23 7 / 2014

Daily Herald

Cubs cut ties with Barney, then take it to Padres

By Bruce Miles

Slowly but inexorably, the past is giving way to the future at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs cut ties with another of the “old guard” Tuesday, saying goodbye to former Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney.

They made the move before Tuesday night’s 6-0 victory over the San Diego Padres, designating Barney for assignment and activating second baseman-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio off the disabled list.

As respected as Barney was for his defense and presence in the clubhouse, his offense has suffered for the past couple of seasons, and playing time was slipping away.

Earlier this year, Bonifacio was getting time at second base. Of late, rookie Arismendy Alcantara came up and got off to a good start, with Barney away on paternity leave.

Bonifacio started at second Tuesday, with Alcantara playing center field. In the seventh inning, Alcantara hit a booming home run to right field, just before first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit his second of the night and his league-leading 25th of the year.

As for the rest of the Cubs’ future, rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks, making his second career start, earned his first major-league victory by pitching 7 innings of 5-hit ball.

"I really can’t describe it, to be honest," Hendricks said. "It’s definitely the best day of my life. First major-league win, it’s what you work for since you’re a little kid playing T-ball. So I can’t really put it into words. It’s awesome."

Hendricks is part of the Cubs’ future, along with Rizzo, Starlin Castro and a boatload of prospects. Kris Byrant and Javier Baez are hitting at Class AAA Iowa, and late Tuesday, the Cubs said they’re promoting outfielder Jorge Soler from Class AA Tennessee to Iowa and outfielder Albert Almora from Daytona (A) to Tennessee.

Still, general manager Jed Hoyer said it wasn’t easy letting Barney go.

"It’s really hard," Hoyer said. "He’s a guy we have so much respect for as a person and had grown to really like him and respect him. I think he’s a really good baseball player. He’s a winning player. I think he showed that in college. He can do a lot of things on the field to help a winning team."

The Cubs have 10 days to trade, waive or release Barney. They may try to see if they can trade him to a contender, who can use his defense.

"We were in a position here where playing time started to be scarce for him, whether it was (Luis) Valbuena, whether it was Bonifacio, whether it was Alcantara," Hoyer said. "That necessitated the move. It certainly wasn’t easy considering all of you guys have gotten to know him I think he’s a great guy, and I think he’s a great competitor. I’m hoping through this process we can get him to a place where we can hopefully on a contender and get a feel for a pennant race."

Barney had been a Cubs big-leaguer since 2010, but Hoyer also got to the crux of it with Alcantara.

"It’s time for Mendy to play," he said. "He’ll play second. He’ll play center. I think he’ll be in the lineup every day. One of the things we feel strongly about is that when we do bring these guys up, they’re going to play. We’re not going to bring up these guys that are our future to have them share time or sit on the bench. Because he’s switch hitter, he can play every day. We don’t have to match him up every day.

"It’s a very difficult day with Darwin. I do think that it does give us a chance to play Alcantara every day, whether it’s in center or at second. I think that’s important in the future."

Daily Herald

Maddux admits he’s nervous for HOF weekend

By Barry Rozner

Tuesday morning in Las Vegas, Greg Maddux had to be deep in thought and busy preparing for the whirlwind tour of upstate New York that begins Thursday in Cooperstown.

"Actually, right now I’m at my son’s school," Maddux giggled. "I’m in line to get his iPad. No more textbooks. No more dragging that backpack around with all those heavy books. Everything on the iPad. That’s pretty cool."

Yeah, that technology stuff is pretty amazing, um, but not exactly what we had in mind.

"I get it," Maddux said. "Today is what, Tuesday? Couple days, I’ll be there. Getting a little nervous."

Yes, the Hall of Fame weekend is nearly upon us and … wait, what? Nervous? I’ve never known Greg Maddux to be nervous.

"I have to give a speech," Maddux said. "I’ve never given a speech before."

You mean, not even in school?

"Don’t think so," Maddux said. "Don’t remember one."

Well, how’s that going? Probably had it ready to go months ago, right?

"It’s coming together," Maddux said. "Need to have one of my kids retype it for me and fix it up a little. I’ll probably still be messing with it Sunday morning."

With six inductees in one afternoon, there won’t be much time. Ryne Sandberg, for example, spoke for 22 minutes. Maddux will have 4-7 minutes, as will Frank Thomas, Tom Glavine, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox.

"That’s probably a good thing," Maddux said. "I hear it gets pretty hot out there on Sunday afternoon."

The forecast isn’t too bad, right now calling for a high of 77 degrees and a 40 percent chance of storms. Still, the guys front and center on stage will be sweating as the players and managers who have walked before them — and sit behind them — give the newest Hall of Famers a hard time.

"I hear there’s a lot of that, giving the rookies the treatment," Maddux said. "I can handle that. Pretty good group to be a part of."

Maddux is on the verge of officially joining the greatest team in sports history.

There are 66 living Hall of Famers — including this year’s elected — and only 115 players in the history of baseball have been voted in by the writers. Consider the 17,000-plus players who have put on a uniform and do the math.

Let’s just say it’s a tiny fraction.

"The thing is, nobody starts off thinking about something like this," Maddux said. "You play because you love it and then suddenly you have a chance to get to the big leagues.

"Then, you’re trying to stay in the big leagues. Then, you’re trying to stay healthy in the big leagues. Then, you hope you stay healthy long enough to get to free agency.

"You hope you can play long enough and you hope you’re on a good enough team to win a ring.

"There’s no point in there that you’re thinking about the Hall of Fame. Then, you get old and stuff doesn’t work as good anymore and it’s time to go home.

"Five years later, the writers think you were good enough for this (Hall of fame) and it’s kind of ridiculous because when you played you never allowed yourself to dream that dream.

"You’re just too busy making pitches and working to get better to think about something like that.

"Besides, the Hall of Fame is for when you’re done, and nobody wants to be done. You just want to keep going to the park every day and having fun with your teammates."

His teammates now are the best who ever lived, and Maddux got a feel for that over the weekend when he played in a Lake Tahoe celebrity golf event.

"I saw Goose (Gossage) and Ozzie (Smith) and they were really great, telling me what to expect and making me feel at home, and that’s a pretty special feeling," Maddux said. "I played with Goose in Chicago, but never knew Ozzie much, but those guys were really great and it gave me a great feeling getting ready for this weekend.

"I’m excited, nervous, happy; all of those things. It’s gonna be a great weekend, and I get to play golf Saturday morning."

'Nuff said.

Daily Herald

Who knew Maddux would be such a freak?

By Mike Imrem

Sunday will encapsulate 106 years of Cubs futility.

Greg Maddux, this generation’s Lou Brock — who was a previous generation’s Greg Maddux — will join Brock in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

These are the two most prominent Cubs that got away.

Full disclosure: It didn’t bother the media much when the Cubs traded Brock in 1964 and it didn’t bother me much when the Cubs allowed the Braves to sign Maddux as a free agent after the 1992 season.

Maddux had just won 20 games, the Cy Young Award and the hearts of Cubs’ fans forever.

So why didn’t it devastate me that Maddux escaped?

Essentially, I didn’t recognize that we were talking about not only a pitching savant but also a physical freak.

Maddux was 26 years old and had thrown 1,442 innings under big-league stress, including 531 the previous two seasons alone.

Combine that with Maddux standing 6 feet, weighing 170 pounds and looking like the “Batboy” nickname some teammates hung on him.

Pitchers fortunate enough to avoid injuries usually are helped by big thighs and bigger butts. Maddux’s looked as skinny as mine.

That could have made Greg Maddux a Tommy John elbow surgery waiting to happen or a rotator cuff waiting to tear.

Freakishly, neither injury occurred.

Maddux pitched 5,008⅓ major-league innings over 23 years … and spent all of 15 days on the disabled list.

Maddux’s durability is even more remarkable than his 355 career victories, .610 winning percentage and 3.16 earned run average.

Seriously, this is the stuff of Walter Payton, who missed one game in 13 NFL seasons as a running back and always insisted he could have played that day if the Bears let him.

Baseball isn’t football, of course. Baseball players don’t take the pounding that football players endure play after play, game after game and season after season.

Except, a pitcher’s arm is at risk pitch after pitch, game after game and season after season.

Throwing a baseball is said to be an unnatural act. A healthy arm is unsustainable. A healthy 23-year career minus 15 days is unimaginable.

Oh, maybe someone like Nolan Ryan can hold up as well as he did for as long as he did, still smoking his mid-90s fastballs into his mid-40s.

There aren’t many Nolan Ryans walking this planet, however, which is why there’s skepticism that White Sox pitcher Chris Sale can hold up over time.

Sale is another pitcher with a lower body that looks like a ping-pong ball resting on matchsticks.

Maybe Sale will have a long, healthy, meritorious career. There’s precedence. His name is Greg Maddux, though Sale’s delivery isn’t as impeccable.

Just the Cubs’ bad luck — and the Braves’ good luck — that Maddux was a freak happening rather than that debilitating injury happening.

(By the way, isn’t there little doubt that if Maddux remained with the Cubs he would have resided on the DL?)

Maddux’s endurance often is attributed to the flawless mechanics that he repeated for all those years.

But isn’t that what was said about Mark Prior? Watch him throw, they said. The motion is perfect. The future is secure.

Yet Prior kept suffering injuries to various body parts, among them his arm. He was on side mounds performing dreaded towel drills as often as on game mounds throwing baseballs.

Prior had freaky calves the size of Maddux’s waist yet finished his career with 313 fewer victories.

How would Cubs history have been different if Maddux turned out to be what Prior became and Prior turned out to be what Maddux became?

The question is moot.

The Cubs still would have been the Cubs and they still would have spent a century betting on the wrong freaks.

Daily Herald

Cubs say Barney, Baez moves not connected

By Bruce Miles

It might be easy to connect the dots and say that Tuesday’s move by the Cubs to designate second baseman Darwin Barney for assignment is related to prospect Javier Baez moving from shortstop to second base.

General manager Jed Hoyer said that’s not the case.

Baez, one of the top prospects in baseball, recently moved from short to second. In Monday’s game for Class AAA Iowa, Baez extended a hitting streak to 15 games.

"The Baez-second-base thing is really more big picture than anything else," Hoyer said. "We want to increase his versatility regardless of anything. We just started putting him there. These moves are not connected. That said, with a lot of our guys, we’re going to start moving them around and see what they can do at different spots.

At the big-league level, the Cubs will use Emilio Bonifacio and recently called-up rookie Arismendy Alcantara at second, with Alcantara also playing center field. Bonifacio came off the disabled list Tuesday after battling an oblique injury for more than a month.

"With Alcantara, it’s really easy; he’s so versatile," Hoyer said of moving around the field. "Baez has only been a shortstop, so it’s going to take a little longer. The initial reports on his defense at second base have been really good."

Hoyer added there are no immediate plans to move top prospect Kris Bryant from third base to right field.

"It’s something we’ve talked about internally," he said. "He can do it. He played center in college. He’s played right, and he feels good out there. I think with him, the biggest focus for him right now is he’s working on his defense.

"He’s almost 6-6. With that, the fundamentals of playing third base are more challenging. Having him work there, that’s really a focus for him, just working on third base. In the future, I would never say never that we wouldn’t put him out there, but right now, our focus is third."

Missing Barney:

Darwin Barney came up to the Cubs in 2010. as did reliever James Russell and shortstop Starlin Castro. Russell said it was hard to see Barney being cut.

"Me and Dar were drafted both in ‘07, and I’ve played every year in professional baseball with Barney playing behind me," Russell said. "So it’s definitely sad to see him leave, especially (since) he just had a another little baby girl. His family was just now getting settled in here. It’s time to start a new chapter for him.

"You know he’s going to play hard every day he’s out there. He’s definitely got the Gold Glove to go with it. Just in the clubhouse, he’s one of the dudes. He’s easy to hang out with."

Filling in the rotation:

After Kyle Hendricks started Tuesday night against the Padres, the Cubs will bring lefty Tsuyoshi Wada up from Iowa to start Wednesday. For both Hendricks and Wada, it’s their second big-league start.

Hendricks has been penciled into the No. 4 spot in the rotation, and Jed Hoyer said he envisions Wada staying at No. 5.

"We’d like it to be for the foreseeable future," Hoyer said. "We have some options down there. (Dallas) Beeler came up and did a good job for us. Chris Rusin’s done a good job for us in the past. Dan Straily threw better last night, and obviously, he was in the rotation all year last year for Oakland. We didn’t do it for one game."

Cubs.com

Rizzo homers twice as Hendricks gets first win

First baseman sets career high with 25; righty goes seven scoreless

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs fans haven’t had much to get excited about this season, but Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, and Arismendy Alcantara gave them a glimpse on Tuesday night of what could be a very bright future.

Rizzo took over the National League home run lead, hitting his 24th and 25th, and Alcantara smacked his second homer to help Hendricks pick up his first Major League win and lead the Cubs to a 6-0 victory over the Padres at Wrigley Field.

"I think right now, we’re just trying to win, trying to play good baseball," Hendricks said, trying to downplay the impact of the young players. "I just got up here and I’m trying to do what I can to help the team at this point."

After the game, the Cubs announced two of their other top prospects, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora, would also be promoted, although they will go to Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, respectively. It’s a sign of things to come. Soler and Almora are part of the so-called “core four” impact players the team is counting on.

"We’re starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “‘Mendy’ coming up is helpful. The way Rizzo and [Starlin] Castro are playing is great. I think, in the not too distant future, [the prospects] will be out there."

Rizzo, 24, is one of the foundation pieces for the Cubs’ development. He posted his seventh career multi-homer game and set a single-season high with his two blasts, topping the 23 he hit last season in 160 games. Tuesday was Rizzo’s 97th game of the year.

"Riz has talent, he’s maturing, he’s getting his feet on the ground as a Major League player," Padres manager Bud Black said. "The Cubs gave him a long-term deal to maybe give him some security. And he’s a guy with, obviously, big power, which we’ve known. In this ballpark with the wind blowing out, it shows."

Tuesday also was Hendricks’ second big league start and first at Wrigley Field as the team tries to fill the vacancies created by the July 4 trade of starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The Cubs’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2013, Hendricks was 10-5 in 17 starts at Triple-A Iowa. He did not get a decision on July 10 when he was called up for a spot start against the Reds. On Tuesday, he held the Padres to five hits over seven scoreless innings, striking out five.

The difference between the two outings?

"From the start, I just pounded the strike zone here," Hendricks said. "I did have one walk in the first inning but it wasn’t a bad walk. I knew my sinker was working and I just tried to pound the strike zone."

His teammates celebrated by giving Hendricks the traditional postgame beer shower. His father, John, was in the crowd of 32,730 at Wrigley.

"It’s definitely a day to remember," Hendricks said. "It’s definitely the best day of my life. First Major League win, it’s what you work for since you were a little kid playing T-ball. I really can’t put it into words — it’s awesome."

Rizzo connected on his first homer of the game leading off the third, launching a curve from the Padres’ Eric Stults nearly over the right-field bleachers.

Alcantara, who is on the Cubs’ roster to stay after being promoted July 9, became the first player to hit a home run over the right-field bleachers and onto Sheffield Avenue this season with one out in the seventh. Not bad for someone listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds.

Rizzo, on the other hand, is 6-3, 240 pounds, and he followed Alcantara with his second home run, sending a 2-1 pitch from Blaine Boyer to left-center.

"He’s got some strength and has great hands," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Alcantara. "You can see when he takes batting practice and he barrels a ball and gets through it, the ball seems to travel."

"I just tried to make contact," Alcantara said.

When Alcantara arrived at Wrigley Field, he was not aware that second baseman Darwin Barney had been designated for assignment.

"I can be more comfortable, I can play more easy, more relaxed in the field, enjoy the game more, and have fun in the game," Alcantara said.

Has he surprised people with his power?

"More or less," Alcantara said.

"He’s got some torque in his bat," Rizzo said of Alcantara. "It was a smooth swing. It’s nice. He comes to play — told him to go play, don’t worry about anything else. Do what you’re doing here like you were in Triple-A."

What’s impressed Renteria about Hendricks and Alcantara is that both youngsters have a “sense of calm.”

"They aren’t looking like they’re too bothered by being at the Major League level, they’re just playing the game," Renteria said. "They’re simplifying it, they’re keeping it between the lines, looking at it as just another opponent on the other side and trying to do what they can do with the skills they have."

That’s all the Cubs want from the kids.

Cubs.com

Barney designated for assignment as Bonifacio returns

Cubs cut 2012 NL Gold Glove-winner; Alcantara also in mix for playing time at second

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — A Gold Glove winner in 2012, Darwin Barney has had no problems in the field, but has struggled offensively, and on Tuesday, the Cubs designated the second baseman for assignment to make room for Emilio Bonifacio, who was activated from the disabled list.

It was a tough day for the Cubs’ players, including first baseman Anthony Rizzo, to lose one of their friends.

"It’s a business, and with all due respect to our front office and everyone else in front offices around the league, at the end of the day, we’re pieces, we’re pawn pieces and we have no say," Rizzo said after Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the Padres. "We all wish Darwin the best. Hopefully this will be good for his career, which I think it will be. He’s the best human I’ve ever played with — unselfish. Hopefully he goes to a better team, a winning team, and can contend."

Rizzo and Barney have been together since the first baseman joined the Cubs in 2012.

"Talking on the bench, on the bus, on the plane, on the road, talking at second base every day — there’s a lot of things," Rizzo said of the second baseman. "He’s a great player, a great person. He’ll be fine."

Barney, 28, was batting .230 with 10 doubles, two triples, two home runs and 16 RBIs in 72 games this season. He won the Gold Glove in 2012 after tying a Major League single-season record with 141 consecutive errorless games. But his offense has not been able to keep up with his defensive skills. He batted .254 in 2012, and .208 last season. Since making his big league debut with the Cubs in 2010, Barney has batted .244 with 88 doubles, 18 home runs and 146 RBIs in 542 games.

"I think he got out of whack mechanically last year," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "I think he’d be the first person to admit that. He got pull happy and struggled to get back to what he’d been. I think he can get back there. A change of scenery and maybe an offseason, I think he can get back to that. He’s at his best as a pesky player, hitting balls the other way. When guys get pull happy and power happy, it can hurt him."

The Cubs plan on having Bonifacio and rookie Arismendy Alcantara share second base. Alcantara has made six starts at second since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa when Barney went on paternity leave July 9. Alcantara was batting .286 in eight games prior to Tuesday’s series opener against the Padres.

Bonifacio, 29, was sidelined with a right oblique strain since June 13. In seven rehab games, the switch-hitter batted .269 (7-for-26), including a four-hit performance Sunday in his final game for Double-A Tennessee.

The Cubs told Bonifacio to take his time.

"They said, ‘It depends on how you feel — we don’t want to rush you,’" Bonifacio said.

He tested his oblique in the Minors.

"I made a swing one day at a slider in the dirt and made a double play when I had to make a low throw and I was good to go," Bonifacio said.

Despite his offensive struggles, Barney had the most starts at second base this season (55 games) compared to Bonifacio (19) and Luis Valbuena (17).

"It’s a tough day and I’m sure he’ll land on his feet," manager Rick Renteria said of Barney. "I’m sure he’ll be OK. … You’re always surprised. Any player playing for any club is taken aback by it."

With Barney’s departure, shortstop Starlin Castro and reliever James Russell now have the longest time with the Cubs, both joining the team in 2010. Hoyer said he hoped to match Barney with a team in need of a middle infielder.

"He’s a guy we have so much respect for as a person," Hoyer said of Barney. "I think he’s a really good baseball player, and a winning player, as he showed in college. He can do a lot of things on the field to help a winning team.

"He got in a position here where playing time started to be scarce for him, whether it was Valbuena, Bonifacio or Alcantara, and that necessitated the move," Hoyer said. "It certainly wasn’t easy. He’s a great guy, and a great competitor. I’m hoping that in this process we can get him to a place where he can help a contender and get a feel for a pennant race."

Cubs.com

Olt optioned to Triple-A to make room for Wada

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Mike Olt leads all National League rookies with 12 home runs, but he’s also first with 84 strikeouts and was batting .139 after going 0-for-4 in Tuesday night’s 6-0 victory over the Padres with three strikeouts. After the game, the Cubs announced they were optioning Olt to Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs need to open a roster spot for pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who will be making his second big league start Wednesday against the Padres.

Olt, acquired a year ago Tuesday from the Rangers in the Matt Garza deal, went 2-for-35 in June, and was 3-for-25 in 12 games in July. If there’s a plus to the demotion, it’s that he’ll be reunited with Manny Ramirez, who is a player/coach at the Cubs’ Triple-A team, and a former teammate of Olt’s.

Before Tuesday’s game, general manager Jed Hoyer was asked about Olt and outfielder Junior Lake, who was batting .216. Manager Rick Renteria has tried to start Olt and Lake against lefties.

"Their contact rates have been a struggle," Hoyer said of the two players. "They’ve showed some frustration at times but I do like that they keep on working to improve."

Alcantara to see more time with latest moves

CHICAGO — The Cubs’ youth movement is underway with the team’s decision to stick with Arismendy Alcantara and say goodbye to Darwin Barney, who was designated for assignment Tuesday.

"It’s time for ‘Mendy’ to play," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "He’ll play second, he’ll play center. I think he’ll be in the lineup every day. One of the things we feel strongly about is that when we do bring guys up, they’re here to play. We’re not going to bring up these guys who are part of our future to share time on the bench."

Alcantara, who hit his second homer in Tuesday night’s 6-0 victory over the Padres, was called up from Triple-A Iowa on July 9, when Barney went on paternity leave, and was batting .286 in his first eight games. He will play both second and center field, switching with Emilio Bonifacio, who was activated from the disabled list on Tuesday, which prompted the need for a spot on the roster.

"We don’t expect [Alcantara] to come up here and set the world on fire," Hoyer said. "I think he’ll have some great series like he had, and he’ll have some struggles like he did in Arizona [when he went 1-for-12]. That’s part of the process and it’s part of the process for every one of the young guys we bring up, as Starlin [Castro] and [Anthony] Rizzo can attest to."

Alcantara and Bonifacio are interchangeable at the top of the Cubs’ order, too, as both are switch-hitters, and both have speed.

"One is obviously an established player, and one is coming along and learning his craft at the Major League level," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of the two. "Now [Alcantara] has a partner who is doing what he’s doing. It’s not bad that they’re here at the same time."

Alcantara, who batted .307 at Triple-A Iowa, has had more playing time at second than center.

"He’ll probably have some growing pains out there," Hoyer said.

Other top prospects must wait turn for Majors

CHICAGO — The Cubs have decided to play Arismendy Alcantara at second and center, so the next question is, when do the other top prospects get to the big leagues?

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer has been asked that a lot.

"I’m not going to sit here and answer that," Hoyer said Tuesday. "There’s a lot of baseball left to be played. There may be more guys who come up at some point the rest of the year. It’s important to focus on what’s out here now.

"It’s fun to look at the box scores at [Triple-A] Iowa and [Double-A] Tennessee, but I don’t think anytime you switch a guy’s position, or a guy has a big night, people shouldn’t be clamoring for a promotion."

Fans eager to see the so-called “core four” get closer to the big leagues got their wish on Tuesday. The Cubs announced they were promoting top prospects Jorge Soler to Triple-A Iowa and Albert Almora to Double-A Tennessee. Soler, 22, was batting .415 at Tennessee after going 2-for-3 on Tuesday with a triple. The outfielder was limited early this season because of leg injuries.

Almora, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, hit his seventh home run on Tuesday, and was batting .283 with 50 RBIs.

Javier Baez, the Cubs’ top-ranked prospect on MLB.com's list, has started at second base in four of his last five games at Iowa. Hoyer said the decision to move Baez from shortstop to second had nothing to do with Tuesday's decision to designate veteran Darwin Barney for assignment.

"We want to increase [Baez’s] versatility," Hoyer said. "We thought it was the right thing to do to put him there."

The Cubs had hoped to have Baez playing second before the All-Star break, but decided to wait, as the infielder struggled at the plate.

There also has been talk internally of moving Kris Bryant, the team’s first-round Draft pick last year, to the outfield, but Hoyer said they want him to stay at third base.

Hoyer reflects on anniversary of Garza trade

CHICAGO — Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the Cubs’ deal with the Rangers in which they sent Matt Garza to Texas for Justin Grimm, Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards and a player to be named later, who was Neil Ramirez.

Grimm and Ramirez are on the Cubs’ big league roster, while Olt was sent down to Triple-A Iowa after Tuesday’s 6-0 victory over the Padres and Edwards is rehabbing from shoulder issues. Garza went 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 13 starts for the Rangers, and then signed as a free agent with the Brewers in January.

"It’s worked out well," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "That’s the kind of deal — we weren’t in contention, Matt was a free agent, and we were able to get four players back who have helped us. Grimm and Ramirez have been a big help for the bullpen this year. C.J. got hurt and he’s on his way back and we’re confident of his future. Mike had a great spring, and it’s a really good story. We saw him do it in spring — he’s got to get back to that point."

Grimm is second in innings pitched among the Cubs’ relievers, and Ramirez was 3-for-3 in save situations. Olt leads all National League rookies with 12 home runs.

Edwards was scheduled to throw a bullpen session in Mesa, Ariz., on Wednesday, where he is rehabbing, and could play in the Arizona Fall League in October.

"It was a good deal for us and gave Matt a chance to get in the pennant race," Hoyer said.

Last year, the Cubs dealt two starters — Garza and Scott Feldman — and have traded two this month as well in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, who were both sent to the Athletics on July 4.

Schierholtz named Heart and Hustle Award winner

CHICAGO — The Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association named Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz as the team’s 2014 Heart and Hustle Award winner.

The honor goes to active players who demonstrate a passion for the game of baseball and best embody the values, spirit and tradition of the game. The Heart and Hustle Award is also the only award in Major League Baseball that is voted on by former players.

MLBPAA Director of Communications Nikki Warner said Tuesday that Schierholtz is an exemplary teammate, consummate professional, and inspiration to his community.

The MLBPAA formed 30 committees, comprised of Alumni players with established relationships to each team. One player from each Major League team is chosen by the committees based on their passion, desire and work ethic demonstrated both on and off the field.

Worth noting

• Kyuji Fujikawa made his first rehab appearance at Triple-A Iowa on Monday, and gave up one run on two hits in one inning. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, which he had in June 2013. Fujikawa made six rehab appearances between the Cubs’ Rookie League team in Mesa, Ariz., and Class A Kane County, striking out nine and walking two over 5 2/3 innings. There is no timetable for his return.

"He’s throwing better and moving in the right direction," Hoyer said.

Cubs.com

Kennedy faces Cubs looking to keep Rizzo in yard

Wada goes for first career victory in second Major League start

By Manny Randhawa

The question for the Padres as they head into Wednesday’s game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field is one that’s also being asked around baseball: Can anyone keep Anthony Rizzo in the ballpark?

The reigning National League Player of the Week continued his power surge with two home runs in Tuesday’s series opener with San Diego, establishing a career high with his 24th homer of the season in the third inning and belting another solo shot in the seventh. Rizzo has smashed eight homers in his last 12 games to storm into the National League lead.

The slugging first baseman is also batting .467 (7-for-15) with five homers and six RBIs since the All-Star break.

"You want to keep having good at-bats and not try to hit home runs, just try to hit the ball hard," Rizzo said after his previous multi-homer effort last Friday. "Good things tend to happen."

The Padres will ask right-hander Ian Kennedy to make sure more good things don’t happen for Rizzo on Wednesday. History is on Kennedy’s side, as he’s held Rizzo to a .154 batting average (2-for-13) in his career.

Kennedy has been pitching well in July after posting a 5.46 ERA in five June starts. Though he struggled in his last outing, allowing four runs on six hits over five innings against the Mets last Friday, he is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA (six earned runs in 26 innings pitched) in four starts this month.

"He’s pitching great," Padres manager Bud Black said of Kennedy after his July 12 start against the Dodgers. "He really had command of the outside corner to right-handed hitters. I thought that was the big difference tonight. He shut them down."

Kennedy has made nine career starts against Chicago, going 4-2 with a 5.80 ERA, though he was very good in his start against the Cubs earlier this season, allowing a run on two hits over six innings in a win on May 25.

The Cubs will counter with rookie right-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who will be making his second big league start. In his Major League debut against Cincinnati on July 8, Wada turned in five strong innings, yielding an unearned run on five hits in a no-decision.

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said on Tuesday that Wada isn’t making a spot start like he was on July 8; Chicago hopes he can continue pitching well to keep himself in the mix moving forward after the trade sending Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland earlier this month opened vacancies in the starting rotation.

"We’d like it to be for the foreseeable future," Hoyer said. "We have some options down there [at Triple-A Iowa] … [but] we didn’t [call Wada up] for one game. We’re hoping it’s for the foreseeable future."

Padres: Solarte to be utilized all around infield

Utility infielder Yangervis Solarte, acquired in the trade that sent third baseman Chase Headley to the Yankees on Tuesday, will be seeing playing time at multiple positions on the infield, according to Black.

"He’s a pretty steady all-around player," Black said on Tuesday. "We’ll utilize him around the diamond. I like the fact that he’s versatile. I like the fact that he’s playing well this year."

The 27-year-old Solarte held his own in 75 games for New York this season, batting .254 with 14 doubles, six home runs and 31 RBIs. Solarte played in 66 games at third base, 17 at second and five at shortstop. Black did not say that Solarte would be Headley’s replacement as an everyday third baseman.

Cubs: Alcantara to see more playing time

Arismendy Alcantara will see more playing time with the Cubs designating second baseman Darwin Barney for assignment on Tuesday.

Alcantara, Chicago’s No. 7 prospect according to MLB.com, made his Major League debut on July 9 and is batting .282 through his first nine games. He went 1-for-4 with a homer in Tuesday’s win over the Padres.

"It’s time for ‘Mendy’ to play," Hoyer said Tuesday. "He’ll play second, he’ll play center. I think he’ll be in the lineup every day. One of the things we feel strongly about is that when we do bring guys up, they’re here to play. We’re not going to bring up these guys who are part of our future to share time on the bench."

Worth noting

• The Padres are trying to avoid their 11th road series loss this season (currently 3-10-1 in series away from Petco Park in 2014).

• Starlin Castro and Junior Lake have fared well against Kennedy in their careers. Castro is 7-for-23 (.304) with two doubles, a triple and three RBIs against the right-hander. Lake is 3-for-4 with two doubles, a home run and two RBIs.

Cubs.com

Maddux’s work ethic, determination root of success

Eighth on career victory list, pitcher to enter Hall of Fame on Sunday with Cox, Glavine

By Barry M. Bloom

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — Greg Maddux said he knew it was time to retire from Major League Baseball late in the 2008 season when the speed of his fastball was the same as his changeup.

He was with the Dodgers, for the second time, after 11 years with the Braves, seven with the Cubs and a little more than a season with the Padres, when he knew it was time to go. He was 42.

At the time, Maddux said he didn’t realize his destiny would be a plaque in Cooperstown.

"I didn’t think about it until I was done playing," Maddux said. "When you’re playing, all you worry about is your next game and doing what you always do. When I retired, I started thinking about it a little bit. There’s so much about the history of baseball I don’t know. Just to come here and learn some things about the game, I enjoy it. It’s fascinating to me. It’s a history lesson every time I walk through the museum."

Maddux certainly will be a Hall of Famer, elected in January along with former Braves staff mate Tom Glavine and slugger Frank Thomas, who played 16 of his 19 years on the South Side of Chicago for the White Sox. The three will be inducted on Sunday, on the stage behind the Clark Sports Center, along with three of the greatest managers of all time — Bobby Cox, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — who were all elected late last year by the Expansion Era Committee.

Glavine and Maddux, of course, played for Cox in Atlanta. But unlike Cox and Glavine, Maddux is going into the Hall without a team emblem on his plaque.

"I didn’t agonize over it," Maddux said, explaining that decision. "I figured that I was in Atlanta for 11 years and I was in Chicago for 11 years, if you count the Minor Leagues. It was kind of 50-50. Obviously I did a lot better in Atlanta than I did in Chicago. I never felt like I had to pick. When it was suggested that I go in this way it sounded right to me."

Maddux, like Glavine, did it on finesse and guile, working the plate and the umpires to perfection. His 355 wins are the most of his generation — edging Roger Clemens by one — and the most by anyone since Warren Spahn retired with 363 in 1965. Maddux is eighth on the all-time list, while Glavine finished 21st at 305.

Maddux said he doesn’t buy into the premise that there won’t be any more 300-game winners.

"Why not? Somebody is going to do it," he said. "When me and Glav were in Atlanta, we heard there was going to be no more 300 winners. Then Clemens did it. Randy Johnson did it. Glav did it. So why not? There might be some kid in the third grade now who’ll be the next one to do it."

Maddux points to himself as proof of that summation. He said he became a pitcher in high school “because I couldn’t hit.”

"I found out in high school that I threw it a lot better than I hit it," he said.

And that was that.

His favorite pitchers in the Hall of Fame?

"Well, obviously Cy Young. You have to put him on the top of the list," Maddux said, citing the all-time leader with 511 wins. "Him and Babe Ruth. Those two guys for me is where my history starts. You try and fill in the gaps from then to now."

Maddux obviously wrote his own piece of baseball history by painting the plate. He worked 5,008 1/3 innings, started 744 games and completed 109 of them in 23 years. His muscle tone was somewhat flabby as he grew older, but he was durable, a trait also ascribed to Glavine. Maddux’s 23-year WHIP — walks and hits per inning pitched — was a stingy 1.143, fifth among starters in the turn-of-the-21st-century era.

But Maddux’s prowess didn’t end there. He was such a good fielder he won 18 Gold Gloves, 13 in a row from 1990-2002. Maddux willed himself into being a great fielder, he said.

"I just wanted to be, really, that was the biggest thing," Maddux explained. "I cared enough to try and get better at it. That was really it. If you want to do it, you’ll do better at it. I didn’t mind fielding, PFPs [pitchers’ fielding practice] in Spring Training. I actually enjoyed doing it."

What made him so special?

"Talent, I think, and I don’t know whether it was God-given or not, but he certainly knew how to pitch," Cox said. "Not throw. He was a pitcher. A great fielder and he could hit in certain situations. He was maybe the best bunter — the best sacrifice bunter — that I’d ever seen. He was the all-around package. It didn’t come easy. He had to work at it. He got his mechanics straightened out early on in his career. And he was picture perfect on the mound."

Maddux and Cox belong to a mutual admiration society, really. Maddux said it was special playing for Cox, who managed the Braves for 29 years in two stints, winning the 1995 World Series, five National League pennants and a record 14 consecutive division titles.

What made Cox special? “His consistency,” Maddux said. “The way he treated everybody. Whether we won five in a row or lost five in a row, he was the same guy every day. When we came to the park yesterday didn’t matter. The attitude and tone he set in Spring Training was that we not only were getting ready for the regular season, but for the postseason as well. That’s what set him apart from all the other managers.

"It was a pleasure. It was a treat. I joked around and they always say that being a Major League baseball player is the best job in the world. If you take it a step further, the best job in baseball was being a pitcher for the Atlanta Braves. It was a privilege and an honor to play for Bobby for those 11 years."

Now they’ll be bound together forever in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

ESPNChicago.com

Albert Almora, Jorge Soler promoted

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Cubs promoted two of their top prospects on Tuesday, with 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora heading to Double-A Tennessee while Cuban slugger Jorge Soler will move up to Triple-A Iowa.

Almora had been red hot for Single-A Daytona since overcoming early-season struggles. He has 14 hits in his last seven games, which included hitting for the cycle last week. His batting average is up to .280, though he only has 12 walks all year.

Soler has been dealing with hamstring problems in both his legs for most of this season, but since getting healthy he also has been hot. He was hitting .405 in 84 at-bats in Double-A with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in just 28 games this season. He was hitting .459 since his return from rehab, with six of his seven home runs coming over the past 14 games.

Soler signed a 9-year, $30 million deal in 2012 but has been slowed by foot and leg injuries until recently.

ESPNChicago.com

Kyle Hendricks shines in first career win

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — On a day when Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs, stud prospect Arismendy Alcantara hit one onto Sheffield Avenue and the Cubs promoted two of their other big-time prospects — Jorge Soler and Albert Almora — it was 24-year-old Kyle Hendricks who should steal all the headlines.

The Cubs need arms to go along with all these bats, and Hendricks might be a keeper after earning his first career win over the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.

"Definitely the best day of my life," Hendricks said after the Cubs’ 6-0 victory snapped their five-game skid. "First major league win. It’s what you work for since you were a little kid playing T-ball. I can’t put it into words."

Hendricks pitched as advertised, changing speeds from slow to slower while working both sides of the plate. His fastball averaged just 87.2 mph, while his curveball — his best pitch on Tuesday — averaged 75 mph. His changeup fluctuated between 78 mph and 85 mph. He hit 90 mph on the radar gun just twice all night.

With all that soft throwing, Hendricks lasted seven innings, giving up just five hits, three walks and no runs while using only 83 pitches.

"He kept his pitch count down,” Rizzo said. “Especially in the conditions today."

Fielders love getting on and off the field in particularly nasty weather. Most of the time at Wrigley Field it’s the cold that annoys them, but Tuesday was the muggiest night of the summer.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Hendricks averaged 3.07 pitches per plate appearance, the lowest of any Cubs starter this season. Three double-play balls didn’t hurt his efficiency, either.

"He had a good idea of what he wanted to do with every single hitter," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

"Having an idea" is what will get Hendricks far. He didn’t break any radar guns — and he never will — but what he lacks in power he makes up in movement and know-how. All five of his strikeouts were on pitches outside the zone.

"[Cubs catcher] Welington [Castillo] and I went in with a good game plan and pretty much stuck to it all night," Hendricks said.

Hendricks gave up three walks, which isn’t his normal style, but he got out of every potential jam as the Padres went 0-for-10 with runners on base, including 0-for-5 when in scoring position.

"You definitely wonder when you come up," Hendricks said. "That’s the hardest thing in baseball, to trust your stuff. But that’s what you have to fall back on."

The Cubs are in the midst of changing their team from perennial loser to what they hope is a perennial contender. Even after just two career starts, Hendricks was asked if the Cubs’ time is coming.

"We’re just trying to play good baseball," he said. "I just got up here. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team at this point."

Home runs are sexy, but pitching still wins games. Hendricks might help the Cubs for years to come.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs option Mike Olt to Triple-A

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs optioned third baseman Mike Olt to Triple-A Iowa late Tuesday to make room on the roster for Wednesday night’s starter, Tsuyoshi Wada.

Olt had been with the Cubs since making the team out of spring training, but he struggled at the plate and struck out 84 times this season, including three Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres before he was demoted. He was hitting .139 with 12 home runs and never made enough contact to warrant staying in the big leagues.

Wada will make his second career start. He gave up no earned runs over five innings earlier this month against the Cincinnati Reds.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Padres 0

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs beat the San Diego Padres 6-0 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: The Cubs struck early when Emilio Bonifacio doubled to lead off the first inning, eventually coming around on a Justin Ruggiano sacrifice fly. Two innings later Anthony Rizzo hit his 24th home run of the season, a no-doubter to the top row of the right-field bleachers. Ruggiano added an RBI single in the fifth inning and then Arismendy Alcantara hit one onto the street behind the right-field bleachers in the seventh for his second career home run. That was followed by another one by Rizzo, this time to left-center. Welington Castillo drove in Ruggiano with a double to complete the scoring.

It’s all the offense starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks would need. Hendricks went seven innings, giving up five hits and three walks but was helped by three double-plays balls. He struck out five, including his final batter of the evening. He threw just 83 pitches over his seven innings.

What it means: Hendricks earned his first career win by doing what he does best: change speeds and move the ball to both sides of the plate. Hendricks wasn’t hitting 90 mph much, but he dipped down into the low 70s to induce very little hard contact. Any oncoming trouble was snuffed out in the form of three double plays over the course of four middle innings. He was as good as advertised.

Rizzo is off to a good start in trying to win back-to-back player of the week honors, as he has hit five home runs since the All-Star break. Alcantara displayed his tremendous power by taking a low pitch and putting it onto Sheffield Ave.

C.J. Edwards update: Pitching prospect C.J. Edwards is scheduled to throw in a rookie league game on Wednesday as recovers from a shoulder injury.

Fujikawa rehab: Reliever Kyuji Fujikawa has moved his rehab to Triple-A Iowa, but general manager Jed Hoyer said there is no specific timetable for a return to the majors. Fujikawa has been out since early last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place on Wednesday night as lefty Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 0.00) makes his second career start against Ian Kennedy (7-9, 3.62).

ESPNChicago.com

Hoyer: ‘It’s time for Mendy to play’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer came up with a twitter hashtag without even knowing it Tuesday as the organization turned the page on veteran Darwin Barney while further solidifying newcomer Arismendy Alcantara’s status.

"It’s time for Mendy to play," Hoyer said after designating Barney for assignment. "He’ll play second, he’ll play center, but I think he’ll be in the lineup every day."

"#MendyTime" may or may not catch on, but Alcantara will get every chance to be a regular as the Cubs head toward 2015. On Tuesday, manager Rick Renteria had him batting second and playing center field behind fellow switch-hitter Emilio Bonifacio, who was at second base. The two can flip-flop positions any time, though Alcantara is going to get more looks in the outfield.

"One of the things we feel strongly about is when we bring these guys up, they’re going to play," Hoyer said. "We’re not going to bring up these guys who are our future to share time or sit on the bench. Because he’s a switch-hitter he can play every day."

That’s the benefit of the doubt Alcantara will get since the Cubs don’t have to worry about righty-lefty matchups as they did early in the season with Junior Lake and Mike Olt. Hoyer lamented the fact that there aren’t that many left-handed pitchers in the division forcing those two to the bench. He didn’t disagree that with the quantity — and quality — of infielders getting closer to being major-league ready, a more permanent move of Alcantara to the outfield exists.

"We don’t expect him to come up here and set the world on fire," Hoyer said. "He’ll have some great series like he did and some struggles like he did in Arizona. That’s part of the process and will be with every one of the young guys we bring up."

Alcantara is hitting .286 after a 1-for-12 weekend in Phoenix, but he has six extra-base hits in eight games, showing the energy and pop he has displayed throughout his minor league career. Renteria was excited for Bonifacio’s return from the disabled list, as the veteran’s game is similar to Alcantara, minus the home run and gap power.

"In a sense he has a partner, so to speak, that’s done what he’s doing, so it’s not bad that they’re here at the same time," Renteria said. "Hopefully it’s something that’s a positive."

It might not be long before Alcantara surpasses Bonifacio as his talent seems to have a larger effect on the game.

As for Barney, he might go down in history as the first player to essentially lose his job after going on paternity leave. A two-day absence earlier this month opened the door ever so slightly for Alcantara, and he has kicked it in. The roster turnover for the Cubs continues as he will officially get his chance now.

"With Mendy, it’s time to see that," Hoyer said.

#MendyTime.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs 2B Darwin Barney designated

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Cubs designated veteran second baseman Darwin Barney for assignment to clear a roster spot for Emilio Bonifacio, who was activated from the disabled list, the team announced on Tuesday.

Barney, 28, is a career .244 hitter since breaking in with the Cubs in 2010. He won a Gold Glove in 2012 after tying a major league single-season errorless record of 141 games. He was hitting .230 this season with two home runs and 16 RBIs including a .385 batting average in 39 at-bats in July.

"He can do a lot of things on the field to help a winning team," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Hopefully through this process we can get him to a place where he can help a contender and get a feel for a pennant race."

Barney’s two-day paternity leave earlier this month opened the door for his possible successor, as rookie Arismendy Alcantara began his career with a four-hit game in his second big-league start. Alcantara was supposed to be sent back to the minors once Barney returned, but the Cubs changed their mind and it’s Barney who’s on the way out.

"He got in a position here where playing time started to be scarce for him — whether it was [Luis] Valbuena, whether it was Bonifacio or it was Alcantara — and that necessitated the move," Hoyer explained.

Barney hit .276 in his first full year in the major leagues in 2011 but his average steadily declined. He hit .254 in 2012 and just .208 in 2013. He lost his starting job to Bonifacio at the end of spring training this season and amassed just 204 at-bats this year.

"No one takes this part of the job lightly," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He was starting to improve a little bit. I do believe he will land on his feet."

Bonifacio has been out since last month with an oblique strain. The Cubs have ten days to trade, release or place Barney on waivers.

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Padres at Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs (40-57) open a three-game series with the San Diego Padres (43-55) on Tuesday night.

• Tuesday: Kyle Hendricks (0-0, 6.00) vs. Eric Stults (3-11, 4.98), 7:05 p.m.

• Wednesday: Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 0.00) vs. Ian Kennedy (7-9, 3.62), 7:05 p.m.

• Thursday: Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.61) vs. Tyson Ross (8-10, 2.70), 7:05 p.m.

Storylines: Cubs starters Tuesday and Wednesday are of interest as Hendricks and Wada will get the ball for only the second time in their careers. At 33 years old, Wada may be nothing more than a stopgap or even trade bait if he performs as he did in his debut against the Cincinnati Reds. Hendricks has a chance to stick around if he can learn to navigate major league lineups. He settled down after a rough first inning in his debut against the Reds.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Anthony Rizzo won player of the week honors in the National League as he came out of the All-Star break on fire. He hit three home runs while going 5-for-11 in a losing cause this past weekend against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Arismendy Alcantara came back down to earth after a hot start. He snapped a 0-for-12 skid with an RBI double in the eighth inning on Sunday. He has six extra-base hits in his first eight games. He also stole two bases over the weekend.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs jump to first in farm rankings

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — After nearly three years of trading talented veterans, drafting high, some tremendous scouting and a little luck, the Chicago Cubs have the top-ranked farm system in baseball, according to ESPN.com Insider Keith Law.

The Cubs jumped from fourth in the preseason to first, mid-year, in part due to top prospect Kris Bryant’s monster minor league year along with the recent addition of shortstop Addison Russell from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija deal. Additionally, teams ahead of them in the preseason, such as the Pittsburgh Pirates and Houston Astros, promoted some highly talented players (Gregory Polanco and George Springer), taking away from their minor league prospect base.

The idea of the Cubs with a top-ranked farm system is a foreign thought to anyone who has followed the team over the years. They’ve had their share of prospects come through the system — most have failed — but never have they had this amount of young talent throughout the minor leagues. They were able to accomplish so much in this regard in so little time in part due to the fact they didn’t have the money to spend on free agents, especially the younger, international players who were available over the past few years.

"It may have been the best thing for us," Cubs president Theo Epstein said recently.

Now the Cubs can deal from a position of strength. As noted by Law, most of the Cubs’ top pitching prospects are at the lower levels of the minors, although right-hander Kyle Hendricks, Tuesday’s starter against the San Diego Padres, will be given a shot to win a long-term job in the second half. But if they want to move a position player for a pitcher, they’ll have plenty of talent for teams to choose from.

As for prospects making it in the majors, the Cubs are playing with the odds. Only a certain percentage of even the good ones become major league players. That may never change. But the more the Cubs have the more will make it. The best case scenario has their farm system drop slightly in the rankings in the coming year, but for the right reason: many of their top players are making it in the big leagues.

ESPNChicago.com

Sutcliffe on Hendricks: He’s a winner

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Former Chicago Cubs pitcher and current ESPN baseball analyst Rick Sutcliffe is a big believer in new Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

"There are so many things about Kyle that flash me back to when I first met Greg (Maddux) and when I first met Mike (Mussina)," Sutcliffe said via phone. "These guys don’t lose."

Sutcliffe was quick to point out the similarities have more to do with their makeup than their stuff, but it’s still some lofty company. One player is going into the Hall of Fame later this week and the other can state a compelling case.

"It starts with ability, of course," Sutcliffe said. "They are better prepared and they’re smarter. Kyle is one of those guys."

Hendricks, 24, takes the mound Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres in his second career start, and first at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs named him a starter last week, giving him an opportunity to show what he can do for the rest of the season. It’s exactly what could have been predicted before the season: Hendricks would finalize his training at Triple-A Iowa while the Cubs moved their pitching assets to make room for him in the second half. The trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics on July 4 created a spot for the Dartmouth grad.

Hendricks was acquired from the Texas Rangers in 2012 as part of the Ryan Dempster trade and quickly impressed the Cubs. He was 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA in the minors last season and 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA this year at Triple-A Iowa. He last pitched in the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday, throwing two shutout innings. If all goes well, that might be his last appearance in the minors.

Sutcliffe believes the Cubs have a keeper.

"If I’m blessed with any strength, I would say it’s being a decent judge of character," he said. "He has the same kind of makeup as those guys (Maddux and Mussina)."

Sutcliffe has a unique perspective on the Cubs. While analyzing them from the outside once the regular season starts, he has also been a spring training instructor the past few years at the behest of team president Theo Epstein. Sutcliffe worked closely with Hendricks for five weeks and came away with the same feelings he had about Maddux.

"Back in the day when I read (manager) Don Zimmer’s comments in the paper that we could ‘pencil in Maddux in the rotation,’ I walked into his office and said, ‘Forget the pencil, get out the (pen), he’s going to help us.’ I feel the same about Hendricks."

Hendricks’ six-inning, four-run debut against the Cincinnati Reds earlier this month didn’t dissuade Sutcliffe from his opinion but rather solidified it. Hendricks adjusted to a tight strike zone and settled in after a rough first inning in which he gave up three runs and struggled with his control. It could be a microcosm of his career. Hendricks isn’t going to blow hitters away; he’ll need to learn lineups and navigate through them in the same way Maddux used to.

There’s no better way to do that than right now for the Cubs. They’re going nowhere in the standings, but players such as Hendricks and infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara can get through their peaks and valleys while giving more meaning to an otherwise meaningless season in the win-loss column.

Sutcliffe isn’t quite sure how Hendricks’ stuff will play. He says Maddux threw 94 mph when he first came up and Mussina got up to 98 mph. Hendricks hits 92-93 mph on the radar gun, a good reason he’s not listed among top prospects. Yet he has kept moving up and is now in the majors.

"The guy is a winner," Sutcliffe said. "Remember the pool tournament they had in spring training? He won that. He’s good at those video games like Maddux was with Game Boy 100 years ago. Some guys are just winners. Hendricks is one of them."

Sutcliffe believes Hendricks’ use of his changeup will be a key. Even though he’s not coming down from 98 mph to throw it at 78, Hendricks has plenty of movement, and he will have to master how and when to throw it.

"I saw two kinds of changeups," Sutcliffe said, "the swing and miss when he needs a strikeout, and I saw the one that needs to be put in play. I call it a surrender pitch. I’m not surrendering a hit, but I want this at-bat over with right now."

The most impressive aspect of Hendricks, according to Sutcliffe, is how he might handle high-leverage situations. He sees a guy who will get the out when he needs it the most, even if it isn’t always pretty.

"If you watch the catcher’s glove," Sutcliffe said, "the tougher the situation, the less the catcher’s glove moves. He’s got that. He’s going to be a good pitcher in this league."

CSNChicago.com

It’s Arismendy Alcantara’s time after Cubs DFA Darwin Barney

By Patrick Mooney

“It’s time for Mendy to play.”

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer delivered the money sound bite on Tuesday at Wrigley Field, talking up hot prospect Arismendy Alcantara and explaining why Gold Glove second baseman Darwin Barney got designated for assignment.

Maybe this 6-0 victory over the San Diego Padres will be a preview of the future. Kyle Hendricks, the Dartmouth College graduate, threw seven strong innings and got a beer shower after his first big-league win, calling it “definitely the best day of my life.”

Alcantara — who’s generously listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds — absolutely crushed a ball that kept soaring past the right-field bleachers in the seventh inning, traveling 420 feet onto Sheffield Avenue. Four pitches later, Anthony Rizzo destroyed another 93 mph fastball from Padres reliever Blaine Boyer, his second home run that night landing in the left-field basket. This is the spark a 41-57 team needed.

“I can play more relaxed in the field,” Alcantara said, “and enjoy the game more and keep having fun.”

The switch-hitting Alcantara will play second base and center field, but the where isn’t as important as the when: The Cubs expect him to be in the lineup every day, approaching what they hope will be a turning point in the rebuild.

“One of the things that we feel strongly about is when we do bring these guys up, they’re here to play,” Hoyer said. “We’re not going to bring up these guys that are part of our future to have them share time or sit on the bench.”

The Cubs had been phasing out Barney for months, with the understanding that Alcantara and Javier Baez would be coming for his job. Emilio Bonifacio — who just got activated from the disabled list after straining his oblique muscle in mid-June — and Luis Valbuena also diminished his role.

Yes, Barney struggled offensively (.625 career OPS), but the over-the-top reactions burying the guy on Twitter didn’t make sense. Rizzo called Barney the best teammate he ever played with.

“It’s a business, (and) we’re pawn pieces,” Rizzo said. “We have no say, but we all wish Darwin the best. Hopefully, this is really good for his career. Hopefully, he goes to a better team, a winning team, and contends.”

This was a homegrown player who had helped Oregon State University win two College World Series titles. He moved off shortstop when Starlin Castro made his leap into the big leagues, learning a new position with the help of Ryne Sandberg, the Triple-A Iowa manager at the time.

Barney became a steadying influence for Castro while tying a major-league single-season record with 141 straight games without an error at second base in 2012. That attention-grabber helped Barney beat out Cincinnati Reds second baseman/entertainer Brandon Phillips for the Gold Glove.

“He’s a guy we have so much respect for as a person,” Hoyer said. “He’s a winning player, as he showed in college. I think he can do a lot of things on the field to help a winning team. He got in a position here where playing time started to be scarce.

“I’m certainly hopeful that through this process we can get him to a place where he can hopefully help a contender and get a feel for a pennant race.”

Barney was hitting .385 in July, raising his season average to .230, and maybe a stronger lineup could cover up some of his offensive flaws. His intangibles would play well in October.

Barney took a two-game paternity leave before the All-Star break, and Alcantara took advantage of the promotion from Iowa, almost hitting for the cycle and showing the power, speed and versatility that put him at No. 33 on Baseball America’s midseason prospect rankings.

Alcantara gave the team a jolt of energy, going 9-for-23 with five RBIs in his first five games. He came back down to earth over the weekend (1-for-12) against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Cubs want to know if he can make the adjustments.

“We knew we were going to call him up at some point, it was a matter of when,” Hoyer said. “We just realized it was time for this guy to play and to go through his ups and downs. We don’t expect him to come up here and set the world on fire.

“He’ll have some great series (and) he’ll have some struggles, (but) that’s part of this process. And I think it’s going to be that process with every one of these young guys we bring up, as Starlin and Rizzo can attest. But certainly with Mendy, it’s time to see that.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs promoting Jorge Soler and Albert Almora

By Patrick Mooney

This is the light at the end of the tunnel that Cubs executives keep talking about.

Late Tuesday night, the Cubs promoted Jorge Soler to Triple-A Iowa and moved Albert Almora up to Double-A Tennessee, bringing two top prospects one step closer to Wrigley Field.

Soler, 22, is expected to be a September call-up, according to two sources familiar with the team’s thinking. The Cuban outfielder is already on the 40-man roster with a $30 million major-league contract.

Soler has finally started to live up to that deal after a series of injuries limited his development time — on top of the nearly two years it took to defect from Cuba, establish residency in Haiti and gain clearance to sign in the United States.

Soler will join a powerful Iowa lineup that already includes Javier Baez and Kris Bryant. This month, Soler hit .459 with six homers and 14 RBIs in 14 games, posting a 1.553 OPS.

Almora became the first player drafted by the Theo Epstein administration with the sixth overall pick in 2012.

After a slow start this season, Almora began to figure it out and started to get hot at advanced Class-A Daytona, hitting .280 with six homers, 20 doubles and 47 RBIs in 88 games.

Almora’s only 20, but he’s said to have great defensive instincts in center field, and a maturity beyond his years after growing up in South Florida with a bilingual background, playing for Team USA and the elite travel squads.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs weigh position changes for Javier Baez and Kris Bryant

By Patrick Mooney

With a straight face, Jed Hoyer said it’s important to focus on what’s up here at Wrigley Field right now — a last-place team flirting with a 100-loss pace. But the Cubs general manager did make a larger point about the obsession with Triple-A/Double-A kids.

“It’s fun to look at the box scores in Iowa and Tennessee,” Hoyer said before Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the San Diego Padres. “(But) every time you switch a guy’s position, or a guy has a big night, people shouldn’t be looking or clamoring for a promotion.”

Amen. So when are Javier Baez and Kris Bryant getting here?

Expect Bryant sometime after Opening Day 2015. Baez looks like a potential September call-up.

But on a day where the Cubs designated for assignment a Gold Glove second baseman (Darwin Barney) and confirmed Arismendy Alcantara needs to play every day in the big leagues, Hoyer downplayed the significance of Baez recently moving off shortstop.

“The Baez second-base thing is really more big-picture than anything else,” Hoyer said. “We want to increase his versatility. We thought it was the right thing to do to start putting him there. … These moves are not connected.”

After a slow start that created a panic on Twitter, the 21-year-old Baez has started to find his rhythm in the Pacific Coast League, putting up 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 89 games.

“We went into the year thinking we would move him around a bit earlier, and he struggled offensively,” Hoyer said. “We thought it was going to be the wrong time to have this guy worry about a defensive change. (So) we held off on it, and really waited until he got going offensively. We’re pretty proud of what he’s done this year. In some ways, it’s been ideal for him.

“He really built on every single month, until the last three or four weeks, when he’s been outstanding. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see that trajectory.

“In the minor leagues, you want to see guys finishing strong. You want to see them conquer that level, and his ability to fight through what was a difficult start has been really impressive.”

Bryant hasn’t really faced that adversity yet, hitting .345 and putting up 33 homers and 84 RBIs in 97 games split between Tennessee and Iowa.

The Cubs have had internal discussions about shifting Bryant from third base to right field, but they aren’t prepared to make that move yet with last year’s No. 2 overall pick out of the University of San Diego.

“He can do it,” Hoyer said. “He played center in college, and he’s played right. He feels good out there. The biggest focus for him right now is he’s working on his defense. He is almost 6-6, and with that the fundamentals of playing third base are more challenging.

“In the future, I would never say never that we wouldn’t put him out there. But right now, our focus is third.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs send Mike Olt down to Triple-A Iowa

By Patrick Mooney

Mike Olt will try to reboot his game in Des Moines.

The Cubs optioned Olt to Triple-A Iowa after Tuesday’s 6-0 win over the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. The third baseman struggled through an 0-for-4 night, striking out three times, but this had been building after a strong showing in spring training that teased fans and the media.

Olt — who came over from the Texas Rangers in last summer’s Matt Garza deal — had been that organization’s minor league player of the year in 2012. But he couldn’t put it together during a weird all-or-nothing season.

Olt was hitting .139 with 12 homers, 10 singles and 84 strikeouts in 187 at-bats.

The Cubs needed to make room for Tsuyoshi Wada, the 33-year-old Japanese lefty who will face the Padres on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: With injuries behind him, Soler finding his rhythm

By Tony Andracki

It’s been roughly 25 months since Jorge Soler signed a nine-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs, but he’s had a hard time staying on the field.

Soler went 2-for-3 in the 117th professional game of his American career Monday night, extending his slash line with Double-A Tennessee to 410/.500/.852.

The 22-year-old Cuban outfielder missed several months last season after fouling a ball off his leg and had separate injuries to each hamstring earlier this year. But when he’s been on the field, he’s shown exactly why the Cubs gave him a spot on the 40-man roster two summers ago.

In those 117 games, Soler has hit 20 homers with 87 RBI, 84 runs, 32 doubles and 17 steals while posting a .311 average and .914 OPS. This season, he has six homers, nine doubles and 21 RBI in 21 games with Tennessee, earning the Southern League Hitter of the Week award earlier this month.

After Soler’s second hamstring injury this spring, the Cubs came up with a special program to try to help shape the way he ran in the outfield and on the basepaths. They put the plan in motion in Arizona last month, where Soler had the chance to meet and learn from Manny Ramirez.

Soler told Smokies radio announcer Mick Gillispie that he grew up idolizing Ramirez and absorbed a lot from the iconic slugger as the 42-year-old was tuning up for his post at Triple-A Iowa as player/coach.

Soler has taken his game to the next level since and a promotion to Triple-A could be coming soon.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Soler, Almora promoted

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Tuesday vs. New Orleans: (second base): 0-for-3, strikeout.

Trending: 19-for-61 (.311), 15-game hitting streak ended, 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 14 RBIs.

Season:  90 games, .249 batting average, 16 home runs, 61 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Tuesday vs. New Orleans:  0-for-2, walk, strikeout.

Trending:  2-for-15 (.292), double, walk, 7 strikeouts.

Season: 98 games, .343 batting average, 33 home runs, 84 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Tuesday vs. Mississippi: 0-for-3, run, walk, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 0-for-8 (.000), walk, 2 strikeouts.

Season: 31 games, .263 batting average, 4 home runs, 17 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee: promoted to Iowa.

Tuesday vs. Mississippi: 2-for-4, triple, sacrifice fly, 3 RBIs, strikeout.

Trending: 19-for-41 (.463), 2 doubles, triple, 6 home runs, 16 RBIs, 7 walks, 10 strikeouts.

Season:  28 games, .409 batting average, 7 home runs, 30 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A): promoted to Tennessee,

Tuesday at Palm Beach: 2-for-3, home run, sacrifice fly, 3 RBIs.

Trending: 16-for-36 (.444), 3 doubles, triple, 2 home run, 8 RBIs.

Season: 89 games, .283 batting average, 7 home runs, 50 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Sadness to optimism in Cubs’ clubhouse

By Mark Gonzales

An impressive showing by Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara quelled much of the disappointment that clouded the Chicago Cubs’ clubhouse over the departure of popular veteran second baseman Darwin Barney.

About five hours before the game, the Cubs announced that Barney, a 2012 National League Gold Glove Award winner, was designated for assignment.

The shock over the departure of Barney, 28, gradually wore off thanks to the performances of Hendricks and Alcantara.

Hendricks, in his second major league start, threw seven scoreless innings and induced three double plays to earn his first major league victory in a 6-0 win over the San Diego Padres. Hendricks needed only 83 pitches and worked at a brisk tempo that scored points with his teammates with the game time temperature announced at 89 degrees.

Alcantara, playing in his ninth game, became the first player this season to hit a home run that landed on Sheffield Avenue behind the right field bleachers. This was Alcantara’s second home run, and he’s batting .282 since being promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

"They’re here to play," Rick Renteria said. "Both young men have a sense of calm. They don’t look too bothered by playing at the major league level.

" … Both kids are a little bit beyond their years."

Meanwhile, the Cubs have 10 days to trade, waive or release Barney, whom first baseman Anthony Rizzo was disappointed to see depart.

“It’s a business,” Rizzo said after taking the National League with his 24th and 25th home runs. “With all due respect to our front office and to everyone else in a front office around the league, at the end of the day, we’re pieces.

"We have no say, but we all wish Darwin the best. And hopefully this is really good for his career, which I think it will be. He’s the best (teammate) I’ve played with. He’s unselfish. Hopefully he goes to a winning team, a better team, and contends."

Rizzo’s friendship with Barney went deep.

"It’s talking on the bench, the bus, plane, on the road," Rizzo said. "Talking at second bsse every day. There are a lot of things he brings to the table every day as a player. He’s a great player, a great person. I think he’ll be fine.’’

About an hour after the game, the Cubs announced that third baseman Mike Olt will be optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who will start Wednesday night.

Olt led all NL rookies with 12 home runs but struck out 84 times in 187 at-bats, including three times Tuesday night.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs rookies come up big in 6-0 victory over Padres

Kyle Hendricks throws 7 scoreless innings in 2nd big league start and Arismendy Alcantara hits 2nd homer in 9 games

By Mark Gonzales

General manager Jed Hoyer’s feelings Tuesday night regarding Arismendy Alcantara’s immediate future were clear.

"It’s time for Mendy to play," Hoyer said before Alcantara hit his second home run in nine games since being promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

And after Kyle Hendricks threw seven scoreless innings to earn his first major league win, the Cubs can start to feel a little better about their future. Their 6-0 victory over the Padres at hot and stifling Wrigley Field snapped a five-game skid.

"Definitely, it’s the best day of my life," Hendricks said. "(Getting the first win) is what you work for since a little kid playing T-ball. It’s awesome."

Anthony Rizzo smacked two home runs to take sole possession of the National League lead with 25, further fueling the hype as the Cubs take a deeper look into their future.

"They’re here to play," manager Rick Renteria said of Alcantara and Hendricks, who threw only 83 pitches. "Both young men have a sense of calm."

After the game, top outfield prospects Jorge Soler and Albert Almora were promoted to Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, respectively. And third baseman Mike Olt was demoted to Iowa.

Alcantara, who became the first player this season to hit a homer that landed on Sheffield Avenue, will play mostly center field after spending most of this season at second base for Iowa. With Darwin Barney’s departure, Emilio Bonifacio will take over at second base — for now.

With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, Bonifacio realizes he could be getting a close look from teams seeking a speedy, switch-hitting infielder-outfielder.

"I’ve been in that situation the past two years," Bonifacio said before collecting two hits and scoring the Cubs’ first run. "I just look forward to keep playing here. If I don’t, that’s part of the game."

Hoyer said the recent shift of marquee prospect Javier Baez from shortstop to second base wasn’t connected to Barney being designated for assignment and Alcantara playing primarily center field.

"But that said, with a lot of our guys, we’re going to start moving them around and see what they can do in different spots," Hoyer said.

Hoyer added that it would take longer for Baez, 21, to get acclimated to second base because he has played shortstop throughout his minor league career.

"The initial reports on his defense at second base have been very good," Hoyer said.

Baez would have moved to second sooner if he had not struggled at the plate, but he has rebounded with a 15-game hitting streak that ended Tuesday.

"We waited until he got going," Hoyer said of Baez, who is batting .249 with 16 home runs and 61 RBIs. "We’re proud of what he has done this year. In some ways, it has been ideal for him. He really struggled in April and in May a bit. He has built on every single month until the last three to four weeks, he has been outstanding. And hopefully we’ll continue to see that trajectory.

"But in the minor leagues, you want to see guys finishing strong and conquer that level, and his trajectory and ability to fight though a difficult start has been really impressive.”

Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada will get a chance to earn a more secure spot in the rotation Wednesday night. A decision on reliever Kyuji Fujikawa, who was transferred to Iowa on a rehab assignment, could come in a few weeks.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs cut ties with Darwin Barney

By Mark Gonzales

General manager Jed Hoyer was hopeful the Cubs could trade second baseman Darwin Barney to a playoff contender despite his .230 batting average and diminished playing time.

“He’s a Gold Glove defender,” Hoyer said Tuesday after Barney, 28, was designated for assignment in the midst of his fifth season with the Cubs. “We’ll get some phone calls on this and send him to a place where he can be part of a winner.”

The Cubs have 10 days to trade, waive or release Barney, whose playing time gradually diminished after he hit .208 last season, the addition of Emilio Bonifacio and recent emergence of Arismendy Alcantara.

“The challenge was playing time,” Hoyer said of Barney. “He’s a guy we have so much respect for as a person and we’ve grown to like and respect him. We think he’s a very good baseball player. He’s a winning player as he has shown in college.

“He can do a lot of things on a team. He was in a position here where playing time started to be scarce for him, whether it was (Luis) Valbuena, Bonifacio, Alcantara. And that necessitated the move.”

Left-handed reliever James Russell, who was drafted by the Cubs the same year (2007) as Barney, described his former teammate’s departure as “kind of a shot in the (groin), but you get over it. You get up and it happens. We went through it with Jeff (Samardzija) and (Jason) Hammel. It’s part of baseball.”

Barney will earn $2.3 million this season.

Russell, who could be the next player moved off the roster, added, “I’m still going about my business the same way. I’m just working hard and trying to put zeros up there and help us win now.”

Sticking to third: The Cubs appear to have no doubts about Kris Bryant’s ability to play the outfield.

But for now, their emphasis is on keeping him at third base to improve his defense at Triple-A Iowa.

“He’s almost 6-foot-6, and with that, the fundamentals of playing third base are more challenging,” Hoyer said. “So having him work there, our focus for him is working on third base.

“So in the future, I’d never say never that we wouldn’t put him out there. But right now, our focus is third.’’

Edwards update: C.J. Edwards is scheduled to make his first appearance in three months when he takes the mound Wednesday night in an Arizona League game. Edwards is scheduled to pitch around three innings and throw about 55 pitches.

This could be the start of an extended season for Edwards, who has been sidelined with a right shoulder strain. Hoyer said Edwards soon will rejoin Double-A Tennessee to build up his pitch count as a reliever and eventually resume starting.

Hoyer said the Arizona Fall League is a “very strong possibility” for Edwards. “He lost a lot of innings. If you don’t make them up now, then you end up shortening him up next year.”

Chicago Tribune

Greg Maddux always had fun, on and off the field

Hall of Fame pitcher loved to needle teammates, also impressed them with his studious approach to game

By Paul Sullivan

One lesson Greg Maddux tried to impart on younger players throughout his career had nothing to do with how to throw a baseball.

It was all about enjoying yourself at work.

"Have fun and appreciate the game," Maddux said. "The game is fun. There is plenty of time to screw around and have a good time and pick on your teammates and all that. And it just takes a little bit of effort sometimes during the day to try and get better for your next game."

Maddux — who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday in Cooperstown, N.Y. — went all out during games, but he was also a notorious prankster and thoroughly enjoyed messing with his teammates.

Former Cubs shortstop Shawon Dunston said one game Maddux came up to him and catcher Joe Girardi, who were batting seventh and eighth in the lineup, and asked them to take some pitches before his at-bat.

"Before you know it, we were out on six, seven pitches, and then he swings at the first pitch," Dunston said. "I said, ‘What are you telling us to take pitches for?’ He said, ‘Because I wanted to swing at the first pitch.’

"I said, ‘Wow, that’s Greg Maddux.’ That’s the kind of teammate he was. He never took things too seriously, yet he was a competitor on the field."

When charting pitches during games, Maddux would come up with nicknames for the starter and relievers, some of which were unprintable. He was politically incorrect before the term became a cliche, and no one was spared from his barbs.

"His sense of humor came out more off the field than it did on it," former Cubs pitcher Glendon Rusch said. "And he did pick his proper spots to do it, so he wasn’t in the public eye."

Girardi, who caught Maddux on the 1989 “Boys of Zimmer” team, said Maddux was one of the most competitive people he ever met.

"He was the ultimate competitor in everything, whether it was pitching, golf, video games or whatever," Girardi said. "He never wanted to lose. And he was really a student of the game.

"He taught me a lot in the early years with him, just watching the way he goes about his business, how he set up hitters and how he had a plan of what we wanted to do, and it really helped me."

A defining moment in Maddux’s career came in 1987, his first full season in the majors, when the Padres’ Eric Show hit Andre Dawson in the face with a pitch. Maddux’s teammates told him not to retaliate until after the fifth inning so he could get credit for the win if he got ejected.

Maddux ignored them.

"He drilled the (third) guy and they threw him out of the game," Dunston said. "I was like, ‘Look at Maddux, he doesn’t care about getting the win.’ He said afterward: ‘This win doesn’t mean anything to me. Andre Dawson means everything to our team.’

"He was struggling at the time but didn’t care about the victory. It was an unselfish move, and he could’ve used the win to build his confidence. Right then I knew this guy was going to be great. Just an outstanding teammate."

Rusch said the best part of being Maddux’s teammate was being able to hang around him during batting practice or on the bench, listening to him talk about the nuances of the game.

"You always listened to what he was thinking, how he might pitch somebody," Rusch said. "He was so fun to be around and a class act on and off the field. A fun guy and one of the best pitchers of our era, hands down. I’m so excited he’s finally going in the Hall of Fame."

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs cut ties with Darwin Barney, top Padres 6-0

By Brian Sandalow

Designating Darwin Barney for assignment Tuesday wasn’t an easy move for the Cubs. The organization valued his leadership and professional approach, and he’s still one of the game’s best-fielding second basemen.

But it was necessary to push the Cubs closer to the future. They have players on the roster already or coming up soon who need the playing time.

Barney wasn’t getting many at-bats with Arismendy Alcantara seemingly up for good and ready to play every day.

The Cubs parted ways with the 2012 Gold Glove winner before their 6-0 victory against the San Diego Padres and activated Emilio Bonifacio from the disabled list.

They have 10 days to waive, release or trade him, and general manager Jed Hoyer said he hopes Barney ends up with a contender.

“It’s a very difficult day with Darwin,” Hoyer said.

“It gives us a chance to play Alcantara every day in center field or second base. That’s important for the future.”

Barney clearly wasn’t part of that future.

The subject of trade speculation all season, he was linked to teams looking to win now that needed a slick fielder and could stomach his struggles at the plate.

Barney lost playing time to Bonifacio, Luis Valbuena and Alcantara, the first of the Cubs’ top prospects to reach Wrigley Field.

Hoyer said the Cubs are “starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel” as some of the young prospects get closer. When they arrive, it will be part of a new era, and maybe Barney’s exit signals the end of another era.

But Barney’s departure wasn’t easy on former teammates such as reliever James Russell, though he knows it’s part of the business.

“It’s kind of a shot in the [privates], but you get over it,” Russell said.

“You get up, and it happens. We went through it with Jeff [Samardzija] and [Jason] Hammel, but it’s just part of baseball.”

NOTE: The Cubs sent Mike Olt to Class AAA Iowa to make room for left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who will start Wednesday. They also announced that Jorge Soler is being promoted to Iowa and Albert Almora is going up to Class AA Tennessee.

22 7 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Anthony Rizzo named NL Player of the Week

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has picked up where he left off after earning his first All-Star selection.

Rizzo on Monday was named National League player of the week after going 5-for-11 with three home runs and four RBI in the Cubs’ weekend series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He also went tumbling into a camera well to catch a foul pop-up Sunday, a play that manager Rick Renteria called ‘‘the freaking greatest effort.’’

Rizzo already has matched the 23 homers he hit last season and is tied for the NL lead with Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton.

‘‘I’m just trying to put good swings on the ball,’’ he said in Arizona.

Rizzo said staying on a baseball routine during the All-Star break helped him stay hot as the second half opened.

‘‘Definitely,’’ he said. ‘‘I hit for two days, got in the game and had a high-intensity at-bat. It was my first time doing that, so there definitely were some nerves there. I just wanted to come in here and try to slow the game down as much as I can.’’

In his last nine games, Rizzo is 13-for-36 (.361) with five homers, two doubles, two walks and six RBI.

It was Rizzo’s first player-of-the-week award and the first for a Cubs hitter since Starlin Castro in 2011.

Chicago Sun-Times

Rick Renteria has to temper inclination to rely too much on relievers

By Gordon Wittenmyer

One of the Cubs’ few success stories also might represent one of the bigger challenges manager Rick Renteria and his staff face these last 10 weeks.

Three seasons into Theo Epstein’s rebuilding plan, the Cubs have assembled a strong group of power pitchers in the bullpen, including impressive rookie Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon — all acquired in the last 20 months through trades and the Rule 5 draft.

But a seasonlong priority of protecting the young arms got more difficult with the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland Athletics a week before the All-Star break.

And it might come down to Renteria balancing his tendency to liberally use his pen against giving his remaining starters more of a leash in the sixth and seventh innings.

For instance, Renteria lifted Edwin Jackson at the 88-pitch mark with one out in the sixth Friday in part because he wanted him to “feel good” about his outing. Three pitching changes in a five-batter span later, and a 4-3 lead had turned into a 5-4 deficit that held up for the final score. And the string of relievers used that inning doesn’t even count Justin Grimm, who warmed up for the sixth but wasn’t used.

“Like any club, you want your guys to go as deep as possible,” Renteria said. “But every game is different; every circumstance is different; every situation is different. You’re dealing with the physical and emotional aspects of the athlete. . . .

“I can’t tell you I’m going to write it in stone. I’m not going to do that.”

Despite complaints by some starters that they haven’t been allowed to pitch deep into games, the rotation ranks almost exactly average in the majors in innings per start (5.9 compared to the 6.0 average) and pitches per start (97, one more than the average).

But the team’s decision in recent months to carry an eighth reliever and Renteria’s tendency to go to left-right matchups as early as the sixth inning have resulted in the Cubs’ pen ranking third in the majors in appearances at 312.

In two of their first three games out of the All-Star break, the Cubs didn’t get six innings out of their starters. But a ninth reliever on the roster for the series helped compensate.

That changed with lefty Zac Rosscup’s demotion to Class AAA Iowa to help make room for fourth and fifth starters for the upcoming stretch of 13 games in 13 days and 33 in 34.

That means rookies Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada starting against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday and Wednesday, each making his second big-league start. Dan Straily, the promising young right-hander acquired in the Oakland deal, waits in the wings at Iowa for the chance to fill one of those slots in the next couple of weeks.

They’re taking the place of the Cubs’ top two innings-eaters, who ranked first (Hammel) and third (Samardzija) on the staff in pitches per start.

The other pitchers are well aware.

“That’s a big gap to fill in the rotation,” said 2013 All-Star Travis Wood, who admits to feeling more responsibility now. “I really want to go out there and give seven or eight innings as strong as I can every time to help fill that void. So far it’s not happening, but I promise you we’ll get there.”

Daily Herald

Iowa pitchers ready to contribute to Cubs

By Joe Aguilar

DES MOINES, Iowa — Wearing a cumbersome brace on his left knee due to recent surgery, Iowa Cubs pitching coach Bruce Walton was limping around Principal Park with a walking cane.

"I got my little stick. I’m doing good," Walton said. "No big deal."

Walton’s starting rotation? A huge deal.

No wonder the I-Cubs are in healthy shape, atop the Pacific Coast League’s American Northern Division with a 54-47 record through Sunday. Starting pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada made the all-star team, while Dallas Beeler and lefties Chris Rusin and Eric Jokisch also have pitched effectively.

"Our starting rotation has just done an excellent job of taking the game into the seventh inning and finishing the seventh inning," Walton said. "Our goal is to get 21 outs a night with our starting rotation, and they’ve done an excellent job of doing that within their pitch count."

With the Cubs’ trade of ace Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland on July 4, the big-league team has a couple of starting-rotation slots open for the second half of the season.

Unlike the last couple of seasons, however, when they unloaded starting pitching before the trade deadline, the Cubs appear to have depth at Class AAA to utilize.

In the last month alone, Hendricks, Wada and Beeler made their major-league debuts — Rusin posted a 3.93 ERA in 13 starts for the Cubs last season — and each flashed potential. Hendricks will start for the Cubs on Tuesday at Wrigley Field against San Diego.

"Every single guy in the rotation is close, and they’re all in the finishing-off stages," Walton said. "Any one of those starters has the ability to go up in the big leagues right now and pitch a heck of a game. That’s really cool to have."

"We pitch our (butt) off," manager Marty Pevey said. "Bruce Walton has done an unbelievable job with our starters. Middle-of-the-road guys have turned themselves into guys that have a chance to pitch in the big leagues for a long time."

There are no I-Cubs who appear to have the upside of Clayton Kershaw or Felix Hernandez, no flamethrower who hits 95-mph on the radar gun, no pitcher with “ace” potential. Rather, Hendricks, Wada, Beeler, Rusin and Jokisch piled up a combined 36 wins in the first half by pounding down in the zone and getting early outs.

That’s what Walton, who served as the Toronto Blue Jays’ pitching coach from 2010-12, has preached. He coached 16 years in Toronto’s organization.

"I feel he’s done a good job with all of us," Beeler said. "You can see the results. Hendricks was good last year (at Class AA). He’s just gotten better. It’s not so much physical stuff (how Walton has helped the staff). It’s the mental game. He treats us like how you’re supposed to be treated in the big leagues."

Hendricks, who was acquired two summers ago along with third baseman Christian Villanueva from Texas for pitcher Ryan Dempster, made his major-league debut for the Cubs at Cincinnati just before the all-star break. After a shaky first inning, the 6-foot-3 right-hander settled down and threw 6 innings, striking out his final batter, the dangerous Jay Bruce.

Hendricks’ first half at Iowa included a league-best 10 wins, 3.59 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 102⅔ innings.

"He does a very nice job of commanding the strike zone and using all of his weapons. He doesn’t overuse them," Walton said. "His changeup is very effective. What we did here was just put a plan together for him."

Wada, a 33-year-old lefty and native of Japan, signed a minor-league contract with the Cubs in the off-season. He went 9-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 105 strikeouts in the first half. Wada, Hendricks, Northwestern-product Jokisch (3.95 ERA), Beeler (3.93 ERA) and Rusin (3.87 ERA) all throw their fastball between 88-92 mph.

"We compete against each other," said the 6-foot-5 Beeler, a 41st-round pick in 2010. "You always want to one-up the other guy."

Yet another quality arm joined the I-Cubs this month, when righty Dan Straily was acquired in the Oakland trade. A 10-game winner as a rookie with the Athletics last season, Straily was pitching in Class AAA when he was dealt. He had 2 starts for Iowa before the break and was OK (9 innings, 4 earned runs).

"I think it’s just some mechanical things he needs to work on — his direction toward the plate," veteran catcher Eli Whiteside said.

"I got optioned (to Triple-A) with Oakland because I didn’t have that good of fastball command at the time," Straily said. "Everyone over there (on the A’s staff) is pitching in the low-3’s (ERA). And I wasn’t."

The right-hander, who spent five years in Oakland’s system, believes he needs to get acclimated to his new surroundings and “keep pitching” in order to get back to the big leagues.

"It’s really as simple as it is," Straily said. "It’s like anything else in this game. You just got to go out there and do your job better. … I was doing a lot better before I got traded, so I got to figure out real quick how to get to how I was."

If he can rediscover his fastball command, the Cubs have another candidate for their starting rotation.

Daily Herald

No quantity of quality for Cubs starters

By Bruce Miles

The fall has been fast. The fall has been hard.

Since the Fourth of July trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, the Cubs have a record of 2-11.

A drop-off was certainly expected after the Cubs traded not only 40 percent of their starting rotation, but arguably their top two pitchers.

But this has been quite something, and the results are easily explainable.

In the 13 games since the July 4 fireworks, the Cubs have exactly 3 quality starts, and they’re all by new ace Jake Arrieta.

The Cubs are 1-2 in Arrieta’s 3 starts since the trade, largely because they scored a grand total of 3 runs in the pair of losses.

Except for a poor start by last-minute fill-in Carlos Villanueva on July 5, it’s hard to blame the replacements in the rotation for the beginning of the Cubs’ Third Annual Death Spiral. Tyuoshi Wada, Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Beeler were at least OK in their starts, and we’ll see Hendricks and Wada in this week’s series at Wrigley Field against San Diego and perhaps for the foreseeable future.

Killing the Cubs are veterans Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood, and we’re talking the entire season here.

Jackson, whom team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer signed to a four-year, $52 million contract before last season, has been nothing but a bust.

His season record is 5-10 with a 5.61 ERA following a 2013 campaign in which he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA.

Billed as an innings eater, Jackson has only 5 quality starts among his 20 this season. We’ll get to the importance of quality starts in a minute.

By definition, a quality start is one in which a pitcher goes at least 6 innings and gives up no more than 3 earned runs. So in 15 starts this season, a full 75 percent, Jackson has failed to go at least 6 innings.

Jackson’s performance hasn’t been a total shocker, considering what he did last year, but Wood is a different story, and that’s why he has been a major disappointment.

After making the National League all-star team last year, Wood owns a 2014 record of 7-9 with a 5.12 ERA. Of his 20 starts, 9 have been quality starts.

There’s still time for Wood to turn things around, but it’s safe to say he has taken a step backward.

Now a word about quality starts. The stat isn’t perfect, but it is instructive. Too much of the focus on the stat is on the minimum requirement: 6 innings and 3 earned runs. That gets you an ERA of 4.50, which hardly screams “quality.”

However, most quality starts are much better than that, and even bad teams usually have a winning record in quality-start games.

The Cubs are a good example. They have only 2 minimum-requirement quality-start games, one by Hammel on May 4 and the other by Jackson on May 11.

For the season, Cubs pitchers have turned in 48 quality starts. In those games, the team is 26-22, and the starters’ ERA is a sparkling 1.85. That’s a little bit better than 4.50, wouldn’t you say?

On the flip side, the Cubs have 49 non-quality starts. Care to take a guess at the record and ERA in those games?

Here it is: When the Cubs don’t get a quality start, the team is 14-35, and the starters have an ERA of 7.06.

Of the Cubs’ 48 quality starts, Samardzija and Hammel left with 12 each, accounting for half the team’s total. Rookie Dallas Beeler has 1 quality start. You know the totals for Wood and Jackson.

Arrieta, like Wood, has 9 quality starts, but he has done it in 14 starts compared with Wood’s 20.

So all of that explains in large part what has happened this year and what is likely to happen if things continue this way.

In other words, the Cubs will be flirting again with a 100-loss season; they’re currently on pace for a record of 67-95 after stepping up the pace to 73-89 on July 4, Hammel’s last start with the team.

For those looking at the big picture, that pace ensures another high draft pick next year, the fourth season of the Epstein-Hoyer regime. (In talking about the trade on July 5, Epstein expressed hope this would be the last year the Cubs would have to trade 40 percent of their rotation.)

In the short term, expect a lot more pain. Of the Cubs remaining 65 games, 39 will be at Wrigley Field. The only saving grace is that pitchers such as Hendricks, Wada, Beeler and perhaps Dan Straily (obtained in the Oakland trade) and Eric Jokisch later will be curiosity factors and might provide some hope for the future. And who knows? The Cubs might call up slugging infielder Javier Baez at some point.

Get your tickets now. Plenty of good sections are sure to be available.

Cubs.com

Rizzo earns NL Player of the Week nod

First baseman went 5-for-11 with three homers in weekend series

By Joey Nowak

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo came out of the All-Star Break on a tear, and he has been named the National League Player of the Week for his efforts in the first series of the second half.

After representing the Cubs in last week’s Midsummer Classic, he led the Majors last weekend with three home runs, 14 total bases and a 1.273 slugging percentage. He hit 5-for-11 (.455) and scored three runs against the D-backs over three games.

To start the series Friday, Rizzo went 2-for-4 with a pair of homers and three RBIs, marking his second multi-homer game of the season (May 31 against the Brewers was the first) and sixth of his career.

Rizzo followed that with a 1-for-3 day on Saturday, then ended the series Sunday with a 2-for-4 afternoon that included his 23rd homer of the season and a highlight-reel catch in foul territory. With 23 homers, he’s already matched his career best (set in 2013) and is tied with Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton for the most in the NL.

It’s Rizzo’s third career Player of the Week honor and the first for a Cubs position player since Starlin Castro on Aug. 7, 2011.

Cubs.com

Uecker recalls life-saving moment at Wrigley

Brewers broadcaster learned of heart issue, cancer after losing vision in booth

By Carrie Muskat

This season marks Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary, and MLB.com asked players, coaches and managers for their favorite memory of the ballpark. Here’s another recollection, part of a season-long series.

CHICAGO — A game at Wrigley Field may have saved Bob Uecker’s life.

The Brewers broadcaster doesn’t remember the exact day, but he does recall that he was in the radio booth at Wrigley in September 2009, covering a game between Chicago and Milwaukee. Ryan Theriot was the batter, and Uecker said that suddenly, he couldn’t see.

"I didn’t want to tell the guys I was working with, so I kept talking," Uecker said, retelling the story. "It only lasted about 20 seconds, maybe. I had to talk without seeing anything. My vision came back and I was OK the rest of the game, so I went down after the game and told our trainer about what happened, and they arranged for me to see a doctor."

Uecker, now 79, was examined, and doctors couldn’t find anything related to his eyesight, but did detect a heart problem and set him up with a specialist. It turns out he had a leaky valve and needed to be monitored. Uecker is very active and swims daily to stay in shape.

But it wasn’t long before his doctors called him back and asked him to return to the hospital. The exam had revealed cancerous tumors on his pancreas.

"The cancer people said I’d have to have this taken care of," he said.

Uecker asked for time to go to Arizona to play some golf, and then in January 2010, he had much of his pancreas removed. Later that year, he needed heart surgery. And all of it started with that Brewers-Cubs game.

When Uecker returns to Wrigley Field now, does he have bad memories?

"I’ve got good memories of Wrigley," Uecker said. "My friend Pat Hughes is broadcasting there [for WGN Radio], and Lenny Kasper [does the Cubs’ television broadcasts], and I played there and hit a home run off Fergie Jenkins. I always have to apologize to Fergie every time I see him. I always thought that would keep him out of the Hall of Fame."

Uecker actually hit three home runs at Wrigley Field, and has a career .295 batting average there. Not bad. What does Jenkins say when Uecker reminds him?

"We laugh about it," Uecker said. "It was a fastball. I never hit anything but fastballs."

Uecker and Jenkins were actually teammates in 1966 on the Phillies. Uecker recalls Philadelphia manager Gene Mauch telling the pitcher that he didn’t think Jenkins would win in the Major Leagues. Jenkins, as Cubs fans know, would eventually finish with 284 career wins, 3,192 strikeouts, and a ticket to Cooperstown.

"All those guys — [Ron] Santo and [Don] Kessinger and [Glenn] Beckert and Ernie [Banks] — were great," Uecker said.

The brief loss of vision actually helped Uecker in the long run.

"Had it not happened at Wrigley Field, it would’ve happened someplace else," he said. "And had it not happened, there might have been a different outcome, too. There was something that led the doctors to do further research, and they found the cancerous tumors and they weren’t malignant, but they had to come out."

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo earns Player of the Week honors

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo followed up his first All-Star appearance by being named National League Player of the Week.

Despite the Cubs getting swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Rizzo hit three home runs while going 5-for-11 with 14 total bases. He is tied for the National League lead in homers with 23 going into games on Monday. That also ties his career high for a season set last year.

This is Rizzo’s first career Player of the Week award and the first for a Cubs hitter since Starlin Castro earned it in August 2011.

Overall, Rizzo is batting .281 with 23 home runs and 53 RBIs this season.

In recognition of the award, Rizzo will be given a watch courtesy of Game Time.

ESPNChicago.com

First-rounders stand out over weekend

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — While the major league team was getting swept in Phoenix, the Chicago Cubs’ recent first-round prospects were cleaning up. The Cubs’ top picks over the last four drafts are a combined 28-for-78 (.359) since last Thursday when the Triple-A season resumed after the All-Star break.

Most meaningful, arguably, was the weekend of 2011 first-rounder Javier Baez. Not making the Triple-A All-Star team didn’t slow him down. Baez, who hit a home run in the Futures Game last Sunday, went 8-for-20 (.400) with two home runs this past weekend while playing second base for the first time since spring training. Baez could be feeling a promotion to the big leagues might be in the offing if he keeps it up. Both Junior Lake last season and Arismendy Alcantara this year started playing other positions in advance of getting promoted to the Cubs. Starlin Castro has Baez’s position in the majors, so to get promoted he’ll have to play elsewhere.

Baez has hit in 14 consecutive games, and while he accounted for exactly 10 hits in the first 10 games of that streak, now he’s stringing together multi-hit games. He had three singles on Sunday, for example. The one concern — once again — might be his strikeout-to-walk total. It was heading in the right direction, but over the last nine games he hasn’t earned a free pass while striking out seven times. But is that even a concern if a player is hot? For the season it’s 112 strikeouts to 28 walks for Baez but his batting average is “up” to .252.

Next in importance might be 2012 top pick Albert Almora’s weekend for Single-A Daytona. If Baez is waiting on a call for a promotion so might be Almora. His would be to Double-A Tennessee, where many expected him to be playing by now. Almora is 7-for-19 (.368) since last Thursday, including a four-hit day on Sunday. And it wasn’t long before that he hit for the cycle as his slow start to the year seems a thing of the past. Almora also has a walks-to-strikeout issue as he’s only earned a free pass 12 times in 376 plate appearances. His 45 strikeouts are fine, but not if he’s only walking 12 times. So just like Baez, the Cubs will have to work that into the equation of a hot hitter.

Rounding out the positive weekend for top picks are 2013 and 2014 sluggers Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. Both earned promotions relatively recently, so another one isn’t expected soon, but both continue to rake. Bryant was 6-for-19 (.316) with two home runs taking over sole possession of home run leader (33) in all of the minors. Schwarber is settling in nicely at Daytona after a 7-for-20 (.350) weekend (since Thursday), which included a home run.

If you’re keeping track at home then promotions for Baez and Almora should be the next order of business. It’s not a sexy phrase but you hear the Cubs use it all the time: plate discipline. Does either player have enough of it to warrant a step up in class?

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs could face big decision on Schwarber

By Sahadev Sharma

When the Chicago Cubs selected Kyle Schwarber with the fourth overall pick in June’s amateur draft, many were taken aback. Schwarber, a bat-first catcher from Indiana University, was widely considered a mid- to late first-round talent who would likely have to move to left field or even first base.

However, the Cubs didn’t hesitate to snag Schwarber earlier than most expected; Jason McLeod, vice president of player development and amateur scouting, stood by the pick, declaring that Schwarber was second on their board behind eventual No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken. While it’s clear the Cubs were higher on Schwarber than most, even they have been a little surprised by his results early on.

Schwarber’s bat has vaulted him from low-A Boise to Kane County to high-A Daytona in just a little over a month. At 6 feet tall and 235 pounds, the kid the Hoosier faithful affectionately nicknamed Hulk has posted a .398/.479/.707 slash line with nine home runs and nine doubles in 33 minor league games.

But it’s his play behind the plate that has garnered some attention of late.

"The early returns have been a little surprising as to how positive it’s been for him [behind the plate]," said one NL scout. "[It’s] hard to know what to make of that; obviously it’s gonna be dictated a little bit by what’s the need of the team going forward. It still might not make a ton of sense going forward, but that bat as a catcher is an unworldly profile."

With some interesting players at Indiana over the past few seasons, the Cubs have had eyes on Schwarber since his freshman year, something that’s rare for amateur talent. His sophomore season didn’t engender much confidence that he’d be sticking behind the plate, and his time with Team USA was spent in the outfield or as the designated hitter. The Cubs continued to watch the young slugger this spring; he had cleaned up his act at catcher, but he still had some inconsistencies on a week-to-week basis. One thing was clear: Schwarber was highly motivated to prove he’d be a good catcher when the Cubs brought him into the organization. The positive reviews of his skills behind the plate, which had been more frequent during the spring, only increased.

One may wonder why it wouldn’t make sense for the Cubs to keep Schwarber behind the plate, considering not only their need for catching in the system, but also the general lack of plus-offensive catchers in all of baseball.

One reason is the change in his developmental timeline. Schwarber is clearly a bat-first prospect and having him continue to hone his skills behind the plate will slow his rise through the system and could also inhibit the development of his bat.

With the Cubs hoping to have a window of contention opening in 2016, the team could decide just to place Schwarber in left — where they’re very confident the former linebacker has the athleticism to stick in the long term — and let his bat continue to carry him through the system. Under that thought process, Schwarber, whose realistic best-case-scenario trajectory is likely about a year behind top prospect Kris Bryant, could possibly be ready for a midseason 2016 call-up. One could argue that Bryant is ready to contribute at the big league level just a year after being drafted, so suggesting Schwarber may be ready two years after his draft isn’t too far off base.

Bryant hasn’t been called up this season due to development and service-time issues, but the Cubs hope the situation is quite a bit different by the summer of 2016. Rather than making a trade, the Cubs could decide that it makes sense to call up Schwarber even before the front office is absolutely certain he’s ready because it’s time to win at the big league level, and he’s their best option to help the team win.

But the bottom line is the Cubs don’t have to make a decision on Schwarber’s position just yet. They can continue to let him get some time behind the plate once or twice a week in Daytona while they evaluate his progress. The offseason is when the process of deciding whether to put Schwarber on the fast track or to go full-bore on his development as a catcher likely starts. Right now, it’s difficult to figure out how Schwarber will trend behind the plate and, if he can really stick back there, how good he can actually be. The fact remains that catching is the least likely place Schwarber will end up, but the chance that he’ll stay a catcher has gone from near zero to at least a possibility the organization is considering.

Schwarber isn’t going to put up a fight with whatever the team decides. He’s willing to do whatever they believe is best for him.

"What the organization wants me to do, I’m gonna be more than happy to do," Schwarber said. "If they want me to stick back there and catch, I’m more than happy to do that. If they want me to play left, I’m more than happy to do that as well. It’s more about what they want me to do, and I’m gonna do it to my fullest ability."

Scouts rave about Schwarber’s calm and under-control approach in the batter’s box. Everything he does at the plate has always come naturally to him and he has a very advanced control of the strike zone, both in terms of drawing walks and avoiding strikeouts.

"Hitting’s a big thing in what I like to do, and I take pride in being able to recognize things that some people might not," Schwarber said. "I really like to hound myself on getting my pitch. You might only get a pitch once or twice an at-bat, and that’s when you really got to focus on getting your pitch and not missing it. You’re gonna miss it sometimes, you gotta accept that. Good hitters succeed three out of 10 times. You just gotta really hound yourself on getting your pitch and take advantage of it."

Schwarber’s success at the plate comes with a short swing to the ball that generates easy power. Often power hitters at the college level are max-effort guys with some swing-and-miss in their game, which scouts expect to be exacerbated at the pro level. Schwarber is the opposite of that, with an advanced, simple approach that talent evaluators expect will be applied rather quickly at the pro level. And the early stats are proving that assumption to be quite accurate.

"He’s more of a guy who’s a really good hitter who just has really good bat speed," said one scouting director. "Instead of being a power-first guy, he’s really a hit-first guy with

raw power, so the balls he hits well just go out of the ballpark.”

Whether it’s at catcher or left field has yet to be determined, but once again, the Cubs appear to have come away from the draft not only with another top-tier bat, but with someone who could add yet another positive presence in the clubhouse. With the resurgence of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, the dynamic debut of Arismendy Alcantara, as well as two of the best power prospects in the game in Bryant and Javier Baez, it’s not too hard to dream of a Cubs lineup in the near future that gives opposing pitching staffs nightmares.

CSNChicago.com

As Theo bets on Big Bats, Cubs believe in Bill Mueller

By Patrick Mooney

Bill Mueller has a batting title on his resume, but he doesn’t sell himself as a hitting guru.

That’s the smart play, because Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro already had more than $100 million guaranteed, and all these prospects are supposed to be Hall of Famers anyway, right?

As Theo Epstein’s front office sees the way the game is trending and bets on Big Bats, the Cubs hitting coach will be a major force in the Wrigley Field rebuild.

Not that Mueller gives off that impression. He didn’t take a victory lap after Rizzo and Castro became All-Stars, and he doesn’t feed the hype surrounding Kris Bryant and Javier Baez. He’s usually seen walking out to the cage beneath the bleachers, or moving through the clubhouse with a binder in his hand, rounding up players for another meeting to go over the scouting reports.

Mueller won the 2003 American League batting title and earned a World Series ring with the 2004 Boston Red Sox. But he’s kept a low profile since taking the job eight months ago, leaving his front-office position with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Mueller declined to diagnose hitters through the media at Cubs Convention. He always seemed busy at Cubs Park, the team’s new Arizona complex that can feel more like a fortress than the old Fitch Park, wanting to get to know the players without pretending like he had all the answers.

“That’s my personality,” Mueller said. “Actions speak louder than words. So you can explain a lot of different things, but eventually it is about the results on this field – at this level. That’s how I’ve grown up.

“I’ve always approached it (like) I didn’t really need to say too much. I love to talk about the game, (but) for the most part, you have to prove yourself every day out here. It’s: What have you done for me lately?”

“It Makes Sense”

Mueller did a lot for the Cubs executives who used to work in Boston, becoming the perfect complementary piece (.373 career on-base percentage) to the great Red Sox teams that would grind through at-bats and wear out pitchers.

Epstein needed to get this hire right, clarifying the mixed messages after firing manager Dale Sveum and shaking up the coaching staff, 197 losses into the rebuild.

Mueller played with Barry Bonds and twice went to the playoffs with the San Francisco Giants. He saw Sammy Sosa’s act at Wrigley Field and knows what it’s like to perform in this market. He will be remembered forever throughout New England as part of The Band of Idiots.

“We got confidence in his work. It makes sense,” said Castro, who hit .245 with a .631 OPS last season and is now on pace to set career highs in home runs and RBI.

The All-Star shortstop also credited assistant hitting coach Mike Brumley and quality assurance coach Jose Castro: “They’re letting you be yourself.

Those guys trust us. We go every day. They listen to you.”

This is what Epstein saw in Mueller, a 15th-round pick out of Southwest Missouri State University in 1993, who lasted 11 years in the big leagues:

“He’s somebody who has a great way about him,” Epstein said. “He’s a calming influence, very down to earth, very thorough, very knowledgeable. Players like him and trust him. He wasn’t the most physically gifted player in the world, but had an incredible work ethic, a great understanding of what he was trying to do in the box.

“He can really articulate hitting and a certain approach really well. But he’s flexible. We’re not trying to turn every hitter into Bill Mueller. Not every hitter is going to be an on-base machine. But I think having an understanding of what you’re trying to do at the plate is important. And Bill will be really helpful in that regard.”

The hitting coach might have the hardest job in baseball, a no-win situation where you get zero credit when players produce and become the easy scapegoat when things go wrong. It’s all about finding a feel, staying in rhythm and playing armchair psychologist.

The Sveum firing exposed behind-the-scenes tensions, a front office with some communication issues.

Sveum had his own ideas, and a good reputation as a hitting coach with the Milwaukee Brewers, helping develop a young core that included Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks and J.J. Hardy, and he now has the same job with the Kansas City Royals.

James Rowson got promoted to interim hitting coach when the Cubs fired Rudy Jaramillo in June 2012, preparing for Rizzo’s promotion from Triple-A Iowa, and made it through last season. By that September, a team official watched Castro’s downward spiral and admitted that Jaramillo’s simple positive reinforcement could have been exactly what the young hitter needed.

Rowson didn’t play in the big leagues, but he spoke the same language as Cubs executives, and he had been a well-regarded minor-league hitting coordinator with the New York Yankees, who quickly gave him his old job back last fall. Rob Deer – who’s tight with Sveum after they played together in Milwaukee – lasted one season as the assistant hitting coach.

“Clean Slate”

Castro heard a lot of different voices, and Rizzo has a tendency to tinker with his swing. Mueller spoke in general terms with Rowson about players’ routines, but said he didn’t get a debriefing from Sveum, the third-base coach on that 2004 Red Sox team.

“I tried to hear a little bit of what was going on, just so that coming in I knew how to conduct myself properly,” Mueller said. “But for the most part, I wanted a clean slate, so we could just go from that first day in spring training and move forward.

“It’s great to be around (Rizzo and Castro), and to be able to work with that type of talent.”

Rizzo was named the National League’s player of the week on Monday after hitting three bombs over the weekend, while the Arizona Diamondbacks swept the Cubs out of Chase Field.

Rizzo has already matched his home-run total (23) from last season, putting up a .907 OPS while hitting .312 against lefties. He’s also coming through with runners in scoring position (.820 OPS), drawing 53 walks and driving in 53 runs through 96 games, producing in a lineup that doesn’t offer much protection.

A pro scout who covers the Cubs tipped his cap to Epstein, GM Jed Hoyer and VP Jason McLeod for drafting Rizzo and engineering the trades that pulled him from the Boston system to the San Diego Padres to the North Side, saying this is a legitimate middle-of-the-order presence.

An NL executive observed the way Rizzo has evolved from his time in San Diego and mimicked the batting stance. Where Rizzo used to be more stiff and upright, he now looks locked in, ready to pounce, with almost no holes in his swing.

It would be foolish to suggest it was all Sveum’s fault or give all the credit to first-year manager Rick Renteria. But Rizzo has responded to Mueller and Brumley after a feeling-out process that might not have been entirely smooth.

“They know me now,” Rizzo said. “They understand my personality. I understand theirs. We really get along. We have fun. When it comes down to business, they know when I’m messing up. They’ll get on me and help me out. It’s more being positive and talking about situations.”

The “Holy S—-!” Moment

During their rookie-development program in January, the Cubs showed a clip from “Four Days in October” as a way to introduce Mueller.

McLeod described the ‘Holy s—-!” moment as the prospects watched the ESPN “30 for 30” documentary, realizing this was the same guy who beat the great Mariano Rivera at Fenway Park, beginning an epic comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.

Mueller talked about “handling the moment,” using your preparation and your routine as a way to manage the stress and avoid getting caught up in all the noise.

The Cubs will figure out the pitching later. They’re planning to get to October with a deep group of position players who are supposed to grow up together.

Seeing a lack of premium offensive talent around the game, Epstein pushed for a 20-year-old shortstop (Addison Russell) when he traded two-fifths of his rotation (Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel) to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July.

While the Cubs (40-57) march toward another last-place finish, Mueller isn’t obsessing over Bryant and Baez or watching much Iowa video, feeling a sense of responsibility to the big-league club and knowing this is a bottom-line business.

“I’ve just been trying to immerse myself with these guys,” Mueller said. “I know that eventually they’ll be here rocking it. We’ve seen them in spring training. We have an understanding of what they’re doing. (It’s) an exciting time for the organization, that’s for sure.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo named NL Player of the Week

By Charlie Roumeliotis

Less than a week after playing in his first MLB All-Star Game, Anthony Rizzo was named NL Player of the Week.

The Cubs first baseman registered a .455 batting average (5-for-11) in three games against the Arizona Diamondbacks, racking up 14 total bases, three home runs and four RBI.

Rizzo is now tied for the NL leader in HR’s with 23 — also tied for his career-high — along with Miami Marlins first baseman Giancarlo Stanton.

This is the first time Rizzo has been recognized as NL Player of the Week this season.

CSNChicago.com

Hoyer: Cubs ignoring David Price trade rumors

By Tony Andracki

With the Cubs searching for elite pitchers to help join the rebuild, they have found themselves in trade rumors for Rays ace David Price.

FOXSports’ Ken Rosenthal added to the speculation with his recent column saying Price would be right for the Cubs.

The Cubs acquired shortstop Addison Russell - a Top 5 prospect in the game right now - on the Fourth of July when they dealt Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland A’s. Russell joins Kris Bryant and Javier Baez atop arguably the top farm system in baseball, so the Cubs have the depth to acquire an elite pitcher.

But would they dip into their pool of top prospects to compile enough of a package to entice Tampa Bay?

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer was on the “Kap and Haugh” show Monday for the debut of CSN’s simulcast and discussed the trade rumors without singling out Price by name.

"I don’t really pay attention," Hoyer said. "There’s going to be a lot of rumors of our players and our acquiring good players because of the talent we have in the minors. There are so many teams looking for offense that I think we’re just kinda lumped in with a lot of different rumors.

"We just sort of ignore them. … In general, you take it with a grain of salt. But I do think we’re going to be rumored a lot simply because people think we’re getting to that time in the rebuilding process and the amount of time that we have."

Price turns 29 next month and currently leads Major League Baseball in starts (21), innings pitched (155.2) and strikeouts (173) while sporting a 10-7 record, 3.06 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. He won the American League Cy Young in 2012 and has totaled 21.2 WAR (Baseball Reference) in his seven-year career.

During the All-Star break last week, Price made headlines by commenting on how cool it would be to win a championship with the Cubs, stoking the Twitter firestorm of rumors.

In that area, Hoyer and Price are in agreement.

"In a lot of ways, that’s why Theo [Epstein] came here. That’s why I came here," Hoyer said. "Because it is. I don’t think there’s any question. This would be the ‘coolest’ city to win a championship in.

"Obviously, it’d be incredible to break the drought, but also it’s Chicago. It’s a fanbase that is incredible. What [Price] was saying, that’s what Theo and I and other people that have come to the Cubs have said in different words many times."

CSNChicago.com

The Cubs farm system is making history

By Tony Andracki

As the Cubs streak toward another last-place finish and possible 90-loss season, the saving grace has been the organization’s farm system.

So this should come as good news to Cubs fans: the farm system is making history, according to Baseball America.

BA, one of the most prestigious outlets analyzing prospects, released their midseason Top 50 rankings earlier this month and had three Cubs in the Top 10 - Kris Bryant (2nd), Addison Russell (5) and Javier Baez (7).

Midseason prospect rankings are different than preseason lists, but if the rankings were to hold up heading into 2015, they would be the highest-ranked trio from one team in BA history (the lists started in 1990).

Only one other team has ever earned three guys in the Top 10 - the Kansas City Royals in 2011 with Eric Hosmer (8), Mike Moustakas (9) and Wil Myers (10).

Since its inception in 1990, only five teams have ever earned two Top 5 prospects, the most recent coming in 2008 when the Braves had Tommy Hanson (3) and Jason Heyward (4).

What are the chances the Cubs’ trio remains in the Top 10?

 

    What is remarkable is that the Cubs could do better when the offseason rankings roll out. No draft pick from the 2014 draft is likely to crack the top five. It’s hard to see Bryant moving up much—there’s nowhere to go when you are already ranked No. 2, but Russell and Baez are both coming off of frustrating first halves of the minor league season. Russell missed most of the first half with a hamstring injury and Baez struggled with strikeouts. Russell’s injury didn’t really affect his ranking, but Baez’s contact problems did ding him a little. If he shows an ability to recognize pitches better and a better approach in the second half, he could climb a little in the Top 100 rankings.

 

The Cubs’ young prospects have been making headlines over the last week, with a banner day Thursday and another big day Sunday as Baez collected three hits - and extended his hitting streak to 14 games - while Russell hit two homers and drove in six runs.

"It seems two or three of these guys are having a huge game every night," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said on the "Kap and Haugh" show on CSN Monday. "It’s gotten to be a lot of fun to check the box scores."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Baez extends hit streak to 15 games

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Monday vs. New Orleans: (second base): 1-for-4, strikeout, double play.

Trending: 19-for-58 (.328) during 15-game hitting streak, 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 14 RBIs.

Season:  89 games, .251 batting average, 16 home runs, 61 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Monday vs. New Orleans:  1-for-4, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  7-for-22 (.318), 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 3 runs, 8 strikeouts.

Season: 97 games, .345 batting average, 33 home runs, 84 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Monday vs. Mississippi: 0-for-5.

Trending: 11-for-38 (.289), double, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, 2 walk, 9 strikeouts.

Season: 30 games, .270 batting average, 4 home runs, 17 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday vs. Mississippi: 2-for-3, left after 6th inning.

Trending: 17-for-37 (.459), 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 7 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  28 games, .405 batting average, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Monday at Palm Beach: 1-for-5, run, strikeout.

Trending: 14-for-33 (.424), 3 doubles, triple, home run, 5 RBIs.

Season: 88 games, .280 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Ex-military man embraces chance with Cubs

Lewis, out of baseball for 4 years while in Air Force, wowed scouts with 98-mph fastball

By Mark Gonzales

MESA, Ariz. — Daniel Lewis has yet to pitch in a minor league game, yet he may be as mentally prepared as any closer in the majors.

And despite never having participated in a spring training camp, Lewis is as well-conditioned as any player.

The only ingredient Lewis lacks is baseball experience, which he hopes to gain soon after spending four years in the military before wowing Cubs scouts by throwing 98 mph in his third game for the Cotuit Kettleers in the amateur Cape Cod League.

The Cubs believed Lewis’ arm was too strong to pass up, so they signed the undrafted free agent despite a four-year layoff he ended this spring at Pensacola State College.

"The experience of being in the military and the stressful situations that the military puts on you, whether it be training or doing your job, gives me a leg up on the maturity side," Lewis said Sunday night before an Arizona Rookie League game at Cubs Park.

"I think it puts things in perspective for me that I’ve been in more stressful situations. I’ve had to complete hard tasks, now it’s time to go to work on the mound. It’s an applicable skill. Everything translates from the mentality from it’s time to go to work. It’s the same thing when you’re on the mound — tunnel vision, see the catcher and go to work."

Lewis, 23, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound right-hander, was guarded about where he served during his four-year stint in the U.S. Air Force. He did confirm he enlisted after high school following the death of a friend who served in the military.

But he freely elaborated on the parallels between serving the country and pitching.

"I’ve always been told, whether it’s dealing with shooting or on the mound with mechanics, slow is smooth, smooth is fast," said Lewis, who has a tattoo with the phrase "Make it yours” inside his left forearm. "If you take time to slow it down, and think about what you need to do and go ahead and envision yourself completing the task, then it’s going to be that much easier.”

Pitching wasn’t that easy for Lewis, who described himself as an “awful” player at Croatan High School in Newport, N.C., and had to ask for a tryout at Pensacola last fall and enrolled there only because it was the closest school to Hurlburt Field, in Mary Esther, Fla. — his last stop in the Air Force.

He said he felt no soreness five hours after throwing a bullpen session Sunday — a far cry from the first time he resumed throwing and felt sore for a week.

"A lot of coaches here have asked me (about the conditioning)," Lewis said. "In high school, I was throwing only 82 to 84 mph. I don’t know if it was the swimming, the push-ups, the pull-ups or the running. I don’t know how I took four years off and went from 82-84 (mph) to 94-98. So I’d probably say the rigors of the physical training helped me out the most."

Despite a 5.13 ERA, Lewis struck out 26 in 31 innings at Pensacola. Lewis showed enough potential to receive a recommendation by Pensacola coach Keith Little when Billy Sadler, who now serves as Lewis ’ adviser, asked about potential players for Cotuit this summer.

In less than a month, Lewis further enhanced his skills under Cotuit coach Mike Roberts, the father of Yankees second baseman Brian Roberts.

"The way (Roberts) approached me was very direct, and I like things direct," Lewis said. "And he would say, ‘You have to do this. This has to be done on these counts. If you don’t do this kind of thing, you’re not going to throw strikes. And if you don’t throw strikes, you’re not going to play.’ ”

Lewis’ first game in the Cape was eye-opening.

"I remember the first time I toed the rubber, I was in complete awe of what was going on behind the screen," Lewis said. "And I tried to set that aside. It never was an issue, but I never had the exposure of the scouts, the atmosphere and the fans. It was great.

"The best players in the country. Everyone in that league, batting 1 through 9, is a 3-4-5 hitter at their school. It lets you know where you are and if you can play at the next level."

Cubs area scout Tom Clark spotted Lewis while scouting five players from Chipola College and turned in Lewis’ name, but Lewis went undrafted.

After special assistant Tim Wilkin and scout Trey Forkerway saw Lewis throw in the high 90-mph range in his third game for Cotuit, the Cubs signed Lewis and assigned him to Arizona.

"There was so much that intrigued me," Clark said. "He’s 23, but he has an 18-year-old arm. I liked his body and his background was so obvious with his ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ replies. This is no hoax. He’s been fun to follow."

Lewis, who competed against pitcher Adam Warren of the Yankees and Lonnie Chisenhall of the Indians in high school, understands why teams didn’t draft him or sign him in the Cape until the Cubs offered.

"I think they were leery of someone who was 23 and hadn’t played in four years," Lewis said. "And I saw this as a great opportunity to come here. In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Who is going to draft a 24-year-old sophomore from a junior college who has played for only two years?’

"Life gives you limits. You got to go.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs relieved to be home after long road stretch

After 14 of 17 on road, they now will enjoy 23 of 33 at Wrigley

By Mark Gonzales

Three night games are scheduled, followed by two 3:05 p.m. starts when the shadows will start to creep over Wrigley Field before pregame batting practice.

But quirks of the schedule aside, the Cubs are relieved to be home after playing 14 of their last 17 games on the road.

"It’s been a very tough (13) games in a row ever since that fateful July 4," said John Baker, referring to the Cubs’ 2-11 record since the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. "So playing frequently at home and getting used to the Wrigley schedule I think will help. And hopefully some of those extra (3:05) games will screw up some of the people we’re playing against."

The Cubs are relieved to have 23 of their next 33 games at home.

"We obviously play better at home," Anthony Rizzo said. "I like playing at Wrigley. But we need to start playing better. It doesn’t matter if it’s here or Mars."

Electric youth: Outfielder Ryan Sweeney believes the influx of young players could give the Cubs a boost.

"(Arismendy) Alcantara has given guys a second wind after we’ve almost played 100 games," Sweeney said. "You become repetitive, and you get a young guy in here who sparks the lineup."

Baker added that Kyle Hendricks, who is set to make his second major league start Tuesday night, shouldn’t be affected by pitching at Wrigley for the first time.

"Coming into this situation where it’s time to right the ship, it’s going to be for guys to make names for themselves, and that’s the way to look at it," Baker said. "They shouldn’t look at it as having to fill Samardzija’s role or Hammel’s spot. This team is struggling right now, and if these guys can come and help, they can make a statement as a major league pitcher, and I hope they seize that opportunity."

Chicago Tribune

Greg Maddux didn’t always have the look of a Hall of Famer

Boyish appearance, small build didn’t impress observers in 1986 — until he started to pitch

By Paul Sullivan

At 20, Cubs rookie Greg Maddux had a slight frame and boyish look that hid the fierce competitor inside him.

According to a Tribune report on his first day in the majors in 1986, Maddux was even smaller than his listed size of 6 feet and 150 pounds, and a pair of size-30 pants “bagged about his thighs and upper legs.”

Who knew a future Hall of Famer was inside that uniform?

"First time I saw him was in Instructional League, and (then-prospect) Jamie Moyer was with him," former Cubs outfielder Darrin Jackson recalled. "I remember one guy saying, ‘You should see these two kids, they look like bat boys.’ I saw them and thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

"But then I saw him break bat after bat after bat, and I said to myself: ‘I don’t even need a glove. I’m just going to sit on the ground. No one is going to hit this.’

"He was throwing 93 (mph) then, but with that movement, it might as well have been 98. It was the first time I stood in center field laughing at how one-sided it was."

Maddux went 10-1 at Triple-A Iowa in 1986 and was a September call-up to a lousy team along with outfielders Dave Martinez, Chico Walker and Brian Dayett and pitcher Guy Hoffman.

"If we had known Maddux was going to be 10-1, chances are he’d have been up earlier and pitching against the Mets," manager Gene Michael said. "Maybe then they wouldn’t be so far ahead."

Upon his arrival, Maddux explained his repertoire in modest terms.

"I’m a lucky pitcher," he said. "I throw it down the middle and hope they hit it at somebody. I try not to walk people. … I just throw a fastball, changeup and curve. They are all pretty much average. My fastball is not overpowering, and my curveball is just average. Same with my changeup."

Maddux’s debut came in relief against the Astros on Sept. 3, 1986, at Wrigley Field — though it went in the books as taking place Sept. 2. The game had been suspended because of darkness after 14 innings at pre-lights Wrigley and had to be completed before the next day’s game.

The Astros scored three in the top of the 17th to take a 7-4 lead before Keith Moreland’s three-run homer in the bottom half tied it again. Maddux, the eighth Cubs pitcher, was called on to start the 18th and served up a one-out home run to Billy Hatcher, taking the loss in an 8-7 game that lasted 5 hours, 14 minutes over two days.

Maddux won his first start Sept. 7, an 11-3 decision over the Reds at Riverfront Stadium, to become the youngest Cubs pitcher to win a game and the youngest to throw a complete game since Ken Holtzman in 1966, when he was also 20.

Maddux declared himself “awestruck” afterward, while Jim Colborn, his Triple-A pitching coach, tempered expectations.

"I don’t think it’s fair to expect Greg to lead the league in strikeouts," Colborn said. "He’s not a strikeout pitcher and he probably won’t ever win 25 or 30 games in the big leagues. But he should have a good big-league career. He’s a good competitor and he’s fun to watch, especially knowing that he just finished his paper route a couple of years ago."

Maddux never did win 25 games or lead the league in strikeouts. But he wound up eighth in career wins with 355 and 10th in career strikeouts with 3,371, becoming one of the greatest pitchers of all time.

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Padres at Cubs

By Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: 2-2.

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN Plus; LH Eric Stults (3-11, 4.98) vs. RH Kyle Hendricks (0-0, 6.00).

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN; RH Ian Kennedy (7-9, 3.62) vs. LH Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 0.00).

Thursday: 7:05 p.m., WGN-9; RH Tyson Ross (7-10, 2.85) vs. RH Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.61).

Who’s hot: Kennedy has allowed six runs over his last four starts. All-Star Ross has allowed two runs or fewer in six consecutive starts. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo has hit 20 home runs since April 30. Left fielder Chris Coghlan is batting .412 (21-for-51) in July.

Who’s not: The Padres are last in the majors in batting average (.214) and runs (289). Stults has lost eight of his last nine decisions. The Cubs have lost five consecutive games and 11 of 13. Third baseman Luis Valbuena is 3-for-26.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Rizzo wins NL player of week honors

By Mark Gonzales

The Chicago Cubs didn’t come away completely empty despite getting swept in a three-game series by the Arizona Diamondbacks.

First baseman Anthony Rizzo was named the National League player of the week for the period ending Sunday. Rizzo, coming off his first NL All-Star game selection, went 5-for-11 (.455) with three home runs, four RBIs and five runs.

Rizzo hit two of his home runs on Friday night, marking the second time he’s had a multi-homer game.

With the three home runs, Rizzo moved into a tie with Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins for the NL lead with 23 home runs. Rizzo already has matched his 2013 home run total. He will receive a watch for his award.

21 7 / 2014

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Russell 2 HRs, 6 RBIs

By Mark Gonzales

Future Five report

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Sunday at Round Rock: 3-for-6, stolen base, caught stealing.

Trending: 18-for-54 (.333) during 14-game hitting streak, 6 doubles, 5 home runs, 14 RBIs.

Season:  88 games, .252 batting average, 16 home runs, 61 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Sunday at Round Rock:  1-for-6, double, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  6-for-18 (.333), 2 doubles, 2 home runs, 3 RBIs, 3 runs, 6 strikeouts.

Season: 96 games, .346 batting average, 33 home runs, 84 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Sunday at Huntsville: 2-for-4, 2 home runs, 6 RBIs, walk, strikeout.

Trending: 11-for-33 (.333), double, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs, 2 walk, 9 strikeouts.

Season: 29 games, .283 batting average, 4 home runs, 17 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Sunday at Huntsville: 1-for-3, 2 runs, 2 walks.

Trending: 15-for-34 (.441), 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 7 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  27 games, .395 batting average, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Sunday at Palm Beach: 4-for-5, 2 runs.

Trending: 13-for-28 (.464), 3 doubles, triple, home run, 5 RBIs.

Season: 87 games, .281 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Tribune

Rizzo looks for young Cubs to step up

Cubs first baseman homers in loss to Diamondbacks, says big-league opportunities are available

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — A 100-loss season has become a possibility during the Cubs’ 2-11 skid.

But with Arismendy Alcantara providing a spark and Kyle Hendricks receiving an opportunity to earn a spot in the rotation, slugger Anthony Rizzo says the entire Cubs’ farm system should take notice.

"It’s an opportunity for guys to step up," Rizzo said Sunday before he hit his 23rd home run and made a spectacular catch in a 3-2 loss to the Diamondbacks that extended the Cubs’ losing streak to five games.

"Our whole organization should be loving where we’re at, because even guys in high A and Double A should see there’s so much opportunity in our organization right now to step up and become someone who can make a name for themselves.

"If I’m looking at it from the standpoint of being a guy in the minors, I’m doing everything I can to get an opportunity to get up here. There are opportunities here, and honestly, you’re not going to have a lot of opportunity pretty soon.”

Alcantara, 22, has started all eight games since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa and hit an RBI single Sunday that cut the Cubs’ deficit to 3-2 in the eighth inning. Hendricks, 24, will get his second start Tuesday night after showing poise in a July 10 start against the Reds.

Rizzo, 24, appreciates making the most of his opportunity with the Cubs after playing in the Red Sox and Padres organizations. He received a seven-year contract in May 2013, only to struggle before rebounding to National League All-Star status this season.

"The guys up top believed in me, and that’s not always the case for everyone," Rizzo said. "Sometimes guys get only one opportunity and make the best out of it. You see what Alcantara is doing. He was supposed to be up for two days, and he’s taken advantage of it.

"If that’s not sending a message to other people, I don’t know what’s going to."

As shocking as the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel was to the players, the possibility of more moves by the July 31 trade deadline remains strong.

The Giants — who are believed to be seeking relief help — Mariners, Tigers and White Sox were among teams in attendance. The Mariners are looking for shortstop help but also have kept an eye on outfielder Junior Lake since spring training.

"We’re well aware that trades will possibly continue to take place, guys will be shuffled around in different positions and getting experience across the board, trying to fit guys in and get them comfortable in certain situations," starter Jake Arrieta said after battling a stomach virus to strike out eight but suffering from a lack of offensive support.

"That’s part of the game for us as a team right now, but that doesn’t take away from our mindset of going out there and trying to win every game, every series. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here to do. We’re going to need guys to step up in the rotation and give us innings.

"We’re going to need innings and keep the bullpen fresh for the last couple months. It’s going to be tough to do. Those guys will have their work cut out for them, but I’m confident they’re capable."

Tribune

Cubs’ Rizzo determined to make the play

First baseman has no regrets about catch that allowed D’backs to score go-ahead run

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Anthony Rizzo had no regrets Sunday about making a spectacular catch that allowed the Diamondbacks to score the go-ahead run in a 3-2 loss.

"I don’t think there’s any Cubs fan who wanted me to miss it, and I don’t think there were any Diamondbacks fans that wanted me to catch it," Rizzo said after catching Aaron Hill’s popup before falling into the camera well next to the first base dugout.

Because Rizzo left the playing field after catching the second out of the sixth inning, David Peralta was allowed to advance from third base to score the go-ahead run.

Rizzo said he didn’t think he would have to range as far as he did, but his momentum carried him over the rail.

"You want to stay in there, but Hill had two big at-bats (a single and double), and we wanted to eliminate the big inning," Rizzo said.

Manager Rick Renteria admired Rizzo’s effort, adding his heart “sank down very deep” after Rizzo went over the rail.

"You can’t fault him for staying on it," Renteria said. "You’re hoping (the ball) comes back and stays in play, but his momentum and focus on the ball carried him in."

The Cubs still had a chance to tie the game in the eighth after Arismendy Alcantara hit an RBI double, but Rizzo grounded out and Starlin Castro flied out to center.

Alcantara’s double snapped an 0-for-11 slump.

Wada again: Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada will make his second major league start Wednesday night against the Padres.

Wada, 33, allowed one unearned run on five hits in five innings July 8 against the Reds, and he has struck out 15 in 12 innings since returning to Triple-A Iowa.

Renteria described Wada as a “very polished pitcher” who showed a knack for working out of jams.

"He’ll pitch (Wednesday), and we’ll see where it goes from there," Renteria said.

Meanwhile, pitcher Dan Straily remains in Iowa two weeks after being acquired from the Athletics.

"Right now the plan is to get him back on track back there in the system, and we’ll see where he’s at down the road," Renteria said. "I can’t tell you how soon or how far down the road, but right now we’re trying to get him back on track. I’m sure as the season continues to progress we’ll see where he’s at."

Extra innings: After the game, left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup was optioned to Iowa to make room for Kyle Hendricks, who will start Tuesday night against the Padres. … After the Cubs lost their fifth consecutive game, Renteria delivered a brief message to his players. “I just told them to keep their heads up because … things will change,” Renteria said. “We can’t change what already has occurred.”

Sun-Times

Losses continue to mount for Cubs

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PHOENIX — If the Cubs thought it was hot over the weekend, wait till they get to August with this gutted pitching staff and the likelihood of being down a few more traded veterans by then.

“It’s just the situation we’re in as far as where we’re at as a team,” said de facto ace Jake Arrieta, who pitched well again as the Cubs lost again — this time 3-2 to an Arizona Diamondbacks team that was in last place when the weekend started with only one series sweep before taking all three from the Cubs.

“We’re well aware that trades will possibly continue to take place and guys will be shuffled around in different positions, getting experience across the board and trying to fit guys in and get them comfortable in certain situations.

“That’s just part of the game for us as a team right now.”

If nothing else, the few guys in the clubhouse who were here the last two years should be used to the Cubs’ second-half formula: make trades, plug holes, repeat.

“That doesn’t take away from our mindset of going out there and trying to win every series,” Arrieta said.

Whether three summers of amassing young talent by trading away veterans pays off in the big way the organization hopes, it doesn’t make these second-half baseball death marches any easier to stomach for players.

If it wasn’t clear July 4 when rotation workhorses Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Oakland Athletics, it’s starting to sink in that they face another two-month grind to stave off 100 losses.

“We just need to win games,” said first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who homered for the third time in the series and added a health-defying catch-and-tumble into a photo well on a foul pop-up in the sixth.

‘‘We’ve just got to keep playing.”

In 13 games since The Trade, the Cubs have two wins and only three quality starts from the rotation — all three by Arrieta.

Before 2012, the Cubs, for all their history of misery, had only two 100-loss seasons, both in the 1960s.

They need 23 victories in their last 65 games to keep from producing two in three years under different managers.

“You’ve got to stay positive and you’ve got to make sure that these guys know we’re still supporting them,” first-year manager Rick Renteria said. “In terms of dealing with how it’s gone the last couple of weeks, today’s a new day.”

After the tough loss, Renteria addressed the team briefly with that message.

“I just told them to keep their heads up because we kept grinding today, and things will change,” he said.

But no amount of daily affirmation from the National League leader in optimism can make three consecutive days of blown leads against a bad team feel good — or any 2-11 stretch look positive.

As recently as July 2, the Cubs finished off their own sweep of the defending champion Red Sox in Boston in what has since become their swan song.

“It’s our job to come in every day and keep it even,” Rizzo said. “You can’t ride the highs too high, and when the lows get low, you can’t dwell on them.”

Or overcompensate. Renteria acknowledged that might be his biggest challenge as a manager the rest of this season: resisting the temptation to push too many buttons or pull too many strings.

“Sometimes you can do that,” said Renteria, whose three pitching changes in the sixth inning Friday torpedoed that game for the Cubs. “I always use the idea that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. I do try to keep myself in check a little bit. It’s very important that you don’t try to overmanage the situation. . . . Hopefully, I don’t do things rashly. I hope I’m more thoughtful than reactionary.”

Sun-Times

Anthony Rizzo gives Cubs a scare with catch

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

PHOENIX — As if the Cubs already weren’t beat up and short-handed, they were forced to stand helplessly in the sixth inning Sunday as their top hitter tumbled head first into a camera well near the first-base dugout while catching a foul pop.

“My heart sank down pretty deep,” manager Rick Renteria said of first baseman Anthony Rizzo’s crash landing. “He got up right away, and he’s a big, strong man and we’re very fortunate he came out of that OK.”

Rizzo wasn’t even sure after the game how or where he landed.

“I have no idea. You tell me; you saw the replay,” he said. “It’s just one of those things where instincts take over. And it was just lucky.”

The play underscored the way things have gone for the Cubs lately. Because the catch carried Rizzo out of play, the runner at third — who had tagged and appeared to score on a sacrifice fly anyway — was awarded the plate by rule.

It was the go-ahead run in a game eventually won by the Diamondbacks 3-2.

Rizzo seemed frustrated with the result after the inning.

“You want to stay in [play] there,” he said. “Then again, [batter] Aaron Hill had two good at-bats, and you want to eliminate the really big inning. I don’t think there’s any Cubs fan that wanted me to miss it and any Diamondback fan that wanted me to catch it.”

Said Renteria: “It was the freaking greatest effort. He always does that. Those are the types of efforts he gives you.”

Wada tapped

Renteria said left-hander Tsu­yoshi Wada, the veteran Japanese starter who made his big-league debut two weeks ago in Cincinnati, will be called up from Class AAA Iowa again to start Wednesday against the Padres.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Hend­ricks already was picked to start Tuesday as the Cubs look to fill the rotation holes left by the trade of frontline starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics on July 4.

Right-hander Dan Straily, a 10-game winner in 2013 who was acquired in that deal, is expected to finish the season in one of those slots, but Renteria said the staff hasn’t decided when Straily will make his debut. He’s scheduled to make his first start of the second half this week for Iowa.

Notes

Starter Jake Arrieta, who pitched two outs into the seventh inning Sunday for his eighth consecutive quality start, had been ill recently and said he still was battling the stomach flu when he took the mound.

After the game, rookie left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup was optioned to Iowa to make room for Hendricks.

Rehabbing leadoff hitter Emilio Bonifacio (oblique) could add another wrinkle to the Cubs roster maneuvering this week as he nears a return from the disabled list.

Daily Herald

Some uniform advice for Brewers, Padres from Len Kasper

By Len Kasper

I have some serious thoughts on a topic that isn’t discussed enough in baseball — uniform design.

Yes, I admit I am a sports uniform and logo nut. And I have thoroughly enjoyed this season’s decade-to-decade journey of the Cubs’ outfits as part of Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday celebration.

Those uniforms can be found at: http://tinyurl.com/nxktace.

Of all the throwbacks, my favorite so far has been the 1937 zipper-style, off-white top with the thick red “C” surrounding the blue “UBS” without the modern thick blue outline. It has blue piping down the front and on the sleeves but no pinstripes.

If the Cubs decided to go back to that Gabby Hartnett-era look, I would be all for it. Of course, the current home uniform is iconic in its own right, so I wouldn’t necessarily mess with it.

Baseball uniforms (and pro sports uniforms in general) match the general fashion of the times, but it is interesting to see what looks dated and what works in perpetuity.

There are a few teams that have either scrapped their recent look to return to their roots or at least flirted with the past that I find interesting.

• The Blue Jays started out with a unique design with their double-lined uniform script. They had recently gotten away from it until finally going back to their original appearance (with minor updates), which I love.

• Same goes for the Astros, who should always have blue and orange as their main colors. I am not sure I’d ever revive their rainbow jerseys, but they are back on the right track for sure.

• The Brewers are another interesting team. Their terrific ball-and-glove logo is outdated by most standards, with a very disco-era late 1970s feel. But it is so clever that they keep bringing it back as kind of a pseudo alternate look.

One of my staunch logo and uniform tenets is uniqueness and that logo represents the franchise better than any before or after it. Their current combo is completely unmemorable. The Brewers need to ditch their 2014-style jerseys and go back to what clearly is their best design, established 36 years ago.

For more on the Brewers’ uniform and logo history, visit http://tinyurl.com/pzabjz5.

• Then we have the San Diego Padres, a team that seemingly can’t run away far enough from what made the franchise stand out from all others. Their current (and boring) navy blue dominant look makes me yawn every time I see it. It is forgettable and frustratingly generic. This team had it right from the beginning with the Swinging Friar logo in brown and yellow.

Yes, brown and yellow.

Heck, even the brown and orange of the late 1980s would work. But brown needs to be the main color. Why? Because they own it. Like the A’s own green, brown belongs to the San Diego Padres. It’s in their DNA.

One pet peeve of mine is alternate jerseys. The Yankees have resisted the trend and should be applauded for that. Yes, marketing departments love them but as a fan, I want one home and one road uniform and that’s it.

Speaking of road uni’s, remember the baby blue trend of the 1970s and 1980s? Nobody has that look anymore and I am not sure why. The Royals shouldn’t wear gray on the road. It has to be that cool George Brett-era light blue with the white “Royals” on the front, no? It just works.

There’s your baseball sartorial advice of the week, free of charge.

Cubs.com

Cubs edged despite Rizzo dazzling with glove, bat

Arrieta loses steam after fast start, allowing three late runs

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Anthony Rizzo matched his career high in home runs with his 23rd on Sunday and made an incredible acrobatic catch — though it cost the Cubs the tie-breaking run.

David Peralta hit a game-tying RBI double and then scored on Rizzo’s amazing play in the sixth to lead the Diamondbacks to a 3-2 victory Sunday over the Cubs, and complete a sweep of the three-game series in front of 37,131 at Chase Field.

With the loss, the Cubs have dropped 11 of their last 13 games, a streak that started after the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics.

"We need to just win," Rizzo said. "It’s another close game. We keep fighting and we’re in a position to tie it up. We didn’t come through, but we have to keep grinding."

That’s the same message manager Rick Renteria gave the players after the game.

"That’s what I told them — ‘Keep your heads up, it’ll turn, keep grinding, and we’ll get ready for the next series at home,’" Renteria said.

Jake Arrieta has the only two wins in this 13-game stretch, but he took the loss Sunday. The right-hander entered the game with the third-best ERA since May 1 among Major League starters. He gave up three runs over 6 2/3 innings, and his ERA is now 2.12.

The right-hander admitted he felt weak because of a stomach flu he’s battled for three days.

"I wasn’t able to eat any solid foods and get enough in my stomach to sustain," Arrieta said. "It was just a weird three days. … Most days I’ll take that outing but I would’ve liked to do a little more to keep a run or two off the board. You’ve got to fight through it and give the team what you’ve got that day."

Rizzo gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead with one out in the sixth when he hit the first pitch from Josh Collmenter to right for his third homer in three games since the All-Star break. He belted 23 in 160 games last season, while Sunday was his 96th game this year.

But the Diamondbacks answered in their half of the inning, tying the game on back-to-back doubles by Ender Inciarte and Peralta. Paul Goldschmidt grounded out and Miguel Montero then walked before Aaron Hill popped up toward the Cubs’ dugout. Rizzo leaned over the railing and was able to catch the ball before falling into the camera well next to the dugout. As he sat on the concrete, he threw the ball back into fair territory to catcher John Baker, but because the ball went into dead ball territory after the catch, the runners were each awarded a base, allowing Peralta to score from third.

"Back-to-back hitters, just left a sinker a little elevated, and Inciarte and Peralta were able to put some decent wood on it and get it over [Chris] Coghlan in left field," Arrieta said. "A pretty crazy play on the Aaron Hill foul territory fly ball. Tremendous play by Rizzo. He was almost able to come up and get him there at home."

Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson was impressed by Arrieta’s outing, not knowing the right-hander wasn’t feeling well.

"Arrieta’s got good stuff — he’s got really good stuff," Gibson said. "You can just tell by the swings that you’re getting and seeing.

"Arrieta threw the ball good all game, to be honest with you," Gibson said. "I know that back in the past, he was a guy that we’ve talked about when he was with the Orioles. It’s really the first time I watched him pitch live, and he’s got a very good arm."

With two outs in the seventh, the Cubs thought they had thrown out pinch-hitter Mark Trumbo, who was trying to steal second. But the Diamondbacks asked for a review, and the call was overturned. Trumbo then scored two batters later on Peralta’s single.

Coghlan and Arismendy Alcantara hit consecutive doubles with one out in the eighth to close the gap to 3-2, but the Cubs eventually fell to 9-17 in one-run games.

After an off-day Monday, the Cubs open a 10-game homestand on Tuesday, beginning with the Padres. The first two pitchers for that series, Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada, will be replacing Samardzija and Hammel. And there could be more moves. The July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline is looming.

"We’re well aware trades will continue to take place and guys will be shuffled in different positions and get experience across the board and they’ll fit guys in certain situations," Arrieta said. "That doesn’t take away from our mindset of going out there and trying to win every series.

"We’re going to need guys to step up in the rotation and give us some innings, guys who come up here whether it’s Wada, Hendricks, [Dallas] Beeler, whoever comes up," Arrieta said. "It’s going to be tough to do and those guys will have their work cut out for them and I’m confident they’re capable of doing so."

Cubs.com

Rizzo’s awe-inspiring grab backfires on Cubs

All-Star flips into camera well to make catch, but go-ahead run scores

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Anthony Rizzo made a tremendous catch of Aaron Hill’s popup, but it may have been better for the Cubs if he didn’t.

Rizzo’s amazing play came in the sixth inning Sunday against the Diamondbacks when he caught a popup in foul territory and fell into the camera well near the Cubs’ dugout, landing on the concrete on his backside — although he wasn’t exactly sure how he landed.

"I don’t really remember," Rizzo said. "It’s one of those things where instincts take over. Thankfully, I’m all right."

Rizzo hit his 23rd home run in the Chicago sixth to take a 1-0 lead. But the Diamondbacks tied the game in their half on back-to-back doubles by Ender Inciarte and David Peralta. One out later, Miguel Montero walked to put runners on the corners and Hill then popped up toward the Cubs’ dugout.

Rizzo leaned over the railing and was able to catch the ball before flipping into the camera well.

"It’s a popup, and I got there," Rizzo said. "I had to jump a little bit and my momentum carried me into the dugout."

"He was just so focused on the baseball," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "You’re talking about the potential chance for injury — it was the freaking greatest effort. He always does that — those are the type of efforts he always gives you. My heart sank down pretty deep [when he flipped]. He got up right away and he’s a big strong man and thankfully we’re very fortunate."

Yes and no. Because the ball went into dead ball territory after the catch, the runners were each awarded a base, meaning Peralta scored on the play to give the Diamondbacks a 2-1 lead. According to Rule 7.04 (c), “If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should fall into a stand or among spectators or into the dugout or any other out-of-play area while in possession of the ball after making a legal catch, or fall while in the dugout after making a legal catch, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder fell into, or in, such out of play area.”

"First of all, I was glad to see him come up on his own two feet," Cubs starter Jake Arrieta said. "That was a little scary. He put all the effort in the world into that. I don’t expect anything less from him. It was unfortunate to have the run, but I commend him for the effort. It was a great play."

The Diamondbacks posted a 3-2 win over the Cubs to complete a sweep of the series. Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said he thought Rizzo expected to stay in-bounds.

"I think he probably thought he could stay in, but once you get over there by the wall, it’s probably just instinct tells you to go for the ball," Gibson said. "He lets it drop, maybe [Hill] gets a double and we score another run."

Hill had singled and doubled in his first two at-bats against Arrieta. Rizzo wasn’t taking any chances.

"You want to stay in there," Rizzo said. "Aaron Hill had two good at-bats and we want to elimnate the big inning. I don’t think there’s any Cubs fan who wanted me to miss it, or any Diamondbacks fan who wanted me to catch it there. It’s a pretty good play."

He’ll eventually watch a replay. Rizzo has made risky catches before, including one at Wrigley Field in May 2013 when he dove between the rolled up tarp and brick wall along the first base line to catch a ball. Was this as good as the tarp dive?

"This was a good one," Rizzo said.

Cubs.com

Wada pegged to start Wednesday vs. Padres

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Tsuyoshi Wada will start Wednesday, filling the second vacancy in the Cubs’ rotation created by the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

On Friday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Kyle Hendricks will start Tuesday in the first game of a three-game series against the Padres at Wrigley Field. Wada, who made his Major League debut on July 8 against the Reds, will go in the second game.

"We’ll see where it goes from there," Renteria said.

Wada has come a long way since Spring Training, when the lefty posted an 8.38 ERA in four games, giving up nine runs over 9 2/3 innings. On Friday, Wada, 33, struck out 10 for the third time this season at Triple-A Iowa, and leads the Pacific Coast League with 120 strikeouts. He is fourth in ERA (2.77) and fifth with a 1.16 WHIP.

The left-hander picked up his 10th win Friday and joined Hendricks with double-digit wins this year.

In his Major League debut at Great American Ball Park, Wada gave up one unearned run on five hits over five innings.

"The reports and how he’s been pitching, he’s been working more down in the zone and more efficient with his pitches," Renteria said of Wada, adding that he has been able to "elevate when he needs to as opposed to elevating in a non-elevating situation."

The Cubs signed Wada as a free agent in January, but he didn’t impress this spring.

"It was a struggle," Renteria said of the lefty’s Cactus League games. "A lot of his pitches were elevated, his command was off. He’d get into trouble and had trouble getting out of it. It was good in the fifth inning of that one game in Cincinnati when he got into a jam and ended up getting out of it."

The Cubs acquired right-hander Dan Straily, who owned a 4.93 ERA in the Majors this year, from the Athletics in the July 4 deal, but he is not ready to join the big league team, Renteria said.

"Right now, the plan is to get Straily back on track," Renteria said. "I can’t tell you how soon or how far down the road. We’re just trying to get him back on track."

Wood spiraling due to ‘frustrating’ lack of command

PHOENIX — Travis Wood has not looked like the same pitcher he was last season, and the Cubs left-hander knows it. So does pitching coach Chris Bosio.

"I think it’s a command thing for Travis," Bosio said Sunday. "He’s getting in hitters’ counts and doesn’t have the command he had last year. We talk about it a lot as a staff. Try to find out what’s working and what’s not working. Unfortunately for Travis right now, he shows flashes and the next thing you know, he’ll walk a guy.

"He’s had more 3-0 counts this year at this point than he had all of last year," Bosio said. "Last year, he was unbelievable and very consistent, National League All-Star, but unfortunately for baseball players, these are cycles we go in. He’s trying to find it, and he’s searching."

In the first half last season, Wood walked 38 over 122 2/3 innings, and teams hit .202 against him. In the first half this year, he walked 48 over 110 2/3 innings, and teams batted .270 against him.

"It can become very frustrating, emotionally frustrating," Bosio said of Wood, who walked four in Saturday’s loss to the Diamondbacks. "I think that’s the position he’s at right now. He’s trying to do everything. Sometimes you have to simplify it and just say, ‘You know what, I’m going to get back to bread and butter and try to pound the zone. If they’re going to swing at it, let them swing it.’

"To see him go out and walk these guys, it’s crushing, and not only for us, but for him as well," Bosio said. "You can see it in his body language."

Wood doesn’t overpower hitters, and needs to have command to be successful. And yes, Bosio has had this discussion with the lefty, who may be trying to do too much following the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

"Losing our two guys — and it’s going to be a conversation piece for God knows how long — but Jeff and Jason brought a lot for the rest of the guys," Bosio said. "They set things up nicely for the rest of our rotation as far as looks, different angles. They were leaders in here, and I think at times, Woody has tried to do too much."

In Spring Training, Wood and Samardzija were inseperable.

"He lost a good friend, a good teammate, and a good competitor," Bosio said of Wood. "Nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for us and the last thing you do is feel sorry for yourself. He has to get back to good ol’ country hardball from the sticks in Arkansas. That’s what he’s done, that’s how he got here. I believe he’ll get through it. He’s got to believe in himself and get back to challenging guys."

Trade impact still reverberating in Cubs clubhouse

PHOENIX — The Cubs not only lost two starting pitchers when Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded, but two players who made an impact in the clubhouse. It’s taken some time to adjust.

"You miss their veteran presence more than anything," Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney said Sunday of the pair, who were dealt July 4 to the Athletics. "Guys want to win, but when two of your best pitchers get traded, it’s a blow to the team a little bit. We all understand it’s a process and they got a lot of young guys coming up. Bottom line is the guys who are here, we have to focus on still trying to win games."

However, entering Sunday’s series finale in Arizona, the Cubs were 2-10 since the six-player trade with the Athletics, which netted the Cubs top prospect Addison Russell among others.

This is the third straight year the Cubs have dealt two starting pitchers mid-season. In 2012, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were dealt, and last year, it was Scott Feldman and Matt Garza.

"Fans want to see results now, and it’s tough," Sweeney said. "Us as players have to keep going out there and grinding."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria is trying to keep an even-keeled approach.

"You’ve got to stay positive," Renteria said. "You’ve got to make sure that these guys know we’re still supporting them. They know and want to go out there and give you quality outings. We expect it of them, they expect it of themselves. It hasn’t worked as well as we would’ve liked, but we still go out every single day and expect them to give us a nice outing."

Ruggiano riding high as playing time grows

PHOENIX — It’s pretty simple, really. More regular at-bats and more playing time usually ends in better results. Justin Ruggiano is proof of that.

Entering Sunday’s series finale against the D-backs, the Cubs outfielder was batting .371 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs in his last 19 games since June 25. He has 57 at-bats in July; he had 59 total in June.

"In Spring Training, I had only 35, 40 at-bats, and for me to say I feel comfortable, it usually takes 60 to sometimes even 100 [at-bats]," Ruggiano said. "The more at-bats, the more comfortable I get, the more pitches I see, the more I can make adjustments. Sometimes you can come out and be hot right out of the gates, sometimes it takes awhile. For me, it’s just getting into a rhythm."

He did miss time after suffering a strained left hamstring in late April. He hasn’t been able to run as much as he’d like, preferring to take a cautionary approach.

Extra bases

• After Sunday’s game, the Cubs optioned left-hander Zac Rosscup to Triple-A Iowa. The move will make room for Tuesday’s starter, Kyle Hendricks, who will be promoted from the Minors.

• Addison Russell, acquired from the Athletics on July 4, went 2-for-4, hitting two home runs, including a grand slam, and finished with six RBIs in Double-A Tennessee’s 10-3 win over Huntsville. The shortstop hit a two-run homer in the first, and his slam in the fifth. Both were off Huntsville’s Brent Suter.

Cubs.com

Hendricks set for second MLB start, Wrigley debut

Padres will counter with lefty Stults in series opener against Cubs

By Michael Lananna

Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks has already survived his first Major League challenge — he was serviceable in his July 10 MLB debut in Cincinnati, surrendering four runs in six innings while dealing with a tight strike zone.

"I thought he handled it well," said Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio. "I thought he handled it better than I did. I was at a point where I felt I was going to get thrown out trying to battle for your pitcher. He battled and he persevered and hung in there. That’s what you have to do as a young pitcher."

Now, Hendricks will move on to his second challenge — his first career start at Wrigley Field in Tuesday night’s series opener against the Padres.

Hendricks, who was 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA at Triple-A Iowa, has earned the confidence of his pitching coach, who admires Hendricks’ ability to adjust to his opposition.

"The one thing I see with Kyle is he has the ability to get a feel for the game quick, the approach other teams are trying to do against him," Bosio said. "It’s going to be a challenge for him. It’ll be his first game at Wrigley, not knowing the league, the league not knowing him."

Hendricks will face off against Padres left-hander Eric Stults, who leads the National League with 11 losses and is 3-11 with a 4.98 ERA. But Stults has mostly pitched well of late, posting a 2.59 ERA in his last four starts.

His last outing was nearly two weeks ago on July 9, a loss to Colorado that saw him give up three solo homers, two in the first inning.

"First inning, first batter, I fell behind, 1-0, and didn’t want to fall behind, 2-0," Stults said after the game. "[Charlie Blackmon is] pretty aggressive for a leadoff hitter. With [Troy Tulowitzki], I was trying to throw my fastball off the plate. In that first inning, I was just sort of missing my spots with the fastball. My fastball location today was pretty average."

Stults isn’t the first pitcher to give up multiple homers in Coors Field, but it’s part of a larger disturbing trend for the southpaw this year.

He’s allowed 18 home runs in 99 1/3 innings, third most in the NL, after giving up 19 in 203 2/3 innings last year. His ERA is also the third highest in the NL.

Padres: Grandal’s shifted stance paying dividends

Padres catcher/first baseman Yasmani Grandal has seen positive results in July after adopting more of an upright stance last month to alleviate discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee.

"We worked a ton, changing my whole batting stance and trying to get in a good spot so the knee doesn’t get any stress on it," Grandal said. "Just standing up a little bit more, making sure my foot is down in a good spot and trying to stay on my back leg a little bit more. Usually those are things you do in the offseason, but we had to make the changes for health reasons."

The switch-hitting catcher is heating up with three homers in July, including two in his past two games.

"You never know when [the pain] is gonna come back," Grandal said. "You just take the new stance and make it your own."

Cubs: Renteria not focused on trades

Hendricks is in the second-half starting rotation largely due to the trade of Cubs starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics.

With the non-waiver Trade Deadline looming July 31, more moves could be awaiting, but that’s not something manager Rick Renteria is dwelling on.

"That’s a great question of which I have no answer to," Renteria said Saturday. "At this point in time, I don’t try to speculate."

The Cubs have a surplus of infielders, especially with Arismendy Alcantara’s solid start. Right now, Renteria is focused on the current 25-man roster.

"Nothing surprises me," Renteria said. "We prepare for everything, but [trades are] not something I’m thinking about."

Worth noting

• Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada will start for the Cubs on Wednesday.

• Padres first baseman Yonder Alonso (DL, right wrist tendinitis) will join Triple-A El Paso on Monday. He played two games for the team’s entry in the Arizona League and hit a home run on Saturday.

ESPNChicago.com

Wada rounds out Cubs’ rotation

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — Even though names have been written into the spots of the Chicago Cubs’ fourth and fifth starters following the revelation that Tsuyoshi Wada will start Wednesday against the San Diego Padres, the team’s rotation remains very much in flux.

Wada — like 24-year-old Kyle Hendricks, scheduled to take the hill when the Cubs open a 10-game homestand Tuesday — has limited major league experience, and manager Rick Renteria said performance will dictate how long he and Hendricks keep their starting roles.

The difference between the two, though, is that what the 33-year-old Wada lacks in MLB experience, he makes up for with overall experience. The left-hander pitched in Japan from 2003-2011, racking up a 107-61 record with a 3.13 ERA and 1,329 strikeouts.

Wada was in line for the win in his major league debut against Cincinnati on July 8 when he left the game after five innings with a 5-1 lead. In that outing, Wada allowed just one unearned run on five hits and a walk while striking out three.

"He did a nice job against Cincinnati," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I know he only threw five innings but I thought his command was a lot better.

"He got out of a jam in the fifth and worked through it. It seemed like he was working both sides of the plate and elevated when he needed to. I thought he was very calm and poised."

Improved control and more efficient use of his pitches in Wada’s recent starts for Chicago and Triple-A Iowa were enough for him to earn this opportunity over Dan Straily and Dallas Beeler.

Those recent performances are a stark contrast to spring training, when he was brought into camp on a minor-league deal. Back then, Wada was elevating his pitches and his command was off. He also had trouble pitching out of jams.

That’s not the case any longer.

Wada has a track record of success in Japan, and if he can continue his recent string of quality starts here, he could bring some stability to an unstable starting rotation.

ESPNChicago.com

Numbers deceiving in Arrieta loss

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — This was one of those games when a look at the box score could be deceiving.

Sunday’s numbers show that Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta gave up three runs in 6⅔ innings while taking the 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. What they don’t show is that Arrieta was nasty on the mound for most of his outing and nearly unhittable until the sixth inning.

Aaron Hill had a single and double, but he was the only Arizona player to do anything off Arrieta through the first five innings.

It was in the sixth when the Diamondbacks decided they were going to get more aggressive at the plate. After sitting back and watching Arrieta jump ahead of hitter after hitter, the first two batters swung at the right-hander’s first offering, and each ended up with a double.

"They got aggressive on first-pitch fastballs," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "Those pitches may have been a little bit more over the plate and they jumped on it."

Arrieta retired the first two batters of the seventh — which the Cubs entered trailing 2-1 — before walking pinch hitter Mark Trumbo. Renteria then decided to remove Arrieta, who’d thrown 105 pitches.

"Jake looked real good," Renteria said. "He got us deep into the ballgame. I just tried to help him out at the end because his pitch count was starting to get up there."

The move was a little surprising at first because Arrieta hadn’t pitched in nine days due to the All-Star break. However, Arrieta revealed after the game that he had been battling a stomach virus and wasn’t at full strength entering the game.

"The extra rest sometimes is nice," Arrieta said. "The challenge for me was what I was dealing with the past three days. My body was weak. I couldn’t eat solid food. It was a weird three days but I was able to put that out of my mind and grind through it and make some big pitches."

Despite the solid start from Arrieta, the bottom line is that the Cubs lost their fifth consecutive game and were swept by a team that was in last place when the three-game series began.

Chicago opens a 10-game homestand Tuesday after finishing a stretch that saw it play 14 of 17 games on the road dating to June 30.

Even though the Cubs return to familiar territory, the cloud of the recent trade and expectations of continued change and struggle still hangs over the team.

"I just told them to keep your heads up because you kept grinding today and things will change," Renteria said. "We came in here and they took three from us. All I can do is have them continue to grind."

"It’s the situation we are in as a team," Arrieta said. "We’re well aware that trades will possibly continue to take place and guys will get shuffled around to different positions to get experience and comfortable in certain situations. But that doesn’t take away from our mindset of winning every game and every series."

The Cubs are off Monday before welcoming the San Diego Padres for a three-game series beginning Tuesday.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Diamondbacks 3, Cubs 2

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — The Chicago Cubs (40-57) saw their losing streak extend to five games after a 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks (40-57) on Sunday at Chase Field. The loss completed a three-game sweep by the Diamondbacks.

Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Arizona scored a pair of runs off Jake Arrieta in the sixth inning and added another in the seventh to account for their scoring. Arrieta took the hard-luck loss, as he was nasty for most of his start, until Arizona got more aggressive at the plate. He lasted 6 2/3 innings and allowed three runs on four hits with three walks while striking out eight.

What it means: The Cubs look to snap their losing streak on Tuesday, when they return to Wrigley Field to face the San Diego Padres in the opener of a 10-game homestand. The team is off on Monday.

Double threat: Not only did Anthony Rizzo continue his hot hitting by tying his career high with his 23rd home run of the season in the top of the sixth, but he also made an amazing catch in the bottom of the inning. Aaron Hill hit a high foul ball that drifted toward the Cubs dugout. Rizzo gave chase and reached to make the catch just as he reached the waist-high fence. His momentum carried his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame over the fence into the sunken photographers’ pit. However, Arizona took a 2-1 lead as the ball was ruled to have been brought out of play after the catch, and David Peralta was allowed to advance one base from third. Rizzo emerged from the pit uninjured on the play.

Reversal of fortune: Replay reversed a call in the bottom of the seventh inning. Mark Trumbo originally was called out at second on an attempted steal; it was immediately challenged by Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson. Upon review, it was clear Trumbo beat the tag, and the call was corrected.

What’s next: Chicago opens a three-game series against the Padres at 7:05 p.m. CT Tuesday at Wrigley Field. RHP Kyle Hendricks (0-0, 6.00 ERA) is scheduled to start for Chicago. LHP Eric Stults (3-11, 4.98 ERA) is expected to start for San Diego.

ESPNChicago.com

Trade leaves Arrieta in stopper role

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — If the Chicago Cubs are going to avoid a sweep and win the final game of this three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Sunday, they will need another quality start from starting pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Strong performances have become commonplace for the Cubs right hander as he continues his renaissance season, however the importance of him doing so has grown during the last couple of weeks.

When the season began, Arrieta was one of three veteran starters who shared the workload of carrying the starting rotation. That changed on July 4, when the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, leaving Arrieta as the stopper of the rotation.

Fellow veteran starters Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood continue to struggle, so when the Cubs are faced with a losing streak, such as the current four-game slide they own entering today, their hopes will fall on Arrieta to remedy the situation.

"You have to stay positive and make sure these guys know we are supporting them," said manager Rick Renteria of his struggling starters. "They expect to have quality outings and we do as well. It hasn’t gone as well as we would’ve liked lately but we still go out expecting they’ll give us a nice outing and then we’ll backfill it with the relief.”

Fortunately for the Cubs, Arrieta has pitched well enough to instill confidence that he is up to the job. Since the beginning of June, he has been one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s also extended his outings by pitching at least seven innings in four of his last five starts.

There is also the hope that the young arms in the back end of the rotation can deliver some quality starts. Kyle Hendricks was announced as Tuesday’s starter a couple of days ago.

Renteria announced before Sunday’s game that Tsuyoshi Wada would get the start on Wednesday.

With the Aug. 1 trade deadline looming, September call-ups to follow and looks at current young arms in the system, starting pitching will continue to be in transition for the remainder of the season. But at least, Arrieta will be there to provide stability and veteran leadership in the meantime.

Dan Straily was another arm under consideration to join the starting rotation but he will remain in the minors. Renteria didn’t say when he may be recalled but it sounded like they wanted to take a little time to allow him to regain his form instead of rushing him back up to the big club.

Another factor that could help the Cubs is a return to Chicago, as they will open a 10-game homestand on Tuesday after playing a stretch of 14 out of 17 games on the road dating back to June 29.

Renteria joked before Sunday’s game about an incident the night before when he went out for the double switch and wrenched his right shoulder while reaching for the rail to leave the dugout. He is experiencing some muscle tightness but is not expected to see time on the DL.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs in for a long second half after getting swept in Arizona

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX — This is part of the collateral damage when the Cubs sacrifice big-league seasons.

There are still 65 games to go until the winter that could define the Theo Epstein administration after accumulating trade chips, creating some financial flexibility and selling hope for the future.

But in the meantime, the next 10 weeks could get ugly. There are only so many times you can scan the Baseball America prospect rankings or hit refresh on Twitter, looking for video of Addison Russell’s latest homer.

The Cubs got swept out of Chase Field with Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks, setting the tone for a second half where the front office will keep looking to make deals and shake up the clubhouse.

“It’s just kind of the situation we’re in,” losing pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “We’re well aware that trades will possibly continue to take place and guys will be shuffled around in different positions. (It’s) getting experience across the board, trying to fit guys in and get them comfortable.”

[MORE CUBS: Renteria on Rizzo catch: ‘It was the freaking greatest effort’]

The Cubs (40-57) are 2-11 since the Fourth of July deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s. They’ve gotten only three quality starts during that time — all from Arrieta — and that stress will begin to wear out a young bullpen and first-year manager Rick Renteria.

Arrieta powered through a stomach virus that made it difficult to hold down solid food for three days. He got through 6 2/3 innings, notching eight strikeouts and allowing three runs to a reenergized Diamondbacks team (43-56) that had looked like it would be right there with the Cubs in a race to the bottom for next year’s No. 1 overall pick.

Maybe someone will graduate from Triple-A Iowa and become this year’s Arrieta (5-2, 2.12 ERA), who clearly benefited from the change of scenery after last summer’s Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

“That’s just part of the game,” Arrieta said. “That doesn’t take away from our mindset of going out there and trying to win every game, win every series. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re all here to do.

“Whoever comes up needs to be ready to step in and contribute.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will take look at Wada and could see Straily in rotation]

It seems like a long time ago, but the Cubs went 15-13 in June, swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park and actually had a positive run differential before Epstein shipped Samardzija and Hammel to the “Moneyball” crew for Russell, the 20-year-old shortstop who’s viewed as one of the game’s elite prospects.

“Our job is to come in every day and keep it even,” Anthony Rizzo said. “You can’t ride the highs too high. And when the lows get low, you can’t get (down). You just got to come in and prepare and be ready to play.”

The franchise first baseman showed he’s not simply satisfied with going to his first All-Star Game, crushing three homers over the weekend and making a spectacular acrobatic catch that backfired as the Diamondbacks rallied in the sixth inning.

There are still 10-plus days until the July 31 deadline, and the Cubs could still be busy during the August waiver period. Renteria popped out of his office after Sunday’s loss and sent a message his players inside the same clubhouse where Alfonso Soriano gave an emotional farewell at this time last year.

“I just told them to keep their heads up,” Renteria said. “We kept grinding today, and things will change. We can’t change what’s already occurred. … All I can do is have them continue to grind. That’s the reality. We got to keep playing.”

CSNChicago.com

Renteria on Rizzo catch: ‘It was the freaking greatest effort’

Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX — Anthony Rizzo now has the highlight-reel clip for a Gold Glove campaign.

But it’s been that kind of season for a Cubs team that’s 40-57 after getting swept out of the All-Star break: Rizzo made an amazing catch that should be on all the highlight shows, and it wound up helping the Arizona Diamondbacks score the go-ahead run in Sunday’s 3-2 loss at Chase Field.

Don’t blame Rizzo, who went all-out in the sixth inning, running over from first base, tracking the ball Aaron Hill popped up toward the visiting dugout. With runners on the corners and the game tied, 1-1, Rizzo hopped over the railing, extended his right arm and tumbled head over heels into the camera well.

Rizzo threw the ball to home plate before getting to his feet and David Peralta hustled in from third base to score, but all that didn’t matter, per Rule 7.04 (c). The runners were entitled to another base once Rizzo carried the ball out of the field of play.

“Instincts take over there — you don’t really worry about it too much,” Rizzo said. “You want to stay in there, but then again, Aaron Hill had two good at-bats and we want to eliminate the big inning.

“I don’t think there’s any Cubs fan that wanted me to miss it, and any Diamondbacks fan that would want me to catch it there.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs will take look at Wada and could see Straily in rotation]

Rizzo had just blasted his 23rd homer in the sixth inning, a no-doubt shot that matched his total from last season. Cubs manager Rick Renteria then watched his franchise player flip over, avoiding what could have been a nightmare scenario.

“It was the freaking greatest effort,” Renteria said. “My heart sank down pretty deep. We got over there, and he got up right away. He’s a big, strong man. Thankfully, we’re very fortunate that he came out of that OK.

“You can’t fault him. You’re hoping it’s going to come back and stay in play. But his momentum and his focus on the ball carried him over.”

Jake Arrieta — who had held the Diamondbacks (43-56) scoreless through five innings — gave props to Rizzo.

“I was glad to see him come up on his own two feet,” Arrieta said. “That was a little scary, any time you see one of your best players have a situation like that. But he put all the effort in the world into that, and I don’t expect anything less from him.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs will take look at Wada and could see Straily in rotation

Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX — The Cubs will give Tsuyoshi Wada another audition.

Wada will get a look as the fifth starter and face the San Diego Padres on Wednesday night at Wrigley Field. The 33-year-old lefty has gone 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA at Triple-A Iowa after missing most of the last two seasons while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

“We’ll just see where it goes from there,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Sunday at Chase Field.

Wada didn’t impress in spring training, and he never made it to the big leagues with the Baltimore Orioles after signing a two-year, $8.15 million deal. But he was a decorated pitcher in Japan, helping his country win the 2006 World Baseball Classic and becoming Nippon Professional Baseball’s MVP in 2010.

Wada debuted during the July 8 doubleheader at Great American Ball Park, giving up one unearned run in five innings in a game the Cincinnati Reds would win, 6-5.

The Cubs also want to see what they have in Dan Straily, the 25-year-old right-hander they got from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal.

[MORE CUBS: As Cubs wait for next trades, Wood has taken a step back]

President of baseball operations Theo Epstein saw Jake Arrieta as a blueprint. Arrieta got a chance to regroup, making seven starts for Iowa after last summer’s Scott Feldman trade with the Orioles, and now looks like a rotation fixture for years to come.

Straily has only made two starts for Iowa after the Fourth of July trade. He had fallen out of favor with Oakland’s front office and couldn’t stick in the big-league rotation.

But Straily also got American League Rookie of the Year consideration in 2013, going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA and throwing 150-plus innings for a 96-win team.

A 24th-round pick out of Marshall University in 2009, Straily led professional baseball in strikeouts when he got promoted to the A’s in August 2012.

“We’ll see where he’s at down the road,” Renteria said. “I can’t tell you how soon or how far down the road. But right now, we’re just trying to get him back on track.”

 

20 7 / 2014

Cubs.com

Arrieta looks to continue stellar campaign in finale

D-backs try for three-game sweep behind versatile Collmenter

By Tim Healey

Jake Arrieta’s breakout first half is about to turn into a chance for a breakout season, but the Cubs are going to be careful with him anyway.

The right-hander will make his first start following the break on Sunday against righty Josh Collmenter and the D-backs as the clubs wrap up the three-game weekend set. Arizona will be looking to complete the sweep over cellar-dwelling Chicago.

Arrieta will be pitching on nine days rest for the second time this season. He could have gone earlier in the weekend, but the team is opting to tread carefully with the 28-year-old enjoying his best Major League season since debuting in 2010.

"In talking to [pitching coach Chris Bosio], he thought it was good to set Jake back a little bit," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We know he’s come off the injury early in the season. He’s been throwing very, very well. He said, ‘You know, let’s push him back and give him a little rest.’ I thought it was a good idea."

On the season, Arrieta owns a 1.95 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, numbers that would rank in the top-10 in baseball if he had enough innings to qualify. He didn’t pitch until May 3 due to tightness in his shoulder during the spring. Other career bests for Arrieta include his strikeout rate (9.8) and strikeouts-per-walk (3.86).

In two starts since the Chicago-Oakland blockbuster made Arrieta the team’s best remaining starting pitcher, he has allowed four runs in 13 2/3 frames (2.63 ERA) while limiting opponents to a .170 average.

Collmenter has enjoyed similar success of late, holding opposing teams to one or fewer runs in four of his last five games. That includes seven innings of one-run ball against Miami on July 9.

In those last five games (four starts), a stretch that started a month ago, Collmenter has a 2.96 ERA and 1.48 WHIP, with an ugly outing against the Braves — five runs on 11 hits in six innings — serving as the outlier.

Collmenter has dominated the Cubs, as he has limited Chicago to two runs in 14 1/3 innings in five games (two starts), including three scoreless innings of relief in 2013. No Cub, however, has seen him more than eight times.

The only Arizona batter with any considerable history against Arrieta is his old American League East foe, Aaron Hill. Hill is 4-for-11 (.364) with a homer and double off him.

Cubs: Club yet to name fifth starter

The trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s left huge holes in the Cubs’ rotation. Kyle Hendricks will get the first shot at filling one of the spots, but Cubs manager Rick Renteria isn’t ready to name a fifth starter.

Tsuyoshi Wada, a 33-year-old lefty with a 2.77 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in Triple-A, and Dan Straily, who was part of the return from Oakland earlier this month, are two candidates. Straily has yielded four earned runs in nine innings in two outings for Triple-A Iowa after posting a 4.93 EA and 1.25 WHIP in seven Major League starts for the A’s this season.

The Cubs first need a fifth starter on Wednesday against San Diego.

D-backs: Perez especially strong of late

Oliver Perez hasn’t allowed a run in his last 8 1/3 innings spanning nine appearances dating back to June 20, striking out 15 in that span.

"He kind of wants the ball every day," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said. "He runs every day. He long tosses every day. He has an extremely resilient arm. He knows how to pitch. He can get lefties out; he can get righties out.

"He gets ready in one hitter. You could almost call down there in the middle of an at-bat, tell him to get ready, stall and he’d be ready to go the next hitter. He’s very polished. He’s a great veteran to have on our team."

On the season, Perez owns a 2.00 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 10 strikeouts per nine innings.

Worth noting:

• Arizona shut down shortstop Chris Owings, who is working his way back from a strained left shoulder, through at least the weekend. He is eligible to return from the disabled list, but a visit to the doctor Friday indicated he isn’t all that close to returning.

• The Cubs, 5-10 in July following a fourth straight loss on Saturday, are on pace for their worst month of the season record-wise.

• Sunday will be the Cubs’ last game before beginning a stretch in which they will play 23 of 33 games at Wrigley Field.

Cubs.com

Wood can’t find remedy for road woes as Cubs fall

Lefty surrenders seven runs to remain winless since June 15

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Travis Wood’s road struggles continued Saturday, and so did the Cubs’.

Miguel Montero hit a bases-clearing double and Paul Goldschmidt drove in three runs, including two on his 18th homer, to back Wade Miley and lead the Diamondbacks to a 9-3 victory Saturday night over the Cubs in front of 32,528 at Chase Field.

The Cubs now have lost 10 of their last 12 games since they traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics. The pitching has scuffled since the two departed. In the 12 games, Chicago’s pitchers have given up 77 earned runs over 103 innings for a 6.73 ERA. Teams are batting over .300 against them during this stretch.

Wood watched last season as starters Matt Garza and Scott Feldman were dealt in July. It has been tough to fill those spots.

"For me, once we lost Hammel and Jeff, it’s a big gap to fill in the rotation," Wood said. "For sure, I really want to go out and give seven, eight innings as strong as I can every time and so far it hasn’t been happening. Like I said, I promise we’ll get there."

Wood hasn’t won since June 15 when he threw eight shutout innings against the Phillies. On Saturday, he served up seven runs (five earned) over 5 1/3 innings, and has given up 42 earned runs over 60 1/3 innings on the road for a 6.27 ERA. He has a 3.88 ERA at Wrigley Field. The lefty, who was the Cubs’ lone All-Star representative one year ago, is 0-4 in his last six starts.

"We’ve seen a lot of three-ball counts," manager Rick Renteria said of Wood. "There have been a couple games where he’s gotten up to near 100 pitches over five innings. That’s a sign of either pitches being fouled off to drive the pitch count up or command of his strikes. It’s something he’s working on and we’re hopeful it’s something he can clean up soon."

Wood had been the Cubs’ most consistent starter last season, so the troubles are a shock.

"It’s not that it can’t happen again," Renteria said of Wood getting back on track. "He’s really grinding to find his rhythm."

"It’s been a struggle," Wood said. "That’s baseball. You have to overcome stuff and figure out how to work around things. So far, it’s been a learning year, trying to figure out how to basically get back to what I do. We’re going to get there, I promise you that. It’ll just be a struggle until then."

What is he learning?

"Baseball is a game of adjustments, and hitters will make adjustments to you, and you have to make it towards them," Wood said. "Sometimes they make it quicker than you do. Right now, that’s what I’m struggling with. Last year, [former manager Dale Sveum] was preaching down and away and keeping them out there, and I think [teams have] caught on to that."

Is Wood trying to be too fine?

"Maybe," Wood said. "It’s not like I"m selling balls all over the place, I’m just missing. Maybe if we can get back, zoned in with quick outs."

The Cubs opened a 1-0 lead in the first on Starlin Castro’s one-out RBI single, but the Diamondbacks tied the game in the third. Goldschmidt singled with one out and scored one out later when Montero singled to center and Arismendy Alcantara overran the ball for an error. Castro threw home on the relay, but Goldschmidt dodged catcher Welington Castillo to score.

“‘Mendy’ came in hard, overran it a little bit, took his eye off the ball a little bit,” Renteria said. “The throw [by Castro] was just off line so we weren’t able to get the run at the plate.”

Castillo led off the fourth with his seventh home run, and Junior Lake then tripled and scored on Mike Olt’s sacrifice fly to go ahead, 3-1. Miley had given up three runs total over 21 2/3 innings in his three previous starts. That was all the Cubs managed against the lefty, who struck out seven over seven innings.

"He works very quickly, is very poised, very calm," Renteria said of Miley. "We were able to get to him early but weren’t able to tack on any more later. We had a play here or there that made it open up. We just weren’t able to continue to grind out and put some runs across."

Wood needed 27 pitches to get through the first inning, and just eight to retire three batters in the fourth. But Ender Inciarte doubled to open the D-backs’ fifth and Wood walked both Aaron Hill and Goldschmidt to load the bases. One out later, Montero cleared them with a double to put his team ahead, 4-3.

How strange are things for the Cubs? Renteria forgot to remove Wood during a double switch in the sixth.

"It’s very unorthodox, but not illegal," Renteria said, chuckling.

The manager went out to tell home-plate umpire Jim Joyce about the change, which is required.

"I was talking to Jim," Renteria said. "I grabbed the rail [of the dugout], because I was going to take a spill, and I grabbed the rail and I’m laughing. I said, ‘Gosh, I think I blew my shoulder out,’ and I’m giving him the switch.

"As I kept continuing to talk to him, I lost track that I left my pitcher out there," Renteria said. "I know [manager Kirk Gibson] came out, but it’s not illegal because I never went to the hill."

At least the Cubs had something to laugh about.

Cubs.com

Wada, Straily give Cubs options for fifth starter

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Cubs manager Rick Renteria was not ready to name a fifth starter on Saturday, but one pitcher in the mix is left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who struck out 10 for the third time this season at Triple-A Iowa on Friday.

Wada, 33, leads the Pacific Coast League with 120 strikeouts and ranks second with 113 2/3 innings pitched. The lefty is fourth in ERA (2.77) and fifth with a 1.16 WHIP. He picked up his 10th win Friday and joins Kyle Hendricks with double-digit wins this year. Hendricks already has been named the Cubs’ fourth starter, and will be in the rotation on Tuesday. The Cubs need a fifth starter for Wednesday against the Padres.

This year is the first time the Iowa Cubs have had multiple 10-game winners since 2010 when Jeff Samardzija and Jay Jackson each won 11, and Casey Coleman won 10.

Another option is right-hander Dan Straily, who was acquired from the Athletics in the trade that sent Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. Straily is 0-1 in two starts at Iowa, giving up four earned runs over nine innings. At Triple-A Sacramento this year, he was 4-3 with a 4.71 ERA in 10 starts.

"Straily has been throwing and has been trying to get back on track and we’ll see how that develops and somewhere down the road, we’ll see if he ends up fitting into that particular spot," Renteria said.

The Cubs need two starters in the second half to fill Samardzija and Hammel’s spots in the rotation.

Renteria voices support for embattled Jackson

PHOENIX — High expectations have been placed on Edwin Jackson since he signed a four-year, $52 million contract with the Cubs in December 2012. On Friday, Jackson opened the second half with 5 1/3 innings against the Diamondbacks, and did not get a decision. After the game, Renteria complimented Jackson.

"I know he’s the guy we seem to pick on, and I thought he did a great job today," Renteria said.

Jackson gets “picked on” because in his first year with the Cubs in 2013, he led the National League in losses, which is not what fans expected when the right-hander signed the hefty deal.

On Saturday, Renteria said his comment might have been a poor choice of words on his part, and then he explained.

"He’s a young man who has obviously got here and was expected to do a lot, and rightfully so, and I think he knows it, too," Renteria said Saturday. "I think he’s shown he’s better than he has been and he continues to progress."

Renteria admitted he’s very protective of his players, which prompted the comment. Jackson did not give up the lead against the Diamondbacks in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss.

"I know he’s had more outings than not where maybe we’ve taken the lead and he’s given it up," Renteria said. "[Friday], he had five-plus very good innings. We had a fresh bullpen and it was a good situation to see if we could leave him in a positive state and something to build on. Even seasoned veterans need things to build on."

Renteria said he feels Jackson has done better this season, but adds, “it’s not near what everybody wants, and he would be the first one to tell you, ‘I know I can be better.’”

Olt, Lake enduring growing pains at plate

PHOENIX — Mike Olt and Junior Lake had first halves to forget. Olt does lead all National League rookies with 12 home runs, but entering Saturday, he was batting .144 while Lake was batting .218. Cubs manager Rick Renteria hasn’t given up on either player.

"One of the things I try to talk to them about is not focus on the results — I want them to focus on the at-bat," Renteria said. "It’s one of the toughest gigs that they have as young men in the big leagues; to come off the bench and play every three, four, five, six days, and still try to develop.

"I think the biggest thing we try to do is balance their emotional state," Renteria said. "If I can keep their emotional state in check and feel they’re still positive, still grinding and not losing a whole lot of their confidence, then we’re succeeding. In the long term, yes, we want them to be able to perform. We’re still trying to balance that all out."

Olt started for the fourth time in the Cubs’ last nine games on Saturday. Renteria has tried to match the third baseman against left-handed starters, and the team simply hasn’t faced many.

"We’ve scattered at-bats throughout," Renteria said.

Lake batted .284 last season, his first in the big leagues, and does have more home runs this year (nine vs. six), but his average has dropped.

Renteria was asked if either Olt or Lake needed more regular at-bats in the Minor Leagues. The Cubs will have to make a roster move Tuesday when Kyle Hendricks is added to make the start. Arismendy Alcantara was promoted from Triple-A Iowa when Darwin Barney went on paternity leave, and was 9-for-26 in six games.

"I don’t want to speculate on any of that," Renteria said of possible roster moves. "The biggest thing for us to know is that [Alcantara] will be here through the weekend, and once we sit down and talk about the possible moves, you guys will know."

Renteria keeping trade speculation on back burner

PHOENIX — The Cubs jumped the market by making a blockbuster trade on July 4. The non-waiver Trade Deadline is July 31, and manager Rick Renteria was asked if he expected another move.

"That’s a great question of which I have no answer to," Renteria said Saturday. "At this point in time, I don’t try to speculate."

Renteria spent the All-Star break in Chicago with his wife and daughter, exploring the city. He did not meet with Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein or general manager Jed Hoyer.

"I couldn’t take baseball out of my head, but they allowed me my time, so I took advantage of it," Renteria said.

The Cubs have a surplus of infielders, especially with Arismendy Alcantara’s solid start in six games. Right now, Renteria is focused on the current 25-man roster.

"Nothing surprises me," Renteria said. "We prepare for everything, but [trades are] not something I’m thinking about."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs will have to face decisions on Junior Lake and Mike Olt

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX – It’s not quite now or never for Junior Lake and Mike Olt, because they’re both still young and talented. Experience might help fix some of their problems. But it also looks like their window of opportunity with the Cubs could be closing.

Manager Rick Renteria again deflected questions about sending Lake and/or Olt down to Triple-A Iowa to get more at-bats and rebuild their confidence. That would also be a way to keep Arismendy Alcantara on the roster beyond this weekend.

“I don’t want to speculate on any of that,” Renteria said before Saturday’s 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Lake showed off his speed in the fourth inning by hitting a triple down the left-field line and scoring when Olt lifted a sacrifice fly into right. While it’s been hard for either player to get into a rhythm, neither one has grabbed an everyday job by the throat.

Lake’s hitting .219 and hasn’t homered since June 17, showing his frustration by breaking at least three bats over his leg this season. Olt’s put up some crazy numbers, hitting .142 with 10 singles, 12 homers and 81 strikeouts in 183 at-bats.

“One of the things that I try to talk to them about is not to focus too much on the results,” Renteria said. “I want them to focus on the at-bats. It’s one of the toughest gigs they have as young men (in) the big leagues – to come off the bench, play every three or four or five or six days…and still try and develop.

“The biggest thing we try to do is balance their emotional state.”

Lake gave the team a jolt of energy after last year’s All-Star break. When Alfonso Soriano got traded to the New York Yankees, he told reporters inside Chase Field’s visiting clubhouse that he saw Lake as a worthy replacement in left field, another converted infielder with 40/40 potential.

But the Cubs have a wave of position players pushing through the system. Alcantara is already taking playing time in center field. Kris Bryant, ESPN’s No. 1 midseason prospect, is playing third base at Iowa, though he could eventually move to the outfield. A surplus of up-the-middle players will give the Cubs options, and Olt hasn’t established himself as a big-league third baseman yet.

“I don’t think they’re thinking about who’s coming or how those guys effect them,” Renteria said. “What they worry about is trying to make sure that any opportunity they get, they do the best that they possibly can. And as an evaluator, I’ve got to sit back and also take into account: They’ve haven’t played in a week.

“So when things don’t go well, trust me, it’s not one of those things where I just discount players. I don’t do that. I think how they prepare, how they work, all the things that they do prior to their starts.

“Ultimately, I know, we want the numbers to show that they’re performing and doing well. But I think right now they’re still – believe it or not – in a good place emotionally and that’s the most important thing I can key on.”

CSNChicago.com

As Cubs wait for next trades, Wood has taken a step back

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX – The Cubs have been in stealth mode since setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July, making a blockbuster deal with the Oakland A’s that forced everyone in baseball to pay attention.

Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel are gone, leaving the rest of the clubhouse wondering who will be next.

“Nothing surprises me,” manager Rick Renteria said. “You’re trying to kind of prepare for everything, but it’s not something that I’m thinking about all the time. … I don’t try to speculate.”

Renteria would be in the minority – trade rumors and prospect updates are pretty much the only things Cubs fans want to read about now. But while Theo Epstein’s front office looks at the next deals leading up to the July 31 deadline, Travis Wood has taken a step back.

Wood struggled again in Saturday’s 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks inside Chase Field, leaving him at 7-9 with a 5.12 ERA, one year after going to the All-Star Game. That’s not the building block the Cubs (40-56) envisioned for life after Samardzija and Hammel.

“That’s a big gap to fill in the rotation,” Wood said. “For sure, I really want to go out there and give you seven, eight innings, as strong as I can, every time, to try to fill that void. But so far, it hasn’t been happening.

“But I promise you we’ll get there.”

Wood had been so consistent last season, making 24 quality starts and throwing 200 innings. But he couldn’t finish the sixth inning against the Diamondbacks (42-56), giving up seven runs, five earned, on eight hits and four walks.

So it’s back to the drawing board for a 27-year-old lefty who will have something to prove in the second half.

“It’s been a struggle, but that’s baseball,” Wood said. “You got to overcome stuff and figure out how to work around things. … We’re going to get there, I promise you that. It will just be a struggle until then.”

CSNChicago.com

Another Edwin Jackson trade? ‘You’ve seen crazier things happen’

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX — As the Cubs hold another fire sale, could Edwin Jackson become the next starting pitcher to get traded? 

“You’ve seen crazier things happen,” Jackson said.

Right now, the Cubs are stuck with Jackson, who hasn’t lived up to the $52 million contract that put a target on his back. He went on vacation during the All-Star break and spent time with his family, trying to hit the reset button.

“Baseball was the furthest thing away from my mind,” Jackson said. “Come into the second half like it’s all zeroes.”

But Jackson is still 5-10 with a 5.61 ERA after leading the majors with 18 losses last season. It would take a team desperate for pitching help, and some creativity to figure out how to divide the roughly $26 million left on a frontloaded deal that runs through 2016.

The New York Yankees (49-47) are still hanging around in a down year for the American League East, even with a rotation decimated by injuries to Masahiro Tanaka, CC Sabathia, Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova.

The New York Daily News reported the Yankees “are not interested” in Jackson, though the Bronx Bombers would appear to be one of the few teams that could potentially be a match on paper.

“Anybody can be a candidate to get traded,” Jackson said. “All trades aren’t bad. All of them aren’t good. But at the end of the day, as a player, you can’t really worry about what you can’t control. The only thing you can control is throwing the ball and trying to get outs.”

Cubs manager Rick Renteria defended Jackson after Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field, saying: “I know that he’s the guy that we seem to pick on, and I thought he did a great job and kept us in the ballgame.”

Renteria hopes Jackson can build off that performance, pitching into the sixth inning, giving up zero walks and leaving the game with a lead. Jackson was charged with three runs, but he’s essentially the same guy after every start.

“He’s a young man that got here and was expected to do a lot, and rightfully so,” Renteria said. “I think he knows it, too. He’s been grinding. He’s shown that he’s better than he has been, and he continues to progress.

“Not near what everybody wants, and he would be the first one to probably tell you that ‘I know I can do better.’”

Jackson is a positive clubhouse presence and his stuff can be electric. He’s made 30-plus starts in each of the last seven seasons.

Jackson, who won’t turn 31 until September, has already been traded six times. He’s pitched for eight teams during a nomadic career that’s seen him go to the All-Star Game as a Detroit Tiger, throw a no-hitter for the Diamondbacks and win a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals.

At this point, Jackson’s numb to trade speculation.

“It can involve anybody,” Jackson said. “You don’t worry about what you can’t control. I have one job and it’s to be ready to pitch every fifth day. Everything else is out of my control, so I don’t really focus on it.”

Chicago Tribune

Replay death knell for manager-umpire arguments

Colorful disputes fast becoming relic of past as Replay Relay Men come to fore to help managers decide on challenges

By Paul Sullivan

The death of the classic manager-umpire argument, a staple of baseball since its inception, scarcely has been noticed in the first half of the first year of expanded instant replay.

Managers still get ejected, of course, but usually it’s from the confines of the dugout for disputing the strike zone. There’s no need to go out and argue with umpires on close plays because replay is there to solve everything.

The new-age manager now must be proficient in tap-dancing, stalling on the field while waiting for a signal from the dugout that the play should be challenged.

"I’m not even calling it ‘going out to argue,’" Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "I haven’t seen one argument yet. They take their time and it’s like kicking stones until they get their (signal). It’s kind of a four-corners stall until you get the thumbs up or thumbs down."

Former major league manager Lou Piniella, who always enjoyed a good argument, knew this would happen. When expanded replay was on the table last year, he lamented the end of the days when a good rant was worth the price of gold.

"The fans enjoy a good argument," Piniella said. "I remember when I first started managing, (Yankees owner George) Steinbrenner told me: ‘Your main job is to win, but your second job is to help put fannies in the seats. So when you get out there with an umpire and get thrown out, just put on a show.’ He said the fans really enjoy it, and we get the back page (of the tabloids)."

But getting the calls right obviously is more important than a good show, so replay is here to stay. Commissioner Bud Selig conceded the process could use some “tweaking,” but he’s more than satisfied with the early results.

The time waiting for managers to challenge, and then waiting for umpires to put on the headphones, and then waiting some more for the decision from replay control in New York, sometimes can be tedious.

Joe Torre, MLB’s operations chief, said they’re looking for ways to speed up the process. He said the average time between the challenge and the result is just less than three minutes.

According to baseballsavant.com, which tracks every replay challenge, 48.2 percent of the challenges in the first half were overturned, and 51.8 percent were not, meaning the call either was correct or there was not enough video evidence to change it.

"But the one number that’s not factored into that is when managers go out and then come back and don’t challenge," Torre said, adding that it adds around 22 percent to the correct calls percentage, making it around 74 percent.

There has been no specific title given to those team employees whose task it is to watch the game in the clubhouse or video room and call the dugout to tell the bench coach to tell the manager whether to challenge, so we’ll call them the Replay Relay Men.

They’re usually either the so-called “seventh” coach who can assist pregame but isn’t allowed in dugouts during games, or part of the team’s video technology department.

The Cubs have two employees assigned to replay — video coordinator Naoto Masamoto and quality assurance coach Jose Castro.

With 31 challenges, Cubs manager Rick Renteria ranks second to Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons (32) in most plays challenged. Renteria has been right about half the time, with a 15-16 record.

"They do a very good job, are very efficient," Renteria said of his relay team. "You’re shuffling through eight to 10 different images and it’s kind of pressure-packed. It’s not as easy as people may think. You ultimately have to give the umpire an answer as to whether you want to challenge or not."

Typically, the Replay Relay Men are watching the game on TV, like everyone else, and spring into action when a play is close enough to be contested.

"You have 30 seconds for that," Castro said. "That puts a little pressure on you in the sense that you have to make a call. For the most part, they are very close plays, and the umpiring, obviously, is very good. Obviously, the tag plays and the force plays are the most challenged. It’s fun."

Reds manager Bryan Price has challenged the fewest times (12), and has been right on only three. The Cardinals’ Mike Matheny is only 2 of 14, a 14 percent success rate that pales in comparison with the Marlins’ Mike Redmond, who has had 14 of 18 (78 percent) overturned.

The Marlins use administrative coach Pat Shine, who quickly established himself as the front-runner for the Replay Relay Man of the Year award. Of course, there is no such award, but if there were, the trophy would look like a tiny TV monitor and be named for Torre, the executive in charge of ensuring replay works.

Chicago Tribune

Olt, Lake get rare starts

Manager Rick Renteria hopes struggling hitters can turns things around but knows it’s tougher for them with so much bench time

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Cubs manager Rick Renteria wasn’t about to speculate on the futures of left fielder Junior Lake and third baseman Mike Olt in the wake of their rough seasons combined with the progress of players at Triple-A Iowa and Emilio Bonifacio close to returning from the disabled list.

"As long as they have a uniform on their back, they always can make a mark," Renteria said Saturday night before Lake, 24, and Olt, 25, made rare starts against the Diamondbacks. "That’s my approach. As far as how we view them, of course we want them to have success. We want them to do well.

"But I’ll be honest. I don’t think they’re thinking about who’s coming or who will affect them. What they worry about is what opportunity they get."

Renteria said he had taken into account Lake and Olt had gone long stretches without playing. Some of it stems from the Cubs having gone long stretches without facing a left-handed starter, and Saturday marked only the 19th time the Cubs have faced one.

"We can speculate on the reasons why guys haven’t had the success you would want them to have," Renteria said. "It is important that certain players in certain situations, it’s true the more they play, the more comfortable they get and the greater chance of success they have. And there are players who don’t necessarily end up playing as much, but when they get into the game, the at-bats are solid."

Renteria acknowledges Lake and Olt have tough jobs playing every three to six days and still trying to develop.

"The biggest thing is balancing their emotional state," Renteria said. "If I can keep their emotional state in check — still positive and grinding and not losing their confidence — then we’re succeeding in that regard."

Olt, who has hit 12 home runs but is batting .144, looked forward to starting the second half with a clean slate and called the first half a learning experience.

"I went through a serious funk, and I felt like the adjustments we made have helped me," he said. "We have to build on them.”

Reunion: Saturday marked a special start for Olt, who was opposing Diamondbacks shortstop and former University of Connecticut teammate Nick Ahmed.

"It’s cool, especially coming from the Northeast," said Olt, who played with Ahmed and Astros outfielder George Springer during the 2010 season. "Baseball is tough up there. And I think we grew a lot baseball-wise at UConn and became great friends. It’s great to see him on the other side and get a chance to compete against each other.

"There are a bunch of (UConn) guys in Triple and Double A knocking at the door. It says a lot about the program and a lot about Northeast baseball. It’s improving, and there’s a lot of talent there."

Extra innings: The Cubs could revert to a 13-man pitching staff Tuesday, which Renteria prefers and mostly has carried since late April. “It allows us to basically make sure we can manage the guys to the best of our ability now and adjust,” Renteria said. … Renteria said the Cubs hadn’t decided on a fifth starter for Wednesday night against the Padres. Among the candidates are Dallas Beeler, who threw seven innings of three-hit ball Thursday; left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who pitched six innings of three-hit ball and struck out 10 Friday; and newly acquired Dan Straily, who hasn’t pitched since July 12.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs pitching falls apart again in 9-3 loss

Diamondbacks take advantage of Travis Wood’s woes to make club look hopeless as its tumble since trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel continues

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — The prevailing thought when the Cubs dropped two consecutive games in April to the Diamondbacks was that the losses saved the jobs of general manager Kevin Towers and manager Kirk Gibson.

The thought now after the Cubs pitching staff faltered in the middle innings for the second consecutive game to start the second half, is the club desperately is in need of a pitching preserver.

That became more evident Saturday night after a 9-3 loss to the D’backs at Chase Field in which the control problems of left-hander Travis Wood persisted.

With the loss, the Cubs (40-56) now have lost 10 of their last 12 games since rotation mainstays Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Athletics.

And Wood, whom the Cubs needed to step up to fill the void, is 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA in three starts since the July 4 trade.

"Once we lost Hammel and Jeff, it’s a big gap to fill," Wood said. "I really want to give you seven or eight innings and be as strong as I can every time and fill that void. So far, it hasn’t been happening. I promise you we’ll get there."

Wood failed to hold a 3-1 lead, and two walks in the fifth set up Miguel Montero’s three-run double that gave the Diamondbacks the lead for good in front of several scouts that included four representatives from the White Sox and Tigers.

Wood was victimized by two errors as well as a questionable decision by catcher Welington Castillo, who threw late to third base on a play that led to two runs in the sixth.

The Cubs’ pitching staff has allowed 11 runs in the fifth and sixth innings of their past two games.

"We had a lot of little things go on that didn’t go our way," manager Rick Renteria said. "And it was evident."

Renteria was involved in what he described as a “very unorthodox, but not illegal” move while making a double switch in the sixth. Renteria said he grabbed the dugout rail after slipping, and then signaled for the move before talking to home plate umpire Jim Joyce.

"As I continued to talk to (Joyce), I lost track of the fact I left my pitcher (Wood) out there and quite frankly never made the trip (to the mound)," Renteria said.

Gibson was told the move wasn’t illegal.

The only measure of redemption came from shortstop Starlin Castro, who had two singles after going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in Friday’s 5-4 loss.

"Friday, I saw only one pitch for a strike, and I made three outs by myself," Castro said before the game. "And that’s the kind of thing that makes you an easy out. Now I know they’re trying to get me to get myself out by chasing those pitches.

"And it’s not going to happen anymore. I’m going to see more pitches and take my walks.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Alcantara starts in center field

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Rookie Arismendy Alcantara will make his seventh start and his second in center field Saturday night as the Chicago Cubs try to snap a three-game losing streak against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Alcantara, who stole two bases and scored a run in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss Friday, didn’t start playing the outfield until this season.

Also returning to the lineup are left fielder Junior Lake and third baseman Mike Olt. They will try to spark an offense that has relied heavily on Anthony Rizzo recently. All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro hasn’t hit a home run since June 20 and hasn’t had an extra base hit since July 4.

Welington Castillo is 6-for-30 this month.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs await word of more trade activity

By Gordon Wittenmyer

PHOENIX — A large group of scouts already had filled two tables in the dining room at Chase Field when four more walked through the door about an hour before the Cubs’ game Saturday against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

‘‘This is a big game,’’ one said with a smile.

Two teams that entered the series in last place in their divisions put what was left of their wares on display for three days in the same showroom.

It doesn’t get any bigger than that for would-be contenders in the two weeks between the All-Star Game and the non-waiver trade deadline July 31.

And the players in the Cubs’ clubhouse feel it as acutely as they do the 108-degree temperatures in Phoenix, even in the relative quiet since the blockbuster trade July 4 that sent their top two pitchers to the Oakland Athletics.

‘‘It wouldn’t surprise anybody if something else happened,’’ said second baseman Darwin Barney, who might be on the brink of Cubs extinction with second-base prospect Arismendy Alcantara already on the roster and Class AAA prospect Javy Baez recently moved to second. ‘‘There’s a lot of time left [before the deadline] and a lot of teams that still want to add, and we’re a team they could add from.’’

The San Francisco Giants are looking for a second baseman, and Barney’s Gold Glove and West Coast roots might make him a good fit there.

Lefty reliever James Russell has drawn the most interest among the Cubs on the sale shelf, and many expect him to be the next player traded. Lefty reliever Wesley Wright, right-hander Carlos Villanueva and outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholtz also are in play, and sources say several teams are interested in infielder Luis Valbuena.

‘‘All I know is what everybody else knows by [reading] trade rumors and what I see on TV,’’ Russell said. ‘‘I’d like to hang out here. I like it here. This is all I know. I’m comfortable here. That goes a long way. But if I do go, I hope it’s for the better of the team and the organization, and I’d like to at least go to a winning team.’’

The Cubs dealt their top two trade chips in the four-for-two swap with the Athletics that sent right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. The Cubs entered play Saturday 2-9 since making that deal.

Some of the most value the Cubs figure to get in trades the rest of the way will come in the form of roster flexibility for potential prospect promotions and salary savings to add to their spending ability in 2015.

If there’s a coup left to pull off, it would be finding an opportunity to trade right-hander Edwin Jackson and a chunk of the $26 million left on a contract that runs through 2016.

And a narrow window of opportunity might be open because of the pitching misfortune suffered by the New York Yankees, who have the financial muscle and are close enough to the top of the American League East to make a deal possible.

‘‘You’ve seen crazier things happen,’’ said Jackson, who has been traded six times in his career. ‘‘Anybody can be a candidate to be traded. . . . As a player, you can’t really worry about what you can’t control.’’

The Cubs were at the same ballpark when they traded right-hander Matt Garza and outfielder Alfonso Soriano in separate deals days apart last season.

‘‘Nothing surprises me,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘You try to kind of prepare for everything. . . . But at this point in time, I don’t try to speculate.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Junior Lake, Mike Olt on bubble if Arismendy Alcantara stays in majors

By Gordon Wittenmyer

PHOENIX — Arismendy Alcantara might not have looked the part Saturday, but the touted prospect is a player the Cubs want to find a way to keep on the roster when they make a series of moves in the next few days to add pitchers from Class AAA Iowa.

Could that mean outfielder Junior Lake and third baseman Mike Olt are on the clock for possible demotions to keep Alcantara in the major leagues?

For the first time, manager Rick Renteria didn’t act as though it was ridiculous to suggest the .219-hitting Lake, who has struck out 93 times and has only 57 hits, might be sent down. Or even Olt, who is batting .142 with 26 hits (12 home runs) and 81 strikeouts.

‘‘I don’t want to speculate on any of that,’’ Renteria said before two combined to go 1-for-6 with two strikeouts in a 9-3 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Cubs will have to lose at least one position player if Renteria gets his wish to keep his bullpen at the eight pitchers it has been at for much of the season.

Alcantara was hitting .346 and had a 1.033 OPS in his first six big-league games before going hitless and committing an error in center field in his seventh game.

He has brought energy, speed, power, versatility (starting at second and in center) and an eye at the plate that turned an 0-2 count Friday into a walk. That resulted in a run when Anthony Rizzo followed with a homer.

‘‘[Alcantara] has been doing very, very well,” Renteria said.

Lake and Olt have struggled for most of the season and have played sparingly recently. Renteria has started them almost exclusively against left-handers.

‘‘They’ve been working hard. They stay positive, and they’ve been handling it extremely well,’’ Renteria said, acknowledging the difficulty — especially for young players — to perform well when not playing regularly. ‘‘One of the things I try to talk to them about is not to focus so much on the results. I want them to focus on the at-bat.’’

Wood work

Maybe it’s about trying to live up to an All-Star season filled with quality starts in 2013. Maybe it’s about trying to make up for the trade departures of right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. But left-hander Travis Wood definitely looks like a changed man these days — for all the wrong reasons.

Four more walks and a lot of Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero sent Wood (7-9) to his ninth loss and 11th non-quality start in 20 outings this season.

Wood led the Cubs and was among the National League leaders with 24 quality starts last season. He already has issued 52 walks after allowing 66 in 32 starts last season.

Wood admitted he might be pressing since the trades of Samardzija and Hammel on July 4.

‘‘For me, especially once we lost Hammel and Jeff, that’s a big gap to fill in the rotation,’’ he said. ‘‘For sure, I really want to go out there and give you seven or eight innings to help fill that void. And so far it’s not happening. But I promise you we’ll get there.’’

19 7 / 2014

Daily Herald

Cubs prospects Bryant, Baez focus on the present

By Joe Aguilar

DES MOINES, Iowa — Javier Baez slides to his right on Principal Park’s infield. A few feet away, Kris Bryant steps to his left. On a muggy night in central Iowa, the Cubs’ two 2014 Futures Game participants are framed in a snapshot of the future.

The shortstop and third baseman are that close to each other, in more ways than one.

The 6-foot, 190-pound Baez is 21, less than 11 months younger than Bryant, who’s every bit of 6-5 and 215 pounds and not your average 22-year-old. Bryant was drafted No. 2 overall last year. In Jim Hendry’s final year as Cubs general manager, he selected Baez ninth overall in 2011.

"My job is to not mess them up — just let them play and let them do their thing," said Marty Pevey, manager of the Class AAA Iowa Cubs. "We worked on a few things today with Kris with his positioning and his feet, and getting himself in better position to throw on the backhand. Basically, it’s working on the little things. This is his first full year. He’s a babe."

Offensively, Bryant is a man. Promoted to the I-Cubs from Class AA Tennessee just last month, Bryant hit 9 homers in Class AAA before the All-Star Game break, while batting .322. In just 248 at-bats at Tennessee, Bryant launched 22 homers and posted a .355 batting average. He seemingly hasn’t missed a beat, nor a fastball, although he concedes the jump in competition has challenged him.

"I think (pitchers) have more command of their pitches here," Bryant said. "They throw their off-speed stuff in the zone, so you really got to go up there focused and have a good approach. It is a little different from Double-A, that’s for sure."

Bryant is not your average young hitter, either.

"He’s well-advanced with the bat," Pevey said. "Defensively, he’s still got some things he’s got to work on. But he’s just a good baseball player. Both of those guys are. Baez is an outstanding defender."

Brett Jackson, a former first-round draft pick himself, was impressed with Bryant the first time he saw him play while on a rehab assignment in Arizona last summer. Now, the I-Cubs outfielder chuckles and shakes his head in awe.

"I’m even more impressed now," Jackson said of Bryant. "He really works hard and has really quality at-bats. He seems to be adapting to the league really quickly."

Both Bryant and Baez are considered two of the best prospects in baseball. And while Bryant put together what Pevey called an “out-of-this-world” first half offensively, it’s the maturity of the former University of San Diego slugger and the way he carries himself that is also off the charts.

"He’s never way up here or way down here," said Pevey, waving an open hand above his head and then dropping it below his waist. "The only questions he’ll ask are, ‘Am I on that guy? Am I swinging over the top of that ball?’ Everything is very simple. He never gets too excited. He’s got one goal, and that’s to play in the big leagues and be the best big-league player there.

"And he wants to be there this year," Pevey added.

Cubs president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have stressed that no prospect will be rushed to the big leagues, meaning Bryant and Baez, even if they continue to hit the ball well this summer, might not receive a call-up when major-league rosters are expanded in September. Bryant pays no attention to the speculation of his Wrigley Field arrival.

"I just know right now I’m playing on the Iowa Cubs," he said. "My teammates here are great. They’ve welcomed me, and I feel like I’ve been here the whole season. It’s been a lot of fun in my first two weeks here."

While Bryant has been a model of consistency with the bat, Baez is just finding his groove offensively. As he did at Class A Daytona in 2012 and again at Tennessee last year, Baez got off to a slow start at Iowa. “Slow” might be kind. In 58 April at-bats, Baez hit .172 with 22 strikeouts.

"The first month was just horrendous," Pevey said. "I mean, you couldn’t have been any worse than Javy was. He was terrible. It was like watching a guy playing in short-season rookie ball. Swung at everything out of the (pitcher’s) hand. He chased horribly. It was almost laughable. The other teams were toying with him. They never even threw him a strike.

"You could tell he was fighting," Pevey continued. "He wanted to succeed. He’s such a good competitor. Then after April was over, it started getting a little warmer and so did Javy. The next thing you knew, he had 5 (home runs), then 7, then 8, then 11, and then, wow, we’re in the middle of July and he’s got 14 homers."

By the break, Baez had raised his batting average to .240 with his 14 home runs and 55 RBI leading the team. His 110 strikeouts also led the club.

"Impressive hitter, impressive defender," Jackson said. "He’s doing a great job of handling some adversity that he’s faced this year — the batting average and strikeouts. Whatever. The guy is a pure hitter and is going to be a real great player in the major leagues."

"It was normal for me," Baez said of his first half in the Pacific Coast League. "I’ve been getting better and I’m going to keep getting better every day."

Baez hit .275 in June, and while he’s just 10-for-44 (. 227) in July, he ended the first half with a 10-game hitting streak that included 3 homers. He launched an opposite-field home run in last Sunday’s Futures Game.

He insists he wasn’t pressing early in the season.

"Not really," Baez said. "I was just chasing a lot of pitches and trying to hit the ball, and (the pitchers) weren’t going to give in to me."

"Quiet, quiet, quiet," Pevey said of the difference in Baez’s at-bats compared to early in the season. "He has to have quiet feet to be successful. His feet get real loud and noisy. When his feet are moving around, that’s when he gets out of control."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Baez has put together better at-bats since the arrival of Bryant and former big-league star Manny Ramirez, who was brought to Iowa as a player/coach.

"I’d say my approach (is better)," Baez said. "My swing’s been getting better. I’ve been working with the hitting coach (Brian Harper) in the cage, and I’ve been hitting the ball to the other side."

For now, neither player worries about when the call to play at Wrigley Field will come.

"When you’re focusing on that, it’s just a distraction that you don’t really need," Bryant said. "If I’m focusing on getting promoted, it takes away from my performance on the field. I really just try to live in the present moment and focus on that."

Cubs.com

Rizzo tees off twice, but Cubs drop desert opener

All-Star’s sixth career multi-homer game can’t stave off D-backs

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — When Anthony Rizzo was in the National League clubhouse for the All-Star Game this week, he found himself lockered next to the Phillies’ Chase Utley.

"I grew up a huge Chase Utley fan," Rizzo said. "Next to him is [Giancarlo] Stanton, next to him is [Andrew] McCutchen. It was a great experience and something I’ll never forget. Now, I want to keep working and getting better."

Rizzo got off to a good start in the second half Friday night, but the rest of the Cubs couldn’t keep up.

Fresh from his first All-Star Game appearance, Rizzo smacked a two-run home run in the fourth and a lead-off shot in the sixth for homers Nos. 21 and 22 this season, but it wasn’t enough as the Diamondbacks rallied for a 5-4 victory over the Cubs.

“‘Riz’ had an All-Star night,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Paul Goldschmidt hit a solo home run and Didi Gregorius hit a pair of RBI singles to spark the Diamondbacks’ comeback in front of 32,619 at Chase Field.

Rizzo, one of three NL players to reach 20 home runs by the All-Star break, launched his first homer with one out in the fourth and a runner at second, connecting against starter Trevor Cahill. The Cubs then made it 3-0 when Luis Valbuena doubled and scored one out later on Ryan Sweeney’s single.

But with one out in the D-backs’ fifth, Chicago starter Edwin Jackson gave up four straight singles, including run-scoring hits by Gregorius and pinch-hitter Nick Evans.

Rizzo greeted lefty Eury De La Rosa with home run No. 22 in the sixth as the first baseman notched his sixth career multi-homer game and second this year. He also hit a pair May 31 against the Brewers. Rizzo now sits one home run shy of matching his entire 2013 season total.

"It’d be nice to pass that mark," Rizzo said. "You want to keep having good at-bats and not try to hit home runs, just try to hit the ball hard. Good things tend to happen."

His second home run was his seventh of the season off a lefty.

"I just put two good swings on the ball — that’s it," Rizzo said.

"He’s playing well," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said of Rizzo. "He’s hurt us. We made some mistakes against him, and he made us pay."

During the break, Rizzo didn’t get any time away from baseball. Instead, he took batting practice for two days and got one at-bat in the All-Star Game.

"I just enjoyed my time, I enjoyed the whole experience," he said. "No one on those teams knows if they will ever play in another All-Star Game. I treated it like it could be [my last one], too. … Being there is great but the focus is here in Chicago on this team."

Jackson took a completely different approach last week and escaped from baseball.

"I took a vacation, cleared my mind, relaxed, and didn’t think about baseball until Wednesday, Thursday," Jackson said. "Baseball was the furthest thing from my mind. Coming into the second half, it was all zeros."

Jackson served up Goldschmidt’s solo home run with one out in the sixth, which pulled the D-backs within one at 4-3. He was then lifted and Renteria used four pitchers in the inning, but the D-backs were able to tie the game on Gerardo Parra’s sacrifice fly and took the lead on Gregorius’ RBI single.

"I thought [Jackson] did his job," Renteria said. "I know he’s the guy we seem to pick on, and I thought he did a great job today."

Jackson is targeted because of his large contract and disappointing 2013 season. He finished last year 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA; he did not get a decision on Friday and now is 5-10 with a 5.61 ERA. He wiped the slate clean after the break.

"Whatever happened in the first half is the first half," Jackson said. "There’s a lot of baseball left. It’s about how you finish. You finish up strong, the first half will be kind of forgotten. You just live in the present."

Cubs.com

Hendricks to fill one of two openings in rotation

By Carrie Muskat

PHOENIX — Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs’ Minor League pitcher of the year last season, will be slotted into the fourth spot in the rotation, starting Tuesday as the team tries to fill the vacancies created by the July 4 trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Hendricks made his Major League debut July 10 against the Reds, and gave up four runs on five hits and three walks over six innings. He struck out seven and did not get a decision. The right-hander rejoined Triple-A Iowa after the game, but did not pitch again until he threw two innings on Wednesday for the Pacific Coast League in the Triple-A All-Star game.

"The thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and see how he does," manager Rick Renteria said of Hendricks, who was 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts at Iowa with 97 strikeouts and 23 walks over 102 2/3 innings.

Renteria wasn’t ready to name the Cubs’ fifth starter. They have an off-day Monday before opening a series against the Padres on Tuesday at Wrigley Field.

"We’re close," Renteria said. "I don’t want to say."

The options include right-hander Dallas Beeler and left-handers Tsuyoshi Wada and Chris Rusin. All three have pitched this year, with Rusin appearing in two games in relief.

Baez’s move to second not a precursor for callup

PHOENIX — Javier Baez made his second straight start at second base Friday for Triple-A Iowa, but Cubs manager Rick Renteria isn’t ready to pencil him into the big league lineup just yet. The Cubs already have a logjam in the infield.

Arismendy Alcantara, promoted from Iowa when Darwin Barney went on paternity leave, made his fifth start Friday at second. Alcantara has a hit in every game except for his first, has already registered his first Major League home run and RBIs, and was batting an impressive .391 entering the series opener against the Diamondbacks.

Plus, Emilio Bonifacio is continuing his rehab from a strained oblique, and Renteria said the veteran is “very close” to returning.

When the Cubs make a roster move Tuesday to add starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks, someone has to go.

"Fortunately for me, we have three days and the off-day [Monday] before we have to make a decision as to how we’ll proceed with the roster," Renteria said Friday. "I think we still have to have conversations. [Alcantara] has been playing very well. It’s still day to day."

Baez, ranked No. 1 on MLB.com's list of top 20 Cubs prospects, started at shortstop until Thursday. The Cubs have talked since Spring Training about having the infielder move around, especially since they already have shortstop Starlin Castro.

"The move is to allow [Baez] to get over there [at second]," Renteria said. "It’s good to see that he’s moving around but from my perspective, it’s not an anticipatory position for me to think I’m going to see him [on the big league team]."

The hardest part of the transition, Renteria said, will be handling the pivot at second base, but he added that because Baez is so athletic, he should be able to make the switch.

"He’s a kid with a lot of pop," Renteria said of Baez, who hit a two-run homer for the World Team in the SiriusXM Futures Game on Sunday. "He’s a kid who defensively has a little bit of excitement playing in the field. He’s very aware of everything going on defensively. He has a good sense running the bases. There are a lot of qualities that we saw in a short period of time [in Spring Training] that lend themselves to seeing him becoming a very good Major League baseball player."

When will that be? Renteria couldn’t say, and he didn’t want to imply that Baez’s move meant he was close to a promotion, or that it signaled the Cubs’ shift to more of a youth movement.

"That’d be a far reach for me to make that statement now," Renteria said.

Cubs wary of pushing Arrieta too hard

PHOENIX — The Cubs decided to take a cautious approach with Jake Arrieta this spring and will continue that plan of attack to open the second half.

Arrieta (5-1, 1.95 ERA) will start on Sunday in the series finale against the Diamondbacks, rather than open the second half Friday. The right-hander had tightness in his shoulder this spring, and did not make his first start until May 3.

"In talking to [pitching coach Chris Bosio], he thought it was good to set Jake back a little bit," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We know he’s come off the injury early in the season. he’s been throwing very, very well. He said, ‘You know, let’s push him back and give him a little rest.’ I thought it was a good idea."

Arrieta was the only Cubs starter who did not reach 100 innings in the first half.

Cubs ink 35th-rounder to wrap up Draft signings

PHOENIX — The Cubs have signed 35th-round selection Jordan Minch, a left-handed pitcher from Purdue, and completed the signing period by agreeing to terms with 27 of their 40 picks in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft.

Minch had reported to the Hyannis Harbor Hawks of the Cape Cod League, and had until Friday at 4 p.m. CT to sign with the Cubs.

Minch was a draft-eligible sophomore this summer. He made 28 starts in his first two seasons with Purdue, and set freshman records for strikeouts (63), innings pitched (81 1/3) and games started in 2013. In his final season with the Boilermakers, he turned in five consecutive quality starts over the first five weekends of Big Ten play.

The Cubs were able to sign their first 22 Draft picks.

Extra bases

• The Cubs granted catcher Yorvit Torrealba his release. He had signed as a free agent on June 12 after playing 13 seasons with the Giants, Mariners, Rockies, Padres, Rangers, Blue Jays, and Brewers.

Cubs.com

Top prospects continue tear as Baez, Bryant homer

Cubs farmhands go deep for Triple-A Iowa in second straight game

By Teddy Cahill

Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ top two prospects, each homered for the second straight night Friday as Triple-A Iowa defeated Round Rock, 4-1.

Friday also marked the second straight day Baez played second base for Iowa. Before Thursday, he has exclusively been used as a shortstop since the Cubs picked him ninth overall in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft. But with Starlin Castro entrenched at shortstop in Chicago and newly acquired shortstop Addison Russell at Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs are starting to increase Baez’s versatility.

The position change didn’t affect Baez at the plate, as he went 2-for-5 with a home run and two runs scored Friday. Bryant went 2-for-4 and hit his 33rd home run of the season, the most in the Minor Leagues.

Baez and Bryant, ranked Nos. 6 and 8 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, launched home runs in Iowa's victory against Round Rock on Thursday as well. Friday was the fourth time the pair has homered in the same game since Bryant was promoted from Tennessee last month.

Elsewhere in the Cubs’ system, Kyle Schwarber, the fourth overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, went 2-for-5 with a home run in Class A Advanced Daytona’s 11-7 win in 17 innings. It was his first home run since being promoted from Class A Kane County on Tuesday.

Cubs.com

Miley battles Cubs eyeing continued resurgence

Southpaw owns 1.25 ERA in last three starts, faces off vs. Wood

By Cody Ulm

Saturday at Chase Field marks a meeting between two former All-Stars who were trending in distinctively different directions heading into the All-Star break.

D-backs left-hander Wade Miley’s 4.18 ERA is far off the 3.33 mark he set during his 2012 All-Star season. But in his last three games before the Midsummer Classic, Miley registered a 1.25 ERA and a 2-0 record.

Miley has held opponents to a .171 batting average over that span as has struck out 22 over 21 2/3 innings. Yet if you ask him, there’s not much change to see.

"[I’ve been] just trying to go out and stick to the plan, just get a chance to win," Miley said. "Haven’t really put a whole lot of thought into it. Just preparing the same way I prepare, just having a little success, trying to keep it rolling."

Cubs left-hander Travis Wood hasn’t been as fortunate in the success department. In his last start before the break, the Braves rocked Wood for seven earned runs across six innings.

Wood’s ERA has inflated from 3.11 to 4.96 since his breakout 2013 campaign and his struggles have been even greater on the road, where he owns a 4-5 record and a 6.05 ERA.

While the Cubs are nowhere near contention, manager Rick Renteria still knows there’s plenty to be accomplished in the second half, including a turnaround from Wood.

"We just have to get ready for the remainder of the season and they know everybody has to go out there and make their push," Renteria said. "At this point, I’m hopeful that they’re going to come out and play the game."

Cubs: Rizzo leaving forgettable 2013 in dust

First baseman Anthony Rizzo compiled two more homers Friday evening, bringing his 2014 tally up to 22. That’s just one shy of his entire 2013 total in a season in which he hit just .233.

Rizzo took a step back last year after slugging .463 in his first season with the Cubs following a change of scenery from San Diego. Now, in the second year of a seven-year, $41 million contract, Rizzo has fulfilled the Cubs invest by hitting .278.

Rizzo earned his first All Star appearance this season. Rizzo struck out in his only plate appearance on a foul tip, but that didn’t stop him from soaking in the experience before the Midsummer Classic.

D-backs: Peralta silver lining in tough season

Injuries and ineffectiveness have dragged the D-backs’ season down, but they’ve also provided outfielder David Peralta with an opportunity to make a name for himself.

Peralta, who is batting .326, is a converted pitcher and was seventh in the D-backs’ outfield pecking order to begin the season.

Peralta finished Friday’s game 2-for-4 with a double. Even with the return of Mark Trumbo, Peralta should receive regular playing time against right-handers. A.J. Pollock’s mid-August return from a fractured right hand could complicate things, but Peralta’s emergence leaves manager Kirk Gibson with a good problem to have.

Worth Noting

• Renteria announced that right-hander Kyle Hendricks will start Tuesday’s series opener against the Padres. Renteria has yet to declare who will be the Cubs’ fifth starter to begin the second half.

• While he’s eligible to be activated immediately, D-backs shortstop Chris Owings isn’t expected to return from his bruised left shoulder for at least a few more weeks.

ESPNChicago.com

Anthony Rizzo sets tone on offense

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — After struggling last season, Anthony Rizzo is enjoying a breakout year and fulfilling the promise expected of the young slugger when he was brought to Chicago a couple of years ago.

So it isn’t fair to put too much pressure on the All-Star first baseman just as he has found himself, but the reality of the situation is that much of the Cubs’ offense is going to live or die with Rizzo’s production.

That was evident Friday in the Cubs’ loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Rizzo emerged from the break with the same success at the plate that he had before heading to Minneapolis for his first All-Star Game.

His two home runs not only injected life within the club but accounted for three of the team’s four runs. His two-run shot in the fourth inning opened the scoring and Chicago would build a 3-0 lead.

Arizona cut the lead to 3-2 in the fifth, but Rizzo’s second blast in the sixth gave the Cubs a two-run cushion and a little more breathing room, even if it was only temporary. The Diamondbacks led 5-4 when Rizzo nearly tied the score in the eighth inning but a fine defensive play robbed him of a likely RBI double in the left center field gap.

"Rizz had an All-Star night. Two home runs," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "We didn’t get a whole lot more after that, but we had a chance to get the tying run in there."

After enjoying his ninth multihomer game of his career, and second this season, Rizzo has 22 home runs, leaving him only one shy of his career high; he belted 23 in 160 games last season. He is also tied for fourth in the majors in that category.

So while Rizzo figures to remain the Cubs’ lone power threat in the lineup, he is on the cusp of a career-best year that can bring some enjoyment to Cubs fans during an otherwise difficult season.

ESPNChicago.com

Jackson shows signs of life, if briefly

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — Through the first four innings of Friday’s game at Arizona, it appeared Edwin Jackson might have found at least a little bit of that old magic.

To that point, the Chicago Cubs right-hander had faced just one batter over the minimum, threw with good control around the plate, wasn’t walking batters and had a good fastball working. He also kept the ball down, and Arizona didn’t hit any fly balls during that stretch.

Then came the fifth inning, when the Diamondbacks’ Nos. 6 through 9 hitters strung together four consecutive singles and struck for a pair of runs to cut the Cubs’ lead to 3-2.

After an Anthony Rizzo home run put Chicago up 4-2 in the top of the sixth, Jackson allowed a solo blast to Paul Goldschmidt with one out in the bottom of the inning. It was apparent that whatever has been working during the first four innings wasn’t anymore, and Cubs manager Rick Renteria quickly removed Jackson.

"I thought Jackson threw well enough for us to win the ballgame," Renteria said. "He was very composed and threw the ball hard. He was pretty consistent staying at the top of his velocity chart. He minimized damage and looked confident."

This season, Jackson has averaged fewer than six innings per start, and the Cubs hoped he could chew some up in the first of this three-game set coming out of the All-Star break.

And while it looked for a while as if that would happen, the game got away as fast as Goldschmidt’s opposite-field, line-drive blast cleared the right-field fence, chasing the former Diamondback from the mound.

Jackson’s line on the night was three runs allowed on seven hits with three strikeouts in 5 1/3 innings.

"I was trying to challenge them, especially when we come out and score four runs, you want to make them put the ball in play, and they were able to do that," Jackson said. "If I could take a couple pitches back and locate them a little better, maybe the results would’ve been a little better. They’re a good hitting lineup in a ballpark where the ball flies."

James Russell and Brian Schlitter followed out of the bullpen, and each allowed a run as Arizona took a 5-4 lead after six, a lead that would stand as the final margin.

"I had those guys ready for [Jackson]," Renteria said "Had he gotten into any trouble, I was going to get him. I thought he did his job. He kept us in the ballgame."

Pitching figures to be a weakness for the Cubs for the remainder of the season following the trade of starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel on July 4 — a fact which only amplifies the need for the staff to protect three-run leads.

But at this point the Cubs are looking to the future, and glimpses of the pitching help that is on the way could be seen at Wrigley Field sooner than later.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Diamondbacks 5, Cubs 4

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — The Chicago Cubs (40-55) opened the second half of the season with a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks (41-56) at Chase Field on Friday. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Arizona overcame a 3-0 deficit by scoring a pair of runs in the fifth inning and three more in the sixth. Chicago chased Arizona starter Trevor Cahill after five innings, but Cubs starter Edwin Jackson lasted just 5⅓ innings himself. Gerardo Parra’s sacrifice fly in the sixth scored what proved to be the winning run.

What it means: The Cubs have lost three in a row and nine of their past 12 games. They have two more games in Arizona before returning to Wrigley Field for a 10-game homestand beginning Tuesday.

Rizzo rising: Anthony Rizzo hit two home runs and drove in three runs. His first blast gave Chicago a 2-0 lead and paced a three-run fourth inning. He added another in the sixth, giving him 22 homers on the year and putting the All-Star first baseman just one dinger away from his career high of 23 in 160 games last season. Rizzo is tied for fourth in the majors in home runs.

What’s next: These teams will hook up for the second of this three-game series at Chase Field on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. CT. Left-hander Travis Wood (7-8, 4.96 ERA) is scheduled to start for Chicago. Lefty Wade Miley (5-6, 4.18) is slated to take the hill for Arizona.

ESPNChicago.com

Latest starting rotation taking final form

By Ron Matejko

PHOENIX — Heading into the All-Star break, the Chicago Cubs had questions regarding who would fill the final two spots in the starting rotation. Half of that equation was resolved before Friday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, when manager Rick Renteria announced Kyle Hendricks is his fourth starter.

Hendricks will make his second start of the year on Tuesday against the San Diego Padres at Wrigley Field. How long he holds the job after that is yet to be determined.

"I think the thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and see how he does," Renteria said.

The rookie right-hander made his major league debut on July 10 against the Cincinnati Reds. Early nerves appeared to initially get the best of Hendricks, as he allowed three runs in the first inning. However, the 24-year old showed poise by settling down and allowing four runs on five hits with three walks and seven strikeouts in six innings.

The final spot in the rotation has not been announced, and Renteria won’t need to do so for almost two weeks, as the break and an off day Monday afford him time until a fifth starter is needed. That player is expected to come from the group of Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and recently acquired Dan Straily.

"Yes, we’ll have to start making some adjustments to the roster, obviously, because we need the fifth starter also," Renteria said. "But once we see where we are at and how everyone’s health is, we’ll sit down and have that conversation and let everyone know. We’re close to where we’re at, right now; I just don’t want to say."

Rookie infielder Arismendy Alcantara could end up being the victim of a numbers game despite his impressive five-game audition. Alcantara was initially expected to play two games in place of Darwin Barney, who was away on paternity leave. However, Alcantara is hitting .391, albeit with a small sample size, and is 9-19 in his past four games, which makes the decision whether or not to send him back to Triple-A Iowa before Tuesday’s game a tough one.

"Obviously, he’s been playing very, very well," Renteria said of Alcantara, who is at second base and batting second Friday. "Fortunately for me, we have three days and then the off day before we have to decide how we are going to proceed with the roster.

"I think we still have to have conversations to see how we’ll go, but he is playing very well. It’s one of those situations that is still day to day, and we’ll see how we proceed."

Bonifacio return draws closer

Cubs utility man Emilio Bonifacio is getting closer to returning from a right rib-cage injury. He played nine innings yesterday and has an off day today. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list on June 13.

"He has a few more games to see where he is at," Renteria said. "We’ll see how he is doing with his at-bats, but he is getting close."

Clubhouse notes: The Cubs announced the signing of their 35th-round pick, left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch, out of Purdue. Chicago has signed 27 of their 40 draft picks. … Catcher Yorvit Torrealba asked for and was granted his release from the organization today.

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Cubs at Diamondbacks

By Jesse Rogers

The second half of the Chicago Cubs (40-54) season begins in Phoenix where they open a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks (40-56) on Friday night.

Friday: Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.64) vs. Trevor Cahill (1-6, 5.66), 8:40 p.m.

Saturday: Travis Wood (7-8, 4.96) vs. Wade Miley (5-6, 4.18), 7:10 p.m.

Sunday: Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.95) vs. Josh Collmenter (7-5, 3.80), 3:10 p.m.

The pitching: On the mound this weekend it’s all about Wood turning his season around and Arrieta keeping his going. The latter has been lights out over the past six weeks with an ERA among the best, if he qualified with enough innings pitched. As for Friday’s starter, righting the ship for Jackson isn’t necessarily something many are expecting but eating a few more innings would be nice. He’s averaging less than six innings per start this season, and with a young bullpen, along with some rookie starters, he’ll need to stay in the game longer to save some arms.

Alcantara watch: Rookie Arismendy Alcantara has been nothing short of impressive in five games. He might become the first player to win a permanent job due to a paternity leave. Darwin Barney left the team for two days last week and while Alcantara went 0-for-4 in his debut, he’s 9-for-19 since with five extra base hits. It prompted the Cubs to keep him around even after Barney returned. The Cubs will need to make some roster decisions by the time they return home next Tuesday. It would be a surprise if Alcantara wasn’t the beneficiary of them.

ESPNChicago.com

Second half preview: Baez’s time nearing?

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs’ second half begins in Phoenix on Friday night with two questions in mind: How many more prospects will make it to the major leagues this season, and who will grab starting jobs heading into 2015?

The addition of Arismendy Alcantara before the All-Star break has already given the baseball world a taste of what the Cubs have on the farm.

Additionally, pitchers Dallas Beeler, who could pitch Tuesday at Wrigley Field on regular rest if needed, Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada will all get more opportunities, as should newly acquired righty Dan Straily.

And 2011 first-round pick Javier Baez could be prepping for a second-half promotion, as well, after playing his first game at second base for Triple-A Iowa on Thursday. The puzzle is starting to take shape for the Cubs, although it’s far from complete. But at least the pieces are becoming available to manager Rick Renteria as he tries to incorporate the newcomers.

The significance of Baez playing second Thursday — he also homered against Round Rock — shouldn’t be overlooked. Junior Lake played six games in the outfield last season before being called up, while Alcantara played 11 this year.

A move from shortstop to second for Baez signifies that the Cubs believe his offense has improved enough this year to give him another challenge. They said long ago Baez would have to play somewhere other than shortstop when called up from the minors, considering they employ a three-time All-Star at that position in Starlin Castro.

If and when Baez makes it to the majors, it means Alcantara might move to center field full-time. That’s the smart decision, considering the Cubs are light on major league-ready outfielders while they have waves of infielders getting closer to the big leagues.

Unless internal All-Star break meetings have changed their minds, the Cubs aren’t bringing up ESPN.com's No. 1 prospect Kris Bryant this season. Bryant hit his minor league-leading 32nd home run Thursday, but the Cubs would potentially put him a year closer to free agency if they brought him up this season instead of waiting until early 2015.

The Cubs might need to do some roster maneuvering moving forward in order to fit in some newbies, but that shouldn’t be a problem with the trade deadline approaching and two struggling players — Lake (.218/.245/.402) and Mike Olt (.144/.230/.367) — eligible to be sent to the minors. Any 40-man roster shuffling won’t be a big issue, considering the Cubs have some dead weight that could be moved off there, as well.

If the Cubs finish the season with Alcantara playing every day in center field and Baez at second, then the second half might be deemed a success based on that alone. Any emergence on the mound of a starting pitcher would be a pleasant surprise, as well. Beeler and Hendricks have a chance to turn the tables on their scouting reports and prospect rankings. Neither is thought of as a top-of-the-rotation guy — nor necessarily a lock for a starting spot. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Hendricks is still the most intriguing of the candidates, but he’ll need time through the league before a true assessment can be made.

If things realistically pan out, by May 2015, Bryant could be at third base, Castro at shortstop, Baez at second and Anthony Rizzo at first. Alcantara would be manning center field, while the corner outfield spots would be open for business with Lake possibly holding one for Jorge Soler or someone else. Hendricks, Beeler or Straily could be in the rotation. Olt simply might be the odd man out considering his dismal season at the plate.

In the meantime, the Cubs still have some housecleaning to do. Outfielders Nate Schierholtz or Justin Ruggiano could be moved before too long, as will undoubtedly one of the Cubs’ lefty relievers, James Russell or Wesley Wright.

But those are small storylines compared with the successes and failures of the prospects. The Cubs’ win-loss record won’t be a day-to-day headline, but how they achieve it — and with whom — certainly will be. That’s what this second half is all about.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs begin Javier Baez Watch, hoping to see brighter future

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX – The Cubs have officially started Javier Baez Watch.

By moving their elite prospect from shortstop to second base, the Cubs guaranteed one of the second half’s biggest storylines immediately becomes: When is Javy getting here?

The Plan is coming into sharper focus as Baez works on his footwork, focus and positioning at Triple-A Iowa, getting ready to play alongside All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro.

So while Twitter buzzed about the organization’s top prospects going on a home-run binge – and the team filing a lawsuit against rogue mascot “Billy Cub” – the big-league team that can feel like an afterthought returned to work after the All-Star break with a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

The Cubs (40-55) don’t sweat the game details now. But Edwin Jackson – who gave up three runs in 5.1 innings to lower his ERA to 5.61 – left with a lead before reliable relievers James Russell and Brian Schlitter gave it right back to the Diamondbacks (41-56).

Anthony Rizzo showed he’s still the franchise’s biggest offensive force until further notice by crushing two homers. Rizzo’s 21st sailed beyond the pool in right-center field, while his 22nd soared out to deep center and bounced onto the concourse.

Rizzo and Castro just played in the All-Star Game at age 24. Iowa third baseman Kris Bryant is now ranked as the No. 1 midseason prospect for ESPN and No. 2 for Baseball America. Super-utility guy Arismendy Alcantara is already here. Kyle Hendricks – the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 – will become the new No. 4 starter.

“I feel it getting there,” Rizzo said. “I think everyone else does, too. That’s long-term. Short-term, we need to start playing better and get into a groove. But pieces are going to come and go, and hopefully everyone clicks and we get rolling.”

Manager Rick Renteria didn’t play along with the team-of-the-future angle, though that is exactly what the franchise is trying to sell now.

“My biggest concern is dealing with the guys that are here,” Renteria said. “It’s good to see that (Baez is) moving around. But from my perspective, it’s not an anticipatory position for me to think I’m going to see him.

“It would be foolish of me and irresponsible to say: ‘Oh, I’m looking forward to seeing him here.’ It’s not the right thing for me to say.”

Cubs fans and the Chicago media want to see Baez, and Theo Epstein’s front office could probably use a look in September, if not sooner.

Baez homered on back-to-back nights in Round Rock after moving to second base. That gives him 16 home runs and 59 RBI after a slow start that had people wondering about his vision, free-swinging style and the wisdom of hiring Manny Ramirez as a player/coach.

But even during that offensive spiral, Baez, 21, had been making a positive impression on team officials with his attitude, work ethic and attention to detail defensively, which had been the bigger-picture concerns. He still showed up all over the midseason prospect rankings as a consensus pick for Baseball Prospectus (No. 5), Baseball America (No. 7) and ESPN (No. 8).

“The future’s bright,” said Jake Arrieta, who’s now looking like a top-of-the-rotation starter. “That’s very apparent with guys like Alcantara. And we know we’ve got some guys in the pipeline who can definitely help us in the near future.

“We look forward to seeing those guys, Baez and Bryant and a couple of the other younger guys. It’s going to be a fun, fun period of time here over the next six, eight months, towards the end of the season and the beginning of next season, just seeing those guys blossom and continue to grow and get some experience up here.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs giving Kyle Hendricks a shot in rotation

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX – The Cubs are giving Kyle Hendricks a chance to prove he belongs in their rotation.

Hendricks – a Dartmouth College graduate and the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013 – will face the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs still haven’t announced their fifth starter after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July. But this is a big opportunity for Hendricks, a Pacific Coast League All-Star who’s gone 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Iowa.

“The thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and then see how he does,” manager Rick Renteria said before Friday’s game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

Hendricks, 24, has blossomed since coming over from the Texas Rangers in the Ryan Dempster trade at the 2012 deadline.

Baseball America graded Hendricks as having the best changeup and best control among the organization’s pitching prospects heading into this season. The right-hander’s put up 97 strikeouts against 23 walks in 102-plus innings at Iowa.

Hendricks made his big-league debut on July 10 at Great American Ball Park, working through a rocky start and giving his team a chance to win, allowing four runs in six innings. The Cubs wound up beating the Cincinnati Reds 6-4 in 12 innings.

The Cubs will be holding auditions after trading away 40 percent of their rotation for the third summer in a row. Dan Straily, Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Chris Rusin and Eric Jokisch could get looks in the second half.

“There’s nothing that says that they can’t come in here and perform and help us win ballgames,” Renteria said. “We’re really hopeful that the guys that we have within the system will be able to come in and hopefully find a sense of comfort within that clubhouse.

“There’s some nervousness that comes with a new area, a new arena, but usually those guys are able to adjust and perform.”

CSNChicago.com

Starlin Castro sees start of something in Arismendy Alcantara

By Patrick Mooney

PHOENIX – Starlin Castro sees Arismendy Alcantara as the start of something.

The All-Star shortstop knows what it’s like to be the next big thing. At the age of 20, Castro homered in his first big-league at-bat, putting up six RBI in his debut after only 57 games above the A-ball level. But where the 2010 Cubs saw their window to contend slamming shut, this could just be the beginning with a youth movement led by Alcantara.

“Oh yeah,” Castro said. “And a lot more are coming up here. That will help the team a lot.”

Alcantara filled up the box score in different ways during Friday’s 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field. It wasn’t highlight-reel material – just the steady play that helped him beat hyped prospects Javier Baez and Kris Bryant to The Show.

Alcantara worked a leadoff walk in the fourth inning, stole second and scored when Anthony Rizzo blasted a no-doubt, two-run homer over the right-center field fence. He stole another base in the eighth inning, again showing how he could add another dimension to this team, even while going 0-for-3.

Alcantara already extended his stay through the All-Star break after Darwin Barney’s paternity leave by going 9-for-23 with three doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBI in his first five games.

But manager Rick Renteria wouldn’t commit to Alcantara sticking with the Cubs beyond this weekend’s series in Phoenix.

“Obviously, he’s been playing very, very well,” Renteria said. “Right now, fortunately for me, we have three days and then the off-day before we have to make a decision as to how we’ll proceed with the roster.

“We still have to have conversations to see how we’ll go. (It’s) one of those situations (where) it’s still day-to-day.”

One X-factor could be Emilio Bonifacio, another energy guy who can play second base and center field and might need to be showcased for a potential trade before the July 31 deadline.

Bonifacio – who’s been on the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle since mid-June – has begun a rehab assignment with Double-A Tennessee. Renteria said Bonifacio’s “getting close,” but still needs a few more games before rejoining the Cubs.

Whether or not Alcantara, 22, takes a quick detour back to Triple-A Iowa before returning to Wrigley Field, he will be a reason to watch this team in the second half.

“He’s a smart kid,” Castro said. “He listens. He’s going to be good in here.”

CSNChicago.com

Was Thursday the biggest day in Theo’s tenure with Cubs?

By Tony Andracki

David Kaplan said on his radio show Friday morning that Thursday was the biggest on-field day in the Theo Epstein Era with the Cubs.

On the one hand, that seems crazy to think, given that the Chicago Cubs didn’t even play a game.

On the other hand, Kap’s point kind of makes sense. It was a banner day for the prospects.

Here are the highlights from the Cubs minor leagues action on Thursday:

—Kris Bryant (No. 32), Javier Baez (15), Addison Russell (No. 1 with the Cubs), Jorge Soler (6) and Dan Vogelbach (9) all hit homers.

—Baez got his first game action at second base with Triple-A Iowa as he prepares for a potential call-up to play alongside shortstop Starlin Castro in the majors.

—2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber collected the first two hits of his Daytona career in his second game since his promotion to Advanced Class-A.

—Corey Black picked up a victory with six solid innings, allowing only one run while striking out eight. The Cubs acquired Black from the Yankees in the Alfonso Soriano deal last summer.

—Armando Rivero tossed another perfect inning as he lowered his ERA to 1.50 while making his pitch to join the big-league club.

—Even Kyuji Fujikawa joined the fun, making his debut with Class-A Kane County by tossing a shutout inning as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.

Of course, with the major league club off, the fact that anybody is even talking about Thursday as possibly the greatest day in Theo’s three years in Chicago shows exactly where the focus has been with this organization. The future of the Cubs is in the prospects and most of the guys mentioned above were acquired by Theo’s front office.

But, as Patrick Mooney wrote Wednesday, this may be the last trading deadline to think of the Cubs as sellers.

Baez and Bryant are knocking at the door of the big leagues. Arismendy Alcantara is already up and looking like he belongs in Chicago. Soler is already on the 40-man roster and has put up unreal numbers in Double-A when he’s been able to get on the field.

So Thursday may not be the greatest day in Theo’s Era, but it could very well be a harbinger of great things to come.

Chicago Tribune

Showcase coming for Cuban outfielder

By Mark Gonzales

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The White Sox have a strong history of success with Cuban players, and the Cubs are making inroads recently with outfielder Jorge Soler and reliever Armando Rivero in the minors.

There’s another Cuban player who could entice the Sox and Cubs as well as the other 28 major league teams.

Rusney Castillo, 27, a 5-foot-9, 185-pound outfielder, will participate in a showcase July 26 in the Miami area.

Castillo has a lifetime .315 batting average and .380 on-base percentage and could reach the majors soon with plus skills in speed and defense in center field with adequate power, according to a scouting source.

Castillo is represented by Roc Nation Sports, a joint venture between Jay Z’s Roc Nation and CAA Sports.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Baez, Bryant hit HRs

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Friday at Round Rock: (second base); 2-for-5, home run, 2 runs.

Trending: 14-for-45 (.311) during 12-game hitting streak, 5 doubles, 5 home runs, 12 RBIs.

Season:  86 games, .246 batting average, 16 home runs, 59 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Friday at Round Rock:  2-for-4, 2-run home run, strikeout.

Trending:  18-for-47 (.383), 4 doubles, 5 home runs, 10 RBIs.

Season: 94 games, .352 batting average, 33 home runs, 84 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Friday at Huntsville: Rained out.

Trending: 8-for-26 (.308), double, home run, 2 RBIs, walk, 8 strikeouts, stolen base.

Season: 27 games, .273 batting average, 2 home runs, 11 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Friday at Huntsville: Rained out.

Trending: 14-for-29 (.483), 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  24 games, .408 batting average, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Friday vs. Fort Myers: 2-for-5, double, walk, strikeout, ejection.

Trending: 8-for-19 (.421), 2 doubles, triple, home run, 5 RBIs.

Season: 85 games, .274 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Rizzo sees signs of improvement

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — After appearing in his first All-Star game and seeing the recent success of rookie Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez playing second base at Triple-A Iowa, Chicago Cubs slugger Anthony Rizzo said he now can see signs of true optimism for the franchise.

“I feel it’s getting there,” Rizzo said Friday night after hitting two home runs in a 5-4 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I felt it a week ago for the first time, and I think everyone else does, too. That’s long term.

"Short term, we need to start playing better and get into a groove."

Rizzo’s power surge couldn’t help prevent the Cubs’ third consecutive loss. But he moved to within one homer of tying his 2013 total of 23.

Rizzo said that playing in the All-Star game and getting two days of batting practice, as well as a “high intensity at-bat” in the All-Star game (in which he struck out) kept him sharp heading into the first game of the second half.

"I just enjoyed my time, enjoyed the whole experience," Rizzo said. "I treated it like it could be my (final All-Star game), too. I enjoyed being around different guys.

 ”I just want to play good baseball and be very good and elevate my game to another level and keep trying to do that. Being there (at the All-Star game) was great, but the focus is here on this team in Chicago.”

Chicago Tribune

Rookies making strong bids to stick with Cubs

Kyle Hendricks will get start Tuesday in effort to secure rotation spot and versatile Arismendy Alcantara continues to impress

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Arismendy Alcantara made a brief stop in Iowa over the All-Star break to pick up some more clothes for his stay in the big leagues, and Kyle Hendricks will start Tuesday night with a chance to stick in the fourth spot in the Cubs’ rotation.

More roster changes seem certain between now and the July 31 trade deadline as the Cubs subtly transition to the future.

Manager Rick Renteria wouldn’t commit to saying this was the start of an emphasis on promoting more prospects to the majors, but it’s certain that younger players are in the midst of getting an extended look.

At the same time, important decisions loom as the Cubs need a fifth starter Wednesday night against the Padres with super utility player Emilio Bonifacio moving closer to returning from the 15-day disabled list.

"He still has to play a few more games (at Double-A Tennessee) and see where he’s at," Renteria said of Bonifacio, who is recovering from a left oblique strain. "He needs a few more at-bats, but he’s getting closer."

The potential return of Bonifacio and Alcantara’s third start at second base in the last four games leaves plenty of uncertainty for second baseman Darwin Barney, who has started only once during that span after returning from the paternity list.

Another logjam involves three left-handed relievers currently in the bullpen. James Russell and Wesley Wright have been scouted closely this month, and the relief-thirsty Tigers had two scouts at Friday night’s game against the Diamondbacks.

"We do have to start making some adjustments to the roster because we need the fifth starter," Renteria said. "Once we have conversations and see where we’re at, how everyone’s health is, and all the different variables involved in the decision making, we’ll sit down and have that conversation and let everyone know."

That the Cubs don’t need a fourth starter until Tuesday allowed them to keep evaluating Alcantara, who was batting .391 in 23 at-bats entering Friday.

"We still have to have conversations as to how we’ll go (with Alcantara)," Renteria said. "He has been playing very, very well. It’s still day-to-day with him and we’ll see how we proceed."

Hendricks allowed only one run on two hits in the final five innings of his major league debut July 10 against the Reds, and that didn’t hurt his chances at getting a chance to secure a rotation spot on a semi-regular basis with the Cubs needing a fourth and fifth starter for at least three turns after Monday’s day off.

"The thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and see how he does," Renteria said.

The Cubs also aligned their rotation for the start of the second half to give Jake Arrieta, who missed the first month because of right shoulder tightness, more rest before making his first start of the second half on Sunday.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs lose third straight, 5-4

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — After a brief chat with his players on Sunday and conducting an optional workout Thursday, manager Rick Renteria hopes he won’t need to deliver a pep talk as the Chicago Cubs open the second half Friday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

"We told them to get ready for the remainder of the season," Renteria said. "Everyone knows and have to make their push."

But a well-worked bullpen couldn’t support Edwin Jackson as the Diamondbacks rallied for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning and held on for a 5-4 win to extend the Cubs’ losing streak to three games.

The Cubs wasted two home runs by Anthony Rizzo and left Justin Ruggiano stranded at third to end the game. Ruggiano drew a walk with one out against closer Addison Reed, stole second base and went to third on an errant throw by Miguel Montero.

But Welington Castillo struck out to end the game.

Rizzo hit a two-run home run off Trevor Cahill in the top of the fourth inning that traveled over the swimming pool in right center.

Rizzo followed with a solo shot that cleared the center field wall in the top of the sixth for his 22nd home run of the season. This marked the sixth multi-homer game of Rizzo’s career and his first since May 31 at Milwaukee.

Rizzo needs only one more homer to equal his 2013 total of 23.

Rizzo’s homers were timely as they gave support to Edwin Jackson, who limited the Diamondbacks to two hits until the bottom of the fifth inning.

The Diamondbacks collected four consecutive singles with one out to cut the deficit to 3-2. But Didi Gregorius was thrown out trying to score from third base on an errant pitch from Jackson, and Aaron Hill grounded to short with the tying run at second.

But with one out in the sixth, Jackson allowed a home run to Paul Goldschmidt to cut the Cubs’ lead to 4-3. Jackson was pulled after only 88 pitches and replaced by left-hander James Russell, who allowed a bunt single to Miguel Montero, and Mark Trumbo and Martin Prado followed with singles off Brian Schlitter (making his 44th appearance), and Gerardo Parra hit a game-tying sacrifice fly.

Left-hander Zac Rosscup relieved Schlitter, but Gregorius foiled the strategy by hitting a single to score Trumbo with the go-ahead run.

"I thought (Jackson) did his job," Renteria said after the game. "He’s the guy we seem to pick on, and I thought he did a great job. He kept us in the ballgame."

Jackson kept the ball down as he struck out three and no outfielders made any putouts during his 5 1/3 innings.

After a rough first half, Jackson took a few days off from baseball.

"I cleared my mind, relaxed, didn’t think about a baseball until Wednesday," Jackson said.

Jackson is owed more than two years and more than $25 million on his contract, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of anyone - including himself - from getting dealt before the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

"It can involve anybody," Jackson said. "But you don’t worry about what you can’t control. I got one job and that’s to pitch every fifth day. And everything is out of my control.’’

Meanwhile, Cubs second baseman Arismendy Alcantara continues to impress. Alcantara, making his sixth consecutive start since being recalled from Triple-A Iowa, battled from an 0-2 count to draw a walk off Cahill that preceded Rizzo’s first homer.

The Cubs missed a chance to tie the game in the eighth. Rizzo hit a deep drive to left center, but Ender Inciarte, who was inserted in the top of the inning for defensive purposes, sprinted to rob Rizzo of a game-tying extra base hit.

Alcantara stole second base, but Starlin Castro struck out to end the rally.

After Rizzo’s first homer, the Cubs added another run in the third on a double by Luis Valbuena and a two-out RBI single by Ryan Sweeney.

Chicago Tribune

Alcantara remains in Cubs’ lineup

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Rookie Arismendy Alcantara will start the second half as he did at the end of the first half - in the Chicago Cubs’ starting lineup.

Alcantara, who is batting .391 (9-for-23) with one double, one triple, one home run and five RBIs, will start Friday night at second base as the Cubs visit the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Alcantara’s start at second occurs one day after marquee prospect Javier Baez made his first start at second base for Triple-A Iowa. Meanwhile, veteran Darwin Barney has made just one start in four games since returning from the paternity list.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs manager isn’t pushing for Javier Baez

Top prospect has started playing some at 2nd base at Triple-A Iowa in anticipation of possibly moving from shortstop soon

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — Cubs manager Rick Renteria tempered speculation that a major league promotion for shortstop Javier Baez is imminent in the wake of his start at second base Thursday for Triple-A Iowa.

"The move is to allow him to get over there," Renteria said shortly before Baez made his second consecutive start Friday night at second for Iowa. "My biggest concern is dealing with the guys here. It’s good to see he’s moving around, but from my perspective, it’s not an anticipatory position for me to think I’m going to see him."

Nevertheless, the Cubs seem to believe Baez, 21, one of their top prospects, is athletic enough to make a position switch if they decide to move him from shortstop, where Starlin Castrocurrently reigns and where recently acquired Addison Russell plays for Double-A Tennessee.

"The transition from shortstop to the other side of the diamond, because he’s so athletic, might be a little easier than you might think," said Renteria, who made a similar transition as a player. "The biggest transition any infielder makes from the left side to the right side is the pivot around second. You have the ball coming at you from one side and the runner coming from the other. rest of this There are dynamics you need to work on around the bag. Those are things I think he’ll be quite comfortable making adjustments with, and I’m sure they’re working on it.”

During Baez’s brief time at second during spring training, Renteria said “there were a lot of qualities we saw in a short span.”

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara, who was promoted on July 9 because of his versatility, concurred that the transition from shortstop to other positions can work as long as an infielder masters the different angles and controls his throws.

"If you play shortstop, you can play everywhere," Alcantara said. "As a shortstop, you have to have range and a good arm."

Extra innings: Third baseman Mike Olt had a cyst removed above his right eyebrow during the All-Star break. … Catcher Yorvit Torrealba requested and was granted his release from a minor league contract. Torrealba, who played parts of 13 seasons in the majors, played in only four games for the Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League team. … The Cubs signed left-handed pitcher Jordan Minch, their 35th round pick out of Purdue.

Chicago Sun-Times

Prospects Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks are only reason to follow Cubs

By Gordon Wittenmyer

PHOENIX — Looking for reasons to pay attention to the Cubs the rest of the season (beyond the dogfight for another top three or four draft pick)?

Good luck. Because it’s still all about the future for these guys.

But while the future isn’t exactly now for the Cubs, it might be just close enough that the roster shape-shifting over the last 2½ months could be worth watching — if not for answers to the timeline in Chicago, then at least for watching rookies and previewing prospects.

As the Cubs opened their post-All-Star schedule Friday against the Arizona Diamondbacks, manager Rick Renteria said rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who debuted July 10 in a victory at Cincinnati, will join the rotation as the fourth starter Tuesday at home against the San Diego Padres.

“The thought is to allow him to slot into that spot and then see how he does,” said Renteria, who also had touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara in the lineup for the sixth consecutive game Friday.

Alcantara, whose scheduled two-game debut last week was extended because of his impressive performance, said he hasn’t been told how long he’ll stick on the roster as pitching moves come next week, but team officials have been encouraging.

He led off the fourth with a walk, stole second, then scored when newly minted All-Star Anthony Rizzo homered in the Cubs’ 5-4 loss.

“We still have to have conversations to see how we’ll go,” Renteria said, “but he’s been playing very, very well. And it’s still day-to-day, and we’ll see.”

They’ll also see one of the top five prospects in baseball, Javy Baez, likely in these final weeks, after Baez was moved from shortstop to second base the last two nights — his first games in his minor-league career that he has played anywhere but Starlin Castro’s position.

Baez, who homered in those last two games, continues to surge at the plate since his miserable six-week slump to open the season.

Renteria inexplicably veered far out of his way to downplay a position change for Baez that his Class AAA manager suggested will last for an extended stretch and is clearly about increasing his versatility for a potential big-league promotion.

“It’s good to see that he’s moving around,” Renteria said, ‘‘but from my perspective, it’s not an imminent anticipatory position to think I’m going to see him.”

Uh, OK.

But the bread crumbs definitely are starting to drop on the path to wherever this rebuilding thing is going to go. And if crumbs are all that the Cubs have to offer the faithful these last 2½ months at Wrigley, at least it’s more than they’ve offered the first 2½ seasons of the process — and maybe even something worth buying a ticket to watch once Baez arrives.

“If we’re going to be going like this, yeah, you’d like to see those guys come up,” said reliever James Russell, one of the top candidates for the other kind of roster moves expected before the trading deadline — if not during the August waiver-trade period.

“Who knows, maybe in September if guys like Baez and [Kris] Bryant are swinging the bat well — well, Bryant’s been swinging it well all year — then you never know. It could happen.”

In Bryant’s case, not likely. The slugging third baseman, who leads professional baseball with 33 home runs, is more likely to debut next season — with the Cubs preserving another year of club control before free agency.

“But it’s just kind of cool to see guys like Alcantara come up,” Russell said. “He’s acted like he belongs every step of the way. It’s fun to watch.”

NOTE: Ex-big-league catcher Yorvit Torrealba, who played only four games for Mesa of the Arizona Rookie League, requested and was granted his release from the minor-league contract he signed last month.

Chicago Sun-Times

Bill Chuck’s baseball by the numbers

By Bill Chuck

BATTERS: NINE TO KNOW AT THE BREAK

1 Thirty-nine players had 100 or more hits, including Starlin Castro and Alexei Ramirez with 103 each.

2 Thirty-three players had 15 or more home runs, including Jose Abreu with 29 and Anthony Rizzo with 20.

3 Sixty-two players had 20 or more doubles, including Castro with 26, Conor Gillaspie with 23, Luis Valbuena with 22 and Abreu with 20.

4 Forty-two players had 50 or more RBI, including Abreu with 73 and Castro with 52.

5 Thirty-eight players had 12 or more stolen bases, including Ramirez with 15, Emilio Bonifacio with 13 and Alejandro De Aza with 12.

6 Thirty-seven players had 40 or more walks, including Adam Dunn with 56 and Rizzo with 53.7 Forty-six players had 80 or more strikeouts, including Tyler Flowers with 102, Dunn with 100, Junior Lake with 93 and Abreu with 82.

8 Thirty-eight players had 160 or more total bases, including Abreu with 203, Rizzo with 172 and Castro with 164.

9 Forty-three players had produced 85 or more runs (RBI + runs

scored - homers), including Abreu with 93 and Rizzo with 91.

PITCHERS: NINE TO KNOW AT THE BREAK

1 Twenty-three starters had ERAs of 3.00 or lower, including Chris Sale at 2.08 and Jeff Samardzija at 2.78 (2.83 with the Cubs).

2 Thirty-three starters had a WHIP of 1.200 or lower, including Sale at 0.842, Jason Hammel at 1.056 (1.021 with the Cubs), Samardzija at 1.138 (1.204 with the Cubs) and Jose Quintana at 1.198.

3 Forty-one pitchers had 100 or more strikeouts, including Samardzija with 113 (103 with the Cubs), Hammel with 107 (104 with the Cubs), Quintana with 107 and Sale with 102.

4 Forty-two pitchers allowed 12 or more home runs, including John Danks with 14 and Edwin Jackson with 12.

5 Twenty-nine pitchers had allowed 40 or more walks, including Jackson with 49, Travis Wood with 48 and Danks with 46.

6 Sixteen teams’ pitchers had allowed 55 or more stolen bases, including the Cubs at 74. Sox pitchers allowed only 52 steals.

7 Fifteen teams had earned 25 or more saves. The Sox had 19 and the Cubs 18.

8 Forty-nine relievers had blown three or more saves, including Ronald Belisario with four and Javy Guerra, Matt Lindstrom and Hector Rondon with three each.

9 Fourteen teams’ relievers had allowed 36 or more inherited runners to score, including the Sox with 46. Cubs relievers allowed only 32 inherited runners to score.

The Week ahead

The Cubs start a 10-game homestand with three against the Padres and continue it with three against Cardinals. The Sox are also in town for three against the Royals before heading to Minneapolis for four against the Twins.

18 7 / 2014

Sun-Times

Cubs’ Chris Bosio embraces the challenge of a staff in flux

BY TONI GINNETTI

A pitching coach isn’t just someone who tries to correct skewed mechanics or teach a new pitch.

“He’s a guy with knowledge who will teach the young guys about different situations they’ll come across in a game,’’ Cubs reliever James Russell said. “He’ll help them look at film and read hitters’ swings and what it means at certain times when they foul off pitches, whether they’re sitting on it or if you have them beat.

“He’s someone to fall back on if you’re struggling or just to talk to whenever you’re going good.’’

And when you have a staff that is about to add young arms to its rotation, you have a pitching coach with his hands full.

Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio knows that.

“We are going to be getting young arms because of the trades that we made,’’ he said of losing starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. “It’s going to take some time to get them acclimated to the league and get to know them. It’s a challenge we have as an organization. There’s going to be that [learning] curve.

“We put together a pretty good month of June as a team. Now the team is starting to change, so there will be some learning curves and ups and downs that go with it.’’

Bosio has dealt with this second-half scenario for the last two seasons. His patience and approach are among the reasons team president Theo Epstein wanted him to remain part of new manager Rick Renteria’s coaching staff.

In fact, Bosio already had agreed to a multiyear extension with the front office before Renteria officially got the manager’s job.

Epstein told coaches in individual meetings after manager Dale Sveum’s firing that he couldn’t guarantee their job statuses under a new manager and that regardless of contract status they were free to interview with other clubs if they chose in the meantime.

Bosio, who was under contract for one more season, almost immediately became one of the hottest coaching commodities on the market with at least three teams pursuing him, according to major-league sources, including division-rival Pittsburgh and Ryne Sandberg’s Philadelphia Phillies — with Epstein denying teams permission.

The Cubs compensated Bosio by then working out an extension that puts him among the highest-paid pitching coaches in the game.

“Theo wanted him to remain on,’’ Renteria said. “[Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer] liked what he and [catching coach Mike Borzello] did. He’s had a lot of guys under his tutelage who have done well.’’

In the past, the team used a patchwork of pitchers — declining veterans and untested young players ­— to get through the last months of the season.

This time Bosio is likely to get more prospects as the organization begins to see what the system has to offer.

Some already have debuted, ­including Kyle Hendricks (last season’s organizational pitcher of the year), Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Staying power is what will ­matter.

“It’s not going to be easy for them because they don’t know the league,’’ Bosio said. “We like to think we might have some kind of advantage because they haven’t been seen, and we’re going to try to put them in the best possible position as far as matchups go.

“But this is an extremely tough division.’’

Bosio, 51, a major-league pitcher for 11 seasons with a no-hitter on his resume, has almost as much experience as a coach.

He was in Seattle, Cincinnati and Milwaukee’s minor-league systems and was Lou Piniella’s pitching coach in Tampa Bay in 2003.

He has experience as a college coach, too, spending two seasons at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, and two at ­Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

For as much as he enjoys working with young pitchers, Bosio knows his job is very different at this level.

“These guys are pros — that’s the big difference,’’ he said. “Any time you get pro athletes, they’re drafted because they were good and they project. All the guys at Triple-A are already well past that [projection.] They’ve proven themselves in the minor leagues, and that’s why they’re getting an opportunity here.’’

This opportunity comes at the highest of stakes — for the pitchers and an organization that needs to find out if there are arms to go with its projected position player stars.

“It is major-league baseball. It’s not the Pacific Coast League. It’s not the Southern League — and it’s certainly not college,’’ Bosio said.

“Where we’re sitting now with the club, we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ve got a lot of experiences we’re going to be going through as a young team, and we’ll learn from them.’’

Russell, who has progressed as well as anyone under Bosio, ­believes his coach has proven he will be a positive guide.

“He’s been helping us a lot, especially all the young guys we’ve had coming up,’’ Russell said. “He’s done nothing but good things for those guys. It goes a long way.’’

Daily Herald

Cubs will play big role in NL Central

By Bruce Miles

How about this? The Cubs are going to have a big say in the National League Central in the unofficial second half of the season.

No, they aren’t going to win the division. But they do have 32 games left with the Reds, Brewers, Pirates and Cardinals.

Can you say possible major spoiler? You can, but Cubs manager Rick Renteria won’t.

"We play a lot of games against those guys, but I’m looking at it more of us going out and playing our game and letting the results take care of themselves, and if they happen to be as a consequence something that changes the direction of another club, so be it," Renteria said.

"But I think more than anything it’s us just going out and continuing to try to play good baseball."

It’s going to be a challenge for the Cubs again to avoid a 100-loss season, especially with the Fourth of July trade of starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

But in addition to the challenges, opportunities abound.

"I think there are more opportunities before us," Renteria said. "We have a chance to continue to grind, to play the game. We need to understand that we’re not playing just to get through August and September and to finish July up. The mentality is to keep playing so that you feel like you want to keep playing beyond August and September.

"I think as long as they (Cubs players) continue to play the game and give themselves a chance to win every single ballgame and play collectively as they should, we’ll always, hopefully, be competitive and come out with some victories."

With that in mind, here some of the opportunities that lie ahead for the Cubs:

Wreaking havoc

Well, would you look at that NL Central? At the end of June, the Milwaukee Brewers led the defending NL champion Cardinals by 6½ games.

The Reds and Pirates, both under .500 at the end of May, were just beginning to find their sea legs as June ended. The Reds were 7 games behind the Brewers, and the Pirates were 8 back. Both teams won wild cards last year.

But as the all-star break hit, the Brewers found themselves losers of eight of their previous 10 games. For a day last week, the Cardinals caught Milwaukee in the standings, and at the break they trailed the Brewers by a game, with the Reds being 1½ back and the Pirates 3½ back.

Where do the Cubs fit into all of this? They have 10 games left against the Brewers, including three at Miller Park to end the season. The Cubs also have 10 left against the Cardinals and six each against the Reds and Pirates.

Starting rotation

This we know for sure: Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta will pitch the three games this weekend in Arizona.

Beyond that, the Cubs will fill the rest of the rotation with call-ups from Class AAA Iowa. We’ve already seen Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks, and we’re likely to see all three again in the second half.

Left-hander and Northwestern product Eric Jokisch also is at Iowa, and he could get a look.

In the end, it will be up to the top three pitchers to step up in the second half, and only Arrieta has been consistently good among them.

Giving the kids a look:

While everybody was talking about Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, Arisimendy Alcantara was coming up to the big leagues, and now he’s daring the Cubs to send him back to Iowa.

Alcantara, a second baseman-outfielder, has given the Cubs some spark, speed and energy. It also helps that he is 9-for-23 (.391) in his first five big-league games, with 3 doubles, a triple, a homer, 5 RBI and a stolen base.

The original plan was to keep Alcantara for a couple of days while second baseman Darwin Barney was on paternity leave. But Alcantara has staked his claim, and he may not go back to Iowa any time soon, if at all.

Bryant is the closest of the Cubs’ top prospects to making the major leagues, but team president Theo Epstein said earlier it’s unlikely Bryant would be brought up this season.

If Alcantara brought excitement, just think what Bryant might do, even in a September call-up. At Class AA Tennessee this year, he went .355/.458/.702 with 22 homers and 58 RBI. That earned him a promotion to Iowa, where he is at .322/.404/.701 with 9 homers and 23 RBI.

If the Cubs are careening toward 100 losses in September, a little diversion couldn’t hurt, could it?

Cubs.com

Bryant pads MiLB lead as Cubs ‘Big 3’ all homer

Baez goes deep in debut at second base; Russell leaves yard at Double-A

By Teddy Cahill

Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, the Cubs’ top three prospects, all homered Thursday in a banner day for the club’s top two Minor League affiliates. Bryant and Baez went deep in Triple-A Iowa’s 7-0 victory at Round Rock, while Russell’s home run helped Double-A Tennessee defeat Huntsville, 4-1.

Baez and Bryant were playing their first game for Iowa in nearly a week after playing against each other in Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game and then getting a few days off for the Triple-A All-Star break. The rest didn’t seem to faze them.

Baez, ranked No. 6 on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, went 2-for-4 with a home run, a double and three RBIs. He extended his hitting streak to 10 games.

Bryant, No. 8 in the Top 100, finished the game 3-for-5 with a home run, a double and two runs. His home run was his 32nd of the season between Tennessee and Iowa, giving him sole possession of first place on the Minor League leaderboard. He had been tied with Rangers No. 2 prospect Joey Gallo.

While Baez and Bryant were putting on a show with Iowa, Russell, No. 11 on the Top 100, was doing the same for Tennessee. He went 2-for-4 with a home run, two runs and an RBI. It was his second home run of the season and first since he was traded to the Cubs as part of the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s.

Baez, Bryant and Russell weren’t the only prominent Cubs prospects to homer Thursday. Tennessee outfielder Jorge Soler (Cubs’ No. 6, No. 41 overall), Class A Advanced Daytona first baseman Dan Vogelbach (Cubs’ No. 12) and Tennessee third baseman Christian Villanueva (Cubs’ No. 13) all hit long balls as well.

ESPNChicago.com

Hold the ovation for Cubs on lauded system

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – The midseason prospect rankings by ESPN.com's Keith Law were released on Thursday and the Chicago Cubs have three of the top eight prospects in the game, including the top-ranked player in third baseman Kris Bryant.

Bryant went from No. 15 in the preseason to No. 1 thanks to a 31-homer, 81-RBI first half. Joining him in the top 10 are Double-A newcomer Addison Russell (No. 4), acquired from the Oakland Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade, and Triple-A shortstop Javier Baez (No. 8). Also in the top 50 is outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 28). Single-A centerfielder Albert Almora dropped out of the top 50 after a slow start to 2014.

While Bryant, 22, has torn up minor league pitching this season, the Cubs don’t believe he’ll make it to the big leagues this year.

"I don’t foresee a scenario where he would be up this year," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said after Bryant was promoted to Triple-A. "I don’t think it’s the right thing to do in someone’s first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances, both in terms of the player and what’s going on with the big league team."

Not surprisingly, Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras, didn’t necessarily agree with that assessment.

"Why not?" Boras told the Chicago Tribune over the All-Star break. "Bring him up in September, let him get his feet wet, get that out of the way, and let him go hit."

It’s a nice thought, but it would mean Bryant would be eligible for free agency sooner than if he stayed in the minors until the middle of April next year. With Boras as his agent it might be the prudent thing to do. If Bryant comes up in September and then starts 2015 with the Cubs he’ll be a free agent after 2020. If the Cubs wait a couple weeks into next April before calling him up — due to service time rules — he wouldn’t be a free agent until after 2021. In this case that difference could entail a lot of money. It’s exactly how the Houston Astros dealt with prized outfielder prospect George Springer earlier this season.

In the meantime the Cubs will have to settle for being one of the top farm systems in the game. Their scouting of both the amateur players they drafted and young, professional players they’ve acquired via trades is admirable, at least on paper. The development of those players is seemingly going well. The current front office didn’t sign Arismendy Alcantara or draft Baez, for example, but they are overseeing their final stages of development. So far so good, not withstanding Baez’s rough first half.

But the Cubs should only be getting a nice golf clap for their rebuilt farm system, not necessarily a standing ovation just yet. After all, how difficult is it to draft high every year and get talent? Or trade pitchers such as Samardzija, Jason Hammel, Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm and receive young talent in return? Of course, you don’t just pick those prospects out of a hat, but when your strategy is to tank and sell, sell, sell, it’s a little easier than navigating through a normal season.

The Cubs will get that standing ovation when the prospects start to perform at the major league level. One has shown promise — Alcantara made the most of his two-day tryout last week and is staying with the Cubs for now. The good news is, the days of simply acquiring young talent is coming to an end. Epstein said as much right after dealing Samardzija when he expressed hope that 2014 would be the last year the Cubs were obvious sellers.

Even though no one officially has ranked the Cubs’ farm system the best in baseball just yet, they’re in the team photo. How much higher can they go and what’s the point if it doesn’t start to translate at the major league level? It might not be Bryant’s time just yet but between starting pitchers and some other prospects — perhaps Baez — the Cubs should be moving their top farm players to the majors.

The best news for fans might come when the Cubs’ farm system takes a fall in the rankings because the good prospects are actually playing in the majors. That’s when the job of rebuilding will be complete. Winning would be next.

ESPNChicago.com

Bright future for Bryant and Gallo

Top prospects both grew up in Las Vegas and are currently tearing it up in minors

By Jerry Crasnick

Maybe it’s true that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But when two baseball hitting prospects and boyhood friends have a flair for making noise in increments of 450 feet, the industry buzz is going to be difficult to contain.

Chicago Cubs third-base prospect Kris Bryant, the second overall pick in the 2013 first-year player draft, has lived up to the hype this year while laying waste to pitching at two levels. He has 31 homers and a .701 slugging percentage between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, and Cubs fans are looking forward to the day he and fellow prospect Javier Baez can give the franchise its first 30-plus-homer duo since Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez in 2005.

Bryant is tied for the minor league lead with Texas Rangers third-base prospect Joey Gallo, a fellow Las Vegas native who faced him in high school. Gallo went to Bishop Gorman High in the city, and he’s proud to say that he once made a pitching cameo against Bryant and Bonanza High and lived to tell about it.

"I came on in relief and he got a hit off me, but it was only a single," Gallo recalled. "And it was with a metal bat. The old metal bats."

Pacific Coast League pitchers might consider that an achievement against Bryant, who is 22 years old, is 6-foot-5, 215 pounds and hits from the right side of the plate. He honed his game as a University of San Diego Torero and went to Chicago one spot after the Houston Astros selected Stanford pitcher Mark Appel with the top choice in the 2013 draft.

Gallo, 20, is 6-5, 205 and bats from the left side. He has a long swing that has produced a whopping 40 percent strikeout rate in the minor leagues, but his power first manifested itself during his Little League days and has yet to wane. Gallo set a Nevada high school state record with 65 home runs, prompting the Rangers to select him with the 39th pick in the 2012 draft and sign him to a $2.25 million bonus. Gallo hit 18 homers in 150 at-bats in rookie ball in his first professional season, and last year he led the minors with 40 homers even though he missed a month with a groin strain.

Power comes so naturally to Gallo, he seems baffled that it’s such a rare and elusive commodity in baseball. His ability to pepper the bleachers with long, arcing rainbow shots and bust windshields in nearby parking lots is sufficiently fascinating that FanGraphs recently broke it down with a “War and Peace”-caliber scouting analysis.

"I’m not a big, huge body-builder guy, but I see big, strong guys who don’t drive the ball and I’m like, How?" Gallo said. "It’s hard for me to understand. I’m tall and I get leverage, and ever since I was a little kid I could hit the ball out of the park. Kind of like Bryant. People tell me it’s because of my torque, my hips or whatever. I don’t really try to do it. It just kind of happens."

The Rangers have maintained patience with Gallo during this lost season in Arlington, and he continues to address the finer points of the game in Double-A Frisco. After tough days at the yard, Gallo reflects on the lessons he’s learned from big leaguer Jason Giambi, who lives in Las Vegas and worked with him during the offseason.

The Gallo family’s connection to Giambi goes back a decade, when Giambi hired Joey’s father, Tony, as a pitching instructor at a baseball complex that he owned in Vegas. After being drafted by the Rangers, Gallo began to work out at a facility with Giambi and Troy Tulowitzki. His relationship with Giambi grew from there.

"It was crazy," Gallo said. "We would go to eat lunch at Chipotle or wherever and I’d say, ‘People are looking at you,’ and he would be like, ‘Whatever.’ I remember when I was 10 years old and I was scared to say a word to him. But he treats everybody the same. He would talk to the janitor at the place where we worked out and he’d be like: ‘Great to meet you. How’s your family?’ And people are like: ‘What the heck? This is Jason Giambi.’

"The big thing he told me that stuck with me is: ‘Don’t get frustrated. Take every at-bat as a different at-bat, and things won’t drag on.’ I used to get frustrated and mad like any other high school kid. Now if I do bad, I try to find the positive out of it. He’s helped me do that."

Bryant has his own highly acclaimed hitting guru in Manny Ramirez, who was recently hired by the Cubs to be a player-coach in Iowa. Bryant grew up a Red Sox fan because his father, Mike, is a Massachusetts native who spent two years in the early 1980s in Boston’s minor league system as an outfielder. So he was well aware of the “Manny being Manny” phenomenon long before the Cubs brought in Ramirez to tutor the organization’s young hitters.

Ramirez has quickly made a positive impression on Bryant with his ability to break down pitchers and his dedication to his craft. Bryant has watched Ramirez set the pitching machine on “curveball” and take swing after swing against benders, and he understands the commitment necessary to keep growing as a hitter.

For a young player who has generated so much hype, Bryant is refreshingly humble and laden with perspective. He credits his maturity to the time he spent in college and the priorities his parents instilled in him. “I used to get in trouble with my mom when I didn’t get good grades,” Bryant said.

Although Bryant feels comfortable at third base and would prefer to stay there, it’s possible that a position switch is in his future. The Cubs have an All-Star shortstop (Starlin Castro) and a power-hitting Triple-A shortstop (Baez), and they just added to their stockpile by acquiring top prospect Addison Russell from Oakland in the recent Jeff Samardzija-Jason Hammel trade. Chances are someone will eventually have to shift to third base, which could necessitate Bryant’s shifting to a corner-outfield spot.

Bryant refuses to sweat the speculation, and he has a ready-made answer for reporters who ask how eager he is to get to Wrigley Field. Even as Bryant punishes Triple-A pitching, Cubs president Theo Epstein has said he doesn’t expect Bryant to receive a call-up to the majors this season.

"I don’t even pay attention to it," Bryant said. "Every time I focused on distractions like that in high school — like the draft — I didn’t perform the way I could have. I kind of learned a lesson from that. I’m never looking forward to the future. I just pay attention to the present moment."

For now, that means plugging away in Iowa and receiving daily updates on where he stands in an entertaining home run race with Gallo.

"Playing against him in high school, his team always beat me," Bryant said. "But it’s kind of cool to see what he’s doing now. He’s a great person and a great player. I wish he was a Cub. But the Rangers have a good one."

CSNChicago.com

Time for Theo to push Cubs into next rebuilding phase

By Patrick Mooney

Theo Epstein had enough self-awareness and message-control savvy to make a prediction during a spring-training session with Cubs beat writers in 2012. The new president of baseball operations understood the hype wouldn’t last forever, and already saw the headlines someday reading: “The honeymoon is over.”

This isn’t that story. Seriously. It’s just pointing out that it’s almost closing time for this rebuilding phase. The Cubs will actually have to care about, you know, wins and losses. Fans should be able to root for something other than years of club control, international bonus slots and Baseball America rankings.

Take a deep breath before everyone starts screaming: “YOU DON’T GET THE PLAN!” This is simply the next step. It’s not crazy to start expecting some results from the team with the third-most-expensive ticket in baseball, what looks like five consecutive fifth-place finishes and a 100-years-and-counting World Series drought.

[MORE CUBS: ESPN tabs Cubs’ Kris Bryant as baseball’s top prospect]

“I really feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Epstein said.

On the conference call after the Fourth of July trade that shipped Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s, Epstein hoped that was the last time the Cubs would be “obvious sellers.”

It became part of the internal discussions as the Cubs traded away 40 percent of their rotation for the third summer in a row. There are still minor moves to make between now and the July 31 deadline. But after that, the front office will have to become buyers.

“We have work to do on the pitching side,” Epstein said. “But I really like our pitching infrastructure. I like the way we’ve crafted our pitching staffs in recent years. And we have a lot of resources, both in terms of money, and potentially in terms of players, to go acquire the pitching we need at the right time.”

[MORE CUBS: Barry Larkin - Starlin Castro has the potential to be ‘dominant’]

ESPN released its midseason prospect rankings on Thursday, featuring Triple-A Iowa third baseman Kris Bryant at No. 1 overall, followed by Double-A Tennessee shortstop Addison Russell (No. 4), Iowa shortstop Javier Baez (No. 8) and Tennessee outfielder Jorge Soler (No. 28).

Baez playing second base on Thursday night at Round Rock could be a sneak preview for Wrigleyville in September.

“We hope we’ve improved our future,” Epstein said. “It’s not a secret that we now have an extremely talented, extremely deep group of potential impact position players – age 20 to 22 – who are moving very quickly through our system.

“These are real prospects. Not all of them work out, but we like these players quite a bit, and they have a chance to play together for a long time at Wrigley Field.

“When you put that together with a couple 24-year-old All-Star-caliber performers like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, we can’t help but be excited about the future.”

[MORE CUBS: Cubs getting in position to make a huge splash]

One narrative out there paints with a broad brush, justifying everything as part of The Plan and making it sound like Epstein’s crew came into a total wasteland.

At times, the Jim Hendry administration could have a Wild West feel to it, but everything has to be viewed in context. The business vs. baseball tension hasn’t left the building, and it’s taken years to begin unwinding the leveraged partnership between Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. and the Ricketts family.

After years of being underfunded in the draft, Hendry’s group and chairman Tom Ricketts decided to go for it in 2011, the last one before a restrictive collective bargaining agreement would change the game. It took guts to take Baez – a free-swinging kid with Gary Sheffield bat speed and the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck – at No. 9 overall.

The Cubs had already built the pipeline in the Dominican Republic that’s produced Castro, potential super-utility guy Arismendy Alcantara and catcher Welington Castillo, as well as the network of contacts that helped close Soler’s $30 million deal and sign Eloy Jimenez, last year’s top international prospect.

[MORE CUBS: Vizcaino, Rivero could be game-changers for bullpen]

Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer could reunite with Rizzo because they had Andrew Cashner – a former first-round pick with 100-mph velocity – as a trade chip to offer the San Diego Padres.

With the help of new pitching coach Chris Bosio – and the chance to join the rotation without looking over his shoulder – Samardzija finally blossomed into an Opening Day starter, an All-Star who’s expecting a contract in the neighborhood of $120 million.

Epstein and Hoyer turned lefty reliever Sean Marshall into All-Star starter Travis Wood in a shrewd deal with the Cincinnati Reds.

Trading Matt Garza, Ryan Dempster and Alfonso Soriano yielded seven more prospects, including potential closer Neil Ramirez (1.05 ERA) and Kyle Hendricks, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year in 2013.

[MORE CUBS: Addison Russell excited to be a part of Cubs rebuild]

By letting Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena walk away as free agents, the Cubs got 2012 compensation picks that turned into pitching prospects Pierce Johnson and Paul Blackburn.

This isn’t trying to rewrite history or speed up the future. The clock doesn’t have to be set at World Series or bust in Year 4 of the rebuild.

But it’s also not unrealistic to expect to start seeing some results, what the Cubs are going to do with all this young talent, how the pieces will fit together and whether or not the money will be there to import the veteran difference-makers needed to take some pressure off the kids, establish a clubhouse culture and get to October.

[MORE CUBS: Jeff Samardzija has ‘wild’ experience at All-Star Game]

“We appreciate our fans’ patience,” Epstein said. “We’re working extremely hard to reward them with a team that they can be proud of for a long time at Wrigley Field. This group has a chance to stay together, and our fans have a chance to get to know them.

“Not just one or two years. Not just mercenaries or free agents brought in from the outside. But a really good group of young players they can get to know and love and hopefully see win a lot of ballgames at Wrigley Field together.”

Maybe that means shopping Castro to the New York Mets this winter, as some insiders have suggested, or another team rich in pitching. Maybe it’s calling the Miami Marlins about Giancarlo Stanton. Maybe it’s going all-out for the next big international free agent from Japan or Cuba. Maybe it’s taking on money to get an impact player through a waiver deal – the Cubs talked to the Padres about Chase Headley last August but couldn’t find a match for the third baseman.

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez feels ready for call from Cubs]

If the timeline here didn’t work for Samardzija, it won’t make sense now for Tampa Bay Rays ace David Price, who’s also positioned to become a free agent after the 2015 season. But the Cubs already know they’re going to overpay someone to front their rotation.

Whatever happens next, remember the buzzword Epstein used during his first Wrigley Field press conference. Maybe next season will feel a little more “sacred.”

CSNChicago.com

Barry Larkin: Starlin Castro has the potential to be ‘dominant’

At a time when the story about Starlin Castro should be his return to the All-Star Game, the 24-year-old shortstop is finding his name in trade rumors.

Since the Cubs traded for Addison Russell - an elite shortstop prospect - in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal with the Oakland A’s, there have been rumblings Castro might not be long for Chicago, especially with the Cubs needing young pitching.

[RELATED - Cubs getting in position to make a huge splash]

But the Cubs could conceivably find room for Castro, Russell and Javier Baez in their everyday lineup. And Castro is showing why he was worth a $60 million investment.

After enduring a disappointing 2013 season, Castro has bounced back with a .276 average and .766 OPS while earning another invitation to the Midsummer Classic.

Despite a .143 stretch with zero extra-base hits in the nine games before the break, Castro is on pace for career highs in homers, doubles, RBI and walks while taking strides in the field and emerging as one of the best shortstops in the National League.

Hall of Famer Barry Larkin likes the progression he’s seen from Castro.

[MORE - ESPN tabs Cubs’ Kris Bryant as baseball’s top prospect]

"When every baseball player starts out, he starts out from a certain place mentally as well as physically and it’s just a matter of timing up the mechanics and technique so that you execute it the same way," Larkin said. "The biggest difference between the guys that are successful and the guys that aren’t successful are the guys that can make the adjustments mentally.

"And if he can make the adjustments mentally, he certainly has all the physical tools to be a dominant player in the league."

Russell has drawn comparisons to Larkin - with more power. Those are strong words for a 20-year-old who has played just 23 games above the A-ball level. Nobody knows for sure yet if he will develop into the type of frontline shortstop that could move Castro off the position.

Castro, meanwhile, has never played on a winning team in Chicago. The top prospects are coming, but they’re not here yet, and the Cubs are streaking toward another last-place finish.

“It’s tough, but we keep fighting,” Castro said. “Let’s see. We’ll try to play harder and maybe in the second half we’ll be much better.”

[MORE - Addison Russell excited to be a part of Cubs rebuild]

Castro has been ripped on national TV for zoning out and a lack of focus. But despite all the losing and the criticism, he will have more than 800 hits and three All-Star selections on his resume before his 25th birthday.

Larkin - the 1995 NL MVP who went to 12 All-Star Games, won three Gold Gloves at shortstop and collected more than 2,300 hits in his 19-year career with the Cincinnati Reds - knows what it takes to stay focused over a 162-game season.

"You’re a professional," Larkin said. "You have a job to do. You have to pay attention and do your job. Your job requires you to be fully invested all the time. It’s just a matter of building it. It’s nothing to be learned. It’s nothing to be taught. It’s just a matter of doing it.

"You have to pay attention to detail in order to do your job well. The game is humbling. If you don’t pay attention, the game will catch up to you. It’s just a matter of what’s important to you."

CSNChicago.com

ESPN tabs Cubs’ Kris Bryant as baseball’s top prospect

By TONY ANDRACKI

Is Kris Bryant the top prospect in baseball?

According to ESPN’s Keith Law, the answer is yes.

[RELATED - Cubs Prospect Watch: Bryant, Baez, Russell updated rankings]

In his midseason prospect rankings, Law put Bryant atop the list, a jump of 14 spots from the preseason rankings.

Addison Russell, the 20-year-old shorstop that came over from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal, is fourth on Law’s rankings (down one spot from No. 3 preseason). Javier Baez is eighth on Law’s list (was No. 7 preseason) while Jorge Soler came in at 28th, down two spots from No. 26 preseason.

Notably absent from the Top 50 list is Albert Almora and Arismendy Alcantara may have found his way off the rankings with his pre-All-Star break call-up to Chicago.

[MORE - Cubs getting in position to make a huge splash]

Here’s what Law says about each of the Cubs prospects for those who don’t have ESPN Insider access:

Bryant

While there are players in the minors who offer higher ceilings — notably the next two guys on this list — Bryant is so close to major-league ready that his value at this moment is at least as high as that of Buxton, who’s playing now but has been hurt most of the year, or Correa, who’s out at least until the Fall League. Bryant has power, he’s capable at third base, and his eye and approach continue to improve. Even if he’s just a .260-.270 hitter — probably a pessimistic forecast — he’ll still be a MVP-caliber bat who hits 30-40 homers and gets on base at a solid clip.

Russell

Russell will be the best prospect to change hands this season, going from the Oakland Athletics, who took him with the 11th overall pick in 2012, to the Cubs in the deal that sent Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. A torn hamstring robbed Russell of most of April and May, but he’s healthy now and hasn’t lost anything at the plate or in the field. He has outstanding hands and plenty of arm for shortstop, which makes up for slightly limited range. His footwork has improved over the last year, so I don’t really doubt that he can stay at the position. Those great hands also serve him well at the plate, helping him to accelerate his bat quickly and get good loft in his finish to create line-drive power. I see a high-average hitter with a strong OBP and 10-15 homers — maybe even a few more — who plays above-average defense at shortstop.

Baez

Baez still has the minors’ best bat speed, with great wrist and forearm strength that translates into huge all-fields power, which you saw in his homer in the Futures Game off a hanging breaking ball. He’s still rough around the edges at short, agile enough to play but lacking the finesse or the focus to do so at a major league level. That same Futures Game performance also saw him lollygagging on a groundball to short and delivering a lazy throw when he needed to fire one over to first base. Makeup may be the biggest concern here. Otherwise, Baez has the raw ability to become a 35-40 homer guy at second or third base.

Soler

Soler is a monster if he can just stay on the field. He has electric bat speed, plus-plus raw power and the athleticism and arm to play an above-average or better right field. He’s gotten bigger and stronger since signing in 2012, and in the 15 games he’s managed to play in Double-A this year, he’s hit .400/.456/.880 with 14 extra-base hits in 57 at-bats (tiny sample size caveat applies), indicative of his crazy strength. While he’s been injured too often for me to rank him higher, he has the raw offensive ability to be a top 10 prospect if he gets the at-bats to work on his recognition of offspeed stuff.

Tribune

Cubs’ prospect Baez excels in second base debut

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — In a move that could signal one of the final steps to a major league promotion, Chicago Cubs marquee prospect Javier Baez made his first start Thursday night at second base for Triple-A Iowa at Round Rock.

Baez, 21, played flawlessly at second base after playing shortstop in 284 minor league games. Baez was involved in three double plays and also handled two grounders that resulted in putouts.

The move from shortstop wasn’t a complete shock, since team officials indicated last winter that  Baez would get work at second base and third base. Baez played second in an exhibition game against the Athletics on March 23.

The move also comes less than two weeks after the Cubs acquired shortstop prospect Addison Russell from the Athletics in the six-player Jeff Samardzija trade. President Theo Epstein said shortly after the trade that it was possible to move one of the shortstops - Baez or Russell (currently at Double-A Tennessee) to other positions to enhance the franchise’s athleticism as well as get the best players on the field.

Furthermore, Iowa manager Marty Pevey indicated that this wasn’t a one-game stint at second for Baez, who also is projected as a third baseman.

"I’m working with (Baez) over there the next several days," Pevey told MiLB.com. “We’ll see him mainly at second base at least over the next several days.”

After one game, Pevey was impressed with Baez’s defense.

"He looked like an All-Star shortstop playing second base," Pevey said. "You can put an All-Star shortstop anywhere in the infield. He has the most range of anybody I’ve seen at second base in a long time."

At the plate, Baez hit a double and home run to raise his batting average to .244 with 15 home runs and 58 RBIs.

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Baez, Bryant, Russell, Soler hit HRs

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Thursday at Round Rock: (second base): 2-for-4, double, home run, sacrifice fly, 3 RBIs.

Trending: 12-for-44 (.273) during 11-game hitting streak, 5 doubles, 4 home runs, 11 RBIs.

Season:  85 games, .244 batting average, 15 home runs, 58 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Thursday at Round Rock:  3-for-5, double, home run, strikeout.

Trending:  16-for-43 (.372), 4 doubles, 4 home runs, 9 RBIs.

Season: 93 games, .350 batting average, 32 home runs, 82 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Thursday at Huntsville: 2-for-4, home run, two runs.

Trending: 8-for-26 (.308), double, home run, 2 RBIs, walk, 8 strikeouts, stolen base.

Season: 27 games, .273 batting average, 2 home runs, 11 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Thursday at Huntsville: 1-for-2, home run, strikeout.

Trending: 14-for-29 (.483), 2 doubles, 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 3 walks, 9 strikeouts.

Season:  24 games, .408 batting average, 7 home runs, 27 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Thursday vs. Fort Myers: 0-for-4, run.

Trending: 6-for-14 (.400), double, triple, home run, 5 RBIs.

Season: 84 games, .272 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Tribune

Cubs prospects soaking up big league experience

They are eager to learn from players such as Jake Arrieta, Emilio Bonifacio and Manny Ramirez whenever they get chance

By Mark Gonzales

MESA, Ariz. — Shortly after front-line pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Athletics two weeks ago, Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva spoke of the importance of veterans in mentoring young players being promoted from the minor leagues.

"Other guys are going to come in, and they’re going to be our brothers here," Villanueva said.

That policy, however, started well before the long-awaited trade of Samardzija crystallized.

Veterans such as starter Jake Arrieta and infielder Emilio Bonifacio have made time for minor leaguers looking to enhance their careers.

Arrieta, who was recovering from right shoulder stiffness during his minor league rehabilitation assignment in April, took the extra time to help pitching prospects C.J. Edwards and Corey Black.

Edwards said James McDonald, a six-year veteran who has yet to pitch this season because of an arm injury, has given advice to the younger pitchers who were either in extended spring training or rehabilitating from injuries at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa.

One of the biggest assets for the younger prospects is not feeling intimidated when looking for advice or listening to suggestions from the veterans.

"When you get here, everyone is equal and nobody tries to be bigger than anyone," said Edwards, who has spent more than two months recovering from a shoulder injury.

Many of players at Triple-A Iowa have shared positive experiences about working with former slugger Manny Ramirez, who currently serves as a player-coach.

Edwards saw a lighter side of Ramirez, 41, a nine-time Silver Slugger winner, last month when Ramirez was working into playing shape in Mesa.

"Sorry Chicago, but I was a Red Sox fan," said Edwards, who played shortstop in high school when he wasn’t pitching. "I always wanted to copy him. I was in the cage swinging, and Manny was smiling and teasing me, saying, ‘Look at this pitcher.’"

"He told me he liked my swing, and I told him I was trying to imitate him. He really knows his stuff. One of the best things in baseball is getting to know and work with guys who are role models."

Tribune

Cubs pitchers face huge challenge in 2nd half

After losing 2 top starters via trade again, it will be difficult for staff to post an ERA better than 4.00 for 2nd straight year

By Mark Gonzales

PHOENIX — It took a respectable pitching performance from rookie Kyle Hendricks to help the Cubs snap a season-high six-game losing streak July 10 and begin to eliminate lingering theories about the skid being linked to the trade of starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s.

But as the Cubs open the second half Friday night against the Diamondbacks, another challenge awaits pitching coach Chris Bosio and a staff that allowed 21 earned runs in its final two games.

Unlike last July, when Scott Feldman and Matt Garza were dealt in separate trades, the Cubs had former Orioles opening day starter Jake Arrieta ready to step in and Chris Rusin had made seven starts in 2012 before going into the rotation after Garza was dealt.

And although the Cubs have been cautious with the workload of rookie sensation Neil Ramirez and have given selected relievers extended breaks, several relievers already have or are on pace to set personal highs in appearances despite an eight-man bullpen for most of the season.

Thus, it would be a minor miracle if Bosio can oversee a staff that can keep its season ERA at 4.00 or lower for a second consecutive year despite significant turnover in the starting rotation.

The room for improvement starts in the first two games of the Diamondbacks’ series Friday and Saturday withthe Cubs desperately seeking some consistency from Edwin Jackson and left-hander Travis Wood.

Without an experienced alternative, the Cubs have little choice but to stick with Jackson (5-10), who has walked four batters in three of his last four starts and allowed nine earned runs in 32/3 innings July 11 to the Braves.

Wood (7-8) needs only three more victories to achieve a career high, , but bouts of wildness and ineffectiveness marred his first half.

Regardless of who receives a chance to audition for the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation, Jackson and Wood need to pitch deeper into games to alleviate pressure on those candidates as well as to reduce the workload of the bullpen.

The Cubs’ bullpen, which featured Hector Rondon as a closer for the first time and Justin Grimm and Ramirez as full-time relievers for the first time, posted a 3.61 ERA that ranks eighth in the National League and suffered from a 6.31 mark in July.

Brian Schlitter, with 43 appearances, should surpass his previous career highs of 54 in Double A and Triple A last season and 59 in Double A in 2009 by mid-August. Grimm is on pace for 76 appearances — the most for a Cubs reliever since 2012 when Shawn Camp pitched in 80 games and James Russell 77.

It could take more outings like Hendricks’ against the Reds, when he survived a rocky first to last six innings and give the offense and bullpen a chance.

Tribune

Up next: Cubs at Diamondbacks

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Tied 2-2

Friday: 8:40 p.m., CSN.

RH Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.64) vs. vs. Trevor Cahill (1-6, 5.66).

Saturday: 7:10 p.m., WGN-9.

LH Travis Wood (7-8, 4.96) vs. LH Wade Miley (5-6, 4.18).

Sunday: 3:10 p.m., WGN-9.

Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.95) vs. RH Josh Collmenter (7-5, 3.80).

Who’s hot: Arrieta has allowed three runs or fewer in his last eight starts. Rookie Arismendy Alcantara is 9-for-19. Collmenter has allowed one run in three of his last four starts. All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt is batting .395 in July.

Who’s not: The Cubs lost eight of their final 10 games of the first half. Starlin Castro hasn’t hit a home run since June 20. Cahill walked 20 in 281/3 innings at Triple-A Reno before he was recalled Monday. Addison Reed has blown three of his last seven save opportunities.

17 7 / 2014

Chicago Tribune

C.J. Edwards confident of a strong return

After shoulder scare was ruled a strain, top pitching prospect resolutely resumed work toward goal of pitching for Cubs in 2015

By Mark Gonzales

MESA, Ariz. — C.J. Edwards was scared for one of the few times in his successful career.

One month after pitching in his first major league exhibition game and embarking on a successful start at Double-A Tennessee, the Cubs’ top pitching prospect feared the worst in late April when team orthopedist Stephen Gryzlo asked him if he wanted the bad news or good news first after undergoing tests on his prized right shoulder.

"I wanted no surgeries," Edwards recalled Tuesday. "I’m on the verge of (fulfilling) the dream I had of being in the major leagues. Throwing in a major league game is right around the corner, and I’m praying that everything would come out successfully."

To the relief of Edwards, the Cubs’ organization and fans who tweet him messages of support, tests revealed a minor strain and fatigue that wouldn’t require surgery.

"I went to Water Tower (Place) to explore," Edwards recalled after leaving Gryzlo’s office. "I was happy."

Edwards’ relief will turn to eagerness Wednesday when he makes his first start in more than three months pitching for the Cubs’ Arizona Rookie League team at Surprise against the Rangers — his former organization.

And after throwing long toss from a distance of about 150 feet and pitching a 30-pitch bullpen session Tuesday under a hot, cloudy sky at the Cubs’ training complex under the supervision of rehab pitching coordinator Rick Tronerud and assistant athletic training coordinator Chuck Baughman, Edwards appeared ready to resume his ascent to the majors.

"I’m very, very close right now," said Edwards, who had a 2.61 ERA in four starts with 20 strikeouts in 202/3 innings at Tennessee before shoulder problems stopped him. "During my last live batting practice session, they put the radar gun on me, and I’m back to 94 mph with a good curveball and good changeup.

"Things are moving smoothly. I’m taking my time. (Wednesday) might not be my best start, but as long as I’m back on the mound, I’m happy."

The shoulder injury, combined with the loss of Edwards’ grandmother, put his career and life in perspective.

In January, Edwards, 22, expressed his goal of reaching the majors by 2015. That milestone remains attainable, but Edwards understands he has plenty of work ahead.

After two starts in Arizona, he’s expected to rejoin Tennessee but could finish the season in the bullpen to continue to build his innings with the likelihood he will finish his 2014 season in the Arizona Fall League.

"This has taught me patience," said Edwards, considered the centerpiece of the four-for-one trade that sent Matt Garza to the Rangers last July. "My parents and girlfriend kept telling me to stay patient, bigger things are coming. Don’t worry. It’s a minor setback for a major comeback.”

Edwards thought he was feeling normal pain during a bullpen session two days after limiting Birmingham to three hits in six innings on April 20.

But the following day, he recalls barely being able to make two throws to a trainer.

"It really hurt," Edwards said. "The next thing you know, I’m in Chicago (for an examination)."

Edwards believes his injury stemmed from fatigue coming off a short offseason rather than any mechanical flaws, although he credited Jake Arrieta (his teammate during a rehab assignment in April) with suggesting he stand tall in his delivery to get more extension on his pitches — a tip he relished even more after watching Arrieta flirt with a no-hitter July 1 at Boston.

Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Edwards experienced the loss of his grandmother, Gracie Mae Edwards, who passed away after a brief illness. Edwards recalled his grandmother never missing a game during his youth and he returned to his native South Carolina to attend services as well as receive words of support from his father Carl.

"My dad always said, ‘We want you to be stronger,’" Edwards said. "I took that as a plus. I was injured, but that doesn’t stop you from working hard every day.”

The last seven months have represented an array of learning experiences for Edwards, who bonded with outfielder prospect Jorge Soler and Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson during a minicamp in January, gained valuable tips from pitching coach Chris Bosio during his lone exhibition start against the Padres, absorbed wisdom during Arrieta’s rehab stint and spent more time in extended spring training in Mesa with pitcher Pierce Johnson, who was the Cubs’ second top pitching prospect before suffering hamstring and calf injuries.

"We’re humble," Edwards said. "We look up to guys like Kyle Hendricks, Eric Jokisch and Dallas Beeler (at Triple-A Iowa).”

Despite the Cubs’ mission to add pitching prospects, Edwards nevertheless was delighted that the Cubs added more talent to their farm system with the acquisition of top prospects Addison Russell and Billy McKinney from the Athletics to supplement the “Core Four” of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Soler and Albert Almora.

"If we’re all there (in 2015), it’s a learning experience," Edwards said. "But we’d catch on so quickly. … We’ll know what to look for. We can do this.

"It’s going to take some time. You just can’t automatically see us doing well. You go to the big leagues and expect us to be perfect, it’s not going to happen. It’s life."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Russell 0-for-4

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Wednesday: Off.

Trending: 10-for-40 (.250) during 10-game hitting streak, 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season:  84 games, .240 batting average, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Wednesday :  Off.

Trending:  13-for-38 (.342), 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 5 runs, 8 RBIs.

Season: 92 games, .346 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Wednesday at Huntsville: 0-for-4, strikeout.

Trending: 2-for-12 (.167), 4 strikeouts.

Season: 26 games, .263 batting average, 1 home run, 10 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Wednesday at Huntsville: 1-for-1, RBI.

Trending: 13-for-27 (.481), 2 doubles, 5 home runs, 12 RBIs, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  23 games, .405 batting average, 6 home runs, 25 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Wednesday vs. Fort Myers: 1-for-4.

Trending: 18-for-47 (.383), 3 doubles, triple, 3 home runs, 10 RBIs.

Season: 83 games, .276 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Agent’s free advice: Bring Kris Bryant to majors

Scott Boras says with prospect’s dominant numbers, he has shown he could handle majors, but Cubs remain adamantly reluctant

By Paul Sullivan

It’s no secret the Cubs don’t plan to bring up Kris Bryant this season, preferring to let their top-hitting prospect progress at Triple-A Iowa while Luis Valbuena and Mike Olt man third base in the majors.

They haven’t veered from their plan for any of the Core Four prospects and President Theo Epstein said last month he couldn’t “foresee any scenario” in which Bryant would play for the Cubs in 2014, barring an unpredictable occurrence.

"I don’t think it’s the right thing to do for someone in his first full professional season, barring extraordinary circumstances both with respect to the player and what’s going on with the big league club," he said.

But a little dose of Bryant could go a long way toward satiating the appetites of impatient Cubs fans looking for signs of life at sleepy Wrigley Field over the remaining 2 1/2 months of the season.

Is it really fair to keep Bryant in the minors when he’s put up the kind of numbers he has in 2014?

"That word ‘fair,’ I don’t think it comes into (play)," Bryant’s agent, Scott Boras said. "This is a business operation, and I think Kris is aware of it. In many, many situations, on most clubs, Kris Bryant would be in the big leagues because they’re preparing him to play in the big leagues next year.

"Why not? Bring him up in September, let him get his feet wet, get that out of the way, and let him go hit.

"Certainly his talent has put him in a position where a lot of clubs would consider him to be someone they would put on their opening day roster."

Epstein declined to respond to Boras’ suggestion, standing pat on his remarks from last month.”

But there seems little doubt Bryant could hit well at the major league level. He entered Wednesday’s action tied for the minor league lead in home runs (31) with childhood friend Joey Gallo, a Rangers prospect in Double A.

Of the major league affiliated teams in Triple A, Double A and Class A, Bryant led those with enough at-bats to qualify in slugging percentage (.701), total bases (235), RBIs (81) and OPS (1.146). In 128 games over one-plus pro seasons, Bryant was hitting .343 with 40 home runs, 113 RBIs, a .698 slugging percentage and a 1.128 OPS.

With Bryant dominating, Javy Baez homering in the Futures Game on Sunday, Jorge Soler getting healthy again at Double-A Tennessee and Albert Almora beginning to heat up at Class A Daytona, Epstein believes the blueprint the front office drew up almost three years ago is coming together nicely.

"We’ve started to turn the corner where you can see how some of the pieces fit together," he said. "As with every year, it has been kind of a mixed bag of results. Some guys have exceeded expectations, other guys are going through unexpected adversity, but as a whole we continue to progress as an organization, get healthier.

"I really appreciate the fans hanging in there with us and we’ll continue to try to make sure it’s really rewarding for them."

Chicago Tribune

C.J. Edwards dealing well with weighty issue

By Mark Gonzales

MESA, Ariz. — C.J. Edwards can’t wait to update his bio.

"Two weeks ago I weighed 170," the 6-foot-2 Edwards said Tuesday between bites of chicken rigatoni with tomato-chipotle cream sauce. "I’d say scratch the 155 (pounds off my listing) and put my real weight in. There’s a good chance I could come to the January camp at around 175 to 180 pounds.

"If I get there, I’ll be excited."

Some questions have lingered about Edwards’ durability, only because of his slight frame. But Edwards said he has added healthier weight, some with tips from former Cubs left-hander Ryan O’Malley.

Edwards credited O’Malley, 34, for helping him learn to eat better when O’Malley coached in the Rangers’ organization before he moved to the Angels’ system.

"Ryan took me grocery shopping and said to me, ‘We want to shop on the outside (where vegetables and fruits usually are located),’" Edwards said. “‘That’s the good food, not the bad food.’"

Edwards said he still will treat himself to a chicken and rice meal at a Chipotle restaraunt or a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, but his main mission is to limit his sugar intake and drink one or two protein shakes.

Edwards described himself as a ”stingy” eater, but recalled an incident in January where he took some good-natured ribbing from Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson for eating a couple of slices of pizza with several toppings.

"I was so hungry," Edwards recalled. "I had to eat.”

Daily Herald

Manny Ramirez enjoying his new life with Iowa Cubs

By Joe Aguilar

DES MOINES, Iowa — It’s not heaven, Manny Ramirez knows. Nor Boston. Nor L.A. Nor Chicago.

It’s Iowa.

But it’s baseball.

At Principal Park, situated an infield flyball from the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers, with the Iowa State Capitol shining in the distance beyond the center-field wall, big-league dreams are on the verge of being realized. Ramirez, the 2004 World Series MVP and newest coach for the Cubs’ Class AAA team, is here to nurture, teach and mentor.

A part-time designated hitter for the I-Cubs, too, Ramirez takes batting practice wearing a Cubbie-blue Chris “Rusin 21” warm-up T-shirt. When he isn’t displaying the swing that made him one of the most-feared hitters of his generation, he studies his teammates in the box, talks to them and anyone else who approaches the one-time star.

"He’s a pretty remarkable human being to want to be here in Triple-A after living the lavish lifestyle that is the major leagues for so long," outfielder Ryan Kalish said of the man who made 12 all-star teams and slugged 555 big-league homers. "He has such a good head on his shoulders that it’s really good for us to have him here."

Cubs president Theo Epstein, Ramirez’s former boss in Boston, signed Ramirez to be a player/coach for the I-Cubs on May 25. Last month, Ramirez made his Iowa debut, homering in his first home game. In 27 at-bats, he’s hit .222. Yet, despite having signed minor-league contracts with the A’s and Rangers the last couple of years, Ramirez understands he’s not here to work his way back to the big leagues.

When major-league rosters expand in September, he doesn’t expect Epstein to toss Cubs fans a “cookie” by promoting him and telling him to pack a bat and glove.

"I know my role here," said Ramirez, sporting a pseudo Mohawk and goatee that are both sprinkled with gray. "I don’t talk about (getting called up to the Cubs). I came here to help, and when they tell me to play, I try to do my best."

At 42, Ramirez is 20 years older than hotshot prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, the latter of whom might benefit most from Ramirez’s tutelage. A free swinger who sprays line drives from line to line with plus-power, Baez was born in Puerto Rico. Ramirez is from the Dominican Republic.

"I just talk to him about his approach — to think about (hitting) a little more to the middle (of the field)," Ramirez said of Baez. "He’s a grown man. He knows what he’s got to do."

When Ramirez talks, Baez’s ears perk.

"He’s just told me I can stand in the batter’s box and take pitches, and they’re going to walk me almost all the time," Baez said.

Ramirez calls Bryant and Baez “great players” who are ready for the major leagues. For now, the two former No. 1 draft picks are teammates of Ramirez and — like seemingly every player on the I-Cubs — loving being in Ramirez’s circle.

"He’s Manny every day," Kalish said. "He’s just another guy. You would think that he would have a routine in hand, but he likes to be around the guys and do what we do. For me, I do a lot of stretching on certain days. He’ll ask me to take him through my stretching."

Too cool. Kalish smiles.

"It’s just funny to have a guy that accomplished to want to ask me a question about what I’m doing," Kalish said. "That’s Manny being Manny. It’s awesome."

Ramirez is known for his prowess with the bat, quirky personality — hence, “Manny being Manny” — and, yes, for having twice tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Facing a possible 100-game suspension from MLB in 2011, he retired.

But that’s history. All he wants now is to help future Cubs and be around the game he loves, even if it’s under a hot sun at a minor-league park in the middle of Iowa.

"I knew how to have fun when I was in the big leagues, and I know how to have fun now that I’m here," Ramirez said. "I’m loving it. I’m doing something that I like. I’m changing lives. I’m helping people. So I’m just happy to be here."

"He was my favorite player (growing up)," Baez said of the I-Cubs’ No. 99. "He’s still my favorite player."

Whether Ramirez is in Iowa for only the remainder of the season is uncertain. Perhaps when Baez, in particular, is ready to graduate to the big leagues, Ramirez’s work will be done.

In the meantime, Manny just keeps being Manny.

"I’m going to put it in God’s hands," Ramirez said of his baseball future. "If I keep doing it, I keep doing it. If not, I know He’s got something better for me."

Cubs.com

Cubs’ youth movement beginning to accelerate

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — In his first year as the Cubs manager, Rick Renteria has had to find a new closer, deal with the loss of two starting pitchers who were traded, and juggle the lineup after his leadoff man was injured.

One constant from the previous two seasons is that the Cubs find themselves last in the National League Central going into the All-Star break. It’s all part of the rebuilding process underway at Wrigley Field.

It seems as if Renteria has been asked more questions about the Minor Leaguers than the big league squad. Will Cubs fans see the top prospects in the second half? Arismendy Alcantara,  who has been impressive since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa, is expected to stay for at least the first series of the second half. We’ll see.

Five key developments

1. Starlin Castro is back

After a difficult 2013, when he hit .245, Castro rebounded to earn another All-Star nod. The shortstop has thrived in the cleanup spot and played better defense. He’s worked hard, and it’s paid off.

2. Anthony Rizzo can hit left-handers

Southpaws held Rizzo to a .189 average last year, but this season, he’s produced a higher batting average vs. left-handed pitchers than right-handers. Rizzo also has bounced back from a difficult first full season in the big leagues.

3. Jake Arrieta has ace potential

Arrieta was slowed this spring by tightness in his right shoulder and the cautious approach has paid off. In back to back starts, he had a no-hitter through six innings. With Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel gone via trade, Arrieta is now No. 1 in rotation.

4. The Cubs still need a closer

Jose Veras didn’t work and was released. Kyuji Fujikawa is still rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Neil Ramirez is still developing. Hector Rondon is learning on the job.

5. Edwin Jackson continues to be an enigma

Jackson has the same amount of losses (10) at the All-Star break this season as he did a year ago at the break. And a year ago, he led the NL in losses with 18. It’s been puzzling.

Five storylines for second half

1. Will young pitchers take advantage of opportunities?

With Samardzija and Hammel gone, the Cubs have two openings and the options include Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, Chris Rusin and newly acquired Dan Straily. Let the auditions begin. The Cubs need a fourth starter on July 22.

2. Which one of top prospects gets to the big leagues first?

Alcantara was called up to sub for Darwin Barney, and he did so well, the team decided to keep him more than the originally planned two days. Who’s next? The Cubs have said Kris Bryant, who is leading the Minor Leagues in home runs, will stay at Triple-A Iowa. Is Javier Baez ready? This season, the spotlight has been on the kids more than the big league team, and it’s likely to continue.

3. Who will be traded next?

The Cubs jumped the market by dealing Samardzija and Hammel on the Fourth of July, and they’ll likely be active right up to the Trade Deadline. Teams are looking at infielders like Luis Valbuena and Barney, as well as some of the Cubs’ relievers. That can create some anxiety in the clubhouse.

4. Can Mike Olt reach the Mendoza Line?

Olt finished the first half leading all NL rookies in home runs and RBIs, but he wasn’t close to batting his weight. The good news is that Olt is healthy. He needs to make the mental adjustments to deal with big league pitching.

5. Can they find a closer?

The Cubs do have some power arms in the bullpen in Rondon, Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Brian Schlitter . They’re hoping one of their in-house candidates emerges as the man to get the final out.

ESPNChicago.com

First-half lows: Wood, Baez struggle

By Jesse Rogers

Before we spin things forward to the second half of the Chicago Cubs’ season, let’s examine five players who didn’t exactly move their careers in the right direction in the first half. These are players who matter in the Cubs organization (which means Jose Veras is not making the list).

We examined five positives from the first half on Monday. Here are the negatives:

Travis Wood

A year ago at this time, Wood was finishing up his first All-Star Game as the Cubs’ lone representative, but that’s now in the distant past. He has been a shadow of his former self, plagued with command problems, especially with his fastball. He has either left balls over the plate (117 hits in 110 2/3 innings) or missed his spots altogether (48 walks). His 4.96 ERA ranks 90th out of 94 qualified pitchers in Major League Baseball, as does his 1.49 WHIP (hits plus walks to innings pitched). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wood’s line-drive percentage (24.1) is the highest of his career and 14th in the league in the first half.

Edwin Jackson’s numbers might be worse, but there was no expectation out of him this season or for the near future. Wood is supposed to be a core guy — on the path to being a No. 2 or 3 starter — at least based on his age and last season. He needs to find that command to be thought of in that way again.

Javier Baez

His recovery after a slow start has been nice, but it didn’t land him in the Triple-A all-star game Wednesday night. If he can’t make that squad, how can he be ready for the big leagues?

The Cubs will tolerate some high strikeout totals from their sluggers — that’s baseball these days — but 110 whiffs to just 28 walks isn’t a ratio that will work in the majors. And remember we’re just at the All-Star break.

Baez needs to be a more disciplined hitter to get that final promotion. He started to show signs of it in spring training, taking what the pitcher was giving him more often than not, but once Triple-A started he expanded his zone. Nothing about his season screams that he’s ready despite some prodigious home runs, including Sunday in the Futures Game when he crushed an outside breaking ball out to right.

For the year he is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs with an on-base percentage of .305. Those are pedestrian numbers for a player of his talent. The good news is he has made only 11 errors after 44 last season. His manager noted Baez never took his offensive woes to the field. If he can pick up where he left off before the break — he’s on a 10-game hitting streak — he still has a chance at the big leagues sooner rather than later.

Mike Olt and Junior Lake

The swings and misses have become so common for these two that it’s almost a surprise when they do make contact. Lake was batting .250 on June 1, but he has hit .168 since with 34 strikeouts in his last 101 at-bats and is now batting .218 at the break along with 93 strikeouts. If the Cubs need a roster spot to keep Arismendy Alcantara, they may have just found one. Otherwise they could demote Olt, whose average got as high as .231 one day in April. By the next afternoon it was .207, and it has gone down ever since.

Currently hitting .144, Olt looks more lost than Lake and isn’t that far behind in strikeouts (79). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Olt and Lake are No. 1 and No. 2 in MLB in strikeout rate when the count gets to two strikes at 60.8 percent and 59.2 percent, respectively. And Olt’s .076 batting average with two strikes (9-for-118) is the lowest in the majors. Despite a few home runs, there is nearly nothing positive to hang on either of their first halves, at least not on offense.

Welington Castillo

After a surge in the second half last season, there were many whispers about a possible All-Star bid this season for the 27-year-old catcher, but things haven’t panned out. A .236 batting average and .292 on-base percentage tell his offensive story, and he hasn’t been the stalwart behind the plate that he was on track to become. Castillo has thrown out just 21 percent of base stealers, well below the league average of 27 percent. But that number is misleading as manager Rick Renteria hasn’t made it a priority with the Cubs pitching staff, which has been the culprit as much as or more so than the catcher.

Still, according to Fangraphs, Castillo has zero defensive runs saved this season after leading all catchers with 19 last season. And the Cubs don’t completely trust him with their young pitching staff just yet. John Baker has done the brunt of the work behind the plate any time a newcomer takes the mound. It’s not that Castillo has been awful, but he was trending in a better direction at the end of last season. That progress has seemingly stalled.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs getting in position to make a huge splash

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs are getting in position to make a huge splash.

That doesn’t mean everything has gone according to The Plan. It doesn’t guarantee a parade down Michigan Avenue.

But more than halfway into Year 3 of the Theo Epstein administration, the Cubs have elite prospects knocking on the door, trade chips piling up and some degree of financial flexibility. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the latest version of the Wrigleyville renovation plans, while Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are All-Stars at the age of 24.

It takes seeing beyond 40-54, which at the All-Star break looks like another last-place finish. The trade rumors will be ringing in their ears when the Cubs go back to work on Friday night at Chase Field, a loud indoor space that feels like a bad NBA game. The Arizona Diamondbacks are also in the running for next year’s No. 1 overall pick, but the Cubs can’t play for the future forever.

Won’t blame you if you believe in Cubbie Occurrences and don’t want to drink the Kool-Aid. We’ll see about that ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Rahm Emanuel at Clark and Addison. There are also serious questions about how the business side is going to deliver those big TV contracts.

“It’s always something,” one player said with a smirk.

Yeah, the Cubs kept making headlines. A trashed birthday cake upstaged Wrigley Field’s centennial. Team officials kept making promises, lobbying City Hall and playing hardball with the rooftop owners, hoping to finally break ground on the $575 million stadium development.

“Manny Being Manny” and “Javy Being Javy” officially became part of The Cubs Way, as Manny Ramirez signed up as a Triple-A Iowa player/coach and mentor for Javier Baez.

Jeff Samardzija got the get-out-of-jail-free card Matt Garza talked about, moving to the Oakland A’s with Jason Hammel in a blockbuster trade on the Fourth of July.

But that deal also saved roughly $5.5 million, another deposit for the baseball operations department’s savings account, which already has some leftover Masahiro Tanaka money. The New York Yankees releasing Alfonso Soriano is another reminder the $136 million megadeal will finally fall off the books after this season.

The Cubs can get creative with August waiver deals, be aggressive on the next wave of international free agents and go hunting for big names this winter.

It’s still a long way to restoring a big-market payroll. But having so many cost-controlled young players – and so few long-term commitments – is a start.

Addison Russell – the headliner in the Oakland deal – combined with Baez and Kris Bryant gives the Cubs three of the top seven prospects in Baseball America’s midseason rankings.

Between Russell, Baez and Castro, the Cubs have three potential franchise shortstops, plus $30 million outfielder Jorge Soler, do-it-all super-utility guy Arismendy Alcantara and first-round picks Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber.

Name any big-league player from another team and the Cubs could probably come up with a serious proposal.

“We all understand that when you’re trying to acquire as much talent as you can,” Cubs VP Jason McLeod said, “you’d love for them all to get up there and have nine guys out on the field that we drafted or signed internationally. But that’s usually not the reality.

“If we get to that point where we feel we’re close, then, yeah, Theo and (GM Jed Hoyer) are going to do everything they can to make the right moves to acquire that piece at the major-league level that might get us over the top, or what they feel can get us deeper in the postseason.”

McLeod, who oversees scouting and player development, answered that big-picture question in spring training, when everyone seemed to be falling in love with the prospects. But some of the kids running up Camelback Mountain – and wearing those “When It Happens” T-shirts with the “W” flag – will have to be trade bait.

“We know that’s going to happen, which makes our job internally even that much more important,” McLeod said. “(It’s) knowing who the guys are that we need here long-term that can play in Wrigley Field and handle the environment and handle all the day games. (We’ll) make sure that we internally evaluated our own players correctly. Because there’s nothing worse than trading a guy who becomes better than you thought he was going to be.”

The Cubs know they’re going to have to overpay to fix the rotation and get some veteran presence in the lineup and a sense of swagger inside their clubhouse.

Even with Castro and Rizzo bouncing back, this team is next-to-last in the National League in batting average (.237) and on-base percentage (.298) and near the bottom in runs scored. Baez or Bryant shouldn’t have to be The Man as soon as he shows up on the North Side.

Hoyer recently made that point at Fenway Park, where the Boston Red Sox are a last-place team that tried to defend a World Series title while incorporating big names from Baseball America and the Futures Game.

“Our offense has been frustrating,” Hoyer said. “We’ve really struggled to put runs on the board. It’s a work in progress. Our young prospects are going to help with that, but at the same time I think the Red Sox are seeing that they’ve got great young players in (Xander) Bogaerts and (Jackie) Bradley and Mookie Betts. It takes time to acclimate to the big leagues and they’re learning it right now.

“We’ll probably have that at some point in the future, so we’re going to have to figure out a way to sort of bridge that and find some guys that can help lengthen that lineup out.”

Stay tuned to see what happens to utility guy Emilio Bonifacio, outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholtz, relievers James Russell and Wesley Wright, swingman Carlos Villanueva and second baseman Darwin Barney. But after July 31, it will be time to start thinking of the Cubs as buyers, not sellers.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Vizcaino, Rivero could be game-changers for bullpen

By Tony Andracki

DES MOINES, Iowa - Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero should be two players to watch in the second half for the Cubs.

This summer’s biggest deal is already almost two weeks old - Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s in a six-player trade featuring Addison Russell. But as the July 31 deadline nears, Theo Epstein’s front office could still deal from a surplus of quality relief options.

If spots open up in the big-league bullpen, Vizcaino and Rivero could be next in line at Triple-A Iowa.

"They’re just good arms," Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton said. "They attack the strike zone. When you attack the strike zone and you’re throwing 94-96 mph with a good secondary pitch, you’re gonna be pretty good. And that’s what I’ve seen so far."

Vizcaino is the 23-year-old former top prospect who already has 17 big-league appearances on his resume. Vizcaino came over in the 2012 Paul Maholm trade with the Atlanta Braves, missing two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery and a follow-up procedure on his right elbow.

The Cubs have been bringing Vizcaino along slowly this year, starting him out at advanced Class-A Daytona for nine games before a bump to Double-A Tennessee. He’s refining his mechanics at Iowa before a possible call-up later this season.

Vizcaino allowed just five runs in 23 games before hitting the Triple-A level. He has struggled with Iowa, surrendering 16 hits and 11 runs in 6.1 innings (15.63 ERA).

But he has been able to reach back for his 96 mph fastball, showing some of the electric stuff that made him one of the most exciting young pitchers in the game just a couple years ago.

"I think we’ve seen flashes," Walton said. "We’ve seen enough of it that we have a pretty good idea it’ll be back. He’s still in the process of getting his rhythm back and timing back, which takes awhile.

"When he goes out there and repeats his delivery 10 out of 10 times and his rhythm and timing are synced up 10 out of 10 times, you’re going to see his electric stuff every single night.

"Right now, you see it every night, (but) you just don’t see it the whole entire outing. There will be some ups and downs. His stuff’s electric. He just needs some more reps and a little bit more time."

At age 26, Rivero might not need much more seasoning in the minor leagues, despite just eight games above Double-A. The Cubs gave Rivero $3.1 million as an international free agent before the 2013 season and gave the Cuban reliever a year to shake off the rust after missing time while trying to establish residency.

Rivero made just 20 appearances last year, but he went to the Arizona Fall League to get more experience and has been one of the best relievers in the organization this season.

In 34 games between Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, Rivero has a 1.58 ERA with 10 saves and a whopping 13.8 K/9 rate (70 strikeouts in 45.2 innings). Now, he’s just one call away from Chicago.

"He doesn’t have anything left to prove," Walton said. "You’d rather see a larger sample size at Triple-A, like 30 innings, 20 appearances, etc. Everybody is going to go through ups and downs, no matter where you’re pitching, so you’d like to see how they handle that.

"There are a lot of things he still needs to be evaluated on, but obviously the early picture is his stuff is electric. His fastball gets on guys. It’s got good sink. It’s got good life through the zone. He’s got a good breaking ball and a changeup.

"The stuff plays. You just gotta give him a little bit of time. You gotta get some innings under his belt, so you can really see when he’s ready."

CSNChicago.com

Addison Russell excited to be a part of Cubs rebuild

By Tony Andracki

Why another shortstop?

Most people asked that question when the Cubs made some fireworks with a July 4 trade to acquire top prospect Addison Russell from the Oakland A’s for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

But for the Cubs, it was just about acquiring elite young talent, regardless of position.

For Russell, the deal was unexpected.

"It was a really big surprise," Russell told broadcaster Mick Gillispie at Double-A Tennessee. "I had not thought about getting traded at all. I was just taken aback; I was surprised.

"It’s a great opportunity, too. And that’s what (A’s Double-A manager Aaron Nieckula) told me — don’t look at it as if you’re losing another manager or you’re losing friends; it’s a great opportunity. He said he believed in me and he’s going to follow me, so it was awesome."

The 20-year-old shorstop was ranked as the fifth-best prospect in the game on Baseball America’s midseason rankings and sixth on Baseball Prospectus’ list.

He’s been plagued by injuries this season, but in 25 games, he boasts a .275/.359/.374 slash line while getting his first taste of Double-A ball.

Russell has drawn rave reviews for his defense at shortstop, but he said he would definitely be willing to move off the position if the Cubs ask him to, especially with Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and even Arismendy Alcantara able to play short at a high level.

"Normally, I stick at shortstop, but when the time comes, if they want me to move at the big-league level, I think I’ll be able to adjust," he told Gillispie. "So really, right now, I’m just sticking at shortstop."

Russell said Cubs fans have welcomed him with open arms as he’s seen his Twitter followers more than double since the trade. The 2012 first-round pick is excited to join the list of elite Cubs prospects as Theo Epstein’s front office continues their rebuild.

"Whenever (they call me up), I think I’ll be ready," he said. "With all this young talent, we could have a powerhouse lineup. We got (Jorge) Soler, (Kris) Bryant and Javy.

"It feels great (to be a Cub). Coming up with all this talent, this is a great spot to be."

16 7 / 2014

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Kris Bryant taking it all in stride during All-Star week

By Tony Andracki

In a couple years, Kris Bryant might be making regular appearances during Major League Baseball’s All-Star week.

But for now, the 22-year-old is perfectly content playing in the Futures Game and getting the chance to meet stars like Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies.

As his Triple-A teammate Javier Baez crushed a homer for the World Futures team Sunday at Target Field, Bryant hit cleanup and played third base for the U.S. team.

"It was fun," Bryant said. "It’s something I’ll be able to remember forever…I’m sure we’ll have some stories to tell when we get back to [Triple-A] Iowa."

Bryant is barely a year into his professional baseball career, joining the Cubs organization as the No. 2 pick in the 2013 draft. He dominated Double-A to start 2014 and hasn’t slowed down at all in Triple-A, combining for 31 homers, 81 RBI and a 1.146 OPS in 92 games this year.

In four plate appearances with the U.S. team Sunday, Bryant didn’t homer, walking once and picking up a pair of strikeouts. But he was just happy to be there.

"It’s a huge honor," he told CSN’s Kelly Crull. "Just to even be considered a future player in Major League Baseball is something that is very humbling and I just feel blessed to be here with so many great guys."

Bryant may be on the fast track to the big leagues, but don’t expect to see him in Chicago anytime this year.

When he does get the call, what position will Bryant be playing? He’s played only third base so far, but has 24 errors there in 117 career minor-league games. Many predict he could be in for a move to the outfield, but for right now, he told Crull he would like to stay at the hot corner.

"I think my defense has gotten a whole lot better," he said. "Coming into the year, there was a lot of talk about where I’d be playing - outfield, third base. But I think I’ve come in and worked really hard to stay at third base and I sure hope to stay there. But if the time comes where I need to move a position, I’m all for it."

CSNChicago.com

All-Star notes: Jeff Samardzjia has ‘wild’ experience

By Dan Hayes

MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Samardzija’s first All-Star experience was about as unique as they come. It’s surely one he won’t forget.

The ex-Cubs pitcher was announced with the National League All-Star team and then headed over to the American League dugout to join his new Oakland A’s teammates. Though he was picked to play in the game, Samardzija, who was traded to the A’s on July 4, couldn’t participate. So after he spent part of the pregame with former NL teammates, the right-hander headed to the AL clubhouse.

“It was pretty wild,” Samardzija said. “Unsettling I’d say because I couldn’t just hang out and get comfortable anywhere. I did the whole introduction and then went over to the AL side and once I put my A’s jersey and hang out with the team I was going to be with I was able to take a deep breath. But it was kind of weird to be out there in a blue shirt when everybody was wearing gray.

“You just kind of put a smile on and enjoy it and I had a great time, my first time here. It was awesome.”

As if it weren’t awkward enough, Samardzija’s former teammates, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, went head-to-head with A’s pitcher Sean Doolittle in the eighth inning. Doolittle struck out both.

“He’s got a power fastball and a great slider and he’s not scared,” Samardzija said. “He pounds the zone and makes you do something with it.”

Rizzo and Castro both gushed about their All-Star experiences even though both were limited. Castro played from the bottom of the sixth inning on while Rizzo had just the pinch-hit at-bat.

Both thoroughly enjoyed the Derek Jeter experience with Rizzo saying it gave him more goose bumps than he expected.

Sale hangs with Buehrle

Chris Sale said he spent a good amount of time with ex-White Sox teammate Mark Buehrle over the two days. They two caught up while shagging fly balls during batting practice on Monday. Sale would love if his career path ends up similar to Buehrle’s.

“I hope it looks something like his,” Sale said. “I don’t think I’ll ever win a Gold Glove, Im not known for my defensive skills. He’s hit a home run, won a World Series, was an All-Star, was a reliever, starter, 200 innings. You can write a book about him.”

Buehrle is 10-6 with a 2.64 ERA this season and earned his first All-Star selection since 2009 and fifth overall. The Toronto pitcher didn’t appear in the game.

They said it

— Jeter was informed during a postgame press conference that St. Louis pitcher Adam Wainwright said he grooved two pitches to Jeter in their first-inning showdown, one that resulted in a Jeter double to right.

“He grooved them?” Jeter said. “The first was a little cutter he threw down and away. He probably assumed I was swing, so he didn’t groove the first one.

The second one was about 98 two-seamer that stayed on really good —- I don’t know, man. If he grooved it, thank you. You still have to hit it. I appreciate if that’s what he did, thank you.”

— A reporter asked Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera whether or not he’d vote for Los Angeles’ Mike Trout for the AL MVP award this season. Cabrera, who has beat Trout in each of the last two AL MVP votes, smiled before answering.

“I don’t vote,” Cabrera said. “I play. You vote. That’s not my job.”

Other notes

— Texas pitcher Yu Darvish threw an eephus pitch during a third-inning matchup with Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki. The 57-mph pitch went for a ball. Tulowitzki lined out to left.

— Ex-Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez singled, scored a run and made a nice bare-handed stop and throw to rob Kansas City’s Salvador Perez of a hit —- all in the second inning. Ramirez later misplayed a Trout bouncer into an RBI double and doubled himself in his final at-bat. Ramirez finished 2-for-3.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs and White Sox All-Stars happy to be on hand

Despite so-so play, Chicago All-Stars all added incredible, indelible memories

By Paul Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS — Alexei Ramirez’s hugging skills were on full display Tuesday night during his All-Star Game debut.

The White Sox shortstop and Sox left-hander Chris Sale both entered Tuesday night’s game in the top of the fourth inning when American League manager John Farrell decided to lift Derek Jeter after Jeter had gone out to his position, a move meant to milk the moment for the Target Field crowd and national TV audience.

As Jeter came out, Ramirez entered the game and gave him a big hug, starting a wave of applause that lasted several minutes.

Sale had to wait out the long goodbye, and eventually gave up a two-out, RBI double to Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy that tied the game 3-3 before the AL eventually won 5-3.

Ramirez singled off Pat Neshek and later scored in the AL’s two-run fifth.

Jose Abreu entered in the sixth inning for Miguel Cabrera, and went 0-for-1 with an eighth-inning popout.

"Just looking around, the feeling I get, it’s just a thrill," Abreu said beforehand. "I just can’t wait to get back to Chicago. I almost can’t believe this has happened. It has been a great experience."

The experience featured a mix of young stars and old, and perhaps the proverbial passing of the torch from Jeter to Mike Trout.

Sale said he can’t imagine anyone in the game having the stature to take over for Jeter as baseball’s ambassador.

"How many people have his body of work?" Sale said. "And if they do, they’re in the Hall of Fame, so it’s just crazy to think about. I don’t think anyone will take it over. Obviously Jeter has been a big part of baseball years and years and years, almost two decades now.

"You have the new wave — Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and those kinds of guys who play to the level. Obviously the championships that Jeter has are just unbelievable.

"The playoffs, the hits, everything he has done. … To almost try to put someone else in that category, or take him off the pedestal and put someone else on, that’d be a tough dude to live up to. But through the years you’re going to find people showing up and kind of molding into that."

While all three Sox players got in by the middle of the night, though the Cubs duo of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro played a waiting game into the late innings.

Castro was inserted at short in the seventh inning, and struck out in the eighth inning. Rizzo, pinch hit in the eighth and also struck out. Rizzo didn’t seem to care whether he got in or not before the game. He was seizing the moment, knowing from a cancer scare that nothing in life is given.

"This is something I’ll never take for granted," Rizzo said. "This could be, for everyone in here, their last All-Star Game. You never know. Just cherish it."

Abreu did that as well, and his day was made even better by the fact his parents were able to travel to Minneapolis to watch him play, the first time they had seen him as a major leaguer.

"It’s a gift having them here next to me experiencing all this," Abreu said. "They’re so happy to be here and all of us are so appreciative of the opportunity. Being able to take this in with them at my side … they’re thrilled about being here."

Chicago Sun-Times

Caught between NL and AL, Jeff Samardzija just watches

By Daryl Van Schouwen

MINNEAPOLIS — Jeff Samardzija still has a lot of Cub in him, so waiting till next year shouldn’t be an issue.

The odd (Cubby?) occurrence of pitching like an All-Star for the Cubs despite winning only two games, only to be traded to the Oakland Athletics of the American League, prevented him from pitching in the All-Star Game. He participated and dressed like everyone else, much like an injured All-Star would. His news conference time Monday was spent on the National League side, and he was in the NL clubhouse and uniform during batting practice Tuesday. He thanked the players and manager Mike Matheny for their roles in getting him on the team, but he planned to spend the game in the AL dugout.

‘‘I don’t want this to be a big deal,’’ Samardzija said. ‘‘For me, if this becomes a big deal and a distraction, then it takes away from the week for me. You chalk it up as unfortunate timing, and I enjoy being here with all the guys and seeing how it goes and give me a little taste of it, and it gives me a reason to work a little harder and get back here next year and actually pitch at the game.’’

It’s tough to feel too sorry for the Shark. He is, after all, on his way to a postseason run with the A’s and putting life as a Cub in his rearview mirror after he was dealt in a blockbuster deal the Cubs believe bodes well for their future. The A’s, meanwhile, feel great about adding an All-Star to their rotation.

Samardzija did seem like the little lost orphan in the bunch who didn’t know quite where he belonged.

‘‘I don’t blame him,’’ Cubs All-Star Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘National League All-Star and best team in baseball in the American League. It’s well-deserved. I hope he enjoys it.’’

From the sound of it, he did.

‘‘This is my first one,’’ he said, ‘‘so I’m completely stoked to be here and happy to see all these guys I competed against for so many years and, at the same time, go into the AL dugout and get to meet all these guys I’m going to compete against for the rest of the season. Definitely a different experience, but I’m going to enjoy it for sure.’’

That he was destined to leave Chicago was almost a given since last season.

‘‘There was a lot of talk about it from last July on,’’ he said. ‘‘It became kind of a moot point for me because I was giving the same answer all the time —- I didn’t know anything.

‘‘Since it’s been done, it has been more about dealing with moving my sofa and my dog and my car and ending my lease and picking up a new lease and driving halfway across the country. So there’s other issues that come with it, but ultimately it comes down to baseball.’’

Cubs.com

Castro, Rizzo enjoy All-Star Game despite K’s

Cubs duo face tough left-hander in A’s Doolittle during eighth inning

By Mark Sheldon

MINNEAPOLIS — On a night dominated by a fond farewell to Derek Jeter and the hitting of Mike Trout and Jonathan Lucroy, it was a markedly lower-profile night at the 2014 All-Star Game for Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro.

The two young All-Stars, both 24 years old, had to wait their turn for quite a while on Tuesday at Target Field. Then they were dealt similar outcomes in their lone plate appearances.

Rizzo and Castro each struck out on foul tips vs. A’s lefty closer Sean Doolittle in the top of the eighth for the National League during the American League’s 5-3 win.

Castro, who replaced starter Troy Tulowitzki in the bottom of the sixth, struck out on a 95 mph fastball. On a 1-2 count as he pinch-hit for Giancarlo Stanton two batters later, Rizzo fanned on a 94 mph fastball from Doolittle.

Rizzo — the NL Final Vote winner to get into the Midsummer Classic for the first time — was elated by his All-Star experience before he even took the field.

"It’s been awesome," Rizzo said. "I’m really happy to have been able to do this and have my family here to join me. They’ve helped me so much along the way. I’m just soaking it all in."

What was his favorite part of the festivities?

"I enjoyed the [Gillette Home Run Derby] and watching the guys hit, but the parade was awesome," Rizzo said of the Tuesday afternoon red carpet parade downtown. "There were so many fans that came out here. They’ve been really nice. It’s been an experience I will never forget."

If nothing else, Rizzo was also able to mend fences with a foe-turned-temporary-teammate in Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. There were no issues when the two crossed paths for the first time since Rizzo sparked a benches-clearing incident on Thursday. In that game, he yelled at Chapman and approached the Reds’ dugout for throwing inside to teammate Nate Schierholtz.

"I don’t have a problem. There is no problem," Chapman said of Rizzo before the game and noted that they shook hands.

"We said hello," Rizzo said. "I don’t see why there would be anything else other than that. It’s something where it was the fifth game in four days, and a hot day. I talked to all of them — [Alfredo] Simon, [Johnny] Cueto [and Todd] Frazier. I was pulling for Frazier in the Derby. They’re great guys, they really are."

Castro was back on the NL squad for the third time in four seasons, after he was absent in 2013 amid his most disappointing year in the Majors.

"It’s really good for me, especially after the kind of year I had last year," Castro said of being back in an All-Star Game. "It’s helped me a lot with my confidence. Last year, I really struggled. This has been a new year. I’m happy to get to be here again. It’s been fun."

Castro, who is now 0-for-3 in All-Star Games, is hitting .276 with 11 home runs and 52 RBIs this season and already surpassed last year’s production totals of 10 homers and 44 RBIs with a .245 average in 161 games.

"I have a strong mind right now," Castro said. "I don’t think anything can pull me down. I trust myself. I think I have my confidence back."

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo took it all in at his first All-Star Game

By Mark Saxon

MINNEAPOLIS – Anthony Rizzo spent two days in Minneapolis, and all he got to show for it was a lousy strikeout. Similar story for his teammate Starlin Castro.

The two Chicago Cubs each struck out on foul tips while facing Oakland left-hander Sean Doolittle in the eighth inning of the American League’s 5-3 All-Star Game win Tuesday night.

But for a young player such as Rizzo, a first-time All-Star, the experience goes well beyond his limited playing time here. Rizzo, 24, had two days to soak up how the best baseball players on earth go about their business. He got to take batting practice among the best hitters in the game. He got to listen to advice from multiple-time All-Stars.

No particular bit of advice stuck with him, but he said he benefitted from getting the call and being around it all. Like most first-time All-Stars, Rizzo kept a low profile. The only loud, young player was Yasiel Puig, but that’s not unusual.

“I just came in and did what I always do,” Rizzo said. “You respect, obviously, everyone in here. You don’t want to be too loud around here. It’s my first time. Who knows if I’ll be back here again.”

Considering he’s 24 and has 20 home runs at the All-Star break, there’s a decent chance Rizzo will get back one day. Castro, who was playing in his third All-Star game, could become a perennial participant at the event.

Given how fragile success is in the game of baseball, you never take anything for granted.

ESPNChicago.com

Schwarber joins surging Almora at Daytona

By Jesse Rogers

GENEVA, Ill. — On Monday afternoon, Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick in June, was talking about just getting comfortable in his new surroundings not too far from Wrigley Field.

"Being at Indiana and losing on a walk-off in the [NCAA] regionals," Schwarber said after Single-A Kane County lost to Beloit 3-2, "then four days later being drafted by the Cubs, then going out to Chicago two days after that to get a physical done and the next day fly out to Boise and spend five days there. Now I’m finally trying to settle down. It’s been great, and I love it."

GENEVA, Ill. — On Monday afternoon, Kyle Schwarber, the Chicago Cubs’ first-round pick in June, was talking about just getting comfortable in his new surroundings not too far from Wrigley Field.

"Being at Indiana and losing on a walk-off in the [NCAA] regionals," Schwarber said after Single-A Kane County lost to Beloit 3-2, "then four days later being drafted by the Cubs, then going out to Chicago two days after that to get a physical done and the next day fly out to Boise and spend five days there. NowAbout three hours later, Schwarber got a phone call to start packing again. The Cubs promoted him from low Class A to high Class A in Daytona. There he’ll join Albert Almora, one day after the Cubs’ 2012 first-round pick hit for the cycle in a 5-for-7 performance.

Schwarber hasn’t done that yet, but he has done just about everything else at the plate since being drafted in June. He batted .361 with a .448 on-base percentage, four home runs and 15 RBIs in just 23 games at Kane County. That’s not unlike the immediate success of 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant after he was taken No. 2 overall. The difference is Schwarber has a head start on his career as he signed a contract — and started playing — immediately after being drafted. Bryant nearly waited until a mid-July deadline.

"I’m getting a little taste of it right now," Schwarber said. "It’s great to play every day. I’m thankful to the Cubs for giving me a chance to get to my ultimate goal, playing professional ball at the highest point."

He got one step closer Monday, which was one of his worst days as a pro. Schwarber went 0-for-4 against Beloit. Watching him at the plate, you wouldn’t know he was the fourth overall choice in the amateur draft. But that was just one day.

"It happens," he said. "O-fers are going to happen. I have to realize that. Can’t be too negative on yourself because that will hurt you sometimes. … It’s a little bit rougher on me because I pride myself on my hitting. But this is a new ballgame here."

Schwarber didn’t mention many specific differences between college and the pros. Maybe that’s why he’s hitting a combined .408 between his time in the Midwest League at Boise and Kane County.

The Cubs believed he “was ready for the competition in the Florida State League,” according to one official. The biggest remaining question is about his defense: Where will he play long term?

"I love catching," Schwarber said. "If they want me to do something else, [that’s fine]. Right now it sounds like I’m going to get a lot of reps at catcher."

At Kane County, he played nine games at catcher, eight in the outfield and was the designated hitter for six. In other words, it’s still not determined where he fits in and won’t be until at least this offseason. The Cubs have said a decision will be made at that point, but Schwarber is aware a good hitting catcher is a nice commodity to have at the major league level.

"I realize that, and I want to get better defensively," he said. "But the outfield isn’t foreign to me."

Maybe the biggest surprise for Schwarber so far is how his teammates have treated him. It isn’t always easy being the new guy in town, let alone one who is an instant millionaire the moment he’s drafted.

"I thought it was going to be a lot different," he said, "being the new guy and especially being picked first. It could have been a different story for everyone."

He won’t have the problem of being the only first-round pick on the team anymore, as Almora has been just as highly touted since being taken sixth overall in 2012. Schwarber and Almora have been described as potential future leaders due to their personality (Schwarber) and high baseball IQ (Almora). Now they’ll play together.

Almora started out slow this season as the Cubs asked him to do a little more at the plate — much like they asked Starlin Castro last season. Once Almora settled back in, the numbers have gone in the right direction. He is batting .383 in July and has doubled his season home run total with three homers this month.

Schwarber has kept track of it all from a distance. Now he’ll get a closer look. Asked how much he keeps up with the other top picks and promotions within the organization, including Arismendy Alcantara’s recent rise to the big leagues, Schwarber said: “They’re being good role models for all of us. Shows what hard work does.”

15 7 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo has nothing to apologize for at ASG

By Ben Goessling

MINNEAPOLIS — Through an odd turn of events, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo — who has never run afoul of the Minnesota Twins, has played only three games at Target Field and hasn’t had a hit there — could get booed in his first All-Star Game.

“I thought about that,” he said. “Minnesota fans are nice, though.”

He’ll find out Tuesday night if they’ll live up to that reputation.

Rizzo became a temporary heel in Minnesota last week, when he narrowly beat out Colorado Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau for the final spot on the National League All-Star team. He won the final vote ballot despite an enthusiastic effort from the Twins and their fans to get Morneau — who made four All-Star teams and won the 2006 AL MVP with the Twins — back to Minneapolis for the All-Star Game.

Morneau will participate in Monday’s Home Run Derby, which should give the 33-year-old his moment with the fans who supported him for 11 seasons.

But Rizzo’s power numbers compare favorably to Morneau’s, and the 24-year-old Cub wasn’t about to apologize for the All-Star selection after an eventful 3 1/2-year stretch that saw him go from Boston Red Sox prospect to San Diego Padres rookie to Cubs slugger.

“I was very impressed — very nervous and impressed. [Morneau] had a lot of great years here,” Rizzo said. “I got 8.8 million votes, so that’s getting your name out there a little more in the national spotlight. It was nerve-racking, but I also hit a few home runs [last week] to keep it going.”

ESPNChicago.com

Ratings: Sox up, Cubs down; few watching

By Jon Greenberg

The White Sox’s ratings are up and the Cubs’ ratings are down, but both teams share something in common: Very few people are watching either last-place team, at least not on Comcast SportsNet Chicago.

If CSN televised Marc Trestman watching mini-camp film, it would probably beat both teams in ratings.

Both the Cubs’ and White Sox’s local cable ratings at the All-Star break are in the bottom five of the 29 U.S.-based teams, according to a Sports Business Journal study of Nielsen ratings for regional sports networks.

The last-place Cubs rank No. 25 with a 1.48 average rating, that’s down 7 percent from this point last season and 8 percent overall, according to information provided to ESPN Chicago by Sports Business Journal writer John Ourand.

Right now, the Sox, essentially tied with last-place Minnesota in the AL Central, have the fourth-highest gain in baseball, up 16 percent from this point last season and 24 percent from last year’s final numbers.

Unfortunately, that’s only good enough for a 1.39 rating, and only two teams are lower.

The two teams’ household averages are stunningly close, 52,000 for the Cubs and 49,000 for the White Sox, Nos. 21 and 22, respectively, in baseball.

It’s not like everyone’s flocking to the ballparks either. The Cubs are down slightly (179 fans) from this point last season, averaging 32,469 in paid attendance, while the Sox are down around 1,700 fans per game from this point last season, and are the third-worst draw in baseball at 20,657.

The Milwaukee Brewers, whose ratings are up 32 percent, have more households watching games per average, 54,000, than both teams despite being the No. 34 Nielsen DMA market, compared to No. 3.

Last season, the Cubs ended with a dismal 1.6 rating, while the White Sox were essentially last with a 1.14. Only Houston, which had major carriage problems with its RSN, CSN Houston, was lower.

Comcast SportsNet Chicago senior director of communications Jeff Nuich told ESPN Chicago that Sox ratings are up 30 percent, compared to 2013 final numbers, in the key adults 25-54 demographic. The Cubs are down 11 percent in that demographic.

It didn’t use to be this way.

Five years ago, the year after both teams last made the playoffs, Cubs’ ratings were down 16.3 percent for the season, their last under Tribune Co. ownership, but their average rating was still a hearty 4.18. Their household average was 145,000, the fourth-highest in baseball.

In 2009, the Sox actually had an 8.1 percent jump with a 2.28 rating and were up 9.6 with 80,000 households tuned in.

The Cubs are the only team among the NL Central not in the top five of average ratings, according to SBJ. While the Detroit Tigers lead baseball with a 7.52, the next four teams are in the Central: the Cardinals (7.45), Pirates (6.37), Reds (6.37) and the Brewers (5.91).

This freefall comes at a particularly bad time for the Cubs, who are searching for a home for almost half of their TV inventory next season. The WGN portion of their TV deal is up and there has been no word on a new home yet.

In a recent Chicago Tribune article, contributor Ed Sherman wrote that WGN is losing a reported $200,000 per game because of low ratings. He also reported the Cubs could put those “70 to 75” WGN games on a multicast channel, a “sub-channel for local over-the-air broadcast stations,” for a few years until they can put all their games on one branded network.

The Cubs have been promising their fans that more money for their now-middling major league payroll will come partly from new TV deals. which have exploded into multi-billion dollars megadeals across baseball.

Fans might have to wait for 2020 for owner Tom Ricketts’ pocketbook to open, because that’s when the Comcast deal ends and Wrigley Field renovations are expected to be done, to see that come to fruition.

Until then, both teams could use a few hours of your time a night.

ESPNChicago.com

First-half positives: The kids can play

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — As the first half of the Chicago Cubs’ season comes to an end, it might go down as the most positive of the three under president of baseball operations Theo Epstein. And that’s with a 40-54 record. The positives extend from the majors down to Triple-A. Here are five of them — ranked in order — with five negatives coming on Tuesday:

1. Kris Bryant

A minor leaguer is at the top of the list because Bryant hasn’t slowed down since he was drafted No. 2 overall last season. And he’s vaulted to the top of the Cubs’ prospect standings with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs at the break. He has 107 combined strikeouts in Double-A and Triple-A, but that’s meaningless as he’s hit a combined .346.

“You have to give something to get something,” Bryant said recently of striking out.

The Cubs will take those totals — or anything close to it — once he gets to the majors. As sure things go, and there are few if any in baseball, he comes the closest. And his pattern has been the same since college: a small period of struggles followed by adjustments followed by a streak that hasn’t stopped. Bryant may not make it to Wrigley Field this year, but he’ll be there soon enough.

With right-handed power a premium in baseball these days, Bryant stands as a potential franchise-changing player.

2. Jake Arrieta

While many believed Arrieta had the stuff of an ace or at least a No. 2 pitcher, there seemed to be a need for some gradual advancement. He missed all of spring training because of a sore shoulder that set him back further and then came out of the gate in May looking just OK. He took off after a few starts and hasn’t looked back, flirting with no-hitters and perfect games. His stuff has been insanely good and hard to hit. He would be third in the majors in ERA (1.95) if he qualified, behind Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright. That’s some pretty good company. He’ll still need to perform throughout the second half to stamp himself as an elite hurler, but right now Arrieta is proving his head has caught up to his arm.

3. The Bullpen

Yes, this ranks higher than Starlin Castro or Anthony Rizzo because, if we take a step back, that duo’s resurgence isn’t all that surprising. One was a two-time All-Star before this season and the other had only to raise his batting average from last year to advance his game. But the bullpen has been a sore spot since the day Epstein & Co. arrived on the scene. Their mistakes with Carlos Marmol and Jose Veras will be long forgotten if the young arms they employ now take the proper steps. No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted Neil Ramirez as a lockdown setup man (1.08 ERA, 3 saves) and Hector Rondon accumulating 11 saves in the first half. And remember, one was acquired in the Rule 5 draft (Rondon) and the other (Ramirez) was a player to be named later in the Matt Garza deal. There are no guarantees with the bullpen from one year to the next, but these arms have a chance of sticking around for a while and growing together.

4. Starlin Castro/Anthony Rizzo

There were many doubters of both players, but Rizzo’s and Castro’s All-Star selections tell the story of their first half. They both deserve it, especially in putting up numbers with very little help around them in the lineup. It’s not about protection, it’s about pitching stress. Opponents felt very little of it until Rizzo and Castro came up in the lineup, and then they could “relax” again for another inning or two. When they get more dangerous hitters around them — think Arismendy Alcantara and Kris Bryant — their numbers might go up even more. Rizzo and Castro were roundly criticized and had major issues at the plate last season and both responded with first halves that have them at Tuesday’s game in Minnesota instead of vacationing.

5. Arismendy Alcantara

Five games hardly makes a career — think back to Junior Lake last season — but there is definitely something about Alcantara that should excite the most pessimistic Cubs fan. Unlike Lake, Alcantara has been moving up in the prospect rankings for several years. There are many in the game who have scouted him and more than liked what they’ve seen. His switch-hitting ability, his defensive prowess in the infield and outfield, his surprising power for his size and his speed put him in a great position to succeed. That’s not to mention his baseball instincts, which those who played with him at Triple-A Iowa rave about. More than anything, he represents the future of the Cubs. Not some ambiguous idea of rebuilding but an actual product of the farm system who’s shown a lot of talent. He was an extra-base machine in Iowa this year and already has five extra-base hits in five games in the majors. Now he needs to make a major league career out of it and the Cubs might have found their leadoff man of the future.

Honorable mention: Wrigley Renovations

Before Sunday’s first-half finale, Rizzo discussed with reporters the need for an improved clubhouse, as all the new amenities, he claims, will help the players prepare for games. Rizzo should finally get his wish as renovations have been approved by the city and construction is getting ready to begin. The Cubs may have some tough days ahead with rooftop owners, but at least the hurdles of starting have been overcome and Rizzo should get his new clubhouse in due time.

CSNChicago.com

Javier Baez feels ready for call from Cubs

By Tony Andracki

Javier Baez is looking to follow in Arismendy Alcantara’s footsteps again.

Alcantara crushed a homer into the upper deck in last year’s Futures Game at New York’s Citi Field, putting himself on the map. Baez followed suit during the All-Star showcase on Sunday night in Minneapolis.

Baez deposited a breaking ball into Target Field’s right-field seats, beating Lucas Giolito, the Washington Nationals prospect who’s one of the top young arms in the game.

Alcantara beat Baez to Wrigley Field with a fantastic first half (.890 OPS) at Triple-A Iowa. But Baez is getting back on the fast track everyone saw before the season started.

After clubbing 37 homers between advanced Class-A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee last year, the assumption was Baez would continue to mash at Triple-A and earn a midseason call-up that would make him the first big prospect to hit the North Side in this rebuild.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but that won’t stop Baez.

"I’d say I’m ready [for the big leagues],” Baez said. “I just gotta make my adjustments and keep hitting and swinging at strikes.”

That over-aggressiveness has been the knock on Baez.

With his Gary Sheffield bat speed, Baez can hit any pitch out at any time, which strikes fear into opposing pitchers. But swinging at pitches out of the zone also means he gets himself out sometimes, and he doesn’t take many walks.

"Triple-A is different than Double-A," Baez said. "Over here, we got a lot of guys who know how to pitch to you, and they’re going to make you chase until you learn how to not swing at that pitch.

"I’m still working on [pitch selection]. I’m getting better. I don’t want to get to the plate and just look for a walk. I’m just trying to look for a good pitch to swing at and hit it hard."

Baez got off to a slow start with Iowa, hitting .215 with a .695 OPS through June 18, while walking only 15 times in 60 games.

But ever since Kris Bryant joined the Iowa lineup on June 19, Baez is hitting .303/.388/.506 (.894 OPS) with 13 walks in 24 games. Of course, that was also around the same time Manny Ramirez joined the team.

Baez credited both Bryant and Ramirez with helping him take strides at Triple-A, allowing him to feel more comfortable and protected in the lineup.

"They gotta pitch to one of us," Baez said.

Baez hopes to soon join forces with “Mendy” and Bryant at Wrigley Field.

All three players have emerged as a big part of the future, but Alcantara has only five big-league games under his belt, Bryant is less than a month into his Triple-A career and Baez is still just 21 years old.

Baez said he hasn’t heard anything from Theo Epstein’s front office about his timeline or a potential call-up to Chicago in the second half. But he’s ready whenever the phone rings.

"I don’t worry about that stuff," Baez said. "I’m just going to keep coming every day and doing my job and work hard every day."

CSNChicago.com

Unfortunate timing won’t ruin Samardzjia’s first All-Star Game

By Dan Hayes

MINNEAPOLIS — He’s in limbo, but Jeff Samardzija doesn’t want to let his precarious position ruin his first All-Star week.

Traded to the Oakland A’s earlier this month, Samardzija can’t participate in Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Target Field because he was picked to represent the National League after a stellar start to the season with the Cubs.

Though he joked Monday that he’d love to pitch a complete inning, one half for each league, Samardzija said he doesn’t want to be a distraction.

“Do I get warmup pitches in between I guess is the question if that happens,” Samardzija said in an afternoon press conference for NL players. “I don’t want this to be a big deal. For me, if this becomes a big deal and a distraction, then it takes away from the week for me. Asking for something like that is too much.”

Aside from the hassle of a cross-country move, Samardzija sees lots of pluses after a blockbuster deal that brought him and ex-Cubs pitcher Jason Hammel to Oakland in exchange for a bushel of top prospects, including Double-A shortstop Addison Russell. Samardzija went from a team that isn’t in contention this season to one with the best record in baseball. Even though the trade disqualifies him from participation, Samardzija’s pretty ecstatic about his new home.

“I’m excited to be on the team I’m on and they went out of their way to come get me and I’m going to live up to all the expectations they have for me,” Samardzija said. “The team I’m on, they deserve a lot of respect and don’t get talked about as much as they nearly should. They’re an amazing squad and I’m excited to be a part of their team and look forward to the rest of the year with them.”

Still, Samardzija would love the chance to pitch on Tuesday. But with his glass more than half full, Samardzija said he sees it as motivation to earn an All-Star nod in 2015 in Cincinnati.

“You chock it up as unfortunate timing and I enjoy being here with all the guys and seeing how it goes and give me a little taste of it and its gives me a reason to work a little harder and get back here next year and actually pitch at the game,” Samardzija said. “I’m just looking at the positive light of things and we’ll go from there.”

CSNChicago.com

David Price: Winning World Series with Cubs would be “coolest”

By Dan Hayes

MINNEAPOLIS — David Price sees the foundation being built by the Cubs and senses plenty of happy times ahead.

The Tampa Bay Rays pitcher spoke hypothetically about his future at an All-Star Game press conference on Monday and said he believes no championship celebration would be sweeter than one experienced by the Cubs and their long-suffering fans, who have waited 106 years.

Price is not sure where he’ll wind up if he’s traded in the next few months or when he becomes a free agent in 2016, but the 2012 American League Cy Young winner sees how the Cubs have stockpiled top prospects after the trade of Jeff Samardzija and finds their future full of intrigue.

“Winning absolutely is something you want to do,” Price told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Being a part of something special is also something you want to do. You can take that to a first-place team. You could take that all the way to a last-place team like the Cubs. With the talent they have coming up they could be a very special team in a few years as well. That would probably be the coolest city to win a championship in. They haven’t done it in I’m not sure how long. To do that there that would be the coolest city to win a championship in right now.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Almora hits for cycle

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Monday: Off.

Trending: 10-for-40 (.250) during 10-game hitting streak, 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season:  84 games, .240 batting average, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Monday :  Off.

Trending:  13-for-38 (.342), 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 5 runs, 8 RBIs.

Season: 92 games, .346 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Monday vs. Jacksonville: 1-for-3, double, walk.

Trending: 6-for-18 (.333), RBI, walk, 3 strikeouts, stolen base.

Season: 25 games, .275 batting average, 1 home run, 10 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday vs. Jacksonville: 0-for-3, RBI, strikeout.

Trending: 12-for-26 (.462), 2 doubles, 5 home runs, 11 RBIs, 3 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  22 games, .397 batting average, 6 home runs, 24 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Monday vs. Jupiter: 5-for-7, 4 runs, double, triple, home run, 5 RBIs.

Trending: 17-for-43 (.395), 3 doubles, triple, 3 home runs, 10 RBIs.

Season: 82 games, .276 batting average, 6 home runs, 47 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs top pick Schwarber promoted to Daytona

By Paul Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS — Catcher Kyle Schwarber, the Cubs’ first-round draft pick, is advancing quickly in his first month of professional baseball.

Schwarber was promoted to Class-A Daytona on Monday after hitting .361 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 23 games at low-A Kane County. He began his career at short-season Boise, and was promoted to Kane County after only five games.

In 28 games overall, the Indiana University product is hitting .408 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs with a 1.231 OPS.

Chicago Tribune

Jeff Samardzija All-Star for both teams, sort of

Ex-Cubs pitcher will be introduced with NL stars, will watch game with A’s mates in AL dugout

By Paul Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS — The biggest mystery surrounding Tuesday’s All-Star Game is where A’s pitcher Jeff Samardzija will wind up.

Should Samardzija sit in the National League dugout with the players who voted him to their team as a Cub, or take a seat in the American League dugout with his six A’s teammates?

"I think he’s going just stand in the middle of the field and just be awkward," A’s catcher Derek Norris predicted.

While the Midsummer Classic figures to be Derek Jeter’s night, a player who definitely won’t participate was one of the most in demand for interviews Monday.

"Kind of a crazy ordeal," A’s third baseman Josh Donaldson said.

Samardzija said he doesn’t want it to be “a big deal,” but it already is. He was asked several times Monday what jersey he’ll wear, and replied “a blank one” most of the time.

"It’s not really unique," Samardzija said. "It’s just the way things happened. The timing (of the trade from the Cubs to the A’s) is unfortunate, but I’m really excited to get to experience two teams.

"I get to work out with the National League team and thank those guys for bringing me here and speaking up and saying I belong here. … And then during the game I get to go be part of the AL and see that side of things and meet those guys I’ll be facing in the near future."

In 2004, Carlos Beltran wasn’t voted in for the American League as a member of the Royals, but MLB allowed Beltran to be named to the NL team as an injury replacement after he was traded to the Astros. Beltran went 1-for-2 off the bench, scoring a run.

But since Samardzija was voted to the NL team, MLB decided he can’t play for either team.

"I feel like he should be allowed to pitch in the game," Tigers pitcher Max Scherzer said. "I understand that he was elected on the National League side and now he’s on the American League side. It’s such a ‘what do you do’ type of situation."

Samardzija found out about his sticky situation from players’ union head Tony Clark, who sent him a long text about his status as a non-pitcher.

"He was explaining that it had never happened before (to a player voted in), so we’re kind of setting a precedent if anything happens in the future like this," Samardzija said. "Ultimately he was relaying to me that he just wanted me to enjoy the festivities and soak in the atmosphere, and anything after that was gravy. I agree 100 percent, man. … I don’t have to pitch, so my anxiety level is at an all-time low."

Samardzija couldn’t be happier being with the A’s, a team full of free spirits with which he’ll fit like a glove. He said he has never been around guys that talked so much baseball, though he didn’t reveal what the Cubs talked about.

Asked about leaving the Cubs, the hometown team he once had a no-trade contract with, Samardzija said he didn’t feel any sadness.

"There was no time for emotions, no time for reflections or anything," Samardzija said. "When you get traded over to a team that’s in first place, you’re obligated to give all your time and attention to that team. So I’m not going to sit and reminisce.

"I’ll save that for later. … I’m excited to be on the team I’m on. They went out of their way to come get me, and I’m going to live up to all the expectations that they have for me."

Chicago Tribune

Young Cubs stars threatened with demotions last season thrilled to be All-Stars

By Paul Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS — It was only 15 months ago that then-Cubs manager Dale Sveum threatened to send struggling young stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to the minors.

"No one wants to go down to the minor leagues," Rizzo said that day. "Whatever happens happens."

What happened was Rizzo and Castro endured subpar seasons, Sveum was fired at season’s end, and now both players are representing the Cubs in Tuesday’s All-Star Game at Target Field.

Redemption never felt so good.

"Oh, yeah, after that bad year I had last year, it’s going to be a good one," Castro said. "A perfect one, because now I’ve got that confidence back to keep going every year."

Castro, voted in by players, will appear in his third game, while Rizzo is making his All-Star debut, after being voted in by fans in the National League Final Vote.

"A lot of people write you off so quick in this game," Rizzo said. "It’s not unfair, but it is what it is. Castro, I’m really happy for him. We’re both happy to be here and happy to be here together too."

Sveum was let go in part because of his tough-love managing style, particularly toward Castro. New manager Rick Renteria has seemingly had a positive effect on the shortstop, who chafed under Sveum’s criticism.

"We talk a lot," Castro said of Renteria and his staff. "They’ve got confidence in us, they trust us, they’re letting us play baseball and that’s the kind of thing you want. You have your talent. You know who you can be, and that’s what you need — people that trust you and let you play."

Before meeting with the media Monday, Rizzo made sure to say hello to Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. He said their feud during Thursday’s game at Great American Ball Park is officially history.

"It’s over with now," Rizzo said. "This experience isn’t about that. This is about enjoying the week."

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco may have to be the middleman, just in case.

"I’m sure it will be fine here, with it being the All-Star Game and us being on the same team," Mesoraco said. "I wouldn’t expect any problems."

The feud began when Chapman buzzed Cubs outfielder Nate Schierholtz twice in the same at-bat. Rizzo yelled at Chapman from the dugout rail, then went over to challenge the Reds dugout the next inning after some Reds players were chirping at him.

"Aroldis lost a couple pitches and they were up by (Schierholtz’s) head," Mesoraco said. "Which, you know, anybody is going to take (umbrage) and they’re not going to be happy with that.

"Rizzo was sticking up for his guys, which, as a leader, is what your teammates would like to see. So it’s part of baseball at this point."

Rizzo agreed with Mesoraco’s assessment.

"That’s all it was," Rizzo said. "We were on our fifth game in four days, and they had kind of had our number for the first four games. Tempers flared and obviously when you settle down and dissect it… "

The incident also took place during the final minutes of the Final Vote balloting for the NL All-Star squad. Rizzo joked he had an ulterior motive.

"I needed the Final Votes," he said with a laugh.

Chicago Sun-Times

All-Stars Starlin Castro, Anthony Rizzo are on board with Cubs’ ‘patience’ doctrine

By Daryl Van Schouwen

MINNEAPOLIS — This whole patience thing is wearing thin on Cubs fans, most of whom haven’t seen their team play in a World Series, let alone win one.

Just when they started to win on enough of a regular basis two weeks ago to remind people what competitive baseball feels like, they shipped off All-Star right-hander Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics and slipped back into lousy again.

It’s tough being a Cubs fan.

It’s tough being a Cub.

“It’s tough sometimes because we want to win,’’ All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro said Monday at the All-Star media session. “But those people up there, the president and the general manager, they do a pretty good job. Fairly soon we’ll be a good team because we have a lot of great, young players. They’re all about preparation.’’

Preparing for sustained success makes sense, but when you are an All-Star talent, sustained losing can strain your patience.

“I believe in them, but it’s tough to lose,’’ Castro said. “We keep grinding.’’

Excuse All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo for sounding like a company man when he agrees with Castro, but he seems to get what management is doing, too. He doesn’t have to like it, but he understands it.

“Obviously, you want to win,’’ Rizzo said from the table next to Castro’s. “It’s winning first and then everything else. But [patience is] what you have to have in this game. Our front office is very smart. They know what they’re ­doing.”

Cubs fans want to see minor-league prospects who seem ready now, such as third baseman Kris Bryant, in a major-league uniform.

“They had some patience with me,” said Rizzo, who hit .342 at Class AAA Iowa in 2012 after the Cubs acquired him from the San Diego Padres. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer knew he brought Rizzo up too soon when he was the Padres’ GM and wasn’t going to rush him this time.

“I wasn’t called up and did great my first go-around [with the Cubs],’’ Rizzo said. “We’re in the right direction. The whole organization knows it, and we feel it.’’

For Castro and Rizzo, this two-day getaway on one of the game’s big stages is refreshing. Both have been through rough times. Rizzo, after agreeing to a seven-year, $41 ­million deal in May 2013, finished the season with a .233 average, although he hit 23 homers and 40 doubles. Castro hit a career-low .245.

“A lot of people write you off in this game,’’ Rizzo said. “It’s unfair, but it is what it is. For Castro, I’m happy for him because he’s got a lot better at shortstop, too. And that’s a big key for our team. We’re both happy to be here.’’

Castro was asked if he felt anxious about the Cubs’ surplus of young shortstop prospects with Javy Baez and Addison Russell, who was acquired in the

Samardzija trade. He is, after all, an All-Star.

“No, no,’’ he said. “Last year helped my mentality for all of those things. I have a strong mind, and I’ve learned a lot about the game. And nobody can put me down. I know who I am and I know what I can do.’’

Just you wait and see.

Daily Herald

The $1 million solution to All-Star Game woes

By Mike Imrem

Baseball is having a difficult time squeezing into the public consciousness these days.

The NBA and World Cup hijacked the summer calendar until NFL training camps take over next week.

About all there is to say about baseball is that the All-Star Game — the latest edition scheduled for tonight in Minneapolis — is broken.

Oh, and then there are all the suggestions of how to put the event back together again.

The remedy is so uncomplicated that I’m almost embarrassed to have to be the one to raise it.

Since I’m an expert at being embarrassed, here goes: The commissioner of baseball should command each manager to do whatever it takes to win the game.

Of course, the Red Sox’ John Farrell and Cardinals’ Mike Matheny likely would snicker at Bud Selig and then fall asleep in the dugout by the third inning like the rest of America does.

There’s a remedy for that, too: Offer $1 million — winner take all — to the manager that manages to manage a victory.

In the All-Star Game’s prime, everybody from league presidents to the managers to the players to fans to broadcasters to journalists cared who won.

Then over the decades everything possible was done to merge the leagues into one and make the so-called Midsummer Classic more an intramural exercise than an intraleague competition.

No longer are there league presidents. The umpires move back and forth between the leagues. So do players.

The American League and National League are one big bowl of soup now. Interleague play eliminated the novelty of Clayton Kershaw pitching to Jose Abreu.

Selig was desperate to take what had become an exhibition and somehow sell it to TV as an actual game.

So now the league that wins what essentially still is an exhibition receives home-field advantage in the World Series.

Clearly desperation is the mother of dumbness.

Something smarter is called for and bribing the managers is the answer.

When this game was really a game, the starting pitchers pitched as many as 3 innings. Let Adam Wainwright and Felix Hernandez pitch 3 innings tonight.

Then line up the rest of the pitchers however makes sense during the final six innings and extras if necessary.

Also when the game was really a game, the stars of stars like Willie Mays would play all night if the game took that long.

Mays wanted to win anytime he took the field. So did Pete Rose and Ted Williams and Stan Musial and Whitey Ford and all that gang.

Farrell should stick with the likes of Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera all game, as should Matheny with the likes of Troy Tulowitzki and Andrew McCutchen.

Pull Derek Jeter in the late innings for a defensive replacement. Pull Yasiel Puig at any time if he dogs it.

Generally play to win and specifically manage to win.

Not every player on each team has to get into the game. Some might be greats back home but in Minnesota tonight they’re basically reserves.

That means Farrell and Matheny can use them to help secure victory or not use them when others fit better in particular game situations.

If feelings are bruised, so be it. Players already qualifed for their all-star bonuses and that should be all that they’re guaranteed.

On the mound or in the batter’s box, when players do get on the field they’ll always try to succeed anyway so they aren’t embarrassed on a big stage.

The managers are the ones that need an incentive to try to make all the right moves and $1 million is a pretty good one.

There you have it … problem solved … you can thank me now or you can thank me later.

Daily Herald

Some good, but a lot of bad for Cubs

By Bruce Miles

Give Cubs manager Rick Renteria credit for one thing: He stays on message.

Whether his team is going well or poorly, there’s seldom a discouraging word to be heard from Renteria.

The Cubs ended the unofficial first half of the season — they’re actually 58 percent of the way through — Sunday with a 10-7 loss to Atlanta, sending them into the all-star break at 40-54.

At one point, the Cubs were on pace to lose 108 games. They picked up the pace in mid-May, but after the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, they may have to fend off the possibility of free-fall.

That doesn’t seem to faze Renteria, who was his usual positive self when asked to assess things at the break.

"More than anything, building up confidence and playing as a team, not giving up, continuing to chip away," he said.

"I think they’ve been playing hard pretty much all season. That’s one of the things we were hoping to get done, and I think they’re doing it."

Here is a look at some of the good and some of the bad so far. First, the good:

Castro and Rizzo

From the moment last season ended and manager Dale Sveum was fired, all eyes were on shortstop Starlin Castro and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Would they respond to Renteria’s easygoing demeanor better than they did to Sveum’s tough love?

The answer is obvious as both players were in Minneapolis Sunday night as all-stars.

Castro has thrived as an unlikely cleanup hitter, going .276/.326/.440 with 11 homers and a team-leading 52 RBI. All of last season, he hit 10 home runs and had 44 RBI.

Rizzo is at .275/.381/.499 with a team-leading 20 home runs and 49 RBI batting one spot ahead of Castro. Last year, he hit 23 homers and drove in 80 while batting .233.

The new ace

Right-hander Jake Arrieta missed spring-training game action due to a shoulder ailment. He came back in May, and since the first of that month, he has the second-best ERA (1.95) in baseball, behind only the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (1.81 since May 1).

Arrieta, whom they got a year ago from Baltimore, always has had good stuff and a live arm. Now, he’s harnessed his command and made good use of a nasty slider/cutter.

The kids in the pen

The Cubs’ front office has made two mistakes at closer, signing Kyuji Fujikawa before last year and Jose Veras before this season.

Fujikawa is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery after pitching in only 12 games last year. The Cubs cut their losses with Veras by designating him for assignment June 3.

Team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer may not have to go that route again. Hector Rondon, a Rule 5 pick before last year, has done a creditable job as closer, with 11 saves in 14 chances. He has struck out 39 in 34⅓ innings.

Hard-throwing Neil Ramirez has fanned 34 in 25⅔ innings. He could either stay in the pen or become a starter someday. Local guy Brian Schlitter made the team out of spring training and has pitched well.

Of course, with a record of 40-54, there is plenty of bad. Here is some of it:

The OBP blues

The batters still aren’t doing enough to get on base. The team on-base percentage of .298 ranks 14th in the National League, and the walks total (259) is 11th. Rizzo leads them in walks with 53, and Luis Valbuena is second at 35. The Cubs are trying to stock their farm system with hitters with good approaches, but it will be some time before they’re all here.

Jackson and Wood

If the Cubs are to have any chance to avoid flirting with 100 losses, they need much better performances from veteran starting pitchers Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood.

The Jackson signing — four years and $52 million before last season — has been a disaster. After going 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA last year, Jackson is 5-10 with a 5.64 ERA and a WHIP of 1.58 this year. Of his 19 starts, only 5 have been quality starts.

Wood was an all-star last year, but his first half has been forgettable, with a 7-8 record, 4.96 ERA and 1.49 WHIP.

Not ready for prime time

Third baseman Mike Olt had a job waiting for him, and outfielder Junior Lake figured to see plenty of playing time after showing flashes of exciting raw ability in the second half of last season.

Both are whiffing on their chances. And each might be better served working things out in the minor leagues.

Olt has a sickly hitting line of .144/.230/.367, albeit with 12 homers. He has struck out 79 times in 204 plate appearances for an alarming strikeout rate of 38.7 percent.

Lake is at .218/.245/.377 with 9 home runs, and he has struck out a team-leading 93 times in 270 plate appearances for a K rate of 34.4 percent.

Lake and the all-but-forgotten Nate Schierholtz (.204/.250/.314) have lost playing time to surging Justin Ruggiano and Chris Coghlan.

Olt is now a backup to veteran utility man Valbuena, and the emergence of exciting rookie second baseman-outfielder Arismendy Alcantara may leave the Cubs with no other choice but to send Olt out when infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio comes off the disabled list.

Even that has failed to get Renteria down. He called one team meeting after one early-season game to address sloppy play, but that’s it.

"The biggest thing we try to focus and concentrate on is making sure they give us a good effort," he said. "That’s the only thing I can tell you that bothers me the most, when we don’t get a good effort. I think we all approach it differently. Out of sight, you have conversations when you have to to (deal) with things like that. But for the most part, these guys have been going out and giving us a good effort every day."

Daily Herald

Cubs’ trade stings a bit, but it was the right move

By Len Kasper

Now that the shock of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel deal has worn off, I don’t think there should be much question about what the Cubs did and why they did it. Trading Samardzija was inevitable so why wait until next year when you are more likely to be in buy mode?

The Cubs wanted pitching in return, but they couldn’t find a trade partner willing to give them prospects with a ceiling as high as Addison Russell’s. The fact that he’s a shortstop and not a pitcher is not something to worry about. The Cubs were dealing for “want” (as in they want as much talent as they can find regardless of position) as opposed to “need” (as in you might not get the best prospect because you’re seeking a position as much as a player). This is the best way to pile up talent in the system. Get the best players period and sort out where they’re going to play later.

I have had some interesting conversations with fans in the aftermath who claim to understand what the Cubs are doing but then in the next breath wonder why they couldn’t have kept Samardzija and pushed for contention or at least a better record this season.

Look, I completely understand that fans desperately want the team to win and win now. “Waiting” and “patience” and “slow steady progress” aren’t fun words and phrases. Die-hard fans are an emotional bunch and view their favorite team through a win-now prism.

But the reality is, most successful organizations operate with a cold, objective, somewhat removed vantage point. Yes, they know their players better than anyone, but they cannot view their roster like fans do.

Were the Cubs playing their best baseball when the Samardzija trade happened? Yes. Did the trade make the team worse? Of course it did. The Cubs’ top two pitchers were removed from the equation.

But what fans need to understand (even if they don’t agree) is that halfway through the season, even after a solid six-week stretch, the Cubs were still eight games under .500 and in last place in a stacked division. The likelihood of a playoff push was pretty minimal.

Would it have been prudent to operate from a position of “going for it” when it would have been clearly out of desperation and likely to the detriment of the future of the ballclub? If you’re being smart about it, the only answer is no.

At the risk of putting words in Theo Epstein’s mouth, if this team had been eight games over .500 and a few games out of first a week ago, there is no way he would have made a “sell” trade. But facts are facts and history is history and in the Cubs’ position, they were looking at a likely sub-.500 record no matter what they did with the roster. So at that point, you owe it to your organization’s future to pull the trigger when offered a prospect you hadn’t dreamed would become available.

Epstein and Jed Hoyer aren’t paid to make popular decisions. They are paid to make the right ones.

Nobody is required to like their process, but there is a plan and they haven’t wavered from it. I have the utmost respect for their steadfast nature over these first three difficult years, especially with all the heat they have endured during this arduous undertaking of getting younger and (ultimately) a lot better.

And now that the ballpark renovations are expected to start soon, the business side is ready to pump cash into the baseball department to accelerate the job at hand, which is to become an annual juggernaut.

It’s not as far away as some people think.

Cubs.com

Rogers: Young All-Stars a good sign for Cubs

By Phil Rogers

MINNEAPOLIS — Anthony Rizzo was as wide-eyed as anyone experiencing All-Star Game activities for the first time. But the joy he felt on Monday was matched by Starlin Castro, his Cubs teammate.

Castro had twice been an All-Star before, mingling with baseball’s best players at Chase Field in Phoenix in 2011 and Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City the next year. If he felt it would be an annual experience, you couldn’t blame him.

The young shortstop received a reality check last season, however, starting slowly and never getting his game to the level he had flashed at the start of his Major League career. That’s why Castro he said that he was proudest of himself for earning a trip to this year’s game, where he’ll have a ring seat to Derek Jeter’s final All-Star Game.

"After that bad year last year, this is the best,” said Castro, who is backing up the Rockies’ Troy Tulowitzki. "Now I have the confidence back. I’m going to keep going every year."

While Rizzo and Castro are both 24, it took Rizzo a little longer to be recognized as one of the game’s best players. But he’s not exactly a grizzled veteran, as this is only his second full Major League season.

Like Castro, he learned some lessons the hard way a year ago.

Rizzo created large expectations by hitting . 285 with 15 home runs in 87 games after the Cubs promoted him in midseason, 2012, but saw his batting average drop to .233 last year. His OPS was only slightly lower than the year before, dropping from .805 to .742, but some wondered if team president Theo Epstein & Co. had rated Rizzo too highly when they traded pitcher Andrew Cashner to the Padres for him.

"A lot of people write you off so quick in this game, which is, it’s not unfair, but it is what it is," Rizzo said. "Castro, I’m really happy for him. He’s gotten a lot better at shortstop, too, which is a big key to make our team a lot better. We’re happy to be here."

Castro is hitting .276, which ranks third among the National League’s regular shortstops. He has 11 home runs and 52 RBIs, the latter tied for second among shortstops. His defensive metrics have also improved, although he still projects to 19 errors, down only slightly from 22 last season.

Rizzo is hitting .275 and leads NL first basemen with 20 home runs. Both he and Castro appear to have benefited from manager Rick Renteria using them as the Cubs’ 3-4 hitters.

Rizzo sees a randomness to his performance this year relative to a year ago.

"Just baseball," Rizzo said. "Balls fall. Some balls that fell early give you a little more of an opportunity to relax. You don’t have to press for hits. That’s my biggest key. If I can get relaxed, great. If I’m pressing to get hits, it’s really not going to be a good outcome."

Rizzo did admit that he’s learned how to carry himself through bad times, good times and all those in between.

"Staying with the process, being even keel every day," Rizzo said. "Be the same person whether you’re on a hot streak or you’re in a bad slump. You have to come into the clubhouse and be the same guy, lead by example."

Castro credits Renteria for helping set the tone for his success this season.

"We talk," Castro said. "We talk a lot. He has the confidence in us. They trust us. They’re letting us play baseball, that’s the kind of [situation] you want. You have your talent. You know who you can be. You know you can be good. That’s all you need — people who trust you and let you play."

Rizzo wasn’t disappointed to be left out of the lineup for the Gillette Home Run Derby. He said he would just be “soaking it all in” during his first trip to the event.

Like Castro, Rizzo hopes that he can become one of the NL’s regulars.

"It’s definitely something I strive for every year," Rizzo said. "I’m just going to try to keep getting better with the team."

Having two 24-year-old All-Stars counts as a major step in the right direction for the Cubs.

14 7 / 2014

Cubs.com

Cubs prospect Bryant mature beyond his years

U.S. third baseman at Futures Game will be able to handle hype when he reaches bigs

By Mike Bauman

MINNEAPOLIS — In the midst of all the conjecture, speculation and, yes, even the promise of the Chicago Cubs’ future, here comes the one part of that future closest to Major league fruition.

It is Kris Bryant. Sunday afternoon he started at third base and hit cleanup for the U.S. Team in the Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field.

Bryant, 22, is little more than a year removed from signing with the Cubs. He had been the College Player of the Year at the University of San Diego. The Cubs drafted him with the second overall pick on the 2013 First-Year Player Draft. Since then he has rocketed upward through the Cubs’ system.

This year, starting at Double-A and advancing to Triple-A, Bryant has compiled a slash line of .346/.444/.701 with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs in 92 games.

Bryant has a fluid swing that does not appear to require immense exertion. He is 6 feet, 5 inches tall and is listed at 215 pounds. You could see how he might grow into more power.

Happily for both Bryant and the Cubs, he is wearing his success — and all the speculation that comes with it — very well. Bryant is a pleasant blend of modesty and confidence. He appears to be mature beyond his years. In the home clubhouse at Target Field, he is inevitably asked, more than once, about having a timetable for getting to the big leagues.

"No, no timetable at all," Bryant says with a small smile. "I just go out there every day to play baseball and have fun. It’s a game. I don’t think about that at all. That’s the way I approach life, too. Don’t think about the future, stay in the present and have fun.

"I don’t even pay attention to it. It’s a distraction to me. I had some distractions in high school. Focusing on the Draft, I didn’t perform the way I should have. I learned a lesson from that. I’m never looking into the future; I’m playing in the present moment."

In the moment, he’s having a tremendous season. His own assessment is more modest than that.

"It’s been pretty good, but I’m kind of a perfectionist, so I always think of areas where I can improve," Bryant says. "And there’s definitely areas where this season I could have gotten better. But the teams I’ve been playing on have been playing really well and it’s just been a fun experience."

Being a hitter and a perfectionist can be a difficult combination.

"It’s very hard," Bryant says. "You’re failing seven out of 10 times and you’re a Hall of Famer. But I keep that in perspective when I go out there. But you want to do so good every game. I think that’s the right attitude to have, because you always want to strive to be the best that you can be. That’s how I go about it."

Bryant is not as far advanced defensively as he is as a hitter. Then again, if he had advanced that far defensively, he’d be Brooks Robinson. Asked what he feels he has to work on, Bryant responds:

"Defense, just working really hard on staying low to the ground. And maybe not chasing so many pitches off the plate, having a more solid approach up there. I think it just comes with playing. It’s like defense; you get better at defense when you get more reps. If you’re at the plate and you take those borderline pitches, it builds your confidence and you get more comfortable. So it’s all about getting experience and playing as many games as you can."

There has been considerable conjecture about Bryant being moved to the outfield. Nobody in a position of any authority with the Cubs has said this to Bryant.

"I haven’t heard one word [about playing the outfield]," he says. "If they want me to play the outfield, I could 100 percent do it, but I’ve been playing third base my whole life. I feel pretty comfortable there. I’ve gotten a whole lot better there this year. And I’m looking forward to getting a whole lot better, too."

Sunday’s performance was not the stuff of dreams for Bryant. In four plate appearances, he struck out twice, flied out to short right with the bases loaded and walked. He did drive a ball well beyond the wall in left but it hooked just foul. And he made a nice defensive play on a ball hit to his left.

"I don’t think you could not have fun here," Bryant said. "We’re in a big league locker room, on a a big league field. I don’t know how many people were here, but it seemed like 40,000. We’re all going to be able to remember this day forever."

In a 3-2 victory for the U.S. Team, Bryant found encouragement from the fact that his Iowa teammate, shortstop Javier Baez, hit a two-run homer for the World Team.

"I’m happy he’s a Chicago Cub," Bryant said of Baez. "As he was rounding the bases, I told him: ‘You’ve got to save those for the season.’"

In the not-too-distant future, Bryant will become present tense for the Chicago Cubs. There will be considerable hype accompanying his arrival, but he will be mature enough to handle it.

Cubs.com

Alcantara, Coghlan stay hot, but Wood stumbles

Lefty gives up seven runs in six innings; rookie hits first Majors HR

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs truly embodied the resilience they’ve shown throughout the first half during Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Braves at Wrigley Field. But, in what seems to be the script of late, it was too little, too late.

For the second straight day, the Braves rode to victory on the back of a wide lead built in the early innings — this time a 7-0 margin through three off starter Travis Wood (7-8, 4.96 ERA).

But the Cubs outhit (8-5) and outscored (7-3) the Braves over the final six frames, thanks to hot hitters Arismendy Alcantara and Chris Coghlan, who sent two-run homers into the right-field bleachers during the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. Alcantara’s blast was the first of his Major League career.

"We fell behind a little bit and kept chipping away," manager Rick Renteria said. "I thought the guys kept battling. We put ourselves in the position to potentially inch closer. We just fell a little short."

The Cubs added three in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk and John Baker’s two-out, two-run double.

Anthony Rizzo led off the inning with a single, his first hit of the day, then Starlin Castro and Luis Valbuena both walked. After Mike Olt struck out, Ryan Sweeney took a free pass, sending Rizzo home.

Castro was tagged out at home trying to score on a wild pitch from Jordan Walden during Baker’s at-bat. Renteria challenged the call, but it was confirmed after a replay review.

"[Catcher Gerald Laird] made a hell of a play on that ball that got away," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That was a big play, believe it or not."

Laird and All-Star pitcher Julio Teheran brought home the Braves’ first three runs on consecutive at-bats in the second. In the third, Jason Heyward added a run with a single to right, then Chris Johnson, who went 3-for-4, followed with a three-run homer to center — his third of the series and sixth this season.

The Braves piled on three more in the seventh on a two-out, three-run double from Tommy La Stella, which prompted Renteria to call on Justin Grimm to replace Zac Rosscup. The Cubs manager went to the bullpen twice more for Wesley Wright and Neil Ramirez.

Wood, who at this time last year was headed to the All-Star Game, left after 104 pitches (66 strikes) over six innings, giving up seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks. It was the second straight game a Cubs starter struggled, after Edwin Jackson lasted just 3 2/3 innings and surrendered nine earned runs in Saturday’s 11-6 loss.

"For myself, I’m not happy with it at all," Wood said. "A lot of stuff to improve on. A lot of stuff to do better in the second half. … Every year is different. It’s kind of what I’ve taken into spring — that you’re never going to be the same as you were last year. Nothing is ever going to go the same way it did. It’s just a new year, different challenges, and you’ve got to overcome them."

Alcantara continued his push for a permanent spot on the big league roster, going 2-for-5 with a double and the homer — his fourth and fifth extra-base hits through his first five big league games, in which he’s hit .391 and posted a .400 on-base percentage.

Renteria wouldn’t say whether Alcantara will remain with the Cubs after the All-Star break.

"I’m having fun," Alcantara said. "I just try to do my job. If they want me to stay here, I will. It’s not my decision."

Cubs.com
Baez making case for arriving in Majors shortly

Highly-touted Cubs prospect hits two-run homer in All-Star Futures Game

By Phil Rogers

MINNEAPOLIS — Arismendy Alcantara cracked the code. How long until there’s a wave of talent pouring into Wrigley Field behind him?

Javier Baez believes his time is coming fast, and on Sunday did what he could to show he’s ready. He drove a Lucas Giolito curveball over the right-field fence for an opposite-field, two-run homer in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field.

"That was fun,” said Baez. "I hit it hard. Pretty good.”

As Baez rounded third base, he and Triple-A Iowa teammate Kris Bryant, who played for the U.S. Team, had a brief conversation that ended with smiles all around.

"He said something about me,” Baez said. "I don’t know what he said. My family was behind him in the stands. I was pointing to them.”

Baez’s sixth-inning homer briefly gave the World Team a one-run lead, but the U.S. answered with a two-run homer by Joey Gallo in the bottom of the inning and went on to win, 3-2.

"We gave it everything we had,” Baez said.

Before the game, Baez had been asked if he thinks he’ll make his Cubs debut this season.

"For sure,” said the 21-year-old shortstop. "Just going to keep doing what I’m doing and get called up soon.”

Baez, who created excitement by hitting five homers in Spring Training, hit .172 in April, but was batting .240 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs in 84 games when he and Bryant left the Iowa Cubs to travel to Minneapolis. He has 51 homers in 214 games at three levels over the last two seasons.

"Having Kris Bryant in the lineup, Arismendy Alcantara too, has been great,” said Baez, who grounded out in his other at-bat. "We’re all doing good. We all trust ourselves. I’m pretty sure one of us three is going to have a good game, whether it’s him or me or Alcantara. If they don’t pitch to Alcantara, they’ve got to pitch to me; if they don’t pitch to me, they’ve got to pitch to Kris. It feels good to have him in the lineup.”

Manny Ramirez, signed to be a player-coach, has added to the spice of the Cubs’ Triple-A stew. Both Baez and Bryant said Ramirez has often been the first player to the clubhouse and the last to leave the batting cage.

"Once I get to the field we go straight to the cage and hit and hit and hit,” Baez said. "He’s always doing something. He likes to hit a lot. He likes to talk to other guys. He likes to work.”

The lessons start shortly after lunch.

"We get to the field 12:30, 1 and around 1:30 we are in the cage working on something,” Baez said. "He’s just trying to help on what we’re doing in each at-bat. He talks to everybody. He’s just one of the guys on the team, that’s how he is. He’s trying to help everybody.”

Addison Russell, the highly regarded shortstop acquired from Oakland in the Jeff Samardzija trade, wasn’t invited to the Futures Game. He and Bryant played together in the Arizona Fall League last year but Baez said he hasn’t yet gotten to know him.

"I’ve heard he’s a good prospect,” Baez said. "Hopefully he can keep doing good and move up.”

While Baez has remained at shortstop, he takes ground balls regularly at second base in anticipation of a possible position change. After all, Starlin Castro appears to have secured his spot at Wrigley Field with an All-Star season.

Baez said he doesn’t worry about the glut of shortstops or even a possible trade.

"Not really,” Baez said, when asked if the addition of Russell impacted him. "I’m just doing my own thing. I’m sure they have plans for us. … We all understand this is a business. Whatever happens is going to happen. We’re ready for it.”

Bryant says he doesn’t worry about whether Alcantara’s arrival will trigger a wave of promotions.

"I don’t focus on that,” said Bryant, who was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a walk as the U.S. cleanup hitter. "I know the guys in the clubhouse, we’re very happy for him. But focusing on that is sort of a distraction. You don’t need to do that. Just go out there every day, work as hard as you can. That will help you get there soon.”

Alcantara hit his first Major League home run in the Cubs’ loss to the Braves on Sunday. He has five extra-base hits in five games since being promoted while Darwin Barney was on paternity leave.

While Alcantara was never regarded as one of the Cubs’ top prospects, he has long had the respect of his teammates. Bryant, who started the season with Double-A Tennessee, isn’t the least bit surprised to see his former Iowa teammate start his career with a splash.

"I wouldn’t expect anything else,” Bryant said. "In my short time watching him play, he got a hit every time. I think he goes about it the right way. He’s an outstanding player, a great teammate. He’s trying to get better. I can’t say enough about him at this point.”

Cubs.com

Jackson opens Cubs’ second half vs. D-backs

Arizona holds off naming starter for post-break opener

By Adam Lichtenstein

With the second half looming, both the Cubs and D-backs have unclear rotations that look shaky at first glance.

The Cubs have only named their starters for their three-game set in Phoenix, while the D-backs haven’t announced who will get the ball Friday at Chase Field.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said before the Cubs’ 10-7 loss to the Braves on Sunday that Edwin Jackson will start Friday, with Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta following him against the D-backs.

Jackson, for one, will be looking to turn his season around in the second half.

The 30-year-old veteran is 5-10 this season with a 5.64 ERA. In his last start, the Braves bombed him in 3 2/3 innings, scoring nine runs on seven hits, three of which were home runs.

Renteria said Sunday that the All-Star break is a good time for players to take time off and get some distance from whatever happened during the first half.

"It’s important in that you’re going to try and step back and take a breath," he said. "I don’t know if you’re going to completely shut yourself off. It’s kind of hard because you’ve been grinding for four months. So it’s kind of hard to shut it down. You might take a deep breath, but I think you’re always going to be thinking baseball."

Like Jackson, the Cubs as a whole would like to improve in the second half. Currently buried in the National League Central cellar, the Cubs have shown some life of late, winning two of their last four.

"I would just say more than anything they’re building their confidence," Renteria said. "They’re playing as a team — not giving up, continuing to chip away, maintaining an attitude that grinds and doesn’t take any deficit or any part of the game [and] allow it to affect them to an extent where you see them start to fall into a low."

D-backs: All-Star Goldschmidt ends first half strongly

One of two All-Stars on the D-backs, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has been living up to the title since July began.

After his batting average fell to a season-low .296 on June 29, Goldschmidt has been on a tear.

In 12 games, he is batting .395 (17-for-43) with eight doubles, giving him a Major League-leading 36 for the season.

Goldschmidt has been hitting so well that his 0-for-4 outing in Sunday’s 8-4 loss to the Giants in San Francisco marked the first time he hadn’t reached base in 32 games.

But while Goldschmidt and catcher Miguel Montero travel to Minneapolis for the All-Star Game, manager Kirk Gibson said he wants the rest of the team to get a break in the next few days.

"I want everybody to go and enjoy time, whatever they have planned," he said. "Probably a lot of guys are going to spend time with their families. It’s well deserved. Have a nice break. Come back, have a nice workout on Thursday. Have a little talk and then get back after it. Hopefully we can play better in the second half than we did in the first half."

Cubs: Coghlan aiming to continue hot streak into second half

It isn’t always about where you start — it’s about where you finish. Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan is hoping that’s true, because after a rough beginning of the season, he is hitting the cover off the ball.

As late as June 26, Coghlan’s batting average was sitting below the Mendoza line. But after Sunday’s 2-for-4 performance against the Braves, he has that number up to .275.

In his last eight games before the All-Star break, Coghlan hit .452 (14-for-31), knocked three out of his five home runs this season and drove in nine runs.

"He’s been taking advantage of the opportunity," Renteria said. "He’s had really good at-bats. He’s been grinding. He’s been working very hard. Like anything, as his offense has started to pick up, his confidence continues to grow.

"Fortunately for us, it’s something that’s kind of clicked, and hopefully it continues."

Cubs.com

Back end of rotation pending going into break

By Carrie Muskat and Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs head into the All-Star break still unclear about the short- and long-term composition of their rotation.

Following the July 4 trade that sent ace Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, the Cubs called on three rookies — Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks — in consecutive games against the Reds earlier this week.

The Cubs went 1-2 with the rookie trio, who combined to allow eight earned runs, 16 hits, eight walks and post 10 strikeouts over 16 innings.

All three have since been sent back to Triple-A Iowa, which has allowed the Cubs to keep callup Arismendy Alcantara on the roster. He’s been an offensive spark and flashed a balanced repertoire hitting at the top of the lineup and playing both second base and center field.

Manager Rick Renteria said before Sunday’s game that any roster changes over the All-Star break are “still pending.”

"We still have to have conversations. Once we settle in and talk about what it is that we’ll do, all you guys will know," he said.

Renteria did announce that the only three starters currently on the big league roster — Edwin Jackson (5-10, 5.64 ERA), Travis Wood (7-7, 4.64 ERA) and Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.95 ERA) — will take the mound for next weekend’s three-game series at Arizona.

Lt. Colonel surprised with first pitch upon return

CHICAGO — When Lt. Colonel Donald A. Hausser Jr. arrived in Chicago from Germany, where he was assigned to the U.S. Embassy, his first request was to go to a Cubs game. He had no idea his father had arranged for Hausser to throw out a first pitch.

On Sunday, Hausser did just that at Wrigley Field prior to the Cubs’ game against the Braves, and he was honored as part of the team’s military recognition program. Hausser has spent 19 years in the service, including three as the Army Affairs Chief at the Office of Defense Cooperation in Bonn, Germany, where, as his final assignment, he staged and managed the Berlin Air Show for U.S. allies.

Hausser also served as the Operations Officer of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Khost, Afghanistan, where he planned, coordinated, and oversaw more than 350 missions in one of the most complex and tumultuous provinces in the country.

Many servicemen and women stationed overseas fly Cubs flags or “W” flags to show their support. Unfortunately for Hausser, he couldn’t do that for security reasons. On Sunday, he was able to relax and enjoy the moment.

"I’ve been a Cubs fan my whole life, so for me, this is amazing," said Hausser, who grew up in suburban Palatine, Ill., and went to Cubs games as a kid. "I would have never thought I’d get a chance to do this. It’s such a great ballpark."

Throughout the season, the Cubs have honored a military service member or veteran during the fourth inning, and this is the second year in which the team has had someone from the military throw out a first pitch on Sundays.

The Cubs marketing department works closely with the USO and Wounded Warriors to select the guests. Hausser’s father apparently contacted the USO.

"[My dad] didn’t tell me about any of this," Hausser said. "When I got off the plane [from Germany], all I asked was to come see a game. I was shocked and surprised, and actually, I feel honored."

Cubs.com

Two challenges aid Braves, halt Cubs’ momentum

By Daniel Kramer and John Jackson

CHICAGO — Two challenges were decided in the Braves’ favor and halted the Cubs’ momentum at critical points during Atlanta’s 10-7 win on Sunday.

With the Braves leading, 10-5, In the eighth inning, Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was on third with the bases loaded and one out. He attempted to score on a wild pitch from Jordan Walden, and was called out by home-plate umpire Jeff Kellogg.

Braves catcher Gerald Laird had pounced on the ball and threw to Walden, who tagged Castro. Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged the call, but it was confirmed after an 89-second review.

"[Laird] made a [heck] of a play on that ball that got away," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That was a big play, believe it or not. That was a big out at the plate."

Catcher John Baker then followed with a two-run double to make it 10-7. Walden retired Junior Lake to end the inning.

Earlier, Julio Teheran and the Braves avoided a possible jam in the first inning when they successfully challenged a call at second.

Chicago left fielder Chris Coghlan led off with a walk and then attempted a steal. He was called safe by second-base umpire Brian O’Nora, but Gonzalez challenged the call and it was overturned for the first out.

The next Cubs batter, Arismendy Alcantara, doubled, which would have likely scored Coghlan from second for the first run of the game. But instead, Teheran was able to work out of trouble and strand Alcantara.

ESPNChicago.com

Baez homers, Cubs prospects have their day

By Jesse Rogers

Chicago Cubs’ prospects made noise all over the country on Sunday as Triple-A Iowa shortstop Javier Baez led the way with a two-run home run in the Futures Game in Minnesota where the major league All-Star Game will be played on Tuesday.

Baez went deep in the sixth inning, but Texas Rangers Double-A prospect Joey Gallo won MVP honors with his home run to help the U.S team to a 3-2 win over the World squad. Gallo is tied for the minor-league lead in home runs (31) with Cubs prospect Kris Bryant. Bryant went 0-for-3 in the Futures Game with two strikeouts.

Baez and Bryant are off until their Iowa Cubs season resumes after the Triple-A All-Star game on Wednesday. Bryant already played in the Double-A All-Star game last month. Baez didn’t make the team after a slow start to his season. He has picked up the pace in recent weeks finishing the first half on a 10-game hitting streak, though he has exactly 10 hits in those 10 games. Baez is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs for the season.

Soler breaks out

Double-A outfielder Jorge Soler is finally healthy and on a rampage since returning to Tennessee’s lineup following a long rehab for hamstring issues. He was 3-for-5 with two home runs Sunday, and in seven games since returning he’s 12-for-23 (.521) with five home runs. If Soler can stay healthy, he’ll probably finish the year in Double-A with a chance to make it to Triple-A at the start of next season. Health is his main concern right now.

Kane County

Single-A Kane County continued a monstrous season by sweeping a doubleheader over Beloit on Sunday and improving to 62-31. This year’s first-round pick, Kyle Schwarber, was 3-for-6 on the day raising his batting average to .380. Highly regarded starter Jen-Ho Tseng threw a complete game (seven innings) to improve to 4-0 while lowering his ERA to 2.74. He struck seven without giving up a walk.

Alcantara homers

And just to put the icing on the cake, newly recalled Cubs infielder/outfielder Arismendy Alcantara hit his first major league home run in the Cubs’ 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. Alcantara has five extra-base hits in five games for the Cubs since being promoted from Triple-A on Wednesday. Alcantara will stay with the Cubs through the week missing the Triple-A All-Star game.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Braves 10, Cubs 7

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Cubs lost 10-7 to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday in the first-half finale. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Like Edwin Jackson on Saturday, Travis Wood didn’t fool the Braves much as they scored seven times in the first three innings. Gerald Laird’s two-run double in the second got the Braves rolling but Chris Johnson’s third home run in two days, a three-run shot in the third, put the game away. Arismendy Alcantara hit his first career home run in the sixth but the Braves put up three more in the seventh with a bases-loaded, three-run double by Tommy La Stella. Chris Coghlan countered with a two-run home run in the seventh and then a bases loaded walk to Ryan Sweeney and a two-run double by John Baker in the eighth brought the Cubs within three, but that’s as close as they would come. Wood lasted six innings, giving up seven runs on seven hits and three walks.

What it means: Alcantara had two more extra base-hits to give him five in five games. He took an 0-2 pitch out to right and the Cubs had done little off Braves starter Julio Teheran to that point. His power is astonishing given his size as Alcantara has earned every right to remain in the major leagues after the All-Star break. This could be the beginning of a special career for the Cubs.

Coghlan has also earned more playing time as he finished the first half as hot as anyone in the league. The former Rookie of the Year has raised his batting average from .204 on June 30 to .277 at the All-Star break. Without other outfield prospects pushing him, Coghlan should get a lot of playing time in the second half.

Wood, who in 2013 was an All-Star, finished this year’s first half with an ERA a tick under 5.00 (4.96). He’s simply leaving too many balls over the plate and getting hammered for it. Wood and Jackson need turnaround second halves as the Cubs’ starting staff has been thinned by the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

First half over: The Cubs hit the All-Star break with a 40-54 record after going 42-51 last year in the first half. Anthony Rizzo leads them in home runs with 20 while Starlin Castro has 52 RBIs while batting mostly cleanup.

What’s next: Castro and Rizzo leave for Tuesday’s All-Star Game while the rest of the team is off until Friday when they begin the second half in Arizona. Before Sunday’s game manager Rick Renteria set his rotation for that series against the Diamondbacks with Jackson, Wood and Jake Arrieta starting over the weekend.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs announce top of second-half rotation

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — At least one thing is known about the Chicago Cubs for the start of the second half of the season next Friday in Arizona. Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta will start the three games against the Diamondbacks before the Cubs come home for the start of a 10-game home stand. Manager Rick Renteria announced as much on Sunday.

After that, it’s anyone’s guess who pitches and who’s in the field.

“Those are still pending,” Renteria said before Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves. “We still have to have conversations.”

Those conversations will undoubtedly take place during the All-Star break, but it’s not believed the Cubs will settle on one pitcher right away to take over in the rotation for the departed Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel — other than possibly Dan Straily. Straily, who was acquired from Oakland in the deal, has been a major leaguer in the past but has struggled at times this season. In two starts at Triple-A Iowa since the trade he’s 0-1 with a 4.00 ERA. He’s given up 11 hits and five walks in nine innings pitched. He’s had issues with his fastball command — which is one way to keep yourself in the minors — but it’s believed Straily will get his chances with the Cubs in the second half.

“There are more opportunities before us,” Renteria said.

Those other opportunities will come in the form of Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler and Tsuyoshi Wada. The three pitchers all made their major league debuts over the past few weeks and, depending on how the Cubs want to try them out the rest of the season, they all should see the mound again for the major league team. Beeler and Hendricks are the younger prospects while Wada, 33, is the older veteran getting his first chance since coming over from Japan several years ago and undergoing Tommy John surgery.

It would probably benefit Hendricks, in particular, to make his way through the league for a couple of months and learn some lineups. His style is to pitch — not just throw — and to navigate lineups with his softer pitching means learning those lineups. If he learns hitters now, he won’t have to as much next season, if indeed he’ll be in the rotation.

In the field, only Arismendy Alcantara is expected to get a real look in the second half, at least until September. The Cubs haven’t announced that he’ll be back with them after the All-Star break, but even if he heads back to Triple-A he’ll be recalled sooner rather than later. It would be a surprise if the Cubs stood pat with the trade deadline approaching. They’ve done their blockbuster deal, but just one minor trade would probably open up a roster spot or two for Alcantara. As is, he might stay anyway. The Cubs have some options to alter their roster, there’s no reason they shouldn’t take advantage of that.

As Renteria said, the second half is all about opportunities. Who will seize them?

CSNChicago.com

Starlin Castro stays humble: ‘Nobody’s better than baseball’

By Patrick Mooney

Starlin Castro stands at his locker and takes the heat when things go wrong. He never asks for days off. He won’t let the money or the trade rumors change him.

Castro speaks better English than he did as a rookie, and a $60 million contract has given his family generational wealth. But after all the ups and downs, he still resembles the kid who showed up in the visiting clubhouse at Great American Ball Park on May 7, 2010, and faced the great expectations.

Castro hit a three-run bomb in his first big-league at-bat and put up six RBIs that night in Cincinnati. Three nights later, the young shortstop made three errors and got booed during his Wrigley Field debut.

There have been extremes, getting on the cover of Sports Illustrated, getting ripped by Bobby Valentine on national television and now getting back to the All-Star Game for a third time at age 24.

Castro will sometimes slam his helmet to the ground in frustration or let his mind drift for a moment while playing defense. But he’s remarkably composed for someone who plays a glamour position for an iconic franchise in an overheated media market.

It’s just that Castro’s now a more complete player, already putting up 11 homers and 52 RBIs this season, better numbers than he had all last year.

Alfonso Soriano — the $136 million man who became the godfather to Castro’s son, Starlin Jr. — showed how to keep a cool head and bring the right amount of swagger to the ballpark.

“You know who I learned a lot from — Sori,” Castro said. “Sori’s the same guy. Always. I always hung out with him. And that’s the kind of thing that he told me: Nobody’s better than baseball. When you’re gone, baseball stays. If you’re a star, if you’re a great player, keep the same (attitude). Stay humble.”

Castro spoke with Soriano after the New York Yankees designated him for assignment last week, and it’s unclear if he’ll simply stay home with his family in Tampa, Fla., and retire after a borderline Hall of Fame career.

“Maybe,” Castro said. “I don’t know. Let’s see. I don’t talk to him about that. But he’s good.”

Like Soriano, Castro always wants to see his name in the lineup, and that gets overlooked when he’s broken down on Twitter and talk radio.

Castro has started all 94 games at shortstop this season. He played 161 last season, even as he struggled to process the organization’s mixed messages, looking lost at the plate (.245 average). He played all 162 in 2012, part of a consecutive-games streak that reached 269. That says more than the coded language used by some scouts and media personalities.

Castro credited Tim Buss, the team’s strength and conditioning coordinator, for traveling to the Dominican Republic during the offseason and designing a program that reshaped his body and his mentality. Castro then worked out at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., before reporting to spring training.

Castro had something to prove after the Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum, citing the stalled development by young core players like their franchise shortstop and first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

Whatever the perceptions, new manager Rick Renteria put it this way: “I just know from the very first phone call we shared over the winter, (Castro) said he was willing to do whatever it took to get back on track. And he’s done it.”

Castro has survived the regime changes, playing for Lou Piniella and Mike Quade and working with a diverse group of hitting coaches and infield instructors, as well as Theo Epstein’s front office. The consensus: Castro is coachable, eager to please, someone who cares about his craft.

“I don’t know what the media have said about him,” Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller said. “I came in clean with Rizz and Casty. But from Day 1, both those guys have been hard workers, and they take it very seriously. And that’s all you can ask. They’ve been listening. They apply what you’re saying, and they’ve been going out and doing (it).”

Castro appreciates it more this time. He chartered a plane to fly his family and Rizzo to Minnesota. He will be back where he belongs on Tuesday night at Target Field.

“After that bad year last year, that’s what we’re looking for,” Castro said. “Make the All-Star Game and come back at that level.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Arismendy Alcantara keeps doing the job

By Patrick Mooney

At this time last year, Arismendy Alcantara went to New York and played in the All-Star Futures Game, crushing a home run onto Citi Field’s upper deck.

Alcantara will spend this All-Star break in Chicago, relaxing after the breakout performance that dared the front office to send him back to Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs closed out the unofficial first half with Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. That left them with a 40-54 record and big questions about their rotation — and what to do with an electrifying player who wouldn’t even be here yet if Darwin Barney’s wife hadn’t given birth to their third child.

Alcantara became the bright spot, hitting his first big-league home run off Julio Teheran, Atlanta’s All-Star right-hander. That sixth-inning shot traveled 375 feet, beyond the LED board and onto the party deck in the right-field bleachers.

“I just try to do my job,” Alcantara said. “If they want me to stay here, I will. But it’s not my decision.”

Alcantara hustled for a double in the first inning, reaching out and lifting a ball to shallow left field. Justin Upton dove forward and the ball kicked off his leg, and the Braves outfielder saw Alcantara again in the ninth inning. Upton slammed into the bricks and ivy while making a warning-track catch after Alcantara drove a ball off All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel.

Since making his big-league debut, Alcantara has gone 9-for-23 with six runs, three doubles, a triple, a homer and five RBIs in five games. A natural shortstop, he can play second base and center field while adding another dimension with his speed and ability to switch-hit.

The Cubs already extended Alcantara’s stay after Barney’s two-game paternity leave last week. Manager Rick Renteria said “he’s holding his own” but otherwise wouldn’t commit to Alcantara staying in the big leagues.

Alcantara is the shiny new toy for Cubs fans and the Chicago media, a reason to watch this team. The Cubs still have 40 percent of their rotation unaccounted for after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s. Travis Wood, last year’s All-Star representative, is now 7-8 with a 4.96 ERA after Sunday’s ugly loss.

The Cubs have their pitching set for next weekend’s three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field and theoretically wouldn’t have to make a move until July 22. So Alcantara Watch will continue.

“I just try to enjoy the game,” Alcantara said. “I try to get better every day to reach the next step.”

CSNChicago.com

Kaplan: Solving the position puzzle with Cubs top prospects

By David Kaplan

With Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel now pitching for the Oakland A’s, the Cubs have turned their focus to what their roster will look like in 2015 and beyond.  Which prospects will be a part of the Cubs future and what veteran free agents will be added over the next couple of winters?

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo have had outstanding bounce back campaigns after subpar 2013 seasons that saw them both struggle offensively. Arismendy Alcantara has had an excellent first week in his big league career and based on his minor league track record could be a keeper at either second base or more likely in center field at the start of next season.

Who then is added to the roster that gives the Cubs a core of players to build around and to rely on for the next several seasons? Let’s assume that Kris Bryant and Javier Baez both are on the big league club by mid-May 2015. While Bryant was drafted as a third baseman and would prefer to stay at that spot, I don’t believe that his long term future is at the hot corner.

After talking with multiple scouts and making a trip to Des Moines to watch him play myself, I see Bryant in right field. He has a plus arm and solid mobility but I just believe that his size (6’-5”) will make it tough on him to make all of the necessary plays that a major league third baseman must make with regularity. Offensively, Bryant should be one of the key forces in the Cubs lineup for many seasons as he should hit for power as well as average and on base percentage.

Baez is an offensive force with outstanding power and bat speed and while he could easily translate into a 35-40 HR guy in the big leagues he could also be a 150+ strikeout player as well. I expect him to get bigger and stronger as he continues to develop but that increased size and strength will push him to either second or third base according to the scouts I have spoken with.  He does not possess great bat discipline which will cause him some problems at the major league level so you could be looking at a big HR and high strikeout player with a very low OBP.  If that happens how will that mesh with the philosophy of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer? In fact, I don’t believe that Epstein, Hoyer and Jason McLeod would have drafted Baez had they been running the Cubs during the 2011 draft.

Addison Russell is ranked among the top prospects in all of baseball in every scouting report that I have read. He is an elite bat who should be an impact player once he reaches the big leagues. Will he stay at shortstop is the question that most scouts have about him. “I’m not sure Russell stays at short because he will get bigger and stronger but I can tell you this. His bat will play at the major league level. Offensively he will be outstanding,” an American league scout told me.

Many fans want to see Kris Bryant on the big league club right now but I don’t see any scenario where Bryant is in the big leagues any sooner than late April of 2015. Why would you start to burn his service time now? To have two months of him on a team that is going nowhere? As for next Opening Day I don’t see any way that Bryant makes the team because if you keep him in the minor leagues for just a few weeks you get him for 5 months of the 2015 season and the next 6 seasons.

Let’s say that again. You get Kris Bryant for 5 months of the 2015 season and the next 6 seasons if he doesn’t come up until late April or early May. That is smart business. He will need some time to adjust to a new position if he moves to the outfield plus why not wait until the first month of cold weather has passed? Also, he will not hit free agency until after his age 29 season because he would fall short in service time in his 6th big league campaign. That would give him another season in a Cubs uniform when the team should be very good. Would you rather have Kris Bryant now or next April or would you rather have Kris Bryant at age 29 when the team should be a contender? That question should be very easy to answer.

As for Baez, he still has a lot of work to do both offensively and defensively including a position switch to either second or third base in the very near future. I fully expect him to begin playing second base at Class-AAA Iowa very soon so that when he is called up he will have experience at his new position. Baez still needs work in grinding at bats and not chasing bad pitches or trying to hit every ball as far as he can. His tools are off the charts and he could be a major offensive force for a long time but he will also have high strikeout numbers and possibly a low OBP which will need to be improved upon.

As for a glimpse into the future, I see Alcantara in center field on Opening Day 2015 and both Bryant and Baez not in the big leagues until late April or early May 2015. I also fully expect the Cubs to have a very active winter after the 2014 season as they look to have a young but exciting 2015 team. However, the club will need to add some veteran presence to have players that can help nurture all of the prospects that will be playing important roles. I see 2016 as the season the team finally moves into contention in the NL Central when the younger players will have some experience under their belts and the veterans such as Rizzo and Castro should be in the prime of their careers. As for having a legitimate chance to have a run of sustained success I don’t see that happening until 2017 when the club should be positioned for a very good run of contending.

CSNChicago.com

After Cubs/A’s deal, Samardzija will be in All-Star limbo

By Patrick Mooney

Jeff Samardzija will get the red-carpet treatment, and he can go to the All-Star Game parties, but he can’t pitch for the National League.

Samardzija will roll with all the attention on Monday in the Twin Cities, because he has a big personality and sort of enjoys bantering with the media. He’s used to having to answer all the questions. The media-day obligations won’t be a big deal after living inside the Notre Dame bubble and the Wrigley Field fishbowl.

It will be a story because the Cubs traded Samardzija to the Oakland A’s in a Fourth of July blockbuster. Samardzija will be introduced in front of a worldwide TV audience on Tuesday night at Target Field — and have no shot at helping the A’s get home-field advantage for the World Series.

A Major League Baseball spokesman could only offer two historical reference points. The Cincinnati Reds traded closer Jeff Shaw to the Los Angeles Dodgers on July 4, 1998 in a deal that involved Paul Konerko. Three days later, Shaw pitched one inning in the All-Star Game at Coors Field — before making his first appearance with the Dodgers.

The Kansas City Royals traded Carlos Beltran to the Houston Astros in a three-team deal on June 24, 2004. Beltran had a strong showing in the American League voting and wound up becoming an injury replacement for Ken Griffey Jr. on the National League team. The Astros hosted the event at Minute Maid Park that summer.

Oakland already has six All-Stars and the best record in baseball. Samardzija being ineligible after getting voted in by the players becomes another strange asterisk for his season. He had a 1.46 ERA in late May and didn’t get his first win until Memorial Day.

“He’s handled it as good as anybody can,” Cubs reliever James Russell said. “It’s tough to go out there and grind out nine innings, don’t give up a run — and still nothing works out for you. It’s one of those things. Baseball kind of works in funny ways.”

Samardzija went 2-7 with a 2.83 ERA in 17 starts for the Cubs and had been the longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse. He’s split his first two games with the A’s, getting a standing ovation at the Oakland Coliseum after beating the Toronto Blue Jays and losing to King Felix Hernandez and the Seattle Mariners 3-2 on Friday night at Safeco Field.

“(He’s a) hometown guy — it’s a little different with him going,” Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney said after another selloff. “I was hoping that they would figure something out, but unfortunately that didn’t work out. That’s not their fault. It’s not Jeff’s fault. It just didn’t work out for both of them.

“Our goal, all the way up, has been to win a championship here in Chicago. Unfortunately, that’s not his goal anymore.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Baez homers in Futures Game

By Fred Mitchell

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Sunday in Futures Game: 1-for-2, 2-run homer, strikeout.

Trending: 10-for-40 (.250) during 10-game hitting streak, 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season:  84 games, .240 batting average, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Sunday in Futures Game:  0-for-3, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  11-for-36 (.306), 3 home runs, 6 RBIs.

Season: 92 games, .346 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Sunday vs. Jacksonville:  1-for-1.

Trending: 5-for-24, .208, 1 RBI, 1 stolen base, 7 strikeouts

Season: 24 games, .273 batting average (24-for-88), 1 home run, 10 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Sunday vs. Jacksonville: 3-for-5, 2 homers, 5 RBIs.

Trending: 15-for-35, (.429), 5 home runs, 14 RBIs.

Season: 21 games, .414 batting average, 6 home runs, 23 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Sunday vs. Jupiter: 0-for-5, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 13-for-40 (.325), 2 doubles, triple, 3 home runs, 5 RBIs.

Season: 81 games, .267 batting average, 5 home runs, 42 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Futures Game fun for Javier Baez, Kris Bryant

Baez blasts 2-run homer; Bryant catches up with old friend Gallo

By Paul Sullivan

MINNEAPOLIS — Javier Baez was heading toward third in the sixth inning of Sunday’s All-Star Futures Game after hitting a two-run, opposite-field home run on a first-pitch curve.

"You’ve got to save those for the season," third baseman Kris Bryant yelled at Baez. "We need those."

Baez said he didn’t hear what Bryant said because he was looking for his family in the stands.

"I was just laughing and enjoying it," he said.

So when was the last time Baez enjoyed a home run like that?

"I don’t know," he said. "The last time I hit one."

Obviously Baez doesn’t get too excited about things. As Bryant said, it’s just “Javy being Javy.”

The Iowa teammates, and top two prospects in the Cubs organization, wound up on opposite sides Sunday, with Baez, who was born in Puerto Rico, playing for the World team against Bryant and the U.S.

Bryant, who went 0-for-3 with a walk, had to be satisfied with bragging rights after the U.S. won 3-2 on Joey Gallo’s two-run, 409-foot homer.

Bryant and Gallo, a Double-A third baseman in the Rangers system who earned the game’s MVP award, played together as kids in Las Vegas. Gallo said he has known Bryant “since before I was born,” adding he always pretended he played for the Yankees while Bryant pretended he was with the Red Sox.

The two played against each other in high school and make up two-thirds of the “Vegas Show” along with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper.

"It was a funny mix," Gallo said. "Harper is 21, (Bryant) is 22 and I’m 20, so we were all growing up together. To all be in the majors together, it’d be kind of cool."

Gallo and Bryant were tied for most home runs in the minors with 31 apiece, through Saturday. They also may be competing for Minor League Player of the Year.

"Obviously we’re not really competing," Gallo said. "But it’s funny to just be tight (in the home run race) with him, especially with the history we’ve had together."

A left-handed-hitting third baseman, Gallo put on an impressive display in batting practice, launching several balls 400-plus feet and smashing a window on a promotional truck outside the right-field wall. Gallo’s mom posed next to the shattered window and texted the photo to him.

"I was like, ‘Nice, Mom,’" he said.

Gallo probably would fare well in Monday’s Home Run Derby and said NL captain Troy Tulowitzki texted him saying he’d like to pick him.

While Gallo and Bryant repped Vegas, White Sox second-base prospect Micah Johnson of Indianapolis was bragging about the fact four of the U.S. players were from Indiana. The prospects joining him were Rays catcher Justin O’Conner (Muncie), Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki (Westfield) and Twins pitcher Alex Meyer (Greensburg).

"Four Indiana guys," Meyer said. "You would’ve thought this is a basketball event. That would’ve made a little more sense. It speaks for Indiana baseball. It’s getting a lot better."

Before the game, Meyer said Johnson “is going to go out there and run today, and he’s going to be fun for fans to watch.” Johnson did just that, and though he grounded out twice after entering in the fifth, he nearly legged out hits both times.

Hitting .297 at Triple-A Charlotte, Johnson should be up with the Sox soon.

"Who knows, man?" he said. "Just keep playing every day, trying to get hits, get on base. … That’s all I can do."

Baez, who struck out on a wild pitch in the dirt in his second at-bat, also appears close to being ready, though where he’ll play is the big question.

The Cubs still haven’t had Baez play anywhere but shortstop, and don’t plan to deal All-Star Starlin Castro.

Has the acquisition of premier shortstop prospect Addison Russell had any effect on Baez’s mindset?

"Not really," he said. "I do my own thing. I’m sure they’ve got a plan for us."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs can take breath at break after another loss

Rally falls short against Braves, who pound Wood for 7 runs

By Fred Mitchell

The Cubs could use a break.

Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Braves at the symbolic halfway point of the season leads into the All-Star break, giving most of the team four days off.

In typical fashion for the Cubs in this season, they fell behind 7-0 Sunday before rallying late and coming up short in front of 36,363 at Wrigley Field.

"We got behind a little bit and kept chopping away," manager Rick Renteria said after his team dropped two out of three to the Braves. "We put ourselves in position. We just fell a little short."

Travis Wood (7-8) took the loss after giving up seven runs on seven hits in six innings.

"For the most part, especially in the (four-run) second inning. I was making good pitches and they were hitting them," Wood said. "They just found holes. … That’s baseball."

The Cubs are 40-54 and in last place in the NL Central. But Renteria said he wants his players to focus on improving in the second half.

"There are more opportunities before us," he said. "We have a chance to continue to grind and play the game. We need to understand that we are not playing just to get through August and September. The mentality is to keep playing so that you feel like you want to keep playing beyond August and September."

Arismendy Alcantara hit his first major league homer in the sixth inning and finished 2-for-5. He is hitting .391 (9-for-23) with three doubles, a triple and a home run.

"With my ability I am having fun because I can be fast," said Alcantara, who has not been told whether he will remain with the big club or return to Triple-A Iowa. "I just try to do my job. If they want me to stay here, I will."

With the Brewers, Cardinals, Reds and Pirates bunched up well ahead of the Cubs in the Central, the best the Cubs likely can be is a spoiler in the second half.

"I look at it more as us going out and playing our game and let the results take care of themselves," Renteria said. "If they happen to be of a consequence that changes the direction of another club, so be it. But more than anything it is us just going out and continuing to try to play good baseball."

While Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo will participate in the All-Star Game, the rest of the Cubs will enjoy a few days off before resuming play in Arizona on Friday.

"It’s important in that you are going to try to step back and take a breath," Renteria said. "I don’t know if you can completely shut yourself off. It’s kind of hard because you have been grinding for four months. It’s kind of hard to shut it down. You might be able to take a little breath, but we will all be thinking baseball."

Chris Coghlan had two doubles and tied a career high with three RBIs against the Braves on Saturday. He added two more hits, including a homer Sunday.

"He has been taking advantage of the opportunity he has had," Renteria said. "He has had some really good at-bats. … As his offense has started to pick up, his confidence has continued to grow. But he is not a person who lacks confidence. He sees himself as a very good player."

Chicago Tribune

Anthony Rizzo assumes leadership role his way

Cubs 1st baseman says it’s about earning respect of teammates more than being vocal

By Fred Mitchell

Anthony Rizzo has assumed a leadership role on the Cubs, even though he has not exactly campaigned for it.

"I don’t want to say, ‘Oh, I’m the leader of this team’ and this and that," Rizzo said. "You just come in and play every day. I am not going to embrace anything. I embrace the guys on this team. I love them and I just want to keep getting better."

Rizzo stood up for his teammates last week in Cincinnati after Reds closer Aroldis Chapman sent a couple of fastballs close to Nate Schierholtz’s head.

"It’s just about earning the respect of your teammates every day," Rizzo said. "Whether you’re crushing the ball or if you are in a terrible slump, you’ve got to come in and be the same person. And that’s what it’s all about."

"Certain things happen, you’ve got to stick up for your teammates. When guys are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, you get on ‘em to get going because they could be hurting the other guys on the team. It’s a full team thing."

All-Star experience: Manager Rick Renteria hopes Rizzo and Starlin Castro get more than a couple of hits out of their All-Star experience.

"Hopefully they cherish it, because it is a special time for them," Renteria said. "And hopefully they will have some good memories to keep. And hopefully, as they are surrounded by the superstars of the game, that they gain some knowledge from them, see how they carry themselves."

Extra innings: John Baker (2-for-4) recorded his second multi-hit game of the season Sunday. … Cubs starting pitchers Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood posted a 14.90 ERA over the final two games of the Braves series. … Renteria said he plans to start Jackson, Wood and Jake Arrieta in next weekend’s series against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

Chicago Sun-Times

Rick Renteria remains upbeat about Cubs’ potential

By Toni Ginnetti

Rick Renteria insists he was confident about the Cubs’ future even before he got the job as manager last fall.

“Honestly, I thought I could see it even before being hired,” he said. “The strength in the system and the guys coming here, based on everything we’ve seen, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“With attitude and work, we can continue to move forward.”

Arguably, his first four months have been no different than the last three years for the Cubs. The team has struggled to win games and again faces a second half without its top two starters, who were traded away for more ­prospects.

At 40-54 after a 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, Renteria’s Cubs are behind the pace of his predecessor, Dale Sveum (42-51), at the All-Star break last year.

But Renteria has something Sveum didn’t, namely the first of the organization’s prospects arriving and a revitalized optimism in core players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro.

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara is the harbinger of hope from the stable of prospects. His first homer, coming on an 0-2 pitch, was more validation of his potential.

But All-Stars Rizzo and Castro have re-emerged as the faces of the team.

“They’re part of an elite class,” Renteria said. “They’ll always be All-Star players. They’ve earned it.”

The first-time honor for Rizzo is especially significant for team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, who made his acquisition from the San Diego Padres a priority.

“Overall, the ship’s moving in the right direction,” Rizzo said. “Every game is a learning experience, and every day in the big leagues is. We just have to keep moving on, grinding it out.’’

That is Renteria’s continuing message for a team that counts more on moral victories.

“More than anything [the first half has been about] building their confidence and [stressing] playing as a team,” Renteria said. “It’s maintaining an attitude that grinds and doesn’t let any deficit or [difficult] part of the game affect them.

“That’s what we were hoping to get done, and we have.

“We’ve been doing well as a club. At times we weren’t doing well early. The bullpen was erratic at times, but the starting pitching has been good. We had some bumps, but I don’t think you look at things and say, ‘This is terrible.’

“It’s like anything when you’re developing a team mentality. They’re getting confident in themselves. The biggest thing is that they give us a good effort all the time, and, for the most part, they’ve been doing that every day. All in all, you have to give credit to the players for who they are.”

He finds positives in losses such as Sunday’s, in which the Cubs tried to make a game of it after trailing 10-2 in the seventh inning.

“We put ourselves in a ­position to get close,’’ he said. “We just fell short.’’

Renteria believes he is developing with his players.

“I feel good about where I’m at because you get to know your personnel. There’s nothing like being with them on a daily basis to find out who they are. And hopefully they’re taking on the personality of our coaching staff.”

The second half has been a torturous time for the Cubs the last three seasons after pitching talent was traded away.

That risk remains as the team turns to pitching prospects such as Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Tsuyoshi Wada, just-acquired Dan Straily or others to fill the rotation void.

Renteria’s mantra will continue to be more about developing a positive attitude.

“There are more opportunities before us,’’ he said of the second half. “You need to understand you’re not playing to get through August and September. You need to keep playing to [develop a] feel that you want to play ­beyond September.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara books reservation for next series

By Toni Ginnetti

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara, who hit his first home run Sunday, will remain with the Cubs through the first series after the All-Star break against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

After that, the team faces a decision because another starting pitcher will be needed by July 22, when the team returns to Wrigley Field and opens a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.

Alcantara has done everything to earn his stay, including going 2-for-5 on Sunday with a home run on an 0-2 pitch from Atlanta Braves starter Julio Teheran. Chris Coghlan was on base, hiking Alcantara’s RBI total to five in five games.

“On an 0-2 pitch, I was just trying to hit it up the middle,’’ he said.

Manager Rick Renteria doesn’t mind getting asked continually about Alcantara’s status.

“I never mind you asking about our young players,” he said. “I just can’t say anything yet [about him remaining].”

Renteria said Edwin Jackson will open the second half against the Diamondbacks, followed by Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta.

Knocks on Wood

A year ago, Wood was heading to the All-Star Game. This year, he’s trying to put behind him a poor first half that ended Sunday with his eighth defeat in a 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves. His ERA has climbed to 4.96.

“I’m not happy with it at all,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff to improve on in the second half.”

Renteria said Wood is trying to regain his fastball command. Wood said he isn’t as sure what his problems are.

“I go to spring training every year saying you’re never the same as you were last year,” he said. “There are different challenges, and you have to deal with it.’’

Comforts of home

Players aren’t shy about their excitement for a new clubhouse, which is part of the first stage of renovations for Wrigley Field.

“The most important thing for the players is the clubhouse,” Anthony Rizzo said. “A lot of things will be beneficial. Just having the extra facilities, the batting cages, will be huge.”

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the revised renovation plans last week, but full City Council approval still must be given.

Coghlan stays hot

Coghlan had another multihit day Sunday, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI. He has hit safely in 13 of the last 14 games since June 30. Coghlan is hitting .435 in July after hitting only .147 in May and .232 in June.

His 20 hits this month include eight doubles and three homers with 12 RBI.

“He’s been taking advantage of the opportunities,’’ Renteria said of the 2009 National League Rookie of the Year. “He’s working very hard. And as his offense has picked up, his confidence has grown, though he’s never really lacked confidence.”

Daily Herald

Cubs showing cracks in the Wood?

By Bruce Miles

With all of the negative talk about Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson, shouldn’t there be similar concern about lefty Travis Wood?

A year ago, Wood was headed to the All-Star Game and on the way to a 200-inning season in which he went 9-11 with a 3.11 ERA and a tidy WHIP of 1.15.

The what-a-difference-a-year-makes story isn’t a good one for Wood. He was rocked Sunday for 7 runs over the first three innings of the Cubs’ 10-7 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

The good news for Wood was that he was able to settle down and get through 6 innings, but his numbers aren’t nearly as pretty as they were last year: The record is 7-8 while the ERA is 4.96 and the WHIP is a feverish 1.49.

"It’s hard to say; every year is different," he said. "It’s kind of what I’ve taken into spring. You’re never going to be the same as you were last year. Nothing’s ever going to go the same way as it did. In my opinion, it’s just a new year with different challenges, and you’ve got to overcome them."

Wood has not had a victory since June 15, when he went 8 shutout innings at Philadelphia. Since then, only 1 of his 5 starts was a quality start.

"We’re hoping that this one’s behind us, the half is behind us," said manager Rick Renteria, whose team goes into the break with at 40-54. "He (Wood) knows that his fastball command is one of the things that he’s been working on, and we’re still, obviously, very hopeful that he’s going to work through that and going to be fine in the second half.

"We’re looking for a better second half."

Sunday’s game was a microcosm of the season for the Cubs. They fell behind early, but true to form, they battled back and made a game of it.

The Braves scored three times in the second, with No. 8 hitter Gerald Laird driving in a pair with a double. In the third, Chris Johnson crushed a homer to center field, his third in two days, to bring home 3 of the 4 runs that inning.

The Cubs did not score until the sixth, when they put across 2, before adding 2 in the seventh and 3 in the eighth.

"We did fall behind a little bit," Renteria said. "We kept chipping away. I thought the guys kept battling. We put ourselves in the position, potentially, even edge closer. We just fell a little short."

Once again, the most excitement came from rookie second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, who hit his first major-league home run, a 2-run drive to right, in the sixth inning. He also doubled in the first. In his five games since being called up from the minor leagues, Alcantara is 9-for-23 (.391) with 3 doubles, a triple, the homer and 5 RBI.

Every day, reporters ask Renteria what the Cubs are going to do with Alcantara, keep him or send him back to Class AAA Iowa. And every day, Renteria defers to the organization.

"You know what?" Renteria asked. "Anytime all of you ask us about the young men that we have, I don’t get tired of you guys asking that. I just can’t tell you I’ll give you the answer you guys want to hear."

Alcantara also is playing it cool, especially for a 22-year-old.

"If they want me to stay here, I will," he said. "It’s not my decision."

But he’s definitely making the Cubs think about that decision.

Daily Herald

Scout’s honor: The crystal ball’s always cloudy

By Mike Imrem

The mood at Wrigley Field felt a couple ticks higher Sunday morning.

A lot has happened since the Cubs surrendered Jeff Samardzija and Jeff Hammel to Oakland on the evening of July Fourth.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved the renovation plans for the ballpark. Arismendy Alcantara has made an impact since being promoted from Triple-A Iowa five games ago. Attendance over the weekend was as good as it has been this season.

Meanwhile, none of the other hot prospects still in the minors has blown out a knee yet.

The Cubs’ franchise is on a roll even if the Cubs’ team suffered a 10-7 loss to the Braves on this day.

Still, the only thing that really matters is how good the reputed phenoms in the Cubs’ system will become.

The guy in right field for the Braves and an article on the Kansas City Star website indicated just how difficult it is to project the careers of prospects.

Jason Heyward arrived in Atlanta with all the expectations that Javier Baez, Kris Bryant and others will bring to Chicago.

Heyward was the next big thing, especially after hitting a home run against the Cubs in his first big-league at-bat on Opening Day in 2010.

Four years later, Heyward is batting .255, and a member of the Braves’ traveling party said the team still doesn’t know what it has in him.

Is he a speed guy destined to bat leadoff, a power guy for the middle of the order, a combination of the two, neither or something else altogether?

Regardless, Heyward is a good player on a good team but nothing close to what he was supposed to be.

From the buzz surrounding Bryant and Baez, they will disappoint if they don’t wind up better than Heyward has been.

It’s just about a given that not all the Cubs’ prospects will make an impact and that some will prove not to be even useful once they arrive at Wrigley Field.

Cubs’ president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/development director Jason McLeod acknowledge that.

Those three are veteran scouts, though not as veteran as the very veteran Art Stewart.

"You’ll have your heart broken by a player far more often than you’ll be proven right," the 87-year-old Stewart will tell anyone who’ll listen.

In fact, Stewart has a book out titled “The Art of Scouting” with the Kansas City Star’s Sam Mellinger as co-writer.

The book is a dandy, judging by excerpts that Mellinger included in an article Sunday on kansascity.com.

"The whole thing is so unpredictable, and your job is to predict it," Stewart wrote.

The book is full of colorful stories portraying a scout’s life on the road. But most relevant here — to the Cubs and White Sox, who just gave millions of dollars to a college pitcher — is the uncertain nature of scouting.

"You have to decide," Stewart writes about position players, "how this young man will adjust from sleepy crowds in small towns in the Carolina League to sellout crowds at Tiger Stadium when Justin Verlander is throwing 99 mph in the ninth inning."

Though the Theocrats can be questioned for continuing to trade major leaguers for prospects, stockpiling is their hedge against unpredictability.

A young player might not be as good as envisioned. He might be injury prone. Or something else generally unspoken might interfere with his progress.

"The next talented player to be sidetracked by too many women on the road," Stewart wrote, "won’t be the first and won’t be the last."

This is sobering stuff for teams rebuilding their farm systems with youngsters like the Cubs and Sox are in the process of doing.

The only sure thing is that it’s an unsure business.

OK, now back to your regularly scheduled renovation/Alcantara/ attendance mood elevator.

Daily Herald

Castro, Rizzo excited about all-star trip

By Bruce Miles

Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo packed up after Sunday’s 10-7 loss to the Braves and headed for the All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

It’s been quite the turnaround season for both players, and each will be counted on to provide leadership roles on the Cubs, despite each being only 24 years old.

"It’s not something I’m going to say, ‘I’m the leader of this team’ and this and that," Rizzo said. "It’s something where you just come in and play every day. … I’m not going to embrace anything. I embrace the guys on this team. I love them, and I just want to keep getting better."

Rizzo said he and his family are looking forward to the all-star festivities.

"They can’t wait," he said. "I’m happy for them because they get to experience it with me and get to experience it together.

"It’s going to be nice, looking forward to just a mental break and being able to relax. Obviously the All-Star Game but just being able to relax and enjoy the time off."

This will be Rizzo’s first All-Star Game and Castro’s third. Manager Rick Renteria said being in that setting will be good for both players.

"They’re part of the elite class," Renteria said. "The experience as an all-star player, they’ll always be all-star players. They’re going to go out there and be with some of the best, and they’ve earned it. They’ve gone out and done everything you would want them to do in order to impress your peers, impress the game of baseball."

Rotation roulette:

The Cubs will resume play Friday at Arizona after the all-star break and then come back for a big homestand.

Rick Renteria said Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and Jake Arrieta, respectively, will pitch the three games at Arizona. The Cubs likely will turn to Class AAA Iowa to fill the final two spots in the rotation, with Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks candidates to pitch again this season in the big leagues.

Close at the plate:

The Cubs scored all of their runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. They scored 2 in the eighth, but they might have had more if Starlin Castro had not been called out on a close play at the plate.

Castro tried to score from third with the bases loaded on a pitch that got away from catcher Gerald Laird, who tossed to pitcher Jordan Walden covering. Castro slid around Walden but did not touch the plate. Replay upheld the call, as the ruling came in that Walden was not illegally blocking the plate.

"I just see the ball and go," Castro said. "I go because I think I can be safe. It’s a tough play. They looked at replay. That’s the only thing I can ask because I didn’t touch home plate. I went around it."

13 7 / 2014

Daily Herald

Alcantara impresses Cubs with his speed, power

By Joe Aguilar

DES MOINES, Iowa — Little Arismendy Alcantara tends to get overlooked on the Cubs’ list of big-time prospects. And that’s not just because 6-foot-5 Kris Bryant — and, to some degree, even the thickly built and taller Javier Baez — dwarf the 5-10 Alcantara.

But while former No. 1 draft picks Bryant and Baez wait for their chance to be called up to the big-league team from Class AAA Iowa, their former I-Cubs teammate has been playing big in his first big-league shot.

I-Cubs manager Marty Pevey isn’t surprised at the success of Alcantara, who’s only 22.

"Mendy’s the best fastball hitter on this team, without a doubt," Pevey said Friday, before his first-place I-Cubs beat Oklahoma City 7-2. "He can turn anybody’s cheese around."

After going 0-for-4 in his Cubs debut at Cincinnati last Wednesday, Alcantara followed up with a 4-hit game that included a 2-run double, triple and sacrifice fly, as the Cubs beat the Reds in 12 innings. Then in his first game at Wrigley Field on Friday against Atlanta, Alcantara singled with two out, stole second base and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth on Justin Ruggiano’s single.

Alcantara was called up when second baseman Darwin Barney went on paternity leave to be with his pregnant wife. Alcantara was supposed to be with the Cubs for only two games. But his performance against the Reds earned the second baseman/outfielder an extended stay, at least through the weekend.

At Iowa, the switch-hitting Alcantara boasted a .307 batting average with a hefty 46 extra-base hits. His 10 homers included a Roy Hobbs-esque shot.

"Strong as an ox," Pevey said. "He hit a ball at Colorado Springs in the right-center-field lights. It hit the lights and bounced back. It’s 385 (feet) to right-center, so you do the math. The light’s over 100 feet straight up."

The 170-pound Alcantara isn’t built like a prototypical slugger. So how is he able to generate his surprising power?

"His hands," Pevey said. "He is lightning through the zone. Lightning. He could get wood on a bullet."

Daily Herald

Cubs face tough choice with Alcantara

By Bruce Miles

Arismendy Alcantara looked like a natural in center field Saturday as the Cubs rookie continues to impress.

Question is, can the Cubs send Alcantara back to Class AAA Iowa over the all-star break?

Alcantara, who made three starts at second base after his call-up this past week, started in center for Saturday’s 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. He went 2-for-5 at the plate with a double and looked fine in the outfield.

The Cubs brought him up because second baseman Darwin Barney went on paternity leave. Originally, it was thought Alcantara would go back to Iowa when Barney came back Friday, but the Cubs decided to keep him, at least for now.

In four games, the 22-year-old Alcantara is 7-for-18 (.389) with 2 doubles, a triple and 3 RBI. He gives the Cubs some much-needed speed in addition to his versatility and athleticism.

Manager Rick Renteria, who answers to team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, said only that the Cubs will have internal conversations about Alcantara. Renteria was asked what Alcantara has to prove in the minor leagues.

"Is there anything for him to do?" Renteria asked in return. "He’s obviously shown that he can perform. Many times, there are a lot players in the minor leagues that aren’t necessarily down there to improve other than the’re just continuing to play."

Renteria also was asked if there is anything he’s learned about Alcantara, even after having seen him in spring training.

"I don’t know if I found out anything I knew other than confirming a lot of things I heard about him," the manager said. "Very poised, very calm. His at-bats seem to be pretty good. Obviously in the field at second base, he’s been good, and running the bases. He definitely has some speed. But I think his response at being here and not being in the minor leagues has been really good. He responds as it’s simply baseball. I think he’s approaching it that way and having a lot of fun."

As for Alcantara, it’s been all good.

"It’s awesome," he said. "It’s something special for me. It’s something I can’t explain to you because it’s something you’re looking for. … If they think I’m ready, I feel I’m ready."

Rehab has begun:

Infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio was 3-for-4, all singles, in his minor-league rehab debut Friday for Mesa of the Rookie League. Bonifacio has been on the disabled list since June 13 with a right-oblique strain.

"That’s something that we need to make sure we’re mindful of because intercostals and all those types of injuries can be chronic," Rick Renteria said. "They can reoccur. We’ll take it as slowly as we have to or as quickly as we have to. It just depends on how he is moving along. We’ll just see where he’s at on a daily basis and how he’s progressing. If he’s pain free and the strength is good and getting back into baseball-fitness shape, just a lot of factors."

Daily Herald

Jackson shoulders blame for ugly outing

By Bruce Miles

Much has been said about Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson, and most of it has not been good.

So it was left for Jackson to say it himself Saturday after yet another rough outing in the Cubs’ 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

Jackson lasted only 3⅔ innings as he gave up 7 hits, 9 runs and 3 home runs, including 2 to Chris Johnson and 1 to Braves pitcher Mike Minor. Jackson’s record fell to 5-10, and his ERA rose from 5.05 to 5.64.

"It’s just one of those games, it’s just an embarrassing, horrendous game, flat out," Jackson said. "There’s no other way to put it. The team does a great job in battling back and you continuously go out and give up the lead, pretty much it’s unacceptable. It’s definitely one of those games to put way back in the back of the memory bank."

Jackson gave up 2 runs in the second, 1 in the third, and he was charged with 6 in the fourth inning, when the Braves chased him.

The Cubs and Braves were tied at 3-3 after three innings, and the Cubs came right back with 3 more in the bottom of the fifth, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the hole Jackson had dug for them.

"At the end of the day, you’re pitching in the big leagues," he said. "Any major-league team, if you’re leaving balls in the middle of the plate and up, I feel like it doesn’t matter who you’re pitching against. Those balls can be hit. Pretty much, I have to do a better job of executing and keeping the ball down and making them make adjustments, which I didn’t do today.

"You have two options. Either you can accept it and you can fold. You can take it as a slap in the face and you can turn it around and do something about it. We have a long second half. There’s definitely a lot of baseball left, and I feel like I can definitely turn things around and have a better second half and have the whole first half forgotten about."

Jackson presents a real problem for the Cubs. They signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract before last season, when he went 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA. With the recent trades of starting pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs need Jackson to step up along with Jake Arrieta and Travis Wood because the rest of the rotation will be filled with rookies.

Manager Rick Renteria was asked if there were any plans to change Jackson’s role.

"Good question," Renteria said. "I don’t think that’s anything we’re even … I would say the answer is no."

Renteria tried to chalk up Saturday’s brutal outing as one of those days. But there have been a lot of those days in a year-and-a-half from Jackson.

"To me, today was just not his day," the manager said. "Both sides were kind of going back and forth with scoring runs on each other. We just tried to help him out a little. It just wasn’t his day."

Daily Herald

Samardzija deserves to play in All-Star Game

By Bruce Miles

You want to put some life into this year’s All-Star Game? Let Jeff Samardzija pitch.

You really want to put some pizazz into the Midsummer Classic? Let Samardzija pitch an inning for both leagues. Maybe he could be both the winning and losing pitcher.

OK, so letting Samardzija pitch for both the American and National Leagues in the All-Star Game is far-fetched, but only Major League Baseball could come up with something so cockamamie as not letting an all-star play ball.

Samardzija made the National League all-star team as a Cub, but he was traded to the AL’s Oakland Athletics on the Fourth of July. So MLB told Samardzija he can go to Minneapolis this week, but he’s ineligible to pitch. And this from an organization that has gone interleague crazy the last few years.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is still the crown jewel among the major sports’ all-star contests, but there’s no doubt the MLB contest has lost a lot of its luster in recent years.

Some of it’s the times. There a million entertainment options on TV now in addition to all of the things to do in the great outdoors in summer. And baseball has lost its lofty perch to football and basketball, both of which offer video-game action in comparison with baseball’s pastoral pace.

The introduction of interleague play and the constant movement of free agents has blurred the line between the two leagues, taking some of the mystery out of the All-Star Game. There are no longer AL and NL league offices, presidents and umpires anymore.

Back in the day, it was common for NL President Warren Giles to give a pregame speech to his all-stars, exhorting them to go out and beat the “Junior Circuit.”

But there’s no reason the Midsummer Classic can’t be classic again.

Here are a few suggestions.

Let the starters play:

Starting position players should play at least five innings. In 1996, I covered the All-Star Game in Philadelphia. For the NL, Lance Johnson of the Mets played the entire game and went 3-for-4. He gave it his all and was gassed afterward.

NL stars Barry Larkin, Barry Bonds and Mike Piazza each had 3 at-bats, with Piazza earning game MVP honors.

For the AL, Albert Belle got 4 at-bats, with Kenny Lofton, Wade Boggs, Mo Vaughn and Cal Ripken getting 3 each.

Weight the voting:

Fans have so little to say about what goes on in pro sports that I’d be reluctant to strip them of the right to vote for the starters altogether.

But some choices over the years have been ridiculous, and for that reason I’d prefer to weight the vote among fans, players, managers and coaches.

Home-field advantage:

MLB and FOX TV overreacted when the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a tie, right in Commissioner Bud Selig’s backyard of Milwaukee. So together they decided that the league winning the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series.

The team with the best record in baseball should get home-field advantage in the World Series, period. MLB claims it can’t do that because of planning purposes. With an extra wild card now in the playoffs, I don’t see how MLB can plan anything anyway for October.

Whatever, take the All-Star Game out of the homefield argument.

Now can somebody remember to ship Cubs and A’s uniforms to Minneapolis for Samardzija to wear?

Daily Herald

With Wrigley decision, Cubs have a chance to win

By Matt Spiegel

The best Cubs news of the season, decade, and millennium came a day after they lost their sixth game in a row.

Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks gave unanimous approval to the full $575 million revised plan to rebuild and re-monetize Wrigley Field.

There’s activity immediately, as the “brown lot” parking structure on Eddy Street is to be rebuilt and expanded.

And sometime soon after the last home game on Sept. 24, the larger projects will begin in earnest. Maybe laborers will wear Cubs batting helmets for style and symbolism. Game on.

Next April, at the corner of Sheffield and Waveland, things should look vastly different from both sides.

The team’s ambition is to have the following projects FINISHED by Opening Day 2015:

• New bleacher seating, possibly after a tear-down and rebuild to make room for an outfield restaurant.

• New group terraces in right and left field, with enclosed hospitality areas.

• All seven of the proposed outfield advertising signs, including the LED scoreboard in right, and the near 4,000-square-foot video board left field.

Be prepared for a revamped aesthetic. Tradition meets commerce, to ensure the income needed for competitiveness.

As I’ve written here on the obvious model of Fenway Park, modernization does not mean the death of a shrine. A trip to Fenway is now more comfortable, the organization more viable, and still brings a warm connection to baseball history.

There is still “negotiating” ongoing between the Cubs and the rooftop owners, but only at the mayor’s behest.

There will be no reduction of signage, nothing else structurally changed to appease the Roofies.

They blinked. When, to paraphrase, they said “um, hey, so 2 signs are fine …remember that other plan …yeah let’s do that” a couple weeks ago, you knew the game of chicken was over. They know they can’t sustain the cost and commitment of a lawsuit, with no guarantee of an eventual win anyway.

I would still bet on a cash settlement. That 20-year contract Cubs Business Operations foolishly signed will force a payout.

But for now, Cubs staffers will sit in meetings and just take it. They’ll listen to three-flat owners bemoaning the loss of their main attraction, listen to neighbors voicing concerns over migratory birds, and even listen to ballhawks worrying about the loss of souvenirs they turn around and sell.

Jeez, I hope the pig-sized rats under the ballpark will be OK.

These concerns will be heard and mostly discarded. Cubs’ spokesman Julian Greene said Thursday that “the signage we got approved today is the signage that we’re going to move forward with. Period.”

The revenue from that signage alone is estimated to bring $30 million to $40 million a year. Baseball Operations will need that in a few seasons, for a variety of reasons.

When the moment is right to sign a big-money player or two, Theo Epstein will. But he knows the millions in those contracts will be wasted.

These days, teams often make a 6-8 year commitment to a star player in his prime, knowing full well that the final couple seasons could be useless. And in a pitcher’s case, the seemingly unpredictable elbow injury epidemic may take away 18 months at any moment.

Maybe one day all the general managers will be unified in seeing the folly of $150 million pitcher deals. Maybe research and info will be shared, and there will be collusion of sorts so as not to destroy payrolls.

Now, though, the extra income from stadium renovations and television deals is how ball clubs have to cushion themselves to survive contract roulette.

Finally, after years of old ownership that did nothing, and new ownership that tried to play a little too nice, this week brought resolution.

The Cubs are empowered to beomce a more viable baseball franchise.

Cubs.com

Jackson falters early, Cubs’ rally falls short

Right-hander gives up nine runs, three homers in 3 2/3 innings

By Joe Popely

CHICAGO — Edwin Jackson didn’t hold back when assessing his outing on Saturday.

Jackson surrendered nine earned runs on seven hits — including three home runs — in just 3 2/3 innings as the Braves pounded the Cubs, 11-6, at a humid Wrigley Field. The outing ballooned Jackson’s ERA to 5.64.

"It was just one of those games where it was just embarrassing, how horrendous — flat-out, no other way to put it," he said. "The team does a great job of battling back, and you continuously go out and give up the lead — pretty much just unacceptable.

"It’s one of those games to put way back in the back of the memory bank."

The game was up for grabs after three innings with the score tied at 3. Then came the fourth, in which the Braves sent 10 men to the plate, pounded two homers and hung a six-spot on the board.

Chris Johnson smacked a two-run homer to left two batters into the inning, but Jackson retired the next two on grounders. One out away from getting out of the inning down just two runs, Braves starter Mike Minor smacked a solo shot to left for just the second home run of his career.

Jackson then loaded the bases on walks to B.J. Upton and Freddie Freeman sandwiched around a single by Andrelton Simmons, and the starter was yanked. Carlos Villanueva came in and served up a three-run double to Justin Upton that put Atlanta ahead 9-3 and closed the book on Jackson.

"To me, today was just not his day," manager Rick Renteria said of Jackson. "Both sides were kind of going back and forth with scoring runs on each other, and we just tried to help him out there a little bit, but it just wasn’t his day."

The Cubs fought back with three runs in the fifth, when Arismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano and Anthony Rizzo loaded the bases on singles. Alcantara scored on a passed ball and Chris Coghlan drove in two with a two-out double to left.

Chicago took a 2-0 lead in the first on Ruggiano’s RBI single and Coghlan’s two-out RBI double four batters later. The Braves responded in the second on Johnson’s first two-run homer, which came after a Jason Heyward one-out walk.

"Hopefully, that’s just another aspect of my game I’m trying to work on, that power stroke," Johnson said. "But I’m not trying to hit home runs. I hit the first one pretty good. The second one was just a line drive and caught a good day in Wrigley."

The Braves tallied a run in the third on a B.J. Upton double, and the Cubs tied it up in the bottom half. Ruggiano led off with a double and scored on Welington Castillo’s two-out double that Justin Upton misjudged in center, as the ball deflected off his glove while he was jumping.

The bright spots of the day came from Alcantara, Ruggiano and Coghlan, who combined to go 7-for-12 with four runs, four doubles and four RBIs.

Coghlan is hitting .429 with eight doubles, two homers and 10 RBIs in 12 July games, while Alcantara is 7-for-18 with three RBIs and five runs scored through his first four Major League games.

Jackson, meanwhile is tasked with figuring out what went wrong during a rough first half. His overall ERA is skewed by a 6.05 mark in 10 road starts, and prior to Saturday’s outing, he had a 3.86 ERA in eight home starts.

Either way, it hasn’t been pretty. Jackson fell to 13-27 with a 5.23 ERA since joining the Cubs last season.

"At the end of the day, you have two options. You can accept it and fold or take it as a slap in the face and turn around and do something about it," Jackson said.

"We have a long second half. There’s definitely a lot of baseball left. I feel like I can definitely turn things around and have a better second half and have the whole first half forgotten about.

"But at the end of the day, those are pretty much the only options. There’s no in between."

Cubs.com

Alcantara maintains torrid pace, plays solid center

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The chatter surrounding Cubs callup Arismendy Alcantara continued Saturday after the 22-year-old shifted from second base to center field and scored two runs while going 2-for-5 in the Cubs’ 11-6 loss to the Braves.

"It’s awesome, something special to me," he said afterward. "This has been my dream. It’s something I can’t explain to you. It’s something you’re looking for."

After the game, the Cubs held their stance of not confirming the status of the talented rookie, in terms of whether he’ll be sent back to Triple-A Iowa after the All-Star break to make room for more starting pitchers. Manager Rick Renteria wouldn’t even confirm if Alcantara would be in the lineup in Sunday’s series finale.

But that doesn’t change Alcantara’s belief that he’s prepared to remain at the big league level.

"I feel I’m ready," said Alcantara, who is 7-for-18 with three RBIs through his first four Major League games. "I just try to do the same things every day. Just try to do my job."

After scoring the game-winning run in the Cubs’ walk-off win on Friday, Alcantara led off Saturday’s game with a double, then scored on an RBI liner to left by Justin Ruggiano. He crossed the plate again on a wild pitch in the fifth after singling to lead off the frame.

Alcantara also showed no struggles in adjusting to center field, despite 15-mile-per-hour-plus winds at Wrigley Field. Nine balls were hit his way on Friday, all of which he fielded with ease.

"He looked very smooth," Renteria said. "He’s obviously an athlete, obviously has a feel, and [it] looks like reaction and routes, at least for this day, were good. Very composed. He gets there and he’s got a good arm."

In his six-year Minor League career, Alcantara played across the infield with the exception of first base. He took the outfield for the first time just this year in 11 games with Iowa.

So which does he prefer — second or center?

"It doesn’t matter," Alcantara said. "I just want to be in the lineup."

Bonifacio off to hot start on rehab assignment

CHICAGO — Emilio Bonifacio went 3-for-4 with three singles as the designated hitter in his rehab debut with the Arizona League Cubs, the organization’s Rookie-level affiliate.

Bonifacio sustained a right oblique strain on June 12. Manger Rick Renteria said they are not rushing Bonifacio back, given the nature of his injury.

"That’s something that we need to make sure that we’re mindful of, because those types of injuries can be chronic over the long haul, can re-occur," Renteria said. "We’re going to take it as slowly as we have to or as quickly as we have to; it just depends on how he’s moving along."

Bonifacio is currently on the 15-day disabled list, and he has up to 20 days to work his way back onto the Major League roster.

"We’ll just see where he’s at on a daily basis and see how he’s progressing and if he’s pain free or if his strength is good, get him back into baseball fitness shape. There are a lot of factors. Thankfully, he’s moving along fine.

Bonifacio, 29, hit leadoff for the Cubs in 56 of 61 games this year. He’s compiled a .310 on-base percentage and batted .266 with a homer, 16 RBIs and 14 extra-base hits. He primarily played center field, but he also saw action at second base in 22 games.

Prospects Bryant, Baez headed to Target Field

CHICAGO — Top Cubs prospects Kris Bryant and Javier Baez are headed to Minnesota to play in Sunday’s Sirius XM All-Star Futures Game at Target Field.

Bryant, who was selected with the second overall Draft pick last year and is on the U.S. roster for Sunday, is hitting .346 this season with 31 home runs and 81 RBIs in 92 games with Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

Baez, the ninth overall pick in 2011, has played 84 games at Iowa, where he’s hitting .240 with 14 homers, 55 RBIs and 35 extra-base hits. Baez is on the World roster for Sunday’s game.

The duo, also listed as the top two Cubs’ prospects by Baseball America, wrapped the first half of Iowa’s season with a 7-4 win over the Oklahoma City Red Hawks on Friday.

Cubs.com

Cubs, Braves eye series win to close out first half

Chicago calls on Wood, while Atlanta looks to All-Star ace Teheran

By Maria Torres

The Braves broke out for 11 runs on Saturday to thwart the Cubs’ chances of a sweep this weekend, but the Cubs could still secure a series victory in the finale on Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Travis Wood will be tasked with that challenge, facing Braves ace and first-time All-Star Julio Teheran. An All-Star himself last year after posting a 2.79 ERA in the first half, Wood has a 4.64 ERA in 18 starts this season. And after having his best month of the year in June with a 3.19 ERA, he’s been roughed up in July.

Wood has allowed six earned runs in nine innings in his two July starts. He only made it through 5 1/3 innings while allowing three earned runs on eight hits on Tuesday in Cincinnati.

"You always learn more when you see your faults and you see how they’re going against you, instead of when everything is running smoothly and you’re riding a high horse," Wood said. "To really get cut down, you see what you need to work on [and] build on [to] get the confidence back up."

In the meantime, the Braves will count on Teheran to keep them in first place in the NL East going into the All-Star break. Teheran, who was chosen for his first Midsummer Classic by fellow Major Leaguers, hasn’t had a sophomore slump. In 19 turns on the mound, 16 of which were quality starts, the 23-year-old posted a 2.57 ERA and an 8-6 record. He’s fanned 110 and walked 28 batters in 129 1/3 innings.

Last year, he was 7-5 with a 3.35 ERA in 113 innings before the All-Star break.

"He gives us a great opportunity every time he goes out there," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "He’s been really, really solid. That’s one of the reasons he was named to the All-Star Game."

Braves: J-Hey coming around

Right fielder Jason Heyward went 0-for-14 from June 25 to June 29. The silver lining was he was getting on base via walks — seven of them, in fact.

In 12 games since then, however, he’s dropped 14 hits, four of which went for doubles. He’s 3-for-7 against the Cubs in this series.

"Jason has had some pretty good at-bats here in the last five or six games," Gonzalez said. "He had a couple of good at-bats in New York and then two good balls into left-center [Friday]. They looked like they were hit by right-handed hitters. I’m glad he’s coming around."

Cubs: Renteria finally getting some time off

Rick Renteria’s life got a lot busier starting last October. The Cubs skipper had hip replacement surgery on October 4, was interviewed from his home by several teams with managerial openings while he recovered, and was eventually hired to manage the Cubs.

His first All-Star break as a manager is right around the corner, and he’s looking forward to it.

"I’ll be honest, I’m going to take a little bit of a blow," he said. "I’m not going home. I’m going to stay here, and try to take a step back a little bit. I went from going through the surgery, the interview process, Spring Training, and it might be the first day of two or three days in a row where I can just take a step back. That’s what I’m going to try and do."

Worth noting

• Braves catcher Evan Gattis, who’s been on the disabled list with a bulging disk in his lower back since July 1 (retroactive to June 29), worked out with Class A Rome this weekend. He exceeded expectations by taking batting practice and playing catch on Friday. He could begin a rehab assignment on Tuesday.

• The Cubs’ Emilio Bonifacio, who’s been on the disabled list since June 13 with a right oblique strain, went 3-for-4 as the designated hitter in his first rehab game with the Rookie-level Arizona League Cubs on Friday.

Cubs.com

Overturned call at second goes Braves’ way

By John Jackson

CHICAGO — In the bottom of the eighth of the Braves’ 11-6 win over the Cubs on Saturday at Wrigley Field, an overturned call ended the inning and a potential Cubs rally.

With the Braves up by three runs and Chris Coghlan on first, Luis Valbuena grounded to second baseman Tommy La Stella, who tossed the ball to shortstop Andrelton Simmons to get the runner at second. Simmons then threw to first for the double play.

However, Coghlan was called safe at second. Simmons appeared to be close enough to the bag — the so-called “neighborhood play” — but second-base umpire Dan Bellino said he was off the base. Instead of the inning being over, Coghlan was at second with two outs.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez came out to argue, and after review, the safe call was overturned.

It’s the second time in less than a week that the Braves were part of a replay that involved the neighborhood exception.

On Monday, with the Braves and Mets tied in the bottom of the ninth, New York’s Juan Lagares bunted down the third-base line, hoping to move Eric Campbell to second. Braves third baseman Chris Johnson fielded the ball and threw to Simmons, covering second base, who stretched to receive the throw and quickly moved out of the way to try for a double play. Campbell was ruled out at second base, while Lagares beat the relay to first.

Mets manager Terry Collins successfully challenged the out call at second, arguing that Simmons didn’t keep his foot on second as he caught the ball. Collins argued that the neighborhood play wasn’t applicable, because Simmons took the throw more like a first baseman and wasn’t trying to avoid a collision.

Gonzalez strongly disagreed with the final outcome, calling it “one of the worst calls I’ve ever seen.”

"Good for [Collins], I don’t blame him whatsoever," Gonzalez said. "He’s trying to win. Whatever explanation he gave the umpires worked. I’ve learned so far that if you go to the headsets, you have no idea what is coming out of it. Good for Terry. I’m going to find out how he actually got them to do that."

Saturday’s play was more a traditional turn at second base.

"I didn’t go out there to question the neighborhood play; you can’t review that," Gonzalez said. "Once he said, ‘He’s safe off the bag,’ I’m thinking maybe he’s on the bag and maybe we’ll get the benefit of a doubt because it is a neighborhood play.

"But I didn’t go in particularly to say it was a neighborhood play, because you can’t challenge that."

ESPNChicago.com

An easy decision: Alcantara should stay

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The best new storyline to a dismal Chicago Cubs season showed no signs of slowing down on Saturday in the team’s 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Arismendy Alcantara played a flawless center field — just his 12th time playing there this season and first in the big leagues — while collecting two more hits and scoring two runs.

"He looked very smooth," manager Rick Renteria said after the game about Alcantara’s defense. "He looked exactly the way he did [shagging fly balls] in batting practice the other day. He’s obviously an athlete, has a feel, looks like his reaction and routes were good. And he has a good arm."

Alcantara went to his left and his right with ease while a gusting wind out to center kept things interesting. He made four putouts on the afternoon, begging the question which position he would like to play.

"It doesn’t matter," Alcantara said. "I just want to be in the lineup that day. I just want to play the game."

Undoubtedly, he would be more comfortable in the infield, where he’s played shortstop and second base in the minors. Renteria wouldn’t publicly commit to Alcantara starting on Sunday, but it would be a shock if the player with seven hits in his first 18 at-bats (.389) isn’t in the lineup the day before the All-Star break begins. He’s scored five runs in his first four games, setting the table at the top of the lineup, as he did with a leadoff double on Saturday. That was long before the game got out of hand.

"It’s something special for me," Alcantara said of being in the big leagues. "I can’t explain it to you."

So, will he stay with the Cubs after the break? That’s all anyone wants to know.

"We’ll have conversations," Renteria said before the game. "I can’t tell you when, but I’m sure we’ll have conversations."

The Cubs have several options. The simplest one might be to send a pitcher down to the minors, as they’ve carried 13 for much of the season. With the All-Star break, their relief corps will be well rested, and the need to baby arms after the four-day break might not be as necessary right away. By the time it does, the trade deadline will be upon us and the Cubs will undoubtedly make a move or two with a position player. That would open the spot for Alcantara to stay.

If the Cubs need to play Emilio Bonifacio to show teams he’s healthy when he returns, or even Darwin Barney to show them he’s still viable, then so be it. Nothing is written that Alcantara has to start every day — as much as anyone watching the Cubs wants it.

"When we get together as an organization and discuss those things, we have to take in a lot of factors," Renteria said. "We’ll come to a good conclusion, sound decision. That’s best for us as a club and best for the organization."

Or the Cubs could send Junior Lake or Mike Olt down to the minors in light of their struggles. Or maybe the Cubs will make a deal during the break. The front office has stated on many occasions that once the Cubs promote, they don’t want to go backward. After changing their minds about Alcantara going back to the minors when Barney came off paternity leave, the writing should be on the wall. Keep him.

"Whatever they want me to," Alcantara said. "I don’t expect that [staying]. I just try to play good baseball."

ESPNChicago.com

Jackson: ‘It was embarrassing’

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Not even the excitement of newcomer Arismendy Alcantara could distract Chicago Cubs fans from pitcher Edwin Jackson’s performance on Saturday. The $52 million hurler summed it up better than anyone in the Cubs’ 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves.

"It was an embarrassing, horrendous game," Jackson said. "Flat out. No other way to put it."

Jackson couldn’t get out of the fourth inning as he gave up nine runs, including three home runs on seven hits and four walks. In the fateful six-run inning, it looked like he was pitching batting practice. One left the park via pitcher Mike Minor, his second career long ball.

"The team does a great job of battling back and you continuously go out and give up the lead," Jackson stated. "It’s pretty much unacceptable.

"At the end of the day, you have two options: You can accept it and fold or you can take it as a slap in the face and turn it around and do something about it."

Jackson has been singing this tune for the better part of a year and a half with the Cubs, and any time he comes close to showing promise on the mound he takes two steps back. His 5.64 ERA ranks 92nd out of 93 qualified starters, and he’s 13-28 as a Cub, 5-10 this season.

"There’s a lot of baseball left," Jackson said. "I definitely think I can turn things around and have a better second half and have the whole first half forgotten about."

Manager Rick Renteria stated the obvious: “Today was just not his day.”

Renteria admitted it was a “good question” when asked if the Cubs were thinking of a different role for Jackson — as in the bullpen — but then he quickly dismissed it.

"I would say the answer is no right now," Renteria said.

And now probably isn’t the time to talk about moving a healthy, veteran starter out of the rotation, no matter how bad he is. The Cubs already have two openings after the trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, and they’re going to be careful with their young arms. The short of it: They can march Jackson out there and let him wear it, ERA and record be damned.

"When it’s your day to pitch, it doesn’t matter if we have three veterans or a lineup full of young guys. We have to go out and get the job done," he said. "As professionals, there are no excuses; you either get the job done or you don’t."

"We can talk all day about what you can do and what you have to do. At the end of the day, you have to go out between the lines and do it."

Cubs fans are waiting for that to happen.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Braves 11, Cubs 6

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs lost to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday, 11-6. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Edwin Jackson didn’t get out of the fourth inning as he gave up nine runs, seven hits and four walks. Three hits left the park, including two by Chris Johnson and one by the pitcher Mike Minor. The Cubs actually took a 2-0 first inning lead as Arsimendy Alcantara scored on a Justin Ruggiano single after doubling to leadoff for the Cubs. Chris Coghlan also had an RBI in the inning. Down 9-3 in the fifth, the Cubs cut the deficit in half as Coghlan doubled home two more but that’s as close as they came. The Braves added two more in the ninth on RBI singles by Justin Upton and Jason Heyward.

What it means: Jackson’s ERA rose to 5.64, and juxtaposed against gutty performances by rookies this past week, his start looks even worse. Yes the wind was blowing out but once again Jackson got outpitched by his competition. It has been an ongoing story since signing with the team before last season. Coghlan continued a recent hot streak with two more hits. He’s batting .428 in July with a .500 on-base percentage.

Alcantara OF debut: After playing only 11 games in center field this season at Triple-A Iowa, Alcantara had no issues out there on one of the most windy days of the year. He tracked down all catchable balls and played the ones that got behind him correctly. He showed promise with a smooth debut in the outfield at Wrigley. And he was as good as ever at the plate adding another two hits to his first week total. He has scored five times in his first four games.

What’s next: The rubber game of the series — and the finale before the All-Star break — comes Sunday afternoon when Travis Wood (7-7, 4.64 ERA) faces Julio Teheran (8-6, 2.57).

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Kris Bryant gets national spotlight in Futures Game

By Patrick Mooney

Sports Illustrated declared the Houston Astros will be “Your 2017 World Series Champs.” Now imagine if “Ground Control” had decided to pick Kris Bryant.

The Cubs never looked back after drafting the University of San Diego third baseman. Almost exactly a year after getting a $6.7 million bonus, Bryant will play in the All-Star Futures Game on Sunday at Target Field in Minneapolis. The early verdict: Almost too good to be true.

“From the day he signed,” Cubs executive Jason McLeod said. “When you look at a No. 2 pick, and now with the draft and the dollars being what they are, I thought he endeared himself to his teammates last summer right away. They all loved him.

“He’s a confident guy who respects the game — and respects his teammates — and just wants to work every day to get better.”

The Astros simplified the pitcher-vs.-hitter debate the Cubs had going by grabbing Stanford University right-hander Mark Appel with last year’s No. 1 overall pick.

Appel underwent an emergency appendectomy during the winter, struggled to adjust to Houston’s unique piggyback system — a four-game tandem rotation — and dealt with tendinitis in his right thumb. He’s posted a 9.57 ERA through 10 starts at advanced Class-A Lancaster this season.

The Cubs showed their bias toward position players by passing on University of Oklahoma flamethrower Jonathan Gray, who went third overall to the Colorado Rockies and has gone 8-4 with a 3.77 ERA in 17 starts at Double-A Tulsa this season.

Bryant helped advanced Class-A Daytona win a Florida State League title last year. He became the Arizona Fall League’s MVP. He was leading the Southern League in the Triple Crown categories last month when he got promoted from Double-A Tennessee to Triple-A Iowa.

Combined, Bryant’s hitting .346 with 31 homers and 81 RBIs through 92 games this season. He’s also hanging around Iowa player/coach Manny Ramirez.

“I’ve never seen him without a smile on his face,” Bryant said. “That’s kind of how I play the game, too. You have to kind of just look at it like it’s a game. You have to go out there and have fun. I think (Manny) is the idol in that aspect, going out there and having fun every single day. He doesn’t take it too serious, but he was a really hard worker. I think there is a balance there, and (it’s been) a blast to meet him so far.”

McLeod — who oversees scouting and player development — remembered meeting with Bryant during last year’s West Coast Conference tournament in Stockton, Calif. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer joined the sit-down in a hotel lobby.

“Kris is a very intelligent kid,” McLeod said. “You’re talking about a college player who’s had a lot of accolades. Certainly, in general, these guys are much more confident, much more short with their answers. Almost like — I don’t want to say an inconvenience — but ‘OK, I’ll get through this.’

“Kris was very talkative. He asked very pointed questions. It became pretty apparent this is a humble guy that comes from a good family who’s a student of the game. He really talked about learning and wanting to watch video and wanting to talk to other players about pitchers they’ve faced. It’s important to him to be really, really good and to work for it.”

The Futures Game is supposed to be a sneak preview, but Bryant and Javier Baez have been big stories since they reported to spring training, getting wall-to-wall coverage all season. Cubs fans and the Chicago media won’t be giving them much of a grace period when they get to Wrigley Field.

“You never know until they’re there and actually living it and dealing with it on a daily basis,” McLeod said. “But I think with the information that we’ve given them, how well we know them now as young men, certainly I feel really good that they’re equipped (to) come up and deal with that and perform in this environment.

“To deal with (day games ending and it’s) 5 o’clock and now what does the city of Chicago have to offer, knowing you got to get back there at 8 a.m. the next morning to get your early work in. Those are constants that are always talked about.”

Those big-market expectations — combined with video-game numbers — could one day put Bryant on the cover of Sports Illustrated. It’s definitely not the World Series, but Cubs fans will want to see Bryant vs. Baez on Sunday, Team USA vs. The World. The Futures Game is now.

CSNChicago.com

Arismendy Alcantara keeps making case to stay with Cubs

By Patrick Mooney

After flying under the radar for years, Arismendy Alcantara’s become the player everyone wants to talk about now.

Rick Renteria got at least eight Alcantara questions during a pregame media session that lasted eight-plus minutes. The Cubs manager liked what he saw from Alcantara, hitting leadoff and playing center during Saturday’s 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field.

“He looked very smooth,” Renteria said. “He looked exactly the way he did, quite frankly, in batting practice the other day. He’s obviously an athlete. He obviously has a feel. It looks like his reactions and his routes — at least for this day — were good. Very composed.”

Alcantara, who went 2-for-5 with two runs scored, doesn’t know how long the Cubs will keep him up here, but it looks like he belongs.

“I’ll stay here and do whatever they want me to,” Alcantara said. “I just try to do my job every time I come to the field.”

That combination of speed and versatility could make Alcantara the super-utility guy on the contending teams Theo Epstein’s front office envisions for the future.

“He could be, but I don’t want to pigeonhole him into a particular position like that,” Renteria said. “He has the athleticism to do it. But I think all things always depend on the need of the ballclub.

“We’ll just kind of see how it all plays out. Fortunately for us, we got a little taste of what he can do. Those will probably be conversations that we will all have along the way.”

The Cubs appear to have a surplus of up-the-middle players after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s in a package built around shortstop Addison Russell. At age 24, Starlin Castro will be heading to his third All-Star Game. Javier Baez forced Alcantara to move from shortstop to second base last year at Double-A Tennessee.

Team officials rave about Albert Almora’s defensive instincts in center, though the 2012 first-round pick is at advanced Class-A Daytona. Two more first-round picks — Triple-A Iowa third baseman Kris Bryant and Class-A Kane County catcher Kyle Schwarber — could ultimately move to corner-outfield spots. Jorge Soler, the $30 million Cuban outfielder, is back in the picture at Tennessee.

For an organization with options, Alcantara’s an ideal fit because he can switch-hit, play all over the field defensively and contribute in different ways. The Cubs are finding that out, already extending Alcantara’s stay after Darwin Barney’s two-day paternity leave.

Alcantara jumpstarted the Cubs by nearly hitting for the cycle in Thursday’s win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. He helped manufacture Friday’s game-winning run with a single and a stolen base against the Braves in front of 39,544 at Clark and Addison.

Alcantara is only 22 years old, but he already has more than 2,200 plate appearances on his minor-league resume. He’s jumped from No. 100 on Baseball America’s rankings to the 33rd prospect on its midseason list. He earned this promotion by hitting .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles, 41 RBIs and 21 stolen bases at Iowa.

Does this guy have anything left to prove in Des Moines? Publicly, Renteria continues to be noncommittal about keeping Alcantara around after the All-Star break.

“He’s obviously shown that he can perform,” Renteria said. “When we get together as an organization, we will discuss those things. We have to take a lot of the factors into consideration. We’ll hopefully come to a good conclusion, a decision that’s the best for us as a club and best for the organization.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs sit through ‘embarrassing’ game by Edwin Jackson

By Patrick Mooney

Edwin Jackson covered his mouth and screamed into his glove.

A few boos became the soundtrack as Jackson walked off the mound late Saturday afternoon. But Cubs fans have seen this before, and they didn’t seem to have the energy to really pump up the volume. Plus, it’s tourist season at Wrigley Field, with a big crowd (36,806) watching the Atlanta Braves cruise to an 11-6 victory.

“It was just embarrassing,” Jackson said afterward inside the interview room/dungeon. “Flat out. No other way to put it.”

Jackson couldn’t finish the fourth inning, and the Cubs have struggled to find any sort of rhythm or consistency with their $52 million pitcher. This comes at a time when the organization can point to its “pitching infrastructure” and success rate with “change-of-scenery” guys.

During his postgame news conference, manager Rick Renteria was asked if the Cubs would consider finding another role for Jackson and bumping him from the rotation.

“I don’t think that’s anything we’re even … I would say the answer is no. Right now, no,” Renteria said.

The Braves (51-43) absolutely buried Jackson, who gave up three homers, including one to Braves pitcher Mike Minor. Jackson left a bases-loaded jam for Carlos Villanueva, and Justin Upton slammed a three-run double into left field, making it a 9-3 game.

“Your team does a great job of battling back, and you continuously go out and give up the lead,” Jackson said. “It’s pretty much just unacceptable. It’s definitely one of those games to put way back in the back of the memory bank.”

Jackson can unplug during the All-Star break, but he’s now 5-10 with a 5.64 ERA — the year after leading the majors with 18 losses. Jackson has gone more than six innings only three times in 19 starts this season, and the last time that happened was May 17.

Forget about leading the rotation with Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel now pitching for the Oakland A’s. The Cubs (40-53) would settle for a decent No. 5 starter.

“You got two options,” Jackson said. “Either you can accept it and you can fold. Or you can take it as a slap in the face and do something about it. We have a long second half, and there’s definitely a lot of baseball left. I feel like I can definitely turn things around (and) have the whole first half forgotten about.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Arismendy Alcantara flashes his versatility

Rookie 2nd baseman takes a turn in center field Saturday with good results, including 2 hits

By Fred Mitchell

Arismendy Alcantara appears to be as agreeable as he is versatile in his first several games in the big leagues.

The rookie second baseman was deployed in center field Saturday. He handled himself confidently defensively and collected a pair of hits, including a double.

"It is awesome, something special for me," he said of his initial big league experience.

"We’re hoping that it fares well and his athleticism and ability to move around allows him to be OK out there," manager Rick Renteria said.

Alcantara is hitting .389 since being called up from Triple-A Iowa. He has hit safely in his last three games, including two doubles and a triple. But Renteria has yet to commit to keeping him around for the long term.

"He has obviously shown he can perform," Renteria said. "Many times players in the minor leagues are not necessarily down there to prove anything. They are just continuing to play."

Alcantara says he simply wants to do his job as best he can and leave the decision to keep him with the big league club up to management. He said he also doesn’t care whether he plays second base or center field.

"It doesn’t matter," he said. "I just want to be in the lineup. I just want to play the game."

Chipping in: Second baseman Darwin Barney, who returned from paternity leave Friday, is hitting .371 in his last nine games. Renteria said he appreciates how Barney has handled his platoon role.

"It has been good to see him grinding it out and performing," Renteria said. "He is handling it as a professional and continues to contribute to us in any way he can help."

Side show: Infielder Emilio Bonifacio, on the disabled list with an oblique injury, went 3-for-4 in his first rehab start Friday with the Arizona League Cubs.

"Those types of injuries can be chronic over the long haul," Renteria said. "We are going to take it as slowly as we have to … it just depends on how he’s moving along. It’s a 20-day window that you have when you go on a rehab assignment, so we’ll just see where he’s at on a daily basis."

For starters: Jake Arrieta has the second-lowest ERA (1.95) in the majors since May 1. Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers is first at 1.81.

"His stuff is playing very, very well," Renteria said. "He is commanding the zone; his ball is showing a lot of life."

All-Star break: Renteria said he is looking forward to the All-Star break to recharge.

"I am going to take a little bit of a blow," Renteria said. "I am not going home; I am going to stay here. But I am going to try and take a step back a little bit. I went from going through the (offseason hip-replacement) surgery to the (Cubs) interview process, spring training … and it might be the first time I will have two or three days in a row where I can actually take a step back."

Upon further review: Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, paid a routine visit to both managers before Saturday’s game.

"He was just seeing how the replay issues were going," Renteria said. "I told him we think it has been going well. As the season progresses and as it continues to be used, all of us will have a better sense of using it better."

Chicago Tribune

Edwin Jackson labels performance ‘embarrassing’

Cubs starter gives up 9 runs in less than 4 innings as generally punchless Braves win 11-6 rout

By Fred Mitchell

Edwin Jackson referred to his performance as “embarrassing” after the veteran right-hander put his team in an deep, early hole Saturday before the Cubs ultimately lost 11-6 to the Braves at Wrigley Field.

Jackson lasted just 32/3 innings, allowing a season-high nine runs on seven hits and four walks. Jackson gave up three home runs — a pair to Chris Johnson and one to Braves pitcher Mike Minor.

"Our team does a great job of battling back … we give up the lead. It’s pretty much unacceptable," said Jackson, whose record slipped to 5-10 with a 5.64 ERA.

Jackson is 0-4 lifetime against the Braves with a 5.44 ERA.

Minor (3-5, 4.86) was not exactly fooling Cubs batters either. He allowed six runs on 11 hits over six innings yet emerged with the victory in front of 36,806 fans on a warm and steamy day with the wind blowing out at 14 mph.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria deployed rookie second baseman Arismendy Alcantara in center field Saturday.

Alcantara collected two hits to raise his average to .389 since being called up from Triple-A Iowa. He also played flawless defense in center.

"He has played about 10 or 11 games in the minor leagues (in center field)," Renteria said before the game. "So we can give him a look out there and give (Darwin) Barney a start at second base. We’re just trying to cover a lot of different bases."

Alcantara doubled to lead off the first and scored on a Justin Ruggiano single to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead.

Jackson gave up two runs in the second and one in the third before the floodgates opened in the fourth when the Braves scored six runs on five hits and two walks, including two home runs and a pair of doubles.

"I feel like it doesn’t matter who you are pitching against … those guys can hit," Jackson said of the low-scoring Braves. "I pretty much have to do a better job of executing and keeping the ball down … which I didn’t do today."

In an understatement, Renteria said: “To me, today was just not (Jackson’s) day. Both sides were going back and forth scoring runs. We just tried to help him out a little bit. It just wasn’t his day.”

After Renteria pulled Jackson, Justin Upton delivered a bases-loaded double off reliever Carlos Villanueva to clear the bases for a 9-3 lead.

The Cubs got three runs back in the bottom of the fifth. With the bases loaded, Alcantara scored from third on a passed ball. With two outs, Coghlan doubled in a pair of runs to make it 9-6.

Renteria was asked if the Cubs would consider a different role for the high-priced Jackson on the pitching staff.

"I would say the answer is no," Renteria said.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Javier Baez on a steep learning curve

After cruising through system, top shortstop prospect hit major speed bump against Triple-A pitching before slowly snapping out of deep slump

By Paul Sullivan

DES MOINES — Maybe the best things to happen to Javier Baez this year were his early season struggles at Triple-A Iowa and the sudden shift of media attention toward fellow prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell.

Baez’s standing as the top player in the Cubs’ system was no longer a given, and all the talk in spring training that he already was ready for the majors had been temporarily muted.

"Once I get called up, I don’t want to come back down, so I’m being patient and waiting for them to think I’m ready," Baez said. "When they think I’m ready, I’ll be ready for that."

He’s not ready yet, despite cries for his call-up, and will remain at Iowa until he proves he can bring some consistency to his offensive game and shore up his defense.

It all looked so easy for Baez last year at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee. He combined to hit .282 with 37 home runs and 111 RBIs in only 130 games, tying for second in the minors in home runs and leading all minor leaguers in RBIs and extra-base hits (75) while earning the Cubs’ minor league player of the year honor.

While Bryant cruised through Class A and Double A in one year, Baez hit a speed bump, adjusting slowly to pitching at the Triple-A level. He hit .172 in April with a .238 on-base percentage and .379 slugging percentage, shortly after hearing experts proclaim he already was the best hitter on the Cubs’ roster.

But Baez is learning, one at-bat at a time. He said he’s swinging at strikes now and taking more pitches to the opposite field. While Baez has gone through struggles before, he added: “Not as bad as this year.”

Baez’s average has risen to a more respectable .240, with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs, though his strikeout total (110 in 312 at-bats) still is alarming.

He’s really no different than most players who have zoomed through the system to Triple A before hitting a logjam. The pitchers are a little older, a lot smarter and less inclined to throw a fastball to someone who willingly lunges at off-speed stuff out of the strike zone.

"I’ve been getting better and better every day," Baez said. "It’s way different here. In Double A, they throw a lot of strikes, a lot of pitches in the zone. Here they make you chase, and they’re going to keep doing it until you learn."

Iowa hitting coach Brian Harper conceded it’s “a whole different adjustment than A-ball and Double A,” but he said Baez has emerged from his slow start.

"If you take away April, his numbers are pretty decent," Harper said. "He just got off to such a bad start and it kind of snowballed. I’m proud of the way he has handled the rough start. He has worked hard and really dedicated himself to figuring things out."

Just in case Baez isn’t figuring things out quickly enough, Cubs President Theo Epstein threw a monkey wrench into the plan, making the controversial decision to bring former Red Sox slugger Manny Ramirez to Iowa as a player-coach — or coach-player, depending on who’s talking.

"It really boils down to he’s the calmest hitter I’ve ever seen in the box," Epstein said. "And if Manny can help one hitter get a little bit calmer in the box, it’ll be worth it.

"He handles nasty right-handed breaking stuff. His whole approach to it, I think he can articulate it better than anyone I’ve ever been around. If he can help impart some of that wisdom to just one hitter …"

It’s hoped that one hitter is Baez, though Ramirez is there to mentor all the Iowa hitters.

No matter how it turns out, the “Manny Effect” is a fascinating experiment. Ramirez’s relationship with Baez will be under the spotlight the rest of the season, and he probably will get some credit if Baez dominates in the second half the way everyone assumed he would when he arrived in April.

"Legendary work ethic," Harper said of Ramirez. "Nobody has ever said anything but that he works hard and really prepares. For him to come in and actually do what I’ve been telling these kids is a great help for me."

Though Ramirez’s arrival seemingly would undercut Harper’s ability to do his job, Harper insisted he has no problem sharing his duties. As long as the message ultimately is received, Harper doesn’t care how it’s transmitted.

"Sometimes with hitting, one coach might say something and it might not click," he said. "And another coach might verbalize it in a different way and all of a sudden it clicks for a kid. Manny and I talk about guys and some of the things we want to help them with. He’s awesome."

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs’ secret weapon is strength coach Tim Buss

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — The first person shortstop Starlin Castro thanked publicly for helping him return to All-Star form is the same guy first baseman Anthony Rizzo sees first on most mornings on the road.

But Cubs strength coach Tim Buss is no All-Star whisperer, mostly because nothing he ever does comes in the form of a ­whisper.

‘‘Under the radar’’ is more like it, said Buss, a quick-witted, sharp-tongued taskmaster with a scruffy beard and mussed hair.

No chance.

‘‘Underpaid’’ is more like it, according to right-hander Carlos Villanueva, who is among Buss’ legion of believers in the clubhouse.

Maybe.

What’s certain is that Buss, 41, has survived six managerial changes, two front-office regime changes, two ownership changes and scores of millionaire ballplayers in his 14 years on the job because of contributions rarely seen publicly but felt deeply by players such as Castro and Rizzo — and recognized throughout the organization.

‘‘It’s no coincidence,’’ Villanueva said. ‘‘Bussy’s a lot of things. He’s our strength guy, he’s a comedian, he’s a shrink.’’

Maybe a secret weapon?

‘‘He’s part of the reason a lot of us have what success that we do,’’ said reliever James Russell, who has stayed off the disabled list during a five-year Cubs career despite ranking among the top 10 in the National League in appearances the last two seasons.

As the Cubs go through a painful transition that has sent more than 100 players through the big-league clubhouse since Theo Epstein took over, Buss has been the constant.

Nobody escapes the wry jokes that come with his boisterous laugh and big personality. But Buss’ ­biggest strength is seen during the part of his 12-hour workday when the lights go on in the weight room.

‘‘He jokes all the time, but when you’re talking about work, bro, he doesn’t joke,’’ said Castro, whose big rebound season started when Buss spent a month last offseason in Castro’s hometown in the Dominican Republic, pushing him in early-morning workouts.

On the morning Starlin Jr. was baptized, Buss didn’t allow for a day off. Instead, they got up two hours earlier to do their work.

Castro credits Buss with helping make him an All-Star this season, but Buss scoffs at that notion.

‘‘I was just making sure that he knew exactly what the organization needed from him,’’ Buss said. ‘‘And that’s a lifestyle change and to make sure that if he wasn’t going to be successful, it wasn’t going to be because he was out of shape.’’

Buss might have played a role in Rizzo’s All-Star season, too, though he scoffs at that, as well. But a morning workout routine on the road that started about this time last season has continued this season, with Buss and Rizzo connecting in the gym daily during road trips.

He’s ‘‘very unique,’’ Russell said of the combination of humor, work ethic and personal investment the Cubs get with Buss.

‘‘From the outside, he’s a really good strength coach,’’ Russell said. ‘‘I’ve never seen somebody get more angry at guys getting hurt and take it so personally.’’

Villanueva said it sometimes includes chair-throwing.

‘‘He makes us work hard, but he does it in ways where he keeps it loose and fun and helps you stay sane whenever you’re kind of getting your butt whupped a little bit,’’ Russell said.

Hitting coach Bill Mueller, who played for the Cubs in Buss’ first season with the team in 2001, said he has seen a personality that has grown since then and is impressed with the studied, ‘‘progressive’’ approach that belies the smirking exterior.

‘‘He’ll motivate you the right way and keep everything loose around here, which is very needed in this clubhouse, especially during this process that we’re going through,’’ Villanueva said.

‘‘You can’t be serious all the time; it’ll mess with your mind. But when it comes to work, he’s firmer than he looks like.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Braves blast Edwin Jackson, Cubs

By Brian Sandalow

With each day like Saturday, Arismendy Alcantara gets people more excited about his future with the Cubs.

Edwin Jackson also has a future with the Cubs, but what happened to him Saturday will make some less than thrilled about that.

Alcantara, flawless during his first start in center field, also had two hits and scored twice. But that wasn’t enough to undo Jackson’s worst start of the year in the Cubs’ 11-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves. Jackson went 3 2/3 innings and allowed nine earned runs and three homers, with Chris Johnson hitting two and Braves starter Mike Minor getting the other.

It was the fourth straight winless start for Jackson (5-10) and another tough day for a pitcher who’s only a season-and-a-half into his four-year, $52 million contract. He was charged with all six Braves runs in the fourth and saw his ERA rise from 5.05 to 5.64.

‘‘To me, today was just not his day,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.

Unfortunately for the Cubs, that has been the common refrain for Jackson in his time in Chicago. He is 13-28 as a Cub and is on pace to do worse than last year’s 4.98 ERA.

Asked if the Cubs would consider another role for Jackson, Renteria said, ‘‘I would say the answer’s no.’’

Jackson knows he must get better.

‘‘At the end of the day you’ve got two options,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘You can accept it and you can fold, or you can take it as a slap in the face [and] you can turn it around and do something about it.’’

Meanwhile, Alcantara, 22, continued to impress. His two runs gave him five in four games, and he handled a sometimes-stiff wind in center without any issues.

‘‘He looked very smooth,’’ Renteria said.

That may or may not help him stay after the All-Star break. Either way, he has given the Cubs plenty to think about when they decide what to do with the first of the top prospects to arrive at Wrigley Field.

‘‘I just try to do my job every time [I] come to the field,’’ Alcantara said.

Chicago Sun-Times

R&R for Renteria: Cubs’ skipper could use a break

By Brian Sandalow

The last few months of Rick Renteria’s life have been very busy, so the Cubs’ manager is planning on making the most of the upcoming All-Star break — by not doing much at all.

‘‘Myself, I’ll be honest, I’m going to take a little bit of a blow,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I’m not going home. I’m going to stay here, but I’m going to try and take a step back a little bit.’’

Since being hired last November, Renteria has been dealing with all that managing the Cubs brings. In addition, he had hip replacement surgery in October and needed to recover while interviewing for and getting used to his new job.

‘‘It might be the first day that I’ve had two or three days in a row where I can just actually take a step back,’’ he said. ‘‘And that’s what I’m going to try to do.’’

Easy does it for Emilio

Emilio Bonifacio began his rehab assignment Friday in Mesa with the Arizona (rookie) League Cubs and went 3-for-4. On the disabled list since June  13 with a strained right oblique, Bonifacio led off and was the designated hitter to help ease him back into action.

‘‘That’s something that we need to make sure that we’re mindful of because intercostals and all those types of injuries can be chronic over the long haul — they can reoccur,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘We’re going to take it as slowly as we have to or as quickly as we have to. It just depends on how he’s moving along.’’

Hey, Joe

Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, was at Wrigley Field and met with Renteria before Saturday’s game. The trip was part of Torre’s meetings with managers around baseball. The new review system was a topic of discussion.

‘‘We told him that we think it’s been going well,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘As the season progresses, and as it’s continued to be used, all of us will get a better sense of using it better.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts excited about renovations, prospects

By Seth Gruen

For the past several seasons, the Cubs have sold what appears to be a bright future, asking fans to give the organization patience in return.

On Friday, it seemed as if the future was as close as it has ever been.

A day after gaining unanimous approval from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to move forward with renovating Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the media on the organization’s baseball operations and construction plans.

This came before highly touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara scored the winning run on a single by Justin Ruggiano in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Wrigley Field.

“Obviously, it was very important for us to get those approvals to move forward, and we’re excited to really begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process,” said Ricketts, who didn’t have a timetable for the renovation.

“It’s been a long process. We’re just glad that it’s behind us, and I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward, and we’re looking forward to moving forward.”

As for the on-field product, Ricketts needed to look down in the minors to point the arrow up.

Alcantara, the speedy second baseman who has worked in center field during batting practice, hit a two-out single, stole second and scored on Ruggiano’s hit.

He’s the first of the organization’s top prospects to arrive in Chicago. In 13 major-league at-bats, he is hitting .385 with three runs scored. Manager Rick Renteria said after the game that Alcantara has “a lot of poise to him right now.”

“There’s no one in this organization that isn’t excited,” Ricketts said. “The fact is that you can’t look at our future and not be just thrilled. Obviously, we have top prospects across the board. A lot of the guys that we were hoping would step up this year and continue their development have. I think you can’t be anything but excited for our future.”

Of course, it’s difficult for prospects to develop without seasoned veterans around them in the lineup. And it’s harder to win championships without proven players who command bigger contracts.

Ricketts also didn’t have a timetable for when that money might be spent, deferring to his baseball men to make that decision and on whom to spend it.

“You guys know how it works,” he said. “Basically, we pay our expenses, and we give everything over to the baseball side. If they decide to spend it, they can. If they don’t, they can keep it for the future. I think we’re all in sync there. I think we’re OK there.

“I’ll leave that up to [baseball president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer], but we’ll support them every way we can.”

NOTE: Emilio Bonifacio began his rehab stint Friday in Mesa, Arizona. He was put on the disabled list June 13 with a strained right oblique.

12 7 / 2014

Sun-Times

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts excited about renovations, prospects

BY SETH GRUEN

For the past several seasons, the Cubs have sold what appears to be a bright future, asking fans to give the organization patience in return.

On Friday, it seemed as if the future was as close as it has ever been.

A day after gaining unanimous approval from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to move forward with renovating Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts addressed the media on the organization’s baseball operations and construction plans.

This came before highly touted prospect Arismendy Alcantara scored the winning run on a single by Justin Ruggiano in the ninth inning of a 5-4 victory over the Braves at Wrigley Field.

“Obviously, it was very important for us to get those approvals to move forward, and we’re excited to really begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process,” said Ricketts, who didn’t have a timetable for the renovation.

“It’s been a long process. We’re just glad that it’s behind us, and I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward, and we’re looking forward to moving forward.”

As for the on-field product, Ricketts needed to look down in the minors to point the arrow up.

Alcantara, the speedy second baseman who has worked in center field during batting practice, hit a two-out single, stole second and scored on Ruggiano’s hit.

He’s the first of the organization’s top prospects to arrive in Chicago. In 13 major-league at-bats, he is hitting .385 with three runs scored. Manager Rick Renteria said after the game that Alcantara has “a lot of poise to him right now.”

“There’s no one in this organization that isn’t excited,” Ricketts said. “The fact is that you can’t look at our future and not be just thrilled. Obviously, we have top prospects across the board. A lot of the guys that we were hoping would step up this year and continue their development have. I think you can’t be anything but excited for our future.”

Of course, it’s difficult for prospects to develop without seasoned veterans around them in the lineup. And it’s harder to win championships without proven players who command bigger contracts.

Ricketts also didn’t have a timetable for when that money might be spent, deferring to his baseball men to make that decision and on whom to spend it.

“You guys know how it works,” he said. “Basically, we pay our expenses, and we give everything over to the baseball side. If they decide to spend it, they can. If they don’t, they can keep it for the future. I think we’re all in sync there. I think we’re OK there.

“I’ll leave that up to [baseball president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer], but we’ll support them every way we can.”

NOTE: Emilio Bonifacio began his rehab stint Friday in Mesa, Arizona. He was put on the disabled list June 13 with a strained right oblique.

Daily Herald

Cubs show some life with back-to-back wins

By Bruce Miles

A week like the Cubs just had can sap the spirit.

The last couple of days can show it’s still there.

After trading away their two best pitchers and enduring a six-game losing streak, the Cubs responded Thursday and Friday in ways that show there’s still a heartbeat.

They came back to beat the Cincinnati Reds Thursday in 12 innings, also winning a staring contest over high-and-tight pitching and what they perceived to be some taunting by the Reds.

On Friday, they came home to Wrigley Field and coughed up two leads to the Braves only to win 5-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Rookie sparkplug Arismendy Alcantara, who is daring the Cubs to send him back to the minor leagues, singled with two outs in the ninth. He stole second base and then scampered home on Justin Ruggiano’s single to left, setting off a big celebration in the middle of the diamond. A season-high crowd of 39,544 witnessed the festivities.

"It’s still there," Ruggiano said, referring to the Cubs’ spirit after the trade of pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. "We were probably a little down, a little bit, losing those two guys. They were big guys in the clubhouse. But we’ve got a pretty tight group of men in here. We all pull for each other. We’ll be all right."

The all-star break is just two days away, and after that, more trades are likely, given the Cubs’ 40-52 record. We’ve seen the Cubs to into free-fall after similar situations the last two years. It’s the job of first-year manager Rick Renteria to keep that from happening.

"I don’t think they’re thinking about the trade at the moment," Renteria said. "They’re just thinking about playing baseball. I think yesterday actually was a good thing for us because you see that the game is going to continue.

"Change inevitably occurs. We can’t control certain things. Some things you can. The things that we can, we try to. I think in terms of the emotions and the ability to go out and play every single day, there’s enough to worry about in the opponents and how you’re going to play the game than to worry about things you can’t really control."

It does help that the Cubs have a starting pitcher like Jake Arrieta stepping up. He got a no-decision Friday, but he turned in his seventh straight quality start by going 7⅔ innings and giving up 4 hits and 3 runs. He sports an ERA of 1.95.

He knows some young help already is here with Alcantara and more is on the way from the minor leagues eventually.

"We want to win here," Arrieta said. "Regardless of the situation with our roster, our clubhouse feels like we can win games. With that mentality and on top of that getting some good players to come fit in here, that definitely helps."

Daily Herald

Ricketts excited about moving forward on Wrigley

By Bruce Miles

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts made a brief appearance at Wrigley Field on Friday to say he is excited about moving forward on the renovation of the 100-year-old ballpark.

On Thursday, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks gave unanimous approval to the Cubs’ $575 million plan to renovate the park, add lucrative signage, and build on the surrounding area.

"Obviously, it was very important for us to get those approvals to move forward, and we’re excited to to begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process," Ricketts said before the Cubs played the Atlanta Braves. "It’s been a long process. We’re just glad that it’s behind us. I’m not worried about anything happening in the past. We’re just going to go forward."

Ricketts said the Cubs don’t have a groundbreaking date set for the four-year project. One sticking point remains the threat of a lawsuit by the neighboring rooftop owners, who charge patrons for watching Cubs games and share a percentage of their proceeds with the club.

They object to the Cubs adding seven advertising signs they say will block their views. Recently, some rooftop owners said they would not sue if the Cubs stuck with their original plans to add two large signs. The Cubs also plan to put a big-screen video board beyond the left-field bleachers.

Ricketts said talks between the two sides will continue, as was urged by the city. But Cubs officials seem intent on moving full speed ahead.

"Everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field," Ricketts said. "Obviously, we’ve always had a very long-term perspective and so a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process, we just kept it in perspective and tried to take the high road and keep moving forward. I think we’re in a good spot now.

"We’ll reach out and we’ll talk to everybody. I think there will be a solution that works. We’re always talking with those guys (rooftop owners)."

As for the baseball-operations side of the organization, Ricketts said he continues to have faith in the long-term rebuilding plan set out by team president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer. The Cubs are in last place in the third year of the Epstein-Hoyer regime.

A week ago, the Cubs traded top pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, but in doing so they added to a farm system that now ranks among the best.

"There’s no one in this organization that isn’t excited," Ricketts said. "You can’t look at our future and not be just thrilled. We have top prospects across the board. A lot of the guys that we were hoping would step up this year and continue their development have. I think you can’t be anything but excited for our future."

Daily Herald

Rizzo thankful for all-star vote help

By Bruce Miles

The Cubs returned home Friday after a long, 11-game road trip. The first thing first baseman Anthony Rizzo did on arriving at Wrigley Field was to visit team offices and thank employees for helping get him to the All-Star Game.

"It’s incredible," he said. "I walked over to our office and thanked all the front-office and people who were working behind the scenes to pump it up and to promote it. Very, very appreciative.

"The family is ecstatic. We’ve come a long way all together, me and everyone else that’s coached me, that’s helped me out through good times and bad times. It’s an accomplishment I’ll cherish forever."

Rizzo was elected in the “Final Vote,” in which fans voted online. He got 8.8 million votes via mlb.com and Twitter to edge the Rockies’ Justin Morneau and the Braves’ Justin Upton.

Voting closed during Thursday’s Cubs-Reds game at Cincinnati, and Rizzo found out he had won in the clubhouse after the game, a 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

"They called a meeting and told me," he said. "It was unbelievable."

Rizzo will join teammate Starlin Castro, who made it as a reserve, for next week’s All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis. Former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija also is an all-star, but because he was traded to the American League’s Oakland Athletics, he may not participate in the game even though he’ll be there.

Alcantara center of attention:

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara was back in the lineup at second base after Thursday’s 4-hit, 3-RBI performance in Cincinnati. He wound up scoring the winning run in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Braves.

There’s a chance Alcantara will play center field Saturday. The Cubs brought him up this week from Class AAA Iowa, and Alcantara made his big-league debut Wednesday. It was assumed he’d go right back to Iowa, but the Cubs will keep him around for a bit.

"Right now, he’ll be here through this weekend series and then as an organization, we’ll determine how we move forward," said Rick Renteria. "Anytime you bring up a young prospect, you have to play. You have to see them. I’m going to see what I can do in terms of keeping him in there and balancing out the lineup a little bit. We’ll probably work with him in center field a little bit tomorrow and see how that works."

Roster machinations:

The Cubs activated second baseman Darwin Barney off the paternity list and recalled left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup from Iowa. To make room, the Cubs optioned pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Blake Parker to Iowa.

The Cubs also said infielder-outfielder Emilio Bonifacio would begin a minor-league rehab assignment Friday night at Mesa of the Rookie League. Bonifacio has been on the disabled list since June 13 with a right-oblique strain.

Cubs.com

Ruggiano the walk-off hero after see-saw affair

Right-fielder singles with two outs to plate Alcantara in ninth

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs have a decision to make soon regarding the big league status of Arismendy Alcantara, the rookie who helped Chicago to a 5-4 win by scoring the walk-off run in front of a season-high 39,544 at Wrigley Field on Friday.

Alcantara, who hit leadoff following a four-hit outing on Thursday, scored on Justin Ruggiano’s base hit down the left-field line after blooping a two-out single to right then swiping second. Ruggiano’s walk-off single — the Cubs’ first walk off since June 6 — came on a 2-1 slider that inched past leaping Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and it followed a narrow foul down the left-field line on the prior pitch.

"That’s stuff you used to do playing wiffle ball in the backyard," Ruggiano said. "You make believe the situation. Now it’s coming true. You live for those kind of things."

Regarding Alcantara, manager Rick Renteria wouldn’t elaborate on the rookie’s big league status past this weekend’s series. After the All-Star break, the Cubs will have to make some roster moves to fill out their starting rotation.

"Any player, when they impact you and show you what they have, I think the easiest thing to do is for people to start to speculate if he will stick around," Renteria said, while noting Alcantara will likely play center field on Saturday.

"We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. It would be premature and irresponsible for me to say something like that, but he does impact the way you view him, for sure."

Alcantara has hit 5-for-13 in his first three Major League games with three RBIs, three runs scored, two extra-base hits and four strikeouts.

Ruggiano’s heroics bailed out closer Hector Rondon, who blew his third save of the season, but got the win. Jason Heyward led off the ninth with a double and scored the tying run three batters later on Christian Bethancourt’s two-out single.

Atlanta’s late rally spoiled a strong effort from Jake Arrieta and an earlier go-ahead rally sparked by the Cubs’ All-Star tandem of Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who both scored in the sixth to take a 4-3 lead.

Rizzo led off with a sharp double down the right-field line, and Castro reached on a single after consecutive bobbles by third baseman Chris Johnson and Simmons. Then Welington Castillo was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Chris Coghlan, who is hitting .410 (16-for-39) this month, brought home the tying run with a liner into right, then Luis Valbuena — pinch-hitting for Mike Olt — drew a bases-loaded walk to take the lead.

Arrieta took the mound Friday as one of the baseball’s hottest pitchers. Heading into Friday’s game, he led the majors with a 1.78 ERA since May. Arrieta gave up four hits, three earned runs, three walks and fanned six over 7 2/3 innings.

"It was nice to have myself in a situation being able to pitch in the eighth, kind of getting extended there a little bit, and give our team some innings," Arrieta said. "[Atlanta has] an extremely balanced lineup from top to bottom, first-place ballclub, kind of everything I expected to see from those guys, we got it. … They really grinded it out, and I had to do the same thing."

In 35 1/3 innings over his last five starts, Arrieta has a 1.78 ERA with 41 strikeouts, 17 hits, seven earned runs and eight walks. The Cubs won four of those five games, including Friday. Though he was pitching very well before the Cubs traded top starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Arrieta is stepping into the role of ace.

"I kind of slowly put myself in that [leadership] role even when those two guys were here," Arrieta said. "It’s kind of a role I’ve been in before, and I’m pretty comfortable with the responsibilities that come along with a role like that. It’s something I embrace."

Cubs.com

Expanded Wrigley renovation plans receive approval

Revised $575 million plan includes up to seven outfield signs, video scoreboard

By Carrie Muskat, Joe Popely and Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Cubs owner Tom Ricketts had an upbeat demeanor as he perused Wrigley Field on Friday.

The Cubs got the approval from the Chicago Landmarks Commission on Thursday for their expanded renovation plans for 100-year-old Wrigley Field.

"It’s a day we’ve been looking forward to for a while now," Ricketts said. "It’s great to get to the hearing and get it behind us. We’re excited about moving forward.

"Obviously, it’s very important for us to get those approvals to move forward. We’re excited to begin the renovation process, as opposed to the political process. … We’re just glad that it’s behind us. I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward."

The commission ruled 6-0 in support of the revised $575 million plan, which includes as many as seven outfield signs, a video scoreboard in left field and a bullpen shift from the foul lines to under the bleachers, which will be demolished and restructured. The outfield bricks and ivy will not be removed.

Ricketts said he was optimistic throughout the process that Thursday’s decision would eventually come to pass, and he thanked those who supported it, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

"I was confident that everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field," Ricketts said. "Obviously, we’ve always had a very long-term perspective, so [through] a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process, we just kept [it] in perspective and tried to take the high road and keep moving forward. I think we’re in a good spot now. We’re looking forward to getting things rolling.

"I think [Mayor Emanuel] understands that this is a project that needs to get done — not only to save an iconic ballpark, but for the jobs and economic development it both saves and creates. I appreciate all the mayor’s involvement in the process from start to finish."

Ricketts didn’t identify a specific date to break ground, but he noted that the outfield cosmetics will be coordinated throughout the offseason and said the overall project would take an estimated four years to complete.

The five additional signs are limited to 650 square feet each, and they must be spaced at least 20 feet apart. They can be either script or neon, but they can’t be billboards or have flashing lights. Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said the revenue generated from the additional advertising will help finance much of the renovation.

The Cubs delayed the overhaul last year, because rooftop owners threatened to sue over the hindered visibility that the new scoreboard would bring. It has been reduced to 3,990 square feet, down from the original request of 5,700.

Ricketts was cordial yet succinct when discussing the ongoing conversations with the rooftops owners. The rooftop association recently said it would approve the original plan, which had two signs, but it was opposed to adding seven

"Obviously, the hearing was just yesterday. We’ll reach out and talk to everybody," Ricketts said. "We’re confident there will be a solution that works."

Cubs players and manager Rick Renteria also chimed in on the approval Friday before opening the weekend series against the Braves.

"I think just, in general, just to have the approval to move forward is a big thing for the Cubs, for us," Renteria said. "I know it’s been in the making for a long time. I’m just here for the first year, so I know it’s kind of been worked through."

Cubs reliever Wesley Wright said he’ll miss the intimate fan interaction through the field-level bullpen, but the shift under the bleachers is the safest option.

"It’s unique for our fans, because they talk to us and get to see what a Major League-quality pitcher looks like right in front of them," Wright said. "But from a player’s perspective, being off the field and kind of out of that area allows you to do a little more … as far as preparing for a game."

"I think the additions and the improvements will just add to [Wrigley Field] and kind of bring us into the modern era," Renteria said. "But I don’t think you could ever take away from the reality that we’re still in the throes of a very historic ballpark."

Rizzo grateful to fans, Cubs organization

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo walked into the visitors’ clubhouse at Great American Ball Park following the Cubs’ 6-4, come-from-behind victory in 12 innings over the Reds on Thursday thinking he had fallen just short in his bid to become an All-Star.

A Cubs public relations staffer had a look on his face like “his dog had just died,” so Rizzo assumed he didn’t win the National League’s Final Vote contest. But manager Rick Renteria called a team meeting to drop the charade: He told Rizzo that he had, in fact, been awarded the final spot on the NL’s All-Star roster, and the clubhouse erupted into celebration.

"It’s incredible. I walked over to the offices and thanked all the front-office people who were working behind the scenes to promote it and pump it up," said Rizzo, who garnered 8.8 million votes to secure his first All-Star selection. "I’m just very, very appreciative. My family is ecstatic; we’ve come a long way all together.

"Myself, everyone else around me that has coached me and helped me out through good times and bad times, it’s just an accomplishment that I will cherish forever."

Rizzo narrowly edged the Rockies’ Justin Morneau and the Braves’ Justin Upton. He trailed Morneau until late Wednesday, took a slight lead early Thursday and took control later that day as fans took to Twitter and voted for the Cubs’ first baseman using #VoteRizzo.

Rizzo has consequently become a big fan of Twitter.

"Yeah, I love it. I’m just a big fan of how the Cubs went about this," Rizzo said. "They promoted it like no other. The whole city of Chicago, all the fans, I love this city, and it makes me even more proud to be playing for this team and this city."

Rizzo even joked about his reason for exchanging heated words with the Reds on Thursday, which led to both benches clearing.

"I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn’t hit a home run that day, so I had to do something," he said.

The incident told Renteria that Rizzo and fellow All-Star Starlin Castro are embracing their increasingly important roles.

"I thought Anthony standing up in that moment yesterday during the ballgame showed that he’s got a little bit of heart in what it takes to be a leader, and I think everybody gravitated to it," Renteria said. "They’re growing up."

Barney returns, but Alcantara staying for now

CHICAGO — The Cubs will keep Arismendy Alcantara on the roster through Sunday, but it’s unclear if he’ll still be with the club following the All-Star break.

He further strengthened his case for an extended stay in the bigs in Friday’s 5-4 win over the Braves. A day after going 4-for-5, Alcantara singled with two outs in the ninth, stole second and scored the winning run on Justin Ruggiano’s walk-off single.

Alcantara was called up on Wednesday to fill in for Darwin Barney, who was on paternity leave. Barney returned Friday, but the Cubs decided to keep Alcantara around longer than originally planned because of their current pitching situation. With the All-Star break around the corner and starters Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood lined up for the final two games of the first half, the club optioned right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Blake Parker to Triple-A Iowa and recalled lefty Zac Rosscup from Iowa before Friday’s game.

That allowed the club to keep Alcantara, who is considered an offensive upgrade at second over Barney. The 22-year-old hit .307/.353/.537 with 21 stolen bases and 11 triples in 89 games for Iowa this season, while Barney has posted a .224/.261/.316 line in 70 games for the Cubs.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said the organization will determine after this weekend what it will do with Alcantara.

"Again, I think that any player, when they impact you and show you what they have, I think the easiest thing to do is for people to start to speculate if he will stick around," Renteria said. "We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. It would be premature and irresponsible for me to say something like that, but he does impact the way you view him, for sure."

Renteria plans to move Alcantara — who played 70 games at second base, six at shortstop and 11 in center field at Triple-A this year — around the diamond so that he plays on a consistent basis. Renteria said Alcantara worked out in center fielder prior to Friday’s game, and he may get the start there on Saturday.

"I think that any time you bring up a young prospect … they have to play. We have to see them," Renteria said. "I’m going to see what I’m going to do in terms of keeping him in there and balancing out the lineup a little bit."

Bonifacio beginning rehab assignment

CHICAGO — Emilio Bonifacio will begin his rehab assignment on Friday with the Arizona League Cubs, the organization’s Rookie-level affiliate.

Bonifacio has been on the disabled list with a right oblique strain since June 13. He sustained the injury the previous day against the Pirates. In his first at-bat, he took a swing that caused him to fall to the ground, and he limped off the field with the support of head athletic trainer PJ Mainville.

Bonifacio is hitting .261/.307/.340 in 61 games this season.

Worth noting

• Thursday’s victory over the Reds snapped a six-game losing streak, which Renteria said wasn’t caused by the July 4 trade involving Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

"I’ll be honest with you, I think it’s coincidental. We didn’t hit well with runners in scoring position as well as we should have," he said. "We had a couple of games where we weren’t able to hold it, and I don’t think it had anything to do with the change."

• Rizzo became the first Cub to win the NL Final Vote contest, and he became the youngest Cub to make the All-Star team as a first baseman.

• By making his Major League debut on Thursday, Hendricks became the third Cubs starter to do so in a 13-day stretch that started June 28. Per Elias Sports Bureau, that marked the first time three Cubs starters made their big league debuts in a span of 13 days or fewer since 1948, when Bob Rush, Cliff Chambers and Dutch McCall did it in a six-day span.

• Castro is the third shortstop in Cubs history to earn three All-Star nods, joining Ernie Banks (nine times) and Don Kessinger (six times).

Cubs.com

Alcantara, Arrieta signs of bright future for Cubs

By Phil Rogers

CHICAGO — Ah, so this is what Theo Epstein has been up to the last few years.

Sneak previews are always cool, and that’s what Cubs fans were treated to on Friday afternoon.

Fresh legs, reliable bats, a power arm on the mound and the ballpark packed, like it was when the Cubs were rolling out playoff teams. The best part is that the leading men against the Braves on Friday afternoon — Arismendy Alcantara, All-Stars Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo and post-Jeff Samardzija ace Jake Arrieta — average only 24 1/2 years in age.

"The future’s bright," Arrieta said. "That’s very apparent."

Alcantara is not one of the team’s Core Four prospects (a designation that probably needs to be changed to the Big Six given the trade for Addison Russell and 2014 first-round Draft pick Kyle Schwarber’s instant impact), but the dynamic little everywhere man from the Dominican Republic beat Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora to the Major Leagues.

He was playing in his third game on Friday, his first in front of the ivy-colored walls and iconic scoreboard, and wouldn’t we all like to know how Sammy Sosa’s old home looked through his wide eyes?

Alcantara was a difference-maker in the 5-4 victory over the Braves, but even before the ninth-inning dramatics it was clear that it was a rush for the 39,544 fans — the biggest crowd of the season, including Opening Day — to see a newcomer who could play a role on future playoff teams.

"I thought the fans, you could sense they were happy to have us home," said manager Rick Renteria, whose team went 5-6 on a trip to Boston, Washington and Cincinnati. "I’m hoping I read it right. We’ve been on the road a lot this year. You could feel the energy, obviously. Even though we got tied, they stayed with us. Obviously, I thought they were very excited for us to pull it out in the end. You could hear the buzz."

Alcantara, promoted on Wednesday in Cincinnati when Darwin Barney left for paternity leave, is a human pinball machine when it comes to registering stats. He does everything you can do on a diamond — good and bad — and the numbers often pile up in a hurry. That was the case Thursday, when he was 4-for-5 with a double, a triple and a sacrifice fly.

On Friday, the Braves had scored on a two-out single by Christian Bethancourt to tie the game in the ninth. Jordan Walden got two quick outs but that was all. Alcantara, batting .385 in his three games, pulled a pitch past diving second baseman Tommy La Stella for a single. He wasted no time stealing second and scored the winning run when Justin Ruggiano got a single past shortstop Andrelton Simmons.

Protocol dictated that players rush the field to mob Ruggiano, but the pile could have just as easily been on the 22-year-old Alcantara, a holdover from the Jim Hendry regime who was hitting .307 with double figures in doubles (25), triples (11), home runs (10) and stolen bases (21) in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa when he was promoted.

Renteria admitted that Alcantara’s arrival has energized the Cubs’ clubhouse.

"When you have a young person come in fresh to the big leagues, there’s a lot of energy, there’s a lot of excitement," Renteria said. "There’s a willingness to go out and show what you have. This young man has the energy and the desire to be out there. He’s very composed. Good for him."

Arrieta, acquired last year from the Orioles in a trade for Scott Feldman, continues to look like one of the best additions for Epstein and Jed Hoyer in Chicago. His emergence this season made it a little easier to trade Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics, and he pitched as well against Atlanta as he did against the Nationals in his first start after the Samardzija trade.

Relying on his tight slider more than ever, Arrieta has found the command that escaped him in Baltimore. He worked 7 2/3 innings on 98 pitches against the Braves, allowing four hits and three runs. Bethancourt’s hit off Hector Rondon kept Arrieta from running his record to 6-1, but he didn’t seem to mind. He’ll take the 1.95 ERA and 1.01 WHIP — and maybe in a year or so the long-term contract extension that Samardzija declined.

Arrieta admits that he expects himself to fill the void left by the Samardzija/Hammel trade.

"Yeah, I kind of slowly put myself in that role, even when those two guys were here, to be one of those guys," Arrieta said. "I’ve commented on it a little bit in the past, but it’s a role I’ve been in before. I’m pretty comfortable with the responsibilities that come along with a role like that. It’s something I embrace and look forward to continuing to be in this role, to help guys establish themselves, combat the struggles that take place at this level."

As usual, the Cubs received impactful hits on Friday from Castro and Rizzo, the 24-year-old All-Stars who are bouncing back from down years in 2013. They are veterans before their years, having combined to play 1,083 Major League games, too many of them with their team in last place.

No one knows when Epstein will decide to take the wrapping paper off the talent that awaits in places like Iowa, Tennessee and Florida. But Alcantara reinforces what scouts have been saying. These guys are worth the wait.

"Guys like Alcantara, we know we have some guys in the pipeline who can definitely help us in the future," Arrieta said. "We look forward to seeing these guys — Baez, Bryant and a couple of other young guys. It’s going to be a fun period of time in the next six, eight months, toward the end of this season, the beginning of next season, to see those guys blossom and continue to grow, get some experience up here. We want to win here, regardless of the situation on the roster. Our clubhouse feels like we can win games. With that mentality, on top of that, getting some good players to fit in here, that definitely helps."

For the first time in a long time, seeing was believing.

Cubs.com

Minor looks to improve command, limit homers

Eyeing third straight win, Chicago calls on Jacks on to clinch series

By Will Laws

With key rotation member Mike Minor struggling so far in 2014, manager Fredi Gonzalez is hoping that he tries to emulate two of the league’s most surprising veteran success stories this season — one of which is his own teammate.

Gonzalez praised the starters of the Braves’ clash on Thursday against the Mets, when Aaron Harang and Bartolo Colon both had impressive outings to continue their strong 2014 campaigns.

"They command all pitches and they don’t panic when they get men on base," Gonzalez said. "They keep pitching and throwing strikes."

Gonzalez also wants Minor to recognize when he’s at a disadvantage in a particular matchup. After giving up 22 home runs in 32 starts last year, the southpaw has allowed 14 homers in 13 starts this season.

"[Colon and Harang] know who beats them and they won’t let them beat ‘em even when the next guy’s a lefty," Gonzalez said. "[Harang] did it with David Wright. He’s knows that David Wright’s hit him and he’s hit him for some damage. He says, ‘You know what, David, I’ll face [Lucas] Duda.’"

Minor hasn’t won since May 19, a span of nine starts, and his ERA has risen from 3.80 to 4.54 since then.

His counterpart on Sunday will be Edwin Jackson.

In his last start, the sometimes inconsistent Jackson took a loss against Cincinnati after giving up four runs in six innings. He also retired 13 consecutive batters at one point and had to work around a 21-minute rain delay.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria was satisfied both with Jackson’s performance against the Reds and overall in 2014.

"He gives us a chance," Renteria said of the right-hander. "Every time he goes out there, I feel good that he’s going to keep the game within reach."

Cubs: Alcantara to get stay with club through weekend

Arismendy Alcantara’s first callup to the Majors was supposed to be for a clichéd “cup of coffee,” filling in for Darwin Barney for a couple days while Barney was on the paternity list. But after making a mark in his first three Major League games, Alcantara might have earned an extended stay in the big leagues.

He went 4-for-5 with a double, triple and three RBIs in his second Major League game on Friday, then followed that up on Saturday by scoring the Cubs’ walk-off run in the ninth, after singling with two outs and stealing second.

"[Alcantara has] done a lot of things that obviously have put him in a position where we had at that particular time a need, and so he was the appropriate fit," said Renteria. "So far right now, it would be impossible for somebody to do exactly what he did for the last two days every single day. That’s not going to happen, but it’s been a nice addition."

Barney was activated on Friday, but the Cubs decided to keep Alcantara around longer than originally planned, and will determine what to do with him long-term during the All-Star break.

Braves: Kimbrel to get more appearances in eighth inning

Braves fans might want to get used to seeing their dominant closer run out of the bullpen an inning earlier than normal.

When setup man Jordan Walden struggled to bridge the gap from Harang to Craig Kimbrel during the eighth inning of Thursday’s game against the Mets, Gonzalez decided to bring Kimbrel in with two on and two outs to hold the Braves’ 3-1 lead. He struck out pinch-hitter Kirk Nieuwenhuis to end the threat, then pitched a perfect ninth to notch his fourth career four-out save.

"The more he can do that, the more you feel comfortable using [Kimbrel] in the postseason that way," Gonzalez said. "I don’t feel comfortable yet using him two innings. But in the course of the year, when the situation is right, where you have him pitching four or five days, maybe you go five outs and keep working him that way, but the pitch count is the biggest thing."

Walden also gave up Justin Ruggiano’s walk-off RBI single in the ninth inning on Friday.

Worth noting

• The Cubs have scored three runs or fewer in 51 of their 92 games (55 percent). Chicago is 9-42 when scoring three or fewer runs, and 31-10 when scoring more than four runs.

• The Braves rank first in MLB in quality starts (65).

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs showing a youthful exuberance

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — Finally home after a road trip that would shake even the most confident player to his core, the Chicago Cubs insist they still have plenty of fight left inside them.

Five days into an 11-day journey that ended Thursday, the Cubs saw pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel get traded to the Oakland Athletics. A day after that a six-game losing streak started.

Now the Cubs say they are ready to scratch and claw, but in comparing their roster to teams around the league, any fight they face in the foreseeable future looks to be fairly lopsided. The past two days, though, they have looked willing to stand up to conflict, both literally and figuratively.

On Friday, the Cubs went toe-to-toe with the Atlanta Braves, getting past the disappointment of a Hector Rondon blown save to win it 5-4 in walk-off fashion on Justin Ruggiano’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“[The spirit] is still there,” Ruggiano said. “We were probably a little down losing those two guys, they were big guys in the clubhouse. But we’ve got a pretty tight group of men in here and we all pull for each other. We’ll be all right.”

Fight, and youthful exuberance, will get you only so far, though. New staff ace Jake Arrieta was his typical stingy self on Friday, giving fresh-faced Arismendy Alcantara the chance to deliver when it mattered. Alcantara not only singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, his steal of second base helped set up Ruggiano’s game winner.

“When you have a young person come in fresh to the big leagues there is a lot of energy and excitement,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There is a willingness to want to go out and show you what they have. This young man actually just has the energy and desire to get out there. He is very composed. He has a lot of composure to him for being out there for the first time.”

The problem is that he doesn’t have numbers on his side, specifically roster numbers. The Cubs can actually get away with only three starters until July 22 and with four starters until July 24. That means somebody will have to go when the rotation is returned to full strength, and Alcantara might be on borrowed time.

“I think that any player when they impact your team and show you what they have, I think the easiest thing to do is for people to start to speculate if he will stick around,” Renteria said. “We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. It would be premature and irresponsible for me to say something like that, but he does impact the way you view him for sure.”

On Thursday, Alcantara had three hits in a game that ultimately became known for Anthony Rizzo’s beef with Aroldis Chapman. After Chapman sent two fastballs to the backstop while facing Nate Schierholtz, Rizzo was among Cubs players who expressed displeasure with the pitches.

When Chapman dismissed the Cubs’ gripes with a wave of his glove, Rizzo kept the conversation going before the next half inning started by shouting in Chapman’s direction while walking toward the Reds’ dugout.

Benches cleared, with no punches thrown, but the biggest happening of all might have been Rizzo’s move into a leadership role. The backup All-Star first baseman might have set a tone moving forward in the wake of Samardzija and Hammel taking a combined 2.91 ERA with them to Oakland, while not leaving a whole lot of experience behind.

“Yeah, there is always spirit, win or lose,” Rizzo insisted. “It’s a great group of guys and you just want to keep coming together and keep getting better.”

Since winning will be tough, getting better will be the key. It’s uncertain how far a rotation of Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and whoever else (likely Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks) will take the Cubs.

But for now it’s about not letting things get too out of hand, while also learning as much as possible in the process. The Cubs know that a whole lot of talented young players are coming soon, so for now it’s about bridging the gap until they are ready to arrive.

“The future’s bright; that’s very apparent,” Arrieta said. “There are guys like Alcantara, and we know we’ve got some guys in the pipeline who can definitely help us in the near future. I look forward to seeing those guys, [Javier] Baez and [Kris] Bryant, a couple of others.

“It’s going to be a fun, fun period of time here over the next six to eight months, toward the end of season and beginning of next season — just seeing those guys blossom and continue to grow and get some experience up here. That’ll be very valuable for them leading into the coming season.”

For now, it’s Alcantara’s time to blossom, however long his stay lasts.

“We saw him play in spring, I saw him play in my rehab and he’s got all kinds of tools,” Ruggiano said. “Youth eventually can sometimes be a factor, but from what I see, he’s got enough tools I think where he could stay afloat and probably be a very good player for many years. Who knows what will happen? But I like him around. I like him in the lineup. He’s got a little spark to him.”

ESPNChicago.com

Ricketts on Wrigley: Time to move forward

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO – One day after the Chicago Cubs received approval for their revised plans to renovate Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts described an upbeat feeling at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.

“Obviously, it’s very important for us to get those approvals to move forward,” Ricketts said Friday before the Cubs took on the Atlanta Braves. “We’re excited to begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process.”

On Sheffield and Waveland – addresses to the rooftop owners – there probably wasn’t much celebrating. The revised renovation plan includes five more outfield signs to be erected along with the two that were approved last year, that figure to block sightlines from across the street.

With the threat of eventual legal action still hanging in the air, Ricketts was asked if the team has reached out to the rooftop owners, who charge people to watch games and then return 17 percent of revenues back to the Cubs.

“Obviously the hearing was just yesterday,” Ricketts said. “We’ll reach out and talk to everybody. We’re confident there will be a solution that works.”

If there is any animosity from the Cubs side toward the rooftop owners, Ricketts wasn’t about to reveal it one day after scoring a major political victory.

“Obviously it’s been a long process,” he said. “We’re just glad that it’s behind us. I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward. As I’ve said, we’re just looking forward to moving forward.”

There remains no scheduled groundbreaking date on the project that could run over the $375 million mark, with an additional $200 million in related construction costs.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the revised plans. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to work with the Cubs and the rooftop owners to avoid litigation. The 20-year contract that allows the rooftop owners to charge people to watch Cubs games still has another 10 years on it.

“I was confident that everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said. “Obviously we’ve always had a very long-term perspective, so a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process, we just kept in perspective and tried to take the high road and keep moving forward. I think we’re in a good spot now. We’re looking forward to getting things rolling.”

The project is expected to take four years once it is started, with some reports that the historic bleachers might be knocked down and replaced by a newer version with modern amenities. Rickets would not confirm that a razing of the bleachers was on the agenda.

“I don’t really know how the construction process works well enough to go into that,” Ricketts said. “… It’s a four year project. I’m not sure about all the final sequencing of everything, and not sure exactly how you start in October and finish in April.”

While the renovation plan isn’t on-field related, the on-again-off-again nature of the subject managed to creep into the clubhouse.

“I think just in general, just to have the approval to move forward is a big thing for the Cubs, for us,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know it’s been in the making for a long time. I’m just here for the first year, so I know it’s kind of been worked through.

“If that’s one less thing for us to think about, it’s good for all of us. We keep moving forward and put the ballpark in a better position, and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 5, Braves 4

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs started their final series before the all-star break Friday with a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

How it happened: Justin Ruggiano’s single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Arismendy Alcantara to give the Cubs the walk-of victory. Chris Coghlan’s single in the sixth inning had tied it and Luis Valbuena’s walk with the bases loaded put the Cubs ahead, but the Braves’ Christian Betancourt tied it on an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning. Starter Jake Arrieta was solid yet again, giving up three runs on four hits over 7 2/3 innings. Arrietta even drove home the first Cubs run of the game on a suicide squeeze in the third inning. Hector Rondon stranded a runner at third base in the ninth inning for his

What it means: The Cubs look to be moving past the shock of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade to the Oakland Athletics with a second consecutive victory after the six consecutive defeats that followed the deal. They definitely looked happy to be home after playing 11 games in 11 days on the just-concluded three-city road trip.

Outside the box: It was just the third time this season in 13 starts that Arrieta gave up at least three runs in a start. His season ERA remained a tidy 1.95, though. In fact, Arrieta has the second lowest ERA since May 3, which is when he made his season debut after starting the season on the disabled list. Only the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (1.81) has a lower ERA over that time, while the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez is at 1.99.

Off beat: Junior Lake showed off his bat-breaking prowess again in the sixth inning. The Cubs had just loaded the bases with nobody out as Lake came to the plate with his team trailing by a run. After he struck out on a pitch well outside of the strike zone, Lake raised his right knee and cracked his bat in half just above the handle. He has pulled off the stunt multiple times this season, the most recent before Friday coming when the Cubs were in Boston on the just-concluded road trip.

Up next: The Cubs will send right-hander Edwin Jackson (5-9, 5.05 ERA) to the mound Saturday in the middle game of the three-game series. The Braves will counter with left-hander Mike Minor (2-5, 4.54) in the 3:05 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs welcome back Barney, recall Rosscup

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs made a pair of roster moves Friday, reinstating Darwin Barney from the paternity list and calling up left-hander Zac Rosscup from Triple-A Iowa.

To make room for both players, right-handed pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Blake Parker were optioned back to Iowa.

Barney was not in the lineup Friday as Arismendy Alcantara started at second base. The 28-year-old Barney is batting .224 with a .261 on-base percentage in 70 games this season.

Rosscup is beginning his fourth stint with the Cubs this season. He has made a total of four appearances for the Cubs this year and has not been scored upon in four innings. He is 2-0 at Iowa with a 2.61 ERA in 20 appearances.

Hendricks got word of his demotion one day after making his major league debut at Cincinnati. He gave up four runs in six innings of the Cubs’ eventual 6-4 victory in 12 innings.

Parker, who had a 9.53 ERA in five appearances with the Cubs, has 18 saves and has a 1.44 ERA at Iowa this year, earning Pacific Coast League All-Star honors.

ESPNChicago.com

All-Star Rizzo now leading way for Cubs

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — That on-field dust-up the Chicago Cubs had with the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday was all part of Anthony Rizzo’s master plan to get to the All-Star Game.

"You know, I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn’t hit a home run that day so I had to do something," Rizzo joked Friday.

Rizzo did end up winning the Final Vote and securing a spot on the National League All-Star team so it was easy to look back and laugh. But in the heat of the moment Rizzo didn’t like it that Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman threw two fastballs to the backstop when Nate Schierholtz was at the plate.

He seemed to be angered even further when Chapman was dismissive of the Cubs’ protests and stepped toward the Reds dugout before the next half inning started, a gesture that caused the benches to empty.

A day later, Rizzo had no regrets, saying it was something he had to do.

"It was just an incident where you stick up for your teammates and that’s all it is," Rizzo said. "I respect the Reds, I respect Chapman, I respect their players, but you just have to stick up for your teammates."

The entire incident might just be one more sign that Rizzo is becoming the complete player as he evolves into a leader.

"I think yesterday, quite frankly, I thought Anthony standing up in that moment yesterday during the ballgame showed that he’s got a little bit of heart in what it takes to be a leader, and I think everybody gravitated to it," manager Rick Renteria said.

While Rizzo might work hard in the batting cage and on his defense, he isn’t trying to force the issue when it comes to leadership, so that wasn’t his intention when it came to the mostly verbal sparring with the Reds.

But the leadership skills of both Rizzo and Starlin Castro have been emerging all season, with both being rewarded with an All-Star spot.

"I don’t think we’ll ever look back; that’s not the type of players we are," Rizzo said. "I don’t know, we just want to get better and keep our heads down and when we are good just go with it and don’t think about, ‘Remember when we weren’t good.’ We just want to get the pieces and keep getting better."

He is obviously respected by his teammates. The cheer that broke out in the Cubs clubhouse Thursday when Renteria told the team Rizzo was an All-Star was as genuine as it was spontaneous. But it didn’t just end with the cheer.

"I walked in after the game, a nice big win and (director of media relations) Peter Chase looked like his dog just died, so from that look I accepted that I didn’t win the Final Vote," Rizzo said. "But we were happy with the win and Rick called a team meeting and he told me. It was unbelievable. All the guys rallied around me, poured some stuff on me and it was great."

While sitting in the same clubhouse with all his NL teammates will be nice, he will have his eye on one particular player from the opposing side.

"I’m looking forward to Derek Jeter, seeing him,’ Rizzo said. "He’s a childhood hero, basically. I can always say I was a part of his final All-Star Game. He’s just the true definition of a professional. Everything he has done in his career, on the field and off the field as well, everything he has done and to be part of his last All-Star Game will be surreal. I will just soak it all in, be very wide-eyed and enjoy it all."

CSNChicago.com

Arismendy Alcantara showing Cubs he doesn’t belong in Iowa

By Patrick Mooney

It’s too early to start mass-producing Arismendy Alcantara shirseys and bobblehead dolls. But he’s not an under-the-radar prospect anymore, and he doesn’t look like he belongs at Triple-A Iowa. How can the Cubs send this kid back to Des Moines?

Alcantara put himself in the middle of Friday’s 5-4 walk-off victory over the Atlanta Braves. The largest crowd at Wrigley Field this season (39,544) watched him spark a two-out rally in the ninth inning, showing the different ways he can help this team win games.

Alcantara singled into right field, stole second base and scored when Justin Ruggiano bounced a ball past diving shortstop Andrelton Simmons. That covered up Hector Rondon’s blown save and made sure Jake Arrieta’s strong start (three runs in 7 2/3 innings) didn’t go to waste against Atlanta (50-43).

“When you have a young person come in fresh to the big leagues, there’s a lot of energy,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There’s a lot of excitement. There’s a willingness to want to go out and show you what you have.

“He’s very composed. He’s got a lot of poise to him for being here for the first time.”

The Cubs planned to give Alcantara, 22, a two-game stay while Darwin Barney went on paternity leave this week. And then Alcantara almost hit for the cycle at Great American Ball Park, driving in three of the team’s six runs during a 12-inning victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Alcantara also worked a walk as Friday’s leadoff guy. Cubs officials love his all-around, power-speed game as a switch-hitter who can play second base, shortstop and center field.

Will Alcantara force the organization’s hand? Renteria didn’t want to go there yet.

“The easiest thing is for everybody to start to speculate: ‘Oh, he’s going to stick around,’” Renteria said. “We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. Right now, we can’t. It would be premature for me, and irresponsible for me, to say something like that.

“But he certainly does impact the way you view him, for sure.”

The Junior Lake Show debuted after last year’s All-Star break, and that’s worth remembering as the young outfielder keeps breaking bats over his knee. That was Lake’s reaction to striking out with the bases loaded and no outs in the sixth inning, and maybe this creates another opportunity for Alcantara.

Lake is tremendously gifted, but insiders wonder why the young outfielder isn’t playing somewhere every day, suggesting he could benefit from more at-bats with Iowa. He’s hitting .217 and coming off a 1-for-19 road trip. He hasn’t homered in almost a month.

“He’s a little frustrated right now,” Renteria said. “We’ll talk, (and) we’ll do what we can do. We have to have a conversation. He’s pressing. He’s trying to take advantage of every at-bat that he gets and trying to do whatever he can. Sometimes, when things don’t go well, you want to get 20 hits in one at-bat. You can’t do it.”

That’s coming for Alcantara, but the Cubs (40-52) might as well ride the wave now. He’s checked the Triple-A boxes, hitting .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles, 41 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, becoming a Pacific Coast League All-Star.

“He’s got all kinds of tools,” Ruggiano said. “Youth, eventually, can sometimes be a factor. But from what I see, he’s got enough tools that he can stay afloat. He’s probably going to be a very good player for many years. Who knows what will happen, but I like him around. I like him in the lineup. He’s got a little spark to him.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Anthony Rizzo shows some ‘heart’ by standing up to Reds

By Patrick Mooney

It’s hard to picture Anthony Rizzo playing the villain or being an in-your-face leader for the Cubs.

But Rizzo’s personality will shape the identity of the next contending team at Wrigley Field, because he’s a 24-year-old first baseman with $41 million guaranteed through 2019 and a direct line to Theo Epstein’s front office.

That made Rizzo jawing at the Cincinnati Reds such good theater, even if he joked about it being a promotional stunt to get into the All-Star Game.

“I knew there was 30 minutes left in the Final Vote, and I didn’t hit a home run that day, so I had to do something,” Rizzo said Friday, surrounded by reporters at his Wrigley Field locker.

Rizzo found out he made the National League team after Thursday’s hard-earned 6-4 victory over the Reds. That took 12 innings, and teammates erupted when manager Rick Renteria broke the news inside Great American Ball Park’s visiting clubhouse.

Rizzo screamed at Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning after the Reds closer stared into the dugout. Chapman struck out Nate Schierholtz after buzzing two 100-plus mph pitches near his head.

Chapman dismissively waved his glove at the Cubs while walking off the mound. Rizzo went out to first base and heard something from the Reds, throwing down his hat and glove and marching toward their dugout. Both benches emptied.

“It was just an incident where you stick up for your teammates, and that’s all it is,” Rizzo said. “I respect the Reds. I respect Chapman. I respect their players. But you just got to stick up for your teammates.”

Rizzo can talk because he’s putting up All-Star numbers, starting Friday with 20 homers, 49 RBIs and an .892 OPS. And maybe the kind of edge the Cubs are going to need.

“They showed their heart,” Renteria said. “You get taunted a little bit, and the guys stood up for themselves. We’re very proud of that.

“I thought Anthony standing up, quite frankly, in that moment during the ballgame showed that he’s got a little bit of heart and what it takes to be a leader. I think everybody kind of gravitated to it. They’re growing up.”

The longest-tenured guy in the clubhouse is gone now, but Rizzo didn’t view the Jeff Samardzija trade as a personal changing-of-the-guard moment, or a turning point for Starlin Castro, another young All-Star with the weight of the franchise on his shoulders.

“I don’t think we’ll ever look back,” Rizzo said. “I don’t think that’s the type of players we are. We just want to get better and keep our heads down. And when we are good, just keep going with it and not think about: ‘Remember when we weren’t good? Remember when we were battling?’ We just want to get the pieces and keep getting better.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: No groundbreaking date set in Wrigley Field renovation

By Patrick Mooney

While the Cubs sound ready to finally green-light the $575 million Wrigleyville project, chairman Tom Ricketts says the team hasn’t set a groundbreaking date yet.

Ricketts doesn’t seek the media spotlight, but he made an appearance before Friday’s game against the Atlanta Braves and spoke with reporters during batting practice. This was less than 24 hours after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the latest version of the Wrigley Field renovation plan.

“Things are starting to move forward,” Ricketts said.

In terms of stagecraft, this felt like the Cubs putting the W flag on the center-field scoreboard. But Ricketts wouldn’t get into specifics about a construction timeline, and there’s still the looming threat of a lawsuit from the rooftops owners.

“We’ll reach out,” Ricketts said. “We’ll talk to everybody, and I’m confident there will be a solution that works.”

The Cubs are in the middle of a 20-year, revenue-sharing contract with the rooftop businesses. The City Hall hearing approved seven signs going up above the bleachers, which would impact the views from those party decks. The rooftops owners are now signaling a willingness to compromise on an earlier proposal — a video board in left field and another sign in right.

[MORE: Cubs trying to fight off another trade-deadline hangover]

Ricketts was asked if the Cubs would continue to engage the rooftop owners — or if that window of negotiations had already closed.

“We’re always talking with those guys,” he said.

The Ricketts family has been trying to find a way to preserve Wrigley Field for the next generation since entering into a leveraged partnership with Sam Zell’s Tribune Co. in 2009. (That deal that included a stake in Comcast SportsNet Chicago.)

The Cubs scrapped an amusement-tax plan, angered Mayor Rahm Emanuel during the 2012 presidential campaign and scouted minority investors to help privately finance the project. Even the size of the bullpen doors — and how it would impact the landmarked bricks-and-ivy concepts— became a recent hot-button issue.

“I was confident that everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said. “Obviously, we’ve always had a very long-term perspective. So a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process— we just kept it in perspective and just tried to take the high road and keep moving forward.

“We’re in a good spot now. We’re looking forward to getting things rolling.”

While the Cubs celebrate Wrigley Field’s centennial, the commission also approved new light towers, additional bleacher seats and bullpens that would be built underneath the bleachers. The team hopes to have an upgraded clubhouse and new training facilities ready by Opening Day 2016.

“Wrigley’s still Wrigley — they would have to knock this whole thing completely down,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The improvements would just add to it, kind of bring us into the modern era. But I don’t think you can ever take away the reality that you’re still in the throes of a very historic ballpark.”

Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Russell heating up

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Friday vs. Oklahoma City: 1-for-4, double, 2 RBIs

Trending: 10-for-40 (.250) during 10-game hitting streak, 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season:  84 games, .240 batting average, 14 home runs, 55 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Friday  vs. Oklahoma City:  0-for-2, 2 walks

Trending:  11-for-36 (.306), 3 home runs, 6 RBIs.

Season: 92 games, .346 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Friday vs. Jacksonville: 2-for-5, RBI

Trending: 4-for-10 (.400), RBI, stolen base

Season: 22 games, .277 batting average, 1 home run, 10 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Friday vs. Jacksonville: 1-for-4, walk, strikeout

Trending: 13-for-28 (.342), 3 homers, 10 RBIs

Season:  19 games, .391 batting average, 4 home runs, 18 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Friday vs. Jupiter: 0-for-4, walk, strikeout

Trending: 15-for-40 (.375), 3 doubles, triple, 2 home runs, 7 RBIs.

Season: 80 games, .271 batting average, 5 home runs, 42 RBIs.

Tribune

Anthony Rizzo appreciative of All-Star honor

Cubs 1st baseman thanks front-office personnel and all who voted him onto NL team in MLB’s Final Vote

By Fred Mitchell

Anthony Rizzo will not soon forget the process of the fans voting him onto the National League All-Star team in the MLB.com Final Vote.

"I thanked all of the front office and the people who were working behind the scenes to pump it up and promote it," Rizzo said. "I am just very, very appreciative. My family’s ecstatic. We have come a long way, all together."

Rizzo, who garnered 8.8 million votes, will join teammate Starlin Castro in Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis.

Cubs media relations director Peter Chase knew in the 12th inning of Thursday’s game that Rizzo had won the vote, yet managed to keep a straight face in the clubhouse in front of Rizzo so that manager Rick Renteria could deliver the news to the first baseman and his teammates.

"It was pretty exciting," Renteria said. "We told all of the guys we were proud of them for that game (Thursday), and then we went right into letting them know Rizzo had been voted in. Everybody kind of broke into a tremendously loud cheer and everybody started congratulating him. It was pretty cool."

Castro will be making his third All-Star appearance at the age of 24. Yet he seemed more thrilled that Rizzo will join him.

"Everybody enjoyed it because everybody went to the computer and voted for him, too," Castro said. "It was awesome. We put water on him and everything."

Rizzo reaction: Renteria had no problem with Rizzo challenging the Reds bench in Thursday’s game after Aroldis Chapman had thrown two fastballs perilously close to Nate Schierholtz.

"Anthony stood up, quite frankly, in that ballgame," Renteria said. "It showed that he has a little bit of heart and what it takes to be a leader. I think everybody kind of gravitated to him. They’re growing up."

On the move: The Cubs recalled pitcher Zac Rosscup from Triple-A Iowa before Friday’s game and optioned Blake Parker and Kyle Hendricks.

Second baseman Darwin Barney was activated from paternity leave.

The Decision: The sports world is buzzing about LeBron James deciding to return to the Cavaliers as a free-agent. Renteria was asked if any one player in baseball could cause such a strong reaction.

"Certain individuals (in baseball) do have an impact on a city and a club, significantly, and change the mood of a ballclub," Renteria said.

Extra innings: Infielder Emilio Bonifacio, on the disabled list with an oblique strain, was scheduled to begin his rehabilitation in Arizona on Friday. … Chris Coghlan is hitting .410 in July (16-for-39). … Jake Arrieta has tossed seven straight quality starts. … Castro extended his hitting streak to four games. … Bears Hall of Famer Gale Sayers led the crowd in singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Tribune

Cubs to begin clubhouse construction in weeks

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs will begin breaking ground on a new underground home clubhouse in the next couple of weeks, a team source said, starting the $575 million Wrigley Field renovation project.

The revised plan to install seven signs in the bleachers, including two video boards, was approved Thursday by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, ending a prolonged process.

“It’s a day we’ve been looking forward to for a while,” Cubs Chairman Ricketts said. “It’s great to get to the hearing and get it behind us.”

Ricketts had no date for the beginning of construction, but said the team is “moving forward” with the plan after years of contentious debate with the Wrigleyville rooftops owners. The renovation plan, which includes $375 million at the ballpark itself, will feature a major tear down and rebuild of parts of the bleachers.

“The bleacher wall on the outside is going to be pushed out, so that’s all going to get torn down,” ballpark operations chief Carl Rice said. “And some of the metal support work holding up the current bleachers needs to be removed so we can add in some of the space underneath, including the bullpens.

“We also have to develop a support system for the new video boards and advertising boards, which is requiring some rework of the bleachers, so some of the seating bowl concrete will have to be removed and put back in place.”

The Cubs will be adding additional rows of seats, requiring them to re-do the existing patio section. Rice said the project could be done in one off-season, just as the bleacher expansion was before the 2006 season.

They already have begun replacing the bricks in the outfield wall, starting with far left field last offseason. The Cubs eventually will replace the entire outfield wall, in sections, every off-season through the four-year project.

“Next year we’ll probably concentrate on the (single) doors in left and right center that are getting wider, getting that ivy done so we can get the doors in and get the new ivy up,” Rice said.

The plan to expand the double doors was taken off the table by the Cubs after Mayor Rahn Emanuel’s concerns over the removal of too many bricks and too much ivy.

Emanuel has asked that the Cubs and rooftop owners continue to negotiate over the signage, which the rooftop owners contend will put them out of business.

The Wrigleyville Rooftops Association released a statement Thursday opposing the plan, stating “every rooftop owner supports a plan that’s currently on the table resulting in two signs that mitigate blockage, generates revenue to modernize Wrigley Field and takes litigation off the table.”

Ricketts said the Cubs would “reach out and talk to everybody, and we’re confident there’ll be a solution that works.”

He did not elaborate on when those talks would take place.

As for the Cubs’ organization, Ricketts said the baseball operations department and the business plan were “in sync” as far as future spending goes, and if Cubs president Theo Epstein and the front office “decide to spend (revenues) they can. If they don’t, they can keep it for the future.”

Tribune

Cubs in celebratory mode after 5-4 victory

Clubhouse was festive over Anthony Rizzo’s All-Star selection before game and again after Justin Ruggiano singled in game-winner in 9th

By Fred Mitchell

For a last-place ballclub, the Cubs were lively and upbeat before Friday’s series-opener against the Braves at Wrigley Field.

They were ecstatic fans had picked teammate Anthony Rizzo for the All-Star Game in the MLB.com Final Vote balloting.

There was extended happiness later when Justin Ruggiano singled home Arismendy Alcantara with the winning run in the ninth inning for a 5-4 victory.

The largest home crowd of the season — 39,544 — watched Jake Arrieta throw 72/3 steady innings before closer Hector Rondon gave up a two-out RBI single in the ninth to Christian Bethancourt that tied the game 4-4.

"It seemed like (the fans) were happy to have us back home," manager Rick Renteria said. "… You could feel a little energy. They stayed with us even though we got tied and were cheering us on."

Alcantara reached on a single with two outs in the ninth and stole second before scoring on Ruggiano’s clutch single off losing reliever Jordan Walden (0-1).

"That’s the kind of stuff we used to do when we were kids, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard," Ruggiano said of the dramatic hit. "You make believe the situation. Now it’s coming true. You live for those kind of things."

Alcantara is hitting .385 (5-for-13) including a triple and a double since being called up Wednesday from Triple-A Iowa. And he has acquitted himself well defensively though Renteria is reluctant to commit to the second baseman staying with the big club long term this season.

Alcantara, who was hitting .307 with 25 doubles, 11 triples and 10 home runs at Iowa in 89 games, also took fly balls before the game Friday in center field.

The Cubs took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Chris Coghlan opened with a double off the wall in right-center. He promptly stole third before Mike Olt drew a walk. Arrieta laid down a well-placed sacrifice bunt that allowed Coghlan to score. Ruggiano then singled to score Olt.

The Braves tied the game in the fourth on a walk, stolen base, double and two groundouts..

"They have an extremely balanced lineup from top to bottom," Arrieta said. "I got everything I expected to see from those guys. They really grinded it out and I had to do the same thing."

The Braves took a 3-2 lead on Freddie Freeman’s two-out, RBI double in the sixth.

But the Cubs came back in the bottom of the inning when Rizzo led off with a double, Starlin Castro reached on an infield single and Welington Castillo was hit by a pitch to load the bases.

Coghlan then drove in a run with a single and pinch-hitter Luis Valbuena walked off reliever Shae Simmons to force in another run.

The Braves threatened in the eighth but Neil Ramirez relieved Arrieta with two outs and struck out Justin Upton to end the threat.

"It’s always exciting to have a game like that, especially at home," Arrieta said. "With this atmosphere … we had a really good crowd today. It’s always fun to play in front of the fans here at Wrigley."

11 7 / 2014

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Arrieta ready to lead in final start of half

By Mark Gonzales

With the departures of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, Jake Arrieta said he’s ready to take on a more prominent role with the Chicago Cubs as he makes his final start of the first half Friday against the Atlanta Braves.

“It’s a role that I embrace and have done in the past,” said Arrieta, the opening day starter with the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. “I was the guy in college (at Texas Christian) and really enjoyed that role. It was a different situation, the college game is completely different. The season is structured in a completely different way. It’s much shorter.

But I still understand that role and I’ve been kind of willing and able and ready to accept those responsibilities for a while now. The performance pushes me more in that direction, and I expected that. So my role is just to do whatever I can to help my teammates to keep the energy in the dugout and the clubhouse, regardless of how things are going, at a high level.”

Arrieta, one of the Cubs’ most structured workers, has a 4-0 record and 0.89 ERA in his past six starts. He hopes he and his teammates will distance themselves from a recent six-game losing streak and not look ahead to going home for the four-day All-Star break.

“As soon as we start to hang our heads, that’s when things can become a lot tougher,” Arrieta said. “I’ve seen it in the past. As long as guys come here and act the same way and have the same positive attitude, regardless of how the day ends, you have to be positive. Regardless of four, five or six losses in a row, we got to play the next day.’’

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Bryant, Soler hit HRs

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Thursday at Omaha: 1-for-4, 2 strikeouts

Trending: 9-for-36 (.250) during 9-game hitting streak, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 6 RBIs.

Season:  82 games, .240 batting average, 13 home runs, 50 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Thursday  at Omaha:  1-for-3, home run, walk, strikeout, throwing error

Trending:  13-for-38 (.342), 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 5 runs, 8 RBIs.

Season: 91 games, .348 batting average, 31 home runs, 81 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Thursday vs. Jacksonville: 2-for-5, strikeout

Trending: 2-for-14, 5 strikeouts.

Season: 21 games, .269 batting average, 1 home run, 9 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Thursday vs. Jacksonville: 2-for-4, home run, two RBIs, walk, strikeout, error

Trending: 7-for-14 (.500), double, 3 home runs, 5 RBIs.

Season:  18 games, .400 batting average, 4 home runs, 18 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Thursday vs. Dunedin: 1-for-5, strikeout, double play

Trending: 18-for-41 (.439), 3 doubles, triple, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season: 79 games, .274 batting average, 5 home runs, 42 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs rookies carry day in comeback victory

2nd baseman Arismendy Alcantara and starter Kyle Hendricks lead way for 6-4 triumph over Reds in 12 innings

By Mark Gonzales

CINCINNATI — Arismendy Alcantara earned three more days in the major leagues and fellow rookie Kyle Hendricks left a more than credible impression in his debut start.

In the process, the Cubs sustained their pride Thursday in an emotionally charged come-from-behind 6-4 victory over the Reds in 12 innings that snapped a season-high six-game losing streak and capped a zany 5-6 record on a three-city trip.

"This was a fiery win for us, just the way everything was," said Anthony Rizzo, who learned that he won the National League’s Final Vote election to Tuesday’s All-Star Game after the game. "But it’s a good feeling."

The victory also erased some of doubt concerning their resolve as they hadn’t won since Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the Athletics, overcame a 4-1 deficit and stood up to the Reds after closer Aroldis Chapman threw three pitches that nearly drilled Nate Schierholtz and John Baker.

"The whole game our bench was riled up over frustration," said Rizzo, who was drilled in the right arm by Homer Bailey in the first. "Who knows? (Chapman) shoved it to us, and after that, things escalated."

Chapman and the Cubs’ players exchanged long-distance words after his pitch to Baker. After taking his position at first base before the bottom of the ninth, Rizzo walked toward the Reds’ dugout and the benches emptied though no punches were thrown.

"I was trying to stick up for my teammates," Rizzo said. "I have the utmost respect for the city and the Reds. We, as a team, have to stick up for each other, and tempers flared. It happened. There are 50 men competing at the highest level and hopefully this is something that’s resolved now and doesn’t carry to the future because they’re a good team, and we respect them."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria didn’t think Chapman’s pitches were intentional, but he warned they were “a little close to the coconuts. Fortunately, no one got hurt and we got through it.

"No hitter gets into the box expecting to get buzzed at 100 mph because it’s a dangerous proposition. (Chapman), of all people, should know, after taking the ball off the face with a line drive (in spring training). But this is baseball. This is competitive people getting after it."

Hendricks, making his first major league start, settled down after allowing three runs in the first and finished with six innings of five-hit ball. He relied on off-speed pitches to retire eight consecutive batters and finish with seven strikeouts.

He struck out the formidable Jay Bruce with two runners on base to finish his outing.

"Just to show you how he is, he was very confident how he was going to go after Bruce," Renteria said. "He had a game plan and Baker talked about it. He said, ‘I can get this guy,’ and he did."

Unfortunately for Hendricks, the Cubs don’t need a fourth starting pitcher until July 22, so he was optioned back to Triple-A Iowa. Alcantara, who was to return to Iowa when second baseman Darwin Barney rejoins the Cubs from the paternity list Friday, will stay after a four-hit performance that included a two-run double for his first major league hit and a single that set up the go-ahead run.

"It’s how I told you from the beginning," said Alcantara, who scored the game-winner on Luis Valbuena’s two-run triple. "Do your job, play the game and see what happens."

Chicago Tribune

Anthony Rizzo garners 8.8 million All-Star votes

Cubs first baseman outdistances Justin Morneau to gain Final Vote nod and 1st selection to All-Star Game

By Mark Gonzales

CINCINNATI — Manager Rick Renteria called a team meeting after Thursday’s 6-4, 12-inning victory that ignited a loud roar from the visitor’s clubhouse.

Renteria broke the news that Anthony Rizzo won the National League Final Vote to Tuesday’s All-Star Game in Minneapolis that completed an eventful four days and capped a remarkable first-half comeback for the Cubs’ first baseman.

"I had no idea," said Rizzo, a first-time All-Star who will join shortstop Starlin Castro and former Cubs pitcher Jeff Samardzija, who was traded to the Athletics on July 4. "It’s great, it’s awesome. On top of (victory), what could be better?"

Thanks to a relentless campaign, Rizzo received 8.8 million of the 52.5 million votes cast for 10 players from the American and National leagues. Rizzo was able to edge Justin Morneau of the Rockies despite a groundswell of support for his July 15 return to Target Field, where he starred for most of his career with the Twins. White Sox starter Chris Sale was the American League winner with 6.7 million votes.

Rizzo hit three home runs since the campaign started Sunday night and currently has a .277 batting average with 20 home runs and 49 RBIs — a remarkable improvement over his .233 batting average. Rizzo is only three home runs shy of equaling his 2013 total.

The fact he will join Castro, who batted only .245 last season, signals a significant accomplishment for the organization after both players, each 24, slumped last season after receiving contract extensions through the 2019 season.

"It’s good for the kids in the minors to see young kids in the big leagues and don’t think they’re that far away to being here next year," Rizzo said. "The more All-Stars you have, the better off you are as an organization so I just want to continue to get better. I know Castro and everyone else does, too."

Rizzo and Castro will be presented with their All-Star jerseys before Friday’s game against the Braves at Wrigley Field.

"Everyone is proud of them, and they should enjoy this particular time," Renteria said. "It’s a tremendous feat.”

Rotation rumblings: The four-day All-Star break that starts Monday, combined with a scheduled day off on July 21, will give the Cubs plenty to consider as they evaluate which Triple-A Iowa pitchers should receive starts against the Padres on July 22-24.

"There’s still some maneuverability," said Renteria, who didn’t rule out any of the Iowa starters as candidates.

That includes Dan Straily, who was acquired from the Athletics in the Samardzija trade Friday. Straily could make two more starts at Iowa and be lined up to pitch on July 22, but the Cubs are assessing their options.

Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood are expected to open the second half against the Diamondbacks in Phoenix, although the exact order hasn’t been finalized.

Arrieta plans to stay sharp during the break as he will get at least six days of rest between starts.

"You add a day here of recovery, which is nice," Arrieta said. "And then mix in maybe one more side session if there’s an extended week there. We’ll play it by ear, but I intend to throw a good (bullpen) and be ready for the first game back."

Extra innings: Luis Valbuena snapped an 0-for-12 slump with his game-winning, two-run triple, though he was thrown out trying for an inside-the-park home run. … Castro has reached safely in 25 of his last 28 games since June 12. … Chris Coghlan batted .381 (8-for-21) during the five-game series against the Reds. … Blake Parker earned his second major league victory with three strikeouts in two innings. … The Cubs tied their largest come-from-behind victory this season, matching the three-run deficit they overcame in a triumph over the Marlins in Miami on June 16.

Chicago Tribune

Wrigley Field renovation unanimously approved

By Jared S. Hopkins, Ameet Sachdev and Ellen Jean Hirst

 The Chicago Cubs earned another victory Thursday from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks — the second in a year — but it’s beyond the outfield of their historic stadium where their unfinished business remains.

The unanimous decision gave the team the thumbs-up from the city on its $575 million revised plan to remake Wrigley Field and the immediate surrounding area, allowing as many as seven advertising signs to dot outfield walls. The package builds on two signs, including a Jumbotron-like video board in left field, that were approved by the commission last year at this time.

But the possibility of a lawsuit looms from a group of rooftop club owners whose 15 businesses line Waveland and Sheffield avenues. Their contention is that the approved signage violates their contract with the club and has the potential to kill their business.

“It’s not about money. It’s about monopoly. The Cubs want to own it all,” said Tom Moore, an attorney representing the rooftop owners. “They’re now asking you to facilitate their bully tactics.”

Cubs President of Business Operations Crane Kenney acknowledged Thursday that the team no longer is concerned with assurances from rooftop owners that they won’t sue.

“In short, we are ready to go,” Kenney said. “With your support today, we’ll preserve Wrigley Field for generations to come.”

The video board in left field — it had been reduced to 4,452 square feet from 5,700 square feet as the Cubs progressed through iterations of their plans — will shrink to 3,990 square feet. The team still plans to move bullpens from foul ground along the base lines to underneath the bleachers but will replace doors with a chain-link mesh. In a nod to concerns from the commission, the team will not remove portions of the outfield bricks and ivy.

The five additional signs are limited to 650 square feet each and must be spaced at least 20 feet apart. They can be either script or neon, but not billboards or have any flashing or chasing lights. Unclear are details of a right-field LED scoreboard, details of which must be submitted and approved separately.

Meanwhile, the bleachers will get more seats. The bleachers in center field may be demolished and rebuilt to make room for a restaurant.

The landmarks commission reviewed the plan because Wrigley Field has city landmark status that in 2004 protected a number of historic features, including the “uninterrupted sweep of the bleachers.”

The 6-0 vote in favor of the Cubs’ plan — two commission members were absent — capped a four-hour meeting in a standing-only room packed with media, team representatives, fans and residents. Despite testimony from more than a dozen people, including 20 minutes by an attorney representing rooftop owners, the commission’s vote came quickly and without discussion among the panel. Commissioner Ernest Wong, an architect, felt comfortable asking the Cubs to promise that Donald Trump wouldn’t get a sign.

Although the Cubs have begun renovations at a nearby parking lot, much of the construction is expected to begin after this season. The last regular-season home game is scheduled for Sept. 24. The team told fans and Lakeview neighborhood residents in an email Thursday evening that it plans to finish installing new seating, group terraces, outfield signs and lighting, including the new left-field video board, by Opening Day 2015.

Last year, the Cubs said they would build a sign in right field before the 2014 season but didn’t follow through.

“With this vote today, we hope the politics are behind us and we are ready to move forward with our $575 million restoration,” Cubs spokesman Julian Green said after the vote.

A City Hall source said this week that in order to make their presentation Thursday, the Cubs had to agree to continue to negotiate with the rooftop owners, who have said they pledged not to sue the Cubs if the team puts up two signs: the left-field scoreboard and a right-field sign.

The rooftop owners said the signs planned for the outfield would block the view from their perches, violating the 2004 contract under which the rooftop owners pay 17 percent of their revenue to the Cubs. The rooftop owners pay the Cubs about $4 million annually.

“If these (seven) signs were to be erected, the blockage would absolutely violate our 20-year contract, just as they violate the spirit of Wrigley’s long-standing landmark status,” said Ryan McLaughlin, spokesman for the Wrigleyville Rooftops Association. “Every rooftop owner supports a plan that’s currently on the table resulting in two signs that mitigate blockage, generates revenue to modernize Wrigley Field and takes litigation off the table.”

By Thursday evening, it was unclear when the team and rooftop owners would meet again. Murphy’s Bleachers owner Beth Murphy said she remained optimistic about talks.

“We just have to have faith,” Murphy said. “We knew this was coming because the mayor directed them to vote ‘yes.’”

Thursday’s decision gives the team a clear advantage. In a statement to fans and Lakeview residents, the Cubs said they would continue to negotiate in hopes of avoiding a lawsuit, but, “if not, we are prepared to defend our right to expand Wrigley Field.”

Earlier, Green said the Cubs will speak with club owners but didn’t leave much room for alternatives. “The signage we got approved today is the signage that we’re going to move forward with. Period.”

They could face continued opposition from Ald. Tom Tunney, 44th, whose ward includes Wrigley. He tried to persuade the commission to table a decision until residents could offer more input. He, and some residents who testified, said the plans should have been presented online for residents to review.

Tunney described the Cubs’ approach as “This is what we’re going to do, neighborhood. Take it or leave it.” He said the commission’s approval would provide carte blanche for signage.

Kenney earlier had said that sign revenue will finance much of the renovations planned, including an already approved hotel and office-retail complex. He said seven signs would not put the Cubs among the top teams for advertising sign revenue.

The Cubs say the project replaces much of the steel and concrete structure, restores some of the stadium’s original architectural features and would improve fan and player amenities. As for blocking views, Kenney said that the “cumulative visual impact (of the signs) is modest compared to most modern sports facilities.”

Eleanor Gorski, director of the city’s historic preservation division, said that the process was not an “exact science” and that sign sizes were based on the Cubs’ proposals and their appearance in the ballpark. Still, despite recommending approval, she said “any further bleacher expansion could be detrimental to the uninterrupted sweep and contour of the bleachers.”

But Moore, the rooftop owners’ attorney, criticized Gorski for deviating from the ordinance, including rarely using the word “uninterrupted” in her presentation.

“The landmarks staff does not have the authority to create a new interpretation that deviates from the intent of the aldermen when they voted to preserve the ‘memorable view’ and ‘uninterrupted view,’” Moore said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a statement supporting the plan as a “step forward” for the team and residents that “upholds the architectural heritage of the stadium that Chicagoans can enjoy.”

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Braves at Cubs

By Staff

Season series: Braves 3-0.

Friday: 3:05 p.m., CSN.

LH Alex Wood (6-7, 3.14) vs. RH Jake Arrieta (5-1, 1.78).

Saturday: 3:05 p.m., WGN-9.

LH Mike Minor (2-5, 4.54) vs. RH Edwin Jackson (5-9, 5.05).

Sunday: 1:20 p.m., CSN.

RH Julio Teheran (8-6, 2.57) vs. LH Travis Wood (7-7, 4.64).

Who’s hot: Entering Thursday, Freddie Freeman is 12-for-33 (.364) in his last eight games. Craig Kimbrel has earned six saves in his last six appearances. Jake Arrieta’s 1.78 ERA since May 1 is the lowest in the majors. Justin Ruggiano batted .394 (15-for-38) on the 11-game trip.

Who’s not: The Braves were 5-for-38 with runners in scoring position during their four-game skid entering Thursday night. Julio Teheran was tagged for 11 hits in 3 1/3 innings in his last start Tuesday against the Mets. Welington Castillo was 4-for-25 on the 11-game trip. Infielder Luis Valbuena is 5-for-38.

Chicago Sun-Times

Anthony Rizzo at center of fracas before NL All-Star selection

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — Just when it looked like the longest road trip of the season couldn’t pack any more emotion for the Cubs, along came a benches-clearing incident with the Cincinnati Reds and a postgame All-Star announcement Thursday.

With Anthony Rizzo at the center of both.

‘‘Just trying to be a good teammate, trying to stick up for my teammates,’’ said Rizzo, who dropped the gloves — well, his first baseman’s glove, anyway — and stalked toward the Reds’ dugout in the bottom of the ninth inning, triggering a flow of players onto the field from both benches.

No punches were thrown, and order eventually was restored without injury after some pushing and shoving. In fact, Reds starter Johnny Cueto — a noted on-field brawler — actually played peacekeeper.

The Cubs went on to snap a six-game losing streak by defeating the Reds 6-4 in 12 innings. Afterward, Rizzo was informed he had been voted into the final spot on the

National League All-Star team.

‘‘It’s awesome,’’ said Rizzo, who joined shortstop Starlin Castro and since-traded right-hander Jeff Samardzija among three Cubs All-Stars. ‘‘To find out [after] a win couldn’t be better.’’

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. Nothing was for the Cubs on this high-emotion day.

‘‘This whole week,’’ said Rizzo, who joined teammates at the rail of the dugout to yell at Reds closer

Aroldis Chapman for buzzing Cubs hitters Nate Schierholtz and John Baker up and in with 100 mph fastballs in the ninth, then staring down the Cubs’ dugout between

the at-bats.

‘‘That’s a dangerous proposition,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He of all people should know after taking a ball off the face with a line drive [this spring]. . . . Fortunately, nobody was hurt and we got through it.’’

Not before a few more fireworks to close an 11-game trip that already had featured a blockbuster trade July 4. And not before Rizzo and the Cubs threatened to fight back.

‘‘You hope that’s not intentional,’’ Rizzo said of Chapman’s high-and-tight approach, ‘‘because that’s someone’s life. Most people up here have families. But you never think someone’s trying to throw inside on purpose.’’

That didn’t stop the Cubs from getting riled — or the Reds from responding from the first-base dugout when Rizzo took his position in the bottom of the inning.

According to one witness, Reds right-hander Mat Latos triggered Rizzo’s reaction by yelling, ‘‘Shut up and play some [bleeping] ball,’’ at him.

That’s when Rizzo turned and dropped his glove, threw down his hat and marched toward the Reds’ dugout, where he was intercepted by right-hander Alfredo Simon.

Nobody was ejected. Eventually, Luis Valbuena tripled off Skip Schumaker’s glove near the wall in right field to drive home two runs in the 12th as the Cubs salvaged a 5-6 record on their three-city trip.

‘‘Tempers flared; it happens,’’ said Rizzo, who suggested some of the emotions resulted from frustration over a winless week after the trades of Samardzija and fellow right-hander Jason Hammel. ‘‘We’re all men competing at the highest level, and tempers are

going to flare sometimes.’’

Coincidentally, Chapman and Cueto are among four Reds who will be joining Rizzo and Castro for the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Minneapolis.

‘‘It’d be nice to be their teammates next week, and we can joke about it,’’ Rizzo said.

Chicago Sun-Times

Anthony Rizzo joins Starlin Castro on NL All-Star team

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — When Anthony Rizzo nabbed the National League’s final All-Star spot Thursday to join teammate Starlin Castro on the team, it underscored the Cubs’ highest priority at the major-league level entering 2014: bounce-back seasons for the two 24-year-olds with seven-year contracts.

The only thing missing was a homegrown centerpiece on the pitching staff earning All-Star recognition. That was missing only because right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who also made the team, was traded six days earlier.

For now, the Cubs are feeling like early winners about their $101 million investment in the long-term deals for Rizzo and Castro.

Even Rizzo seems to recognize the significance of the honor for the Cubs’ bigger picture.

‘‘I think it’s good for the kids in the minor leagues to see young kids in the big leagues and not think they’re that far away,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘As far as the organization, I think it’s great. The more All-Stars you have, the better off you are. So we just want to keep continuing to get better.’’

Manager Rick Renteria called it a ‘‘tremendous feat’’ for the pair.

‘‘They’re setting themselves apart,’’ he said. ‘‘They’re doing things that are obviously impacting people that notice what they do.’’

Road warriors

The three-city, 11-day trip that concluded with a 6-4, 12-inning victory against the Reds was one of the longest, most grueling treks in recent memory for the Cubs. It included two rain delays, a doubleheader, a four-game winning streak, a blockbuster trade and a six-game losing streak before culminating with a benches-clearing incident and an extra-inning victory.

Along the way, three players made their major-league debuts, including right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who overcame a three-run first inning to pitch six innings Thursday; three others were announced as All-Stars; and Renteria drew his fifth ejection of the season.

Chicago Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara earns more time in majors

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — At this rate, Arismendy Alcantara might never go back to the minor leagues.

The first of the Cubs’ top hitting prospects to reach the majors, Alcantara earned an extended stay in the big leagues with a four-hit game Thursday that featured a triple to right field, a double to left field and two infield singles.

He drove in three runs and scored twice, including the go-ahead run in the Cubs’ 6-4, 12-inning victory against the Cincinnati Reds that ended their six-game losing streak.

Originally scheduled for a

two-day stay while second baseman Darwin Barney took paternity leave, Alcan-

tara was told after the game he’ll be staying at least through the All-Star break — and probably beyond —

before returning to Class AAA Iowa. The Cubs won’t need a fifth starting pitcher until

July 22 and don’t have to carry one until then.

Was Alcantara, 22, surprised by the news?

‘‘More or less,’’ he said, smiling. ‘‘It’s like I said [Wednesday]. I just tried to think, ‘Do your job and play the game and see what happens.’ Today I felt more comfortable because I played yesterday.’’

After going 0-for-4 in his big-league debut Wednesday, Alcantara had his four hits against four pitchers.

‘‘He had some really good at-bats,’’ manager Rick Renteria said of Alcantara, a versatile infielder ranked 33rd on Baseball America’s midseason prospects list. ‘‘He did a nice job.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Valbuena lifts Cubs to 6-4 win over Reds in 12

By Mark Schmetzer

CINCINNATI — Luis Valbuena hit a tiebreaking, two-run triple in the 12th inning and the Chicago Cubs avoided a rare five-game sweep in Cincinnati with a 6-4 win Thursday.

Highly regarded prospect Arismendy Alcantara singled with one out and went to second on Starlin Castro’s two-out infield single. Valbuena, 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, sent a ball to deep right field off J.J. Hoover (1-6) that Skip Schumaker couldn’t catch up with and was thrown out at the plate trying to stretch it into an inside-the-park home run. The out call stood after a umpire crew chief request for a replay review to make sure the new rule regarding home plate collisions wasn’t violated.

Blake Parker (1-0) pitched the last two innings and the Cubs snapped their losing streak at a season-high six games.

Ryan Ludwick homered, but the Reds couldn’t overcome a lineup missing more than half of its regulars and the loss of starter Homer Bailey to an injury after five innings.

First baseman Joey Votto is on the disabled list, second baseman Brandon Phillips and center fielder both were out after leaving Wednesday’s game with injuries and right fielder Jay Bruce and catcher Devin Mesoraco didn’t start, but the Reds still pounced on Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks for three first-inning runs.

The Reds were hoping to sweep the Cubs in a five-game series for the first time since 1931, but instead failed for the third time to extend a winning streak to six games.

Alcantara recorded his first major league hit — a two-run double in the fourth off of Homer Bailey — and drove in three runs.

Bailey left the game after feeling pain in the patellar tendon of his right knee while trying to pitch to Castro leading off the sixth. Bailey completed his motion but didn’t throw the ball and left the game after meeting on the mound with manager Bryan Price and trainer Paul Lessard. Bailey allowed three runs and two hits with two walks and three strikeouts in five innings. He also hit two batters.

Hendricks was making his major league debut and looked like it, opening the game with a four-pitch walk to Chris Heisey and going 3-0 to Skip Schumaker before the right-hander threw a strike. Schumaker walked on the next pitch and Brayan Pena drove in Heisey with a double into the right-field corner. Ludwick and Ramon Santiago followed with RBI singles.

Hendricks settled down to last six innings, allowing five hits and four runs with three walks and seven strikeouts. He also hit a batter.

Chris Coghlan drove in Hendricks with a double off the left-center field wall in third inning, but Ludwick got that run back in the bottom of the inning with his sixth homer of the season, a 381-foot shot into the left field seats on a 1-0 pitch.

Alcantara scored the tying run in the eighth on Castro’s single off of Jonathan Broxton.

Notes: The game was delayed briefly in the middle of the ninth inning by a bench- and bullpen-clearing altercation. … Chapman’s strikeout of pinch-hitter Justin Ruggiano leading off the ninth gave him at least one in 39 consecutive appearances, tying the major league record set by Bruce Sutter in 1977. … The Reds promoted INF Kristopher Negron from Triple-A Louisville and optioned RHP Carlos Contreras to Louisville before the game. RHP Brett Marshall was designated for assignment to make room for Negron on the 40-man roster. … Chicago optioned RHP Dallas Beeler to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the 25-man roster for Hendricks.

Cubs.com

NL Final Vote winner Rizzo headed for first ASG

Surge of fan support helps first baseman edge Rockies’ Morneau on final day of voting

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — Thanks to a strong surge of fan support, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is now an All-Star.

Rizzo won the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Final Vote sponsored by Experian on Thursday, edging the Rockies’ Justin Morneau and the Braves’ Justin Upton in a close race. The first baseman received 8.8 million votes and is the first Cubs player to win the All-Star MLB.com Final Vote. He found out after the team beat the Reds, 6-4, in 12 innings.

"It’s awesome," Rizzo said. "It’s great to get that win, too. I’m very, very happy."

Rizzo, 24, trailed Morneau until late Wednesday when the Cubs first baseman took the lead. However, Rizzo’s lead was less than 2 percent early Thursday prior to the start of the Twitter voting in which fans could tweet #VoteRizzo.

Rizzo tried to boost his votes by giving away his game-used shoes from Thursday’s game, which he marked “#VoteRizzo.” He can probably get a new pair for Tuesday’s All-Star Game, which will be his first.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria gave Rizzo the news in the post-game meeting, and it was greeted by a loud cheer. The players then drowned Rizzo in a celebratory shaving cream shower.

"They’re setting themselves apart and doing things that are obviously impacting people who notice as far as the oranization is concerned," Renteria said of Rizzo and shortstop Starlin Castro, who was named to the NL team. "They’re representing the organization very well. They should enjoy this particular time. It’s a tremendous feat.

"They’ve earned it," Renteria said. "They’ve gone after it and shown they’re among the top tier of players in the big leagues."

Rizzo will join Castro and former teammate Jeff Samardzija, who were both selected by the players’ votes. Samardzija, now with the Athletics after a July 4 trade, will have a generic National League jersey.

"It’s a crazy day," Rizzo said. "To get the win and hear that — it’s great."

The Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Bears’ Lance Briggs and Robbie Gould showed support along with actors Joe Mantegna and Jeff Garlin, as did Rizzo’s teammates. Chicago’s Mike Olt voted more than 2,500 times, and was able to cast about 1,000 votes via text before batting practice.

"He’s saved us," Olt said of the Cubs first baseman. "He’s saved us plenty of errors. Just [Wednesday], I threw one a little off the side, and he makes a nice routine play. I’m thinking, if I’m playing first, I know I’m not getting it.

"Defensively, he gets us out of jams and keeps us in games, and offensively, he’s taught me and a lot of the guys a lot," Olt said. "When we need someone to come through, he’s the guy. That’s an All-Star right there."

Rizzo belted his 20th home run Wednesday in the third inning, launching a 2-0 pitch from the Reds’ Alfredo Simon into the Cubs’ bullpen. He is the first Cubs left-handed hitter with 20 home runs before the All-Star break since Rick Monday hit 20 in 1973, and the first player in team history to do so since Derrek Lee belted 27 in 2005.

"I’m just being aggressive," Rizzo said. "Teams are going to pound me in, and I know that’s what they’re going to do. Let them do it, and if they miss, I try to take advantage of it."

He found out prior to Wednesday’s game that he had passed Morneau.

"It’s really cool," Rizzo said of the fans’ support. "I’m really appreciative for all of it."

Rizzo is one of three National League players to reach 20 home runs by the All-Star break, and was second in the league to the Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton (21). Rizzo has 17 home runs since April 30, the most in the NL, and was tied for fifth most in the Major Leagues in that span.

Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson knows how valuable Rizzo and Castro are to the team.

"Rizzo and Castro are both All-Star caliber players," Jackson said. "They’re both able to go out and do things that the average person in the game can’t do. I definitely hope [Rizzo] gets a chance to make it. It’s fun times and a good experience. You’re in the clubhouse with the All-Stars and it’s the creme de la creme, the best of the best. Just from experience, it’s a real fun time. It’s something that you wish everybody in their career had a chance to do it."

Rizzo also is a survivor. Diagnosed in 2008 Hodgkin’s lymphoma, he’s beaten cancer and is doing his part to help children stricken with the disease. The Rizzo Family Foundation has hosted two walk-a-thons in his hometown in Parkland, Fla., and held two fundraising events in Chicago to help cancer patients. And he makes several unannounced visits a year at cancer wards to try and pick up patients’ spirits. It’s a part of his life that he’ll never forget. During the Cubs’ recent trip to Boston, Rizzo said he got a knot in his stomach passing the hospital where he first started chemo treatements.

Right now, he’s focused on baseball, and his first trip to the All-Star Game.

"I’ve had a lot of good first basemen here," Chicago second baseman Darwin Barney said. "I was with Derrek Lee for a little and then Carlos Pena, who was a Gold Glover, and I honestly think Riz is the best first baseman I’ve had. He takes pride in it. We’ve worked together for so long, I know he’ll win a couple Gold Gloves in his career.

"Just having someone over there who you can talk to — we have game plans for different people, and the fact that he’s so good around the bag, he’s definitely the best guy I’ve had over there," Barney said.

The final phase of All-Star Game voting will again allow fans to help choose the Ted Williams All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award presented by Chevrolet. During the Midsummer Classic, fans will vote exclusively online at MLB.com and via Twitter in the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com MVP Vote Sponsored by Pepsi, and their collective voice will represent 20 percent of the overall vote that determines the recipient of the Arch Ward Trophy.

MLB.TV Premium subscribers, for the first time, will be able to live stream the All-Star Game via MLB.TV through FOX’s participating video providers. Access will be available across more than 400 platforms that support MLB.TV, including the award-winning MLB.com At Bat app. MLB.com will provide extensive online coverage of the All-Star Week festivities.

The 85th All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX, in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS, and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International’s independent feed. ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide national radio coverage of the All-Star Game. MLB Network and SiriusXM will also provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage. For more information, please visit allstargame.com.

Cubs.com

Alcantara sparks offense, Valbuena wins it in 12th

Rookie goes 4-for-5 with three RBIs; third baseman hits two-run 3B

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — Arismendy Alcantara expected to be headed back to Triple-A Iowa, but instead he sparked a Cubs win and earned a few more days in the big leagues.

Alcantara had four hits and three RBIs in his second Major League start and Luis Valbuena smacked a two-run triple with two outs in the 12th inning to lift the Cubs to a 6-4 victory over the Reds Thursday to snap a six-game losing streak.

The Cubs promoted Alcantara to take Darwin Barney’s place while he was away on paternity leave. Rather than send Alcantara back to Iowa, the Cubs decided to demote pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who started the game. The Cubs don’t need another starter until after the All-Star break.

Alcantara was surprised by the news.

"Like I said, you just have to do your job, play your game and see what happens," Alcantara said.

With the game tied at 4 and one out in the Cubs’ 12th, Alcantara reached on an infield single, his fourth hit of the day. One out later, Starlin Castro singled to set up Valbuena’s hit into the right-field corner. Valbuena didn’t hesitate and thought he had an inside-the-park home run, despite a 9-3-2 relay throw. The Cubs challenged the call, saying catcher Devin Mesoraco had violated Rule 7.13 and blocked the plate illegally.

But after a 2 minute, 45 second review, the call was confirmed and Valbuena was out.

"They said there was no violation of the rule," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I can argue and can get tossed, but two days in a row, that’s not good."

Renteria was ejected for the fifth time this season on Wednesday.

Hendricks made his Major League debut in his audition for one of the vacancies in the Cubs’ rotation created by last Friday’s trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland. Was Hendricks nervous? Maybe. He threw seven straight balls and walked the first two batters he faced. One out later, Hendricks served up three straight hits as Brayan Pena hit an RBI double and Ryan Ludwick and Ramon Santiago each hit RBI singles for a 3-0 lead.

"I thought he was throwing pretty well," Renteria said. "I thought the zone was pretty small — nothing against the umpire."

Hendricks reached on a fielder’s choice in the third, advanced to third on Chris Coghlan’s double and scored on Alcantara’s sacrifice fly for his first Major League RBI.

Ludwick made it 4-1 with a solo homer with one out in the third, launching an 0-1 changeup from Hendricks into the left-field seats. For the game, Hendricks scattered five hits over six innings and struck out seven, including pinch-hitter Jay Bruce with two on and two out to end the sixth.

"You give him credit — he kept them in the game," Skip Schumaker said of Hendricks, who had about a dozen family and friends at Great American Ball Park. "But we should have been better against him. But he’s a Major League pitcher now, and he got through the lineup when he needed to. I felt we should have done a better job and we just didn’t."

Baker was hit by a pitch and Coghlan walked to set up Alcantara’s two-run double with two outs in the Chicago fifth. It was Alcantara’s first Major League hit.

The rookie infielder scored the tying run in the eighth. Alcantara reached on an infield single that deflected off pitcher Jonathan Broxton and reached third on a throwing error by Pena before scoring on Castro’s single.

It’s been a long and eventful road trip that began with a sweep of the Red Sox in Boston and ended with the Cubs players celebrating the news that Anthony Rizzo had won the National League Final Vote and was going to the All-Star Game.

Rizzo left an impression on Cincinnati fans as well. He got into a shouting match with someone in the dugout in the ninth, sparking a benches-clearing incident. No punches were thrown.

"It’ll be nice to be teammates next week [at the All-Star Game] and joke about it," Rizzo said.

Alcantara admitted he felt more comfortable in his second big league game. He missed hitting for the cycle by a home run.

"I just tried to make contact," he said. "That’s what I had in my mind, was make contact."

Cubs.com

Confirmed call denies Valbuena an inside-the-parker

By Manny Randhawa

CINCINNATI — Luis Valbuena’s two-run triple in the 12th inning was the difference in the Cubs’ 6-4 win over the Reds in the series finale after Chicago lost the first four contests of the five-game set. But the triple was nearly an inside-the-park home run.

Valbuena drove a pitch deep to right field off of Reds reliever J.J. Hoover that was just off the glove of a leaping Skip Schumaker, who slammed against the wall. By the time Schumaker recovered, got to the ball and threw it back toward the infield, Valbuena was rounding third and heading home.

The relay from first baseman Brayan Pena was in time, and though Valbuena initially eluded the tag attempt by catcher Devin Mesoraco, he was tagged out on his second lunge toward the plate.

After a two-minute, 45-second crew-chief-initiated review to determine whether Mesoraco illegally blocked the plate in violation of Rule 7.13, the call was confirmed and the inning was over.

Cubs.com

Arrieta no stranger to leading starting rotation

New Cubs ace opposes Braves’ Wood, who’s thrived since stint in ‘pen

By Erik Bacharach

When Jake Arrieta takes the mound on Friday against the Braves at Wrigley Field, it’ll be the second time he suits up as the Cubs’ ace since Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel were both packaged in a trade to Oakland. Although being thrust atop the rotation may seem like a tall order for the 28-year-old right-hander, who entered 2014 with a career 5.16 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, it’s a role he’s played before.

Arrieta had a standout career at Texas Christian, winning 14 games his sophomore season in 2006. As he finds himself in the No. 1 spot in the Cubs’ rotation, he said it’s similar to his college days.

"It’s kind of a role I’ve embraced and been in in the past," Arrieta said. "I was the guy in college and enjoyed that role. The college game is completely different and the season is structured a completely different way, but I still understand that role.

"I’ve been willing and able and ready to accept those responsibilities for a while. The performance pushes me more in that direction than I expected."

Arrieta’s 1.78 ERA through 12 starts and 70 2/3 innings is off the charts, but his counterpart on Friday night, Alex Wood, has numbers that are nothing to scoff at, either.

Wood has posted a 3.14 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 76 strikeouts to just 20 walks in 80 1/3 innings this season. The 23-year-old southpaw has allowed two earned runs or fewer while completing at least seven innings in six of his 10 starts. Wood has produced three strong starts since experiencing a month-long stint in the bullpen to limit his innings.

In his last start, Wood threw seven innings of two-run ball against Arizona, but he was saddled with the loss after a walk to the opposing pitcher prolonged the third inning long enough for Paul Goldschmidt to dent the left-field foul pole with a two-out, two-run home run.

"I think that’s probably the first time I’ve ever walked a pitcher, but it happens," Wood said. "I felt like I battled pretty well all day. Usually, they make you pay when you walk anybody, much less the pitcher. It’s still really no excuse to let the one guy in their lineup that you knew and had a good plan for, beat you."

Cubs: Renteria not taking credit for Castro, Rizzo

One of the reasons the Cubs hired Rick Renteria as their manager was because of his skills in developing young players, and two of them will represent the organization in the All-Star Game.

Starlin Castro was named to the National League All-Star team, while Anthony Rizzo won the NL Final Vote on Thursday. Both are coming back from disappointing 2013 seasons. Renteria was quick to say he could not take credit for the turnaround by the two 24-year-old players.

"Those guys have worked hard and done what they need to do to move forward," Renteria said. "Give the credit to the coaches and everybody who has been working with these guys and having conversations with them on a daily basis. Give them credit for going out there and playing the game."

Castro struggled to bat .245 last season, while Rizzo batted .233. They were far removed from any All-Star consideration.

"We knew coming in that these guys have skill and aptitude to play the game," Renteria said. "They’ve found a sense of comfort, confidence, another year of experience under their belts — there’s any number of things that could contribute to it. Up to this point, it’s gratifying you have two young men on your ballclub who have done really well."

Braves: Gonzalez wary of getting bench more starts

When the Braves were caught up in a nine-game winning streak, no one questioned manager Fredi Gonzalez for penciling in familiar lineups each day. But now that they’ve found themselves in a small funk, mixing up his bench might be something to consider.

On cue, Gonzalez started Ramiro Pena — making his third start in the last 13 games — at third base Thursday in place of Chris Johnson. But the lineup has otherwise remained fairly consistent, with Jordan Schafer, Ryan Doumit and Dan Uggla only starting once over that span.

"I haven’t done a real good job of playing my bench here lately," said Gonzalez. "It’s easy with the catchers. You don’t worry about [first baseman Freddie] Freeman, he wants to play all the time. But sometimes the other guys, you go, ‘Man, when’s the last time Schafer got a start? When’s the last time Pena got a start?’ Or even Ryan for that matter."

Worth noting

• The Cubs will host a 1960s-themed homestand against the Braves this weekend, all part of the season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. Each game in the series includes a promotional giveaway, offering fans a chance to collect an item commemorating the 60s at the ballpark.

Cubs.com

Tempers flare in Cubs-Reds finale

By Carrie Muskat and Manny Randhawa

CINCINNATI — Things were a little testy in the first inning Thursday when Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch, and pretty heated in the ninth, resulting in a benches-clearing incident.

The Cubs beat the Reds, 6-4, in 12 innings, but not without some fireworks.

In the Chicago ninth, Rizzo was one of the players yelling from the Cubs’ dugout at Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman when the left-hander’s pitches buzzed Nate Schierholtz and John Baker.

When Rizzo took the field for the bottom of the inning, someone from the Reds’ dugout yelled at the first baseman, and he threw down his hat and glove and headed for the dugout. Both benches and bullpens emptied, and there was some pushing and yelling, but no punches thrown.

"I was just trying to be a good teammate," Rizzo said of his actions in the ninth. "I have the utmost respect for this city and the Reds, but we as a team have to stick up for each other. Tempers flared. It happens. We’re 50 men competing at the highest level and tempers are going to flare sometimes. Hopefully it’s something that is resolved now."

Did Rizzo hear something from the dugout?

"Things were said, I don’t really know what was said, and tempers flared," he said. "I don’t think there’s any bad blood. It’s more about being competitive and standing up for your teammates."

"There were two pitches that ran away from me," Chapman said through interpreter Tomas Vera. "The entire [Cubs] bench started to yell at me and tell me things from there, but I just kept pitching and doing what I had to do. And after that, when we went back to the bench, [Rizzo] started to yell some things and then you saw what happened after that."

The crowd of 31,983 booed Rizzo as he came to the plate in the 10th with one on and one out, and the Reds opted to intentionally walk him. Jumbo Diaz escaped a bases-loaded jam when Justin Ruggiano popped out.

"You have two teams who compete in the same division and are playing five games in four days — very competitive people," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "It happens. Emotions run high. It’s just baseball."

Reds manager Bryan Price agreed.

"It’s a lot of testosterone out there on the field," Price said. "That’s just how baseball is. We hit Rizzo, certainly unintentional. [Zack] Cozart got hit on the hand; I’m certain that was unintentional. There were some pitches up and in with Chappy in there, and things got a little testy, but it’s baseball. We’re trying to win every game we can, as are the Cubs. I just think it was an overflow of testosterone and two teams that just wanted to win a ballgame."

"He’s one of the best players in the game," Rizzo said of Chapman. "He’s not trying to hit anyone."

Cubs.com

Renteria not taking credit for players’ turnarounds

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — One of the reasons the Cubs hired Rick Renteria as manager was because of his skills in developing young players, and he could have two of them in the All-Star Game.

Starlin Castro was named to the National League All-Star team, while Anthony Rizzo was a candidate for the NL Final Vote. Both are coming back from disappointing 2013 seasons. Renteria was quick to say he could not take credit for the turnaround by the two 24-year-old players.

"Those guys have worked hard and done what they need to do to move forward," Renteria said. "Give the credit to the coaches and everybody who has been working with these guys and having conversations with them on a daily basis. Give them credit for going out there and playing the game."

Castro struggled to bat .245 last season, while Rizzo batted .233. They were far removed from any All-Star consideration.

"We knew coming in that these guys have skill and aptitude to play the game," Renteria said. "They’ve found a sense of comfort, confidence, another year of experience under their belts — there’s any number of things that could contribute to it. Up to this point, it’s gratifying you have two young men on your ballclub who have done really well."

Castro has said one of the reasons he’s happier this year is that he’s been inserted into the fourth spot in the lineup and stayed there. It also helps that he’s batting behind Rizzo.

"You’re talking about two guys who are really complementing each other very well," Renteria said. "That makes kind of a natural position for them to be in, and it’s worked well. The biggest thing is they’re just going out and playing and picking each other up. It’s fun to see them and fun to see how other guys work around them and contribute."

Hendricks optioned after Major League debut

CINCINNATI — The Cubs optioned right-handed pitcher Dallas Beeler to Triple-A Iowa on Thursday and selected right-hander Kyle Hendricks from the Minor League team.

Hendricks made his Major League debut Thursday in the Cubs’ 6-4, 12-inning win over the Reds before being sent back down after the game, since the Cubs won’t need another starter before the All-Star break.

Hendricks took a no-decision, giving up four runs on five hits in six innings. He walked three and struck out seven.

Beeler gave up four runs over five innings in the Cubs’ 4-1 loss to the Reds on Wednesday in his second big league start.

The Cubs have yet to decide how they’ll fill the two vacancies in the rotation created by last Friday’s trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the A’s. Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood and Edwin Jackson will start the final three games before the All-Star break at Wrigley Field against the Braves.

Hendricks was 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 17 starts at Triple-A Iowa. He is one rotation option, as is right-hander Dan Straily, who was acquired in the deal with Oakland.

Renteria, Hoyer set to discuss rotation choices

CINCINNATI — The Cubs are expected to open the second half with Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson and Travis Wood in line to face the D-backs. But what happens next?

Manager Rick Renteria said he’ll meet with general manager Jed Hoyer and others to discuss who will fill the rotation spots created by last Friday’s trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Athletics.

The Cubs have plenty of pitchers to chose from, Renteria said, including Dan Straily, who was acquired in the deal with Oakland. Others to be considered are right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Dallas Beeler, who made his second big league start Wednesday, and lefty Tsuyoshi Wada. Hendricks made his Major League debut Thursday, and Wada made his first start in the U.S. big leagues on Tuesday.

"I would say all of them are [in the mix]," Renteria said Thursday. "I would say you can’t discount anybody."

Arrieta embracing new role in rotation after trade

CINCINNATI — Jake Arrieta had a standout career at Texas Christian, winning 14 games in his sophomore season in 2006. Now, he finds himself in the No. 1 spot in the Cubs’ rotation, and he said it’s similar to his college days.

With Opening Day starter Jeff Samardzija and veteran Jason Hammel both gone via a trade to the A’s, Arrieta is the Cubs’ ace.

"It’s kind of a role I’ve embraced and been in in the past," Arrieta said. "I was the guy in college and enjoyed that role. The college game is completely different, and the season is structured a completely different way, but I still understand that role.

"I’ve been willing and able and ready to accept those responsibilities for a while. The performance pushes me more in that direction than I expected."

Arrieta will make one more start before the All-Star break, as he will get the ball on Friday as the Cubs wrap up the first half with a three-game series against the Braves.

ESPNChicago.com

More Wrigley changes approved

By Jon Greenberg

CHICAGO — In a passionate objection to the Chicago Cubs’ restructured plan to adjust their landmark protection of Wrigley Field, alderman Tom Tunney accurately described the situation in his opening remarks.

"To quote the baseball great Yogi Berra, ‘It’s deja vu all over again,’" Tunney said in an 18-minute speech.

He’s not wrong.

One year after the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved a massive renovation of the stadium, the Cubs were back in city hall to get approval for a revised plan that would include more outfield signage in the wake of a long-standing dispute with owners of rooftop clubs.

After some alterations and back-and-forth discussions, the commission again unanimously approved the Cubs’ most recent changes to their plans to renovate the 100-year-old park, most notably allowing them to add five more outfield signs in addition to the two already approved by the mayoral-appointed landmarks watchdogs last year.

The renovation of Wrigley Field is slated to cost more than $375 million, with an additional $200 million in other construction projects.

"We’re on the precipice of beginning a historic restoration and expansion of Wrigley Field," Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney said.

While Kenney said the team will begin the renovation process “immediately” after approval of the plan, those extra signs aren’t guaranteed to be up at all.

The Cubs have promised Mayor Rahm Emanuel they will continue to negotiate with the rooftop owners to avoid litigation. The rooftop owners’ group recently committed to dropping legal threats regarding the remaining 10 years on a 20-year contract if the Cubs go back to the two previously approved signs: a left-field video board and a right-field script sign.

When the Cubs won landmark approval for a plan to renovate Wrigley Field and its surrounding campus last summer, they vowed not to start until the rooftop owners agreed not to sue them over disputed violations about a contractual view of the ballpark.

The Cubs kept their word and did almost nothing construction-wise, aside from building a “clubhouse” for their new mascot, Clark.

The team got approval on a modified plan in December, and then in late May, they released new plans that included the additional outfield signs, essentially inviting the rooftop owners to acquiesce or sue.

Displeased with communication over new additions to the plan, Emanuel rejected the Cubs from appealing to the landmark committee in June. The Cubs altered the plans and were allowed to proceed in July.

The committee approved several new additions, such as a renovated West Gate, a new batter’s eye in center and five more luxury suites.

Most importantly, they added 650-square-foot-size limits on any static outfield signs, with a minimum of 20 feet between outfield signs and 65 feet on either side of the centerfield scoreboard. Every sign has to be 8 feet above the top row of the bleachers to keep the landmark-protected “sweep and contour” of the outfield.

The Cubs plan to add two free-standing light standards in left and right field to improve outfield lighting. Lights were initially slated to be added onto the left-field video board, but that plan was changed.

That left-field video board will be smaller than the previously approved size, down from 4,560 square feet to 3,990 square feet, to be more streamlined with the center-field scoreboard and the possible right-field video board.

Under the new plan, the bullpens will be moved under the bleachers. Relievers will be able to see the field through a chain-link fence, replacing the current outfield doors.

The Cubs got approval to add more seating to where the bullpens are currently located along foul territory.

The committee made rulings that the new bleacher rows won’t go past the lowest row of the current center-field bleachers, and that “any further bleacher expansion could be detrimental to the uninterrupted sweep and contour of the bleachers.”

The rooftop owners’ lawyer, Tom Moore, argued that the committee was ignoring the meaning of the landmark-approved “uninterrupted sweep and contour of the bleachers” and that the new rows of bleachers, let alone the signs, would put his “clients out of business.”

"The rooftop owners oppose the plan brought by the Ricketts family the Landmarks Commission approved today," Wrigleyville Rooftops Association spokesman Ryan McLaughlin said in a statement. "If these signs were to be erected, the blockage would absolutely violate our 20-year contract, just as they violate the spirit of Wrigley’s long-standing landmark status. However, we’re optimistic that Mayor Emanuel’s directive to the Ricketts family to work out a compromise with rooftop owners could create a breakthrough.

"In fact, every rooftop owner supports a plan that’s currently on the table resulting in two signs that mitigate blockage, generates revenue to modernize Wrigley Field and takes litigation off the table. We look forward to sitting down with Crane Kenney and Tom Ricketts immediately and engaging in good faith negotiations. We see a path for a win-win solution, and our intention is to report a global solution very quickly."

Regardless, Kenney said the bleachers will be the first major project to start this offseason, while the Cubs plan to start digging in a parking lot abutting Wrigley to build a new clubhouse as early as August.

The committee declared that any new outfield signs, aside from two video boards, can only be neon or script signage. Outfield billboards are prohibited, and the signs cannot be backlit toward the streets.

"I know it’s been quite a process for the [Cubs’] owner and quite a process for our staff, as well," director of Chicago Landmarks and Preservations Eleanor Gorski said. "But after all of this discussion, I feel we’ve reached a good product."

Tunney, and many citizens who showed up to speak, disagreed. Tunney asked for the approval to be shelved for more community interaction over the plan. He said the new signs would disturb people living close to the park. Others worried about more than human neighbors.

One man, David Duggan, even asked for the state department to possibly look into the new LED lights because it might interfere with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Duggan said the lights would harm migratory bird behavior along the Mississippi Flyway in mid-October if the Cubs wind up playing in the postseason again.

"I’m here to speak for the birds," Duggan said.

ESPNChicago.com

Social media campaign pays off for Rizzo

By Jesse Rogers

Behind the strength of the #VoteRizzo campaign on Twitter, Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is an All-Star for the first time.

An online campaign #VoteRizzo took off as Rizzo garnered 8.8 million votes to beat Justin Morneau of Colorado and Justin Upton of Atlanta while Anthony Rendon of Washington and Casey McGehee of Miami. He joins Starlin Castro as Cubs representatives. Former Cub Jeff Samardzija also made the team but won’t play due to his trade to the Oakland Athletics.

Like Castro, it’s been a year of redemption for Rizzo. After batting just .233 with 23 home runs last season, he’s hitting .277 with 20 homers already this season. The 20 home runs lead all NL first baseman while he’s second in the league with an .899 OPS (on-base + slugging).

It’s a credit to Rizzo’s year that he made it — and Cubs fans who have suffered through three losing seasons under the direction of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. And the notion of both he and Castro making the All-Star team one year after coming under heavy criticism must be pleasing to the Cubs organization.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ pitching competition should heat up

By Jesse Rogers

Now that three Triple-A Iowa pitchers have made their major league debuts, the Chicago Cubs have some decisions to make after the All-Star break.

The early results from Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks are meaningless. Judging a starting pitcher on his debut, or even the first few starts, would be silly. Nerves and unfamiliarity with the opposition can derail a rookie more than anything else. It didn’t help that it looked like Hendricks was squeezed by the home plate umpire in his debut inning on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds as he gave up three runs in the first before settling down to retire 16 of his next 19 batters for a no-decision.

Beeler threw six innings, giving up one unearned run in his first start last month but wasn’t as sharp in Wednesday’s appearance against the Reds as he walked four without a strikeout in five innings, while giving up four runs. Wada may have been the sharpest of the group in his debut on Tuesday when he gave up five hits in five innings but no earned runs.

Then there’s Dan Straily, acquired from the Oakland A’s for Samardzija and Hammel last week. He has started one game for Triple-A Iowa, going five innings and giving up four runs but none were earned. However, he wasn’t able to pitch around an error that opened the floodgates in a four-run second inning for the Omaha Storm Chasers.

"Now that I’m here it’s up to me to prove that I’m ready," Straily said after his start. "I’m back to square one. It’s about performance."

Performance will probably dictate who gets a majority of the starts in the second half. Cubs president Theo Epstein already indicated Straily would be part of the mix as he has the most experience, even starting a playoff game last fall for the Athletics. Straily said he was sent down this season because he lost command of his fastball but he believes it’s coming back.

Straily, 25, was 1-2 with a 4.93 ERA this season after going 10-8 with a 3.96 ERA last season. Even he indicated a break from the AL West could do him well. The Cubs have had luck bringing pitchers over from the American League and Straily’s numbers could improve with weaker opposition.

That leaves three pitchers for one spot if Straily gets a regular turn in the rotation. All three will get more chances at the major league level and if one excels — or another clearly isn’t — then the Cubs might just hand the job to that person. Hendricks, in particular, is going to need a few times through the league before any kind of assessment is made on him. His game isn’t based on his stuff so much as knowing how to pitch. He’ll need to learn opponents and make adjustments before we can know if he’s a regular for the rotation for next season.

Beeler did well keeping the ball down in his debut but less so in his second start while the 33-year-old Wada might just be a depth guy as his age and situation don’t necessarily dictate a regular starter moving forward. Still, whoever is pitching well coming out of the All-Star break will end up getting the majority of starts in the final couple of months.

Let the competition begin.

Iowa observations

One of the highly touted pitching prospects in Triple-A Iowa’s bullpen is Arodys Vizcaino. The flamethrower says he’s not trying to hit 100 mph on the radar gun as much, just get hitters out. He struggled on Monday against the Storm Chasers, giving up three hits and three runs in less than two innings of work. That’s eight runs given up in five innings since moving to Triple-A.

With Cubs’ bullpen roles solidly defined right now, don’t look for Vizcaino to get a call-up until things go well in Iowa. At the very least he should be at Wrigley Field by September as rosters will expand.

Outfielder Matt Szczur continues to flash his glove but his bat probably won’t move him into a prime starting role at the major league level. He’s batting just .245 with a .308 on-base percentage. But if he can improve at the plate his glove could come in handy as he continues to make the easy and difficult plays for Iowa in the outfield.

ESPNChicago.com

Renteria lauds ump crew despite ejection

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria was thrown out of Wednesday night’s 4-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds during the deciding three-run bottom of the fifth inning when he argued a foul-ball call down the third-base line.

It was the fifth ejection of the season for the first-year Cubs skipper. This time, third-base umpire Andy Fletcher got him.

"That poor guy," Renteria said. "He had no chance with me today. It happens. Do I like getting ejected? No, I don’t like getting ejected. [But] it happens."

Renteria stormed out of the dugout following Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco’s tapper down the third-base line with two outs, two on and three runs already in. The ball was just foul, but third baseman Luis Valbuena fielded the grounder and tagged third for what he thought was an inning-ending force out.

The play was not reviewable, but Valbuena thought he got the ball in fair territory.

"When my player feels he’s got a call, I think at that point, as a manager, I’ve got to talk to them," Renteria said. "But listen, they’re doing a great job. With all the different things and nuances they have to cover, he was more than patient enough."

Mesoraco grounded out to Valbuena moments later to end the inning.

Rizzo leads All-Star Final Vote: First baseman Anthony Rizzo moved into first place in voting for the final National League All-Star spot Wednesday.

"Right before the game, I found out," Rizzo said. "It’s really cool. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed that the fans keep going. I’m really appreciative for all of it. We’ll see what happens."

Renteria has been voting as well.

"Oh yeah, I’ve voted," Renteria said. "Yes, I did."

Rizzo accounted for the Cubs’ only run Wednesday with his 20th home run of the season, a towering shot down the line in right on a 2-0 pitch. The blast tied the game at one, but Chicago never got another runner as far as second base, and Reds starter Alfredo Simon retired the next 13 Cubs hitters.

"We’re struggling to score runs," Rizzo said. "You just have to keep grinding at-bats out. We’ve run into a few good pitchers too. It doesn’t help, but you have to keep going. It’s a low point for the team, but we have to keep going and grind it out."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs trying to fight off another trade-deadline hangover

By Patrick Mooney

There are still three weeks left until July 31, but the Cubs are already trying to fight off the trade-deadline hangover.

The Cubs showed signs of life in Thursday’s 6-4 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. It took 12 innings and a breakout performance from Arismendy Alcantara (4-for-5, three RBI) while Anthony Rizzo’s Twitter account made a successful Final Vote push into the All-Star Game. That snapped the six-game losing streak that began right after the Cubs traded Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s.

Look, the Cubs had almost zero margin for error even with Samardzija and Hammel. And they have so many players fighting for their professional lives that effort shouldn’t be a problem (though that doesn’t mean manager Rick Renteria won’t have to put out fires in the clubhouse).

But players aren’t robots. It’s not easy to focus in this age of social media and 24/7 speculation. While trying to block out the all noise, Samardzija had told at least one close friend that the situation became a huge distraction, and it became hard to miss his big smile at the Oakland Coliseum.

Ozzie Guillen once loved taunting Cubs fans when he managed the White Sox, but the ESPN personality put it this way on an All-Star conference call:

“The Cubs are doing the right thing right now. This trade has been great for everybody. Samardzija — every day when he pitched — all the media in Chicago (would say): ‘When are you going to get traded? When are you going to get traded?’

“The Cubs should be trying to build a good young team for the future. I think that was a big step for everyone.”

Samardzija had been getting questions about the trade deadline since last year’s trade deadline. Samardzija had been getting questions about his contract since at least last spring training, and it only intensified when Rizzo grabbed his long-term extension last May. Samardzija slowly started becoming Matt Garza 2.0, experiencing the nonstop scrutiny his old friend Ryan Dempster felt in 2012.

“In the back of your mind, you’re thinking: ‘Well, who’s next? Is it me?’” Darwin Barney said. “But you know you got to try to put that aside and focus on today. What I can control is today. I think that’s kind of what we have to do.”

Anyone need a Gold Glove second baseman? Maybe the Cubs could find an American League lineup that would give Barney some protection, and package him with one of their other short-term assets. Lefty relievers James Russell and Wesley Wright, outfielders Justin Ruggiano and Nate Schierholtz, infielder Luis Valbuena and swingman Carlos Villanueva should see their names on MLBTradeRumors.com this month.

“Our job is to go out there and play our butts off, regardless of what happens,” Villanueva said. “If I’m here or not, I don’t know, but from an organizational point of view, they have to do what’s best for the future. And if that’s stocking up with the top prospects in (Major League Baseball), then it’s ultimately a positive.

“We have to take care of what we can take care of here — for us — and not worry about that. We can’t get upset. That’s not part of our job. Our job is to get guys out and hit the ball. Guys get traded.

“You do a good job, you get opportunities. If you don’t do your job, then somebody else will do it for you.”

This won’t become the soundtrack to the highlight reel shown at the 2015 Cubs Convention. But president of baseball operations Theo Epstein summed up a team that’s been playing on a loop.

“Our last three seasons have followed a similar pattern where we get out of the gate the first few weeks of the season (with) bullpen issues, closer problems,” Epstein said. “We lose a lot of close games. We don’t hit with runners in scoring position. We get buried in the standings, make a few adjustments, find our way right around June and play pretty good ball.

“And then by the time the deadline rolls around, it’s kind of too late. We’re out of it. We make some changes for the big picture…and then we make our way through August and September.”

The Cubs went 35-80 after July 31 across the last two seasons and then fired manager Dale Sveum.

The Cubs (39-52) will scatter for the All-Star break after this weekend’s three-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. By that point, there will be 68 games left — 32 within a division that produced three playoff teams last year and has the Milwaukee Brewers in first place now.

There are also 10 games left against the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants as they battle for the National League West.

There are nine more games against American League East teams that have recently been to the postseason and/or are angling for October — the Tampa Bay Rays, Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays.

There’s also a three-game series against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field, a place that wears out the young pitchers the Cubs are talking up now.

“Guys that have been here know what the drill has been the last couple years,” Villanueva said. “I just hope I’m a part of it, because you do see the light. It’s a big tunnel and it’s a big light. You want to be a part of it when things shift the other way.”

Hopefully, that’s not a big train coming for what’s left of the 2014 Cubs.

“You stay positive,” Villanueva said. “You take it (day by day).”

10 7 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs behold future with Alcantara, Beeler

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — At 38-52, 13 games out of first place in the National League Central and with two top pitchers already traded away weeks ahead of the nonwaiver trade deadline, the Cubs are looking to the future again.

Despite a sixth straight loss Wednesday night in a 4-1 final to the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, a couple pieces of the future were on display and happy about it.

Rookie right-hander Dallas Beeler (0-2) held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings in his second major league start before taking his second loss.

Arismendy Alcantara, a 22-year-old second baseman/outfielder was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game, but he made several plays in the field, including a relay throw to nab a runner at third base. He said he was never nervous.

Right-handed starter Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut Thursday afternoon.

"It’s a whole bunch of fun," Beeler said. "It was nice having Kyle come up here. I didn’t know Arismendy was even coming up until I saw him today. It’s a lot of fun and it’s going to be the same for Kyle tomorrow. He’s going to have a great time. The results weren’t what I wanted tonight, but I still had a great time pitching. It’s a lot of fun to watch, too."

A three-run fifth inning ended Beeler’s second start. He allowed four earned runs, six hits, walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

"I just got some ground balls that got through the holes," Beeler said. "I felt like I had good control tonight. I got behind in some counts, and you can’t get behind on some of these guys. Some things didn’t go my way, and I have to make better pitches in some situations, too.

"I can’t get behind the first two pitches, especially the second and third time through [the batting order] because then I’m throwing all fastballs. So just cut down the walks and everything."

Still, the Cubs were in the game.

"I don’t know if he felt his command was where he wanted it to be," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He settled down, I thought, a little bit. He started moving the ball in the third or fourth inning, I think. He kept us in the ballgame, quite frankly."

Alcantara popped up in his first major league at-bat from the No. 2 spot in the order and was thrown out on a hard grounder to third base in the third before striking out in his final two at-bats.

"At the plate, I thought he had a couple K’s, but I thought he was staying in there very poised and very confident," Renteria said. "He saw some good breaking balls off of [Reds starter Alfredo] Simon. He hit the ball well to the third baseman with two strikes in his second at-bat."

The breaking balls were a little tougher than he had seen in Iowa.

"I have to make adjustments," Alcantara said.

Alcantara had his first chance in the field in the second inning when he had to range to his right over second base to throw out Devin Mesoraco on a grounder. Two batters later, he threw out Ramon Santiago trying to stretch an RB double into a triple on a relay from Ryan Sweeney in right and on to Luis Valbuena at third.

"He moved around pretty well," Renteria said. "He made a play up the middle that showed range to his right to the shortstop side, I thought it was. He looked good. I thought he almost had that ball — the bloop over his shoulder. A relay throw also to third."

The early chances helped ease Alcantara in.

"Just get relaxed and try to play the game the right way," Alcantara said. "So far, I feel comfortable in the field and at home plate, too."

Renteria said Alcantara would start Thursday but did not say what position he would play in the field or hit in the order.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Reds 4, Cubs 1

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. It was the fifth straight win for the Reds and the sixth straight loss for the Cubs.

Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Reds finally got to Cubs starter Dallas Beeler for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the fifth to break a 1-1 tie. Billy Hamilton had the go-ahead hit for the Reds with a two-out triple past center fielder Justin Ruggiano to drive in Zack Cozart from second base. Cozart had lofted a single into right-center, just out of the reach of second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, and moved to second on a sacrifice by pitcher Alfredo Simon.

Skip Schumaker followed Hamilton’s triple with a walk and Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce each singled in a run to cap a three-run inning. The Reds took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when third baseman Ramon Santiago belted a two-out double into the gap in right-center to plate first baseman Brayan Pena from first base. Santiago was thrown out trying to stretch the double into a triple. Pena drew a two-out walk ahead of Santiago. Anthony Rizzo tied it in the third with his 20th home run of the season, a towering shot down the line in right on a 2-0 pitch. But Chicago never got another runner as far as second base.

What it means: The Cubs have followed a four-game winning streak with what is now a six-game losing streak and four games to go before the All-Star break.

Beeler’s night: Beeler, a rookie right-hander, held the Reds to two hits and a run through four innings, but a three-run fifth inning ended his second major league start. Beeler allowed four earned runs, six hits and walked four in five innings and did not record a strikeout.

Beeler (0-2) made his major league debut June 28 and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to the Washington Nationals. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

Alcantara’s debut: Hot prospect Alcantara was 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first major league game. The 22-year-old infielder/outfielder, who hits from both sides of the plate, started at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday. The Cubs promoted him to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.

Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts at Triple-A.

Renteria tossed: Cubs manager Rick Renteria was thrown out of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning by third-base umpire Andy Fletcher for arguing a foul-ball call. It was Renteria’s fifth ejection of the season.

Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco’s tapper down the third-base line with two outs, two on and three runs already in was just foul. Third baseman Luis Valbuena fielded the grounder and tagged third, but Fletcher called the ball foul.

The play was not reviewable.

Mesoraco grounded out to Valbuena moments later to end the inning.

Stat of the night: Simon (12-3) retired 13 straight Cubs after Rizzo’s game-tying home run in the third. Simon struck out eight in 6.2 innings, allowing four hits, two walks and one earned run.

What’s next: The Cubs wrap up the five-game series in Cincinnati at 11:35 a.m. CT, hoping to avoid a sweep. Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut for Chicago, and Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.15 ERA) will take the hill for the Reds.

The Cubs return home for a three-game series leading into the All-Star break beginning Friday.

ESPNChicago.com

Renteria ready to give Alcantara a chance

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — Cubs manager Rick Renteria is wasting no time getting a look at Arismendy Alcantara.

Alcantara, a 22-year-old infielder/outfielder who hits from both sides of the plate, will start at second base and hit in the No. 2 spot in the batting order Wednesday night in the fourth of five games in Cincinnati.

“A switch-hitting hitter that’s been doing really, really well,” Renteria said of Alcantara. “If it seems like it might be a little overwhelming, maybe we’ll make an adjustment (in the order) tomorrow. But there’s nothing wrong with us allowing him an opportunity to be seen in what might be kind of a slot he might be able to fit in as a switch hitter.”

Alcantara has hit .307 with 10 homers, 11 triples, 25 doubles and 62 runs in 89 games for Triple-A Iowa this season. He boasts an .890 OPS with 21 stolen bases in 24 attempts.

“He’s been hitting for power from both sides of the plate,” Renteria said. “He’s been hitting for extra bases, hitting well in terms of average, stealing bases. He’s played some center as well as second. He’s been doing a very nice job.”

The Cubs promoted Alcantara to take the spot of veteran Darwin Barney, who is on the paternity list.

And while Alcantara is up with the big club, even if it’s for a short time, he’s going to play.

“He’s going to be here a couple days and he should be in there,” Renteria said. “He’s one of our young prospects and he’ll get a couple of days of playing time. Hopefully he’s able to just enjoy it and be himself. He’s been doing very, very well this season and hopefully he feels comfortable with his teammates here.”

Alcantara was not the only young Cub in the lineup. Right-hander Dallas Beeler, 25, was making his second career start Wednesday night. Beeler made his major league debut in June and allowed four hits and an earned run in a 3-0 loss to Washington. He gave up four hits and struck out six.

“He’ll start for us tonight and then we’ll have that conversation as to how he’s going to proceed,” Renteria said. “But I’m glad to have him here. He did a nice job for us the last time. He looks good, and again, these guys are coming in and they have a very calm presence about them.”

Right-hander Kyle Hendricks will make his major league debut Thursday against the Reds, becoming the third Cubs pitcher to make his big league debut in the last 13 days. Hendricks will follow Beeler (June 28) and Tsuyoshi Wada (Tuesday) in making his debut.

The 24-year-old is 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA in 16 Triple-A starts this season after being named the Cubs’ minor league pitcher of the year last season.

Alcantara, Beeler, and Hendricks are part of a growing youth movement expected to lift the last-place Cubs in the coming years.

“We as an organization have to make sure that when any time you give opportunities to young guys that do get a look that they’re ready to be given that opportunity,” Renteria said.

ESPNChicago.com

Hendricks next prospect to make debut

By Jesse Rogers

OMAHA, Neb. — The march of major league debuts continues as Chicago Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks takes the mound Thursday in their series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.

"I still don’t think it’s hit me, 100 percent," Hendricks said before leaving Triple-A Iowa for Ohio. "This is what you work for your entire life. It’s finally here. When I step foot on that mound, and throw that first pitch, it might hit me a little. But it’s the same game. Sixty feet, 6 inches. Hopefully I’ll keep my emotions in check."

Hendricks might be the most well-known of the Cubs’ young pitchers as the organization dubbed him the minor league hurler of the year in 2013 after he went a combined 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA at Double-A and Triple-A. He came over from the Texas Rangers for Ryan Dempster in 2012 after the Rangers drafted him the eighth round in 2011. All that flipping of veterans the Cubs have been doing might finally start to pay off.

This year Hendricks is 10-5 with a 3.59 ERA and claims he’s been improving since making some pregame changes.

"I went through a stretch of 3-4 starts where I would go into the game where I wasn’t 100 percent aggressive right out of the gate," Hendricks said. "I wasn’t throwing my best stuff in the first inning, and I was giving up some runs early. It was hurting me because I was putting up zeros later in the game. But you can lose the game in the first inning."

So Hendricks and Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton changed the pregame routine and made it more “intense” at the end of warm-ups. The result has been wins in his last four full starts — he was pulled after two innings on Sunday in advance of Thursday’s debut — and he’s given up more than two runs in just one of them.

"He’s ready," Walton said. "I told him not to overthink things. Just go out and pitch. So far our guys have been able to do that."

Walton is like a proud father as three of his pitchers — Dallas Beeler, Tsuyoshi Wada and now Hendricks — have made their major league debuts over the past couple of weeks and so far they’ve thrown well. Now it’s Hendricks’ turn.

"When you do struggle you want to overanalyze," Hendricks said. "That’s a natural thing to do. It’s the same game. Your heart will be beating a little faster. As long as you keep the ball down you can get major league hitters out."

Overanalyzing can be an issue for the Dartmouth graduate but Walton is quick to point out he’d rather work with someone who overanalyzes than the opposite. But sometimes baseball needs to be simple and Hendricks realizes that.

"It’s definitely easier said than done," he said.

The instruction from above is to keep the ball down. Hendricks isn’t overpowering — some compare his style to Greg Maddux simply for that reason — and he can paint the corners. The question is if a pitcher who knows how to pitch but only hits 91-92 mph on the radar gun can make it these days. The Cubs are banking that Hendricks is one who can.

Confidence is a big deal and when teammate Beeler threw six solid innings in his debut a few weeks ago, the entire Triple-A staff took notice.

"That was so much motivation and gave everyone down here so much confidence to see one of our teammates go up there and pitch great," Hendricks said. "My mind is racing. I threw a light bullpen [Tuesday] to get ready. Just have to get some rest."

Iowa manager Marty Pevey recalled Beeler’s last bullpen session before heading to Wrigley Field for his first start. He was so amped up, Pevey had him put down his glove and run until he got it out of his system. Hendricks didn’t need that but knows the feeling. He hopes he can achieve come calmness before taking the field on Thursday where most of his extended family will be with him in Cincinnati.

"I saw [Joey] Votto go on the disabled list so that’s not bad," Hendricks joked. "I’ve been keeping track a little bit."

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs to get brief look at ‘do it all’ Alcantara

By Jesse Rogers

OMAHA, Neb. — Chicago Cubs Triple-A outfielder Ryan Kalish has played or been around some good talents in his years in baseball.

Coming up with the Boston Red Sox, he saw greats such as Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Adrian Beltre go about their business. He also played alongside Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo when he was with the Cubs earlier this season.

So what does he think of teammate Arismendy Alcantara, who was called up Wednesday to make his major league debut while second baseman Darwin Barney is on paternity leave?

"He’s one of my favorites I’ve ever come across," Kalish said Wednesday morning before the Iowa Cubs played the Omaha Storm Chasers. "He can do it all."

"Doing it all" is the phrase you hear often from people who have watched or played with Alcantara. He’s the first of the position player prospects to get the call, albeit for only two days. The Cubs made it clear that he’ll be coming back to Triple-A, but at least fans will get a glimpse of the future. The Cubs have started the transition everyone has been waiting for.

"He’s been going in the right direction for some time now," VP of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod said. "He’s earned a chance."

Alcantara has put up a fantasy player’s dream season so far in Iowa. He’s hitting .307 with 10 home runs, 41 RBIs, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 21 stolen bases and a .353 on-base percentage. Since moving to the leadoff spot 35 games ago he’s been even better, batting .348 with a .401 on-base percentage. Some have compared him to Emilio Bonifacio as he can hit from both sides of the plate and play both the infield and outfield.

"I describe him as a Jose Reyes-type," Kalish said. "He’s got all the tools. The power, the speed, the arm. Fans should know he has an unbelievable head on his shoulders."

The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Alcantara doesn’t look the part of a guy who can drive the ball, but he says since going to Triple-A he’s had a better time finding the outfield gaps.

"These parks are bigger (than Double-A) and better for my game," Alcantara said before leaving for Cincinnati to join the Cubs for Wednesday’s game against the Reds.

The numbers prove that out. He had 55 extra-base hits in 571 at-bats at Double-A Tennessee in 2013 and he already has 46 this season in 366 at-bats. The big parks in the majors might play to his style as well.

"He has gap power and raw speed," Kalish said. "When he has a clean double he just glides into second. When he’s going for a triple, watch out. He turns it on."

Fans will only get a taste of his talent for two days until Barney returns. But that doesn’t mean he can’t come back to the big club someday soon. Trading season is upon us and the Cubs could move any one of the following players: Nate Schierholtz, Justin Ruggiano, Darwin Barney, Luis Valbuena and Bonifacio, if he’s healthy.

That opens a spot for Alcantara, who has played 11 games in centerfield, 70 at second base and six at shortstop this season. Or the Cubs could decide to send down Junior Lake or Mike Olt if their struggles continue, or perhaps Alcantara finds his way to Wrigley Field by the time rosters expand in September.

One thing is for sure, Alcantara is going to get his chance. As for next season, if things go well he could be the Cubs Opening Day second baseman or centerfielder, or maybe somewhere else. The Cubs don’t know how it’s going to play out, they just know he’s a talent.

"The season he’s had here is insane," Kalish said. "The guy can play."

The future is finally here. At least for two days.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Addison Russell is a dealmaker for Anthony Rizzo

By Patrick Mooney

Addison Russell is a dealmaker for Anthony Rizzo.

The Cubs definitely felt the emotional letdown and talent drop-off after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s, heading into Wednesday with a five-game losing streak since the Fourth of July fireworks.   

But Rizzo still looked at the big picture and saw Russell, a 20-year-old shortstop who’s been all over the top-prospect lists since getting drafted 11th overall in 2012.

“We got a great player, from what I understand,” Rizzo said. “We all feel it. A couple years ago, I think people knew that it was kind of a long ways away. And now, two years later, I think it’s coming to that time where it’s about the time we start contending.”

Remember Rizzo Watch? After generating so much hype at Triple-A Iowa, the first baseman debuted with the Cubs on June 26, 2012 and instantly made an impact. The Cubs went 18-10 from Rizzo’s promotion up to the July 31 deadline, another selloff that accelerated the countdown to 101 losses.

Whether or not they hit triple digits again, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said this should be the last year the Cubs are “obvious sellers.”

The Bay Area media ran spring-training stories speculating Russell could be a midsummer call-up or a replacement for Jed Lowrie once the Oakland shortstop becomes a free agent after this season. A hamstring injury slowed down Russell, who’s trying to get back on the fast track at Double-A Tennessee and give the Cubs some options this winter.  

While Arismendy Alcantara makes his big-league debut on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park, Russell joins a stable of position players that includes first-round picks Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Albert Almora and Kyle Schwarber, plus $30 million outfielder Jorge Soler.

Seeing that wave of talent coming, the Cubs needed to know what they really had in Rizzo and Starlin Castro after step-back seasons (and an investment worth more than $100 million). They couldn’t afford all those ups and downs while planning for the future and trying to blend even younger players into the lineup.

The early returns are in: Rizzo’s Final Vote campaign to get a spot on the National League team ends Thursday, while Castro’s already a three-time All-Star at the age of 24.

“He came in with a mission,” Rizzo said. “We just come in and do our work. We got a great group of guys around us. I always say it’s not just me and him — it’s the other 23 guys, too, that help out every day.”

The Cubs scrambled to find pitching in September 2012, with Samardzija shut down as a precaution, Matt Garza injured and Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm traded away to the Texas Rangers and Atlanta Braves.

That got ugly, but the Cubs are talking up the potential replacements from Iowa: Tsuyoshi Wada, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, etc. They have no choice.

“It’s definitely a blow, but guys are just going to have to step up,” Rizzo said. “That’s it.”

CSNChicago.com

'Underappreciated' Arismendy Alcantara gets his shot with Cubs

By Tony Andracki

Cubs fans will get a little taste of the future.

As Javier Baez and Kris Bryant set Twitter ablaze with each homer, Arismendy Alcantara has quietly flown under the radar and emerged as a core prospect.

Now Alcantara gets his chance at the big-league level while Darwin Barney takes paternity leave for two days. Alcantara will be hitting second and playing second base on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park.

"He’s been playing great," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said. "His year is on a really good trajectory. He started off in April and struggled a little bit with his strike-zone control and he’s been getting better and better every month.

"I feel like he’s the underappreciated guy in our system. He’s only 22. He’s a switch-hitter. He’s in Triple-A and no one talks about him because of guys like Baez and Bryant and [Albert] Almora. He has a chance to put up a pretty special year in Triple-A when you look at his doubles, triples, homers and stolen bases. Guys don’t really do that at that age. We’re excited for him.

"Everyone talks about the ‘Core Four’ reports and stuff like that. I think he certainly belongs in that group."

The Cubs signed Alcantara as an international free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2008. He’s worked his way through the system, spending only a year at each level.

Alcantara burst onto the scene last year, posting an .804 OPS at Double-A Tennessee with 15 homers and 31 stolen bases while landing on the national radar with an upper-deck blast at Citi Field in the Futures Game.

In the offseason, Alcantara found his way onto top-prospect rankings for Baseball America (No. 100), MLB.com (No. 89) and Baseball Prospectus (No. 83). He soared up the rankings on the midseason editions released earlier this week, landing at No. 18 on Baseball Prospectus’ list and No. 33 on Baseball America’s.

Alcantara has taken another step forward with Triple-A Iowa this year, raising his OPS to .890 with a .307/.353/.537 slash line. He’s displayed his all-around game with 62 runs, 25 doubles, 11 triples, 10 homers, 41 RBI and 21 steals in 89 games.

"If you work hard every day and try to put everything together, something good can happen," Alcantara said last week. "And I think that’s happening right now. I just try to play the game the right way and play hard. Everything’s going well right now."

Since June 5, Alcantara is hitting .376 with a 1.019 OPS and 11 steals in 35 games, setting the tone for the Iowa lineup as the leadoff guy in front of Baez, Bryant and player-coach Manny Ramirez.

Alcantara said he wasn’t getting caught up in the rumors that a promotion to Chicago could be in the works.

"I feel good, but I don’t know what they think about it," Alcantara said, referencing the front office. "I just try to play the game hard and if I’m going good, they’ll know when I’m ready.

"I focus on what I can control, because that’s the way I have to do it. I can’t focus on something I can’t control. If I focus on my game and my situation here, I can keep my mind relaxed. When you think too far, you can think some crazy things. I just keep calm and try to do the little things."

Listed at 5-foot-10, 170 pounds, Alcantara has been called one of the fastest guys in the system and he’s putting on size as he fills out. He started out as a shortstop, but moved to second base to accommodate Baez last year in Tennessee.

Recently, the Cubs have been trying him out in center field, hoping to add to Alcantara’s versatility. An ability to play three or four positions will help him stick around in the big leagues, especially as more top prospects make their journey to Chicago.

"I don’t care which [position I’m at]," he said. "I just want to play the game. Second base, center field, shortstop, third base, it doesn’t matter. I just want to play the game and be in the lineup every day."

For two days, at least, Cubs fans will get a look at the future.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Kyle Hendricks looks for lasting impression in debut

By Tony Andracki

DES MOINES, Iowa - Kyle Hendricks isn’t in this for just one start.

The Cubs are calling up their 2013 minor league pitcher of the year to make his big-league debut on Thursday against the Cincinnati Reds, trying to piece together the rotation after trading Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to the Oakland A’s.

After Tsuyoshi Wada and Dallas Beeler auditioned at Great American Ball Park, Hendricks wants to show he belongs.

"Our whole staff, I think everybody [at Triple-A Iowa] is pretty much ready for the next level," Hendricks said last week. "We’ve all had success here. There are a lot of guys who pitched up there and they’ve pitched very well. It’s always great to see, and it gives you confidence."

Hendricks turned in a dominant 2013 season, going 13-4 with a 2.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in 27 starts. After putting up a 1.85 ERA with Double-A Tennessee, he didn’t miss a beat upon his Triple-A promotion, posting a 2.48 ERA in six starts.

This year Hendricks (10-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.18 WHIP) focused on refining parts of his game, so he could stick in the majors once he got the call.

After striking out just 6.9 batters per nine innings last season, Hendricks has dispelled some concerns about his ability to miss bats by upping his rate to 8.5 K/9 this year.

"He’s done an outstanding job," Iowa pitching coach Bruce Walton said. "We’ve been working on a couple new pitches - a new changeup and a curveball - and bringing those into the mix.

"He’s still having great numbers and it’s very exciting to see. He’s doing it at a higher level. He’s really just finishing off (his game). He’s figuring out his lanes. He’s figuring out how to pitch to plans a little bit more. Really, just working on the mental side of it."

The Cubs Way is supposed to be all about executing gameplans.

Hendricks and the Iowa pitchers have gotten to the point where they’re more focused on working different areas than they are concerned with the stats in the box score.

"It’s definitely hard, because at the end of the day, results are what you look at," Hendricks said. "But we have gotten into more of a groove of looking at where my pitches are going, how everything is moving and trying to figure out how it’s going to work at the next level.

"Most of that just happens during the bullpens. When you go out there in the games, you still want to win. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at."

Hendricks has never been considered a top prospect, coming over from the Texas Rangers as part of the 2012 Ryan Dempster deal.

But Hendricks is a student of the game and uses his smarts to make up for anything his right arm may lack. In the offseason, he finished up his degree at Dartmouth after leaving early when the Rangers selected him in the eighth round of the 2011 draft.

"His brain is going to be one of his tools," Walton said. "He understands the game very well. He understands pitching very well. He’s mentally prepared for the big leagues."

C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson got headlines as the organization’s top pitching prospects. But while they’ve battled injuries, Hendricks emerged as an option for whenever the Cubs traded away Samardzija and Hammel.

Hendricks insisted he wasn’t paying attention to the rumors surrounding Samardzija and Hammel. But they’re in Oakland now, and this rotation is wide open.

Can Hendricks stake his claim?

"I believe Kyle’s ready," Walton said. "There wasn’t a whole lot of other things we could work on to finish him off. He understands what he needs to do.

"We were making sure that when he was called up, we gave him the best chance to stay there."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Five report: Baez, Bryant go 1-for-11

By Mark Gonzales

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

Javier Baez

Shortstop, Iowa Cubs (AAA)

Wednesday at Omaha: 1-for-6, double, strikeout.

Trending: 8-for-32 (.250) during 8-game hitting streak, 3 doubles, 3 home runs, 6 RBIs.

Season:  81 games, .240 batting average, 13 home runs, 50 RBIs.

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Wednesday  at Omaha:  0-for-5, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  12-for-35 (.343), 3 doubles, 2 home runs, 5 runs, 7 RBIs.

Season: 91 games, .348 batting average, 30 home runs, 80 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee

Wednesday: Off.

Trending: 0-for-9, 4 strikeouts.

Season: 20 games, .260 batting average, 1 home run, 9 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Jorge Soler

Outfielder, Tennessee

Wednesday: Off.

Trending: 14-for-32 (.438), 4 doubles, 3 home runs, 9 RBIs.

Season:  16 games, .393 batting average, 3 home runs, 16 RBIs at Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Daytona (A)

Wednesday vs. Dunedin: 2-for-7, RBI, strikeout, double play in doubleheader.

Trending: 17-for-36 (.472), 3 doubles, triple, 2 home runs, 8 RBIs.

Season: 78 games, .275 batting average, 5 home runs, 42 RBIs.

Chicago Tribune

Young Cubs fall to Reds as streak reaches 6 games

Alcantara 0-for-4 in debut, Beeler picks up loss; Hendricks gets his turn Thursday

By Mark Gonzales

CINCINNATI — Youth is being served on the Cubs’ roster.

But latest arrivals Arismendy Alcantara, Dallas Beeler and Kyle Hendricks would like to be more than appetizers before the likes of Kris Bryant and Javier Baez arrive.

Alcantara displayed his defensive skills at second base Wednesday night but went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his major league debut, while Beeler allowed three runs in the fifth inning of a 4-1 loss to the Reds in his second major league start.

Now it will be up to Hendricks, who will make his major league debut Thursday, to stop the Cubs’ six-game losing streak.

"It’s the part of the season where it’s a low point for the team, but we’ve got to keep going and grind it out," Anthony Rizzo said after hitting his 20th home run.

More minor league players could get opportunities before the July 31 trade deadline.

The Braves, searching for left-handed relief help, had a scout look at James Russell and Wesley Wright during this series.

The Blue Jays are looking at second-base and third-base candidates. Luis Valbuena and Darwin Barney — currently on maternity leave with Alcantara filling in for two games — could fit their needs.

Manager Rick Renteria was ejected in the bottom of the fifth by third-base umpire Andy Fletcher, who ruled that Devin Mesoraco’s grounder was foul after Valbuena fielded it for what could have been the final out.

"The poor guy (Fletcher) had no chance with me," Renteria said after his fifth ejection. "When my player feels he has a call, as a manager I’ve got to talk to him."

Two walks led to four runs off Beeler, who received the start in place of Jeff Samardzija, traded to the Athletics on Friday.

"We thought there would be openings, but we didn’t know what was going to happen with it," Beeler said. "So we’re flying by the seat of our tail."

Hendricks said before the game that he and his Triple-A Iowa teammates “definitely played out scenarios” after Samardzija and Jason Hammel were traded to the A’s.

"There were plenty of guys who could have done it, which says something about the guys we have down there," said Hendricks, who will be pitching in front of 15 relatives and friends. "Anyone could have filled the spot. I’m happy I got the opportunity."

Hendricks’ start means the Cubs will have three starting pitchers making their major league debuts in a 13-day span or less for the first time since 1948, when Bob Rush (April 22), Cliff Chambers (April 24) and Dutch McCall (April 27) did it in six days.

Alcantara, who will return to Iowa after Thursday’s game, made two exceptional defensive plays but was fooled on a few breaking pitches from Alfredo Simon, who became the National League’s first 12-game winner.

"If I do well, they can bring me back," Alcantara said.

Rizzo became the Cubs’ first left-handed hitter to hit 20 home runs before the All-Star break since Rick Monday in 1973 and the first Cub overall since Derrek Lee had 27 in 2005.

Chicago Tribune

All-Star possibility pumping up Anthony Rizzo

Cubs 1st baseman has hopes up as he takes lead in Final Vote balloting for NL roster spot in Tuesday’s All-Star Game

By Mark Gonzales

CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo took the lead Wednesday night for the National League Final Vote, and he expressed his appreciation for the support.

The winner of the roster spot for the All-Star Game will be revealed Thursday.

"It’s humbling," Rizzo said. "To see everyone reaching out, they don’t have to do that. I never really had my hopes up, and now they’re up."

Rizzo acknowledged he faces a stiff challenge from Justin Morneau of the Rockies and three other players heading into the final day of voting that ends at 3 p.m. Thursday. Morneau’s storyline is great as he’s recovering from post-concussion syndrome and the game will be played Tuesday night in Minneapolis, where Morneau became a star with the Twins.

"All five of us, you could make the argument we deserve to be there," Rizzo said. "Morneau is a good player. So are the other four. Everyone has their adversity they went through as well, not just the final candidates. I’m sure every player has gone through it."

On the field, Rizzo made a late push with a 3-for-5 performance in the second game of a doubleheader Tuesday against the Reds, and then he hit his 20th homer in the third inning Wednesday night.

"I don’t think it hurt," Rizzo said. "The voting came out Sunday, I hit a home run Monday and Tuesday, so I don’t think it hurt. But I’m really pleased with how everyone has reached out."

Scouting report: Kyle Hendricks, who played in the talent-deep Rangers system before joining the Cubs organization two years ago, raved about Triple-A Iowa slugger Kris Bryant.

"He’s definitely the best player I’ve played with," Hendricks said. "It’s unbelievable. The first two games after he came up, he struggled a little bit.

"It took only two games to adjust. He has been ripping the cover off the ball. Some of the home runs, he spreads them out — right field, center field, left. Unbelievable."

As for recently promoted second baseman Arismendy Alcantara, Hendricks said, “We were joking around about it in Triple A. It seems he gets seven hits every game. You turn around, and he’s 3-for-4, 4-for-4 every game.

"He has been unbelievable too. It has been cool watching all the guys down there. They feed off each other."

Hendricks said Alcantara is stronger than his 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame suggests, especially in the outfield.

"He struggled a little bit, but his arm is so good and he put in a lot of work," Hendricks said. "It didn’t take long for him to look natural.

"He has power from both sides of the plate, unbelievable pop. He’s up there with (Javier) Baez and Bryant as far as pop."

Extra innings: Billy McKinney, acquired in the six-player trade with the Athletics, hit a two-run single for Class A Daytona in an 8-6 loss to Dunedin in the second game of a doubleheader. … Logan Watkins hit a home run in the 14th inning to give Iowa a 2-1 victory at Omaha.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Alcantara makes debut at second

By Mark Gonzales

CINCINNATI — It will be a two-day audition, at most, for Arismendy Alcantara.

But this could be the start of more than just a peek at what could be a special piece to the Chicago Cubs’ future.

Alcantara will make his major league debut Wednesday night at Cincinnati at second base and will bat second.

At least one National League scout concurred with the assessment of Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer that Alcantara, who will fill in while second baseman Darwin Barney is on the paternity list, is “underappreciated” in the Cubs’ minor league system.

"He’s an every-day guy for me," said the scout, who requested anonymity.

The sense is that Alcantara, 22, who batted .307 with 25 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs, 41 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, ”plays under the radar” with the hype shifted toward Javier Baez and Kris Bryant at Triple-A Iowa.

Alcantara was described as a ”winner” who possesses surprising power, puts balls in play consistently and has the ability to play shortstop as well as second. Alcantara also played center field and displayed exceptional athletic instincts.

"This will help him get a leg up on next season," the scout said.

The Cubs optioned left-hander Chris Rusin before the game to make room for Dallas Beeler, who will make his second start Wednesday night.

Chicago Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara gets pipeline from farm system flowing

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — The day after the trade that sent their top two starting pitchers to the Oakland Athletics and started another second-half slide for the Cubs, All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro refused to acknowledge the pall that hung over the clubhouse.

“I know we’ll be pretty close soon,” he said, “because we’ve got great talent in the minor leagues. Those guys coming up will be good.”

But when? What’s the timeline? How soon does the clock start ticking now that this front office has scuttled three consecutive big-league seasons?

Wednesday maybe?

“Oh, yeah,” Castro said. “This is just the beginning.”

With rookie pitchers Dallas Beeler and Kyle Hendricks already in the clubhouse for post-trade starts, the first of the touted position prospects joined them in middle infielder Arismendy Alcantara ­— who debuted at second during Wednesday’s in place of Darwin Barney, who’s on a two-day paternity leave.

Everybody in the place, including Alcantara, knows he’s headed back to AAA Iowa after Thursday’s series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.

But Twitter lit up brighter than Alcantara’s smile from the moment news broke Tuesday night of his call-up, all the way through his 0-for-4 game that included two strikeouts and three sparkling plays at second base.

And if Alcantara — the guy general manager Jed Hoyer calls the “under-appreciated” of the Cubs’ top position prospects — can get this opportunity before the All-Star break, how far behind him can super kids Javy Baez or Kris Bryant be?

By then, Twitter might finally discover its traffic