one away in the sixth when Zobrist walked and was safe at second one out later on an error by Baez, who dropped a relay throw from third baseman Luis Valbuena. Instead of a double play, Longoria reached on a fielder’s choice and Matt Joyce walked to load the bases. Escobar followed with a two-run single.

Cubs starter Edwin Jackson did post his first quality start at Wrigley since May 17 but took the loss, his 12th, and is now 1-5 in his last nine starts. Longoria remembers Jackson from his no-hitter on June 25, 2010, when the right-hander was with the D-backs. Longoria went 0-for-3 with a walk in that game.

"He’s as competitive as ever," Longoria said of Jackson. "It seems like he’s pitching a little bit more as opposed to just throwing. I saw him throw some really good changeups today, and some breaking balls like the Edwin Jackson that we may have known, or the guy that threw the no-hitter against us a few years back."

That may seem like a long time ago for Jackson, who has posted double-digit losses in three consecutive seasons. This year, he’s looking ahead, as are the Cubs. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara made a couple impressive catches in center field, Baez is still getting comfortable, and pitcher Kyle Hendricks has been solid. Yes, the Cubs lost, but there are positive signs.

"We can definitely finish on a pretty good note and show what’s to come in the future," Jackson said. "Everyone’s high intensity, and that’s what it’s going to take to win ballgames. We’re going to lose some here and there, but we’ll continue to battle. Things are definitely headed in a positive direction."

Cubs.com

Turner to arrive this weekend, role up in the air

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Jacob Turner, acquired from the Marlins on Friday, is expected to join the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday, but manager Rick Renteria isn’t sure what the right-hander’s role will be.

The Cubs claimed Turner off waivers and sent Minor League pitchers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer to the Marlins in exchange.

Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with Miami. He was in the Marlins’ rotation from the start of the season until June 11, then made eight relief appearances. In his last three outings, all starts, he gave up eight earned runs on 19 hits and six walks over 14 2/3 innings.

Renteria couldn’t project what Turner, 23, will do, although he most likely will be used out of the bullpen. The pitcher is out of options, and the Cubs will have to make a roster move when Turner arrives.

"Maybe a change of scenery can help," Renteria said. "We know [Turner] was a highly touted prospect, we know that he has a good arm. Getting him here and putting our eyes on him in real terms and allowing the staff to work with him and see how things develop is something we’re looking forward to doing."

Renteria: Hype hasn’t affected Baez’s routine

CHICAGO — Javier Baez was not the center of attention on Saturday as he was on his first day at Wrigley Field.

"Obviously, the attention is well-founded, because he’s a gifted player and there’s been a lot of expectations and excitement about his arrival," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the highly touted prospect who made his Major League debut Tuesday in Colorado.

"I don’t think it’ll ever cease, because he’s a young man who can potentially excite a lot of people for years to come, hopefully," Renteria said of the attention. "It doesn’t affect his routine. He comes in and does his same thing every single day and tries to put himself in the right frame of mind to play the game."

Baez, 21, went 1-for-5 on Friday, hitting a single in his first at-bat, and then striking out four times in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Rays.

Renteria wasn’t surprised that Baez could handle the attention.

"He’s had a tremendous amount of attention for quite a long time," Renteria said. "It’s in real time now — he’s here with the organization he signed with and has been developing with. He’s in the big city of Chicago, and lot of exciting things for him coming. I think he’ll be fine."

The second baseman will likely benefit from Starlin Castro’s generosity on the next road trip. Castro promised to take Baez shopping so he not only could play in the big leagues but look like a Major Leaguer, too.

Wrigley visit sparking memories for Rays’ Martinez

CHICAGO — It’s been a nice homecoming at Wrigley Field for Rays bench coach Dave Martinez.

Martinez broke into the big leagues with the Cubs in 1986, and played with the team until July 14, 1988, when he was traded to the Expos for Mitch Webster. He returned to the Cubs in 2000, but was traded again to the Rangers in June of that year.

The former outfielder said he spent the first five innings of Friday’s game talking about Wrigley and former Cubs manager Don Zimmer, who died in June. The Rays wear a “Zim” patch on the sleeve of their uniform in Zimmer’s memory.

"[Joe Maddon] has been to Boston and other places, but he was saying, ‘This is unbelievable,’" Martinez said of the Rays manager, who had never been inside Wrigley until this weekend’s Interleague series. "I had told him, ‘When you come here and see the ivy on the wall and the stadium, you’re looking at baseball history.’ That’s what I look at every time. I’ve always told everybody it’s my favorite place to play. You just get goose bumps thinking about playing here."

Zimmer managed the Cubs from 1988-91, and the team topped the National League East that year with a 93-69 record. In 2004, he became a senior baseball advisor with the Rays.

"Zim never goes away," Martinez said. "To this day, I never think Zim is gone. We left his locker as is. We’re never going to take it down."

Martinez, 49, nearly returned to Wrigley Field as the manager. He interviewed last offseason and was a finalist for the job, which was given to then-Padres bench coach Rick Renteria.

"I like Rick, he’s a great guy and I think he’s done a great job," Martinez said. "This organization is definitely heading in the right direction. They have plenty of young kids in the Minor Leagues. I look at them now, and look at how [the Rays] were when we started — and they’re headed in the same direction."

Extra bases

• Left-hander Felix Doubront threw a side session on Saturday, his third since joining the Cubs, but there was no word yet regarding a possible Minor League rehab outing for the left-hander. The Cubs acquired Doubront on July 30 from the Red Sox for a player to be named, and he is on the disabled list with a left calf strain.

• Renteria said he’s happy with Arismendy Alcantara’s play so far in center field. Alcantara has primarily been a second baseman, and switched to the outfield this year at Triple-A Iowa. So far, Alcantara’s reaction time and ability to read the ball off the bat have been good.

"Over time, his angles will continue to clean up, his approach and understanding of situations and when to get the ball in a little stronger, and when to hold up more — all of that will continue to develop," Renteria said.

• Jorge Soler, ranked No. 6 on MLB.com’s Top 20 Cubs Prospects List, hit his fifth home run and an RBI double on Friday for Triple-A Iowa. He is batting .313 in 16 games, and could join the big league team in September when rosters expand. Soler is already on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.

• The Cubs won’t be adding Cole Hamels to the rotation this month. The 48-hour deadline passed for the Cubs and Phillies to work out a deal after the Cubs claimed the left-hander off revocable waivers. The Phillies, who most likely were looking at some of the Cubs’ top prospects in exchange, have pulled Hamels back.

Cubs.com

Rays, Cobb set sights on sweep at Wrigley Field

Cubs call on lefty Wood, aiming for his first win since June 15

By David Adler

Eyeing their first win of the three-game set on Sunday, the Cubs will call on left-hander Travis Wood, looking to win his first game in almost two months.

Chicago, which dropped its first two games against Tampa Bay at Wrigley Field on Friday and Saturday, will hand the ball to Wood (7-9, 5.08 ERA) for the series finale.

Wood’s last win came on June 15, when he beat the Phillies with eight scoreless innings. Since then, he’s 0-4 with a 6.10 ERA in nine starts, having allowed 39 runs (33 earned) during that span. He did put together a quality start in his last outing, giving up three runs in six innings to the Rockies in a game the Cubs eventually won, 6-5.

On the other side, Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.52 ERA) will look to help the Rays sweep the series on Sunday, and he can tie the Rays’ club mark for most consecutive road wins. Cobb is 5-0 over his last six road starts, leaving him one shy of the club record held by David Price (2010).

The only no-decision in Cobb’s run came in his start against the A’s on Monday, when he exited in the sixth inning of the Rays’ 3-2 extra-inning loss. Cobb hasn’t lost on the road since June 2 at Miami.

"It’s tough to be 100 percent sharp every game," Cobb said. "Every pitcher in the league, what makes the good ones good is when they don’t have their best stuff, they’re able to battle and compete until deep in the game.

"It’s what David [Price] did so well. He’d give up three in the first three innings and you still knew you were going to get six or seven innings out of him. That’s a key when you have starts like I did in Oakland. You have to go deeper into the game, but also be able to compete."

Cubs: Turner to arrive this weekend, role up in the air

Jacob Turner, acquired from the Marlins on Friday, is expected to join the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Sunday, but manager Rick Renteria isn’t sure what the right-hander’s role will be.

The Cubs claimed Turner off waivers and sent Minor League pitchers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer to the Marlins in exchange.

Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with Miami. He was in the Marlins’ rotation from the start of the season until June 11, then made eight relief appearances. In his last three outings, all starts, he gave up eight earned runs on 19 hits and six walks over 14 2/3 innings.

Renteria couldn’t project what Turner, 23, will do, although he most likely will be used out of the bullpen. The pitcher is out of options, and the Cubs will have to make a roster move when Turner arrives.

Rays: Myers starting rehab assignment

Wil Myers, who has been on the disabled list with a right wrist fracture since June 1, is scheduled to begin his rehab assignment Saturday night for Triple-A Durham against Buffalo (Blue Jays affiliate).

Rays manager Joe Maddon said the Rays have a week mapped out for Myers at Durham, pointing out that Myers will need some at-bats “to really regain his rhythm.”

According to the rule for position players, Myers has 20 days to play in rehab games before he must rejoin the Rays or continue with Triple-A Durham, a possibility since Myers still has options — but an unlikely one.

Maddon doesn’t feel the Rays will be faced with that decision, because he doesn’t think Myers will need any more than 20 or 30 at-bats to be ready.

Worth noting

• In Sunday’s series finale, the Cubs will wear a throwback uniform from 1988, which was the year the team first played under the lights at Wrigley Field. The visiting Rays have developed a retro-inspired “faux-back” road uniform to participate in the throwback day as well.

• When Rays starter Jake Odorizzi batted eighth in the order against the Cubs on Saturday, it was only the ninth time an AL pitcher batted higher than ninth since Interleague play began in 1997. Rays manager Joe Maddon has filled out the lineup card on seven of those nine occasions. It’s happened five times this season — all of them Maddon’s doing.

Cubs.com

Ruggiano caught stealing, call stands on review

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged whether Justin Ruggiano stole second base or not in the fifth inning.

Ruggiano was hit by a pitch with one out in the inning against the Rays, and then tried to steal second. Umpire Alan Porter called Ruggiano out, but Renteria challenged the call, and after a four-minute, 10-second review, the call stood.

Ruggiano has two stolen bases this year, and has been caught stealing four times.

ESPNChicago.com

Strikeouts the norm for Baez, Cubs in loss

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – It might be baby steps, but Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he liked what he saw in young second baseman Javier Baez on Saturday — at least compared to Friday. Baez struck out three more times against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 4-0 loss, but it was one fewer than the previous day, and one long Saturday at-bat did end with Baez doubling on the 10th pitch.

“In terms of results I take it one step at a time,” Renteria said after the game. “His approaches today were much quieter.”

In other words, Baez’s swings weren’t completely out of control — and for the fences — though it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference. The good news came in the form of that 10-pitch battle in the sixth inning against Rays starter Jake Odorizzi. Baez had already struck out twice, once looking and once swinging.

“I was letting the ball get deep and I hit it pretty good,” Baez said of the shot to the left-field wall.

The complete narrative to this game includes his teammates as well. They struck out 12 times to bring the Cubs’ total to 15. Luis Valbuena went down four times via strikeout, Starlin Castro twice. Baez was asked if high strikeout totals were a concern to him. He’s fanned 10 times in five games in the majors after striking out 130 times in Triple-A this season.

“I’m not going to change my approach because I strike out a lot,” he responded. “I just have to be patient and get a good pitch to hit.”

“Patience” can be a four-letter word for a young hitter. Baez said he isn’t feeling pressure to prove he belongs, and he’s not exactly doing anything he wasn’t doing in the minors. It’s simply going to take time. It was as predictable about him as anything. A free swinger needs to learn when to take the big cut and when not to.

“His at-bats today were visibly more controlled,” Renteria said. “I think he was trying to work the pitcher a little more. He was very conscientious of his at-bats.”

The sixth-inning double could have opened the door for some good things to come, but Baez struck out again in the ninth to slow the momentum. He’s 2-for-9 in the series, with every out coming by strikeout. But the learning process has begun. What better time to do it than the final two months of a lost season.

“I was being patient but still chasing a lot of pitches out of the zone,” Baez said. “You’re going to learn something every day. I’ve heard people talk about being in the big leagues 20 years and they’re still learning from the game.”

School might be starting in the coming weeks for kids, but class is in session now for the 21-year-old slugger.

Jumping the gun: As has been known to happen in the world of social media, the Cubs’ official Twitter account was a little ahead of the game in sending out Saturday’s final score. In the end, the Cubs did nothing on the field to force an update, but the team nevertheless tweeted an apology some 20 minutes later[.]

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Rays 4, Cubs 0

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-0 on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Rays put up two runs in the fourth and sixth innings while starter Jake Odorizzi was mowing the Cubs down en route to Tampa Bay’s second straight win. Evan Longoria and Yunel Escobar had RBI hits in the fourth and Escobar drove in two more in the sixth. Odorizzi struck out nine while giving up just three hits in six innings of work. Between the first and second innings he struck out five in a row, whiffing Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara. The Cubs struck out 15 times overall. Edwin Jackson lasted six innings and gave up four runs (three earned) on five hits and three walks.

What it means: The strikeout totals are starting to pile up for Baez, who ended a run of six in a row with a sixth-inning double. The Cubs’ all-time record is nine consecutive strikeouts. Baez looked to get out of his rut by doubling to cap off a 10-pitch at-bat in the sixth, but he struck out again in the ninth. That’s seven strikeouts in the series so far.

The Cubs’ defense hasn’t been great in the first two games of the series, but Alcantara’s play in center field continues to impress. He made a sliding catch of a Kevin Kiermaier ball in the third inning and a diving grab on James Loney in the fourth. Both came with men on base.

Doubront throws: Pitcher Felix Doubront is back throwing as he recovers from a calf strain.

“He continues to progress,” manager Rick Renteria said before the game.

Turner coming: Newly acquired pitcher Jacob Turner is scheduled to join the team Sunday and will more than likely head to the bullpen, though Renteria isn’t certain what the right-hander’s role will be yet. The Cubs have not announced whose roster spot he will be taking.

What’s next: The Cubs will try to avoid getting swept with Travis Wood (7-9, 5.08 ERA) scheduled to take the mound against Alex Cobb (7-6, 3.52) Sunday in a 1:20 p.m. CT start.

ESPNChicago.com

Bryant on same path as Longoria

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Ever since Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant was drafted No. 2 overall in 2013, Cubs brass has used Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria as a template for him. Longoria was drafted third in 2006, made it as high as Double-A that season, then played at Double- and Triple-A in 2007 before getting called up early in 2008. That could be about the same path Bryant takes from 2013-2015.

“It worked for me,” Longoria said before the Rays played the Cubs on Saturday. “I think they evaluate every individual differently.”

But that doesn’t mean Longoria liked waiting. As a two-year major college player at Long Beach State, he was more advanced than others, in the same respect most college players are more mature when they hit the professional ranks. Longoria hit .299 with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs in 2007, his final year in the minors. Bryant has that mature feel to his offensive game and persona as well – and he’s exceeding Longoria’s numbers. He’s hitting .341 with 37 home runs and 97 RBIs with about three weeks left in the season.

But, like Longoria, Bryant isn’t likely to see the major leagues in his first, full professional year. Not surprisingly, Longoria joins Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo as a proponent of a quick ascension to the big leagues, if it’s deserving.

“The earlier you can get that experience at the major league level I think it bodes well for you in the future,” Longoria said. “Some of the prospects over there have proven they can play at every level.”

Longoria was well aware of Bryant as well as the Cubs’ most recent call-up, Javier Baez.

“They waited until after that Super 2 deadline, right?” Longoria said of Baez.

That’s a reference to an arbitration deadline that has come and gone, giving Baez three full years after this one before he’s eligible for the process. Cubs fans undoubtedly don’t want Bryant to have to wait that long next season, but they should be alright with a mid-April call-up, which would make him a free agent after 2021 instead of 2020.

“We were talking about how if you have a college kid, those guys can be moved a little faster than a high school kid,” Longoria said.

Bryant’s path is similar enough to Longoria’s that you can expect about the same timeline into next season for the former, except for different reasons. The Rays seemed intent on waiting to call Longoria up in 2008, but Willy Aybar got hurt and they deemed Longoria the only player who could play third base. They called him up on April 18, 2008, and while there could have been monetary considerations to the timing, they eliminated those by immediately signing Longoria to a sixyear, $17.5 million deal. With club options, it was worth up to $44 million.

“I think I felt more pressure the way that it happened in 2008 when I didn’t make the big league team out of spring training and then signing a contract when I was called up,” Longoria said.

That’s where the similarities could end between Longoria and Bryant. As has been well-documented, Bryant’s agent is Scott Boras, not exactly a hometown discount kind of guy. As prospects go, Bryant is as close to a sure thing as possible. That’s probably why the Cubs would presumably consider locking him up as early as they can. He probably won’t let them down. More likely, his performance could exceed an early contract signing.

“If a guy can help you win, you call him up,” Longoria said. “That’s more about us being selfish, because if we see a guy at the minor league level that can help we want them up.”

Of course, that’s not the case with Bryant. Yes, he can help the Cubs win some games now, but not anything like a division or playoff spot. It’s what team president Theo Epstein referenced on Friday.

“In his first full pro season, not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things,” Epstein said, “but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost.”

That’s not the case, so Bryant stays the course like Longoria did in his first full pro season. But a long-term contract like the one Longoria signed might have to wait.

“If you’re playing up to the potential that you have, then I think you move him (up),” Longoria said. “But every player and team is different.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs taking it one step at a time with Javier Baez

By Tony Andracki

The Cubs don’t want Javier Baez to do too much.

Theo Epstein’s front office and manager Rick Renteria have done their best to try to quell the hype surrounding Baez’s call-up to the big leagues, but the kid didn’t help matters by crushing three homers in his first three games.

Baez doesn’t have to be the savior for the Cubs. It’s not like this team is going to suddenly get back into the playoff race and make a run toward the 2014 World Series.

The 21-year-old slugger may profile more like a cleanup hitter, but Renteria has been penciling Baez in the two-hole through the first five games in an effort to take some of the weight off his shoulders and give him some protection with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro following in the order.

"As he continues to get more at-bats, he’ll continue to settle down," Renteria said. "He wants to prove to the whole world that he belongs here.

"The conversations are simply, ‘You don’t have to carry the team on your back. You just have to be yourself. You have a lot of teammates.’ I think he’s gonna continue to make adjustments and he’s gonna be fine."

Baez said he doesn’t feel any added pressure and shrugs off any notion that he is already trying to carry the team despite it being only his first week in the majors.

"I think I really proved what I can do and I don’t have to do stuff that I don’t do," he said. "We’re going to learn something every day. I hear people talk about being in the big leagues for 20 years and they’re still learning something every day.

"I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing."

The day after racking up four strikeouts, Baez still whiffed three times during Saturday’s loss, but took some pitches and worked the count, including a double in the sixth inning as the culmination of a 10-pitch at-bat.

"His at-bats today were visibly more controlled," Renteria said. "I think he was trying to work the pitcher a little bit more.

"In terms of results, I take it one step at a time. I think his approaches today were much quieter than they were the previous couple days."

Baez now has 10 strikeouts in his first five big-league games, but he said he’s not going to worry about changing his approach just based on his whiffs, instead focusing more on being patient and swinging at pitches in the zone.

The kid with the Gary Sheffield-like bat speed and light-tower power struck out 350 times in 319 minor-league games, but posted an .881 OPS and hit 76 homers. Despite the issues with contact so far in his big-league career, Baez still has a .957 OPS.

The Cubs wanted to give Baez roughly eight weeks in the majors to go through some of the ups and downs before taking a step back and reflecting on the season during the winter.

He’s already shown an ability to rise above adversity. Through the first six weeks of the season with Triple-A Iowa, Baez was hitting just .142 with a .484 OPS and 45 strikeouts in 28 games. But he turned things around, hitting .305 with a .964 OPS from that point forward before his promotion.

"It’s a learning curve," said Cubs utilty guy Chris Valaika, who spent the first three months of the season with Baez in Triple-A. "I told him early, when he was struggling, ‘Everybody knows who you are before you walk to the plate.’ I think that kind of helped him calm down.

"It’s like, ‘They’re going to pitch you differently than they pitch everybody else.’ He started making adjustments and started taking his walks and swinging at pitches he can handle and he really took off the last two months.

"You have to have confidence in this game and he definitely has it. … He’s just a special player. He’s just going to keep getting better and better at this level as he develops and matures here."

The Cubs know the attention and hype surrounding Baez may always be there, even with Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler knocking on the door from Triple-A Iowa and Rizzo, Castro and Arismendy Alcantara already in Chicago.

"I think the attention is rough on him because he’s obviously a very gifted player," Renteria said. "There’s been a lot of expectations and excitement to his arrival. Finally getting that all out of the way is good.

"I don’t think it’ll ever cease because he’s a young man that would potentially excited a lot of people for years to come, hopefully."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs offense disappears behind struggling Edwin Jackson

By Tony Andracki

The high from Javier Baez’s call-up must be wearing off for the Cubs now.

In Baez’s fifth game in the majors, the Cubs failed to score, racking up just five hits in a 4-0 loss to the Rays in front of 36,739 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday.

The Cubs only managed four singles – including two from Starlin Castro - beyond Baez’s sixth-inning double and did not draw a walk, striking out 15 times as a team.

The Cubs put together a mini-rally in the ninth with back-to-back two-out hits from Anthony Rizzo and Castro, but it was too little, too late as Luis Valbuena struck out to end the game (his fourth whiff of the day).

Rays starter Jake Odorizzi was stellar, striking out nine and allowing just the three hits in six innings. The Tampa Bay bullpen was even better with six strikeouts in three innings.

Struggling Cubs starter Edwin Jackson is in the midst of maybe his worst professional season, but he did pick up his second straight quality start, going six innings and allowing four runs (three earned). Jackson gave up five hits, walked three and worked around a Baez error and a couple of misplays from Justin Ruggiano in right field, but the Cubs offense couldn’t muster up much support.

"Some tough breaks, but that’s the game," Jackson said. "I just feel I have to do a better job of throwing strikes…

"As a starting pitcher, you have to overcome those things. Those kind of things are gonna happen. Every play isn’t gonna be made. I think I just have to bear down."

Jackson lowered his ERA for a second straight start and has a 3.00 mark in two July starts. But he sits at 6-12 on the year, tied for second in the National League in losses the year after he led the league with 18 defeats.

"I thought he was throwing pretty well. He was pretty efficient," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He was pretty composed. He kept us in the ballgame. It was one of his better outings in terms of commanding the zone, keeping his pitch efficiency down. We just really weren’t able to get any off them today."

CSNChicago.com

Rays manager Maddon feels ‘complete’ with first Wrigley visit

By Tony Andracki

A visit to Wrigley Field is typically a bucket-list item for sports fans.

But for baseball lifer Joe Maddon, his first visit to the “Friendly Confines” represents something more. It signals a completion.

Maddon, the Tampa Bay Rays manager, set foot inside Wrigley for the first time Friday morning. Kind of odd for a guy who has been coaching in Major League Baseball for the last 20 years.

Wrigley was the last park Maddon needed to cross off his list. He’s now been to every baseball stadium in America, as he also checked off Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati earlier this season.

Maddon is a busy guy, trying to manage a ballclub that is kind of in purgatory since it’s not yet out of the hunt for the postseason, yet it just traded away its iconic player in David Price at the deadline.

But the 60-year-old knew this series with the Cubs was coming up and circled the date on his calendar.

"Oh yeah. Absolutely. When I saw the schedule at the beginning of the year, I was really excited about it," Maddon said. "I’ve been doing this since 1994 in the major leagues and it’s my first time here.

"Now, it’s complete. You complete me," he joked.

Maddon is an intelligent baseball mind, one of the revolutionary managers in the big leagues who gets the most out of players and would be at home on any stage, from a small-market team like the Rays to a big-market franchise like the Cubs.

He appreciates the fanbase in Chicago and has found the time to take in the sights and sounds of Wrigley Field.

"It’s wonderful. It’s unique. It’s similar to - but a little bit different than - Fenway," Maddon said. "I’ve not been around the fans long enough, but I do see almost like a St. Louis thing where they’re really good baseball fans and they can appreciate good baseball either way.

"The fact the Cubs have not been in the playoffs often and you still get this kind of allegiance and following, it’s pretty impressive. Quite frankly, I think the ballpark speaks to that a lot. I mean, on a Friday afternoon at 3 o’clock, this place is jammed. Where else would that happen? I don’t know.

"And they do it consistently. I think the allure of the ballpark, the area it’s located, it’s just got a great vibe to it. It’s more than a baseball game when people come out here."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs strike out 15 times in 4-0 loss to Rays

By Paul Sullivan

In a survey the business department sent out recently, the Cubs asked season-ticket holders to “describe yourself as a Cubs fan.”

The mostly one-word choices from which fans had to choose were casual, hopeful, serious, knowledgeable, loyal, part of a community, partier, passionate, pessimistic, resilient and serious.

Not on the list were disgruntled, disbelieving and apathetic, all relevant descriptions of the mood at Wrigley Field on Saturday during a 4-0 loss to the Rays.

Rays pitcher Jake Odorizzi and two relievers combined for 15 strikeouts while dealing the Cubs their 13th shutout, in a three-hit game the Cubs’ official Twitter account mistakenly conceded as a loss before the bottom of the ninth inning began.

The Cubs apologized on Twitter for the “accidental update,” which they said came out of the MLB Advanced Media offices in New York.

There were no apologies forthcoming for Justin Ruggiano apparent sleepwalking in the field during the fourth inning, when he let Evan Longoria score from second without a throw.

"I pulled back on it, and at that point I didn’t think I had a play," Ruggiano said. "I looked up and I definitely had a play. Just a mental mistake by me."

Manager Rick Renteria absolved Ruggiano, saying “he was attacking it to make the catch, and then he saw he wasn’t going to get there and he kind of pulled up. He just thought he didn’t have any chance to throw (Longoria) out.”

It was that kind of day for the Cubs, who dropped their second straight to the Rays to start a seven-game homestand. Edwin Jackson fell to 6-12, allowing three earned runs over six innings.

The Rays’ put it away with a two-run fourth that began when Ruggiano let a catchable fly deflect off his glove and into the ivy for a ground-rule double.

"Everybody lost it," Renteria said. "It must’ve obviously gone in the ivy."

It did, thus the ruling of a ground-rule double.

Ruggiano said “between the sun and the wind and the wall, I kind of alligator-armed it a little bit.” That led to his “mental mistake” that gave the Rays a 2-0 lead.

Rookie Javier Baez went 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, giving him seven strikeouts in his first two games at Wrigley. After fanning in his first two at-bats, Baez had six consecutive strikeouts before doubling to left in a 10-pitch at-bat in the sixth.

The Cubs knew there would be some struggles, and Renteria said he doesn’t plan to move Baez out of the No. 2-hole. Baez has 10 strikeouts in 23 at-bats with no walks.

"Right now, that’s a good spot for him," Renteria said. "He gets some protection with (Anthony Rizzo) there. And as he (has) more at-bats and settles down … he wants to prove to the whole world he belongs here.

"Part of the conversations are: ‘You don’t have to carry the team on your back. You just have to be yourself.’ He’s going to continue to make adjustments. He’s going to be fine."

Baez, who had three home runs in his first three games, said he’s not feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders.

"I think I’ve really proved what I can do," he said.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs are unclear on pitcher Jacob Turner’s role

By Paul Sullivan

Cubs manager Rick Renteria didn’t know much about the plans for Jacob Turner, the right-handed acquired from the Marlins after being claimed on waivers.

Is the plan to start Turner or put him in the bullpen?

"I don’t know what that plan is yet," Renteria said. "Once he gets here, we’ll talk about it. He had been used in the pen in Miami toward the end there."

Is he being looked at as a long-term starter?

"I can’t respond to you on something I haven’t really had a conversation about," he said.

So what does Renteria know about the 2009 first-round pick of the Tigers?

"Well, he was a starter originally in Miami," he said. "He’s 23 years old. He ran out of options. They moved him to the pen because he had a little bit of a struggle. And we claimed him."

First timer: Rays manager Joe Maddon is enjoying his first-ever trip to Wrigley Field, the only ballpark he had yet to visit — though he once rode his bike around it during an off day when he was in town as a coach with the Angels.

"It’s almost like a St. Louis thing, where they’re really good baseball fans and they can appreciate good baseball either way," Maddon said.

"The fact the Cubs have not been to the playoffs often and you still get this kind of allegiance and following is pretty impressive.

"Quite frankly, I think the ballpark speaks to that a lot. This is a happening. On a Friday afternoon at 3, the place is jam-packed. Where else would that happen? I don’t know. And they do it consistently.

"So I think the lure of the ballpark and the area it’s located in, it has a great vibe to it. It’s more than a baseball game when the people come out here."

Consolation prize: Rays bench coach Dave Martinez was interviewed for the Cubs’ managerial opening after Dale Sveum was fired.

"It came down to me and Rick Renteria," Martinez said. "I like Rick. Great guy, and he has done a great job. I think this organization is headed in the right direction."

Extra innings: Felix Doubront threw a bullpen session Saturday. Renteria did not know when he would begin a rehab stint. … Edwin Jackson had his first quality start at Wrigley since May 17. His 12 losses are tied for second most in the National League.

09 8 / 2014

CSNChicago.com

Baez the center of attention as ‘JavyTime’ hits Wrigley Field

By Tony Andracki

As Javier Baez set social media on fire this week, the phrase “JavyTime” has become commonplace when referencing the Cubs’ uber-prospect.

Baez says he doesn’t know where that term comes from, but he has become a must-see attraction for the Cubs, just like Manny Ramirez - Baez’s mentor down at Triple-A Iowa the last couple of months - was for the Boston Red Sox.

And like the Red Sox did with Ramirez, the Cubs are going to stay out of the way and just let Javy be Javy.

Baez showed off some of the swagger that he will bring to the Cubs in his Wrigley Field debut as “JavyTime” hit Chicago’s North Side for the first time Friday afternoon.

That confidence was there from the outset when Baez was asked pregame how he manages all the hype: “I just make it look easy, I guess.”

The kid who has a tattoo of the Major League Baseball logo on the back of his neck saw his dream come true this week with a call-up to “The Show” and responded by hitting three homers in his first three games, something that hasn’t been done since 1954.

The day after he hit two home runs in a Cubs victory in Colorado, Baez rode the wave of a roaring welcome from the 34,937 in attendance at “The Friendly Confines” Friday, singling and scoring in the first inning.

But that high didn’t last long, as the 21-year-old struck out the next four times up, swinging at pitches out of the zone and failing to even put the ball in play to move a runner over from second base in a crucial spot in the eighth inning. Baez also struck out in the 10th inning as the Cubs lost 4-3, going down to one knee while swinging through a changeup from Tampa Bay Rays reliever Brad Boxberger.

"There was nothing different," Baez said about his home debut. "I wasn’t nervous or anything. I was just not being pitched around the plate and kept swinging at bad pitches.

"I just gotta be patient. Tomorrow’s another day."

The Cubs know this is just part of the learning curve for Baez.

"I think he will learn through this experience, gain something from it," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It’s going to be a process that he gains experience from. That situation [in the eighth inning], as it’s talked through, he’ll come to

understand where he’s at.

"I think he has to trust his skill. You gotta allow these guys to do what they do. It’s easier to take somebody that’s aggressive to tone them down than it is to try to get somebody to be more aggressive when they’re passive. He’ll be fine."

The Rays were ready for Baez. They already had an infield shift on the rookie (three infielders to the left of second base) by the latter innings and Tampa Bay pitchers threw Baez very few pitches in the zone, getting him to chase.

That aggressiveness is part of Baez’s profile, a big reason why he became a Top 10 prospect. The Cubs don’t want to change that approach. At least, not yet.

"Power has been a big part of his game," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "The ability to leave the ballpark from any part of the zone to any part of the park in any count in any situation, that’s something that is kind of a subtext of every at-bat and certainly keeps pitchers honest.

"But Javy still has to think his way through an at-bat and find a pitch that he can drive. When he swings at pitches that he can drive - and there are a lot of them - he’s in good shape.

"But obviously, we don’t want to take his aggression away from him. He swings hard and he’s strong and that creates the ability to leave the yard and change the game. That’s something that we like."

Baez has already changed the game in one area for the Cubs. There is a definite buzz around this team now, even though they’re still in last place in the standings.

Baez’s at-bats have become must-see events, a nice reward for the Cubs faithful that have dealt with five straight fifth-place finishes (barring a crazy end to this season).

"It’s great for the fans," Epstein said. "Our fans have been awful patient with us as a whole organization. This is a nice day for them to get to see a player in person they’ve read a lot about.

"It’s great for our players, too. The clubhouse had a little bit of buzz the last three games [in Colorado] and taking that home is always nice. It’s a nice day for everybody."

CSNChicago.com

Why even Javier Baez’s strikeouts are must-see TV

By Tony Andracki

Four games into his MLB career, Javier Baez has basically been all-or-nothing.

Ten of Baez’s 19 bit-league at-bats have ended in either a homer or a strikeout. During his Wrigley Field debut Friday, Baez singled and scored a run before striking out in his last four at-bats.

But even his whiffs have become must-see TV.

"That is true," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It happened with Ken Griffey, Jr. You think about [Gary] Sheffield. Those guys were starting to come to the big leagues, there was some excitement because you’re talking about guys that generate that impact with the baseball.

"And rightfully so. It should be. It’s something that could become very, very special. He’s just a young man that’s going to chip away at it."

Baez doesn’t bother shortening his stroke or choking up with two strikes. Thus far, he hasn’t worried much about changing his approach and the Cubs don’t want to reel in his aggressiveness.

The 21-year-old slugger swings from his heels every chance he gets. When he came up in the 10th inning Friday with the Cubs trailing by one, he actually very nearly came out of his shoes on a swing before swinging so hard his momentum carried him down to one knee on strike three.

Baez just has a certain level of flair, a swagger that hasn’t been seen much around the Cubs the last few years.

"I think that special players have that," Renteria said. "Being in camp with Ken Griffey Jr. quite a few years ago [I was an older guy and he was a younger guy], he was the same way.

"And I don’t wanna compare [Baez] to Ken Griffey Jr., but I’m just saying there are guys who feel comfortable in their own skin. They feel comfortable in the place they’re participating and playing the game of baseball.

"They look good, they feel good and they just wanna play the game."

For better or worse, through all the strikeouts and all the homers, that swagger will be around the Cubs.

The Javier Baez Show has officially hit Chicago.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs fall to Rays in extras in Baez’s Wrigley debut

By Tony Andracki

The Javier Baez Show hit Wrigley Field Friday afternoon and the Cubs’ uber-prospect electrified the crowd in the first inning with a single and a run.

But the Cubs couldn’t do much after that, ultimately losing to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 in 10 innings.

After scoring on Starlin Castro’s RBI single in the first, Baez struck out his next four times, including in the bottom of the 10th inning.

But the Wrigley faithful welcomed Baez with open arms, many getting there early for batting practice (during which he hit a light pole at the back of the bleachers in left field with one swing) and giving the 21-year-old slugger a nice ovation when his name was announced pregame.

Tsuyoshi Wada started the game for the Cubs and the 33-year-old rookie went six strong innings, departing after allowing a leadoff triple in the seventh inning, which ultimately came around to knot the score at 2.

After the Rays scored again in the eighth, the Cubs rallied in the bottom of the ninth on a Ryan Sweeney RBI single that just barely snuck under the glove of Tampa Bay second baseman Logan Forsythe.

Cubs closer Hector Rondon gave the Rays the lead back in the top of the 10th, allowing three straight hits, and the Cubs weren’t able to do anything from there to drop the series opener.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs staying aggressive in quest for impact pitching

By Tony Andracki

The rebuilding timeline is changing.

With big-time positional prospect like Javier Baez hitting the big-leagues and others like Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant not far off, the Cubs are getting aggressive in their search for impact pitching, as evidenced by waiver claims on Jacob Turner and Cole Hamels this week.

The Cubs completed a deal with the Marlins for Turner, sending a pair of Kane County Cougars pitchers (Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer) to Miami in exchange for the 23-year-old righty. To clear room for Turner on the 40-man roster, the Cubs designated outfielder Ryan Kalish for assignment.

"[Turner] is just 23 years old and has a really good arm," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Friday at Wrigley Field. "We feel like we got him at a low point of value and finding any upside left with him, so we’re excited about that."

Turner is expected to be available to pitch for the Cubs “in a matter of days.” He was designated for assignment by the Marlins on Tuesday.

Turner was rated the No. 22 prospect in the game by Baseball America prior to the 2012 season (and actually came in at No. 15 on MLB.com’s and Baseball Prospectus’ rankings), but has struggled at the big-league level, posting a 9-21 record and 4.77 ERA in 53 games (45 starts) in the majors. He was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA and 1.65 WHIP with the Marlins this year.

But he won’t turn 24 until next May and was a rumored target of the Cubs in the past while he was with the Detroit Tigers, the organization that drafted him ninth overall in 2009,

Can the Cubs work the same magic on Turner that they’ve been able to accomplish with guys like Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Scott Feldman and Paul Maholm?

"He was one of the better starting pitching prospects in all of baseball a couple years ago," Epstein said. "We feel like that talent is still there. If you look at his velocity, it’s still there. If you look at some of his peripheral numbers, he’s still pretty decent.

"He’s had an accelerated development path because of the major-league contract he signed coming out of high school. We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who are going through tough periods, just getting them here, let them reset a little bit, give them some thing to think about - whether it’s a different grip, a different spot on the rubber - just boosting their confidence and let them be themselves and go pitch.

"We’re hopeful that’ll happen with Jacob. Might not happen right away, but certainly I think between now and next spring training, there’s some things that we can work together on to get him back to a place where he can have success."

The Cubs tried to accelerate the rebuilding timeline by placing a waiver claim on Hamels earlier in the week, but there won’t be a megadeal coming with the Phillies. Not this month, anyways.

"I think we’ve always been aggressive for talent wherever we can be," Epstein said. "When talent is out there at a cost that makes sense, we’ll always be aggressive.

"Nothing has changed fundamentally with our approach. Certainly, some of the talent in the organization is getting a little bit closer to the big leagues, so it starts to change the window a little bit, but we’ve always been aggressive with talent where we can be."

Hamels — the Philadelphia ace with a 2.42 ERA and nearly $100 million left on his contract — is the type of bonafide No. 1 starter the Cubs are looking for. He brings a winning pedigree that includes a 2008 World Series MVP award.

"We’ve been open about the fact that it’d be nice to add an impact pitcher or two," Epstein said. "If you look over the next 18 months or so, that’s certainly a priority for us.

"Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot - like we have done with Jake Arrieta - or acquire someone who’s already at those heights remains to be seen."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs GM Hoyer on Baez: ‘He’s a special talent’

By Charlie Roumeliotis

In his much-anticipated Major League series debut against the Colorado Rockies, Javier Baez smacked three home runs and five RBI, including a walk-off HR on Tuesday. The excitement on the North Side is just beginning, and Cubs executive vice president/general manager Jed Hoyer is one of them.

"It’s been fun to watch. As I’ve always said, he’s one of those guys you’re not gonna get up and go to the bathroom or look away when he’s hitting," Hoyer said on Kap & Haugh. "There’ll be some strikeouts, there’ll be some bad at-bats, but he’s a special talent. The ball comes off his bat different than all but a handful of guys in the game, and obviously it was a great three games for him in Colorado."

Although he recorded the game-winning HR in his debut, the 21-year-old second baseman went 0-for-5 in his first five at-bats, including three strikeouts. But Hoyer knows Baez, who makes his Wrigley Field debut Friday, is the type of player who won’t get down on himself for it.

"I think the biggest thing with Javy is that he’s very confident. They way he plays is the way he plays," Hoyer said. "I think he’ll learn to tone things down a little bit as he matures … but I give him credit. Obviously, the first night he hit the homer, but the first five plate appearances were a little bit of a struggle and I think he doesn’t lose his confidence and hopefully he’ll keep that."

In the first three games, Baez has been slotted in at the No. 2 spot of the lineup. And Hoyer anticipates the 21-year-old second baseman to hover near the top throughout the year.

"We are pretty right-handed as a lineup and we’ll have to figure out who hits where … but I think he’ll hit at the top of the lineup and do damage," Hoyer said. "I was taught hit your best hitters the most often and get them at the top of the order and I think that’s what we’ve been doing."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Soler homers again

By Paul Sullivan

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A).

Friday at Oklahoma City: 1-for-4, two runs, three strikeouts.

Trending:  12-for-32 (.375), 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, 9 walks, 13 strikeouts.

Season: 116 games, .341 batting average, 37 home runs, 96 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Friday at Oklahoma City: 2-for-3, 2-run home run, double, two walks, 3 RBIs.

Trending: 11-for-34 (.324), 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 13 RBIs, 7 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  46 games, .377 batting average, 12 home runs, 18 doubles, 43 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Friday at Mobile: 2-for-5, one walk, one strikeout.  (Doubleheader)

Trending: 10-for-34 (.294), double, 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 4 walks, 5 strikeouts.

Season:  46 games, .299 batting average, 9 home runs, 7 doubles, 28 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Friday at Mobile: 1-for-7, one run, one strikeout. (Doubleheader).

Trending:  1-for-16 (.063), 4 strikeouts.

Season: 103 games, .269 batting average, 8 home runs, 22 doubles, 53 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Wrigley welcome not so warm for Javier Baez

By Paul Sullivan

When Javy Baez toured Wrigley Field with some other prospects during a cold January day in 2013, a Cubs’ executive chastised them for walking on the grass and leaving imprints.

You can bet no one was telling Baez where he could and could not walk Friday when he made his home debut before a curious crowd of 34,937.

It was a day that started out well and went downhill quickly for the rookie second baseman who went 1-for-5 with four strikeouts in a 4-3, 10-inning loss to the Rays.

"I wasn’t nervous or anything," Baez said. "Just swinging at bad pitches."

Starlin Castro could relate. It reminded the Cubs shortstop of his own Wrigley debut May 10, 2010 when he committed three errors in a loss to the Marlins.

"Those kinds of games are always coming," Castro said. "It happened to me in a different way. Those kind of things will help him learn. He knows he’s in the big leagues now."

At least Baez wasn’t booed, as Castro was on that night, or shown up by a teammate, as starter Carlos Zambrano did to Castro.

Baez’s rough debut wasn’t as important as the significance of his arrival, considered the first big step on the Cubs’ long journey back to respectability.

"We get it," manager Rick Renteria said. "We understand that it has been a long time where you’ve been able to hear about talented, gifted players here in Chicago, and now they’re finally starting to get here …

"It’s a good thing, that players in the system are legit, that it’s real. But people have to see it to embrace it, to believe it, and we all get that."

Baez was greeted with a big ovation in his first at-bat, as organist Gary Pressy played “We’ve Only Just Begun,” a 1970 Carpenters’ hit. Baez responded with a broken bat single to left off Rays starter Chris Archer, the former Cubs’ prospect.

But that was the only highlight. Baez struck out on a 95 m.p.h. fastball on a 1-2 pitch in the third, after taking the first two breaking pitches for called strikes, and struck out again on a 1-2 pitch in the dirt in the fifth. In the eighth, with the tying run on second and no outs, he fell behind 0-2 against lefty reliever Jake McGee and struck out on a 97 m.p.h. fastball. In the 10th, he struck out on a nasty change-up from Brad Boxberger.

"They didn’t throw many pitches over the plate," Baez said.

And they won’t if he keeps swinging at the ones outside the strike zone.

"Yeah, I just have to be patient," he said. "Tomorrow is another day."

The Cubs lost it on Kevin Kiermaier’s RBI single off Hector Rondon in the 10th, after Ryan Sweeney tied it with a run-scoring single in the ninth.

But Baez is here, and the buzz was real.

"Our fans deserve to get excited," President Theo Epstein said. "Ultimately the only thing that matters is winning. We’re working hard to get there, but having young players who are worth following and at-bats you can’t miss …

"That makes us feel good that our fans have something like that at this point because certainly there have been some tough times they’ve had to endure."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs miss on Cole Hamels but show a will to spend

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs knew they had little chance of making a deal for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels after putting in a waiver claim Wednesday.

They obviously don’t need Hamels this season, but considered it a long shot worth taking to have one of the game’s best pitchers under their control through 2018, if a deal could be made.

To no one’s surprise, a deal could not be reached between the two organizations, and the Phillies pulled Hamels back from waivers Friday.

So Hamels will remain with the Phillies the rest of the year, while the Cubs showed potential free-agent pitchers they have money to spend this winter.

Bosio’s lab: The Cubs acquired 23-year-old Marlins right-hander Jacob Turner, whom they claimed on waivers, for Class A pitchers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer.

Turner, whom the Tigers selected with the ninth pick of the 2009 draft, never lived up to his potential, going 9-21 with a 4.77 ERA for the Tigers and Marlins. He will be another reclamation project for pitching coach Chris Bosio, who has helped turn around Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman, Jake Arrieta and Jason Hammel the last three seasons.

"We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who were going through tough periods," Cubs president Theo Epstein said. "Getting them here, let them re-set a little … We’re hopeful that will happen with Jacob. … Between now and next spring training there are things we can work together on."

Wait till next year: Epstein said it’s an organizational goal to “vertically integrate the entire system.” With Javier Baez already up and Cuban slugger Jorge Soler in the express lane at Triple-A Iowa, could third base phenom Kris Bryant conceivably get a look in September?

No chance, said Epstein, who reiterated his stance on making Bryant play a full minor league season.

Epstein said it was not a “business” decision, though it makes perfect economic sense not to start Bryant’s arbitration clock this year.

Extra Innings: Triple-A Iowa outfielder Ryan Kalish was designated for assignment. … Left-hander hitters are batting .130 against Cubs’ lefty Tsuyoshi Wada.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs lose out on Hamels, acquire Turner

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs’ waiver claim for Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels didn’t result in a trade on Friday, and the Phillies pulled Hamels back from waivers.

A major league source said that Cubs took a longshot chance in making the claim for Hamels, feeling they had nothing to lose and had a chance at ending up with an affordable, No. 1 starter who is owed $90 million from 2015-18, with a $20 million option for 2019.

But the Phillies weren’t going to deal Hamels without getting at least a couple top prospects in return, and the Cubs were never close to making that happen.

Meanwhile, the Cubs acquired Marlins right-hander Jacob Turner, whom they also claimed on waivers. The Marlins received Class-A pitchers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer in return. Turner will be the latest reclamation project for pitching coach Chris Bosio, joining recently acquired Felix Doubront.

Turner, whom the Tigers selected with the ninth pick of the 2009 draft, never lived up to his potential, going 9-21 with a 4.77 earned-run average for the Tigers and Marlins. He made 20 starts for the Marlins last year and posted a respectable 3.74 ERA, but regressed this season with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances, including 12 starts.

"He’s just 23 years old, he’s got a really good arm," president Theo Epstein said. "We feel like we got him at a low point of value, and there’s plenty of upside left in him, so we’re excited about that."

Turner will be place on the 25-man roster in a few days, Epstein said.

In another move, Triple-A Iowa outfielder Ryan Kalish was designated for assignment.

Chicago Tribune

Wrigley Field buzzing for Baez’s home debut

By Paul Sullivan

The Wrigley Field debut of Javy Baez should bring a little life to the ballpark this afternoon when the Cubs take on the Rays in an interleague game.

The Cubs are coming off a road trip in which they won four of six against the Dodgers and Rockies.

Baez, who hit two home runs on Thursday and three in his first three games, will bat second against Rays starter Chris Archer, the former Cubs prospect dealt to Tampa Bay in the trade that netted Matt Garza.

Here’s the Cubs lineup:

Coghlan LF

Baez 2B

Rizzo 1B

Castro SS

Valbuena 3B

Alcantara CF

Sweeney RF

Baker C

Wada P

Chicago Sun-Times

Javy Baez brings fans to Wrigley in debut loss

By David Just

The series opener Friday against the Rays will go down as a 4-3 loss in 10 innings for the Cubs, who fell 16 games below .500.

Of far greater importance, though, was the introduction of blue-chipper Javy Baez to a home crowd of 34,937, the latest — and, for now, the biggest — milestone in the club’s rebuilding process.

Baez, 21, seemed anxious in his home debut. He struck out swinging four times and hacked at pitches out of the strike zone.

“I wasn’t nervous,” Baez said. “I was just not being patient at the plate and swinging at bad pitches.”

Still, there was at least one glimpse of the future the Cubs are hoping to create.

Baez came to the plate in the first inning to a strong ovation and cracked a single to left field.

Anthony Rizzo followed with a double to right, and Starlin Castro singled in the game’s first run.

Three consecutive hits by a trio of youngsters was exactly what frustrated Cubs fans wanted to see.

Baez also flashed some defensive skill in the second inning. He charged toward a slow grounder from Logan Forsythe, scooped it up with his bare hand and flipped the ball to first for the last out of the inning.

“We’ve been able to hear about talented, gifted players in Chicago,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Now they’re finally starting to get here and show you some of the things and skills that they bring to the table. Slowly but surely, people will start to embrace it and start to believe.”

Leadoff hitter Chris Coghlan sensed the changes surrounding the club before a pitch was thrown.

“There is energy, for sure,” Coghlan said. “Anytime you call up a young guy, it brings energy. Everybody wants to meet him, talk about him. He’s fresh; he hasn’t been seeing all the losses. He’s just excited to be here and is trying to put his stamp on the league.”

The rest of the game had all the hallmarks of a team enduring growing pains.

Starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada threw well enough to earn a win. He went six-plus innings, gave up two earned runs, struck out six and walked one.

The bullpen, though, allowed go-ahead runs in the eighth and 10th innings.

Baez, Rizzo and Castro went 0-for-11 after their first-inning breakout.

The Rays got consecutive singles from Desmond Jennings, Ben Zobrist and Kevin Kiermaier in the 10th to take the lead for good.

Baez came up with a man on second and no outs in the eighth inning and didn’t make contact to advance the runner, an opportunity Baez knew he missed.

“I was just trying to make contact and see what happens,” Baez said.

Renteria was confident it was a moment Baez will learn from.

“He knows the situation,” Renteria said. “And I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to take the bat out of his hands, either, and limit what he can do. I want him to have an approach that allows him to be able to take advantage of that skill he has.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs acquire right-hander Jacob Turner from Marlins

By David Just

Javy Baez was the new face in the Cubs’ clubhouse Friday, and soon it will be right-hander Jacob Turner’s turn.

The Cubs acquired Turner, 23, in a trade with the Marlins, sending minor-league pitchers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer to Miami.

Turner will be a bit of a project for pitching coach Chris Bosio after struggling and losing his spot in the Marlins’ rotation in June. Turner is 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances, including 12 starts.

Still, the trade is a promising one for the Cubs, who gave up two Class A relievers for an established starter who was considered a top-25 prospect by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus two years ago.

“He’s got a really good arm,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said, “and we feel like we got him at a low point of value and there’s plenty of upside left with him, so we’re excited about that.”

Turner was a first-round draft pick by the Tigers in 2009 and was part of a five-player trade that sent Anibal Sanchez to Detroit. The Marlins promoted Turner to the majors in the middle of the 2013 season, and he went 3-8 despite a workmanlike 3.74 ERA.

The Cubs designated outfielder Ryan Kalish for assignment to make room for Turner on the roster. Kalish made 100 plate appearances and hit .242 with a .303 on-base percentage.

Not rushing Bryant

Epstein said that touted prospect Kris Bryant will not be joining Baez with a major-league debut of his own this season.

Bryant, who has toyed with Class AA and AAA pitching to the tune of 37 home runs, 96 RBI and a massive .692 slugging percentage, will remain at Class AAA Iowa for the rest of the season, Epstein said.

“I think Kris is doing extraordinary things,” Epstein said. “But to consider calling somebody up in his first full season, not only would a player have to do extraordinary things, but there’d have to be unique circumstances with the big-league team, too, like being in a pennant race and needing that boost.”

Epstein went on to say that leaving Bryant in Iowa wasn’t strictly a business decision.

“I think in your first full professional season there’s enough you have to deal with without making your big-league debut,” Epstein said. “That’s the proper thing for his development.”

Maddon a Wrigley fan

Rays manager Joe Maddon is in his 20th year on a major-league bench, but the series opener against the Cubs was his first experience inside the Friendly Confines.

“I love it,” Maddon said. “It’s the essence of baseball.

‘‘You talk about Fenway Park and what that’s all about, and this has even more of a neighborhood kind of setting than Fenway. My first impression is pretty impressive.”

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Javier Baez has Wrigley Field crowd buzzing

By Bruce Miles

There was a noticeable buzz around Wrigley Field on Friday.

Call it the Baez buzz.

It was there before the game, as Cubs fans eagerly anticipated the Wrigley debut of second baseman Javier Baez.

And it was there even as Baez was striking out for a fourth time, in the 10th inning of a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays.

Baez, who hit 3 home runs over his first three big-league games on the recent road trip, got a big hand when he came to the plate in the first inning and hit a broken-bat single.

But even the strikeouts seemed to rev up the crowd of 34,937. Although Baez is going to swing and miss a lot, as he did Friday, he rarely gets cheated on swings — and when he connects, the ball can go a long way.

"It happened — and I keep throwing his name around — but I remember it happening with Ken Griffey, Jr.," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "You think about (Gary) Sheffield. When those guys were starting to come through the big leagues, there was some excitement because you were talking about guys that generated quite and impact to the baseball."

There was more “whoosh” than impact Friday, and there are going to be days like that with Baez, who seemed to understand that.

"I wasn’t nervous or anything," he said. "I just wasn’t getting pitches on the plate and was swinging at bad pitches."

As far as the crowd reaction goes, it went about as expected for Baez.

"Yeah, for sure," he said. "I like them, too."

After Baez got his single in the first, he struck out in the third and the fifth. He came up in the eighth with Chris Coghlan on second and nobody out and struck out. He also fanned with one out in the bottom of the 10th as Rays reliever Brad Boxberger fed him an assortment of pitches.

The Cubs could have used some contact in the eighth, even if it was just to get the runner to third.

"I think he will, through this experience, gain something from it," Renteria said. "He knows the situation. To be honest with you, I don’t want to take the bat out of his hands. I don’t want to limit what he’s going to do with the bats. I want him to have an approach that allows him to be able to take advantage of the skill he has. He really has been, in the three days he’s been with us, pretty good. Today, it happened. Everybody wants to know what’s going on. Nothing. It’s going to be a process that he gains experience from."

As far as the rest of the game, Cubs starting pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada turned in a creditable effort as he gave up 4 hits and 2 runs in 6-plus innings. The Cubs surrendered 1-0 and 2-1 leads. Setup man Pedro Strop gave up a go-ahead run in the eighth before Ryan Sweeney’s RBI single tied the game in the bottom of the ninth. Closer Hector Rondon (3-4) gave up a single to Kevin Kiermaier in the 10th, and that was the game-winner.

Renteria, who went through four pitchers in the seventh, was more than pleased with Wada.

"Wada threw well today," the manager said. "He deserved a better fate."

Daily Herald

Cubs hoping to find value in new pitcher Turner

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs added what they believe is a buy-low pitcher Friday.

They obtained right-hander Jacob Turner in a trade with the Miami Marlins in exchange for two minor league right-handers: Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer.

 

Turner, 23, originally was selected by the Tigers in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2009 draft. He was part of the July 2012 trade that sent pitcher Anibal Sanchez to Detroit. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Tuner is 9-21 with a 4.77 ERA in 53 big-league appearances (45) starts from 2011-14. This year, he was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA with the Marlins in 20 appearances, 12 as a starter.

The Cubs will add him to the 25-man roster when he arrives in Chicago.

"He’s just 23 years old and has a really good arm," said Cubs president Theo Epstein. "We feel like we got him at a low point at value. There’s plenty of upside left in him, so we’re excited about that.

"He was one of the better starting-pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple of years ago. We feel that talent is still in there. If you look at his velocity, it’s still there. Some of his peripheral numbers are pretty decent. He’s had an accelerated development path because of the major-league contract he signed coming out of high school. We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who are going through tough periods, getting them here, letting them reset a little bit, give them some different things to think about, whether it’s a different grip or a different spot on the rubber or just boosting their confidence."

Not yet for Bryant:

It’s possible the Cubs will bring outfield prospect Jorge Soler to the major leagues when rosters expand in September. However, it’s still unlikely they’ll call up third-baseman Kris Bryant from Class AAA Iowa.

Bryant is considered the organization’s best prospect, and he’s enjoyed a good season between Class AA Tennessee and Iowa.

"Nothing has changed," said Theo Epstein. "I still don’t foresee a scenario where Kris would get called up this year. His first full professional season, it would really take extraordinary circumstances to call anybody in his first full professional season. I think Kris is doing extraordinary things, but for us to consider calling someone up in his first full pro season, I think not only the player would have to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big-league team, too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost."

Epstein said there are a number of factors working against a Bryant call-up this year and that they weren’t related to “business.”

"He’s also got some developmental issues that he’s working on — his defense and continuing to work on his approach in certain parts of the strike zone," Epstein said. "He’s doing a phenomenal job that I think people forget because of the success that he’s had that he was just drafted 14 months ago. When he reaches the end of the season, he should be awfully proud, we should be awfully proud, and there will be a lot to go home and reflect on already. It’s not necessary for someone in his first full season to make it all the way to the big leagues for it to be a thoroughly successful development year."

Cubs.com

Cubs show glimpses of future, but fall in 10

Baez singles in first Wrigley at-bat; Rondon gives up game-winner

By Brian Hedger

CHICAGO — Wrigley Field shimmered in sunlight and Cubs fans basked in the home debut of a guy they’d heard plenty about.

Rookie second baseman Javier Baez played his first game at Wrigley Field on Friday, a day after smacking two home runs in the series finale against the Rockies at Coors Field, and the crowd of 34,937 rewarded him with a standing ovation.

It turned out to be a glimpse not only of Baez, but also the not-too-distant future for the Cubs in a 4-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings.

"They were very excited," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the fans. "You could sense it. [Baez] got to the plate and got a roaring ovation. … that’s pretty special. And we’re glad, because we’re starting to see some of the young men that have been talked about for a little while."

Watching Baez join Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcantara in the home Cubs uniform gave the fans some hope for the future — especially knowing there are more still to arrive in the next year or two.

"They’re starting to arrive and I think there’s some excitement to it, because there’s some legitimate skill," Renteria said. "We’ve seen a little taste of it, and as they continue to mature and get better and understand the game, I think all of those skill sets will come into play in a positive way."

Watching this game unfold, however, was a stark reminder there is plenty of work left to be done.

Baez went 1-for-5 and struck out in his final four at-bats, including the eighth inning with the Cubs down 3-2 with a runner on second, and in the 10th with one out. Rizzo, another key piece for the future, made an equally-costly mental miscue in the eighth with the game still tied at 2.

Rizzo didn’t recognize a called third strike on a wild pitch with a 3-2 count and neglected to cover first. Kevin Kiermaier ran down the line after a checked swing and was safe to extend the inning. Evan Longoria struck out in the following at-bat for what would’ve been the inning’s third out.

Instead, pinch-hitter Matt Joyce made it pay off for the Rays with a two-out RBI single to put the Rays ahead. The Cubs did manage to tie the game at 3 in the ninth on Ryan Sweeney’s one-out single off Brad Boxberger, but the Rays retook the lead in the 10th on three straight one-out singles off Hector Rondon.

Kiermaier hit the game-winning RBI single.

"Just trying to hit something hard on the ground," he said. "I was just trying to hit the ball hard, really. They were playing double-play depth, so it was one of those things where I really wasn’t trying to go middle of the field so much. But he gave me a fastball over the middle of the plate, and thankfully I hit it hard enough where it got through."

Boxberger retired the top of the Chicago lineup in order in the bottom half of the 10th.

After the ovation in the first, Baez didn’t take long to give Cubs fans another reason to cheer. His single off Rays starter Chris Archer, a former Cubs prospect, led to the game’s first run, which he scored following a double by Rizzo and a single by Castro for 1-0 lead.

"It was nothing different," Baez said of his home debut. "It was just [the] same thing. I wasn’t nervous or anything. I was just not being patient at the plate and swinging at bad pitches."

Fans and media alike are learning that strikeouts are part of the package with the hard-swinging Baez. Renteria already knows it and doesn’t seem to mind too much.

"I think through this experience, he will gain something from it," Renteria said. "He knows the situation. I’ll be honest with you, I don’t want to take the bat out of his hand, either. So I don’t want to limit what he’s going to do with the bat. I want him to have an approach that allows him to be able to take advantage of that skill he has."

It might’ve been Baez’s day to dominate the attention, but he wasn’t the lone Cubs player providing a snapshot of the future. Left-handed starter Tsuyoshi Wada had another good outing, going six-plus solid innings and allowing only two runs.

Wada allowed a leadoff home run in the third to Desmond Jennings, tying the game 1, and also gave up Sean Rodriguez’s leadoff triple in the seventh that led to another game-tying run to make it 2-2. Wada struck out six and walked only one before leaving it up to the bullpen.

Three Cubs relievers each got an out in the seventh to hold Tampa Bay to one run, which scored on a ground ball to shortstop with Chicago’s infield playing on the edge of the grass. Castro’s throw was late and Rodriguez was ruled safe on a close play at the plate that was reviewed and confirmed.

"At first, I was probably putting too much stress on myself and I feel as the game went along, I was trying to relax myself," Wada said through an interpreter. "[Against] this level of hitters, I’m getting more and more comfortable, but I wasn’t able to do my job in the most important situation in the seventh inning, so I think I need to improve on that."

Cubs.com

Poised Baez keeps Wrigley debut in perspective

By Brian Hedger

CHICAGO — Javier Baez took his first game as a Cubs player at Wrigley Field in stride, from his first batting practice at the Friendly Confines through the last of his four strikeouts.

After singling and scoring in the first inning of the Cubs’ 4-3 loss Friday in 10 innings to the Tampa Bay Rays, Baez whiffed four straight times to conclude his day.

"It was nothing different," Baez said. "It was just [the] same thing. I wasn’t nervous or anything. I was just not being patient at the plate and swinging at bad pitches."

Trailing 3-2 in the eighth, he struck out with no outs and a runner on second. Trailing 4-3 with one out in the 10th, Baez struck out on a swing that brought him to one knee and nearly knocked him over. Baez wasn’t even all that happy with his single.

"That hit, [the pitch] wasn’t even over the plate," he said. "I got jammed, broken bat, and it was just the ball went through. But they didn’t throw many pitches over the plate."

Prior to the game, Baez stuck to his regular routine of hitting in the batting cages before taking his first live batting practice on the field. He answered a multitude of questions from a large group of reporters. The 21-year-old even got a chuckle out of signs held by fans celebrating his arrival on the scene in the Windy City.

"I just laugh," Baez said when asked about a sign pronouncing the start of big things to come for the Cubs. "I just came up, and we’ve still got guys coming up."

How does such a heralded prospect keep his focus amid a city full of Cubs fans starved for any signs of hope?

"I don’t know," Baez said before the game. "I just make [dealing with the hype] look easy, I guess."

As he strode to the plate for his first at-bat, Cubs fans gave him a standing ovation. Not even that seemed to affect him. Asked if he was expecting that kind of reaction, Baez hunched his shoulders.

"Yeah, for sure, why not?" he said.

After it was pointed out how much Cubs fans seem to like him, Baez replied, “Yeah, they do … and I like them, too.”

As for on-field adjustments, he’s getting advice from teammates like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who’ve already lived up to the high expectations. Their main advice to Baez: Keep doing what you’ve done all along. It’s the same thing that helped Baez grind through a deep slump to start the season and eventually earn his promotion from Triple-A to the Major Leagues on Tuesday in Colorado.

"I struggled a long time and it took forever to get better, but I didn’t stop doing my routines and doing my early work," Baez said. "I was doing everything like I usually do."

Baez estimated that he’d received about 500 calls and texts since the announcement of his callup, but he hasn’t worried about responding just yet. He doesn’t have time right now, because his routine is pretty jam-packed already.

"He’s a pretty calm individual," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I don’t think it’s really affecting him too much. I think he’s happy to be here, obviously, but he also has a sense that he belongs. So I think he’ll continue to make adjustments and improve and hopefully continue to have success."

Baez did have time to respond to one text. After hitting two home runs in the series finale at Coors Field on Thursday, he got a text from Manny Ramirez — who’d helped him with the finer points of hitting at Iowa. Ramirez is a player/coach there, and Baez said he learned a lot about his approach at the plate from the former All-Star.

"He texted me [and] he was like, ‘You hit two home runs, but I hit one and I went dead center on you,’" Baez said.

Epstein: Bryant will stay in Minors this season

CHICAGO — Just because the arrival of Javier Baez happened earlier than most anticipated, don’t assume third baseman Kris Bryant will make his Major League debut this season.

Bryant continues to dominate Triple-A pitching at Iowa, but Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says Bryant won’t be coming to Chicago this season unless some highly unlikely things happen in the next couple of months.

"Nothing’s changed," Epstein said. "I still don’t foresee a scenario where Kris would get called up this year. First full professional season, it would really take extraordinary circumstances to call up anybody in his first full professional season. I think Kris is doing extraordinary things, but for us to consider calling somebody up in his first full pro season, I think not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team, too, where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost."

The Cubs aren’t anywhere near competing for a pennant or even a Wild Card spot, so the odds of seeing Bryant in Chicago prior to next season are very slim. Some have speculated it has more to do with the Cubs not wanting to start the clock on Bryant’s service time during a non-competitive season. Epstein says otherwise.

"It’s not business," Epstein said Friday afternoon, before Baez’s Wrigley Field debut. "It’s just … in your first full professional season, there’s enough that you have to deal with without making your big league debut, that that’s the proper thing for his development. He’s also still got some developmental issues he’s working on, from his defense to continuing to work on his approach in certain parts of the strike zone."

Bryant, who’s hitting .323 for Iowa, hit his 37th homer between Double-A and Triple-A on Thursday. That tied Rangers prospect Joey Gallo for the most homers in the Minors.

"He’s doing a phenomenal job, but I think people forget because of his success that he’s had, he was just drafted 14 months ago," Epstein said of Bryant. "When he reaches the end of the season, he should be awfully proud and we’ll be awfully proud of him, and there will be a lot to go home and reflect on already. It’s not necessary for someone in his first pro season to make it all the way to the big leagues for it to be a thoroughly successful development year."

Worth noting

• Left-handed starter Felix Doubront, who’s on the 15-day disabled list with a calf strain, was happy with how he felt coming out of an 88-pitch side session Wednesday. The next step will be a bullpen session Saturday followed possibly by a rehab assignment next week.

"It was very good," Doubront said. "I got after it and tried to do a [simulated] game, like getting hitters, like a game. Pretty much I got after it."

• Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, who selected Baez in his last year as Cubs GM, was spotted at Wrigley Field on Friday to watch his home debut.

Cubs.com

Cubs land former first-rounder Turner from Miami

Marlins acquire right-handed relievers Bremer, Arias in deal for young veteran

By Brian Hedger

CHICAGO — The Cubs acquired right-hander Jacob Turner, a former first-round Draft pick, in a trade with the Marlins on Friday, sending Class A right-handed relievers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer to Miami.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that Turner, 23, is expected to join the Cubs at some point in the next couple of days, at which point he will be placed on the 25-man roster. The former highly regarded prospect of the Tigers and Marlins was designated for assignment on Tuesday, two days after giving up five runs over four innings in the Marlins’ 7-3 loss to the Reds.

"He was one of the better starting pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple of years ago," Epstein said. "We feel like that talent’s still in there. If you look at his velocity, it’s still there. If you look at some of his peripheral numbers, they’re still pretty decent."

Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with Miami this season, striking out 54 over 78 1/3 innings.

"He’s just 23 years old," Epstein said. "He’s got a really good arm, and we feel like we got him at a low point of value and there’s plenty of upside left with him. We’re excited about that."

Picked ninth overall by the Tigers in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Turner was pushed through the Minor Leagues quickly, making his Major League debut in 2011 at the age of 20. Turner was dealt to Miami in July 2012 as part of the Anibal Sanchez-Omar Infante trade.

This season, Turner was 4-5 with a 6.03 ERA in 12 starts, and he had a 5.74 ERA in relief.

"He’s had an accelerated development path because of the Major League contract he signed coming out of high school," Epstein said. "We’ve had some success with talented pitchers who are going through tough periods, just getting them here, letting them reset a little bit [and giving] them some different things to think about, whether it’s a different grip or a different spot on the rubber — just boosting their confidence and letting them be themselves and go pitch."

Pitching coach Chris Bosio and his staff will try to help Turner get on track, as they did with Jake Arrieta, Jason Hammel and Scott Feldman. Chicago acquired Arrieta from the Orioles in a similar trade a year ago, and he’s now fronting the rotation following the trade that sent Jeff Samardzija and Hammel to Oakland last month.

"We’re hopeful that will happen with Jacob," Epstein said. "It might not happen right away, but certainly I think between now and next Spring Training, there are some things we can work together on to get him back to a place where he can have success."

Justin Ruggiano, one of Turner’s teammates in Miami, knows the right-hander well.

"He was a teammate of mine, and a great teammate, and he’s a competitor out there on the mound," Ruggiano said. "He’s so young, and he was a big piece in that Anibal Sanchez trade. That may have come with a little bit of pressure and may have caused him to press; I don’t know.

"I’m sure he’s capable of pitching at a high level," Ruggiano said. "Sometimes it takes guys a little longer to figure it out. I played against Cliff Lee when he was in Triple-A, and all of a sudden, he’s making $140 million twice. This game is crazy. I think Jacob has the personality that, given another opportunity, he’ll do OK with it."

Cubs.com

Cubs look to even series with Jackson on the hill

Rays call on Odorizzi, eyeing a return to form after a rough outing

By David Adler

Edwin Jackson will face his old team — and the team he no-hit four years ago — when the Cubs take on the Rays Saturday afternoon, trying to even the series at Wrigley Field after Tampa Bay won Friday’s series opener, 4-3.

Jackson played for the Rays from 2006-08 and first became a full-time Major League starter with Tampa Bay. But he’s better known for what he did against his former club after he left the franchise.

On June 25, 2010, as a member of the D-backs, Jackson pitched one of the most memorable no-hitters in recent history — walking eight, hitting a batter and throwing 149 pitches against the Rays in St. Petersburg.

"It’s one of those bittersweet feelings," he said after that game. "You throw a no-hitter and it’s against an ex-team, but at least it’s with a crowd that you’ve had accomplishments with, and you can do it in front of some people who will appreciate it."

On Saturday, he’ll be facing the Rays’ Jake Odorizzi, who is coming off an especially rough outing, a loss to the Angels last Sunday in which he gave up five runs in the first inning and lasted just three.

Odorizzi had been on an excellent run, owning a 2.25 ERA and limiting opponents to a .198 average in his nine starts prior to his outing against Los Angeles.

"Yeah, it was just one of those days," Odorizzi said. "I went back and looked at it. Everybody has them. Things were going so well for so long, it kind of stings to get that one to mess up that streak. But just start a new one tomorrow. Just get back to the basics to tomorrow."

Odorizzi is 7-9 with a 4.09 ERA on the season, while Jackson is 6-11 with a 5.66 ERA and has lost three straight games.

Cubs: Land former first-round pick Turner from Miami

The Cubs acquired right-hander Jacob Turner, a former first-round Draft pick, in a trade with the Marlins on Friday, sending Class A right-handed relievers Jose Arias and Tyler Bremer to Miami.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said that Turner, 23, is expected to join the Cubs at some point in the next couple of days, at which point he will be placed on the 25-man roster. The former highly regarded prospect of the Tigers and Marlins was designated for assignment on Tuesday, two days after giving up five runs over four innings in the Marlins’ 7-3 loss to the Reds.

"He was one of the better starting pitching prospects in all of baseball as recently as a couple of years ago," Epstein said. "We feel like that talent’s still in there. If you look at his velocity, it’s still there. If you look at some of his peripheral numbers, they’re still pretty decent."

Turner was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 games (12 starts) with Miami this season, striking out 54 over 78 1/3 innings.

Rays: Turning over the order

Rays manager Joe Maddon is a big fan of using the ninth spot in the order as a tool.

"I’m really becoming a fan of the No. 9 hitter becoming a second leadoff hitter, whether it’s an American League lineup or a National League lineup right now," Maddon said. "With [Kevin] Kiermaier hitting in the nine-hole [lately], it’s been a really productive spot for us, either driving people in or getting people on base for the top of the batting order.

"I think it really highlights, accentuates, the circular nature of the batting order. And you don’t want that cliff at the end. I’m kind of digging it."

With the Rays facing lefty Tsuyoshi Wada in Friday’s series opener, Maddon batted right-handed Logan Forsythe last, with starting pitcher Chris Archer batting eighth. Forsythe went 0-for-4.

Worth noting

• This is the first time the Cubs are hosting Tampa Bay at Wrigley Field since 2003, when Chicago won two of three games. The franchises have only met twice previously, once in Chicago and once in St. Petersburg, where the Cubs were swept in 2008.

• Friday marked only the sixth Friday day game in Rays history, but the second this season as the Rays beat the Orioles in the first game of a doubleheader on June 27.

Cubs.com

Confusion over ‘K’ benefits Rays at Wrigley Field

By Bill Chastain

CHICAGO — An odd play took place when the Rays took a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning of Friday afternoon’s game against the Cubs.

Ben Zobrist doubled off Pedro Strop with one out before pinch-hitter Kevin Kiermaier struck out but reached first when nobody covered first.

Initially, the play appeared to be a walk, but eventually it was ruled a strikeout and a wild pitch as the ball skipped to catcher John Baker, who caught the ball.

"I still don’t know what happened," Kiermaier said. "… I thought I had a good take. And I heard the umpire yell, ‘Yeah.’ But then I’m running down to first base and nothing’s happening. … So I’m like, ‘I walked.’ And [Cubs first baseman Anthony] Rizzo comes up to me and says, ‘Did he just punch you out?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know, I’m here right now.’ So I was like, ‘I don’t know.’"

The play turned out to be a big one as there would have been three outs when Strop struck out Evan Longoria, who followed Kiermaier. Instead, Longoria’s out was the second, which paved the way for pinch-hitter Matt Joyce’s single that scored Zobrist for a 3-2 Rays lead.

The Cubs tied the score in the ninth before Kiermaier delivered the winning hit in the 10th for a 4-3 Rays win.

"You know what? Rizz didn’t recognize the call on the check swing," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He recognized the call. He thought it was ball four. So, that’s why he didn’t go to cover. That’s basically what happened in a nutshell. Obviously, [Baker] heard the call and he got up and he was looking over, but [Rizzo] didn’t recognize the check-swing called strike. And then later you saw [home-plate umpire Eric Cooper] signal safe, which is when he touched first base."

Cubs.com

Rays’ late run confirmed by replay

By Bill Chastain and Brian Hedger

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria lost a challenge in the seventh inning of Friday afternoon’s contest between the Cubs and Rays at Wrigley Field.

With the Cubs leading, 2-1, Tampa Bay’s Sean Rodriguez was on third base with one out after a leadoff triple. Curt Casali hit a ground ball to Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who was playing on the edge of the infield grass.

Castro fired a throw home to catcher John Baker, and home-plate umpire Eric Cooper ruled Rodriguez safe. Renteria called for the challenge, which lasted one minute and five seconds. The ruling on the field was confirmed, tying the game at 2.

The Cubs have made 41 challenges this season. They’ve won 18 and lost 23.

Rays manager Joe Maddon won a challenge in the first inning.

The Rays had two on with one out in the first when Evan Longoria lined out to third base. Luis Valbuena made the grab and fired to second baseman Javier Baez to double up Ben Zobrist. Second-base umpire Hal Gibson called Zobrist out, because he thought Valbuena’s throw beat Zobrist to the bag. That prompted Maddon to leave the dugout and challenge.

After two minutes and 15 seconds, the ruling on the field was overturned.

The Rays have made 36 challenges this season, and 14 were overturned, 12 have stood and 10 have been confirmed.

ESPNChicago.com

Baez home debut memorable — for K’s

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – One day after hitting two home runs to help the Chicago Cubs to victory in Colorado, second baseman Javier Baez struck out four times in his Wrigley Field debut as the Cubs lost 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Rays in 10 innings Friday.

This is the Baez — along with the long home runs — fans will have to get used to, at least for the near future.

“I was swinging at bad pitches,” Baez said after the game. “They didn’t throw many pitches over the plate.”

Baez singled and scored in the first, but then struck out four consecutive times, including in the eighth inning with the tying run on second and none out, and again in the 10th with the Cubs trailing 4-3.

“It’s going to be a process that he gains experience from,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He has to trust his skill. It’s easier to take someone that’s aggressive and tone them down than try to get someone to be more aggressive that’s passive. He’ll be fine.”

No one should be criticizing Baez for his strikeouts. They’re going to happen, particularly early in his career. But his eighth-inning at-bat is the one of concern. As the Cubs turn themselves into winners, they’ll need winning approaches at the plate when situational hitting is called for. With Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro coming up behind him, Baez needs to get the runner over to third. He struck out on six pitches.

“To be honest with you, I don’t want to take the bat out of his hands, either,” Renteria said of that Baez plate appearance. “I don’t want to limit what he’s going to do with the bat.”

Renteria talked of the flair that a player like Baez can bring to the park. The mammoth home runs will be there, but every member of a winning team has that responsibility to do the little things.

“The ability to leave the ballpark from any part of the strike zone to any part of the park in any count in any situation,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said before the game. “That’s something that’s a subtext of every at-bat. It keeps pitchers honest, but Javy still has to think his way through an at-bat and find a pitch he can drive.

“We don’t want to take his aggression away from him. He swings hard and that creates the ability to leave the yard and change the game. That’s something that we like.”

But Epstein would undoubtedly agree that a balance has to be found. It wasn’t a strong suit for Baez in the minors, and it showed up in that eighth inning at-bat. To be fair, many a player has struck out trying to get a runner over, but not many have done it with such massive swings.

“I was just trying to hit the ball and make contact and see what happens,” Baez said.

When he makes contact, the ball is going to fly off his bat, but with seven strikeouts in four games it’s going to be a work in progress. After the fact, Baez said he realized he didn’t get many pitches to hit. A few walks will have to come with the big swings, too. Either way, fans appreciated seeing him at Wrigley Field for the first time.

“He got to the plate and got a roaring ovation,” Renteria said. “We’re glad.”

And one day after some big results, the Cubs’ latest prodigy had a rough afternoon. He’s not the first, but he’s one of the more talented — which could pay off with needed experience.

“I just have to be patient,” Baez said. “Tomorrow is another day.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Rays 4, Cubs 3 (10)

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs lost to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 on Friday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Kevin Kiermaier drove in the go-ahead run in the 10th as Cubs pitcher Hector Rondon gave up three straight hits. Ryan Sweeney tied the score 3-3 with a ninth-inning single to drive in Justin Ruggiano from second base. The Rays scored runs in the seventh and eighth innings to tie the game and then take their first lead after the Cubs led 1-0 and 2-1. Javier Baez singled in his first at-bat at home and eventually scored on a Starlin Castro RBI single. The Rays tied the score 1-1 on a Desmond Jennings home run in the third inning, but the Cubs regained the lead in the fourth when pitcher Chris Archer botched a throw to second, leading to a John Baker RBI single. Sean Rodriguez scored on a groundout after tripling to open the seventh, then pinch-hitter Matt Joyce drove in Ben Zobrist to put the Rays ahead in the eighth.

What it means: The Cubs got a glimpse of the good and bad of their young players when Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Castro all had hits in the first inning but then failed to move Chris Coghlan off second base after he doubled to open the eighth. Still, the future looks bright as there was a buzz in the building for Baez’s debut game at home. That buzz has been missing at Wrigley for quite some time.

Baez Wrigley debut: Baez started out well enough, with a broken-bat single in the first inning after a nice cheer and semi-standing ovation from the crowd. He eventually came around to score, but things didn’t go well after that. He struck out his next four times at the plate, including in the eighth inning with the tying run on second base and none out.

What’s next: Edwin Jackson (6-11, 5.66) takes on Jake Odorizzi (7-9, 4.09) in Game 2 of the series Saturday afternoon.

ESPNChicago.com

Why (likely) call up Soler and not Bryant ?

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein didn’t break news Friday in reiterating that star prospect Kris Bryant probably won’t make it to the big leagues this season like former teammates Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara have.

Epstein has been saying that since he promoted Bryant to Triple-A Iowa way back in June. What rings hollow is his reasoning – especially compared with Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler, who more than likely will make it to Wrigley Field before year’s end.

“It’s not business,” Epstein said. “In your first full professional season there is enough that you have to deal with without making your big league debut. That’s the proper thing for his development.”

Who can say Epstein is right or wrong, but he’s been preaching the “first full professional year” thing for a while and it simply seems like something random to grasp onto. Bryant played half a season with the Cubs last summer, then the fall league, and he quickly advanced through the minors this year. Is it really that big of a deal it’s technically his first full year?

“In his first full pro season, not only would the player have to be doing extraordinary things, but there would have to be unique circumstances with the big league team too,” Epstein said. “Where we were in a pennant race and really needed that boost.”

Can’t the opposite be true? Isn’t being out of a pennant race as good a time as any to bring a player up? In fact, that seems to be the better time. There’s less pressure. And with so many young players already in the big leagues Bryant could ease into it as much as anyone, considering he would be the last of the group this season. And as far as extraordinary things, leading Double-A in all three Triple Crown categories, at the time of his promotion, and totaling 37 home runs and a composite .342 batting average seems pretty special.

“I think people forget because he was drafted just 14 months ago,” Epstein said.

The biggest indictment of this logic comes in the strategy surrounding Soler, who is the same age as Bryant. The Cubs are basically saying Bryant is too green to come up while there is no such issue with Soler, who has had 45 at-bats at Triple-A, though he has showed some great plate discipline. He has eight walks and just 10 strikeouts going into Friday’s games.

“That’s shown up more consistently now,” Epstein said. “Ever since he came off the disabled list the second time he’s had consistent, high-quality at-bats. He’s not swinging at chase pitches. He’s focused throughout the at-bat. That’s not something we taught him, that’s something he showed up with.”

Soler is finally healthy and performing as projected. But because of those injuries – to his legs this year and last – he’s been limited to 134 games played, 547 plate appearances and 479 at-bats as a professional. Bryant has appeared in 151 games while amassing 639 plate appearances and 540 at-bats going into Friday’s action. Just because one has been in the system longer than the other, he’s more ready?

The Cubs admitted long ago that Soler needed reps after defecting from Cuba in 2011 while establishing residency in Haiti before making it to the states and eventually signing a nine year, $30 million deal with the Cubs. Meanwhile, Bryant hasn’t stopped playing baseball – other than to sign his contract last summer. And more important than any of this is the fact that Epstein knows Bryant can mentally handle any ups and downs or rigors of coming up in his first full professional year. He’s a hitting machine who takes care of himself and would have no problem adjusting to the big leagues, even though he started the year at Double-A Tennessee.

One item that does make sense is the 40-man roster issue. The Cubs have some expendable players – such as Josh Vitters or Brett Jackson – who can be removed. But adding Bryant now would give the Cubs a little less flexibility in the offseason. In other words, they may want to use those expendable spots to sign or trade for players this winter without Bryant clogging one spot up. He won’t need to be added to protect him from the Rule 5 draft either. It may not be an issue considering the Cubs have several other players besides Vitters and Jackson who could be removed, opening up enough spots for Bryant and other additions.

As much as Epstein can’t admit it, business is probably getting in the way of baseball. Bryant is represented by Scott Boras, and by bringing him up now he’ll be moving toward being a free agent after the 2020 season due to fulfilling service-time requirements. By waiting until mid-April or later next season, Bryant wouldn’t become a free agent until after 2021. Some might think it’s a moot point since the Cubs will undoubtedly lock him up to a long-term contract well before then as they have with other stars. But it doesn’t change the eventual negotiating tactic by Bryant and Boras. Simply put, the sooner a player can become a free agent the more he can make, no matter when he signs.

The bottom line is the Cubs aren’t wrong in using this strategy. Bryant won’t be immensely harmed – if at all – by waiting until early next season to be brought up, but making it sound like a developmental issue just doesn’t seem right.

“His defense, to continuing to work on his approach on certain parts of the strike zone,” Epstein said of what Bryant needs to do.

So a .260 hitter (Baez) with 130 strikeouts to 34 walks gets promoted, but a .342 guy with currently the exact same amount of strikeouts but with 70 walks and 14 more home runs won’t be? And the player (Soler) with less professional experience will be as well.

But remember, a matter of a few months isn’t going to make or break the Cubs or Bryant. This is simply about making sense of something that seemingly doesn’t.

ESPNChicago.com

Baez to bat 2nd in Wrigley debut

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez will play second base and bat second in his Wrigley Field debut Friday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Baez, 21, is the first Cubs player in history to hit three home runs within his first three games. He homered once in his debut in Colorado on Tuesday and then two more times in Thursday’s 6-2 victory over the Rockies. Baez is the youngest Cub to produce a multi-homer game since Danny Murphy in 1961. Baez is 4-for-14 with five RBIs in the three games.

Anthony Rizzo returns to the lineup on his 25th birthday after getting a day off Thursday. Here’s the entire Cubs lineup facing the Rays and former Cub Chris Archer:

Chris Coghlan LF

Baez 2B

Rizzo 1b

Starlin Castro SS

Luis Valbuena 3B

Arismendy Alcantara CF

Ryan Sweeney RF

John Baker C

Tsuyoshi Wada P

ESPNChicago.com

Javier Baez is the ‘awesome’ Cubs needed

By Jon Greenberg

CHICAGO — “Get your Javy Nagila T-shirts! Get your Javy Nagila T-shirts!”

Sorry, just practicing for Friday. I printed up 10,000 of those shirts!

Just kidding. I’m having a good time.

Not that long ago, “good time” was a word associated with the Chicago Cubs that had nothing to do with top prospect lists or the cavorting of Clark the Cub. It was Aramis Ramirez crushing a homer. It was Carlos Zambrano pointing to the sky. It was even Michael Barrett slugging A.J. Pierzynski.

Rebuilding isn’t a good time, and the Cubs aren’t anywhere close to where we want them to be. But Friday will be a milepost to that destination.

With three homers in his first three games, Javier Baez is so “Good Times,” we should call him “Dyn-o-mite!”

He’s just a big-swinging, 21-year-old infielder living his dream, and his arrival has been a breath of fresh air for a clubhouse that has seen mostly subtractions.

"He’s awesome, just awesome,” Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro told reporters in Denver after Baez’s two-homer game Thursday against the Colorado Rockies. “We’re really happy, not just me, but all the team. It’s really fun for all of us.”

So, what was that you were saying about guarded optimism on Baez?

Empty protestations aside, if you knew anything about Baez the prospect, you figured this was the best-case scenario for how Baez the major leaguer would make his debut.

An extra-innings game winner in his first game and a two-homer effort in his third? OK, that’s just a little better than expected. After three games, he has three homers and three strikeouts. I’ll take that ratio.

Baez is the second player in major league history to hit three homers in his first three games, and the last guy did it in 1954. He’s the first Cub since 1900 with a multiple home run outing during his first three career games.

And, no, Baez isn’t a Tuffy Rhodes or any of the random failed draft picks people have been trotting out for what I call “caution columns.”

He is a real-deal prospect causing a major stir for a minor team.

Friday’s series opener against the Tampa Bay Rays at Wrigley Field means nothing in the grand scheme of things for Baez or the Cubs. But as a singular moment in time, it’s nothing to ignore.

For long-suffering season ticket holders, Baez has helped juice sales on the secondary market, according to analysis from SeatGeek.com. He was called up Monday. And by Tuesday, 1,550 tickets were sold for Friday’s game on the secondary market. For this team and this season, that’s very good.

Hopefully, more fans show up Friday, as well. Remember to tip your vendors! And praise Jim Hendry, if you see him. Baez was his last draft pick.

Wrigley hasn’t been too festive the past few years as attendance and interest have atrophied considerably. But Baez is the kind of player who can create a little buzz just by going to the plate.

With all the talk about flipping veterans and patience, it’s nice to simply watch a talented player and expect big things to follow.

Castro and Anthony Rizzo are fine All-Star players. But they’re not that exciting, not offense guys. But they’ve been here through the muck of the past three years and we’re used to seeing their faces. That’s all.

But Baez is new, and new is exciting. Arismendy Alcantara is new. Jake Arrieta is kind of new and has been a revelation.

I’m ready for Jorge Soler, who should be up in September. I’m ready for Kris Bryant, who we won’t see until next April, even though he’s ready now.

The Cubs are turning into more than a local real estate collective with a softball team, and it’s heartening to see it.

I chuckled at the stories and armchair analysis warning fans to be cautious with Baez. Or what? Nothing’s worse than a sportswriter turned advice columnist.

Fan is short for fanatic, so they should be excited. There’s been way too much anticipation for these highly-touted and almost mythical prospects; now it’s time for the release.

They’re just baseball players, not butterflies. When they’re ready to come up, they should come up and play. And that’s what happened here. Baez got so hot at Triple-A, it made sense for him to be promoted.

And this isn’t a guy who is cowered by expectations.

"Whatever happens, happens," Baez said after his first game. "I’m ready for anything."

You don’t tattoo the MLB logo on the back of your neck if you think you’re a Four-A player.

Cubs president Theo Epstein admitted as much in a conference call with reporters, saying Baez didn’t need to be treated with “kid gloves.”

“Javy is, in some ways, baseball-mature beyond his years,” Epstein said.

The great ones typically are. Will Baez be great? Who knows. All I care about is he’s here and he’s taking big swings. That’s enough for now.

08 8 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Castro impressed by Baez’s arrival

By Brent W. New

DENVER — Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro flutters around the team clubhouse like a moth around a porch light. He says he has been given a second wind, been tossed a baseball buoy, and because of it, his bleach-white smile hasn’t dimmed for days.

Oh, you don’t know why? No worries. A young Cub will be around town to drown your ear drums shortly.

Javier Baez, the team’s hoarded prospect, kept his “Most Popular Man in Chicago” title intact Thursday when he went 3-for-4, knocked two home runs and drove in four runs in his third game in the majors, a 6-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

"It’s pretty awesome. He’s fun to watch," Castro said. "He’s got a great swing — he don’t care whatever pitch it is. He’s going to swing hard and [he] has the possibility to send it out."

Still listening … what else?

"He’s awesome, just awesome. We’re really happy, not just me, but all the team. It’s really fun for all of us," Castro said.

Well, that’s awesome, Castro. Awesome squared. But honestly, can this love affair between a 21-year-old and a long-standing franchise really last? Is it pure or has Baez’s big, flashy swing lured Cubs fans into an empty, one-night fling?

Ask manager Rick Renteria and he’ll tell you he doesn’t think so. Unlike the headmaster of this parade, Castro, however, Renteria warns about the struggles awaiting his prized second baseman.

"He’s a young man. He’s still going to have his struggles. He’s going to have great days, bad days, good days and not-so-good days. But it’s all a part of the process," Renteria said.

Safe to say, Thursday — although cloudy — falls under “great.” Baez blasted the ball in his third at-bat off the left foul pole and followed with a line drive over the right fence at Coors Field a couple of innings later.

When asked what he had in store for the next game, he casually shrugged, as he does a lot, saying, “I don’t know, just play another game.”

The Cubs’ two-hole hitter went 1-for-11 to start his major league career before going perfect in his next three at-bats. Baez, who turned the heat up on his cold start in Triple-A this year, seems to be following suit in the majors.

Albeit faster.

"I started a little bit slow and then kept moving up every AB," he said.

How can you sustain that?

"No matter how many ABs I miss, I’m just going to keep doing my thing and get better," he said.

It has worked so far. And the Cubs, especially their star shortstop, have been reawakened. Does it mean a playoff run this year? In a video game, maybe. But what it does mean is with the arrival of Baez, and the expectations of more top-level prospects on the way, Cubs fans are allowed to be a bit jovial. The pieces of a competitive team are actually starting to fall into place.

Castro, meanwhile, who called for Baez’s promotion over the weekend, will most likely stay upbeat. Moving forward, to the unknown, he says he will try to make sure Baez stays the same.

"I tell him to keep playing with heart, and now that you’re here, just keep playing like you’ve played," he said. "He’s good."

Baez will be welcomed to Wrigley on Friday.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Rockies 2

By Brent W. New

DENVER — Here’s a quick look at how the Chicago Cubs beat the Colorado Rockies 6-2 at Coors Field on Thursday afternoon.

How it happened: Shortstop Starlin Castro said a couple of days ago that it was going to be a lot of fun to play with new second baseman Javier Baez in the field. His bleach-white grin never dimmed while talking about it. But on Thursday, Castro was having most of his fun watching Baez from the on-deck circle. The 21-year-old Baez hit a solo home run off the left-field foul pole in the sixth inning and hit a two-run homer to right field in his next at-bat in the eighth. Earlier, Baez drove in a run on a single to left. Castro then followed Baez’s sixth-inning bomb with one of his own five pitches later.

What it means: The Cubs won their third consecutive series, something they didn’t accomplish in the first four months of the season. Two of those series wins came against a very bad Rockies team, but the youth movement seems to be pushing the team in the right direction.

Baez watch: Manager Rick Renteria wants to see Baez grind it out at the plate and, sure enough, he listened Thursday. Baez went 3-for-4 with two home runs and four RBIs. He saw 14 pitches Thursday, which isn’t a lot, but he seemed a little more patient than the day before, when he looped out on the first two pitches he saw.

Another good outing for Hendricks: Kyle Hendricks (3-1, 2.10 ERA) gave up two runs and six hits in eight strong innings of work and earned his third win in five starts. Hendricks wasn’t untouchable, but he consistently worked himself out of jams, which, of course, is the blueprint to success at hitter-friendly Coors Field. Renteria said before the game that Hendricks hasn’t hurt his chances of staying in the rotation long-term, and Thursday’s performance shouldn’t change that fact.

What’s next: Baez makes his Wrigley debut when the Cubs face the Tampa Bay Rays tomorrow at 3:05 CT. Baez admitted he was excited to get to play in front of his home fans after a three-game start to his career on the road in Colorado. On the mound, Tsuyoshi Wada (1-1, 3.32) will face Chris Archer (7-6, 3.42).

ESPNChicago.com

Renteria: Hype won’t get to Baez

By Brent W. New

DENVER — If you’re worried that the giant microscope following Javier Baez around will eventually burn him, he says, “I’m ready for anything.”

And that’s good enough for Rick Renteria, whose new second baseman will make his Wrigley Field debut on Friday against the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I think he’ll be fine," Renteria said. "This is a very mature young man. He probably appreciates [the excitement], but I think he has a grasp, hopefully, to separate the nuances of everything that’s around him and and just stay within himself and stay focused on the game. And I think he will."

The 21-year-old Baez hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning to beat Colorado on Tuesday, but has failed to record another hit since, starting off 1-for-10 in his big-league career.

Of course the Cubs’ brass isn’t worried about it. They predicted these struggles.

"He’s a young man. He’s still going to have his struggles. He’s going to have great days, bad days, good days and not so good days. But it’s all a part of the process," Renteria said of Baez, who batted .194 in April at Triple-A Iowa but batted over .300 in his last month there. "That’s why he’s [in the majors]. And probably dealing with all the fan affection will be a part of the process also which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But, you know, we all have to keep perspective and hopefully have a good balance in dealing with all those things."

Fujikawa update: The second most crowded-around locker in Colorado was that of Kyuji Fujikawa, who returned from Tommy John surgery to pitch one inning in Wednesday night’s 13-4 loss.

When asked if the 34-year-old has a chance to close this season for the Cubs, Renteria said: “I can’t rule it out.”

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ Rizzo gets day off vs. left-hander

By Brent W. New

DENVER — Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo was given the day off as his team goes for the series win against the Colorado Rockies on Thursday.

Rizzo will get his second day off of the season as the Cubs face left-hander Yohan Flande.

"It’s tough to convince guys who want to play every single day [to rest] no matter what park they are at. Especially this park," Renteria said.

Rizzo is batting .182 through five games of this West Coast road trip and went hitless in the first two games at Coors Field.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Javier Baez becomes Wrigley Field’s marquee attraction

By Patrick Mooney

DENVER – Javier Baez is now Wrigley Field’s marquee attraction.

Baez again became a trending topic on Twitter after blasting two home runs during Thursday’s 6-2 win over the Colorado Rockies, the end of a road trip the Cubs may remember as a turning point for The Plan.

Baez doesn’t know what the scene will be like at Clark and Addison on Friday afternoon when his name’s announced and he steps into the box to face Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer. But Cubs fans will be waiting for him.

“I hope so,” Baez said.

Baez became the first Cub since at least 1914 to have a multi-homer game in his third career game. One stayed inside the left-field foul pole, the other bounced into the right-center field bullpen. Combine that with the game-winning bomb in his big-league debut – a 12th-inning shot on Tuesday night – and he’s outperformed the hype coming out of Triple-A Iowa.

That wasn’t just a media creation or the hopes of a desperate, frustrated fan base. The Cubs have put the kids front and center in all their business plans, marketing campaigns and PR spins.

You can be skeptical of a 49-64 team and wonder how the Cubs are going to find pitching and question when they’re going to spend like a big-market franchise again. Just don’t miss a Baez at-bat, because you never know what’s going to happen.

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein will try to shield Baez from the spotlight, but it’s too late for that now.

“It’s not a one-man show,” Epstein said. “We have a couple 24-year-old All-Stars in the big leagues already (with Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro). (Arismendy) Alcantara has come up and made a really nice first impression.

“He’s still someone who’s really exciting to watch, and there may be others behind Javy. For now, it’s a moment where there’s going to be a bit of a fishbowl around (Javy). We’ll help him get through that.”

By the way, Kyle Hendricks went eight innings at Coors Field in his fifth big-league start. The 24-year-old right-hander gave up two runs in the mile-high altitude, showing why he could be a big part of the future. That actually raised his ERA to 2.10.

“When (Baez) does things like he did today, it’s hard not to (think about the future),” said Hendricks, who played with him in the minors. “Everyone in the dugout’s obviously feeling it. There’s a lot of energy with the young guys.

“It didn’t surprise me too much, because I’ve seen it for a couple years. He always thrives on the big stage, every time we had a big game. He’s obviously really fun to watch. I’m glad he’s up here. He deserves it.”

A huge game on getaway day erased the 1-for-11 start, but that’s why the Cubs finally pulled the trigger on the Baez decision, knowing he’d struggle initially and wanting him to see what it takes up here.

“This is baseball,” Epstein said. “It’s something that a lot of prospects have to deal with. Look at Anthony Rizzo, where he was sort of written off after a tough couple months as a 21-year-old. I think Anthony’s jersey was the top-selling Padre jersey the day he was promoted from Triple-A for the first time. It can create unrealistic expectations if you don’t try to set realistic expectations.”

Good luck with that.

“No matter how many ABs I miss, I’m just going to keep doing m