01 9 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cardinals 9, Cubs 6

By Rob Rains

ST. LOUIS — Matt Holliday’s bases-loaded single off Carlos Villanueva with two outs in the eighth inning sent the St. Louis Cardinals to the win over the Chicago Cubs Sunday at Busch Stadium.

How it happened: After staking Travis Wood to a 5-0 lead in the second inning, the Cubs allowed the Cardinals to come back and tie the game 6-6 before St. Louis scored three times off Villanueva in the eighth for the win. The Cardinals, who scored nine runs off the Cubs bullpen in the eighth inning on Saturday night, saw Holliday — whose solo homer in the fourth begin the comeback — collect nine RBIs in the past two games.

What it means: Despite the two losses on Saturday night and Sunday, the Cubs still finished August with a 16-14 record for the month, the first time they had a .500-or-better record for a calendar month since August 2011, during which they went 16-13. The Cubs have won only 17 games in August once in the past 20 years, going 20-8 in 2008.

The Cubs got home runs from Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara in the loss, giving them nine home runs in the four-game series and bringing the team’s total for the month of August to 39, second in the NL, after the Washington Nationals hit three more in a loss Sunday at Seattle. Washington finished the month with 40 team home runs.

Wood’s inability to hold the 5-0 lead, getting knocked out in the fifth, left him with just one win in his past 14 starts dating back to June 21.

What’s next: The Cubs return to Wrigley Field on Monday to host the Milwaukee Brewers in a three-game series. Right fielder Jorge Soler, who did not play on Sunday, will make his home debut for the Cubs. On Saturday, he became the first player since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920 to get an extra-base hit and an RBI in each of his first four games in the majors. Jacob Turner will make his first home start for the Cubs, while Jimmy Nelson will pitch for the Brewers. The Cubs are hoping first baseman Anthony Rizzo will be able to play after missing the past five games with a tight back. Before the game, the Cubs will honor the Jackie Robinson West team which reached the finals of the Little League World Series. The team will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs will use September to learn, spoil

By Rob Rains

ST. LOUIS — Another September will begin with the Chicago Cubs far from playoff contention, but the team still has goals for the final month.

"Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible," pitcher Carlos Villanueva said Sunday. "We play a lot of teams that are in contention, and that’s what we are going to learn from — winning those games."

The Cubs didn’t win Sunday despite staking starter Travis Wood to a 5-0 lead in the second inning. The St. Louis Cardinals chipped away, eventually tying the game 6-6 before scoring three runs off Villanueva in the eighth for the 9-6 win.

While the big blow of the inning was a two-run single by Matt Holliday, the play Villanueva lamented was a bunt by Daniel Descalso back toward the mound that he misplayed into a single, which opened the way for the Cardinals’ winning rally.

Other plays not made also caught the attention of manager Rick Renteria, including a fly ball dropped by Arismendy Alcantara after a long run in the fifth, which was ruled a double for Matt Carpenter, and a bouncer by Yadier Molina that got through the middle of the infield in the seventh.

"Defense is really, really important," Renteria said. "We had a couple of plays today in the game which, quite frankly, probably could have been made and weren’t, extending innings a little bit."

Villanueva said those are the things the Cubs will need to do better in September if they want to win games when they have a chance, like Sunday. Despite losing the final two games of the series to the Cardinals, they still finished August with their first winning record for a month since August 2011.

"If I make the play on the bunt, the inning’s over," Villanueva said. "A couple of things here and there could have us winning this series. I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from it other than loss. We’re not happy about it."

Renteria hopes the team’s young players look back at games like Sunday, and the small margin between winning and losing, and learn from that experience.

"That’s the beauty of the Central Division," Renteria said. "You’ve got some clubs that are battling. I will still [put] my club against their club any day, and we’ll keep battling."

CSNChicago.com

Castro, Lackey almost hit boiling point in Cubs-Cardinals rivalry

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – The Cubs experienced the in-your-face intensity of a pennant race, a sellout crowd of 45,148 seeing red. The temperature hit 86 degrees at first pitch and the heat index kept rising.

It ended in another letdown, the Cubs blowing a five-run lead and the St. Louis Cardinals coming back for a 9-6 victory on Sunday afternoon at Busch Stadium. Cub fans have seen this movie before.

But the feeling inside the visiting clubhouse after splitting a four-game series: The Cubs are coming in the National League Central. (Or at least not using next Labor Day weekend to just audition kids from Triple-A Iowa.)

So get used to moments like this, Cardinals pitcher John Lackey and Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro jawing at each other near first base in the middle of the fourth inning. Castro had just flown out to center and Lackey – who’s known for having a short fuse and a prickly personality – walked back toward his dugout.   

“I don’t know what his problem is,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Cubs first-base coach Eric Hinske and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina tried to defuse the situation. Castro and Molina tapped each other and appeared to make peace.

“When I missed the pitch, I said something to myself in Spanish,” Castro said. “(Lackey) said something, but I didn’t really hear what he had to say. I came back and (Molina) told me something like: Don’t worry about it. Stay away. It’s nothing.”

Theo Epstein gave an $82.5 million deal to Lackey, who moved past the fried-chicken-and-beer controversy, helped the Boston Red Sox win last year’s World Series and got traded to St. Louis for another playoff push.

“Everybody has different emotions,” Castro said. “If you miss the location, you’d be mad, too. If you miss a pitch, everybody gets mad. I didn’t say nothing to him. I don’t understand. I didn’t offend him. I don’t know. I said something in Spanish about me, nothing to him.”

Lackey committed a throwing error that helped the Cubs build that early 5-0 lead. In the middle of the fifth inning, Lackey walked off the mound and found Hinske, a popular ex-player who’s now in his first year of coaching.

“He’s competing,” Hinske said. “Yadi came over and said: Just chill out. And I was like: Well, I don’t know what he’s talking about.

“The next inning (Lackey) came over and explained to me what he had a problem with. And I told him: OK, just chill out. Let’s relax.”

According to Hinske, “(Castro) said something that Lackey didn’t like.”

So you were just being a peacemaker?

“Yeah, I’m a coach now,” Hinske said.

The Cardinals (73-63) moved into a first-place tie with the Milwaukee Brewers and took advantage of the growing-pains moments, whether it was converted outfielder Arismendy Alcantara running down a ball in center but not catching it at the warning track. Or scoring the game-tying run in the seventh inning when Molina hit a chopper up the middle that skipped past converted second baseman Javier Baez.

Travis Wood couldn’t finish the fifth inning and Carlos Villanueva couldn’t escape a leadoff-double, bases-loaded jam in the eighth. The Cardinals got the bounces when Matt Holliday’s two-out rocket ricocheted off the mound and into left field for the go-ahead run.

“It’s really emotional, because that’s the team that’s fighting to make the playoffs,” Castro said. “(That other stuff) doesn’t matter when we win, when we beat those guys.

“We’re a good team. We’re trying to play hard every day. It doesn’t matter what team (we play). We just play hard and (want to) show those guys that we can be ready next year.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs want Javier Baez to see the contenders in September

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – Javier Baez isn’t just happy to be here. The kid with the big swing and the Major League Baseball logo tattooed onto the back of his neck understands what’s at stake.

The Cubs just stared down the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend in front of sellout crowds at Busch Stadium. They will face what looks like a killer September schedule.

“They’re going to find out how to pitch to me,” Baez said, “and I got to find out how to make them throw the ball over the plate.”

There was a telling moment on Sunday afternoon, with two outs in the eighth inning of a tie game the Cubs would lose 9-6. The Cardinals walked Chris Coghlan, putting a second runner on to get to Baez, not exactly a sign of respect for someone with seven home runs in August and Gary Sheffield bat speed.

All-Star reliever Pat Neshek threw four straight sliders and Baez flied out to shallow right field, slamming his bat to the ground in frustration and slamming his helmet into the dirt after rounding first base.

That 0-for-5 with two strikeouts left Baseball America’s No. 7 midseason prospect hitting .188 in The Show. Baez now has 49 strikeouts in his first 116 plate appearances.

But this is exactly why president of baseball operations Theo Epstein aggressively promoted Baez and $30 million Cuban outfielder Jorge Soler from Triple-A Iowa.

“A lot of times, September can be a misleading month to evaluate,” Epstein said. “It’s not always a true major-league experience if you’re playing teams that are out of it and they’re sending their Triple-A pitchers out to face you. But in our case, we play contenders just about every single series the rest of the year.

“We’re going to face good teams and get their best pitching. And then from the sixth inning on, we’re going to get matched up. With the expanded rosters, teams that are in contention tend to use multiple relievers in an inning and go left/right and try to create the best matchups for them.

“It’s going to be a challenge for our young hitters, but something I think will be good for them in the long run.”

The cat-and-mouse game continues on Labor Day at Wrigley Field against the Milwaukee Brewers, who are trying to fend off the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Cubs still have 18 games left within the division. They’ll go on the road to play three games against a Toronto Blue Jays team that’s on the fringes of the wild-card race (Sept. 8-10).

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in first place and could be thinking about popping champagne bottles when they come to Wrigley Field for a four-game series (Sept. 18-21).

“We have a really tough schedule the rest of the way, which normally you’d feel badly about,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But I really like it. Watching our young guys play against call-ups from other teams and other teams’ Triple-A guys, we wouldn’t really feel like we’re learning anything.

“Now, I feel like we’re going to watch these guys almost every series the rest of the way against a contender, against teams that are going full bore. It’s going to be a full-on learning experience for our young guys.

“Advance scouts are going to talk about how they can get them out and they’re going to go right at their weaknesses. When this thing ends on September 28, they’re going to know what they need to work on this winter.”

The idea being Baez will be a force in the middle of the lineup when every pitch matters and the Cubs are contending again.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Jorge Soler ready for Wrigley Field debut

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – There will be buzz for Jorge Soler’s Wrigley Field debut. The $30 million Cuban outfielder did his part, living up to the hype with a red-hot start.

The Cubs get a Labor Day crowd and a Milwaukee Brewers team fighting to stay in first place, plus the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars singing the seventh-inning stretch. It’s the business/baseball dream inside the Clark Street headquarters.

The Cubs sat Soler on Sunday at Busch Stadium, part of the program that gives him scheduled days off after recovering from a series of hamstring injuries.

“I’m ready every day,” Soler said through translator/coach Franklin Font. “I’ll be ready every day. I don’t control the lineup, but it’s hard when you’re ready and you don’t see your name in the lineup. But I’m ready every single day.”

Soler said he won’t be taking aim at Waveland Avenue, but the ballhawks will be ready anyway. Soler had a big smile on his face after a reporter mentioned where Javier Baez drove his first two home runs at Wrigley Field.

Since 1900, only three players have hit three homers in their first three big-league games: Baez, Soler and Joe Cunningham, who did it with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1954.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Soler is now the first player to have an RBI and an extra-base hit in his first four major-league games since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920.

“They have some studs,” Cardinals pitcher Shelby Miller told reporters after watching the Cubs blast four homers – Soler had two bombs – in Friday night’s win at Busch Stadium.

Soler has heard from White Sox slugger Jose Abreu – a Cuban star who made a quick transition – as well as Manny Ramirez, the player/coach/lightning rod sent to Triple-A Iowa to work with the organization’s best young hitters.

“I learned a lot from Manny,” Soler said. “He’s always talking with me about hitting, about personality stuff, what I’m doing on the field, off the field. Again, he’s a tremendous person.

“I always tried to be around him to get the most I can from him.

“He’s so happy about my (start). He texted me, he called me and he said: ‘I’m real happy you’re doing well. I know you can do that. I know you can do it better. Keep doing it.’”

Last year in spring training, Soler was asked through an interpreter if he knew about the organization’s history of can’t-miss prospects like Felix Pie. The conversation has changed now, with Soler making the leap after only 151 games in the minors.

“Everybody’s excited about all these guys now,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I’m sure there will be some enthusiasm and obviously some desire to want to see him. They’ve been talked about a lot. People have been waiting anxiously to see a part of the future, and rightfully so, because these guys are pretty exciting players. We’re seeing it firsthand now.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs Future Four report: Bryant’s season ends today

By Paul Sullivan

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

Kris Bryant

Sunday vs. Oklahoma City: 1-for-3, 1 run, 1 strikeout.

Trending:  8-for-38 (.211), 2 home runs, 4 RBIs, 8 walks, 16 strikeouts.

Season: 137 games, .326 batting average, 34 doubles, 43 home runs, 109 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Sunday at Chattanooga: . 1-for-7, 1 strikeout.

Trending: 9-for-38 (.237), 2 home runs, 7 RBIs, 0 walks, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  67 games, .290 batting average, 13 home runs, 13 doubles, 45 RBIs, at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee (Double-A)

Sunday at Chattanooga: .1-for-7, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  9-for-38 (.237), 1 home run, 3 RBIs..

Season: 124 games, .272 batting average, 9 home runs, 27 doubles, 60 RBIs at Daytona, Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher, Daytona (Class-A)

Sunday vs. Tampa: Did not play.

Trending: 15-for-40 (.375), 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 3 walks, 7 strikeouts.

Season:  72 games, .343 batting average, 18 home runs, 18 doubles, 53 RBIs, 57 strikeouts, 39 walks at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Chicago Tribune

Lackey’s anger directed at Castro baffles Cubs shortstop

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs and Cardinals have been hating on each other for 122 years and running, so Sunday afternoon’s tete-a-tete between John Lackey and Starlin Castro was nothing new.

Just Google “Dusty Baker-Tony La Russa-shouting match” for a quick reminder of how heated the rivalry once was.

But the Castro-Lackey incident could be a harbinger of things to come, at least if the Cubs can become perennial contenders like their archrivals.

It started in the fourth inning of the Cubs’ 9-6 loss when Lackey began jawing at Castro after the shortstop popped out to end the inning. Castro said he was talking to himself in Spanish, upset at himself for missing the pitch.

"Everybody has different emotions," Castro said. "If you miss a pitch, or you miss location, you get mad too. … I didn’t say nothing to him. I don’t understand. I didn’t offend him or nothing."

First-base coach Eric Hinske and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina calmed things down, and the game went on as though nothing happened. Hinske said Lackey came up to him at the end of the next inning and explained what he had a problem with.

"I told him ‘OK, let’s chill out, relax,’ " Hinske said.

Just being a peacemaker?

"Yeah, I’m a coach now," he said.

Hinske declined to say what made Lackey overreact, while manager Rick Renteria had no clue.

"I can’t really explain it to you," he said. "I don’t know what (Lackey’s) issues were. Then again, I can’t get into his head. That’s his problem."

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who considered challenging a call with an 11-run lead and two outs in the ninth inning on Saturday, didn’t have much to say.

"I think Lackey initiated that conversation and ‘Yadi’ helped summarize it," Matheny said.

Lackey issued a “no comment.”

As for the game itself, the Cubs blew a five-run lead to let the Cardinals split the four-game series, a loss that had many fingerprints on it, including Renteria’s. Rookies Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez made poor defensive plays in crucial moments, starter Travis Wood failed to last five innings despite being handed a five-run lead, and reliever Carlos Villanueva botched a bunt attempt during the decisive three-run eighth inning.

Whether it was a learning experience for this young Cubs team or just an old-fashioned Cubs collapse in Busch Stadium was in the eye of the beholder.

"It was good for them to play a game like that," Hinske said. "You never want to lose that game, but that was playoff atmosphere right there, and getting that experience under their belts, knowing what it’s like to feel that, all that intensity … it was an emotional game. The only bad part was losing. "

Wood agreed, pointing to the recent sweep of the Orioles and playing well in three of the four games in St. Louis.

"The young kids are here and showing us what they can do," he said. "We’re actually playing pretty solid baseball."

Villanueva, on the other hand, went old school.

"There’s nothing positive about this loss," he said. "A couple things here and there could’ve had us winning this series. I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from it."

Villanueva was referring to spotty defensive plays by Alcantara, whose nonchalant attempt on a fly ball deflected off his glove for a double, and Baez, who made a backhanded attempt on a chopper that got past him for the game-tying hit.

"Those are all tremendously helpful, useful experiences they’ll be able to use," Renteria said.

The Cubs may be able to use the Castro-Lackey incident as motivation when the Cardinals invade Wrigley on Sept. 22-24, the final three home games. Despite the Cardinals moving into a first-place tie with the Brewers, 12½ games ahead of the Cubs, Renteria declared: “I’ll still take my club against their club any day.”

The Cubs get another chance to play spoiler Monday, when Jorge Soler makes his home debut against the Brewers.

"Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible," Villanueva said.

The Cubs are experts in breaking hearts, though traditionally those hearts belong to their fans.

Chicago Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Cardinals 9, Cubs 6

By Paul Sullivan

The summary

The Cardinals bounced back from an early five-run deficit to move into a first-place tie with the Brewers in the NL Central with a 9-6 victory. With runners on the corners and one out in a 6-6 tie in the eighth, manager Rick Renteria ordered an intentional walk to Matt Carpenter. One out later, red-hot Matt Holliday delivered a two-run single that deflected off the mound.

At the plate

Luis Valbuena and Arismendy Alcantara homered and Chris Coghlan went 3-for-4 with a two-run single.

On the mound

Starter Travis Wood had a five-run lead but was removed with two outs in the fifth after the Cardinals pulled to within a run. Carlos Villanueva allowed three runs on four hits and one walk over one inning, after allowing only two runs since July 8.

The quote

Starlin Castro on proving to the Cardinals the Cubs have arrived: “Play like we’ve been playing, and show those guys we can be ready next year. We can come in with more energy and more good players.”

The number

39. The Cubs finished with 39 home runs in August, second in the NL behind the Nationals’ 40.

Up next

Brewers (Nelson 2-5, 4.10) at Cubs (Turner 4-8, 5.84), 1:20 p.m. Monday, WGN-9.

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Brewers at Cubs

By Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Brewers lead 7-6.

Monday: 1:20 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Jimmy Nelson (2-4, 4.10 ERA) vs. LH Jacob Turner (4-8, 5.84).

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN Plus, CLTV.

RH Yovani Gallardo (8-7, 3.26) vs. RH Jake Arrieta (7-5, 2.88).

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

RH Matt Garza (7-7, 3.58) vs. RH Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.91).

Who’s hot: Hendricks went 4-0 in August with a 1.69 ERA, one of only three unbeaten NL starters. Luis Valbuena has five home runs since Aug. 20. Ex-Cub Garza returns from the DL after posting an 0.844 WHIP in four second-half starts.

Who’s not: Rookie Javier Baez has 49 strikeouts in 112 at-bats with a .188 average. Brewers OF Ryan Braun hit .240 in August with three home runs.

Chicago Tribune

Soler primed for Wrigley Field debut

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS — Jorge Soler is out of the lineup Sunday in the series finale against St. Louis as part of the team’s plan to give him days off because of hamstring issues.

Soler understands the reasoning, but would rather be playing every day.

“I’m ready every single day,” he said through translator Franklin Font. “I don’t control the lineup.”

But Soler will be back in right field Monday afternoon, making his Wrigley Field debut against the Brewers.

He’s had a big debut week already, and said he was welcomed by fellow Cuban slugger Jose Abreu, the White Sox star. On Saturday, Soler became the first player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 with an extra base hit and an RBI in each of his first four games.

After hearing about it Sunday, Soler said he felt “real proud” to be the first to accomplish the feat. It’s been a whirlwind ride from Cuba to the big leagues, but Soler is certainly making a big splash.

“In the beginning it was hard to make the adjustment, coming from Cuba to the States,” he said. “The pitchers throw much faster. Lately, I feel I’ve made the adjustment and that gives me more confidence.”

Soler said he felt fortunate to learn from Manny Ramirez, the player-coach at Triple-A Iowa when he was promoted from Double-A Tennessee.

“I learned a lot from Manny when I was with him at Iowa,” he said. “He was always talking with me about hitting and personal stuff, what I need to do on the field, off the field. He’s just a tremendous person. I always tried to be around him to become the best I can.” 

Soler also showed off his speed on Saturday, reaching on a ground ball to short that was ruled an error. People don’t know that part of his game, and may not get to see it this month.

“With my hamstring problem people think I don’t run,” he said. “But when I’m 100 percent, I’ll go after it.”

Soler’s arrival wasn’t as hyped as Javy Baez’s, but Cubs fans are very anxious to see what he can do after such an impressive start, and he figures to get a nice ovation before his first at-bat at Wrigley Field.

“I think everybody is excited about all these guys now,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I’m sure there will be some enthusiasm and obviously some desire to see him. They’ve been talked about a lot, and people have been waiting anxiously to see part of the future, and rightfully so, because they’re pretty exciting players.

"We’re seeing it first-hand now, and now they’ll get to see him when we go back home, in person. Hopefully he’ll have a good day and people will be excited about what they see.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Rookies see rivalry testiness as Lackey jaws at Castro in Cubs loss

By Gordon Wittenmyer

ST. LOUIS — That new world order the Cubs are trying to create in the National League Central might not be coming quite as fast as many seemed to believe as recently as Friday.

But unless guys such as Javy Baez and Jorge Soler were asleep Sunday, they should have a pretty good idea of the havoc this Cubs-Cardinals rivalry can wreak and how brutish life in this division can be.

A four-game weekend full of Cubs rookie energy, sold-out crowds in St. Louis and high-stakes baseball (for the home team) caved in on the young Cubs on Sunday when they blew a five-run lead in a 9-6 loss — a game that also included the usual Cubs-Cards emotional flareup.

After winning the first two games and taking a 1-1 battle into the fifth inning of the third, the Cubs were outscored 21-7 the rest of the way to settle for a series split as the Cardinals caught the first-place Milwaukee Brewers in the standings on the final day of August.

Talk about a buzz kill for the future-is-now believers on the eve of Soler’s Wrigley Field debut against the Brewers on Monday.

‘‘That’s the beauty of the Central Division,’’ relentlessly upbeat manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘We’ve got some clubs that are battling. I’ll still take my club against their club any day.’’

Fine. Whatever. Just don’t tell the guys in the clubhouse they got anything out of Sunday’s debacle, which included misplays by rookies Arismendy Alcantara on a fly to center and by Baez on a bouncer up the middle he couldn’t stop. That’s not mentioning four RBI by Cub-killer Matt Holliday (for nine in the final 14 innings of the series).

‘‘We take nothing from it,’’ said reliever Carlos Villanueva, who walked Matt Carpenter intentionally to load the bases in the eighth in a tie game, leading to Holliday’s tie-breaking two-out single.

‘‘We take a loss,’’ Villanueva added. ‘‘We’re not happy about it. It’s up to us to do something about it. Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible.’’

That’s been the message to the nine rookies who suddenly make up nearly half the roster. Contenders make up the entire schedule the rest of the way, mostly in the division.

‘‘Everybody knows what we have,’’ Anthony Rizzo said of the young talent. ‘‘Everyone gets on first base and says, ‘Man, you’re going to be really good soon.’ That ‘soon’ is up now. It starts now. September is in our division. We want to put our stamp on our division.’’

Said shortstop Starlin Castro: ‘‘We’re trying to show those guys they have to be careful next year because we’re coming.’’

They’re getting an idea of what it’ll take, including the emotions that come with it. Cardinals pitcher John Lackey showed it, barking at Castro in the fourth over Castro cussing at himself when he popped up a pitch. Lackey then took it to first-base coach Eric Hinske when Hinske intervened. An inning later, Lackey was in Hinske’s face again to ‘‘explain’’ his problem.

Hinske: ‘‘I told him, ‘OK,’ and, ‘Chill out and let’s relax.’ ’’

Lackey’s version: ‘‘No comment.’’

Castro said he was surprised: ‘‘When I missed the pitch, I said something to myself in Spanish. I didn’t say nothing to him.’’

Castro chalked it up to a team ‘‘fighting to make the playoffs.’’

‘‘They get mad when we win,’’ he said.

Hinske, who played on three World Series teams, called it ‘‘playoff atmosphere.’’

‘‘It’s good for them to play a game like that,’’ he said. ‘‘Knowing what it’s like to feel all that intensity, when you’re up with two outs in the top of the ninth, and there’s guys on second and third, in front of 50,000 people, you can’t duplicate that.

‘‘It was fun. The only bad part was losing.’’

Daily Herald

Record-setting Kane County Cougars on a roll

By Bruce Miles

The Kane County Cougars always have been one of the better baseball operations in the country.

But this year has been one for the history books.

With a 3-2 victory Thursday at Cedar Rapids, the Cougars established a franchise record by winning their 89th game of the season. Win No. 90 came Friday. The 2001 Cougars, featuring Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Gonzalez, had held the record with 88 wins.

And the fun may be just beginning.

The Cougars are headed to the Midwest League playoffs, a spot that was guaranteed after they won the first-half crown in the Western Division in June with a 45-25 record.

They haven’t let up in the second half. After Sunday’s 9-2 victory over Peoria, the Cougars own an overall record of 91-48, including an eye-popping 54-16 at home. They open the Midwest League playoffs Wednesday at Wisconsin and then come home Thursday to Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva to continue the first round.

For fans, the fun has been multilevel. Not only has this franchise put itself into position for a championship, but the Cougars are doing so as a Class A affiliate of the Cubs.

"This is one of the best seasons I’ve experienced," said Cougars general manager Curtis Haug. "It’s incredible. We win 89 games and still (had) four to play. We’ve had some great crowds here. We’ve had successful promotions."

Ever-changing roster

Like all minor-league teams in organized baseball, the Cougars have had to endure the inevitable moving up and down of players.

"If you look at the team, we’ve had 50 different players here this year," Haug said. "Only 10 guys are remaining from the original opening-day roster, and guys are still playing at the top level of the league. It’s really amazing what this team has done."

Holding it all together has been manager Mark Johnson, a former major-league catcher with the White Sox, among other teams. Johnson played for the Cubs’ Class AAA Iowa affiliate in 2005 and 2009-10, and the previous baseball administration recognized his leadership ability.

Johnson managed the Cubs’ short-season Class A Boise club in 2011-12 before being named Cougars manager for the 2013 season. For his efforts this year, he was named the Midwest League Manager of the Year.

"We started out with a good team and a good core of guys," Johnson said. "We’ve had a lot of movement. Guys have filled in. They’ve had some opportunities and made the most of them. It’s been a really fun year."

Loaded system

No doubt the Cougars benefited from some top prospects in the resurgent Cubs system.

Kyle Schwarber, this year’s first-round draft pick, played in 23 games with the Cougars, putting up a batting line of .361/.448/.602 with 4 home runs and 15 RBI. Jacob Hannemann, drafted in the third round last year, moved up to Class A Daytona. Continuing to produce is catcher-first baseman Cael Brockmeyer, who went into Sunday’s contest with a line of .293/.365/.451 and 7 homers.

Role players also have played a part in the Cougars’ success, too.

"We’ve had a couple of key guys who have really helped out," Johnson said. "Jacob Rogers (16 homers) and Ben Carhart, and some older guys and some older pitchers in the bullpen. When you have guys like that who really understand and have a good feel, that also helps.

"On the other side, when you have guys who continuously move, the message that you’re trying to sell to players is always being reinforced. You always have to keep presenting the message to the new guys so everybody keeps hearing the same thing."

For that kind of reinforcement, Haug gives Johnson all the credit, along with his staff that includes pitching coach David Rosario, hitting coach Tom Beyers and assistant coach Chris Gutierrez.

"I definitely think it’s MJ’s leadership and experience and the way he’s handled this group of guys and the revolving-door aspect of it all," Haug said. "And the Cubs have got a great farm system and organization. They’re really deep. They’ve got a lot of talent in the farm system, and it’s definitely showing here at Kane County."

If there’s one area in which the Cougars have enjoyed stability, it has been starting pitching. They’ve had a core four of their own in Paul Blackburn (9-4, 3.32 ERA), Daury Torrez (11-7, 2.74) Jen-Ho Tseng (6-1, 2.40) and Duane Underwood (6-4, 2.50).

"We’ve had four starting pitchers here the whole year, and they’re really some talented young guys," Haug said. "They’ve been the nucleus, the backbone of this team."

Big at the box office

As they have been since their first season in 1991, the Cougars have been a box-office draw. Through Saturday, their average attendance of 5,970 ranked second to Dayton in the Midwest League. The Cougars’ total home attendance for the season has broken the 400,000 mark.

"It’s meant a lot to us," Haug said. "We’ve always put on great, family, G-rated entertainment that’s affordable. It’s convenient. People come from all over the Chicago area to experience it, from the fireworks shows to the on-field entertainment. We’re always keeping the crowd and the kids involved in what we do.

"The food is good, the beer is cold, and it’s affordable. When you add to that the Cubs are here and people can come and see the future of the Chicago Cubs, it’s a big bonus."

On the field, Johnson said the support from the fans has been most welcome.

"It’s been incredible," he said. "The front office of Kane County does an unbelievable job. They’re out there for us. Whatever we needed, they’d get. For these young kids, in their first full season, playing before 8, 9, 10,000 (fans) consistently is just a blessing.

"The atmosphere at Kane County is unmatched in the minor leagues. It’s just a really cool atmosphere. You’ve got to give the credit to the fans and the front office for making that happen."

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Cubs finish strong August with tough loss

Chicago posts five-run fifth inning, but Wood, Villanueva can’t hold on

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs got a valuable lesson on Sunday. Carlos Villanueva knows that.

Matt Holliday hit a solo homer, an RBI double and a two-run tie-breaking single in the eighth to lead the Cardinals to a 9-6 come-from-behind victory over the Cubs, who blew a five-run lead.

With the game tied at 6 in the St. Louis eighth, Pete Kozma led off with a double and advanced on Daniel Descalso’s bunt single that Villanueva fielded, but couldn’t throw to first in time. One out later, Matt Carpenter was intentionally walked to load the bases, and one out later, Holliday lined a single that deflected off the pitcher’s mound and into left field. Jhonny Peralta added an RBI single.

"He’s a good hitter," Villanueva said of Holliday. "He did what he’s supposed to do and drove in some big runs for them."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria considered all of his options in the eighth.

"I’m going to take my chance and get a ground ball, double play with [Randal] Grichuk if I can," Renteria said of the batter who followed Carpenter. "If [Villanueva] strikes him out, he has Holliday in a two-strike mode. [Villanueva] can just as easily pop him up with something soft out in front as much as anything.

"You can pick your poison," Renteria said. "Carpenter is a pretty good hitter, too. We let [Villanueva] face [Matt] Adams, and he got the strikeout of Adams. We put ourselves in a position where Carpenter is swinging the bat good. I know Holliday is coming there. Pick your poison."

Luis Valbuena had three hits and was a triple shy of the cycle, and Arismendy Alcantara added a solo home run for the Cubs, who did finish August with a 16-14 record, their first .500 or better record this calendar month since going 16-13 in August 2011. The last time the Cubs won 17 games in August was 2008 (20-8).

But that wasn’t enough to make the Cubs players feel any better.

"There’s nothing positive about losing," Villanueva said. "I know what needs to be addressed has already been addressed. We take nothing from this — we take a loss. We’re not happy about it. That’s up to us to do something about it.

"Our goal down the stretch is to break as many hearts as possible," Villanueva said. "We play a lot of teams that are in contention now, and that’s how we’ll learn to win those games. We have a month left and we’ll see how we do."

What needed to be addressed were some costly defensive lapses. With one out in the St. Louis fifth inning, center fielder Alcantara couldn’t get his glove on Carpenter’s fly ball, which resulted in an RBI double. Carpenter then scored one batter later on Holliday’s RBI double to pull within 5-4.

Second baseman Javier Baez wasn’t able to get a glove on Yadier Molina’s ball with two outs in the seventh, and another run scored to tie the game at 6. Both Alcantara and Baez are rookies and both are new at their positions.

"Those are all tremendously helpful, useful experiences that they’ll be able to use," Renteria said. "We did everything we could to contain everything. Hey, today, they won out."

The Cubs opened a 5-0 lead in the second. Chris Valaika walked and John Baker singled, and Travis Wood then bunted toward John Lackey, who fielded the ball cleanly, but overthrew first for an error. Valaika scored on the play, and Chris Coghlan followed with a two-run single. Baez grounded into a double play, but Starlin Castro singled and Valbuena followed with his home run.

Valbuena now has 15 homers and 46 RBIs, topping his previous career highs in home runs and RBIs, set last year when he hit 12 and drove in 37 in 108 games. He’s also played in a personal-best 126 games this season.

But Holliday, who hit two homers Saturday night, belted his 16th with one out in the fourth off Wood, and Kolten Wong smacked his 10th leading off the fifth to close the score to 5-2.

"I love when guys do what they have always done when people seem to forget year after year," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Holliday. "He is an elite player, and he continues to figure out ways to get it done no matter what. It was a big day. We needed that again from him. He’s leading us."

The Cardinals’ win coupled with the Brewers’ loss to the Giants on Sunday put St. Louis and Milwaukee in a tie for first in the NL Central. It’s a division in which Renteria hopes the Cubs will be contending soon.

"That’s the beauty of the Central Division," Renteria said. "You’ve got some clubs that are battling. I’ll still take my club against their club any day, and we’ll keep battling."

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Soler ‘so excited’ for Wrigley Field debut

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — Jorge Soler doesn’t have anything planned for the first time he runs out to right field at Wrigley on Monday for his home debut.

Soler, who did not start Sunday in the Cubs’ series finale against the Cardinals, will make his first home start when the team opens a three-game series against the National League Central-leading Brewers. Hopefully, the fans salute the newest arrival.

"I will be excited, so excited," Soler said through an interpreter, coach Franklin Font. "It’s my first game at Wrigley in the big leagues."

Soler has already set a first. According to Elias, he is the first player in the Major Leagues with an extra-base hit and an RBI in his first four games. Soler was 8-for-15 since he was promoted from Triple-A Iowa last Wednesday.

When Sammy Sosa took right field for the Cubs, he would blow kisses to the fans in the bleachers. Soler will likely trot out to right and flash his megawatt smile.

"I think everybody’s excited about all these guys," manager Rick Renteria said of the Cubs prospects. "I’m sure there will be some enthusiasm and some desire to see [Soler]. They’ve been talked about a lot. I think people have been waiting anxiously to see part of the future, and rightfully so. These guys are pretty exciting players. We’re seeing it firsthand. Hopefully, [Soler will] have a good day, and people will be excited about what they see."

Soler’s father will join him at Wrigley Field on Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Pirates. Jorge Soler Sr. said his son started playing baseball when he was 5 years old, and he was always the largest kid in his class, beginning in kindergarten.

Jorge Sr. was a pitcher in Cuba and taught his son the game. How did Soler learn to be patient at the plate? His father said it was because pitchers were afraid to pitch to him because of his size. Soler’s Cuban coaches also stressed the importance of good discipline at the plate.

"In the beginning, it was hard to make an adjustment and make the transition from playing in Cuba, coming to the states," Soler said. "Now I feel I’m making the adjustments, and I have confidence."

Soler hasn’t stopped learning, taking advantage of lessons from Manny Ramirez, who the Cubs hired as a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa.

"I learned a lot from Manny," Soler said. "When I was with him in Iowa, he was always talking to me about hitting, about personal stuff, what I’m doing on the field, off the field. He’s a tremendous person. I always tried to be around him and tried to be the best I can."

Soler homered in his first at-bat in the big leagues last Wednesday in Cincinnati, and he heard from Ramirez after.

"He was so happy about my home run," Soler said. "He [sent me a text] and called me and said, ‘I know you can do that. I know you can do better. Keep doing it.’"

"He’s a very gifted athlete, a very gifted baseball player," Renteria said of Soler. "It’s exciting for all of us, in the limited time, to see him do what he’s done."

Cubs hoping Rizzo can return for start of homestand

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs hope first baseman Anthony Rizzo can return to the lineup Monday after missing five days because of tightness in his lower back.

Rizzo has not played since he was pulled from last Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati when his back tightened up during a rain delay.

"He’s still day to day," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "He came in [Saturday] and wanted to play. We have to make sure we’re prudent and playing this smart. We’ll give him another day and when we get back, we’ll see how he’s doing."

The Cubs open a six-game homestand Monday against the National League Central-leading Brewers at Wrigley Field.

Turner appreciates Matheny’s help through career

ST. LOUIS — Jacob Turner had hoped to say hello to Cardinals manager Mike Matheny during the Cubs’ weekend series, but didn’t connect until an awkward moment on Friday. Turner was leaving Busch Stadium at the same time as Matheny, a few hours after the Cubs beat the Cardinals, 7-2.

"He’s been a help for me throughout my career," Turner said Sunday of Matheny. "I knew him before he was the Cardinals manager. I think he’s done a great job with them and has helped me, especially when I first got drafted, on what to expect from professional baseball."

Turner grew up in St. Charles, Mo., and went to the same high school, Westminster Christian Academy, as Matheny’s son, Tate. Turner was a senior when Tate was a freshman.

"He helped me out on what to expect," said Turner, who was the Tigers’ first-round pick in 2009. "Everybody sees the big leagues and all the glamour, but there’s a lot before that. He definitely helped me out in terms of that.

"He has a lot of knowledge, and being a catcher, he can tell you a lot of things that can help as a pitcher," Turner said. "He’s been more of a friend than anything else. We stay in touch in the offseason when we have more time."

On Monday, Turner will make his first start ever at Wrigley Field when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Brewers. He’s 1-1 with a 2.18 ERA in four career games (three starts) against Milwaukee.

"I haven’t started there as a visiting player, so I’m definitely excited," Turner said. "I’m looking to build on some of the things that me and [pitching coach Chris Bosio] have been working on."

Extra bases

• Edwin Jackson threw a light bullpen session on Saturday, and the Cubs are continuing to monitor the right-hander’s progress. Jackson has been on the disabled list since Aug. 21 with a right lat strain.

"We’ll continue to monitor and see how he’s doing," Renteria said. "We haven’t set any hard dates. We’ll see how he progresses and continue to make adjustments."

Jackson’s last start was Aug. 20, and he is 6-14 with a 6.09 ERA in 26 starts this season.

• The Cubs have yet to sort out their soon-to-be six-man rotation. Felix Doubront, who picked up the win in his first start with the Cubs on Saturday, will be inserted into the mix for the final month. The Cubs have an off-day Thursday, and they have yet to announce who will start a three-game series against the Pirates, which opens on Friday at Wrigley Field.

• The Cubs will likely add one relief pitcher on Monday when rosters expand, then call up a few more players once Triple-A Iowa’s season is over. Iowa didn’t make the playoffs and will play its last regular-season game Monday against Oklahoma City.

• It isn’t often that a visiting player catches a ceremonial first pitch, but Cubs hitting coach Bill Mueller did just that on Sunday. Mueller was behind the plate to catch a pitch from retiring DeSmet Jesuit High School coach Greg Vitello. Vitello was Mueller’s coach, and is retiring after 35 years as the baseball coach.

• The Cubs will honor the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on Monday at Wrigley Field. The Chicago team won the U.S. title in the Little League World Series, and will meet some of the players prior to the game. They also will sing the seventh inning stretch from the field.

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Yadi, Hinske peacemakers in misunderstanding

Cards’ catcher, Cubs’ first-base coach calm tension between Lackey, Castro

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — John Lackey understands Spanish well enough to know what Starlin Castro was saying, but didn’t grasp that the Cubs’ shortstop was mad at himself, not at the Cardinals pitcher.

Castro was upset after he flew out to center to end the fourth inning Sunday, and he yelled something in Spanish. Lackey took exception to what was said, and Cubs first-base coach Eric Hinske and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina had to be peacemakers.

Castro and Lackey exchanged words near first base, with Hinske and Molina both stepping in. At the end of the Cubs fifth, Hinske and Lackey had an exchange again as the coach was trotting back to the visitor’s dugout.

Lackey wouldn’t comment on what happened. Castro was still trying to figure it out.

"When I missed a pitch, I said something to myself in Spanish," Castro said. "[Lackey] said something, but I didn’t really hear what he said. I come back, and Molina told me, ‘Don’t worry about it, stay away. It’s nothing.’

"Everybody has different emotions, everybody doesn’t have the same emotion," Castro said. "If you miss a pitch, if you miss location, you get mad, too. If you miss a pitch, everybody gets mad. I didn’t say anything to him. I don’t understand. I didn’t [mean to] offend him."

Castro could’ve been upset at Lackey, who had hit the shortstop on the shoulder with a pitch in the first inning. But he wasn’t.

"I said something in Spanish about me, not to [Lackey]," Castro said. "I didn’t really hear what he said."

Was Castro surprised that Lackey confronted him?

"Yeah, I was surprised — that never happened to me," Castro said. "Yadi told me, ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing.’"

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he wasn’t sure what was going on. Hinske was in the middle of it.

"[Castro] apparently said something that John didn’t like, and John said something to me," Hinske said. "I asked him, ‘What are you talking about?’ because I didn’t know what he was talking about. [Castro] is competing. Yadi came over and said, ‘Just chill out,’ and I said, ‘I don’t know what [Lackey] is talking about.’"

Lackey continued his conversation with Hinske after the fifth.

"The next inning, [Lackey] came over and explained what he had a problem with, and I told him, ‘OK, let’s chill out and relax,’" Hinske said.

Hinske didn’t want to reveal any more details. This is his first year as a Major League coach after 12 years as a player. So, he’s a peacemaker now, too?

"Yeah, I’m a coach now," Hinske said.

When asked if he’d explain what happened, Lackey’s only comment was: “No.”

"They were just talking," said Cardinals ‎manager Mike Matheny.

Did they get it sorted out?

"They must have, yeah," Matheny said. "I think Lackey initiated that conversation and Yadi helped summarize."

The Cubs lost Sunday’s game, 9-6, and split the four-game series against the Cardinals, but gained a lot of experience.

"It was good for them to play a game like that," Hinske said. "You never want to lose that game, but that was playoff atmosphere right there. Getting that experience under their belt, knowing what it was like to feel that, and all that intensity [will help].

"When you’re up with two outs in the top of the ninth and guys on second and third and you’re in front of 50,000 people, you can’t duplicate that," Hinske said. "It’s really good for all these young guys to see. It was an emotional game. It was fun. The only bad part is losing. Hopefully, we keep on continuing to work and get on the right side of those games."

This is just another chapter in the Cubs and Cardinals rivalry.

"It’s emotional," Castro said. "That’s a team fighting to make the playoffs, and we don’t make the playoffs this year. They’re mad when we win, when we beat those guys. We’re baseball players, too, and we have a good team, and we try to play hard every day."

The teams meet again Sept. 22-24 at Wrigley Field.

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Brewers hope to turn tide vs. upstart Cubs

Soler set for home debut as Chicago tries to knock Crew out of first

By Caitlin Swieca

Having fallen back into a first-place tie with St. Louis thanks to a 1-5 start to their current road trip, the Brewers will look to end the trip on a positive note with a three-game set at Wrigley Field starting Monday.

Milwaukee, which has held at least a share of first place in the National League Central since April 5, will send Jimmy Nelson to the mound to try to snap a five-game losing streak. He’s lasted fewer than six innings in two straight starts, both losses.

In his last start against San Diego, he fell victim to a four-run inning from the Padres. Two of the runs were unearned due to a Jean Segura error, but Nelson shouldered the blame afterwards.

"I have the ability to get out of the jam in that inning that kind of blew up on us," Nelson said. "If I execute a few pitches there, we’re out of that jam with minimal damage. That’s the job as a starter, minimize damage. I have to do a better job of that next time."

Though the Cubs are out of the division race and sit in last place, Brewers manager Ron Roenicke warned against overlooking the team.

"They always forget about the Cubs — the Cubs are beating up on everybody," Roenicke said. "They’re good. They’re bringing up some talent that is fantastic, and they’ve still got some good starters there. With everybody playing so close together, it’s hard to pull away and win a bunch of games in a row. Everything has to go right. It went right for us early, and hopefully it will go right here in a bit and we’ll make a nice run."

The Cubs, who are coming off a weekend split with the Cardinals, have been generating more offense lately. Part of the reason for that is those new faces that Roenicke mentioned, namely Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.

Soler is 8-for-15 with three home runs in four games since being called up last week, and he’ll make his Wrigley Field debut Monday. The outfielder said through a translator that he’s “so excited” to play in front of the home crowd and attributed his fast start to a number of adjustments he made in the Minor Leagues this year.

"In the beginning, it was hard to make an adjustment and make the transition from playing in Cuba, coming to the States," Soler said. "Now I feel I’m making the adjustments, and I have confidence."

On the mound, the Cubs will get another look at Jacob Turner, who lasted only 3 2/3 innings and gave up three runs on seven hits in his first Cubs start last week against the Reds. The former Marlin had not started a game since Aug. 3.

"I would’ve liked to have gotten a little deeper in the game," said Turner, who was on a pitch limit. "That part is definitely frustrating. At the same time, you’ve got to build the pitch count up, too."

Cubs: Rizzo hopeful for Monday return

The Cubs hope first baseman Anthony Rizzo can return to the lineup Monday after missing five days because of tightness in his lower back.

Rizzo has not played since he was pulled from last Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati when his back tightened up during a rain delay.

"He’s still day to day," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Sunday. "He came in [Saturday] and wanted to play. We have to make sure we’re prudent and playing this smart. We’ll give him another day and when we get back, we’ll see how he’s doing."

Worth noting

• The Brewers announced over the weekend that Matt Garza will return to the rotation Wednesday for a start against his former team. Garza, who has been sidelined with a left oblique strain, has not pitched since Aug. 3.

31 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Three homers back Doubront’s sharp debut

Watkins, Valaika, Starlin go yard; lefty gives up one run in seven

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs hit back-to-back home runs in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday, and Jorge Soler and Javier Baez had nothing to do with it.

Logan Watkins hit his first Major League home run one day after his 25th birthday and Chris Valaika followed with his second this season, while Starlin Castro matched his personal high with his 14th homer to power the Cubs to a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals.

"This is a team that is really capitalizing on the home run," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of the Cubs, who have hit seven in the first two games of this four-game, three-day series. "They are productive with the hits. You look at it, we both had seven hits, but theirs did some damage and had better timing."

Watkins and Valaika connected in the fourth, marking the eighth time this season and fifth time this month the Cubs have gone back to back. Castro’s blast, a towering shot to left, came with one out in the fifth to match his 2012 career high. Chicago began the day ranked third in the National League in home runs.

No team has hit more than two homers in a game at Busch Stadium this season, and the Cubs now have done so in back-to-back games. Soler hit a pair on Friday in his third big league game.

"That’s a tough act to follow," said Watkins, who started in right field in place of Soler. "I guess the rest of us can streak one out every once in a while. He’ll be back in there as often as possible. Any time I can get at-bats and find a spot in the lineup, I’ll play wherever."

Watkins, who was the Cubs’ 2012 Minor League Player of the Year, has hit 27 home runs over seven Minor League seasons, so it’s not that far-fetched that he did connect. But he’s not projected to hit like Soler or Baez.

"You watch the three of us take batting practice, you’re probably going to enjoy them more than me," Watkins said. "I feel I bring a lot to any team I’m on. I’ll play the game hard and play the game right. When you see teams that win, they have guys on the team who do that and that’s who I want to be."

The only players in the Cubs’ lineup who were also there when they faced the Cardinals for the first time this season back on April 11 were Castro and Luis Valbuena.

"It certainly is a different team," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "They’re very talented and exciting to watch. It’s kind of fun."

Felix Doubront was with the Red Sox in April. He picked up the win in his first start for the Cubs. Doubront, 26, acquired from Boston on July 30, began this season in the rotation, but missed time because of a left shoulder strain and pitched mostly in relief when he returned from the disabled list.

He had pitched at Busch Stadium before. Last year, Doubront picked up the win in Game 4 of the World Series in St. Louis after allowing one run in 2 2/3 innings of relief. Taking the mound Saturday brought back memories of the postseason.

"I was thinking about that, stepping on the mound, and feeling the way I felt in the World Series last year," Doubront said. "The first inning, second inning were shaky. The third inning, I was feeling that rhythm in the game. This is my team now, and I have to give everything 100 percent that I have and go out and win games and help the guys."

Even Doubront’s wife asked him if he expected to be nervous.

"I was thinking about it — why?" Doubront said. "I said, ‘I’m going to throw the first pitch for a strike, and the butterflies and nervousness will be gone.’ I didn’t even feel it."

"The thing I appreciated about catching him today was that he trusted what I was putting down," Chicago’s John Baker said. "There were times I put four or five changeups down in a row. He had the willingness to go with whatever.

"He played that game pitch to pitch, and I think that’s what kept him efficient," Baker said. "When you have a lineup like this that swings aggressively, that’s great if you can keep the ball down."

With one out in the Chicago second against Justin Masterson, Watkins singled and Valaika was hit by a pitch. One out later, Doubront walked — the first time he’s been on base in five career plate appearances — and Chris Coghlan then singled to right. Both Watkins and Valaika scored, but Valaika was called out by home-plate umpire Alan Porter. Renteria asked for a review of Rule 7.13, and during a crew-chief review, it was determined that Valaika was safe, and the call was overturned. Coghlan was credited with a two-run single.

The Cubs are a different team, and there’s a different feeling for many of the players, including Watkins, although he admits that could be because so many of the young players were his teammates at Triple-A Iowa. It helps when you hit home runs.

"I expect this to happen," Watkins said. "I’ve gone every level, I’ve worked hard, I’ve paid my dues. I feel I belong here. It’s cool I hit a home run, but I expect to hit more. This is the first of hopefully many."

Cubs.com

Homers hurt Cubs in nightcap vs. Cards

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs belted seven home runs in the first two games of their weekend series against the Cardinals, who needed two on Saturday night, both from Matt Holliday, for the win.

Holliday smacked a three-run homer in the fifth inning, his first this season with runners in scoring position, and added a leadoff blast in the eighth to power the Cardinals to a lopsided 13-2 victory and a split of the day-night doubleheader.

The 13 runs — nine of which came in the eighth inning off Cubs relievers — were a season high for the Cardinals.

Chicago belted four home runs in the first game to back Felix Doubront and win, 5-1.

Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada took the loss in the nightcap, ending a personal three-game win streak. He gave up four runs — three earned — on five hits over six innings.

"I thought [Wada] kept us in the ballgame," manager Rick Renteria said. "It wasn’t a badly played game — it just got away from us at the end."

Wada held opponents to two runs or fewer in each of his last six starts before Saturday’s game.

"These are the games that count, and I think the home run [by Holliday] changed the flow of the game," Wada said. "It was not a very good game for me. Next time out I have to have games that I won’t regret and have a different result."

The Cubs scored first, in the first. They had runners at first and third with one out against Marco Gonzales when Jorge Soler lined an RBI double to left. Per Elias, Soler is the first player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 with an extra-base hit and an RBI in each of his first four big league games.

But the Cardinals tied the score in their half. Wada walked two batters with one out, and Matt Adams hit a grounder to second baseman Javier Baez, who threw to Starlin Castro for the force at second. Castro’s throw to first pulled Chris Valaika off the bag, and a runner scored on the error.

Daniel Descalso singled to lead off the St. Louis fifth, and one out later, Matt Carpenter walked. Pitching coach Chris Bosio had a chat with Wada, who got Kolten Wong to pop up to third baseman Luis Valbuena, but Holliday followed with his 14th home run.

"Now, when you look back, it’s all about the results," Wada said of his approach to Holliday. "That’s a pitch that [catcher Welington] Castillo and I communicated about, and we went with that pitch, but the result wasn’t there. When the next time comes when I face him, I have to set up another game plan."

Holliday then led off the eighth with a home run off Kyuji Fujikawa, and the Cardinals didn’t stop, totaling seven runs before the first out was recorded, on a sacrifice fly by Adams in his second at-bat of the inning. St. Louis finished the frame with nine runs, a season high against Chicago.

Fujikawa had only been scored upon in one of his seven relief appearances prior to this one.

"That’s a rare occurrence from our bullpen," Renteria said. "We were trying to minimize pitchers so we’d have guys for [Sunday]."

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Heavy-hearted Starlin seeks to set example

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — Starlin Castro is only 24, but he knows he’s expected to be a role model for the young players recently promoted to the Cubs. It’s just been difficult for him after losing a cousin and three friends in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. They’re now his motivation.

Castro was on the bereavement list from Aug. 21 until last Tuesday, and the day after he returned, he made a baserunning mistake that may have been costly. He knows better.

"Everybody who comes here looks at me and looks at [Anthony] Rizzo, and we have to play hard to show those guys," Castro said on Saturday. "We’re a young team. We just have to play hard. If young guys see me not playing hard, they won’t do it."

That gaffe on Wednesday may have been costly in a loss to the Reds.

"It was a mistake, by myself," he said. "I don’t have any excuse for this. … When that happened, I apologized to the team. It’s my fault. We’re a young team, and everybody looks up to us, everybody coming here, looks at me, looks at Rizzo. They’re coming here to play hard."

It seems as though whenever Castro makes a mistake, as he did again on Friday, it’s magnified. Manager Rick Renteria wishes that Castro’s critics saw the strides the shortstop has made.

"Since I got here, and probably since before I got here, he’s been a topic of everybody’s conversation," Renteria said. "Everybody was talking about how he didn’t get to second base [on Wednesday] when he hit a ball off the wall. [On Friday] you saw him make a conscious effort of running out every ball; [he] hit the ball in the air, ran that ball out to second base."

The problem on Friday was that Castro tried to stretch his hit into a triple and was thrown out at third. Renteria used the incident as a teaching moment.

"I told him two things: ‘That’s exactly how I want you to come out of the box,’" Renteria said. “‘That’s exactly what I want you to do. I want you to give yourself a chance that if that ball drops, you do get to third base. But there’s two components to it. The second component is, you have the play in front of you, and you don’t have to be [at third].’

"He wanted to make up for other things, so he pushed himself to the extent that maybe it wasn’t the right thing to do."

The Cubs want their players to be aggressive on the bases.

"[Castro’s] still learning, too," Renteria said. "I’m not trying to make excuses for the young man, but I have to give him his props for starting to give the effort you’re wanting to see and inadvertently put himself out there in a position where he pushed it. It ended up being a close play, but he pushed it."

Renteria hopes fans see that Castro is eager to get better and that he has made improvements.

"Here’s a young man who feels bad when he doesn’t do well," Renteria said. "He takes it to heart. I know people may not necessarily believe it, but he does.

"We’ll continue to take our approach with all our players and keep trying to teach,. Ultimately, the player has to get it. The game is about them. They’re the ones who will get the boos and the cheers or the jeers. I happen to be the one in [the manager’s] chair now having to deal with all these young men, and I’ll continue to do it the way I believe I should do it, which is hopefully get the most out of them."

Rizzo feels that September will be a key month for the Cubs as they prepare for the 2015 season.

"The better we do now, the better we go into the offseason, the better we go into Spring Training, and everyone else feels it," Rizzo said on Saturday. "[Javier Baez and Jorge Soler] are guys teams haven’t seen before. Our division is really good, and now it’s going to be a lot better because the Cubs will be a factor now."

Castro feels the same.

"We have to show those guys we’re ready," Castro said. "We have to show the other teams in our division that we play hard, hustle. We have to show those guys they have to be careful next year, because we’re coming. We’re coming. We’re coming to play hard, we’re coming to compete."

Castro is also passing along advice to younger players that he received from veteran Alfonso Soriano.

"We’re trying to win," Castro said of the Cubs. "[I tell them], ‘Whatever you did in the Minor Leagues, now you’re in the big leagues. Don’t think about money, don’t think about anything. You’re here. No matter what, they have to pay you.’ Sometimes young guys look at you and all they think about is money. If you show that you don’t care about the money, the money is going to be there, no matter what. You have to try to play hard and try to win. That’s the only reason [to play] — win."

In the first game of a doubleheader on Saturday, a 5-1 win over the Cardinals, Castro hit his 14th home run, matching his career single-season high, set in 2012. He expects to hit a couple more before the regular season ends. He’s feeling good at the plate.

But he has a heavy heart.

"It was a really tough moment for me," Castro said of the fatal car accident on Aug. 20. "I lost one of my best friends, one cousin and two more guys from the same neighborhood. Every time I talked with those guys who died, they always tell me, ‘We feel good to see you do your job.’

"When they were alive, they said, ‘Keep playing good, we’re happy.’ That’s what I have [to keep] in my mind. I can’t do anything to bring them back. The only guy who knows why [they died] is God, and He does things for a reason. It’s tough. You try to be strong. Every day I pray to God to be strong, because it’s really tough. Coming here every day, I’m going to try to make those guys happy."

Cubs following plan to be careful with Soler

ST. LOUIS — Jorge Soler did not start the first game of the Cubs’ doubleheader against the Cardinals, part of the team’s plan to be careful with the outfielder, who was bothered earlier this season by leg injuries.

Soler began the season with Double-A Tennessee, but suffered a left leg injury after his first game April 3. He went on the disabled list and returned in May, but needed to go on the DL again for a right leg issue. After rehabbing in Mesa, he rejoined the Smokies in July, and batted .463 in 15 games before he was promoted to Triple-A. In nine games in July with Iowa, he hit .304, and is batting .271 this month entering Saturday.

On Friday, Soler recorded his first multi-homer game, hitting a pair in just his third big league contest.

Rizzo resting through weekend with back issue

ST. LOUIS — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo is not expected to play this weekend against the Cardinals because of lingering tightness in his lower back.

The Cubs had a day-night doubleheader Saturday and a day game Sunday in St. Louis. Rizzo has not played since he was pulled from Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati. His back tightned up that day during a 50-minute rain delay.

"I’m going to shut it down for today and tomorrow, too," Rizzo said Saturday. "I hit, I ran. Hitting felt all right. I took two rounds, let it calm down, hit again. Then I ran for the ultimate [test]. Jogging [is a problem].

"It felt a lot better today than yesterday, so I think if we let it rest, it’ll be OK," he said. "I don’t want to come back and then miss the rest of the season if I’m really bad. I can wait a couple days to play the rest of the season."

So far, the diagnosis is nothing more than lower back tightness.

"I just locked up," he said.

Rizzo has had minor back problems before, but never for this long. Could he return for the Cubs’ home game Monday against the Brewers?

"It’s day to day," Rizzo said. "I’ll be out today and tomorrow. If I wake up [Sunday], we’ll re-evaluate. But as far as baseball stuff, we’ll be done until Monday."

Rizzo has yet to be in the same lineup as top prospect Jorge Soler, who hit two home runs Friday in the Cubs’ 7-2 win.

"This is an important month," Rizzo said. "The better we do now, the better we go into the offseason, the better we go into Spring Training, and everyone else feels it."

Extra bases

• Zac Rosscup was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the Cubs’ 25-man roster for Felix Doubront, who was activated from the disabled list. However, Rosscup was available for both games in the Cubs’ doubleheader on Saturday as the 26th man. Rosscup will not be available on Sunday in the series finale, but he will be back Monday when rosters expand.

• Soler has matched Javier Baez game for game, as both homered in their first and recorded multi-homer games in their third. They are the only Cubs in franchise history with three home runs in their first three games and join St. Louis’ Joe Cunningham (1954) as the only three big league players to do so since 1900.

• Edwin Jackson threw a light bullpen session on Saturday, and the right-hander is hopeful he will be able to return in the final month of the season. Jackson was placed on the disabled list on Aug. 21 with a right lat strain.

"It’s getting better," Jackson said. "Just needed rest and recovery.

Cubs.com

Cards look to Lackey as they eye division lead

St. Louis must contend with Chicago’s Wood in series finale

By Matt Slovin

The Cardinals will attempt to maintain their grasp on one of the National League’s precious two Wild Card spots when they wrap up their four-game series with the Cubs at Busch Stadium on Sunday.

St. Louis, which trails Milwaukee by just one game in the NL Central, will hand the ball to right-hander John Lackey, who has been a nice addition to the rotation since his acquisition at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Lackey has allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five starts with his new club and pitched seven innings in three of those games.

Last time out he settled in after allowing a second-inning homer to Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez to make it through seven innings.

"It sets the tone for our club," manager Mike Matheny said of another strong Lackey start. "I think when you have a pitcher like Lackey on the mound, you know he’s going to keep us in the game. We just have to fight through it and figure out how to get something going."

Meanwhile, southpaw Travis Wood will be pitching for the Cubs, who don’t seem terribly concerned with the prospect of fans jumping on their bandwagon following the arrivals of rookie sensations Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.

"I leave people to choose as they wish," Chicago manager Rick Renteria said. "These are signs that hopefully we’ll chip away at some of the negativity. It’s not like the Cubs haven’t been in the postseason before. … This is a pretty talented group of kids, and you all see it and can attest to that."

Cubs: Rizzo to sit out again on Sunday

First baseman Anthony Rizzo is not expected to return to action on Sunday because of lingering tightness in his lower back.

Rizzo has not played since he was pulled from Tuesday’s game in Cincinnati. His back tightened up that day during a 50-minute rain delay.

"I’m going to shut it down for today and tomorrow, too," Rizzo said on Saturday. "I hit, I ran. Hitting felt all right. I took two rounds, let it calm down, hit again. Then I ran for the ultimate [test]. Jogging [is a problem].

"It felt a lot better today than yesterday, so I think if we let it rest, it’ll be OK. I don’t want to come back and then miss the rest of the season if I’m really bad. I can wait a couple of days to play the rest of the season."

So far the diagnosis is nothing more than tightness.

Cardinals: Club breaks out of slump Saturday night

St. Louis had been plodding along at the plate until pushing across three runs in the fifth inning of Saturday night’s Game 2 win.

The Cardinals scored 13 runs in the victory, compared with only 10 in the previous six games combined. In the eighth inning alone, they scored nine.

St. Louis had also mustered just three runs in the first two games against the Cubs but knocked 13 in the doubleheader nightcap.

"What hasn’t been there are the huge offensive numbers of production," Matheny said before the game. "That doesn’t necessarily have to be tied in with spark and energy. Now all of a sudden, the offense takes off, to everybody on the outside, there is some sort of spark here.

"We have to go back to what the foundation is, and the foundation is how the guys prepare and how they have that attitude and that excitement level of where we are right now. That’s been there, and you can really only see that from our vantage point."

Worth noting

• The Cardinals’ Matt Adams is 1-for-12 during St. Louis’ current homestand, and he has just one homer since July 19.

Cubs.com

Overturned call gives Cubs run vs. Cards

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — Umpires reviewed a potential violation of Rule 7.13, which resulted in the Cubs getting a run in the first game of a twin bill against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Saturday. Chicago won the game, 5-1.

With two outs and the bases loaded in the Chicago second, Chris Coghlan singled to right off St. Louis’ Justin Masterson. Logan Watkins scored. Then Chris Valaika slid home, and he was originally called out by home-plate umpire Alan Porter.

Manager Rick Renteria left the dugout to speak with umpires, who initiated a crew-chief review to determine whether Cardinals catcher A.J. Pierzynski was improperly positioned and had violated Rule 7.13. Pierzynski had given the runner a lane to the base, but the New York review crew did see that Valaika had avoided the tag, and he was ruled safe to give the Cubs a 2-0 lead.

"When you ask for a 7.13 [review], as [the replay crew is] watching to make sure [the rule] hasn’t been violated, they can correct a call if need be," Renteria said.

CSNChicago.com

Jorge Soler brings thunder to Cubs-Cardinals rivalry

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – The early edition of Sunday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch splashed a big headline across the top of the sports section: “CUBS STEAL THUNDER.”

The C1 front featured a wide-angle photo of the Cardinals catcher charging out of the dugout on Friday night, running with this subhead: “Chicago belts four home runs to spoil the return of Yadier Molina.”

The Cubs followed that up by splitting Saturday’s doubleheader in front of two sellout crowds at Busch Stadium (89,517 combined). Cardinal fans are going to get tired of watching Jorge Soler, the 22-year-old Cuban outfielder with the lightning swing.

This isn’t just a media creation, or an oversell by the marketing department, or team executives cozying up to prospect gurus: Soler has lived up to the hype (8-for-15, three homers, seven RBI).

That’s a bigger headline than Saturday’s ugly 13-2 Game 2 loss, which restored some order to the rivalry as Soler “only” went 1-for-4 with an RBI double. 

The Elias Sports Bureau says Soler is now the first player to have an RBI and an extra-base hit in his first four major-league games since the RBI became an official statistic in 1920.

The day after hitting two homers, Soler sat out a 5-1 Game 1 victory, part of a program the Cubs believe will help him preserve his body after recovering from hamstring injuries. Logan Watkins wound up playing right field and hitting his first big-league home run, which sounds more like a Cardinal Occurrence given the history between these two franchises.

“That’s a tough act to follow,” Watkins said, “but I guess the rest of us can squeak one out every once in awhile.”

It’s not bandwagon-hopping when it’s a last-place team with a national following playing at an iconic stadium during another lost season. But Cub fans can dream about a lineup that will wear out the Cardinals (72-63): Soler, Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro. 

“I’m already on (the bandwagon),” manager Rick Renteria said. “Everybody wants to see it – to be able to kind of have a concrete sense of what it is. These are signs that, hopefully, we’ll chip away at some of the negativity that’s been around for a little bit.”

The Cubs haven’t fallen off the cliff after trading away 40 percent of their rotation, going 16-13 in August. While Tsuyoshi Wada (4-2, 2.79 ERA) and the bullpen got roughed up in Game 2, Felix Doubront looked like the next change-of-scenery story in Game 1.

Doubront, another Boston castoff, got the win here in St. Louis as a Red Sox reliever in Game 4 of last year’s World Series. But the talented 26-year-old lefty couldn’t stick in the Red Sox rotation, and he didn’t like pitching out of the bullpen, making it known that he wanted out of Fenway Park.

“I was thinking about it when I stepped on the mound, to feel the way that I felt in the World Series last year,” said Doubront, who gave up one run in seven innings in his Cub debut. “I was so focused the first inning. The second inning, I tried to keep up. The third inning, I came back and I was feeling that rhythm.

“This is my team now. I have to give everything – 100 percent – and go out there and win games. I’m looking forward with this team. I want to stay here and do the best job that I can.”

The Cubs need pitchers to make that leap, because they looked at the way the game is trending and bet big on young hitters.

“For sure,” Baez said, the clubhouse wants to see Bryant in September, even though team officials have repeatedly ruled out that idea. But Cub fans and the Chicago media will keep talking about the mega-prospect who will bring even more thunder to this rivalry.

“Who knows?” Baez said. “In baseball, nobody knows anything. It’s not up to us.”

Either way, the Cubs believe they have something to play for in September.

“We have to show those guys that we’re ready,” Castro said. “We have to show the other teams in our division we play hard. (We’re trying) to show those guys they have to be careful next year, because we’re coming. We’re coming to play hard. We’re coming to compete.”

CSNChicago.com

No excuses: Starlin Castro wants to be a leader for Cubs

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – Starlin Castro doesn’t whine or make excuses or find ways to get out of the lineup. He doesn’t duck the media or run from the criticism. He’s a tough player, a lot harder to replace than simply anointing the next Cubs shortstop.

It’s been an emotionally draining time in a career that’s already seen so many ups and downs, but Castro always tries to be the same guy every day, accepting the responsibility that comes with being a face of the franchise.

Castro opened up in the middle of Saturday’s doubleheader at Busch Stadium, standing in front of his locker after a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 1. A sellout crowd of 44,755 had watched Castro slam Justin Masterson’s pitch off the second-deck facing, a fifth-inning missile that left no doubt. 

ST. LOUIS – Starlin Castro doesn’t whine or make excuses or find ways to get out of the lineup. He doesn’t duck the media or run from the criticism. He’s a tough player, a lot harder to replace than simply anointing the next Cubs shortstop.

It’s been an emotionally draining time in a career that’s already seen so many ups and downs, but Castro always tries to be the same guy every day, accepting the responsibility that comes with being a face of the franchise.

Castro opened up in the middle of Saturday’s doubleheader at Busch Stadium, standing in front of his locker after a 5-1 victory over the Cardinals in Game 1. A sellout crowd of 44,755 had watched Castro slam Justin Masterson’s pitch off the second-deck facing, a fifth-inning missile that left no doubt. 

Castro doesn’t believe he gets singled out or unfairly criticized.

“No, no, I don’t think so,” Castro said. “I think the reason is everybody that comes in here looks at me and looks at (Anthony) Rizzo. We have to play hard to show those young guys coming up: ‘He’s here for a long time and he’s running hard and he plays hard.’

“It’s a mistake on my (part). I don’t have any excuse for this. We’re talking a lot and we try to do it together. We’re already a young team. We just try to have everybody come in here and play hard. If young guys come in here and see me not play hard, they don’t do it.

“When that thing happens, I apologize to the team, because it’s really my fault. I don’t have any excuse for this. There’s not an excuse for this.”

It looked like Castro wanted to make up for it on Friday night at Busch Stadium, getting thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple during a 7-2 win over the Cardinals. But otherwise it’s hard to remember the last time he had a glaring mental lapse. His concentration has improved, he feels that confidence again and he now has three All-Star selections before turning 25.

After Theo Epstein fired manager Dale Sveum last year, the president of baseball operations talked about how “there has to be love before there’s tough love.” So Castro’s relationship with Rick Renteria – his fourth manager in five seasons – would be under the microscope.

“I clearly believe that he’s gotten better,” Renteria said. “I think the conversation has changed about him a little bit. I don’t think it’s just simply pick on him. I don’t see that at all. I think that people have been recognizing how he’s been going about doing his business, and rightfully so.

“Everybody has the right to judge us when we fail at doing something. (That’s) just part of the way the landscape is. The question is: Can we all learn from our own mistakes?

“Here’s a young man who feels bad when he doesn’t do well. He takes it to heart. I know people may not necessarily believe it, but he does.”

Castro understands that he has to set the example, because he has $60 million guaranteed and the Cubs are trying to establish an identity.

“Everybody looks at us,” Castro said. “Look at me, look at Rizzo – everybody comes in here to play hard. (Don’t) even think: ‘Yo, I’m in the big leagues.’ No, just come in here to play hard, because the reason (we’re here) is to win.”

Castro still remembers what Alfonso Soriano told him, how the $136 million man came to work every day and never stopped trying to get better.

“Don’t even think about money,” Castro said. “Don’t think about (anything else). You’re here already. No matter what, they have to pay you. But sometimes young guys look at you and only think about money. They can’t do that.

“But if you show we don’t care about money – we’re here, the money’s going to be there – (then) no matter what, (we’ll) just try to play hard and try to win. Because that’s the only reason we’re here: Win.”

CSNChicago.com

Anthony Rizzo sees Cubs sending message: The future is now

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – Anthony Rizzo believes September will be a show-me month for the Cubs. A last-place team can still send a message to the rest of the National League Central – and all the free agents wondering if this is a place that’s serious about winning.

Money talks, and Theo Epstein’s baseball operations department will have built-in financial flexibility with so many young, cost-controlled players. But the Cubs are putting together a good recruiting pitch with Javier Baez and Jorge Soler hitting bombs while Kris Bryant gets a reputation as the game’s No. 1 overall prospect.

“Everyone knows that we have (talent),” Rizzo said. “Every team we play, they’re asking about Javy, Soler, Bryant. Everyone gets on first base (and says): ‘Man, you guys are going to be really good soon.’ That ‘soon’ is up now. We play good baseball.”

Rizzo’s frustration with a back injury has been compounded by the emergence of The Core. The All-Star first baseman – who hasn’t played since Tuesday – will be sidelined for this weekend’s entire Cubs-Cardinals series. Rizzo got treatment and hit in the cage, but had trouble running hard before Saturday’s doubleheader at Busch Stadium, and the Cubs are going to be cautious with a franchise player.

“It’s seeing, basically, the future,” Rizzo said, “and not being able to be in the lineup with them and play with them and have fun with them. It’s frustrating, but at the same time, I can still sit back and watch them play and enjoy it.”

The Cubs can make a statement and try to create some momentum in the season’s final month. There are 18 games inside the division, plus three more in Toronto against a Blue Jays team desperately trying to stay in the wild-card race, and a four-game series versus the first-place Dodgers at Wrigley Field.

“That’s another reason why it’s so frustrating (to sit out),” Rizzo said. “This is a big September for us, because we want to convince a lot of people – convince ourselves, so to say – convince everyone that we’re ready to win.

“Come 2015 – from April 4th or whatever to whenever the last game is – we’re expecting to make a deep, deep push. Really, it starts right now, because everyone’s got to get ready for that and expect to win every day.”

The training wheels will be off next season. There will be expectations after sitting through another rebuilding year, watching Baez and Soler make it to The Show and adding a high-profile free agent or two this winter.

So if team executives feel it doesn’t make economic sense to give Bryant the September call-up now – even with 43 homers and 109 RBI in the minors – then maybe the players can force the issue and make him their 2015 Opening Day third baseman.

“It’s a business and you can’t control it,” Rizzo said. “He’s done a really good job, but I’m going to say the better we do now, the better it is for him, because the quicker it (could be) for him. It’s his first time playing this many games. I could see why they would wait with the (40-man) roster move, all that stuff. (But) hopefully there’s a spot out of the gate (next year).

“The better we do now, the better everyone feels going into the offseason, from top to bottom.”

Chicago Tribune

Rookies breathe new life into Cubs clubhouse

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS — Before a doubleheader against the Cardinals on Saturday, Anthony Rizzo gave the Cubs marketing department some unsolicited help.

Discussing the impact of rookies Javier Baez and Jorge Soler, along with the promise of top prospect Kris Bryant, Rizzo said opposing players from every team have been asking him about the threesome.

"Everyone who gets on first base is like, ‘Man, you guys are going to be really good soon,’ " Rizzo said. "That soon is up now."

Trademark it. Order the T-shirts. Put it on the Wrigley Field marquee.

After wondering since the start of the rebuilding project how long it would take to get the engine running, “Soon is up” could be the answer Cubs fans have been waiting for.

The Cubs won the opener 5-1 in the Felix Doubront’s Cubs debut. Left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, who took a no-hitter into the seventh inning his last time out, faced Marco Gonzales in the nightcap.

Whether the Cubs can continue to ride this positive wave through September remains to be seen. But the rookies have opened eyes all over baseball, and the end of the longest-running joke in sports may be in sight.

Game 1 provided a glimpse of why things seem to be different. With manager Rick Renteria resting Soler, his replacement in right field, Logan Watkins, cranked his first major league home run.

"I expect this out of myself," Watkins said. "I’ve gone every level. I’ve worked hard. I’ve paid my dues. I feel I belong here. I earned it. I want to keep everything in perspective. Yeah, it’s cool to hit a home run. But I expect to hit more for my career."

And the kids not only are getting on-the-job experience, they’re getting it against contending teams — and competing.

"Watching our young guys play against call-ups from other teams and Triple-A guys, it wouldn’t really feel like we were learning anything," general manager Jed Hoyer said. "Now I feel like we’re going to watch these guys almost every series the rest of the way against a contender, against teams going full bore, so it’s going to be a full-on learning experience for our young guys."

The clubhouse atmosphere is night and day compared with one year ago, when it seemed as if everyone wanted the season to end — including Rizzo and Starlin Castro. Confidence is growing, and the Cubs want to show they can play with anyone, no matter their record.

"They’re enjoying coming to the park every day," Renteria said. "They don’t mind working. They know if they make a mistake, someone is going to talk to them to try and correct it."

"But it’s not something where they dread (coming). … You’d assume that coming to a big-league ballgame every day as a player, you would always appreciate it. And you do. But sometimes it can become an uncomfortable place."

Perhaps not since 2009 have the Cubs put a team on the field fans are truly interested in watching. The injection of youth can’t undo the agony of the last four seasons, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.

"It’s just fun to watch," Watkins said. "Every day, something is going to happen. There’s too much talent on this team for a pitcher to just run through us every day."

Bryant watch: Baez said the team is waiting for Bryant to be called up, even though the Cubs have said they no plans to do so.

"Who knows?" Baez said. "In baseball, nobody knows."

Rizzo, who will remain out of the lineup until Monday with a bad back, said not calling up Bryant is simply “business.” He’s OK with Luis Valbuena manning third base the rest of the season.

"Do I want (Bryant) here?" Rizzo asked. "I like Lu (Valbuena). I like the way Lu plays. Obviously Kris Bryant would be a great add-on here. He’s had a great year and he deserves all the accolades he’s about to get for the second straight year.

"Congratulations to him, but you can only control what you can control."

Chicago Tribune

Pierce Johnson throws his cap in Cubs’ ring

By Paul Sullivan

KODAK, Tenn. — While the arrivals of Javier Baez and Jorge Soler have given Cubs fans hope the game plan finally is coming to fruition, Double-A right-hander Pierce Johnson and the rest of the top pitching prospects aren’t assured of a seat at the table.

Unlike the highly touted position players in the Cubs system, none of the pitchers has a spot reserved for them in future rotations, and President Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have said repeatedly they are looking at adding “impact” starters over the next two offseasons.

The kids can do the math. With Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks heading the rotation, Edwin Jackson signed through 2016 and Travis Wood team property through 2016, there may not be any vacancies. The Cubs could sign Jon Lester next winter, or save the money and go after a free agent like David Price after 2015.

"We have a lot of work to do with pitching," Epstein said. "We’ve been open about the fact it would be nice to add an impact pitcher or two over the next 18 months or so. That’s certainly a priority for us.

"Whether we develop one from an unlikely spot like what happened with Jake Arrieta or acquire someone who is already at those heights remains to be seen."

But if the Cubs do refrain from going that route, Tennessee’s Johnson feels there’s a lot of quality pitching to choose from, including himself and Smokies teammates C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. Watching Hendricks do his thing since his call-up last month has given the trio confidence they can play follow the leader.

"I definitely think we have one of the best minor league systems, and there’s so much talent on this team alone," Johnson said. "Hendricks, he has been successful (with the Cubs), and (Iowa’s) Dallas Beeler, he has been successful up there, too. And even at the lower levels, you have (Kane County’s Paul) Blackburn and Duane (Underwood) having great years. It’s crazy."

Johnson, drafted with the No. 43 pick out of Missouri State, is having the kind of stretch the Cubs envisioned when they chose him behind Albert Almora in 2012. Baseball America named him the club’s sixth best prospect heading into the season and after missing a month early on with a calf injury and having to make a couple of starts down at Class A Kane County, he has come on strong.

Since July 2, Johnson allowed no earned runs in six of his 11 starts, and overall is 5-5 with a 2.49 ERA in 18 starts, with a 1.167 WHIP and 94 strikeouts in 972/3 combined innings.

The Cubs are encouraged, but believe Johnson needs more command of the strike zone to take the next big step. He’s averaging 5.4 walks per nine innings at Tennessee, and must solve that problem to get on the same track Hendricks was on one year ago.

"It has been kind of an up and down year for him dealing with some of the nicks, the calf (injury)," Cubs player development chief Jason McLeod said. "He has had some outings where his control wavered, but now it’s good to see in these last few weeks he really has come on.

"His stuff is still there, it’s great, low-to-mid 90s (fastball). He’s hammering the zone, being aggressive and coming after hitters. All we can ask for now is that he finishes the year strong. Last year he got much stronger in the second half, which is what you look for."

Johnson has one more start Sunday in Chattanooga, and the Smokies are battling the Lookouts down to the wire for the second-half division title and a spot in the Southern League playoffs.

The 23-year-old Johnson has a plus-slider and fastball, along with a changeup and cut-fastball. His father, Don Johnson, was vice-president of marketing with the Padres when Pierce was growing up, so Pierce became a big fan of former Padres star Jake Peavy.

"The slider is what got me drafted, so hopefully it’s like that Jake Peavy slider when he was with the Padres," Johnson said. "I grew up around baseball, so I was always kind of a mudder at heart."

If Peavy is Johnson’s idol, Roy Halladay was his role model. During his retirement announcement last December, Halladay said: “If my career is two or three years shorter because I wanted to go out and pitch deep into games, I’m fine with that. Maybe there were times I shouldn’t have had the ball, but I would never go out and tell anybody that. I wanted to keep it as long as I possibly could, and as long as I felt I wasn’t hurting our chances, I was going to keep trying to go.”

Johnson is limited to a strict pitch count in the minors, so he won’t be throwing many complete games for a while. But he hopes one day to be able to live by Halladay’s credo, pitching long into games.

"I strive for that, I want to be able to do that," he said. "His work ethic and everything. … He’s just a bulldog on the mound, never gave in and threw everything for strikes.

"That’s someone you model yourself after whether you throw mechanically like him or not. It’s really something to look at."

Johnson still has a ways to go to get his shot. He admits he “bounced around” this year, starting in Tennessee, then rehabbing in Arizona, going to Kane County for a couple of starts and then back to Tennessee. But he finally seems to be finding his way alongside Edwards and Black in a gifted rotation, one that gives the Smokies a decent shot at winning the league title if they can just get in the playoffs.

"Because of minor setbacks, it has been kind of a frustrating year," Johnson said. "But the year is not over. I want to finish strong and hopefully we can get a ring out of this."

Chicago Tribune

Saturday’s Game 2 recap: Cardinals 13, Cubs 2

By Paul Sullivan

The summary

Matt Holliday’s two-out, three-run homer in the fifth inning snapped a 1-1 tie, and the Cardinals gained a split in the doubleheader with a 13-2 victory after scoring nine runs in the eighth inning.

At the plate

Jorge Soler had an RBI double and is (8-for-15 with seven RBIs) in his first four games. The Cubs had only three hits off left-hander Marco Gonzales, who lasted six innings.

On the mound

Relievers Kyuji Fujikawa (three runs) and Zac Rosscup (six) were pounded in the eighth inning. Neither was able to record an out before Carlos Villenueva came in to retire the side.

Cubs starter Tsuyoshi Wada gave up three earned runs over six innings. He allowed one unearned run in the first before Holliday’s three-run homer in the fifth.

In the field

Starlin Castro’s errant throw while trying to complete a double play brought home the Cardinals’ first run.

The quote

Manager Rick Renteria on Anthony Rizzo sitting out the series with back issues: “He’s trying to push himself to play, and I appreciate it, but we’ll just take it one day at a time.”

The number

4: Elias Sports Bureau said Soler is the first player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 with an RBI and extra-base hit in his first four games.

Up next

Cubs (LH Travis Wood, 8-11, 4.72) at Cardinals (RH John Lackey, 2-1, 4.50), Sunday, 1:15 p.m., WGN-Ch. 9.

Chicago Tribune

Saturday’s Game 1 recap: Cubs 5, Cardinals 1

By Staff

The summary

The Cubs took the opener of the doubleheader behind the pitching of Felix Doubront and some more long ball from the offense.

At the plate

Three of the Cubs seven hits were home runs from Logan Watkins, Chris Valaika and Starlin Castro. Watkins’ homer was the first of his major league career, while Castro tied a career high with No. 14. But overall, the Cubs struck out 13 times.

On the mound

Doubront allowed one run in his Cubs’ debut, throwing a season-high seven innings. He now will move into the new six-man rotation. Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm both pitched an inning of scoreless relief.

The number

42. Castro had his 42nd multi-hit game and has hit safely in 21 of his last 23 games.

The quote

Watkins on Cubs rookies Jorge Soler and Javier Baez overshadowing him: “It’s understandable. You watch the three of us take batting practice, you’re probably going to enjoy them a lot more than me. But I feel like I can bring a lot to any team I’m on. I can do a lot of things, can play almost any position. Play the game hard and play the game right.”

Chicago Tribune

Rizzo will miss rest of Cardinals series

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS — Anthony Rizzo’s back tightened up while running on Saturday morning and he said he won’t be available to play this weekend in St. Louis.

Rizzo hasn’t played since Tuesday, when he left the game in Cincinnati with back soreness. He tried to convince manager Rick Renteria to get him back in the lineup Saturday morning before the setback.

"It’s something I wasn’t too worried about, but hopefully another couple days of rest will calm it down," Rizzo said.

Renteria is also sitting right fielder Jorge Soler in Game 1 of the split doubleheader this afternoon, but Soler will be in the lineup for the second game, weather permitting.

The Cubs will sit Soler on occasion because of his hamstring issues, though Renteria won’t announce when his off days will be scheduled.

"When he’s not in the lineup you’ll know it, because he won’t be posted in there," he said.

With Soler and the rookies fueling Friday’s 7-2 win over the Cardinals, there’s a different vibe in the Cubs clubhouse. Rizzo is anxious to get in on the fun.

"Absolutely," he said. "We’re seeing basically the future, so to speak, here. And not being able to be in the lineup with them, play with them, have fun with them, it’s frustrating. But at the same time, I can still sit back and watch them play and enjoy it."

Chicago Tribune

Cubs Future Four report: Playoff push for Russell, Almora and Schwarber

By Paul Sullivan

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple A)

Friday vs. Oklahoma City: 0-for-3, 1 strikeout.

Trending: 9-for-37 (.243), 3 home runs, 6 RBIs, 0 walks, 15 strikeouts.

Season: 135 games, .326 batting average, 34 doubles, 43 home runs, 109 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double A)

Friday at Chattanooga: 1-for-5, 1 run.

Trending: 12-for-41 (.293), 4 home runs, 14 RBIs, 0 walks, 7 strikeouts.

Season:  65 games, .294 batting average, 13 home runs, 13 doubles, 45 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee (Double A)

Friday at Chattanooga: 1-for-5.

Trending:  11-for-40 (.275), 1 home run, 3 RBIs, 11 runs.

Season: 122 games, .274 batting average, 9 home runs, 27 doubles, 60 RBIs at Daytona, Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher, Daytona (Class A)

Friday vs. Tampa: 0-for-4, 1 strikeout.

Trending: 15-for-40 (.375), 6 home runs, 13 RBIs, 3 walks, 6 strikeouts.

Season:  71 games, .345 batting average, 18 home runs, 18 doubles, 53 RBIs, 55 strikeouts, 39 walks at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Chicago Sun-Times

Starlin Castro embraces leadership role with Cubs

By Gordon Wittenmyer

ST. LOUIS — As much as he has on his mind these days and as hard as the emotions continue to hit, Starlin Castro hasn’t stopped ­embracing the responsibility and scrutiny that comes with his oversized role in the Cubs’ rebuilding program.

“In some ways, we’re asking a lot of these guys,” general manager Jed Hoyer said of his 24-year-old shortstop and 25-year-old first baseman, Anthony Rizzo. “You have to play like you’ve been in the league for 10 years because we need those guys to help show [the rookies] the way to play.”

Castro, a three-time All-Star who continues to be a lightning rod with fans and media for every mistake and perceived lapse, insists he’s not unfairly criticized or targeted — even as Rizzo gets a comparative pass for his larger number of lapses and breakdowns, especially this year.

“No, I don’t think so,” said Castro, who matched his career high with homer No. 14 in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory against the St. Louis Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday. “The reason [for the scrutiny] is that everybody that comes in here looks at me and Rizzo. We have to play hard, to show those guys coming up [what’s expected].”

That’s why he was harder on himself after he turned a double to the wall into a single by gazing too long at home plate Wednesday, why he apologized to teammates and staff before anybody had a chance to scold him — maybe even why he tried to turn a double into a triple Friday night and got thrown out on a close play.

“I don’t have any excuse for it,” he said of his gaffe Wednesday. “It’s a mistake on myself. When that happened, I apologized to the team because it’s my fault. We’ve got a young team, and everybody looks to us.”

Those who have been around the team every day, including management, see the strides Castro has made in eliminating the kind of lapses that former manager and broadcaster Bobby Valentine turned into a national embarrassment — and reputation — three years ago by highlighting Castro’s inattentiveness for several innings of a TV broadcast.

“I clearly believe he’s gotten better,” said manager Rick Renteria, who let Wednesday’s mistake go without a severe response, in part because Castro had just returned from a trip home after the deaths of four close friends and family. “The conversation has changed about him a little bit. I don’t think it’s just simply pick on him.”

Renteria said he’s not making excuses for Castro. And Hoyer said Castro and Rizzo need to get those mental miscues down to “zero.”

Castro, whose first-inning single in the nightcap Saturday made him 9-for-19 since his return from bereavement leave, said that the last two weeks have been “really tough” but that he tries to find resolve and motivation — not excuses — in the loss of his cousin, a friend he considered a brother and two other close friends in a car crash in the Dominican Republic.

“Every time I talked with those guys who died, they told me, ‘When you play good, we’re happy,’ ’’ he said. “That’s what I try to put in my mind when I come out [on the field], to keep going, that I can do anything. I just try to be strong. It’s really tough, but I just come in here every day and try to make those guys happy.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Rookie milestones stack up for Cubs’ Jorge Soler

By Gordon Wittenmyer

ST. LOUIS — Another day, ­another piece of baseball history for the Cubs’ Jorge Soler in his first week in the big leagues.

The Cubs’ $30 million rookie outfielder doubled home a run in his first at-bat of Saturday’s nightcap of a doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals, making him the first major-league player since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 to have an extra-base hit and an RBI in each of his first four games.

The Cubs lost the second game 13-2, settling for a split after ­winning the opener 5-1.

Soler, one of eight players to make their major-league debut with the Cubs this season, already joined rookie Javy Baez among only three players in history with three home runs in their first three career games (also Joe Cunningham, 1954 Cardinals).

“It’s fun to watch. It feels like every day something’s going to happen,” said Logan Watkins, ­another Cubs rookie, who ­homered and singled filling in for Soler in right field during the Cubs’ victory in the opener.

“There’s too much talent on this team for a pitcher to just run through us every day,” Watkins said. “We’re going to do something every day to give us a chance to win.”

Soler will get scheduled days off in the final month as the Cubs continue the cautious approach they have taken with him since injuries to each hamstring cost him half the season and put him on the disabled list twice.

Rizzo sits out weekend

First baseman Anthony Rizzo’s back problems are persistent and severe enough that the Cubs decided Saturday morning to hold him out of the rest of the Cards series and re-evaulate him Monday when they open a weeklong homestand.

“[Saturday was] a lot better. But we’re just going to give it some time,” said Rizzo, who hit in the batting cage without issue, but couldn’t get through pregame running without the sore muscle “grabbing.”

“It’s frustrating. It’s something I wasn’t too worried about,” he added. “Hopefully, another couple days of rest will calm it down.”

He hasn’t played since leaving rain-delayed game on Tuesday in Cincinnati in the eighth inning.

Felix the cool cat

Felix Doubront, who went 2-4 with a 6.07 ERA before being acquired from the Boston Red Sox in a trade deadline deal a month ago, gave up just one run in an impressive seven-inning debut for the Cubs in the opener.

It was his first appearance at Busch Stadium since two relief stints in last year’s World Series.

“This is my team now,” said Doubront, who will remain in a six-man Cubs rotation the rest of the season. “I have to give everything 100 percent and help the guys win games. I’m looking forward with this team.

“I want to stay here and do the best job that I can.”

30 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

While Jorge Soler has a blast with Cubs, Kris Bryant waits his turn

By Gordon Wittenmyer

ST. LOUIS — Three Cubs who were in the minors eight weeks ago — and in A-ball less than two years ago — did their best Friday night to show the St. Louis Cardinals at least part of what’s coming to the Cubs-Cards rivalry.

Jorge Soler: 3-for-3 and two home runs. Javy Baez: a go-ahead double in the eighth inning. Arismendy Alcantara: a homer in the ninth to finish off a 7-2 victory.

“We’re just waiting for Bryant now,” Baez said.

That’s probably going to be a long wait, certainly longer than players in the clubhouse prefer to see presumptive Minor League Player of the Year Kris Bryant join the show.

General manager Jed Hoyer said again Friday that the front office hasn’t budged on its plan to keep Bryant (pro-ball-leading 43 homers) from a big-league promotion this year, even after the Class AAA season ends in a few days.

But that hasn’t stopped Baez — and Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro before him — from wishing out loud for a look at him this year.

“For sure,” said Baez. “Who knows? In baseball, nobody knows anything. It’s not up to us.”

If nothing else, Baez and Soler are setting a high bar for Bryant once he arrives. Both homered in their debuts. And with his two first-pitch homers Friday, Soler joined Baez among only three players since 1900 to have three homers in their first three career games (Joe Cunningham, 1954 Cardinals).

“Yeah, we’re imagining what [Bryant] can do,” rookie starter Kyle Hendricks said. “I mean, the whole group together. It’s definitely exciting. You can feel it. Everyone’s talking about it around the clubhouse. It’s just awesome seeing these guys coming up and having success.”

Soler is 7-for-11 with the homers, a double, a walk and six RBI.

“I feel real good and have confidence in myself, and I’m seeing the ball well,” he said with the help of coach Franklin Font translating. “What can I say?”

When asked about Bryant, Soler laughed a little and shook his head. “He’s real good. I don’t know how soon, but I hope we can see him in the next month here.”

Forget it, said Hoyer, who answered the questions just a couple hours after a short-lived Twitter rumor claimed Bryant had been called up Friday.

“He’s not on the roster, so right away that would knock another player off the roster,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to be really tight on the roster [heading to the offseason], and we know that. And this is his first full season, and he’s going to get 140-plus games. He’s played exceptionally well, but nothing’s changed on that front.”

Bryant, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft last year, doesn’t require a 40-man spot to be protected from the Rule 5 draft in December.

Hoyer denied Bryant’s conspicuous absence has anything to do with service-time issues or concerns about agent Scott Boras’ tendency to take his most valuable players to free agency as soon as they’re eligible.

“We’ve got a really good relationship with Kris, and obviously Scott, as well,” Hoyer said, pointing out the two prospects acquired in the Jeff Samardzija deal — Addison Russell and Billy McKinley — are Boras clients.

“We’ve got a good relationship with them. We talk to them all the time. That’s not the reason or a concern. We’ve never wavered [on his plan]. It’s a feeling that it’s the right thing for him, his first full season and not [being] on the roster. We’ll enjoy the guys we have up here right now.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs turning to six-man rotation down the stretch

By Gordon Wittenmyer

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs might not have the aces they need to finish off their competitive rebuild. But they have enough wild cards to go with a six-man rotation the rest of the season.

General manager Jed Hoyer said the club wants to get regular looks at newcomers Jacob Turner and Felix Doubront in particular while continuing to use the four holdovers: Jake Arrieta, Travis Wood and rookies Kyle Hendricks and Tsuyoshi Wada.

Turner, a powerful right-hander acquired from the Marlins this month after a disappointing run, made his first Cubs start Wednesday in Cincinnati. Doubront, acquired from the Red Sox near the trade deadline, returns from the disabled list (calf) Saturday to make his Cubs debut in the first game of a doubleheader.

“It makes a lot of sense to get a lot of guys innings and to lessen the load on the guys that we have,” Hoyer said. “We have a lot of guys, like Turner and Doubront, that we want to take a look at, not to mention some of the call-ups. We’re not in a pennant race, so it’s also a good time to let these [holdover] guys get a breather. It allows us to not shut down Hendricks. And guys like Arrieta and Wood, we won’t ride them quite as hard as we would if we were in a pennant race.”

Hoyer said that the specifics of the six-man schedule will be nailed down in the next few days.

The Cubs also expect Edwin Jackson (lat strain) to return from the disabled list in time to make at least one abbreviated start before the season ends.

Right-hander Dan Straily, who was acquired from the Athletics in the Jeff Samardzija trade July 4, made one spot start for the Cubs but appears more likely to work out of the bullpen when he’s brought up from Class AAA Iowa after rosters expand next week.

NOTES: First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed his third consecutive game because of back tightness Friday. Manager Rick Renteria said he had improved but was day-to-day.

Manny Ramirez, who was allowed to return home after going on the Class AAA Iowa DL with a nagging knee issue, is expected to play winter ball, Hoyer said. Afterward, the Cubs might discuss a return to the organization in some capacity. “We feel really good about the way the entire experience went for us,” said Hoyer, whose front office hired Ramirez in May as a player/coach to help with the development of prospects such as Soler, Baez and Bryant. “He was outstanding in Iowa.”

Outfielder Justin Ruggiano’s season officially ended when he had an arthroscopic clean-out procedure on his ailing left ankle Friday in Dallas.

Kyle Hendricks gave up two runs before recording a second out Friday night. But after talking with pitching coach Chris Bosio, he regrouped and didn’t allow another run for the rest of his six-inning start. He gave up two hits and no walks in his final 5 2/3 innings.

Justin Grimm recorded four strikeouts in the ninth inning, the 72nd time a pitcher has done that in major-league history. Daniel Descalso reached on a wild pitch after becoming Grimm’s second strikeout victim.

With four homers Friday, the Cubs have 34 in August, the most in the National League with three games to play in the month.

Cubs.com

Soler homers twice as Cubs thump Cardinals

Baez adds two RBIs, Alcantara goes deep in rookie showcase

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs future looked bright Friday night.

Jorge Soler belted two home runs and Javier Baez smacked a tiebreaking two-run double to power the Cubs to a 7-2 victory Friday night and wake up the Cardinals.

"They have some studs," St. Louis starter Shelby Miller said of the revamped Chicago lineup. "They’ve done a good job of rebuilding that offense. They’re tough, man. They have a lot of power in that lineup, and even have guys who are a little scrappy and can run. They’re definitely a tough lineup to face."

And the Cubs are missing two of the so-called “core four:” Kris Bryant and Albert Almora are at Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee, respectively.

"We’re just waiting for Bryant now," Baez said. "Hopefully, he’ll keep working and he’ll be here soon."

Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer repeated for the umteenth time Friday that Bryant, who has 43 home runs this season, will not be called up. Would Baez like to see Bryant with the rest of the young Cubs?

"For sure," he said.

For now, he and Cubs Nation will have to be patient.

Playing just his third big league game, Soler led off the seventh inning with his second career home run to tie the game, and he added a two-run, 442-foot shot in the eighth that landed on the concourse behind the left-field bleachers at Busch Stadium.

Soler is the second Cubs player in history with a multi-homer effort in his first three career games; the first was Baez, who did so on Aug. 7 against the Rockies. It’s now the 24th time it’s happened in MLB history (Baez was No. 23). The last player to do so who wasn’t a Cubs rookie was the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig, who hit two homers in his second game.

"I’m always looking for a fastball, and they threw me a fastball in those at-bats and I took advantage," said Soler, who connected on the first pitch in both at-bats.

"Soler got me pretty good," said Cardinals pitcher Pat Neshek, who served up the second one. "Especially for a right-handed guy, I haven’t seen too many guys hit a ball like that off me. That was a no-doubter. At first, I thought it might be going foul because it was such a hack. It was impressive."

Baez delivered his double with two on and nobody out in the eighth, lining a 2-2 pitch from Neshek into the gap in left-center. Neshek served up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. He had given up five runs over 55 1/3 innings this season.

"I think that’s my greatest at-bat since I came up," Baez said. "Hopefully I keep doing it to get better."

Baez said he saw something on video that helped him slow down and let the ball go deeper. It worked.

"They have a couple guys coming up who are not getting cheated," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said of Baez and Soler. "They’re getting their swings in, and they have the power to go along with it. It just makes our job more interesting [Saturday] to try and find the holes."

Kyle Hendricks was vying to become the first Cubs rookie pitcher to win five games in August, but instead did not get a decision. He did post his fifth quality start in six outings this month, and closed the month 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA.

Hendricks had to work against the Cardinals, who took a 2-0 lead in the first on RBI singles by Matt Holliday and Jhonny Peralta. Hendricks needed 26 pitches that inning, and then settled into a groove where he retired 16 of the next 17 batters he faced.

"There are some innings, you go out there and make pitches and give up runs, and you can live with that," Hendricks said. "The first inning, I wasn’t throwing any pitches with conviction."

He talked to Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio after the first, and, with a better mindset, went to work.

"It’s not just picking the right pitch in the right situation, it’s picking a pitch and throwing it to the glove," he said. "The first inning I really wasn’t doing that and was just lobbing it over."

Luis Valbuena hit a solo home run in the second and rookie Arismendy Alcantara added a solo shot in the ninth. The Cubs now have 34 home runs this month, most in the National League.

The Cubs still have to face the Brewers, Pirates, Blue Jays, Reds and Dodgers.

"We have a really tough schedule the rest of the way," Hoyer said. "I like it because watching our young guys play against callups from other teams or Triple-A guys, we wouldn’t feel we were learning anything. Now we’ll watch these guys almost every series against a contender and against teams going full bore. It’s going to be a full learning experience for the young guys.

"When this thing ends on Sept. 28, they’re going to know what they need to work on this winter."

And so will the other teams.

Cubs.com

Cards call Masterson in twin bill opener

Doubront looks to make strong impression in Cubs debut

By Matt Slovin

The Cubs can clinch a winning month of August with a sweep of their Saturday doubleheader in St. Louis.

Of course, that won’t come easily, especially this late in the season against a team with as much to play for as the Cardinals.

St. Louis missed a chance to close its gap in the National League Central race with its 7-2 loss to begin the series Friday evening. They are still in line for one of the Wild Cards, but the Braves moved to one game back with their 5-2 win over the Marlins.

In the early game of the day-night twin bill, left-hander Felix Doubront will be making his Cubs debut. He was acquired from Boston at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for a player to be named.

The 26-year-old Doubront was not exactly having a career year for the Red Sox. In 10 starts, he went 4-2 with a 5.19 ERA. But Doubront really toiled as a reliever, giving up 11 runs on 15 hits in nine innings.

He’ll be hoping to turn over a new leaf as he begins his career with the Cubs. Doubront, who’s been on the disabled list with a calf injury since the deal that brought him to the North Side, said he was able to get all of his pitches over for strikes in his last rehab appearance.

"I’m really excited to be pitching tomorrow," Doubront said on Friday. "I’m just going to try to keep calm. I know I’m going to be excited and nervous with the first pitch, but after that — I’ve been in this situation before and I think I can handle it. We’re humans. Starting, that’s what I wish for. I’m looking forward to it."

It’ll be an important start for Doubront’s counterpart, too — St. Louis’ Justin Masterson. The right-hander has had a rough transition to the Cardinals organization since he, too, came over at the Deadline.

In four of Masterson’s five starts since he was traded by the Indians, he’s allowed at least four runs. With Michael Wacha’s return to the Cardinals’ rotation coming in the near future, Masterson may be pitching for his starting job. As always, the key to his success is his sinker.

"Coming over to a team, shoot, whomever you’re with, you want to come out there and dominate on your day," Masterson said after his last start. "Give the boys a chance to win. It’s tough when you don’t get it done, and then it’s tougher when you put on top of it you’re trying to make a playoff run."

The nightcap will see the Cubs’ Tsuyoshi Wada oppose fellow southpaw Marco Gonzales. It’s a spot start for Gonzalez, who is St. Louis’ 26th man under the doubleheader rules. He’ll be making his fourth start of the year after being selected in the first round of last year’s Draft.

Cubs: Castro owns up to mistake

On Wednesday, Starlin Castro failed to run hard after hitting a ball to center, and it may have proved costly in a loss to the Reds. On Friday, Castro doubled with one out in the sixth, tried to stretch his hit, and was thrown out at third. The Cubs are working on finding a happy medium.

"Here’s a guy who everybody gets on because he doesn’t run out of the box," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "He’s been hustling, he runs out of the box hard, gets to second base, and in that instance, he did everything I wanted him to do except now you have to make sure you see the ball in front of you.

"I said, ‘It’s OK in this instance to stay there,’" Renteria said. "I’ll take that and take being able to explain to him how to approach it better than him not getting over there. I think he showed everybody he’s willing to go ahead and do the things he’s supposed to. We have to do it consistently over a long period of time. At least he showed me something by trying to get over there and trying to make something happen."

The Cubs are counting on players like Castro and Anthony Rizzo to be examples for the rookies, who aren’t much younger than the pair. General manager Jed Hoyer said he liked how Renteria handled Castro. It was the shortstop’s second game back from the bereavement list.

"First of all, I’d say, I’m really glad Starlin right away went and apologized to everyone," Hoyer said. "He knew he messed up. I think it’s the wrong time right now, and Ricky knows this — [Castro] is going through a lot. He knows he made a mistake, he apologized to everyone. It’s not something you need to harp on."

Hoyer complimented Castro’s play this season, saying he’s eliminated a lot of the mental mistakes.

"In some ways we’re asking a lot of those guys — we need those guys to show [the rookies] how to play," Hoyer said of Castro and Rizzo.

Cardinals: Club prepared in case long relief is necessary

St. Louis has stocked its bullpen nicely for the doubleheader.

The club kept an extra reliever on the roster to give itself some more leeway in terms of how the bullpen will be handled. There are currently three pitchers on the roster suited to long-relief work — Tyler Lyons, Nick Greenwood and Carlos Martinez.

Worth noting

• Zac Rosscup was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room for Doubront’s return from the DL, but he will serve as the Cubs’ 26th man for the doubleheader.

• Doubront will likely be a part of what would be a six-man rotation for the Cubs’ final month.

• The Cubs will salute the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on Monday at Wrigley Field.

Cubs.com

Bryant will not join Cubs when rosters expand

By Carrie Muskat

ST. LOUIS — Cubs fans eager to see Kris Bryant in the same lineup as Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro will have to wait.

General manager Jed Hoyer repeated Friday that Bryant, No. 1 on MLB.com's Top 20 Cubs prospects list, will finish his season at Triple-A Iowa and not be one of the players added when big league rosters expand on Monday.

Hoyer would not say which players will be added. Iowa has four regular-season games remaining and has a chance to make the playoffs.

Bryant, 22, batted .355 with 22 home runs and 20 doubles at Double-A Tennessee, and was batting .300 with 21 homers and 14 doubles in 66 games at Iowa entering Friday. The second player taken overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, Bryant is not on the Cubs’ 40-man roster.

"He’s not on the roster, so right away [if he was called up] that would knock off another player off the roster," Hoyer said Friday. "We’re going to be really tight with the roster, and we know that. We feel in his first full season, he’s going to get 140 plus games, he’s played exceptionally well — nothing has changed on that front [as far as calling him up]."

The fact that Bryant has done so well in his first year of professional baseball has made Cubs fans giddy about the prospect of seeing the third baseman at Wrigley Field.

"The most impressive thing about his season has been the consistency," Hoyer said. "The slumps have been really quick. He deserves a lot of credit for being able to make adjustments quickly. I think he’s very level-headed as a person. He doesn’t get too down.

"We’ve never wavered on [the decision to leave him in the Minors]. We feel it’s the right thing for him — first full season, not on the roster — and we’ll enjoy the guys we have up here now."

Are the Cubs hesitating to avoid starting the clock on Bryant’s service time? Hoyer said that wasn’t a factor.

"That’s not the reason or a concern," he said.

Rizzo sits for third straight game with tight back

ST. LOUIS — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who had hoped to return for the start of the Cardinals series on Friday night, did not start for a third straight game because of tightness in his lower back.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said Rizzo was better than he was on Thursday. Whether he’ll be able to play in one of the Cubs’ doubleheader games on Saturday is to be determined.

Rizzo’s back became an issue on Tuesday when he couldn’t get loose after a 50-minute rain delay in Cincinnati. He came out of that game as a precaution.

Rizzo has yet to be in the lineup since top prospect Jorge Soler was promoted from Triple-A Iowa.

"We all want to see [Rizzo] in that lineup," Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. "It’ll be fun to see that lineup card. I don’t have a prognosis [on Rizzo’s status], just that he’s day to day in the true sense of the word."

On Thursday, Rizzo said there wasn’t one thing that aggravated his back, and called the problem “frustrating.”

Cubs to begin homestand with JRW celebration

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs will salute the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on Monday at Wrigley Field.

The Chicago team, which won the U.S. Little League championship and finished second in the World Series to Seoul, South Korea, will meet some of the Cubs players during batting practice before their game against the Brewers.

The Little League team will be honored pregame, throw ceremonial first pitches, then sing during the seventh-inning stretch from the field.

Cubs pitchers Wesley Wright and Edwin Jackson were among the Major League players who donated money to help the families of the Little Leaguers attend the tournament in Williamsport, Pa.

Monday’s contest opens a six-game homestand for the Cubs, who will honor the 2000s with decade-themed promotional giveaways, specialty food and beverage offerings and entertainment. It’s all part of the season-long celebration of Wrigley Field’s 100th anniversary. On Sept. 5, Hall of Famer Greg Maddux will be recognized with a 3,000th strikeout bobblehead for the first 10,000 fans.

Fans coming to Wrigley from Monday through Wednesday can also take home a Hall of Famer’s autograph for a charitable cause. Fergie Jenkins will sign autographs from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. CT at the Cubs Store across from the ballpark on Monday and inside “Clark’s Clubhouse” on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6 p.m. until the sixth inning to raise money for the Ron and Vicki Santo Diabetic Alert Dog Foundation. Vicki Santo and Logan Burke, who was the first recipient of an alert dog from the foundation, will throw a ceremonial first pitch on Wednesday.

Cubs likely to finish ‘14 with six-man rotation

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs want to take advantage of the final month to get a look at pitchers Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner, and will likely go to a six-man rotation, general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday.

Doubront, 26, will make his first start Saturday in the first game of the Cubs’ day-night doubleheader against the Cardinals. He had started 10 games for the Red Sox before the Cubs acquired the left-hander on July 30 for a player to be named.

Turner, 23, made his first start for the Cubs on Wednesday and lasted 3 2/3 innings against the Reds. Chicago acquired him from Miami for two Minor League pitchers.

Hoyer said they want to insert Doubront and Turner in the rotation, and also lighten the innings for current starters Jake Arrieta and Travis Wood.

"It makes sense to get looks at guys and give guys innings and lessen the load on guys we have," Hoyer said.

Doubront has been on the disabled list with a left calf strain. Whoever the Cubs take off the 25-man roster to open a spot for Doubront can be added as the 26th man for the doubleheader.

Ruggiano done for season after ankle surgery

ST. LOUIS — Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano is done for the season after undergoing surgical debridement on his left ankle, an arthroscopic procedure that removes dead or damaged tissue.

In his first season with the Cubs, Ruggiano batted .281 in 81 games with six home runs, 13 doubles and 28 RBIs. He was placed on the disabled list on Saturday, and had returned to Dallas to see a specialist, where he had the procedure done.

The Cubs had more encouraging news regarding outfielder Ryan Sweeney, who was headed to Arizona to begin a rehab assignment at the team’s complex. Sweeney has been on the DL since Wednesday with a left hamstring strain.

Manny Ramirez, who was a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa, was placed on the Minor League team’s disabled list with a knee injury. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said they were impressed with how Ramirez mentored the young players, particularly Jorge Soler and Javier Baez.

"We feel really good about the way that the entire experience went," Hoyer said. "He was outstanding in Iowa. People focus on Soler and Baez, but Kris Bryant, [Chris] Valaika, and the coaching staff sing his praises. I don’t know what our relationship will be going forward. It’s too early to speculate on that. I’m really happy for Manny. It seems like he’s in a really good place."

Would Ramirez consider being a full-time hitting coach? Hoyer said the 42-year-old outfielder still wants to play.

"Until a guy is willing to admit he’s done, it’s hard to have those conversations [about coaching full time]," Hoyer said.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs to honor Jackie Robinson West

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — United States Little League champion Jackie Robinson West of Chicago will throw out the first pitch and sing the seventh-inning stretch at Monday’s Chicago Cubs game against the Milwaukee Brewers.

The team will be honored before the game as they walk the warning track greeting fans and will meet the Cubs players during batting practice before throwing out the first pitch. Then they’ll take in the game and sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” during the seventh-inning stretch.

Jackie Robinson West won the U.S. championship at the Little League World Series last Saturday before losing to South Korea in the World Championship on Sunday. The city of Chicago held a parade and rally for them on Wednesday.

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Cubs at Cardinals

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals play a four-game series this weekend beginning on Friday night.

Friday: Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78) vs. Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26), 7:15 p.m.

Saturday: Felix Doubront (0-0, 0.00) vs. Justin Masterson (2-2, 7.43), 1:15 p.m.; Tsuyoshi Wada (4-1, 2.56) vs. TBD, 7:15 p.m.

Sunday: Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72) vs. John Lackey (2-1, 4.50), 1:15 p.m.

Storylines: Doubront makes his Cubs debut on Saturday after struggling with the Boston Red Sox and in the minors for the Cubs before being called up for this game. The Cubs hope to get his career back on track with a new team. Hendricks has been nothing short of fantastic as he’s already beaten playoff-caliber teams including the Los Angeles Dodgers and Baltimore Orioles. Will the Cardinals be next?

Rizzo’s health: Anthony Rizzo missed the past two games after tweaking his lower back on Tuesday night. When he’s ready to play again fans will get to see him, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez, Starlin Castro and Arismendy Alcanatara all in the lineup together for the first time. That should be five of the starting eight position players entering the 2015 season.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Soler has exploded on the scene with four hits in eight at-bats, including a home run on his first swing in the big leagues. After missing five games due to a family tragedy, Starlin Castro is 5-for-12 and remains one shy of his career high in home runs (14). Javier Baez was 1-for-13 in Cincinnati over the past three days. His average has dipped to .189 after striking out two more times on Thursday.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ 2015 arms audition to expand soon

By Jesse Rogers

With major league rosters expanding Monday, the Chicago Cubs intend to see as much of their young pitching as possible in the final month of the season.

General manager Jed Hoyer intimated in a radio interview Friday the Cubs could simply go to a six-man rotation. Or they could just piggyback starters in the same game. The point will be to see names such as Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront, Dan Straily and probably Dallas Beeler as the front office begins to make plans for 2015.

Turner, Doubront and Straily were acquired by the Cubs midseason amid various struggles, but there is hope one or more can emerge as a legitimate candidate for the rotation next year.

Turner, 23, had his first chance to start a game for the Cubs on Wednesday with mixed results. He went 3 ⅔ innings, giving up seven hits and six runs, but only three were earned. He also walked two batters and came out after a predetermined pitch limit (66). His fastball had some life and a slightly higher-than-normal average velocity, but it wasn’t the sharpest of outings.

"He wanted to stay in there," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "He made some pitches that we had trouble making plays on. He wanted to stay in there and try to get out of it, but he had reached his ceiling."

Turner added: “I would’ve liked to have gotten a little deeper in the game. That part is frustrating. I’ve got to get my pitch count up. I just didn’t make a few pitches when I needed to. It’s exciting to be starting for sure, but I would’ve liked to have performed a little better.”

Turner should get another chance, as should Beeler and Straily, who have already started for the Cubs this season. Doubront will start in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Cardinals, but he struggled in the minors after being acquired from the Red Sox, giving up nine runs in 14 innings for Double-A and Triple-A.

It’s unclear what the plan is for veteran Edwin Jackson, who has struggled all season with a 6-14 record and a 6.09 ERA, when he comes off the disabled list. He’s eligible to be activated later next week.

Missing from the list of September call-ups could be the Cubs’ best two players in the minors this season. Third baseman Kris Bryant isn’t expected to be promoted, and unless the Cubs decide to add reliever Armando Rivero to the 40-man roster, he won’t be seeing Wrigley Field, either.

Bryant’s exploits (43 home runs) are well-documented, but Rivero has taken big steps in his development, as well. After posting a 1.56 ERA and 10 saves for Double-A Tennessee this season, he’s thrown well for Triple-A, going 3-0 with a 3.07 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.

Neither Bryant nor Rivero are on the 40-man roster, and the Cubs are on record saying they may need/want those roster spots this winter for new additions. Neither can be taken in the Rule 5 draft in December because of their short time in the minors, so they don’t need to be added to the 40-man roster until necessary.

Of course, the Cubs have opened 40-man roster spots this season by designating players for assignment such as Darwin Barney and Ryan Kalish, and they could do so again with, say, Josh Vitters or several others. But the Cubs will probably make those moves this winter.

Some may have thought pitcher Arodys Vizcaino would have been back in the big leagues by now, but he hasn’t quite dominated at Triple-A. After Vizcaino had a glove-popping spring training with his velocity hitting 100 mph, the Cubs took it slowly with him because of past arm problems. He had decent numbers at Class A and Double-A this season, but his Triple-A WHIP of 1.96 tells his story there, as does his 5.71 ERA. And he recently said he wasn’t throwing as hard, but it wasn’t clear if that was by design or some other issue. He’s on the 40-man roster, so there’s no harm in bringing him up.

In the meantime, Junior Lake and Mike Olt are expected back in September, along with the pitchers, though Olt is recovering from a hamstring injury. It’s hard to see any other position players making it up unless the Cubs add a catcher to the 40-man roster. They already have enough young players to look at around the diamond in Arismendy Alcantara, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler.

In any case, the head start on 2015 has already begun and should enter another gear as the calendar turns to the final month of the regular season.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs ‘just waiting for Bryant now’ after Soler/Baez beat Cardinals

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS — Javier Baez stood at his locker and delivered what could become the money quote for the next chapter in the Cubs-Cardinals rivalry: “We’re just waiting for Bryant now.”

Kris Bryant isn’t walking through that door yet. But the Cubs imagined the possibilities as the rap music blasted inside Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse after Friday night’s 7-2 win.

Jorge Soler had a big smile on his face after crushing two homers in his third big-league game. Kyle Hendricks got in a groove after giving up two runs in the first, putting up zeroes across the next five innings in front of a crowd of 43,181. Baez felt like he just had his best at-bat in The Show, a clutch two-run double off All-Star reliever Pat Neshek that put the Cubs ahead in the eighth.

“We’re going to play the game right and hard for nine innings,” Baez said. “(Bryant’s) going to keep working and hopefully he’ll be here soon.”

“Soon” is a relative term — how does late April 2015 sound? — but this is what Cubs officials wanted when they promoted Baez and Soler from Triple-A Iowa, the chance for elite prospects to measure themselves against contending teams.

Soler led off the seventh and hammered Shelby Miller’s first-pitch 94 mph fastball to center for a game-tying home run. Baez came through in the eighth with a line drive to center off Neshek, the sidearm pitcher who began the day with a 0.81 ERA. Moments later, Soler drilled Neshek’s first pitch 442 feet onto the left-field concourse. 

“I don’t know how to explain it, but everything’s going so good,” Soler said through an interpreter. “I feel real good at the plate. I have confidence in myself. I see the ball well. What can I say?”

The Cubs (60-74) will eventually have to go through St. Louis if they want to get to October, because the Cardinals (71-62) have been so good for so long, with 11 World Series flags flying at Busch Stadium.

“The older guys put it into us that we like to come here and beat these guys,” Hendricks said. “I was just happy I could go out there and keep them in the game as long as I could.”

Hendricks (1.91 ERA) will keep pitching into September and looks like a keeper in what will likely become a six-man rotation for the final month. The clubhouse certainly wouldn’t mind adding another big bat with 40-homer/100-RBI potential.

“We’re imagining what (Bryant) can do,” Hendricks said. “The whole group together, it’s definitely exciting. You can feel it. Everybody’s talking about it around the clubhouse. It’s just awesome to see those guys coming up and having success.”

Soler is riding the wave, going 7-for-11 with six RBI in his first three games since getting called up from Iowa, showing why the Cubs made a $30 million investment in the Cuban outfielder.

Baez needed a big hit for his confidence, and the Cubs wanted to get this initial adjustment period — seven homers, 44 strikeouts in 100-plus plate appearances — out of the way now so they could hit the ground running in 2015.

This won’t tilt the balance of power in the National League Central, but Cub fans still sounded delirious on Twitter late Friday night. As manager Rick Renteria said: “These kids are kind of showing you why they’ve been talked about so much.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs GM Hoyer: No chance Kris Bryant gets September call-up

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS – Forget about seeing Kris Bryant in a Cub uniform this September. General manager Jed Hoyer quickly dismissed that rumor floating around Twitter.

“Nothing’s changed on that front,” Hoyer said.

Still, Bryant and super-agent Scott Boras have to be wondering: Why not? What else is left to prove at Triple-A Iowa?

While Jorge Soler and Javier Baez enjoy life in The Show and get a jump on 2015, Bryant’s season will end on Labor Day in Des Moines, despite being the game’s No. 1 or No. 2 overall prospect, depending on whether you go with the ESPN or Baseball America list.

Soler’s two homers traveled 851 feet combined during Friday night’s 7-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, while Baez put the Cubs ahead with a two-run double in the eighth inning. The Plan doesn’t have room for Bryant now.

As the second pick in last year’s draft, Bryant isn’t on the 40-man roster yet and the Cubs can try to delay his free-agency clock. But otherwise the 22-year-old third baseman has checked all the boxes, hitting .328 with 43 homers and 109 RBI combined at Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

“He’s not on the roster, so right away that would knock another player off the roster,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to be really tight on the roster (this winter). We feel like in his first full season, he’s going to get 140-plus games. He’s played exceptionally well.”

Soler hasn’t experienced a full professional season yet – and he played only 54 games above the A-ball level before this week’s promotion – but he’s in the middle of a $30 million major-league contract.

Cub fans will have to wait until next year to watch Bryant in the middle of a powerful lineup built around Soler, Baez, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo (who’s day-to-day anyway with a tight back). Bryant hasn’t gone into an extended slump or struggled with all the hype and expectations.

“The most impressive thing about his season has been the consistency,” Hoyer said. “He deserves a lot of credit for being able to make adjustments quickly. He’s very levelheaded as a person, so I don’t think he gets too down.

“We haven’t really wavered on (this decision). We feel like it’s the right thing for him in his first full season, not (being) on the roster. We’ll enjoy the guys we have up here right now.”

So the Cubs are keeping Bryant down, an issue that will be worth watching when Boras Corp. also represents potential Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta, 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora and Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, the prospects acquired from the Oakland A’s in the Jeff Samardzija trade.

“We’ve got a really good relationship with Kris, and obviously with Scott as well,” Hoyer said. “A lot of our young guys are Boras guys (and) we’ve got a good relationship with them. We talk to them all the time. That’s not the reason or a concern.”

CSNChicago.com

Do the Cubs and Manny Ramirez have a future together?

By Patrick Mooney

ST. LOUIS — The Cubs don’t know exactly what Manny Ramirez will do next, but he’s still hanging onto the idea of playing at the age of 42.

That unpredictability made this hire so shocking three months ago, Manny Being Manny as a player/coach at Triple-A Iowa, teaching the organization’s best young hitters. But Ramirez didn’t become a sideshow or a negative influence, getting strong reviews from Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant.

Barring a miracle finish, Iowa’s season will end on Labor Day, but Ramirez is done in Des Moines. Already on the disabled list with a knee injury, Ramirez got clearance to return home to Florida and isn’t expected to join the Cubs as an extra coach in September.

It’s unclear if Ramirez is ready and willing to become a full-time hitting instructor or a long-term fixture in Theo Epstein’s front office.

“I don’t know if he’s ready to talk about that yet,” general manager Jed Hoyer said Friday at Busch Stadium. “He’s determined to play. It’s hard to take that away from a guy. Until a guy’s willing to admit he’s done, I think it’s hard to really have those conversations. He’s going to play winter ball.”

Epstein insisted Ramirez would be a changed man after finding religion and opening up about his use of performance-enhancing drugs. Together they won two World Series titles with the Boston Red Sox before a messy ending at Fenway Park.

A 12-time All-Star with 555 career home runs and two drug suspensions on his resume, Ramirez could try to reshape his legacy as a hitting savant, mentoring prospects as the Cubs try to build from within, or enjoy the freedom that comes with earning more than $200 million during a playing career.

“We feel really good about the way the entire experience went for us,” Hoyer said. “He was outstanding in Iowa. Most people focus on Soler and Baez, (but he helped) all those guys. The coaching staff really sings his praises.

“I don’t know what our relationship will be going forward. It’s probably too early to speculate on that. I’m really happy for Manny. It seems like he’s in a really good place. I’m glad he can help us out.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: The mind-blowing stat behind historic debuts of Soler, Baez

By Tony Andracki

Cubs fans have a lot to be excited about these days. A lot.

Jorge Soler made his MLB debut this week and has gone 7-for-11 with three homers, a double, six RBI and a walk. But it’s those dingers that are making history:

Ace of MLB Stats via Twitter (@Aceballstats): #Cubs Javier Baez & Jorge Soler are the first players to each hit at least 3 HR through their first 3 career games during the same century.

Whoa.

Check out Soler’s third homer (and second of the game Friday night). He straight up annihilated this ball:

Make sure your sound is up so you can hear the crack of the bat. It sounds like a clap of thunder echoing through Busch Stadium.

And don’t forget about the rest of the Cubs young players in the game - Baez had a two-run double, Arismendy Alcantara homered, Starlin Castro doubled and made some nice plays at shortstop, Kyle Hendricks picked up another quality start and Neil Ramirez collected the win in relief.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs hire Baseball Prospectus writer as scout

By Tony Andracki

Advanced statistics and the analytics behind them have taken over baseball.

The Cubs made a move this week to go further down that path, placing analytics at a premium in their organization.

Baseball Prospectus writer and prospect analyst Jason Parks - known to most as Professor Parks on Twitter - has taken up a scouting position with the Cubs.

From Parks’ farewell blog post:

    “…I am proud to announce that I have been offered and have accepted a scouting position with the Chicago Cubs. Needless to say I’m both humbled and honored to join such a storied franchise, a team rich with tradition and sorrow, one on a special trajectory with special hands now steering the ship. I will be disappearing into the shadows of my dream profession, moving my life and my understanding and supportive wife to the baseball landscape that is Arizona, where I will evaluate talent at the pro, amateur, and international levels at behest of the heads of those respective departments. Basically, this is a dream job that even my dream job couldn’t dream of.”

This is an interesting move for the Cubs, but not an altogether surprising one. The Houston Astros hired Kevin Goldstein - a Chicago-area native who also wrote for Baseball Prospectus - in August 2012 to be their Coordinator of Pro Scouting.

Parks’ Twitter account was popular among Cubs fans, as he fielded what seemed like a majority of his questions on the prospects coming up through the farm system that Theo Epstein’s front office built.

Cubs fans and bloggers won’t have that outlet now, as Parks no longer has an unbiased analysis of Cubs prospects.

Read Parks’ entire farewell column for BP. It’s worth your time.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ rookies waiting on Bryant to join the fun

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS— They haven’t been around long enough to really get the gist of this Cubs-Cardinals rivalry, but the Cubs’ rookies are quick learners.

After Jorge Soler and Javy Baez powered the Cubs to a 7-2 win over the Cardinals on Friday at Busch Stadium, rookie starter Kyle Hendricks was asked if the rivalry means anything to them.

‘Yeah, definitely, because the older guys put it into us that we like to come here and beat these guys,” Hendricks said.

It’s too late in the Cubs’ season to matter in the short run, but the way they beat the Cardinals— behind two long home runs by Soler and Baez’s two-run double that snapped a 2-2 tie— could have long-term implications.

All they need now is for Iowa slugger Kris Bryant to join in on the fun.

“We’re just waiting for Bryant now,” Baez said. “Hopefully he’s going to keep working, and he’ll be here soon.”

But Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said before the game the Bryant would not be a September call-up.

“Uh, who knows?” Baez said. “In baseball, nobody knows anything. It’s not up to us.”

But Baez does want to see him come up.

“For sure,” he said.

Soler hit a game-tying solo home run to center in the seventh, and a 442-foot home run into the concourse in left field in the eighth, after Baez’s two-run double had given the Cubs the lead. Both came on first pitch fastballs.

Afterwards, Wesley Wright said he would translate for Soler.

“He’s going to say he saw the ball real good and hit it hard. This game is easy,” Wright said.

Soler just stood by and laughed. He’s already 7-for-11 with three home runs in only three games.

Does the game seem too easy?

“I don’t know how to explain,” he said through translator Franklin Font. “Everything is going so good now. I feel real good at the plate and have confidence at the plate. Seeing the ball well. What can I say?”

Logan Watkins started the eighth with a pinch-hit single, and with runners on second and third, Baez drilled a pitch by Pat Neshek that put the Cubs on top for keeps.

“That’s my greatest at-bat since I came up,” Baez said. “Hopefully I keep doing it and get better.”

After Soler’s homer, Arismendy Alcantara added a solo shot in the ninth.

The feeling of an awakening is palpable, and the addition of Bryant would be icing on the cake.

“I don’t know how soon, but hopefully next month,” he said.

Hendricks was thinking the same thing.

“We’re imaging what he can do, and the whole group together,” Hendricks said. “It’s definitely exciting. You can feel it. Everyone’s talking about it around the clubhouse. It’s just awesome to see those guys coming up and having success. I’m just happy for them.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs fine with soft handling of Starlin Castro

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS — One of the main reasons the Cubs fired manager Dale Sveum after last season with a year left on his contract was the perception Sveum’s tough love approach toward Starlin Castro wasn’t working.

So it should come as no surprise the Cubs are supporting manager Rick Renteria in his handling of Castro’s most recent mental gaffe, when the star shortstop wound up on first base Wednesday night after watching a ball he thought would leave the park.

Renteria absolved Castro, pointing out he apologized for the lapse.

"When a young man tells you he has made a mistake, it’s very hard to do anything other than accept it," Renteria said.

Before Friday night’s game with the Cardinals, general manager Jed Hoyer said Castro didn’t deserve to be thrown under the bus for not running hard out of the box.

"It’s the wrong time right now, and Ricky knows this," Hoyer said. "(Castro) is going through a lot (after losing a family member in a car crash) and he knows he made a mistake. He apologized to everyone. I don’t think it’s one we need to harp on.

"In general, he has had a really good year with those things. Obviously he has fielded well, he has hit well. He has had fewer mental mistakes this year than in the past. He has got to get it to zero. Our young guys are going to make mistakes. We don’t need our young veterans making mistakes, and he knows that.

"But I’m fine with the way Ricky handled it, and in fact, given the situation, I thought he handled it well."

Someone mentioned that first baseman Anthony Rizzo has made a few mental mistakes as well, but the media hasn’t raked him over the coals as they did Castro was on Wednesday. Hoyer agreed Rizzo, who sat again Friday with a tight back, must get to “zero” mistakes as well.

"No doubt," he said. "In some ways we’re asking a lot of those guys — you have to play like you’ve been in the league for 10 years because we need those guys to show (the rookies) the way to play, guys like (Jorge) Soler and (Javy) Baez and whoever else comes up.

"You know those guys are going to do some things wrong. Ricky and the coaches will be patient and teach them, but we don’t need those guys (making mental mistakes) to be our first baseman and shortstop."

Manny time: Triple-A Iowa player/hitting coach Manny Ramirez went back to his Florida home after being placed on the disabled list at Triple-A Iowa with knee issues. The Cubs gave Ramirez permission to leave the team early. Iowa’s season ends on Monday.

Hoyer said Ramirez, 42, intends on playing winter ball to keep his options open for 2015, apparently believing a major league team will sign him. Ramirez hit .222 at Iowa with three home runs and 10 RBIs in 72 at-bats.

The Cubs were impressed with his coaching and there’s a chance he will return in some capacity next year. While helping Baez progress was allegedly his main task, Ramirez tutored others as well.

"He has great insight and his knowledge of the game was tremendous," outfielder Matt Szczur said. "He was great with the Latins and the Americans as well. I don’t think he was just there for Javy. He was there for everyone. He focused on me just as much as he focused on Javy or ‘Georgie’ (Soler) or (Chris) Valaika. He would be a great hitting coach. He still has something left in him, too, which was pretty cool."

Extra innings: Hoyer shot down Twitter rumors that Kris Bryant was being called up from Iowa. The Cubs repeatedly have said they wouldn’t bring Bryant up in 2014. … Outfielder Justin Ruggiano had arthroscopic surgery on his left ankle Friday and is out for the remainder of the season. … The Jackie Robinson West national Little League champs will be feted before Monday’s game against the Brewers at Wrigley Field. They also will sing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the field during the seventh-inning stretch.

Chicago Tribune

Friday’s recap: Cubs 7, Cardinals 2

By Staff

The summary

Jorge Soler’s two home runs led the Cubs to a 7-2 victory over the Cardinals, spoiling Yadier Molina’s return from the disabled list. Soler hit a game-tying solo shot in the seventh and a mammoth two-run blast in the four-run eighth.

On the mound

Kyle Hendricks allowed two first-inning runs before throwing five shutout innings in a no-decision. He finished August 4-0. Neil Ramirez pitched one scoreless inning to notch the victory. Because of wild pitch, Justin Grimm notched four strikeouts in the ninth.

At the plate

Four home runs: Luis Valbuena (14th), Soler’s pair (second and third) and Arismendy Alcantara (6).

Generation next

Hendricks on whether the Cubs’ rookies understand the rivalry with Cardinals: “Definitely, because the older guys put it into us that we like to come in here and beat these guys.”

The number

1.545. In three games, Soler is hitting .636 with a .667 OBP and a 1.545 slugging percentage.

The quote

Manager Rick Renteria on whether victories matter more than seeing the players’ progress: “To me, numbers are the results of performance, so where it all ends up at the end of the season we’ll know.”

Up next

Doubleheader: Cubs (LH Doubront , 0-0, 0.00) at Cardinals (RH Masterson (2-2, 7.43, 1:15 p.m, CSN; Cubs (LH Wada, 4-1, 2.56) at Cardinals (LH Gonzales, 0-2, 7.07), 7:15 p.m., CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs not bringing Kris Bryant up from Triple-A Iowa

By Paul Sullivan

ST. LOUIS —The Twittersphere began buzzing Friday afternoon about a call-up of Cubs’ third base prospect Kris Bryant, but it turned out to be nothing more than idle speculation.

The Cubs quickly dispelled the rumor, reiterating that Bryant is not going to be up to the majors this season.

“No, he’s not on the (40-man) roster, so right away that would knock another player off the roster,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “We’re going to be really tight on the roster, and we know that. And we feel like, his first full season, he’s going to get 140-plus games, he’s played exceptionally well…  Nothing’s changed.”

Bryant began Friday with a .328 average this year at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, with 43 home runs, 109 RBIS and a 1.112 OPS. Was there any temptation to change their minds with the great season Bryant is having at Iowa.

“I think the most impressive thing about his season has been the consistency,” Hoyer said. “The slumps have been really quick and he deserves a lot of credit for being able to make adjustments quickly. He’s very level-headed as a person. I don’t think he’ gets too down. (But) we’ve never really wavered on that. We feel like it’s the right thing for him… We’ll enjoy the guys we have up here right now.”

29 8 / 2014

Tribune

Kyle Schwarber and Victor Caratini catching on fine

Mark Gonzales

From an offensive standpoint, there was no doubt the Cubs upgraded their minor league catching depth with the selection of Kyle Schwarber in the first round of the June amateur draft and the acquisition of Victor Caratini from the Braves’ organization in the Emilio Bonifacio/James Russell deadline trade.

As for their defense, the early results are just as encouraging even though they have several significant levels to master before they reach the majors.

The determination that Schwarber has shown since signing a $3.125 million bonus has confirmed what one American League scouting director witnessed watching him in college at Indiana and what Cubs executives learned last February during an interview and at a tournament in Surprise, Ariz.

"To say he has been better than advertised is fairly accurate," said Tim Cossins, the Cubs’ minor league catching coordinator. "He has a desire to catch and has the natural ability to catch. His makeup, which is completely off the charts, has been the separator to his development thus far. He’s catching very well."

There’s little doubt Schwarber, who is batting a combined .350 with 18 home runs and 53 RBIs in 70 games in Class A at short-season Boise, Kane County and Daytona. He’s on a 15-game hitting streak for Daytona, displaying potential to be a left-handed impact player in the majors.

But his defense adds to his potential. He has thrown out 34 percent of attempted base stealers. But the Cubs have been careful not to burn out Schwarber, who played in 59 games this spring for Indiana. He is being used in left field and at designated hitter while catching 20 games.

"He’s like any college player who comes out and plays that many games," Cossins said. "He’s physically tired at this point. His makeup is keeping him in it. He has learned a lot. I feel he has done very well defensively, and it’s a credit to his ability to apply some of the stuff that the coaches have been working with him on.

"He’s a guy who wants to catch, and he wants to prove to people that he can stay behind the plate.”

The Cubs also have been pleased with Schwarber’s ability to call a game, especially because some college catchers look to the dugout for signs, and work pitchers briskly.

Caratini’s transition from third base to catcher has gone smoothly, thanks in part to his physical ability and willingness to succeed behind the plate.

"When you have those things, that’s usually a pretty good recipe down the road," Cossins said of Caratini, who has nailed five attempted base stealers in 11 attempts since joining Kane County. "And he loves to catch.

"With any young catcher, it’s about the process of learning the situations that continue to happen over and over again.

He’s a baseball rat.”

Tribune

Cubs just can’t seem to handle Reds

Fred Mitchell

CiNCINNATI — If and when the Cubs elbow themselves into contention in upcoming seasons, they might want to concentrate on at least breaking even with the National League Central-rival Reds.

The Reds have beaten the Cubs 11 of 16 games this season after Thursday’s 7-2 triumph at Great American Ball Park. Last season the Reds won 14 of 19, including 9 of 10 at Wrigley Field.

It’s not like the sub-.500 Reds (65-69) have won the division routinely in recent years, but they have made it a point to take care of business against the last-place Cubs. They are 4-0-1 in series play against them this season.

"We’ve talked about that a lot," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "You want not only just to hold your own, but (win more)."

No speed limit: Speedy Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton makes a lot of opposing teams and managers nervous. He forces infielders to rush throws to first when he hits grounders, he disrupts the rhythm of pitchers when he steals bases and he covers an awful lot of ground in center field.

"Obviously he is very good at using his speed," Renteria said. "It’s not just having speed, it’s how you apply it. He can bunt. He bunts with two strikes. He slaps the ball around. He is always getting down the line. He knows that any little miscue potentially can put him on base."

The Reds stole six bases Thursday as starting pitcher Jake Arrieta was very deliberate with his leg kick. Hamilton walked twice, stole his 51st base of the season and drove in a pair of runs.

"I was bad at controlling the running game today," Arrieta said. "Six stolen bases … that’s just bad. That’s my fault, not giving (catcher John) Baker any opportunity really to throw those guys out. Putting them in scoring position sets them up for some of those hits."

Back to back: First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed his second straight game Thursday with lower back stiffness. He is hopeful to return to action Friday night against the Cardinals in St. Louis.

"It just grabbed me, so I am not too worried about it," said Rizzo, who had his back tighten up during Tuesday night’s rain delay. "It (loosened) up a little bit (Wednesday) in spurts. I put heat on it. (Thursday) I woke up a little better. Hopefully it will get it loose and (stay) loose for awhile so I won’t have to worry about it tightening up."

Lesson learned? Renteria commented on Starlin Castro’s failure to run hard after hitting a long drive to center in the eighth inning Wednesday night that bounced off the wall and wound up being just a single in the Cubs’ 7-5 loss.

Castro, who returned from a bereavement leave in the Dominican Republic Tuesday after a family member and three others were killed in a car accident, was contrite after standing at the plate watching the deep drive.

"When a young man tells you he made a mistake, what can you say?" Renteria said. "He was apologizing to everybody."

Extra innings: Javier Baez collected his first major league stolen base in the first inning. … Jay Bruce became the seventh player in Reds history to strike out five times in a game, according to Elias Sports Bureau. The last Reds hitter to do that was Adam Dunn on Aug. 20, 2002, at Arizona.

Tribune

Thursday’s recap: Reds 7, Cubs 2

Fred Mitchell

The summary

The Reds stomped the Cubs 7-2 Thursday as they took two out of three games in the series at Great American Ball Park.

The Reds took advantage of starter Jake Arrieta (7-5, 2.88), who walked four batters in four innings and watched four Reds steal six bases. Dylan Axelrod (1-0) notched the victory, tying his career-high with eight strikeouts.

The Reds scored three runs in the second and three in the fourth to put the game out of reach. The six stolen bases represented the most for the Reds since May 10, 2006, against the Nationals.

At the plate

Jorge Soler (Wednesday) and Javier Baez (Aug. 5) are the first teammates in major league history, 22 or younger, to hit home runs in their debut games in the same season, according to ESPN Stats. Baez’s homer was at Colorado.

The Number

11: Cubs’ streak of games with at least one homer came to an end.

The quote

Rick Renteria on the Cubs sloppy performance: “They are kicking themselves. They don’t need anybody kicking them any more than everyone already is kicking them. It wasn’t a clean game. I am sure everybody (is saying): ‘The sky is falling and the wheels are coming off the wagon.’ I just want to make sure they understand we are still there for them.”

The Reds stomped the Cubs 7-2 Thursday as they took two out of three games in the series at Great American Ball Park.

Tribune

Series preview: Cubs at Cardinals

Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Cardinals 7-5.

Friday: 7:15 p.m., WGN-9.

RH Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78) vs. RH Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26).

Saturday: 1:15 p.m., 7:15 p.m., both on CSN.

LH Felix Doubront (2-4, 6.07) vs. RH Justin Masterson (2-2, 7.43) or TBD;

LH Tsuyoshi Wada (4-1, 2.56) vs. Masterson or TBD.

Sunday: 1:15 p.m., WGN-9

LH Travis Wood (8-11, 4.72) vs. RH John Lackey (2-1, 4.50).

Who’s hot: Jorge Soler is 4-for-8 with a home run, a double and 3 RBIs in his first two games. Starlin Castro leads the Cubs in hits with 145 and has hit safely in his last three.

Who’s not: Javier Baez (.189 average) has struck out 43 times in 95 at-bats and has one hit in his last 17. The Cardinals have scored only seven runs combined in their last four games. Cardinals catchers combined to hit .207 in All-Star Yadier Molina’s absence. He’s scheduled to return Friday after missing seven weeks with a thumb injury.

Sun-Times

Baez, Alcantara mistakes cost Cubs in 7-2 loss to Reds

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo calls it exciting. Jake Arrieta says it’s fun to watch. And everybody in Cubs management or in a Cubs uniform has a personal stake in how all these big-shot rookies fare in this trial by fire in the final stretch.

But for every debut home run by Javy Baez or Jorge Soler comes a glut of strikeouts. For every 8-for-20 surge by Arismendy Alcantara comes a 3-for-30.

‘‘That’s to be expected,’’ manager Rick Renteria said.

It’s games like the last two in Cincinnati that can become the problem, testing the ‘‘process’’ and Renteria, the prospect-whispering first-year manager.

Five errors over those two losses, including a pair of concentration-related gaffes by rookies Baez and Alcantara in Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Reds — along with a few other lapses that didn’t show in the box scores — made an already youthful team-in-training look sloppy.

‘‘I’m hoping [these games] are few and far between,’’ said Renteria, who went to the mound in the sixth to rally the infielders as much as pitcher Wesley Wright. Luis Valbuena’s throw had just ticked off Baez’s glove as Baez rushed through the pivot on a would-be double play.

‘‘They’re kicking themselves,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I don’t need them kicking themselves any more than everybody’s already kicking them. I just wanted them to understand that we’re still there for them, and you’ve got to keep playing the game.

‘‘I thought we might have gotten a little flat [Thursday], but it’s not something that’s typical of these kids.’’

Management doesn’t realistically expect to finish the season on some kind of winning surge, certainly not with rookies all over the roster and contenders all over the schedule.

‘‘But we still have to play clean baseball,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘And everybody’s capable of doing that.’’

That might be Renteria’s biggest challenge in the final weeks if losses and frustrations mount against playoff teams.

That’s also why Baez and Soler, in particular, are here now — to face the tribulations of high-intensity, high-level competition daily. The Cubs want to know what they have in these prospects as they navigate a potential turning point in the rebuilding process over the next year.

‘‘I think it’s great,’’ team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday, a few hours before Soler homered in his first big-league at-bat, launching a 4-for-8 career start that also includes a double and three RBI.

‘‘A lot of times September can be a misleading month to evaluate,’’ he added. ‘‘It’s not always a true major-league experience if you’re playing teams that are out of it and they’re sending their AAA pitchers out to face you. But in our case, we play contenders just about every single series the rest of the year. We’re going to face good teams and get their best pitching, and then from the sixth inning on, we’re going to get matched up. . . . So it’s going to be a challenge for our young hitters but something I think will be good for them in the long run, something that they can learn from.’’

Said Rizzo: ‘‘For everyone that’s been following us and chattering about the future, it’s exciting.’’

And maybe as aggravating as thrilling — as ugly for one moment as it might be majestic the next.

‘‘As far as Soler and those guys, each day is progress, regardless of the result on the field,’’ said Arrieta, who struggled with his command in one of his two worst starts of the season Thursday. ‘‘They’re moving in the right direction. Soler’s been obviously very impressive in the short time we’ve seen him . . .

‘‘Kind of putting all the pieces together, seeing what these guys can do, it’s fun to watch.’’

Sun-Times

Football days long forgotten for Cubs’ Matt Szczur

By GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI — Matt Szczur pays enough attention to know that Villanova opens the football season Friday at Syracuse. He even sent out a good-luck tweet Thursday.

But that’s as far as the Cubs rookie outfielder — a two-position football All-American and national champion — takes his football thinking these days. So don’t even bother going all Jeff Samardzija on him with what-if questions about the NFL.

‘‘There was only one time when I thought about that,’’ Szczur said, referring to a chance encounter he had a couple years ago while playing for Class  AA Tennessee. That’s when he ran into Marc Mariani, the star receiver for the University of Montana team Szczur almost single-handedly beat for the FCS championship in 2009.

Mariani was wearing his Tennessee Titans jersey.

‘‘He already had three years in the NFL, and I hadn’t even been in the big leagues yet,’’ Szczur said. ‘‘So for that second, when I saw him, I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I could have had three years in the NFL right now.’

‘‘And then I was over it.’’

Szczur, 25, says he hasn’t had so much as a twinge of that feeling return.

‘‘It’ll never come back now,’’ said Szczur, who made his big-league debut Aug. 17 in New York. ‘‘I’ve always been happy with baseball. I’ve always been happy with my decision. I accomplished a lot in football, but that’s another chapter.’’

Achy Rizzo out

First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed a second consecutive game because of back tightness that had improved from Wednesday but still ‘‘grabbed’’ Thursday. He said he hoped to be ready for Friday’s series opener in St. Louis.

‘‘It’s weird,’’ said Rizzo, whose back started acting up after Tuesday’s rain delay, about an hour after his 30th homer. ‘‘It doesn’t really hurt much, like bending over or anything. It’s just when I hyperextend it. Obviously, going through a swing motion it grabs a little, too. . . . As long as it doesn’t kill me, the worst case is I can play through it, in my opinion.’’

Comebacker

Cardinals All-Star catcher Yadier Molina is expected to return Friday after 7½ weeks on the disabled list (thumb ligament).

Daily Herald

Epstein explains why Soler was brought to the bigs early

Bruce Miles

Once again, the Cubs felt the time was right to promote one of their top prospects.

As far as the organization accelerating it’s overall plan, team president Theo Epstein gently applied his foot to the brake.

The Cubs officially recalled outfielder Jorge Soler from Class AAA Iowa on Wednesday and put him into the staring lineup in right field for the night game at Cincinnati.

"I am so excited," Soler told reporters through an interpreter. Soler then went out and homered in his first at-bat with the big club. "I thank the team for giving me this opportunity. I have been waiting three years for this moment."

Soler’s promotion comes less than a month after the Cubs recalled infielder Javier Baez from Iowa.

Although Soler has missed time in his short professional career because of nagging leg injuries, the Cubs felt he was ready and that now is the right time. The Cubs signed him to a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in June 2012.

"We’re proud of him," said team president Theo Epstein. "I think this is the right time to bring him up here. Really, the key to the decision to promoting Soler was that he was going to be a September call-up for us mainly because he needed the at-bats.

"He missed significant time with the hamstring injury, and he’s someone that needs to play, needs to get the at-bats. This is the best place for him to continue to learn, continue to get at-bats, continue to make adjustments."

Between Iowa and Class AA Tennessee this year, Soler hit 14 home runs and drove in 51 in 55 games. He also hit 1 homer while rehabbing a hamstring injury while playing for the Cubs’ Rookie League team in Arizona.

Soler joins a Cubs team that includes not only Baez, but young veterans Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, both considered part of the Cubs’ so-called core. Other young prospects who made the jump from the minor leagues to the major leagues this season are infielder-outfielder Arismendy Alcantara and pitcher Kyle Hendricks.

No doubt third-base prospect Kris Bryant is major-league-ready at Iowa, but the Cubs repeatedly have said Bryant will not get a September call-up. Shortstop Addison Russell, acquired in the Fourth of July trade with the Athletics that sent pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland, also is considered a fast-tracker.

The Cubs have played good baseball at the major-league level lately, and Baez and Soler no doubt are up earlier than expected. However, Epstein wouldn’t go as far as saying the grand plan has been accelerated.

"No, I don’t think anything is accelerated," he said. "I think it’s been a really great developmental year for the organization. If you look at some of our priorities in the big leagues, with Rizzo’s continued development to one of the best first basemen in the game, to trying to get Castro back on track and the resurgence that he’s now had, that’s gone well at the big-league level as well as many other success stories in the big leagues.

"It’s been one of those years where, not all of our prospects, but many of our prospects, have had outstanding developmental seasons whether it’s been pure outstanding performance as advancing through the system or whether it’s been prospects who have faced some adversity, they haven’t backed down and have made the necessary adjustments and have learned a lot from the struggles that they’ve had."

In other words, according to Epstein, the perception that things have sped up is an external one.

"I do get the sense that now that a few of our higher-profile prospects are getting to the big leagues, there is sort of more recognition, I guess recognition in bigger circles of some of the good things that are happening in the organization," he said. "Now that people are taking notice, I think they’re kind of putting the pieces together and thinking things have maybe accelerated.

"I don’t look at it that way. I look at this as it’s been a long-term process. It’s going to be a long-term process of making the organization healthier. Obviously, over time, that manifests more and more at the big-league level. We have to embrace that."

Cubs.com

Offense can’t find groove in Arrieta’s brief outing

Dependable starter allows six runs in four innings as Cubs drop finale

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — In the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday afternoon, Cubs second baseman Javier Baez couldn’t hold on to a throw from third baseman Luis Valbuena, and he was charged with an error. Earlier in the inning, the Reds had taken advantage of an error by center fielder Arismendy Alcantara to score a run.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria went to the mound for a little chat after Baez’s misplay. Renteria couldn’t do anything to salvage the game, which ended with the Chicago losing, 7-2, at Great American Ball Park. He did want to get the players focused on the task at hand. It’s all part of the development process that will be very evident in the final month of the Cubs’ season.

"[I told them], ‘Hey, keep playing,’" Renteria said. "Things happen like [Baez’s error]. ‘Get another ground ball and let’s turn a double play if we can.’ They’re kicking themselves. I don’t need them kicking themselves when everybody is already kicking them.

"It wasn’t a clean game — I’m sure everybody is [thinking] the sky is falling, the wheels are coming off the wagon," Renteria said. "I just want to make sure [the players] understand we’re still there for them and they have to keep playing the game."

Renteria has obviously picked up on Cubs fans’ neurosis in his first season as manager.

The Reds did not score again that inning — they did all the damage they needed against starter Jake Arrieta, who tied a season low with a four-inning outing. Arrieta gave up six runs for the second time this season, and he couldn’t have his outing saved by any Jorge Soler heroics or even a Baez big fly.

Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips each drove in two runs to lift the Reds to victory and improve to 11-5 against the Cubs this season.

It was Arrieta’s shortest outing since May 13, when the Cubs were still being careful with the right-hander who had reported to Spring Training with tightness in his shoulder. He threw 96 pitches over four innings, and after the game was sporting a buzz cut.

"The beard’s going to stay," Arrieta said.

Arrieta is a big part of the Cubs’ future, and also part of the transformation that has occurred this season. Think about this: only three players in Thursday’s starting lineup were on the Opening Day roster — Starlin Castro, Valbuena and backup catcher John Baker. There’s been an infusion of youth.

"Each day is progress, regardless of the results on the field," Arrieta said. "They’re moving in the right direction."

The Reds were on the move against Arrieta, totaling a season-high six stolen bases while he was on the mound.

"I was bad at controlling the running game today," Arrieta said. "That’s my fault, not giving Baker any opportunity to throw those guys out. Putting them in scoring position sets them up for some of those hits."

Five of the Reds runs came with two outs, and he couldn’t get the strikeout in big situations when needed.

"Arrieta, we knew, was going to be very hard to score on," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "So I felt we needed to create some scoring opportunities by running. He’s a little bit slower and more deliberate to the plate, and we were able to take advantage of that."

But Arrieta couldn’t keep the Reds off the bases, as they totaled six hits and four walks against him.

"He just didn’t have his ‘Jake-like’ command today," Renteria said.

The Cubs had two hits over the first eight innings, but Castro and Valbuena both singled off Jumbo Diaz in the ninth, and Soler followed with an RBI single. Playing in his second big league game, Soler doubled to lead off the second. The right fielder, who homered in his first big league at-bat on Wednesday, was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle in his first five at-bats. He finished 2-for-4.

Renteria is in charge of keeping the mistakes to a minimum.

"The thing we’re going to try to concentrate on is give the pitcher some support by defending well, and making sure the little things we have to do in terms of the game are taken care of," Renteria said. "The at-bats and the offense could come and go, and there could be hiccups. That’s to be expected.

"We still have to play clean baseball and everybody is capable of doing that. If we have a rough game, we talk about it, address it in our own way, and see if guys adjust."

And that process will continue for the remaining 29 games.

Cubs.com

Recovering from back injury, Rizzo out of lineup again

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — Anthony Rizzo did not start for a second straight day Thursday because of tightness in his lower back, but he hopes to return to the Cubs’ lineup Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Cardinals.

Rizzo said he couldn’t get his back loose after a 50-minute rain delay Tuesday against the Reds, and he asked to come out of the game as a precaution.

"There wasn’t one thing I did that hurt it," Rizzo said. "It just grabbed me. I’m not too worried about it. It’s just frustrating."

Rizzo was able to loosen up on Wednesday, and he received treatment most of the day. He woke up Thursday feeling better.

"Hopefully, I can get it loose and keep it loose for a while," Rizzo said.

Rizzo said his back bothers him when he extends it, which is what he does on his swings.

"Obviously, going through a swinging motion grabs at it, too," Rizzo said. "Hopefully, today it gets a lot better. I don’t think it’s going to get any worse. I’ll just gut through it, worst case."

Rizzo has been taking anti-inflammatory medication and keeping the team masseuse busy.

"No one is 100 percent healthy right now," Rizzo said.

Soler’s first game, homer brings ‘exciting news’

CINCINNATI — Jorge Soler did get the ball from his first big league home run. And he got rave reviews from his Cubs teammates.

Soler hit a 2-1 fastball from the Reds’ Mat Latos 423 feet to straightaway center in his first Major League at-bat Wednesday in the second inning of the Cubs’ 7-5 loss.

"He was in a hitter’s count, 2-0, and didn’t get overanxious," Anthony Rizzo said Thursday. "He took a strike and put a nice swing on the ball. For everyone who has been following us and chattering about the future, it’s exciting news for the organization.

"It’s definitely exciting being here and sitting back and watching. Hearing [the media] talk about [the prospects] over and over and over and over and over again since Spring Training this year [is tiring]. Now that they’re here, it’s very exciting. Cubs fans have a lot to be excited about."

Cubs coach Jose Castro liked Soler’s approach at the plate, too.

"Last night, he showed plate discipline and understanding what they’re trying to do right off the bat," Castro said. "That’s really big for a 22-year-old to show that kind of aptitude."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria is well aware there will be what he calls “hiccups” in the development of the young players.

"But in the end, the city of Chicago should be pretty excited and proud of the things that are coming together," Renteria said. "I know it’s not the final product by any means, but there is reason to be hopeful if all the pieces play out. It will give us something pretty positive moving forward."

Coghlan imparts wisdom to rookies Baez, Soler

CINCINNATI — Chris Coghlan didn’t make a splash in his Major League debut as Jorge Soler or Javier Baez did, but he learned from it.

Coghlan’s first big league game was May 8, 2009, with the Marlins in Colorado, and he went 2-for-4. That began a stellar season for the outfielder, who finished with a .321 batting average and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Coghlan’s advice to youngsters like Baez and Soler, who made their debuts this year?

"Don’t read anything, don’t watch anything — but that’s what you do when you’re a rookie," Coghlan said. "You can’t blame them. Soler probably stayed up and watched himself hit a home run on ESPN [Wednesday night]. Enjoy it.

"I remember doing that. One time I hit two homers in one game, and I waited for 40 minutes to see it on ‘Baseball Tonight,’ and they didn’t show either one. I was like, I’m done. From that point, I never stayed up again to watch."

Coghlan admits there’s only so much the players can control.

"It’s a new story … it’s exciting, because this is what’s been pitched for the last couple years [with the Cubs]," Coghlan said. "There’s really a lot that’s out of their hands."

Coghlan also made his big league debut on the road, and he credited Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein for planning that for Soler.

"He’s smart with that stuff," Coghlan said of Epstein. "Another thing is that each guy who has come up has come to a hitter-friendly park. I don’t think that’s by accident. I think on the road is smart. There’s a little bit less pressure. As soon as he goes home, there will be 50 people at his locker. It’s better to make it on the road, then go home after a couple days and you still deal with it, but it’s not as crazy."

So far, Soler and Baez, who hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of his first big league game, seem to have handled the promotions well.

"When you come up here, everything is going 1,000 miles an hour," Coghlan said. "Enjoy it."

Extra bases

• Cubs outfielder Justin Ruggiano, placed on the disabled list Wednesday with left foot inflammation, flew to Dallas to see a specialist on Thursday.

Ruggiano — who was batting .323 games with nine doubles, four homers and 20 RBIs his last 44 games — was to be reevaluated.

• Triple-A Iowa opens its final homestand Friday, and the club needs to win all four games against Oklahoma City to make the playoffs. Northern Division leader Omaha would have to lose three of its final five games in order for Iowa to win the division. Lefty Chris Rusin (8-13, 4.24 ERA) was scheduled to start on Friday for Iowa.

Cubs.com

Coghlan tossed for arguing after strikeout

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan was ejected in the fifth inning Thursday for arguing a called third strike with home-plate umpire Ben May.

Coghlan had walked in the first, and he was called out on strikes in the third against the Reds’ Dylan Axelrod. Coghlan also disagreed with May’s call at that time.

He was called out in the fifth, and Coghlan again argued the call. This time, May wasn’t as patient.

Coghlan is the second Cubs player to be ejected this season. Anthony Rizzo was ejected on June 1 for arguing balls and strikes.

Cubs.com

New-look Cubs take on playoff-hungry Cardinals

Hendricks leads rookie-laden squad; St. Louis has eyes on division title

By Spencer Fordin

At this point, the Cardinals may not even recognize the Cubs.

St. Louis, pounding through another punishing stretch run in the National League Central, will play against Chicago on Friday for the first time in a month. But it’s been an eventful month.

The Cubs have promoted two of their top prospects in August, and they had five rookies in the starting lineup on Sunday. Javier Baez has shown some mixed results in his first few weeks of big league action, but Chicago added high-impact outfielder Jorge Soler to the mix on Wednesday.

Baez, MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect, is batting .189 with seven home runs in his first 23 games. Soler, meanwhile, has batted .340 with 15 home runs across three Minor League stops. Soler homered in his first Major League at-bat on Wednesday against the Reds, and he'll see St. Louis before he plays at Wrigley Field.

And it will be another rookie — right-hander Kyle Hendricks — on the mound in Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals. Hendricks has gone 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his first eight big league outings, and he’ll be matched against right-hander Shelby Miller, who has won just once since June 7.

The Cardinals have won four straight series at home, and they remained 1 1/2 games back of division-leading Milwaukee after a loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. St. Louis and San Francisco currently control the NL’s two Wild Card slots, but the Pirates and Braves are hot on their trail.

Hendricks came out after just two innings last week due to a rain delay, but prior to that outing, he had completed at least six innings in each of his first seven starts. Hendricks, acquired from Texas in a 2012 trade for Ryan Dempster, has allowed more than two earned runs just once this season.

Miller, meanwhile, logged a 3.15 ERA in April and has been over 4.00 in every other month. The 23-year-old has allowed 18 home runs this season, and he’s 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in his last seven starts. Miller won 15 games for St. Louis last season, and he has a career 3.52 ERA in 63 games.

Cubs: Rizzo hopes to be back in lineup Friday

First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed the final two games of the Cubs’ series with the Reds due to lower back tightness, but hopes to be back in the lineup for Friday’s series opener against the Cardinals.

"There wasn’t one thing I did that hurt it," Rizzo said on Thursday. "It just grabbed me. I’m not too worried about it. It’s just frustrating. … Obviously, going through a swinging motion grabs at it, too. Hopefully, today it gets a lot better. I don’t think it’s going to get any worse. I’ll just gut through it, worst case."

Rizzo earned All-Star accolades this season, and he’s quietly become one of the most productive power hitters in the league. He has 30 home runs this season and 53 since the start of the 2013 campaign, which is fourth-most among all NL players over that span.

Miami’s Giancarlo Stanton (57), Arizona’s Paul Goldschmidt (55) and Pittsburgh’s Pedro Alvarez (54) are the only NL players with more homers over that time. Rizzo, 25, is just the seventh left-handed hitter in Cubs history to have 30 homers, and he’s the first since Fred McGriff in 2002.

Cardinals: Veteran leadership on its way back

St. Louis could get catcher Yadier Molina back on the roster as soon as Friday, potentially ending a seven-week absence due to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Molina is batting .287 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 83 games, but he hasn’t played for the Cardinals since July 9.

Molina, an All-Star in each of the last six seasons, began a rehab assignment with Double-A Springfield Wednesday, and if all goes well, he’d likely play again for Springfield on Thursday. St. Louis could activate Molina in time for Friday’s opener against the Cubs, but the club may opt to wait for the weekend.

"I think he can have a huge impact, and I think anybody in baseball would want to have him on their club in any capacity," manager Mike Matheny said. "We want to have him right, too, so we have to see how he looks when he gets back. The leadership he brings, everything, the package, is important."

In 133 games against the Cubs, Molina has a .307 average, 13 HRs and 76 RBIs (his most against any opponent).

Worth noting

• Eight players have made their Major League debuts for the Cubs this season.

• Chicago closer Hector Rondon has thrown nine straight scoreless innings, and he’s notched eight saves in that span.

• The Cardinals gave up a homer on Wednesday, but they are one of just five teams that have given up fewer than 100 homers this season. St. Louis has allowed 96 home runs, third-least in baseball.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Reds 7, Cubs 2

By Jesse Rogers

Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Cubs’ 7-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds on Thursday:

How it happened: Jake Arrieta labored through four innings as he gave up three runs in the second and three more in the fourth. Four walks hurt him as did six stolen bases by the Reds. Zach Cozart, Billy Hamilton and Todd Frazier had RBIs in the second inning and then Frazier and Brandon Phillips brought home the three in the fourth. Arrieta gave up six runs on six hits while striking out eight. The Reds added another run on a Hamilton RBI in the sixth as the speedy leadoff man was on base four times. The Cubs made Reds starter Dylan Axelrod work by getting his pitch count up but couldn’t get any runners to cross the plate against him. He gave up two hits and three walks in five innings of work. The Cubs tallied twice in the ninth when Jorge Soler drove one in with a base hit and Arismendy Alcantara with a sacrifice fly.

What it means: Arrieta looked a little like his old self in walking the leadoff man in the first two innings. He wasn’t sharp and it came back to haunt him, especially in the form of the Reds running game. He and catcher John Baker were burned by the most stolen bases by the Reds in a single game since 2006. It’s the second time this season Cincinnati has stolen five or more bases against the Cubs.

Soler’s day: Jorge Soler added a second-inning double to his early career resume then an RBI single in the ninth inning to break up the Reds shutout. In between Soler struck out twice but he’s 4 for 8 with a home run and 3 RBIs in two games as a Cub.

What’s next: The Cubs road trip moves on to St. Louis for a four-game series over the next three days. Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.78) takes on Shelby Miller (8-9, 4.26) at 7:15 p.m. CT Friday.

ESPNChicago.com

Theo Epstein: Money will be there for Cubs

By Jesse Rogers

Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein doesn’t necessarily believe his plan for a winning team has been “accelerated,” but he’s confident the franchise will have the wherewithal to add payroll as soon as it’s needed.

"I think because we have so many young players that are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons, we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is," Epstein said on a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. "We’ll be able to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that.

"That in of itself — and some of the savings that we made over the last offseason, for example — will allow us the flexibility to be very aggressive if the right player or players present themselves to us."

Players in their first three years in the major leagues come at a good cost for the club. Their salary increases once they get to arbitration in years three through six and then can explode when they hit free agency.

The Cubs are in the midst of debuting a slew of young talent that won’t command high salaries for several years. And the savings Epstein is referring to from last winter is related to their pursuit of Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.

The Cubs lost out on Tanaka but are on the record saying they were able to carry over that savings for upcoming offseason additions. It meant lesser talent on the roster for 2014, but it should mean better players for 2015 and beyond.

So the Cubs have money in the short term to add a pitcher via free agency if they wish. When players start to hit arbitration or agree to longer-term deals, Epstein is confident they’ll have the money then, as well.

"As we get closer to a new television deal [in 2019], and as we realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility," Epstein said.

In terms of the upcoming offseason, the Cubs aren’t necessarily committed to adding a name pitcher.

"I never look at any one offseason as a time that we have to do something," Epstein said earlier Wednesday during the "Carmen & Jurko Show" on ESPN Chicago 1000. "I look at offseasons and trade deadlines and future offseasons together. Looking at the next 24 or 18 months, I think you’ll see us add impact starting pitching from outside the organization. The major league starting pitching free-agent market is pretty good. The free-agent class is more pitching-rich than position player-rich this offseason. And, frankly, the class after that is even more impressive in the 2015-2016 offseason."

After next year, names like Jeff Samardzija, David Price, Doug Fister, Jordan Zimmermann and Hisashi Iwakuma are set to hit the market. At that point, the Cubs will be another year closer to seeing profits they are not capturing now.

"I’m very confident in our business side, and the right television deal will be struck at the right time and we’re going to realize revenues from Wrigley," Epstein said. "But that’s down the road."

For now, Epstein is enjoying the successes his youthful players are experiencing, both at the major league and minor league levels.

"Nothing is accelerated. It’s been a great developmental year," he said. "All of our prospects have moved forward, even the ones that haven’t been as productive."

CSNChicago.com

Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and where Cubs lineup goes from here

Patrick Mooney

There’s a little bit of the Backup Quarterback Syndrome going around with the Cubs prospects.

Javier Baez can hit bombs onto Waveland Avenue, but Jorge Soler is actually the one with the plate discipline and a much better approach.

Starlin Castro became a three-time All-Star before his 25th birthday, but Addison Russell can really play shortstop, never making mental mistakes and always sprinting out of the box like Usain Bolt. 

Anyone remember Arismendy Alcantara’s 15 minutes of fame?

The bar for Kris Bryant is set at getting 100 percent of the vote in the 2034 Hall of Fame ballot.

Despite all the told-you-so posturing on Twitter, no one knows if this big experiment will be a smashing success or a huge failure. But you can bet it’s going to be OMG! fun to watch and !#&*!%$ frustrating. 

“We’re going to be a fairly high strikeout team going forward,” Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said. “That’s the natures of the guys we have.”

As part of a Great American Ball Park promotion, the crowd of 21,316 could get free pizza after the Cubs struck out 11 times during Thursday’s 7-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The Cubs (59-74) began the day second in the National League in strikeouts, and next-to-last in on-base percentage (.298) and hitting with runners in scoring position (.223).

Even while conceding it “definitely is a higher strikeout environment in baseball in general,” Hoyer admitted “this has been extreme.”

Still, the Cubs understand they can’t clone “The Greek God of Walks” or recreate the 2004 Boston Red Sox, even with Manny Ramirez and Bill Mueller on staff.

It’s been a monster first full season in professional baseball for Bryant, putting up 43 homers and 109 RBI while striking out 157 times in 134 games split between Triple-A Iowa and Double-A Tennessee.

Baez has seven homers and 43 strikeouts through his first 99 plate appearances in The Show.

“Those guys are going to strike out,” Hoyer said. “It’s going to be part of their game. But I think if they’re doing damage, you’d probably feel differently. (As) they mature, they’ll probably learn: OK, this is a count, this is an at-bat (where) I can’t strike out or I need to really look to put the ball in play.”

Also remember that Baez has needed time to adjust at each new level before heating up and dominating. He will look out of control at times, twisting his entire body and falling to one knee.

“Right field is such a strength for him,” Hoyer said, “that a lot of times I think some of those wilder swings will go away as he realizes a run is a run, whether it’s in the upper deck or not. He’s got so much power the other way, he’ll use that to his advantage more.”

The day after homering in his first big-league at-bat, Soler went 2-for-4 with an RBI and two strikeouts in Cincinnati. His inexperience at the system’s upper levels — 22 games at Tennessee (1.355 OPS) and essentially a great month at Iowa (.996 OPS) — underlines the sky-high potential and the sharp learning curve ahead.

All this leads into a long weekend at Busch Stadium and four games against a St. Louis Cardinals team fighting for first place. The Cubs want Soler and Baez to see great pitching now and feel the heat of a pennant race from the other side.

Whatever happens in September, the Cubs realize they need to put some veteran leaders inside the clubhouse and add established hitters to their lineup.

“There’s not a lot of bats available,” Hoyer admitted, looking ahead to the next class of free agents. “There’s a lot of positions on the field that we want to dedicate to the guys that are here, or young players (on the way). But I do think that it’s important to have some veteran guys with a good approach these guys can lean on, (because) right now we don’t really have (that).

“Some of the guys (here with) a little bit more service time (are) kind of fighting to keep a job. As a result, it’s hard to ask them to mentor when their focus is on themselves. It’s certainly something we want to find. It’s hard to find right now. But I do think it will help all those young guys to have that.” 

Maybe that will take some of the pressure off all the kids who are supposed to be the next big thing.  

28 8 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Jorge Soler squeezes most out of first at-bat, copies teammate Javier Baez with HR

Staff

CINCINNATI — Jorge Soler was reminded before playing in his first major league game on Wednesday that his good buddy and teammate, second baseman Javier Baez, hit a home run in his MLB debut on Aug. 5.

Soler didn’t exactly match Baez, whose homer was a 12th-inning winner in Colorado, but he didn’t wait as long as Baez, either.

Soler hit a home run in his first at bat, giving the Chicago Cubs a 2-0 lead in a game they ended up losing to the Cincinnati Reds.

“I was real, real happy,” Soler said through coaching staff assistant Franklin Font. “My first time, my first at-bat — very exciting. I felt real comfortable.”

If the 22-year-old right fielder was nervous, he didn’t show it. Batting fifth in manager Rick Renteria’s lineup and with his father, Jorge Soler Sr., among the 20,497 on hand at Great American Ball Park, Soler followed Luis Valbuena’s leadoff home run in the second inning with a laser-beam line drive on a 2-1 fastball from Mat Latos that reached the netting stretched across the top of the Reds bullpen in left-center field. The shot was estimated to have traveled 423 feet.

Soler became the first Cubs player since Starlin Castro on May 7, 2010, also in Cincinnati, to hit a home run in his first major league at bat. Soler admitted not knowing that.

Just because Soler didn’t show his nerves doesn’t mean they weren’t there.

“The first at-bat was real tense. But when I hit a home run, I was shocked about it,” he said.

Renteria saw the player he’d been expecting to see, as Soler took two pitches for balls and one for a strike before jumping on a two-seam fastball that Latos told reporters came back over the middle of the plate.

“He looked very comfortable in the box, as we were told before he got here,” Renteria said. “That was a well-struck ball. Good for him. Good work.”

Soler also drove in the final run of Chicago’s three-run eighth inning that cut Cincinnati’s lead to 6-5 before Chris Heisey led off the eighth with a pinch-hit homer.

Soler’s final line was 2-for-4 with a run, two RBIs and one strikeout. He also handled his only fly ball easily.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Reds 7, Cubs 5

By Mark Schmetzer

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds beat the Chicago Cubs 7-5 on Wednesday. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Luis Valbuena and Jorge Soler gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead in the second with back-to-back home runs to start things off. Soler’s solo shot came on the fourth pitch he saw in the major leagues. But the Reds tied it in the bottom of the inning, then took advantage of two Chicago errors in a four-run fourth. Jacob Turner couldn’t get out of the fourth in his first start for the Cubs since being traded from the Miami Marlins on Aug. 8. Javier Baez just missed hitting a three-run homer with two outs in the ninth, sending center fielder Billy Hamilton to the wall to flag down his fly ball.

What it means: The Cubs fall a win short of matching their season-high five-game winning streak, which they set June 3-7.

Memorable debut: Soler made sure he wouldn’t lose the ball from his first career home run. After Valbuena logged his career-high 13th home run to lead off the second inning, Soler drove a 2-1 Mat Latos pitch 423 feet to deep left-center field, where it landed in the netting above the Reds bullpen. He is the first Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Starlin Castro in the same ballpark on May 7, 2010. Soler also drove in the last of Chicago’s three eighth-inning runs with a single to left.

Bumpy start: Turner needed 66 pitches to get two outs deep into the fourth inning, the shortest outing of his 13 starts this season. His bad luck continued even after he left the game. A scoring change adjusted what originally had been an error on shortstop Starlin Castro to a Billy Hamilton infield hit and an error that allowed Skip Schumaker to score from second base.

Reversing a trend: Cub fielders had committed just six errors in 881 chances over their previous 23 games since Aug. 2, a .993 fielding percentage that led the majors in that span of time. They committed three in Wednesday’s game, two in a span of two batters — the first by Castro, the second by Valbuena at third — in the fourth.

Run it out: Castro also committed a mental blunder, walking out of the box while his drive to center bounced off the wall and ending up with a long single.

What’s next: The finale of the three-game series is scheduled for Thursday at 11:35 a.m. CT. Right-hander Jake Arrieta allowed two runs on three hits over seven innings in his only other start against the Reds, on June 24 at Wrigley Field. Reds right-hander Dylan Axelrod makes his first career appearance against the Cubs.

ESPNChicago.com

Jorge Soler excited for opportunity

By Mark Schmetzer

CINCINNATI — The player Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein described as having the body of an athlete perhaps more suited to the National Football League donned his jersey with a lineman’s number – 68 – and took the field at Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park for his highly-anticipated major league debut Wednesday.

Jorge Soler, 22, batting fifth and playing right field against the Reds, was just trying to keep his emotions under control.

“I’m so excited,” Soler said through coaching staff assistant and interpreter Franklin Font while sitting in the steamy visitor’s dugout about three hours before the scheduled 6:10 p.m. Central Time first pitch. “I’m thankful for the team giving me this opportunity. I’ve waited two years for this moment.”

Part of Cubs manager Rick Renteria’s job is to help the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed slugging prospect keep his emotions under control. He already has a lot of experience with that task this season, based on the number of prospects who’ve made their major league debuts with the Cubs this season. Soler will make it eight.

“I’m sure it’s pretty high and I’m hoping that, like all these guys, after the first pitch, first swing, first play, first run or whatever it is, it kind of dissipates and then you just go out and play baseball,” Renteria said before Wednesday’s game about Soler’s level of emotion.

Soler was with Iowa in Tacoma, Wash., when manager Marty Pevey told him Monday that he was being called up to the major leagues.

“I was real surprised,” said Soler, who figured the Cubs would wait until September 1 when active rosters can be expanded from 25 to 40.

Soler arrived in Cincinnati around 11 p.m. Tuesday after a day of traveling from Tacoma, so he wasn’t even in town when his arrival became even more important to the Cubs. They saw right fielder Ryan Sweeney leave Tuesday’s game in the second inning with a left hamstring strain and first baseman Anthony Rizzo depart in the eighth with tightness in his lower back, but not before logging his 30th home run of the season in the first inning.

Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list Wednesday, along with outfielder Justin Ruggiano, who has left ankle inflammation. Ruggiano’s assignment was retroactive to August 23.

Rizzo’s status was less definitive, but more hopeful for the Cubs.

“It’s day-to-day,” Renteria said. “We’ll check in throughout the day today as he’s being treated and see how he’s doing. Hopefully, we’ll have a better idea of how he’s feeling during the ballgame.”

Rizzo’s injury deprived the Cubs of immediately seeing what their lineup would look like with his and Soler’s bats in the lineup at the same time. Renteria had given little to no thought about how he would deploy the two when both are available.

“I’ll kind of figure that out as we go along,” he said. “Right now, I have him where I have him. We’ll see how he fits when everybody’s healthy and we see how some of the matchups play out. You would have to allow me an opportunity to at least see him a little bit before I start deciding on how I’m going to proceed.”

Meanwhile, Renteria was doing what he could to ease Soler’s transition.

“I welcomed him, made sure he got together with (third base coach Gary Jones) to make sure he’s got the signs and let him know that if there’s anything we can do for him to let us know, but to just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.

Did Soler have anything Renteria could do for him?

“He just smiled,” the manager said. “This is a great opportunity. They’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball, and you want them to feel comfortable. You want them to know that you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in, and we’re hoping that they have success.”

ESPNChicago.com

Epstein: Time was right for Jorge Soler

By Jesse Rogers

Declaring it is the “right time to bring him up here,” Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein says outfield prospect Jorge Soler needs the playing time after an injury-plagued start to his 2014 season.

"We’ve been certain in our minds for a while he was going to be a September call-up," Epstein said Wednesday. "The key to the decision to bring up Soler is he was going to be a call-up for us mainly because he needs the at-bats."

The Iowa Cubs aren’t looking like a playoff team, and their regular season ends Monday, so Soler will get the extra at-bats in the majors. He’ll make his debut batting fifth and playing right field Wednesday against the Cincinnati Reds.

Soler hurt both his hamstrings earlier this season, forcing him to miss all of April and most of May. When he finally got healthy — thanks in part to some dramatic work by the training staff — Soler vowed to impress.

"The turning point for Jorge was how he handled the second hamstring injury," Epstein said. "Instead of getting really down on himself and pouting, he really embraced that adversity as an opportunity to get better. At the same time, he was watching what Javier [Baez] and Kris Bryant were doing. We got the sense he wanted to catch up a little bit, as well.

"He communicated he was on a mission."

Soler caught up quickly. He hit .340 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs in 62 games in the minors, putting himself in a position for the promotion. His plate discipline continues to be his strength, as his walk totals are more in line with a veteran hitter. His on-base percentage this season is .432. That’s partly what makes him unique. That, and his physical presence.

"He was born with a very advanced approach at the plate," Epstein said. "The first things fans will notice is how impressive he is physically. He’s put together like an NFL player."

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound, 22-year-old power hitter who can handle the strike zone doesn’t come along very often. It’s one reason the Cubs extended a nine-year, $30 million contract to him back in 2012.

"All things being equal, we prefer our higher profile prospects to break in on the road where they can just play and keep distractions to a minimum," Epstein said. "He’s made tremendous strides with his swing mechanics and swing path. … His ground balls have become line drives. His line drives have become fly balls. His fly balls tend to leave the ballpark."

Soler’s promotion would never have happened without him getting healthy. After his second hamstring injury, the Cubs grew concerned there might be something chronic going on. They did a full body work-up.

"He had a disproportionate amount of his muscle mass located on the front of his body, and that was creating some inequalities and putting extra strain on his hamstrings when he made some athletic movements," Epstein said. "The training staff has tried to redistribute some of that muscle mass, make him more balanced between his anterior and posterior sides."

That’s when Soler put it on himself to show the world why the Cubs had invested so much in him. Now he’ll join former Iowa Cubs such as Baez and Arismendy Alcantara for a 4 ½-week learning experience.

"This is the right time to bring him up here," Epstein said.

ESPNChicago.com

Error-filled effort made worse by Starlin Castro’s baserunning blunder

By Mark Schmetzer

CINCINNATI — The Chicago Cubs were already well on their way to putting together one of their less-polished performances in some time before Starlin Castro forgot to run.

Javier Baez was on second base in the top of the eighth with nobody out and Chicago trailing the Cincinnati Reds 6-4, when the Cubs shortstop launched a drive that ended up getting over center fielder Billy Hamilton’s head and off the center-field wall.

Castro, at first, believed the ball was going over the wall and watched in admiration while walking out of the batter’s box. That led to him ending up with a long single. Baez, who had to hold at second in case Hamilton caught the ball, ended up at third.

Castro, playing in his second game after coming off the bereavement list, immediately knew he’d made a mistake, according to Cubs manager Rick Renteria.

“I felt bad for him,” Renteria said. “He was apologizing to everybody. He knew he should have been [on second base]. He’s got a lot on his mind. When a young man tells you he made a mistake, what can you say?”

That wasn’t the Cubs’ first blunder of the night.

Cubs fielders had committed just six errors in 881 chances over their previous 23 games since Aug. 2, a .993 fielding percentage that led the majors in that span of time. They committed three in the game, two in a span of two batters — the first by Castro, the second by third baseman Luis Valbuena at third — in the fourth.

“That wasn’t one of our best ballgames, obviously, but the guys kept battling,” Renteria said.

The errors forced starting pitcher Jacob Turner to reach his pitch-count ceiling earlier than anybody with the Cubs wanted to see. He needed 66 to get two outs into the fourth inning, the shortest of his 13 starts this season.

"I would’ve liked to have gone a little deeper," said Turner, who made 12 starts for the Miami Marlins before being traded to Chicago. "That part is frustrating. I’ve got to get my pitch count up. I just didn’t make a few pitches when I needed to."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: How Jorge Soler turned himself into a prime-time player

Patrick Mooney

Theo Epstein wouldn’t call it jealousy. But Jorge Soler definitely noticed Kris Bryant and Javier Baez, maybe feeling like those elite prospects had passed him by, using it as fuel to show he belongs.

The Cubs president of baseball operations unwrapped the $30 million Cuban outfielder, and Soler homered off Mat Latos with his first big-league swing on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. That shot traveled 423 feet to left-center, and Soler added an RBI single in a 7-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

It’s easy to tie it up in a bow now, pretend everything went according to The Plan and dream about the Cubs being contenders in 2015.

This won’t make peace with the rooftop owners, speed up the Wrigley Field renovations or close the TV megadeal. The major-league payroll is nowhere close to where a big-market team should be. Stay tuned to see if the business side can crack the code to this leveraged partnership.

Still, the how and why of Soler’s rise should encourage Cubs fans desperate for good headlines and convince the Chicago media just catching up after Bears training camp that this will be a big story.

Just think back to late May, Soler leaving Double-A Tennessee and heading to the team’s Arizona complex to rehab a strained right hamstring. A left hamstring injury had limited him to one game in April and only six in May.

All that on top of the stress fracture in Soler’s left leg that cut short his 2013 season — after missing roughly two years of game action while defecting from Cuba.

“Instead of getting really down on himself and pouting and becoming impatient with his rehab, he really embraced that adversity as an opportunity to get better,” Epstein said. “At the same time, he was watching what Javy and Kris Bryant were doing at Triple-A (Iowa). We got the sense he was really happy for those guys, but he wanted to catch up.

“When our staff met with him towards the end of his rehab — when it was just about time for him to rejoin Tennessee — he communicated that he was on a mission: ‘It’s my time to shine. I’m happy for all my teammates, but watch me — this is my time.’”

Take away Bryant’s unbelievable start to his professional career. At that point, it looked like it could be a panic-button year for an organization betting everything on the farm system while writing off big-league seasons.

Baez had gone through a brutal April at Iowa, while 2012 first-round pick Albert Almora struggled at advanced Class-A Daytona. C.J. Edwards and Pierce Johnson — arguably the organization’s best pitching prospects — were sidelined with injuries.

Cubs officials kept insisting Soler lived up to the initial evaluations that got him a nine-year, major-league contract: Good kid, fast-twitch athlete with sharp baseball instincts. The guy just couldn’t stay on the field.

“The first thing that fans will notice about Soler is how impressive he is physically,” Epstein said. “He’s got as good a baseball power body as you’ll see at 6-3, 6-4. He’s put together really well. He looks like an NFL player. Physically intimidating.”

In Mesa, the training staff and strength/conditioning coaches did a full-body assessment, trying to restructure Soler’s 215-pound frame and rewire a 22-year-old player.

“In layman’s terms,” Epstein said, “he had a disproportionate amount of his muscle mass located on the anterior side of his body — the front of his body — and that was creating some inequalities and put extra strain on his hamstrings.

“For a player who’s had a recurring injury, they really tend to study the whole kinetic chain, from his toes and his feet and the way he runs, and the impact that has up through his legs, through his hamstrings, up to his core.

“They changed the way he runs a little bit, his posture, redistributed the muscle mass and made him more well-balanced and more athletic with some of his movements. It’s paid off.”

Around that time, Iowa’s new player/coach/lightning rod showed up at Cubs Park to get in shape. Manny Ramirez worked with Soler in the cage, refining a swing that generated more line drives, getting the barrel to the ball and elevating it with backspin.

Soler returned to Tennessee in July and put up a 1.538 OPS in 15 games. That forced the promotion to Iowa, where he hit .282 with eight homers, 11 doubles, 17 walks and 29 RBIS in 32 games.

“He’s not truly a raw player despite not having many professional at-bats to his credit, because he was born with a very advanced approach at the plate,” Epstein said. “He recognizes the ball out of the pitcher’s hand well. He recognizes spin. He’s got a good idea of the strike zone. He understands how to work an at-bat, how to get a pitch he can drive.

“He can occasionally get overaggressive, like all young hitters, but he tends to dial himself back in. And when he struggles, he focuses on just getting that good pitch to hit. Because of that, I think he’s been able to adjust quickly at the upper levels of the farm system.”

This is also someone who’s only played 54 games above the A-ball level. The Cubs are about to find out if Soler really is ready for prime time. Get your popcorn ready.

“He comes to the big leagues with a lot of momentum,” Epstein said, “but with an awful lot to learn.”

CSNChicago.com

Latest Cubs call-up Soler excited for big league beginning

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — If Jorge Soler was having trouble with anything Wednesday evening before making his major league debut for the Cubs against the Reds at Great American Ball Park, it was keeping a beaming smile off his face.

Not that that’s a bad thing.

Soler is the eighth Cubs player to debut in 2014, and the excitement from a fresh face has been welcome.

“This is a great opportunity, and they’re going to be playing on the biggest stage of the game of baseball … the big leagues,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

That smile reappeared as Soler headed to the dugout in the top of the second inning after clubbing a 423-foot home run over the wall in left-center on a 2-1 pitch from Mat Latos in his first at-bat. It gave the Cubs a 2-0 lead following Luis Valbuena’s homer to right to lead off the second.

Soler became the first Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Starlin Castro did it May 7, 2010, also in Cincinnati.

The right fielder saw no need to hide how he was feeling before the game.

“I’m so excited,” the 22-year-old outfield from Cuba said through interpreter Franklin Font. “I thank the team for this opportunity. I’ve waited three years for this moment.”

What was he expecting?

“I don’t know,” Soler said. “I’ll just go out there and do everything I can for tonight.”

Renteria said he simply welcomed Soler to the team Wednesday afternoon and made sure he got the signs.

“I let him know if there is anything we can do for him, let us know, and just go out there and have some fun,” Renteria said.

Of course, Soler smiled.

“You want them to be comfortable,” Renteria said. “You want them to know you’re here for them and you’re pulling for them. You want them to have a sense that we appreciate the situation and the circumstances they’re in and we hope for them to have success.”

Soler has had success this season at each stop — rehabbing in Arizona, at Double-A Tennessee and at Triple-A Iowa. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound right-handed hitter hit .340 with 15 home runs, 23 doubles and 57 RBIs in 62 minor league games this season and reached base at a .432 clip with a .700 slugging percentage. In 32 games at Iowa, Soler hit .282 with eight homers and 29 RBIs.

Iowa player-coach Many Ramirez has been instrumental in the prospect’s development.

“He helped me a lot back in Arizona when I was rehabbing and in Iowa, too,” Soler said through Font. “He helped me a lot to think in baseball, and he’s a tremendous person. He’s (had) a lot of influence on me in the right way the last couple months.

“He helps the Latin kids and the young kids down there in Iowa.”

Soler left Iowa with a bit of advice from Ramirez.

“Everything you can do in Triple-A, you can do it up there,” Soler said of what Ramirez told him before he left for Cincinnati. “Don’t change anything. He knows how hard it is the first day. He said to relax and everything will be OK.”

Soler will be among familiar faces, joining Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Matt Szczur, among others.

“I’ve got more confidence because those guys are teammates already in Triple-A, and it gives me more confidence,” Soler said through Font.

“A lot of confidence. The manager and the organization gave me the opportunity to make my debut and be in the lineup. Hopefully (I will be in there) the next couple games.”

CSNChicago.com

Jorge Soler homers, but Cubs can’t quiet Reds in loss

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — Right-hander Jacob Turner lasted only 3 2/3 innings, and the Cubs’ four-game winning streak came to an end in a 7-5 loss to the Reds before 20,497 on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park.

Turner (4-8) allowed seven hits and six runs while striking out one and walking two after being staked to a 2-0 lead in the second.

Only three of the runs off Turner were earned because of some shoddy Cubs defense during the Reds’ game-deciding four-run fourth.

Left fielder Skip Schumaker gave the Reds the lead in the fourth with a sharp single into left field to score third baseman Kristopher Negron.

Negron had doubled into left-center to lead off what would be a nine-hitter inning. Two outs later, Starlin Castro booted a Billy Hamilton infield-single to allow Schumaker to score from second with the fourth Cincinnati run, and the Reds didn’t stop there.

Carlos Villanueva replaced Turner after third baseman Luis Valbuena’s error allowed Todd Frazier to reach base. Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco greeted Villanueva with RBI singles to left, and it was quickly 6-2.

Javier Baez’s two-run double in the top of the eighth highlighted a three-run rally off Reds starter Mat Latos (5-3) and reliever Jonathan Broxton, but pinch hitter Chris Heisey homered off Zac Rosscup to begin the bottom half of the inning and Cincinnati closer Aroldis Chapman worked around a single and a walk in the ninth for his 28th save.

The night began on a high note for the Cubs on the night heralded outfield prospect Jorge Soler made his major league debut.

The Cubs got on the board first when Valbuena belted a home run off Latos to lead off the top of the second.

Soler followed that by clubbing a 423-foot home run over the wall in left-center on a 2-1 pitch from Latos in his first major league at-bat for a 2-0 lead.

Soler became the first Cub to homer in his first MLB at-bat since Castro on May 7, 2010 — also in Cincinnati. Soler added an RBI-single in the eighth to cap a 2-for-4 night.

The Reds tied it in their half of the second.

Mesoraco led off with a single into left field, and Jay Bruce walked. A fly out to right by Negron advanced Mesoraco to third before Schumaker lined a double over Chris Coghlan’s head in left to drive in the Reds’ first run and move Bruce to third. Zack Cozart’s grounder to shortstop tied the game for the Reds.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs, not in playoff hunt, still ‘fighting for an identity’

By Tom Ramstetter

CINCINNATI — With many of the pieces of the Cubs of the future now at the major league level as the 2014 season enters its final weeks, Cubs manager Rick Renteria isn’t setting any goals beyond playing well and playing the right way.

The Cubs entered Wednesday night’s game against the Reds on a four-game winning streak, but stood at 59-72 overall, 13 1/2 games behind first-place Milwaukee in the National League Central. The skipper has no particular need to catch anybody or to exit last place.

Just play well.

“I think that playing good baseball over the four or five weeks will be good,” Renteria said. “I can’t tell you what the results will be, but hopefully if we’re playing good baseball, the numbers will reflect that. The process is still what we’re most concerned about. If we do enough good things, you have a really good chance of giving yourself the ability to have a lot of victories at the end of the day.”

The next couple weeks will feature games against contending clubs — St. Louis, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Toronto.

“We’re still playing against a lot of really good clubs who aren’t just going to lay over,” Renteria said. “There are a lot of clubs who are fighting for positions in postseason and for us, I think we’re just fighting for an identity.

“We want to show everybody that we’re coming out here to play the game of baseball a certain way and we’re trying to stand up for ourselves.”

Renteria wants to win every day, but that doesn’t mean it will happen.

“I want these guys to understand that the outcome is truly a result of the process of them playing the game a certain way, of doing things a certain way, of playing good baseball,” Renteria said. “You can have two clubs go out there and play two solid excellent ballgames, and one’s got to win and one’s got to lose. At the end of the day, if we can come out and continue to play good baseball, we’re moving in the right direction.”

Rizzo hurting

First baseman Anthony Rizzo was out of the lineup Wednesday after exiting Tuesday’s game with lower back tightness.

The Cubs are hoping the absence is brief.

“I hope so,” Renteria said. “I think it’s day to day. We’ll check in throughout the day with him as he’s being treated and see how he’s doing after the evening tonight. I know we have an early game tomorrow, so hopefully we’ll have a better idea of how he’s feeling … hopefully during the ballgame.”

[MORE CUBS: GIF: Jorge Soler crushes homer in first Cubs at-bat]

More moves

Outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano were both placed on the 15-day disabled list on Wednesday. Sweeney’s move was due to a left hamstring strain, and Ruggiano was disabled retroactive to Saturday because of left ankle inflammation.

The Cubs recalled Logan Watkins and Jorge Soler, who homered in his first major league at-bat Wednesday, from Iowa.

The club has not determined whether either injury is season-ending.

“We have to wait to see how it unfolds here in the next couple days,” Renteria said. “A week, maybe. I don’t know. It was something we needed to do. We need some players. Fortunately for us, we have some guys we can kind of slot in there.”

Tribune

Jorge Soler starts career with a bang — a big bang

Fred Mitchell

CiNCINNATI — Timing is everything in baseball, whether it involves swinging the bat or perhaps even staging an auspicious major league debut.

Either way, Jorge Soler certainly knows how to make a favorable first impression.

The Cubs made the decision to elevate the 22-year-old Soler for Wednesday night’s 7-5 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park. With a canny sense of timing and a bit of shrewd calculation, Soler launched a 423-foot solo home run to center field in his first at-bat.

"Real, real happy about it. You know, first time in the big leagues, first at-bat … very excited and happy," Soler said through a team interpreter.

He also had an RBI single in the eighth inning to finish his debut going 2-for-4.

Was he nervous at all?

"The first at-bat I was real tense. But when I hit a home run … well, I (knew Luis Valbuena) had hit a home run in front of me, so I had to freeze in the moment," Soler said.

"A very well-struck ball … good for him. And he also had a base hit to drive in a run," manager Rick Renteria said of his new sensation.

Cubs President Theo Epstein was responsible for arranging the time to begin showcasing Soler on the big league stage.

"We’re proud of him and think this is the right time to bring him up here," Epstein told reporters via phone from Chicago before the game. "Really, the key to the decision on promoting Soler was that … (originally) he was going to be a September call-up for us … mainly because he needs the (added) at-bats. He missed significant time with the hamstring injury and he is someone who needs to play. … We were looking for the right developmental moment. … The timing was nice."

Epstein also allowed that the timing and atmosphere are ideal for Soler’s coming out party with the Cubs on the road.

"It’s not strictly strategic," he said. "(But) we prefer our higher-profile prospects to get a chance to break in on the road so they can keep some of the distractions to a minimum."

For Soler — wearing No. 68 on the back of his blue Cubs road jersey and a wide smile on his face — the timing seemed overdue, even at his young age.

"I am so excited. I thank the team for giving me this opportunity," Soler said. "I have been waiting three years for this moment."

He was especially proud to know that his father, Jorge Soler Sr., would be in the stands watching him.

"I feel real proud. All my family was watching the game, especially my father here at the game," Soler said. "I feel real happy and proud about it."

Epstein said he was impressed with how Soler has handled adversity, such as injuries in the second half of his minor league season.

"Instead of getting really down on himself and pouting, he embraced that adversity as an opportunity to get better," Epstein said.

The organization developed a full-body work-up on Soler and “found a new program for him where he could balance his muscle-balance a little bit and his posture a little bit, things we felt would keep him healthy for the long run.”

Epstein sounded proud to introduce Soler to Cubs fans who have not had the opportunity to watch him closely.

 ”The first thing fans will notice about Soler is how impressive he is physically,” Epstein said. “He has as good a baseball power body as you will see: 6-4 and put together really well. He looks like an NFL player — physically intimidating with great athleticism.

"He’s not a raw player, despite not having many professional at-bats, because he was born with a very advanced approach at the plate. He recognizes the ball out of the pitcher’s hand well. He recognizes spin, he has a good idea of the strike zone. He understands how to work an at-bat."

JRW respect: Epstein had high praise for the Jackie Robinson West team that was celebrated Wednesday in Chicago for its performance in the Little League World Series.

"Probably the best thing to happen to the city of Chicago this summer from a baseball standpoint was put together by kids on the South Side of Chicago," he said. "It’s a feel-good story for the city, for the country, for the game of baseball."

Injury list: Anthony Rizzo was not in the starting lineup because of lower-back stiffness that forced him out of the game in the eighth inning Tuesday night. Chris Valaika started at first base.

Before the game, the Cubs announced that outfielder Ryan Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring injury. And outfielder Justin Ruggiano also went on the DL with ankle inflammation. Both could be done for the season with just more than a month remaining, according to Renteria.

Infielder Logan Watkins was recalled from Triple-A Iowa, along with Soler.

Tribune

Wednesday’s recap: Reds 7, Cubs 5

Fred Mitchell

The summary

The Cubs had their modest four-game winning streak snapped Wednesday night as shoddy fielding contributed to the 7-5 loss to the Reds at Great American Ball Park.

Jacob Turner, making his first start for the Cubs, lasted just 32/3 innings. He allowed six runs (three earned) on seven hits with two walks.

Rookie Jorge Soler hit a home run in his first major league at-bat against starter Mat Latos and drove in two runs. The Cubs rallied for three runs in the eighth inning to pull within a run at 6-5. But the Reds survived Javier Baez’s warning track drive with two men on in the ninth to end the game.

At the plate

Luis Valbuena and Soler hit back-to-back homers in the second inning to make it 2-0. Soler became the first Cub to homer in his first big league at-bat since Starlin Castro on May 7, 2010, in Cincinnati against Homer Bailey.

The number

3: Errors by the Cubs, who entered the game with a .923 fielding percentage in their previous 23 games, tops in the majors.

The quote

Cubs President Theo Epstein on the progress of his rebuilding plan: “It has been a great developmental year for the organization when you look at some of our priorities in the major leagues.”

Up next

Cubs (Arrieta 7-4, 2.53) at Reds (Axelrod 0-0, 3.00), 11:35 a.m., Thursday, WGN-9.

Tribune

Cubs Future Four report: Two hits for Almora

Fred Mitchell

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Tuesday at Tacoma:  1-for-4, RBI, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  8-for-30 (.267), 3 home runs, 6 RBIs, 14 strikeouts.

Season: 133 games, .329 batting average, 43 home runs, 109 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Tuesday vs. Jacksonville: 1-for-1.

Trending: 14-for-42 (.333), 4 home runs, 16 RBIs.

Season:  63 games, .301 batting average, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Tuesday vs. Jacksonville: 2-for-5, RBI, run scored, strikeout.

Trending: 15-for-42 (.357), one homer, 4 RBIs.

Season: 120 games, .277 batting average, 9 home runs, 60 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Kyle Schwarber

Catcher/DH, Daytona (Class A).

Tuesday at Dunedin: 1-for-5, strikeout.

Trending: 17-for-39 (.436), 7 homers, 14 RBIs.

Season:  69 games, .349 batting average, 18 home runs, 53 RBIs at Boise, Kane County and Daytona.

Sun-Times

Jorge Soler goes deep in first at-bat; Cubs fall 7-5 to Reds

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI — Just before touted prospect Jorge Soler made his much-heralded Cubs debut Wednesday, he was told about the home run hit by the Cubs’ other “core” prospect on the roster, Javy Baez, in his celebrated debut three weeks ago.

Soler smiled. “Si,” he said.

Or maybe it was “see.”

It took Soler all of one swing in the majors, on a 2-1 pitch in the second inning, for him to hit his first home run — a 423-foot shot off Mat Latos in the Cubs’ 7-5 loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

He and Baez are the first pair of teammates under the age of 23 to hit home runs in debuts in the same season in major-league history.

The 22-year-old outfielder — who told Cubs officials when he came off the disabled list in July to “watch this; this is my time” — ­added a run-scoring single during the Cubs’ eighth-inning comeback bid.

“On a rate basis he was one of the most productive hitters in all of minor-league baseball,” said team president Theo Epstein, whose front office bumped up the timeline on his call-up by a week because of his torrid-hitting response to a ­recent mini slump.

“He comes to the big leagues with a lot of momentum but with an awful lot to learn and adjustments to make as well.”

Like when he popped up the first pitch he saw after the home run for an easy out in the fourth and struck out swinging in the sixth.

But Soler, who looks more like a linebacker than a right fielder, certainly held his own in his debut and doesn’t lack for self-esteem.

Asked how confident he is that he’ll stay in the big leagues and be in next year’s Opening Day lineup, he said, “I have a lot of confidence.”

And those already in the clubhouse took notice of what’s going on with guys such as Soler and Baez breaking in.

“The expectation now is to win,” Anthony Rizzo said. “Guys will develop and get their at-bats in, but at the same time we want to win now.”

Sun-Times

Cubs’ business side must start catching up to baseball side

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI — Theo Epstein and his minions in the Cubs’ front office already have done the math on how this is going to work in the next two years — maybe three — now that the long-touted power prospects have started making their big-league debuts.

But what then? What happened to that business-plan timeline we were told on Opening Day in 2013 was ‘‘timed to sync up’’ with the baseball plan?

Where are the shovels that were supposed to be in the ground by now — the ones promised last year or last month, depending on when and whom you asked? What happened to all that ‘‘sue me’’ bluster this spring, promising that a rooftops lawsuit wouldn’t stop a summer groundbreaking at Wrigley?

When $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler used his first swing in the majors to hit a pitch from the Cincinnati Reds’ Mat Latos 423 feet for a home run in his debut Wednesday, he underscored the distance the baseball department has built on business president Crane Kenney’s operation a mere 19 months since the $300 million and $500 million promises of self-financed renovations were rolled out.

Certainly, Soler, Javy Baez and the six other players who have debuted for the Cubs this season are no locks for long-term big-league careers, much less greatness. But the progress of the Cubs’ touted prospects this season, along with the All-Star bounce-backs of cornerstone big-leaguers Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, have started the clock on the big-league part of Epstein’s rebuild — with at least the promise of big things to come as soon as next season.

Big, as in a possible big-ticket pitcher this winter and the debut a few months later of the top-ranked prospect in baseball (Kris Bryant).

Anticipating the delays in promised new revenues to offset debt-related spending restrictions in effect for five more years, baseball-operations executives have socked away close to $20 million in unused 2014 payroll and salary recouped in trades this season.

Tens of millions more will fall off the payroll at the end of the season, giving the Cubs the ability to sign the kind of player(s) they came up short on the last three winters.

‘‘Because we have so many young players who are going to be cost-controlled over the next several seasons, we have tremendous flexibility built into our roster as it is,’’ said Epstein, who has only $25.5 million committed in 2015 to five players before arbitration considerations.

‘‘We’re going to be able to field a pretty good nucleus with a very low payroll associated with that. And that and some of the savings we’ve made over the last offseason, for example, will allow us more flexibility we need to be very aggressive should the right player or players present themselves to us. Now, that’s on a shorter-term look.’’

And if Baez develops into the player who already has two Waveland Avenue home runs and not the .200 hitter with as many strikeouts as total bases? If Bryant is even better? If the next free-agent signing isn’t the next Edwin Jackson?

If this baseball thing that’s starting to happen now is what they believe it is, that ‘‘sync up’’ thing better be coming quickly to pay for the next level of it.

‘‘As we get closer to a new TV deal and as we start to realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility and our aggressiveness,’’ Epstein said. ‘‘That’s down the road.

‘‘I’m very confident in our business side — that the right TV deal’s going to be struck at the right time and that we’re going to realize revenues from Wrigley Field.’’

Sun-Times

Theo Epstein says MLB should take note of JRW’s method

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI — Cubs president Theo Epstein, who joined other dignitaries and city officials at a rally honoring the Jackie Robinson West Little League team at Millennium Park on Wednesday, sounded as caught up in the grip of their story as the rest of the city — and called it an “important moment” for professional baseball to heed.

“Probably the best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer — clearly from a baseball standpoint — was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side of Chicago,” he said during a conference call with reporters.

Epstein hopes that’s not lost on MLB officials who have spent years debating and brainstorming ways to reverse a generations-long trend of declining interest and participation in the sport among American kids, particularly African-Americans.

“[MLB officials] ask the question how we can get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner city,” Epstein said. “And there’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that will be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, to make baseball cool again for young kids.”

MLB should take notice of what he called a “model organization,” he said.

“We really have to support them and capitalize on this moment and learn from what the Jackie Robinson West Little League has been doing effectively for four decades now — plus,” Epstein said. “Which is proactively go out to schools, find kids and sell them on the game of baseball, get them off the streets, get them learning from great mentors, playing together, learning about sportsmanship and competition and hard work and discipline and make them better people.

“We can all go to school on how they built their program.”

Notes

Anthony Rizzo was out of the lineup Wednesday because of the back tightness that caused his him to leave Tuesday’s game in the eighth. He’s expected to return Thursday.

 Outfielders Ryan Sweeney (hamstring) and Justin Ruggiano (ankle) were placed on the disabled list Wednesday. In addition to the anticipated call-up of Jorge Soler, the Cubs brought back infielder Logan Watkins from AAA Iowa.

Sun-Times

Compassionate Renteria on Starlin Castro lapse: ‘I feel bad for him’

BY GORDON WITTENMYER

CINCINNATI – Cubs manager Rick Renteria defended shortstop Starlin Castro for the kind of mental lapse Wednesday night he was often criticized for earlier in his career but that he seemed to have all but eliminated over the past year.

“I feel bad for him,” the manager said. “He’s got a lot on his mind. He knows he should have been there.”

Castro lingered at home plate watching his long fly ball to center in the eighth inning – winding up with a long single instead of a double when the ball cleared center fielder Billy Hamilton’s head but not the wall.

The lapse looked costly when, one out later, Jorge Soler singled to left for one run, instead of the two that would have tied the game – though it’s at least debatable whether Castro could have scored from second on Soler’s hit.

Welington Castillo followed Soler with an inning-ending double play, leaving the Cubs trailing 6-5 (they eventually lost 7-5).

“When a young man tells you he made a mistake, what can you say?” Renteria said. “He was apologizing to everybody.”

Castro was playing in his second game since returning from bereavement leave. He missed five games to return home to family in the Dominican Republic after losing four close friends and family in a car accident there last week.

Cubs.com

Soler homers, aids late rally that falls short

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — It’s no coincidence that Jorge Soler made his Major League debut on the road. What is coincidental is that he homered in his first at-bat, and the last Cubs player to do so also connected at Great American Ball Park.

Soler smashed a solo homer in the second and hit an RBI single in the eighth, but the Cubs came up short in a 7-5 loss to the Reds on Wednesday night.

Skip Schumaker drove in two runs to back Mat Latos, who struck out 10 over seven-plus innings, to lead the Reds, who have a 10-5 lead in the season series against the Cubs.

But Wednesday marked the unveiling of Soler, 22, ranked by MLB.com as the Cubs’ No. 5 prospect, who was promoted from Triple-A Iowa and arrived with much fanfare. He finished 2-for-4 in his first game.

Luis Valbuena led off the Chicago second with his 13th home run, a new career high. Soler immediately followed with his first, launching a 2-1 fastball 423 feet to center, much to the delight of the Cubs fans in the crowd of 20,497.

Soler is the first Cubs player to homer in his first big league at-bat since Starlin Castro did so on May 7, 2010, also at Great American Ball Park. The Cubs players excitedly greeted Soler upon his return to the dugout, and he got a hug from Javier Baez, who had homered in his first big league game, hitting a game-winning shot in the 12th inning against the Rockies on Aug. 5.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they prefer having their top prospects break in on the road to keep the distractions to a minimum and give the players a chance to bond with their teammates. It worked for Baez, and in the second inning, it worked for Soler. According to ESPN’s statistics, the Cubs are the first team to have two players, each age 22 or younger, hit a home run in their first Major League game.

The Reds apparently weren’t interested in letting Soler enjoy both his first homer and a win. Cincinnati tied the game in the second on an RBI double by Schumaker and a run-scoring groundout by Zack Cozart. The Reds then took the lead in the fourth when Kris Negron doubled and scored on a single by Schumaker. Two outs later, a run scored on a fielding error by Castro, and Todd Frazier then reached on an error by Valbuena.

Chicago starter Jacob Turner was then pulled. This was the right-hander’s first start for the Cubs and 13th of the season; his last came Aug. 3 against the Reds, when he lasted four innings. The Cubs acquired the right-hander from the Marlins on Aug. 8 for two Minor League pitchers.

Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco followed with RBI singles off Carlos Villanueva to put the Reds ahead, 6-2.

The Cubs tallied in the eighth against Jonathan Broxton on a two-run double by Baez. Castro then smacked a long hit off the center-field wall, but only made it to first base while sending Baez to third. It may have proved costly as Soler then drove in Baez from third on a single before Welington Castillo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Cubs.com

Soler goes deep in first Major League at-bat

Cubs No. 5 prospect part of back-to-back effort with Valbuena off Reds’ Latos

By Carrie Muskat

CINCINNATI — Jorge Soler got some last-minute advice from Triple-A Iowa player/coach Manny Ramirez before joining the Cubs on Wednesday.

"[Ramirez said], ‘Everything you’ve been doing here in Triple-A, do it over there. Don’t change anything,’" Soler said. "He knows how hard it is the first day and said, ‘Relax, and everything will be all right.’"

Did Ramirez think Soler was ready for the Major Leagues?

"Yes," Soler said, smiling.

Apparently, he was. Soler homered in his first at-bat in the second inning Wednesday against Reds starter Mat Latos, hitting a 423-foot blast to center. He’s the first Cubs player to hit a home run in his first at-bat since Starlin Castro did so May 7, 2010, also at Great American Ball Park.

Soler’s blast was the second in a back-to-back effort with Luis Valbuena that had given the Cubs a 2-0 lead at the time.

The Cubs felt Soler was ready, promoting the 22-year-old outfielder with 30 games remaining. Soler started in right field Wednesday and batted fifth. He is the eighth Cubs player to make his Major League debut this season, joining Arismendy Alcantara, Matt Szczur, Javier Baez, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez and Tsuyoshi Wada.

"The key to the decision on Soler was the fact that he was going to be a September callup for us mainly because he needs the at-bats," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Wednesday. "He missed significant time because of the hamstring injury. He needs to play, he needs to get the at-bats.

"We’ve been certain in our minds for a while now that he was going to be a September callup for us. It’s the best place for him to continue to get at-bats, continue to learn, continue to make adjustments."

Epstein said they were waiting for a “developmental moment,” and it happened when Soler had a mini slump but was able to get back on track. The powerful right-handed hitter hasn’t had many slumps this season. He was batting .282 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs with Iowa, including a .373 average with runners on base.

Ranked by MLB.com as the Cubs’ No. 5 prospect, Soler belted a three-run homer in the third inning Monday in Iowa’s game against Tacoma and was then pulled from the game after two innings. Iowa manager Marty Pevey wouldn’t explain why until after the game was over.

"[Pevey] said, ‘You don’t play any more here,’ and they didn’t tell me for one hour that I was getting the call," Soler said through coach/interpreter Franklin Font. "I was really surprised."

Soler began the season with Double-A Tennessee but suffered a leg injury after his first game April 3. He went on the disabled list and returned in May, but he again played sporadically. He rehabbed at the Cubs’ complex in Mesa, Ariz., and the focus was not just on getting his legs healthy but taking a holistic approach.

The Cubs changed Soler’s diet — more salads, water and less soda — and worked on his posture. Epstein said Soler had a disproportionate amount of muscle mass located on the anterior side of his body, which was putting extra strain on his hamstrings. The training staff worked to redistribute that muscle mass to make him more balanced. They changed the way Soler runs, too.

Asked if he feels healthy, Soler smiled again and said yes.

After rehabbing in Mesa, he rejoined the Smokies in July and batted .463 in 15 games before he was promoted to Triple-A. In nine games in July with Iowa, he hit .304 and was batting .271 this month.

Epstein said Soler was “born with a very advanced approach at the plate,” and that he’s made strides with his swing mechanics and swing path so he can get the barrel to the ball better.

"He’s always hit the ball hard, he’s always controlled the zone, but now he’s hitting the ball hard with loft and elevation," Epstein said. "His ground balls have become line drives, his line drives have become fly balls, and his fly balls tend to leave the ballpark. He’s a really dangerous hitter. When he’s right, he can use the whole field and loft the ball with ease."

That doesn’t mean Soler is a finished product.

"He comes to the big leagues with a lot of momentum, but with an awful lot to learn and adjustments to make up here as well," Epstein said.

And Soler knows that. He’s already been told about how Major League pitchers are more consistent in terms of their location. He has to be disciplined at the plate.

The Cuban outfielder signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012 and is on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. He’s part of the so-called “core four” that also includes Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. Bryant is at Iowa and leads all Minor League hitters with 43 home runs, while Almora is playing for Tennessee.

Epstein said having Soler join the team on the road will give him time to bond with his teammates. It worked well with Baez, who was promoted when the Cubs were in Denver on Aug. 5.

September can be a tough month to evaluate players, but the Cubs will be facing primarily contending teams. Does a good showing mean Cubs fans can write Soler’s name into the 2015 Opening Day lineup?

"It’s way too early to answer that," Epstein said. "It depends on a lot of factors. These kids are up here to continue to learn, to continue their development, but also to get opportunities that they can help us win baseball games. That’s what this is all about."

Soler’s promotion drew cheers from White Sox slugger Jose Abreu.

"Very happy, very happy that he’s made it to the Major Leagues and he’s able to accomplish one of his dreams, which is to play in the big leagues," Abreu said Tuesday through interpreter and coach Lino Diaz. "My advice to him would be to be very mentally tough and to prepare himself every day to play the game the way he’s capable of playing it."

"I’ve waited two years for this moment," Soler said. "I’ll just do everything I can."

Cubs.com

Chicago holds parade for Jackie Robinson West

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Jackie Robinson West’s run in the Little League World Series culminated Wednesday with a nearly four-hour parade that weaved through roughly 100 blocks of Chicago.

Fans flocked to the team’s home field in the Morgan Park neighborhood before the South Side’s storied squad embarked on trolleys to U.S. Cellular Field and then Millennium Park downtown.

Family, friends and fans — including politicians and representatives from Major League Baseball — gathered for what some said rivaled professional sports championship parades.

"This is the way Chicago celebrates a championship," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson moderated the event, which featured speeches from Theo Epstein, the Cubs’ president of baseball operations, and Kenny Williams, the White Sox executive vice president.

Foes became friends through Jackie Robinson West’s “common bond,” as Harrelson referenced — a testament to the unity that these 13 pre-teens embodied during their 25-day run to a U.S. championship.

"I never thought I’d get introduced by Hawk," Epstein told the crowd with a chuckle.

JRW isn’t the first Illinois squad to surge through the Little League World Series, in fact it’s the fourth in state history to reach the title game. Yet its story enthralled American audiences at new heights, yielding a 71 percent increase in television ratings during the U.S. championship.

Team leader Marquis Jackson rooted the unprecedented draw in the most frank manner.

"I think because we’re African-American boys from the South Side," Jackson said. "There’s so many people from the South Side, [and] it’s just not about bad things. Something good can come from the South Side of Chicago. Period."

Morgan Park is a blue-collar neighborhood brimming with fresh-cut grass, brick houses, renowned rib restaurants and a state-of-the-art baseball facility.

Yet the grander South Side has made national news this summer for all the wrong reasons — violence and murder have dominated headlines.

As of Tuesday, Chicago had endured 261 homicides, according to the Cook County Medical Examiners Office — a majority of those on the South and West Sides.

It was the elephant in the room Wednesday, yet Williams tackled it head-on.

"People who are gathering and rallying," he told the crowd of 10,000, "are sending a message to put down the guns.

"Pick up a ball, a glove, a book, a paint stick, a science project. Put down the guns. We have cease fires going on over the Middle East. Nobody has said, ‘Let’s call for a cease fire in our communities.’"

Jackie Robinson West’s rise has made the players role models in the White Sox and Cubs clubhouses. The latter featured the game during a three-hour rain delay on Saturday.

JRW’s run to become the first all-African-American team to win a Little League World Series Championship was cut short by an 8-4 loss on Sunday to South Korea. Yet it grinned in defeat and crafted extravagant and congratulatory handshakes with their opposition.

"This team exemplifies what can happen when a strong community provides its children with support and opportunities to become positively engaged and achieve their dreams," Emanuel said.

All 13 hoisted their hands when asked if they wanted to someday play in the big leagues. Six of them — Jackson, Ed Howard, Cameron Bufford, Brandon Green, Joshua Houston and Trey Hondras — already are receiving first-hand guidance through the White Sox Amateur City Elite program.

ACE, in its eighth year, gathers 100-plus inner-city youth into a program to develop skills that might not be afforded the travel-team culture prevalent in youth baseball. It focuses as much on academics as athletics.

"This is my first year playing with them," Hondras said. "I had heard a lot of good things about it."

The team’s pit stop at U.S. Cellular Field was welcomed by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and select coaches and players. The White Sox then let the team bring the 2005 World Series trophy to the ceremony at Millennium Park.

"Hopefully, at least in the Chicago area and Illinois, maybe this pushes kids into our game instead of something else," said team captain Paul Konerko.

The White Sox will welcome JRW for a game this Saturday against the Tigers, and the Cubs will do the same during their next homestand, a six-game set starting on Monday.

JRW was founded in 1971 by Joe and Anna Haley, whose son, Bill Haley, is the current director. Bill said his parents’ idea was not to win championships, but to make a significant impact on the lives of children through dedicated volunteers and parents.

"What these young boys have done the last six weeks shows that the core values that the league started with way back in 1971 still hold true," Haley said.

Epstein echoed: “People ask me all the time: ‘How do we get kids playing baseball again? There aren’t enough kids playing baseball. How do we get kids in the city playing baseball?’ Well we just need to go to school on everything that Jackie Robinson West stands for and start duplicating that all around our city — and every big city in the country.”

Cubs.com

Armed with Axelrod, Reds go for series win vs. Cubs

Solid in only start of 2014, righty to be called up to face stingy Arrieta

By Caitlin Swieca

After a strong effort in his first Major League start of 2014, Dylan Axelrod will be recalled to help the Reds continue their dominant season over the Cubs, against whom they are 10-5.

Though they’ve lost all four of their series against the Cardinals, the Reds have been 10-1-1 in series against their other National League Central opponents, and they’re going for another series win in Thursday’s rubber match. Axelrod pitched well in his Cincinnati debut on Aug. 17 at Colorado, allowing two runs on seven hits over six innings. He left the game in line for the win before the bullpen blew the lead in an eventual 10-5 loss.

Afterward he was sent back to Triple-A Louisville, where he last started on Friday, going seven innings and allowing two earned runs on four hits, walking two and striking out eight, but taking the loss. Reds manager Bryan Price said the temporary demotion was not performance-related.

"Knowing we were going to need a fresh arm on Thursday to start and not going to need six starters, that necessitated Dylan going out, even though he didn’t deserve to go out," Price said. "Had we not had the water main break [to postpone the game the day before], he’d just be part of our regular five-man rotation. He did nothing but impress us. I’m sure we’ll see him back here."

The Cubs will counter with Jake Arrieta, who’s been superb over his past three starts. He’s pitched 21 1/3 innings while allowing only 11 hits and three earned runs.

In his last start, he defeated his former team, American League East-leading Baltimore. Arrieta recently expressed a desire to make every start the rest of the season, though the Cubs have been bringing up new players to get looks.

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

Cubs: Rizzo expected back in lineup

First baseman Anthony Rizzo did not start Wednesday because of lower back tightness, which had forced him out of Tuesday’s game.

Manager Rick Renteria said Rizzo would receive treatment Wednesday, and he could be back in the lineup Thursday.

Rizzo, who hit his 30th home run on Tuesday in the Cubs’ 3-0 win over the Reds, has started 129 of the team’s 132 games.

Reds: Bailey’s season in doubt after MRI results

Staring pitcher Homer Bailey underwent a second MRI exam on the strained flexor mass tendon in his right forearm, and the results learned Wednesday did not give him the green light to resume throwing.

"Unfortunately, it’s not healing the way we thought it would," Reds head trainer Paul Lessard said.

Bailey has been out since Aug. 8, and he hasn’t tried to throw since he had a platelet-rich plasma injection to help speed his healing shortly after going on the disabled list. A second PRP injection is under consideration, but if he has one, it would mean another week of not throwing.

"He’s unfortunately very frustrated, [but] I have to think about his arm for the future as well, not just the next four weeks," Lessard said. "We’re trying to figure out what’s the best thing for him."

Reds medical director Dr. Tim Kremchek is seeking additional opinions from other orthopedic physicians.

"He has an opinion, but he isn’t sure if we should continue what we’re doing, [or if we] should shut him down completely," Lessard said.

Worth noting

• The Reds are 35-14 against the Cubs over the past three seasons.

• This will be Axelrod’s first career appearance against the Cubs.

27 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Homers fuel Cubs’ three-hit shutout in Cincinnati

Wood dominant over six for first win since June 15; Rizzo hits No. 30

By Manny Randhawa

CINCINNATI — Travis Wood finally halted his winless streak at 12 starts, and he did it not only against his former team, but against one of the best pitchers in the game.

The left-hander outdueled Johnny Cueto with the help of homers from Anthony Rizzo and Arismendy Alcantara as the Cubs beat the Reds, 3-0, in the opener of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night. It was Chicago’s fourth straight win and seventh in its last nine games.

"It feels good, especially to be able to throw the ball the way I did, and that was a good pitcher we beat tonight," Wood said.

Wood went six innings and allowed just two hits while walking one and striking out five to earn his first win since June 15 at Philadelphia. Cubs manager Rick Renteria lifted the southpaw after six frames because Wood had thrown pitches to stay loose during a 50-minute rain delay that began in the top of the first.

"He still threw 90-plus pitches [96], so I’ll be honest with you, that was an easy decision to make," Renteria said.

But though he didn’t go as deep as he might have had it not been for the weather, Wood showed the type of dominance that made him an All-Star last season.

"He was attacking the strike zone, he was probably working the fringes more effectively this time, changing speeds, using the curveball today to get some swings and some early strikes," Renteria said. "He was pitching with some confidence today. I thought he had a real good feel for his pitches."

Wood won for only the second time in nine career starts against Cincinnati, the team he was drafted by and played for in his first two Major League seasons.

"It’s always nice to beat the team you came from," he said. "I’ve still got a lot of friends over there and stuff. They’re a good ball team, and we just had the upper hand tonight."

That upper hand came courtesy of Rizzo, who belted a 408-foot blast to right in the first inning, making him the seventh left-handed batter in franchise history to hit 30 or more homers in a season. The last to do so was Fred McGriff in 2002 (30). Rizzo left in the eighth inning with lower back tightness, but Renteria said the move was precautionary and Rizzo should be back in the lineup on Wednesday.

"It was a hitter’s count, and I was just looking for a fastball," Rizzo said of the pitch he hit, which extended the Cubs’ streak of games in which they hit at least one homer to 11. "I was trying against [Cueto] to not do too much because he’s got so much he can get you out with, so luckily I put a good swing on it."

Rizzo was thrilled to join the Cubs’ 30-homer club for left-handed hitters.

"It’s great, especially in this organization with a lot of history, a lot of great players," he said. "But the season’s not over, you’ve just gotta keep going and keep playing."

Following the homer, Starlin Castro, who returned from the bereavement list, singled and a steady rain became a downpour that led to the delay.

Matt Szczur, who entered the game in the second for right fielder Ryan Sweeney after Sweeney strained his left hamstring running out a ground ball, singled to open the seventh. The next batter, Alcantara, lined a two-run homer to right, his fifth of the season, to make it 3-0.

"I just try to make contact," said Alcantara, who is batting .400 (8-for-20) with two homers and four RBIs in his last five games. "The pitch before, [Cueto] threw a cutter inside, and I thought they’d probably come in again, and he threw me the same thing, and I just tried to get on top of the ball and put it in play."

Chicago’s bullpen continued its recent dominance with a strong inning apiece from right-handers Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop, followed by a 1-2-3 ninth for right-hander Hector Rondon, who picked up his 22nd save of the season.

Cubs relievers have posted a 1.64 ERA in the last 29 games and haven’t allowed a run since the eighth inning of last Thursday’s game against the Giants, covering a span of 16 2/3 innings. Rondon extended his personal scoreless streak to nine innings over his last nine appearances.

"They’ve been chipping away and establishing themselves a little bit," Renteria said of his relievers. "They’ve been gaining trust through some hiccups, obviously, through the beginning and middle of the season, having some things go on. And they continue to make adjustments and trust their stuff — they’ve got good stuff."

With the Cubs playing well and another of their top prospects, Jorge Soler, set to join the club on Wednesday, adding to a group of young players that has already made an impact at the Major League level, Chicago has reason to anticipate success on the horizon.

"We always think [we can win], as players," Rizzo said. "And why not? It’s a young team. We’re going to be young and we’re going to play together, stick together and we’re going to do well together and we’re going to do bad together.

"It’s all a part of the process."

Cubs.com

Cubs excited to welcome Soler for latest debut

By Carrie Muskat and Manny Randhawa

CINCINNATI — With Jorge Soler scheduled to join the Cubs in Cincinnati on Wednesday, a second member of the so-called “core four” Cubs prospects who are at the center of Chicago’s rebuilding effort will be making his Major League debut this month.

The 22-year-old from Cuba is ranked as the Cubs’ No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, and will join 21-year-old Javier Baez, who made his big league debut on Aug. 5. Chicago’s No. 1 prospect, Kris Bryant, and No. 4 prospect, Albert Almora, are the other “core four” members. Bryant is at Triple-A Iowa and Almora is at Double-A Tennessee.

Soler missed much of 2013 with a fractured left tibia as a result of a ball he fouled off his leg. He also sustained strained hamstrings in each leg earlier this season. But he still posted a .340/.432/.700 line with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs between the Cubs’ Rookie league (rehab games), Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

"I think it’s pretty exciting for the whole organization," manager Rick Renteria said. "A young man that’s been talked about quite a bit will be joining us tomorrow. Everybody’s pretty excited about it."

The Cubs’ youth movement, which has been heralded since president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took the helm, has been materializing at the big league level, particularly over the past two months. Baez, along with Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and others have made their first appearances with the club.

"We’re starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "There’s always an expectation to win, but with these guys coming up, they’re going to be patient and let them develop and get their at-bats in, but at the same time, we want to win, too."

The Cubs didn’t wait until rosters would expand from 25 to 40 players on Sept. 1 to bring Soler up, but that doesn’t surprise Renteria.

"I’m sure that the organization feels that he’s been moving along and that they’d like to get him up here to start experiencing some big league baseball and kind of get his feet wet and chip away and see how he goes," Renteria said.

Rizzo agreed.

"I’m not [surprised]," he said. "He’s been on a tear, he’s been doing everything you can do, and having an extra week, to having five weeks in the big leagues would be good — to have him up here and get him going and go into the offseason on a high note, or maybe he doesn’t do so well here, but going into the offseason knowing what to work on."

Soler will have the comfort of seeing several familiar faces in the visitor’s clubhouse when he gets to Great American Ball Park, with Baez, Alcantara and others who have preceded him on the path to the Majors there to welcome him.

"With people coming up that you’ve played with before, it’s good because you know how they play the game and you can still learn stuff from them," Baez said. "I’m pretty sure he knows how to handle [the expectations], but if anything comes up, I’m sure he’ll ask me or the other guys how to handle stuff."

"I think the benefit is that he’s probably going to see his teammates relaxed and comfortable in their environment," Renteria said of Soler, "which hopefully will translate to him feeling comfortable in his environment."

Renteria said Soler will likely play right field and bat fifth or sixth in the lineup against the Reds on Wednesday.

"We have yet to kind of finish the final conclusion as to where he’ll be, but he’ll be somewhere in that order," Renteria said.

Rizzo hits 30th homer before precautionary exit

CINCINNATI — Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo left Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Reds in the eighth inning with lower back tightness.

"He’s ready to go again," manager Rick Renteria said after the game. "I did it more as a precaution. There was no need to push Rizz. I certainly expect [him to be back in the lineup on Wednesday] unless something else comes up."

Rizzo went 1-for-4 with a home run, his 30th of the season. He is the seventh left-handed batter in Cubs history to hit at least 30 homers in a season. The last to do so was Fred McGriff, who hit 30 in 2002.

"It’s great, especially in this organization with a lot of history, a lot of great players," he said of his homer. "But the season’s not over, you’ve just gotta keep going and keep playing."

Chris Valaika replaced Rizzo at first base.

Russell among Cubs slated for Fall League

CHICAGO — Shortstop Addison Russell, ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's list of the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list, and No. 6 on list of the game's Top 100 Prospects, will play for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.

The Cubs acquired the shortstop on July 4 from the Athletics in a deal involving right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Russell is batting .297 in 62 games this season, and since joining Double-A Tennessee, he has hit .297 with 12 home runs and 10 doubles in 44 games.

A strong right-handed hitter, the 20-year-old Russell batted .282 in 21 games for the Mesa Solar Sox last year, and he was teammates with Cubs prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Wes Darvill, Dallas Beeler, Matt Loosen, Armando Rivero and Lendy Castillo. This year, Castillo will be reunited with some of his teammates from the A’s Minor League system who will also be on Mesa.

A first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Russell batted .275 in 107 games at Class A Advanced Stockton in 2013.

Another player on the Cubs’ Top 20 Prospects list who’s scheduled to play for Mesa is right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards (ranked No. 6), who will turn 23 on Sept. 3. In nine starts at Tennessee this year, Edwards has given up 11 earned runs on 26 hits and 18 walks over 44 innings. He’s struck out 45. In his Minor League career, Edwards has given up two home runs over 233 innings.

Russell and Edwards will be joined by other Cubs prospects on Mesa, including right-handed pitchers Zach Cates and Ivan Pineyro, lefty Gerardo Concepcion, first baseman Dan Vogelbach (No. 11) and outfielder Jacob Hannemann. Hannemann will be on the taxi squad and play twice a week.

Vogelbach was batting .266 with 15 home runs, 27 doubles and 72 RBIs at Class A Daytona this season.

The Arizona Fall League will open on Oct. 7, and teams will play at the Spring Training stadiums in the Phoenix area, including Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. Bryant was named the Fall League’s Most Valuable Player last year.

Sweeney exits with left hamstring strain

CINCINNATI — Cubs outfielder Ryan Sweeney left Tuesday’s 3-0 win over the Reds in the second inning with a strained left hamstring.

Sweeney was injured while running out a ground ball he hit up the middle to lead off the second, on which Cincinnati shortstop Zack Cozart made a pretty spinning throw to get Sweeney at first base.

"We’ll see how he is tomorrow," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think we’ll wait until tomorrow to see how it shakes out."

Rookie Matt Szczur replaced Sweeney in right field in the bottom half of the frame.

Starlin returns after taking bereavement leave

CINCINNATI — Shortstop Starlin Castro returned to the Cubs and was in the starting lineup for their series opener against the Reds on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park after being on bereavement leave.

Castro went back to his native Dominican Republic to be with family following a car crash that killed a relative and three friends last Wednesday.

"He’s doing fine. He was thankful to be able to go home and be with his family, just to put closure with his family member there," manager Rick Renteria said. "He said he’s ready to go. He looks like he’s in a good place."

"Losing people in your family is not easy," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "It’s a reality check for everyone, not just for us, but everyone who knows him. One day you’re here, and one day you’re gone. It’s life, and that’s why you appreciate little things so much, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen at any time. … It’s just a tough time, and you just want to support him."

Castro went 2-for-4 in the Cubs’ 3-0 victory.

Extra bases

Outfielder Justin Ruggiano was continuing to nurse a sore left ankle on Tuesday and was not in the starting lineup for the Cubs’ series opener against Cincinnati.

"He’s still managing it," Renteria said. "We’ll see how to proceed with him. It’s day to day."

Cubs.com

As Soler debuts, Turner to make first Cubs start

Chicago continuing to get good looks at future; Reds counter with Latos

By Caitlin Swieca

Wednesday’s game in Cincinnati will give Cubs fans their first long look at two faces they hope will be a big part of their future as Jorge Soler will join the lineup and Jacob Turner will take the mound.

Soler, a 22-year-old from Cuba, has been on the radar of Cubs fans since he was signed to a nine-year, $30 million contract in 2012. He’ll join Javier Baez as the second member of the team’s “core four” prospects in the Major Leagues.

The outfielder is the Cubs’ No. 5 prospect, according to MLB.com, and posted a .340/.432/.700 line with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs this season between the Cubs’ Rookie league (rehab games), Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

"We’re starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel," said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo after Soler’s Monday callup. "There’s always an expectation to win, but with these guys coming up, they’re going to be patient and let them develop and get their at-bats in, but at the same time, we want to win, too."

Turner is a much newer part of Chicago’s plans, having just been acquired in a trade with the Marlins on Aug. 8. He’s made two relief appearances since the trade, but this will mark his first Cubs appearance as a starter, the role he filled most of the time for Miami.

"He’s come in, relieved for us, I think he’s done well," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria. "I know he sees himself as a starter, which I think everybody does. I think we just want to see him pitch. We just want to see how he does. We want to encourage him, we’re trying to stay as positive as possible."

In two career starts against the Reds, Turner is 1-1 with a 4.09 ERA, including a start earlier this month when he was hit hard for five runs on nine hits over four innings.

The Reds will counter with Mat Latos, who’s just returning from the birth of his first child, a son, on Monday. Latos is 6-2 in 10 career starts against the Cubs, accumulating a 2.66 ERA over 64 1/3 innings.

He’s coming off a six-inning outing against Atlanta in which he limited the damage to one run despite giving up nine hits.

Cubs: Russell among prospects slated for Arizona Fall League

Shortstop Addison Russell, ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's list of the Cubs' Top 20 prospects and No. 6 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, will play for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.

The Cubs acquired the shortstop on July 4 from the Athletics in a deal involving right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Russell is batting .297 in 62 games this season, and since joining Double-A Tennessee, he has hit .297 with 12 home runs and 10 doubles in 44 games.

A strong right-handed hitter, the 20-year-old Russell batted .282 in 21 games for the Solar Sox last year, and he was teammates with Cubs prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Soler, Wes Darvill, Dallas Beeler, Matt Loosen, Armando Rivero and Lendy Castillo. This year, Castillo will be reunited with some of his teammates from the A’s Minor League system who will also be with Mesa.

Worth noting

• The Reds are 10-1-1 in 12 series against divisional rivals Chicago, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh.

• Soler will be the eighth player to make his Major League debut for the Cubs this season.

Cubs.com

Calling all hitters: Cubs adding Soler to display case

Prospect arrives as singular talent in club’s staggering collection of young bats

By Phil Rogers

CHICAGO — Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

The arrival of another young Cubs hitter with an impressive pedigree.

Go out of town, fail to check the box scores and you might miss the arrival of a couple of guys you’ve been waiting on — for one year, two years, three years or maybe all your life, if you have been waiting for the start of the Cubs’ era.

A Chicago season that started with the White Sox’s Jose Abreu arriving on the South Side as the second coming of Frank Thomas is ending with the Cubs starting to put the pieces together after three years of a ground-up rebuilding effort by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

When Cuban Jorge Soler takes his place in right field on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, playing alongside newcomers Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez and young veterans Anthony Rizzo (25) and Starlin Castro (24), the Cubs will have a lineup built to last — the kind that makes fans dream about long runs at the top.

And, as you know, this isn’t all that’s in the Pipeline.

By this time next year, third baseman Kris Bryant and possibly shortstop Addison Russell and left fielder/catcher Kyle Schwarber will have taken their places at Wrigley Field. Outfielders Albert Almora and Billy McKinney shouldn’t be far away, either.

These might be the dog days around Major League Baseball, but not for fans of the Cubs. As painful as it was to watch their team play out the string in recent seasons, this September will be different. It will offer a sneak preview of the team that Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod have been patiently assembling since they arrived late in 2011.

No one knows where the franchise goes from here.

When you haven’t won a World Series for 106 years, it’s preposterous to think about winning three in 10 years, as the Red Sox did after Epstein took over the strong organization he inherited from Dan Duquette and Mike Port, or the five in 14 seasons that the Yankees did under Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. But for the first time since baseball games were on the radio, it is not delusional for Cubs fans to dream about their team achieving sustained success.

How can you not get excited about what these kids are doing? Soler, signed at age 20 to a nine-year, $30 million contract on the heels of Yoenis Cespedes’ deal with the Athletics, has put together a career slash line of .307/.383/.551 with a .935 OPS in 151 Minor League games — totals that could have been higher if not for injuries and the challenges presented by his abrupt cultural shift. He’s hit .340 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and a Minors-best 1.132 OPS in 62 games this year.

Any organization would be thrilled to have Soler.

Bryant, selected second overall in 2013 from the University of San Diego, leads the Minor Leagues with 43 home runs this year. He has a .331/.431/.679 slash line in 168 career games (including a 1.118 OPS this season). Bryant is probably as ready for the Major Leagues as Baez, Alcantara or Soler, but the Cubs are leaving him in Triple-A Iowa to finish out his Minor League Player of the Year season and hopefully carry the I-Cubs to a Pacific Coast League title.

Imagine an organization getting to pair Bryant and Soler.

Baez, who was a first-round pick in 2011, is a natural shortstop who has hit 67 home runs the last two seasons, including seven in his first 20 Major League games. He put up a career slash line of .278/.336/.545 in 319 games in the Minors.

Isn’t it sick for one organization to have three kids with the power of Baez, Bryant and Soler?

Then there’s the left-handed-hitting Schwarber, a first-round pick this year from Indiana University who balances out the right-handed bats. He’s played only 68 games as a pro and is currently in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Schwarber’s slash line is .352/.440/.664 — the third 1.100-plus OPS among the Cubs’ top prospects.

Are these guys using aluminum bats?

Between them, Baez, Soler, Bryant and Schwarber have played 426 games as pros. Divide their combined production into blocks of 500 at-bats and you have four guys hitting .300 with an average of 34 home runs and 104 RBIs.

These are Minor League numbers, sure. But they were put together in an era of dominant pitching, and at Wrigley Field, the kids get to hit around Rizzo and Castro, who this year have combined to hit .282 and project to produce 52 home runs and 167 RBIs.

Here’s one final number to add to the equation: one error in 41 games. That’s what has been charged to Russell since he arrived at Double-A Tennessee after he and McKinney were acquired in the trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The 20-year-old shortstop is yet another high-level hitter (slash line of .301/.381/.527 in 227 games as a pro), but Russell figures to be the steadiest player of the bunch. His profile is absolutely Jeterian.

Maybe you’ve seen a time when one organization had this many ultra-productive, ultra-promising players age 25 and under. But I don’t think I have.

With Rizzo, Castro and Soler signed long term, and so many other young, low-salaried guys in the lineup, the Cubs are positioned as well as any team in the Majors to chase free agents or big-ticket talents available through trades for the foreseeable future.

Forget goats, black cats and unfortunate fans making ill-advised plays on foul balls. The Cubs aren’t going to take chances with their next contender. They’re going to overwhelm their sad history with a wave of talent like only the best teams ever put together.

ESPNChicago.com

Baez making history — good and bad

By Jesse Rogers

After yet another four-strikeout game Tuesday against the Cincinnati Reds, there must be some growing concern about Chicago Cubs rookie Javier Baez. Maybe not within the team, but definitely within a portion of the fan base that hasn’t seen a player like this in a long time — maybe ever.

It’s understandable to be confused by what you’re seeing. There’s the prolific home runs — seven of them so far — and the many strikeouts. He has 40 already, including striking out four times in each of four separate games. According to ESPN Stats & Information, no one has accomplished that feat within their first 21 career games in more than 100 years. And he’s the first player ever to hit six or more home runs and strike out 30 or more times in his first 20 games, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

We are seeing something unique, and making a judgment on him for that reason alone would be premature. It’s hard to compare him to anyone in baseball. At his current strikeout and home run rate, he would hit about 42 long balls and strike out 240 times. Let that sink in.

For now, the comparisons to other major leaguers won’t sound favorable on the surface. Adam Dunn comes to mind. So does Mark Reynolds. These are/were high strikeout, low batting average, high home run hitters. In fact, former Cub Dave Kingman might be best as a comparison. He was a career .236 hitter and on a per-162 game basis he would average 37 home runs, 101 RBIs, 51 walks and 152 strikeouts. Kingman had four seasons of hitting sub-.240 with 30 or more home runs. That looks a lot like what Baez’s stat line could be over a full year, though both the home runs and strikeouts could be even higher.

Here’s the good news: These seem to be worst-case scenarios for Baez. We can already safely say he has power that won’t disappear for a long time. That’s not an easy statement to make regarding a 21-year-old middle infielder. But it is for him. So he has the power; now the rest of his game has to come along. He doesn’t feel like the type who would have to sacrifice home runs to bring up his batting average and on-base percentage. Experience and coaching should do that.

Dunn hasn’t exactly had a bad career. If Baez can reach base as much as Dunn did in his prime, no one will care about the strikeouts. And that’s the point here. It’s not about how Baez makes his outs — or even how the team makes them — it’s about how many he makes over the course of the season. And, of course, when he makes them. Cutting down on just a few strikeouts in favor of a few more walks while being able to perform in high leverage situations — instead of just swinging for the fences — are the adjustments he’ll need to make. The talent in him says he can do it, but his head will have to catch up.

Here’s an idea moving forward. Forget about the strikeout totals and just look at his home runs and on-base percentage. If they are headed in the right direction then so is Baez. Otherwise, the Cubs may have to “settle” for Dunn or Reynolds. There are worse outcomes. Plenty worse. He could be a .210 hitter with no power. Let’s see how this plays out while admiring the uniqueness he brings — both the good and bad.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 3, Reds 0

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs beat the Cincinnati Reds 3-0 on Tuesday night. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Before a short rain delay in the first inning, Anthony Rizzo took Johnny Cueto deep to right for his 30th home run of the season. Arismendy Alcantara also went out to right with a man on in the seventh inning to extend the Chicago lead. Travis Wood kept the Reds off balance all night and gave up just two hits and a walk over six innings. He struck out five. Three relievers shut down the Reds the rest of the way, and Hector Rondon earned his 22nd save.

What it means: The Cubs have been pitching lights out, and they followed up a one-hit effort on Sunday by giving up just three Tuesday. It was one of Wood’s best starts of the season; a strong final month for him can’t hurt going into next season. The Cubs’ team ERA in August is a sparkling 2.96. That’s second best in the National League this month.

Baez whiffs: Javier Baez struck out four times. It was his fourth four-strikeout game this season. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Baez became the first player in more than 100 years to reach that mark in his first 21 career games.

Rizzo leaves: Rizzo became just the sixth player in baseball to reach 30 home runs this season, a feat he achieved for the first time in his young career. Not only has he increased his power this season, he’s done it while bringing up his batting average, which was a point of criticism last year. He left the game after batting in the seventh inning; replays showed him wincing after his swing and a jog to first base. Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper said Rizzo left with lower back tightness. Outfielder Ryan Sweeney also left the game with a reported hamstring strain.

Castro’s return: Starlin Castro played for the first time in a week after he was activated from the bereavement list. He had two hits in his first game since Aug. 19.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series takes place on Wednesday night at 6:10 CT when Jacob Turner (4-7, 5.77 ERA) makes his first start as a Cub. He’ll face Mat Latos (4-3, 2.99). Outfield prospect Jorge Soler is expected to make his major league debut.

ESPNChicago.com

Series preview: Cubs at Reds

By Jesse Rogers

The Chicago Cubs open a three-game series against the Cincinnati Reds on Tuesday night.

• Tuesday: Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91 ERA) vs. Johnny Cueto (15-7, 2.20), 6:10 p.m.

• Wednesday: Jacob Turner (4-7, 5.77) vs. Mat Latos (4-3, 2.99), 6:10 p.m.

• Thursday: Jake Arrieta (7-4, 2.53) vs. Dylan Axelrod (0-0, 3.00), 11:35 a.m.

Castro returns: Shortstop Starlin Castro is back after missing the last five games due to a family tragedy in the Dominican Republic. A car accident claimed the lives of several friends and a relative. Castro had played in all 125 games this season for the Cubs, making his third All-Star team, before leaving the team last Wednesday.

Soler debuts: He’s not in the lineup Tuesday but he 22-year-old outfielder Jorge Soler should be on Wednesday for his major league debut. Soler signed a nine-year contract in 2012 but was plagued by injuries the past two seasons. Once healthy, he took off for Triple-A Iowa, hitting three home runs over his final four games, including one on Monday night before being pulled from the game and getting promoted.

Who’s Hot/Who’s Not: Arismendy Alcantara has gotten hot again. He was 8-for-23 (.348) on the most recent home stand, including a go-ahead home run in the series finale sweep of the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday. … Although he hit two home runs on the home stand, Javier Baez was just 3-for-22 (.136).

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ Russell, Edwards to play in AFL

By Jesse Rogers

Pitcher C.J. Edwards and shortstop Addison Russell are among seven players the Chicago Cubs will send to participate in the Arizona Fall League, MLB announced on Tuesday.

Both players were limited this summer due to injuries.

Russell, 20, is the third-best prospect in baseball, according to ESPN Insider Keith Law. He participated in fall ball last season while a member of the Oakland Athletics after being drafted 11th overall in 2012. Russell was sidelined at the beginning of this season with a hamstring injury. He was traded to the Cubs for pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel shortly after returning to action. He’s currently at Double-A Tennessee.

Edwards, rated 67th, also missed time this season with shoulder soreness. Also at Double-A Tennessee, Edwards is 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA in nine starts. He was acquired in 2013 as part of a trade with Texas which sent Matt Garza to the Rangers.

Other Cubs participating in the Arizona Fall League are pitchers Zach Cates, Gerardo Concepcion and Ivan Pineyero. First baseman Dan Vogelbach is on the roster as is outfielder Jacob Hannemann, who was named to the taxi-squad.

Absent from fall participation is 2014 first-round pick Kyle Schwarber. He signed with the Cubs and started playing for the organization shortly after being drafted this summer so a need for more at-bats and playing time probably wasn’t a high priority. Last summer, first-round pick Kris Bryant was a late signing so the extra time during the fall made sense. He won the Fall League MVP in 2013.

The Arizona Fall League consists of six teams made up of Double-A and Triple-A prospects from around baseball. Each major league organization provides seven players subject to certain eligibility requirements. The Cubs will play for the Mesa Solar Sox.

ESPNChicago.com

Kris Bryant’s quest for 50 home runs

By Jesse Rogers

Hitting 50 home runs is a rare accomplishment in baseball, even rarer in the minor leagues, where teams play fewer games and players can be moved from one level to the next at a moment’s notice. Chicago Cubs prospect Kris Bryant is in sight of that number, though he’ll need a big final week at Triple-A Iowa to get there.

The third baseman has 43 home runs entering play Tuesday, meaning he needed seven in the final six regular-season games for an Iowa team that’s in the hunt for a playoff berth. (Iowa’s regular season ends Sept. 1.) If he can hit 50 — spread between Double-A and Triple-A — he’ll become the first player to do so in minor league baseball since former Chicago White Sox slugger Ron Kittle did it in 1982.

“Most guys don’t get a chance to hit 50 home runs,” Kittle said of minor leaguers in an interview Monday, “because if they’re having that kind of success, they usually get called up.”

That’s not in the cards for Bryant this season, so he’s been able to chase a home run mark that’s stood for 32 years. Noting that this is Bryant’s first full season in pro baseball and that they might need a 40-man roster spot, the Cubs have said the 22-year-old isn’t getting called up. However, they don’t want to highlight the fact that they’ll get an extra year out of him before free agency if they wait until next April to bring him up.

“I would probably be a little upset and demand to go play somewhere else in the big leagues,” Kittle joked of Bryant’s plight.

Kittle said he was held back, as well, because the White Sox had an expensive Steve Kemp playing in front of him in 1982. But he did get a September call-up, something the Cubs say won’t happen for Bryant. Who’s ever heard of a player approaching 50 home runs in the minor leagues not getting promoted?

“If he’s thought about it, he’s not mentioning anything to us,” Triple-A Iowa manager Marty Pevey said.

To be fair, the Texas Rangers said their top prospect, Joey Gallo, isn’t coming up either, and he has 40 home runs, the most recent with Double-A Frisco.

Either way, it’s a special season for Bryant, and if he can get to No. 50, it’s bound to be a lasting memory for him. Kittle certainly remembers his 50th as if it was yesterday. He was playing for the Edmonton Trappers in the Pacific Coast League, the same league Bryant is in.

“It came on the next-to-last day of the season,” Kittle recalled. “On a 3-2 pitch. A slider. I actually got up again in the game with the bases loaded and they intentionally walked me. I’m not kidding.”

Kittle said pitchers stopped throwing him strikes long before he got to No. 50, so he had to take advantage of the mistakes when he could. Bryant has also had issues seeing pitches to hit, and he’s made the best of it by taking walks while still hitting his share of home runs. He had five in April, 12 in May, 11 in June, seven in July and eight in August. Nothing has slowed him down.

“How many guys have you seen hit nearly 50 home runs?” Pevey asked rhetorically. “It’s been a ride for him this year.”

Kittle knows all about the ride. He admits he was gassed by the end of the 1982, when the media attention picked up steam as he got closer to 50 home runs. Then he came to Chicago in September, where the attention grew even more.

“I was tired,” Kittle said. “It was a long season. You’re playing in some hot places. Travel was tough. But it was a great experience. Fifty home runs or 49 was no big deal. I think it was bigger for the media.”

Kittle went on to win Rookie of the Year in 1983, when he hit 35 home runs, helping the White Sox to the playoffs. But his home run totals steadily declined after that season, and he ended up with 176 in a 10-year career. Of course, Kittle was signed as an amateur free agent, while Bryant was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Cubs fans undoubtedly are hoping for more.

“I like people doing exciting things,” Kittle said of Bryant’s quest for 50. “I can’t wait to see him the in the big leagues.”

“That’s your goal. To get to the top.”

Bryant has never showed in public statements any frustration with the Cubs’ decision to keep him in the minors. He’s simply stated that he wants them to have a tough choice to make. Hitting 50 home runs — or even coming close — puts that decision-making in the spotlight.

There weren’t service-time concerns for players such as Kittle back when he was coming up. But the Cubs can control Bryant a year further into the future if they wait; that’s always been the prudent thing to do. And by keeping Bryant in the minors all season, he has a chance at achieving something special.

Kittle can’t believe no one has accomplished the feat since he did — even in the steroid era.

“I suppose anybody who was taking any juice was moving up the ladder a little bit quicker,” he said.

As good as Bryant has been this season, it’s doubtful he’ll reach 50 home runs — hitting seven in six games is a tall task, even for him. And if he plays in all six games, that would be only 138 for the season — fewer than a full season in either Triple A or the big leagues. Whatever the final total, he’s had a magical year. But that round figure of 50 has a nice ring to it.

“It’s a magical number,” Kittle said.

ESPNChicago.com

Plate discipline helps Soler’s rapid rise

By Jesse Rogers

After only about a season’s worth of at-bats in his entire minor league career, Chicago Cubs outfield prospect Jorge Soler is headed for the major leagues. He’ll most likely debut in Cincinnati this week, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Soler, 22, was injured last year and earlier this season, so he hasn’t played a full season yet in the minors. But in compiling 15 home runs and 57 RBIs to go along with a .340 batting average in Double-A and Triple-A this season, the Cubs deemed him ready for prime time.

Listed at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, teammates say he’s a “freakish” athlete who has the potential to be a five-tool player, although he wasn’t a stolen base threat in the minor leagues. But that potential is one reason the Cubs signed the Cuban native to a nine-year, $30 million deal in 2012.

Since recovering from two different hamstring injuries, Soler has been on fire in Double-A and then Triple-A. He batted .415 — with a .494 on-base percentage — with six home runs and 22 RBIs in 22 games at Double-A Tennessee before his promotion to Triple-A Iowa, where his slash line is .282 AVG/.378 OBP/.618 SLG with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 32 games.

Of all the Cubs prospects, Soler is being fast-tracked to the major leagues for two likely reasons: He has already signed a long-term major league contract, and he might have the best plate discipline of them all. The Cubs have always been up front about the fact that strikeouts and walks are a big factor in determining promotions at all levels. Since he signed with the Cubs, Soler has been on the right side of that equation.

In three minor league seasons, he has struck out a total of 105 times against 66 walks. This year he has 41 strikeouts and 29 walks split between Double-A and Triple-A. That’s a 1.41 ratio. For comparison, Javier Baez had a 3.82 strikeout-to-walk ratio before being called up. Top prospect Kris Bryant has a 1.83 ratio this year, meaning he’s close, as well. Considering Soler’s age and experience, he has proved that he has the plate discipline of a more seasoned veteran.

On-base percentage is still a major concern for the Cubs, who rank second to last in the National League (.298) this season. Soler should help in that department as his .432 on-base percentage in the minors this season is off the charts. Bryant has that ability, too. When the Cubs start to reach base more often, their transformation on offense will be complete.

For now, Soler gets the same chance that fellow called-up prospects Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are getting: a head-start on 2015.

And fans get to see another piece to the puzzle debut.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs want to see how big bet on Jorge Soler pays off

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs wouldn’t second-guess their evaluation of Jorge Soler, reframing questions about their $30 million Cuban outfielder with answers like: “As long as he stays on the field…” or “When he’s been healthy, he’s produced.”

The Cubs want to see how this big bet will pay off, pulling Soler from Triple-A Iowa’s game on Monday night in Tacoma, Wash., after he hit a three-run bomb off Seattle Mariners prospect Taijuan Walker.

Soler forced the issue at the age of 22 and is expected to make his big-league debut on Wednesday night against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park. While his nine-year, major-league contract made a September call-up a foregone conclusion, the Cubs couldn’t wait any longer.

There’s no doubt Soler earned it after putting up eight homers, 29 RBI and a .996 OPS in his first 32 games in the Pacific Coast League, showing a mature understanding of the strike zone and what he wants to do at the plate.

The Cubs haven’t accomplished anything yet, but Soler steps into a lineup that already includes Javier Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro. The farm system still has elite prospects Kris Bryant and Addison Russell knocking on the door. Theo Epstein’s front office will have the trade chips and the financial flexibility to get a frontline pitcher and a veteran bat this winter.

“We’re not here to make pronouncements or sort of look for deeper meaning,” Epstein told reporters after promoting Baez from Iowa in early August. “That’s your job. But I’d be blind if I didn’t recognize that there are a lot of nice things going on in this organization and there are a lot of reasons for optimism.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel. We have a lot of talent moving through our system and getting through to the big-league level, so that provides us opportunities in the near future and the distant future – to make it count and to win.

“We’re excited about that – even as we recognize there is an extraordinary amount of work left to be done. That continues. That doesn’t stop or change one iota because one player’s made it up to the big leagues.”

Soler became a huge priority in the first several weeks of the Epstein administration, drawing a contingent of Cubs officials to the Dominican Republic around Thanksgiving 2011.

While the Cubs have been bridesmaids in too many international sweepstakes, they ultimately outbid a group that included the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers in June 2012 to get Soler, who cashed in before a new collective bargaining agreement changed the game.

Soler has played only 151 games in the minors, showing a Cubs Way approach (66 walks vs. 105 strikeouts) that’s even more impressive when you consider he missed roughly two years of game action while defecting from Cuba, training in the Dominican Republic, establishing residency in Haiti and finally getting clearance to sign in the United States.

The Cubs backed Soler after the Florida State League suspended him for grabbing a bat during a bench-clearing incident last year, saying he was provoked in an isolated incident. Mariano Duncan, the hitting coach for advanced Class-A Daytona, put it this way during an interview in spring training:

“He let all the emotional stuff bother him,” Duncan explained. “I just said: You know what, you’re a $30 million guy, and everywhere you go, you’re going to see some people that try to yell at you and say a lot of things.

“That’s like Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols. Every time those guys go to another place, people want to cheer for them and people want to boo them, because those guys are two of the highest-paid players in baseball.

“A lot of times, you’re going to see some selfish guys. A lot of times, you’re going to see some jealous guys, and they’re going to want to come over and say some bad stuff to you. Don’t let that kind of stuff bother you.”

The Cubs dismissed the whispers from anonymous scouts in the Arizona Fall League about body language and effort levels, saying Soler was told to ease up after recovering from a stress fracture in his left leg.

The Cubs did a full-body assessment after Soler dealt with a series of hamstring injuries earlier this season, trying to rewire his balance, stride and posture.

The Cubs gambled on Manny Ramirez, believing the Iowa player/coach could help a young right-handed power hitter with the ability to stay on pitches and drive balls to right-center field.

After being a mystery player for so long, it will be fun to watch Soler on the big stage and see why the Cubs view him as another big piece of the puzzle at Clark and Addison.

“The guys are embracing whatever movement the organization is (leading),” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “They see the young talent that’s here. They saw it in the spring. Now they’re seeing them here on the field. They’re seeing them as teammates. They’re seeing them as guys that contribute and help you win ballgames. Ultimately, that’s the whole goal of any organization, when you’re getting this talent to start to surface. You know they’re going to have hiccups, but in the end, they need to perform.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Russell, Edwards going to Arizona Fall League

By Patrick Mooney

While Jorge Soler’s promotion from Triple-A Iowa became big news in Chicago, the Cubs are already looking ahead to the next wave of prospects.

The Arizona Fall League unveiled its rosters on Tuesday, with shortstop Addison Russell and right-hander C.J. Edwards headlining the group that will play for the Mesa Solar Sox.

On the Fourth of July, Russell became the centerpiece to the Jeff Samardzija deal with the Oakland A’s, and Baseball America’s No. 5 overall prospect will probably stay on the fringes of trade rumors.

At the age of 20, Russell is hitting .297 with 12 homers, 35 RBI and an .899 OPS through his first 44 games at Double-A Tennessee. Along with Starlin Castro and Javier Baez, the Cubs now have a surplus of up-the-middle players they insist they don’t have to deal from this winter.

Edwards needs the experience after missing most of this season dealing with fatigue/inflammation, trying to strengthen his right shoulder. He’s gone 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA through nine starts at Tennessee, putting up 45 strikeouts in 44 innings.

Edwards will turn 23 in September and the Cubs haven’t definitively answered the big question – starter or reliever? – since he came over from the Texas Rangers in last summer’s Matt Garza trade. Edwards was listed at 6-foot-2, 155 pounds in this year’s media guide.

The Cubs will send three more pitching prospects to the showcase league: right-handers Ivan Pineyro and Zach Cates and lefty Gerardo Concepcion.

After a rough start to his professional career – and failing to live up to the expectations that came with $6 million guaranteed – Concepcion reinvented himself as a 22-year-old reliever this season and earned a promotion from Class-A Kane County to advanced Class-A Daytona.

Dan Vogelbach – who’s been described as immensely popular among his teammates – will bring his big personality to the Arizona Fall League. During his age-21 season, the first baseman who might ultimately profile like a designated hitter has put up 15 homers, 72 RBI and a .779 OPS through 128 games at Daytona.

If things had worked out differently, Jacob Hannemann might have been causing havoc as a defensive back on Brigham Young University’s football team this fall. Instead, the 23-year-old outfielder will be on Mesa’s taxi squad after getting drafted in the third round last year and choosing baseball.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs will try not to put too much pressure on Jorge Soler

By Fred Mitchell

CINCINNATI — Rick Renteria has an immediate plan for Jorge Soler.

But it does not include any animated message or inspirational pep talk when the talented Cuban slugger is expected to make his big league debut Wednesday night against the Reds.

"We will probably welcome him, obviously," Renteria said. "But I haven’t done (anything special) with any of the other guys, other than making sure that they know the signs.

"I want (the young call-ups) to know simply that they are going to play the game. They are here to show us what they have in the context of the team framework. And I think they will do fine. The development system, we’re very proud of because they have had a lot of these guys and they have done a nice job with them. We are very comfortable when they get here."

Renteria does seem to have a solid inclination as to how he will use Soler on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. He said he likely will deploy him in right field and have him bat fifth or sixth.

One of several talented young sluggers in the Cubs system, Soler comes with excellent credentials: 15 homers and 57 RBIs with a .340 batting average in 62 games for three Cubs farm teams this season.

"I saw him in spring training a little bit," said rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks, who missed Soler’s stay with Triple-A Iowa. "I am anxious see him after all of the hype I’ve heard. I’m excited to see what it is all about."

Anthony Rizzo added this about Soler: “He is a big athlete, a big person (6-feet-4, 215 pounds). He has been doing great in the minors, hopefully it translates up here.”

Renteria is trying to temper the expectations somewhat.

"Once a guy breaks into the big leagues, they have hiccups," he said. "They can be just about anything. They will handle successes and failures as best they can."

Perhaps beginning his big league career on the road will ease Soler’s transition.

"I couldn’t say if it’s detrimental or advantageous one way or the other," Renteria said. "They are still coming out here to play the game of baseball. I think they are more concerned with what they have to do between the lines."

With Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara making an immediate impact after being called up from Iowa, the spotlight won’t be on just Soler to succeed in the final month of the season.

"It’s good that he played with these guys in the minors and kind of came up with Javy and Mendy," Rizzo said. "It will be easier to transition."

Castro returns: Starlin Castro rejoined the Cubs on Tuesday night from a bereavement leave. The shortstop lost a longtime close friend and family members in an automobile accident in the Dominican Republic.

"He was thankful to be able to go home and be with his family, just to put closure with his family members there," Renteria said. "He said he is ready to go."

Rizzo expressed sympathy for his teammate.

"What can you do?" Rizzo said somberly. "Losing people in your family is not easy. It’s a reality check for everyone, not just us but everyone who knows him. One day you are here and the next day you’re gone. Life … you appreciate the little things so much because you don’t know what’s going to happen at any time."

Chicago Tribune

Jorge Soler just latest prospect to stir Cubs’ pot

By David Haugh

Besides headline writers, nobody enjoyed the Cubs’ latest move more than their loyal fans, who understandably get more puffy-chested with each promotion.

Soler powers Cubs. Soler energy sparks rally. Soler eclipses 30-home-run mark.

Word-play options surrounding Jorge Soler’s major league career capture the imagination and, suddenly, so do the possibilities for the Cubs.

A 6-foot-4, 215-pound Cuban with natural power, Soler became the latest Cubs prospect to get the big call, taking the I-Pass lane through Iowa to speed his way through their minor league system. Dramatically, the plot thickens in the season of development on the North Side.

Never has it been cooler in the basement. Soler, 21, joins the most exciting last-place team in baseball, following recent call-ups Javier Baez, Arismendy Alcantara and Kyle Hendricks in a clubhouse full of fresh faces. Not to say the Cubs are young, but Soler’s addition makes their average age barely above Jackie Robinson West’s.

How much transition has the team undergone since April? Examine the opening-day lineups of the Chicago Cubs and the Iowa Cubs and you will find more Triple-A players (four) on the current Cubs roster than Chicago players (three).

That doesn’t even include Soler, who opened the season at Double-A Tennessee, or Kris Bryant, perhaps the biggest future star in the bunch with 43 minor league home runs still stuck in Triple A because of baseball economics.

But the infusion of youth isn’t even the most remarkable part about this season. It’s the way the Cubs have done what nobody anticipated by turning a summer of nothing into something, a point reinforced by their sweep of the American League East-leading Orioles. They traded their ace, Jeff Samardzija, dumped a former Gold Glove winner in Darwin Barney and spent more time watching progress in the Pacific Coast League than worrying about the NL Central. Yet since May 17, the Cubs entered Tuesday night’s game against the Reds having won as many games as they had lost — 45-45.

When the Cubs begin winning on a regular basis, a process that could start as early as 2015 — when a .500 season represents a realistic goal — core players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro could reflect on this season as the one they finally started to understand winning. This could go down as the season — or half-season — when the Cubs’ major league production finally began to catch up with minor league projections.

A big part of winning involves creating a culture, one President Theo Epstein left Boston to change, and slowly and painfully you can see signs the Cubs could be on the verge of becoming something special. By exceeding embarrassingly low expectations, the Cubs of 2014 in a way have resembled the Blackhawks of 2007-08; a different sport but the same sense of anticipation based on prospects on pace to realize their potential simultaneously.

Before the march to mediocrity began in mid-May, the Cubs hosted the White Sox in a crosstown series that brought inevitable comparisons. At the time the Cubs were 11-18, Baez wasn’t hitting his weight in Iowa and the rooftop owners with obstructed views were considered the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, the Sox arrived two games below .500 looking new and improved thanks to the emergence of Jose Abreu. This was before Sox relievers started auditioning to be batting-practice pitchers.

"In the unofficial race to respectability, the Sox have taken a slight lead over the Cubs,” I wrote May 5.

And they had. Nearly four months later, the Cubs have done more than overtake their city rivals as the next Chicago team most likely to make the playoffs. They have become the envy of many organizations in baseball because of the way prospects such as Soler and Hendricks have progressed quicker than many projected. Consider also the addition of Addison Russell, one of baseball’s top-rated prospects acquired in the Samardzija trade, who could be in the everyday lineup with Bryant when the Cubs and Sox meet again.

Imagine a batting order of Alcantara, Baez, Rizzo, Castro, Bryant, Soler, Russell and Welington Castillo challenging pitchers as early as Memorial Day 2015. Somewhere, ball-crushing first-round draft pick Kyle Schwarber says, “Don’t forget about me.”

Moving forward, it’s up to Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts to adjust the organization’s budget for this winter so his business side aligns with his baseball team’s accelerated development. That means being willing to outbid all suitors for free-agent pitcher Jon Lester to address the need for an ace. That means empowering Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer, for the first time since they arrived in 2011, to pursue options aggressively that fill out pitching depth with proven starters.

That means the Cubs acting like a big-market team again, something easy to envision them doing sooner than expected — and not just because of the Soler electricity.

Chicago Tribune

Tuesday’s recap: Cubs 3, Reds 0

By Fred Mitchell

The summary

Travis Wood, who entered Tuesday night’s game with a 1-5 record in eight career starts against the Reds, tamed his former team 3-0.

Wood (8-11) went six innings, allowing just two hits to end his 12-game winless streak.

The Cubs have won four in a row, notching their fifth in 14 games against the Reds this season.

At the plate

Anthony Rizzo hit his 30th homer in the first inning to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. The game was delayed by rain for 50 minutes with two outs in the first. Arismendy Alcantara hit a two-run homer, his fifth, in the seventh to make it 3-0.

On the mound

Neil Ramirez struck out the side in relief in the seventh inning. Hector Rondon got his 22nd save.

Big hurt

Ryan Sweeney left the game with a left hamstring injury suffered in the second inning. He will be evaluated further but had problems with the hamstring earlier this season. Rizzo left the game in the eighth with lower-back tightness that isn’t believed to be serious.

The number

30: Rizzo’s home runs represent the 11th time a Cubs left-handed hitter has had at least 30. Billy Williams did it five times, including a club-best 42 in 1970. The last Cubs left-handed hitter to have 30 was Fred McGriff in 2002.

The quote

Alcantara on his home run: “I tried to make contact, that’s it. It was a fastball up.”

The quote II

Wood on his first victory since June 15: “It feels good. Especially to be able to throw the ball the way I did and for our offense (to come through). That’s a good pitcher (Johnny Cueto) we beat. He had his stuff and we were fortunate enough to hit two homers off him, which was enough to win the game.”

Up next

Cubs (Turner (4-7, 5.77) at Reds (Latos (4-3, 2.99), 6:10 p.m., Wednesday, CSN.

Chicago Tribune

Soler keeps Cubs’ assembly line moving

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs decided to wait until Wednesday for Jorge Soler’s major league debut because of the long flight today from Seattle to Cincinnati.

Soler was playing for Triple-A Iowa Monday night in Tacoma when he got the news of his promotion, shortly after being removed from the game following a three-run home run.

But jet lag was only one reason for the delay. The Cubs also wanted to avoid Soler having to face Reds ace Johnny Cueto right off the bat, opting to start him Wednesday against Mike Leake.

The Cuban slugger is expected to arrive in Cincinnati before game time tonight, but will not be activated. The Cubs don’t need to make a roster move until Wednesday, and with the September call-ups coming they could option a rookie to Iowa for five days and call him back up on Monday.   

Soler’s arrival may not be treated with the significance of Javier Baez’s debut in Colorado on Aug. 5, but he’s certainly an integral part of the Cubs’ youth movement. Javy Time and Soler Power will be part of the Cubs’ fans lexicon for years.

The assembly line is currently in motion, with a new prospect every couple weeks, and a few more—although not Kris Bryant—expected on Monday.

When Soler signed his nine-year, $30 million deal with the Cubs in June 2012, it became the longest contract in team history, surpassing Alfonso Soriano’s eight-year, $136 million deal after the 2006 season.

The difference was president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were signing Soler to win down the road, while former general manager Jim Hendry was trying to win then.

The Cubs outbid the Yankees, Dodgers and a few other teams for Soler, after missing out the previous winter on Cuban outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who signed with the A’s.

It took a couple weeks to make the signing official, but Soler was added to the 40-man roster on June 27, 2012, as the team designated pitcher Randy Wells for assignment to open up a roster spot. Wells is out of baseball.

Soler’s development plan included a gradual process the first two years, followed by a quick ascension from Double-A to the Cubs the last couple months. He played a couple weeks in the Rookie League games in 2012 before a promotion to Class-A Peoria, where he hit .338 with three home runs and 15 RBIs in 20 games. The Cubs then opted not to send him to the Arizona Fall League, believing he needed more work with team hitting instructors on his stride and the positioning of his hands.

"It’s not a question of talent,” Epstein said. “It’s a lot about ‘the Cubs way’ that we want to teach him, and it’s a good chance to get one-on-one instruction, ” Epstein said. "That type of thing is difficult to do in the (Arizona) Fall League … where you’re trying to compete and stats count.”

Soler played in only 55 games with Class-A Daytona last year due to injuries and a suspension that drew headlines because he had a bat in his hand when confronting an opposing team near their dugout. It turned out to be an isolated incident, and Soler hasn’t had any problems since.

After another hamstring injury held him back at Tennessee, the Cubs sent him to rehab in Mesa, Ariz., where he met new coach Manny Ramirez. The two hit it off, and Ramirez was considered a mentor to Soler in Iowa.

Now it’s Soler’s time to show he’s the real deal. His addition gives Cubs manager Rick Renteria the chance to have three sluggers—Baez, Anthony Rizzo and Soler—batting together in the lineup, an appealing option.

The Cubs still say Bryant won’t be called up in September, so the rest of the puzzle will have to wait until 2015.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Soler homers, gets called up

By Fred Mitchell

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Monday at Tacoma:  0-for-4, run scored, walk, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  7-for-30 (.233), 3 home runs, 5 RBIs, 14 strikeouts.

Season: 132 games, .330 batting average, 43 home runs, 108 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Monday at Tacoma: 1-for-2, homer, 3 RBIs, strikeout.

Trending: 13-for-45 (.289), 3 homers, 11 RBIs, 11 strikeouts.

Season:  62 games, .340 batting average, 15 home runs, 57 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Monday vs. Jacksonville: Did not play.

Trending: 13-for-45 (.289), 4 home runs, 16 RBIs.

Season:  62 games, .297 batting average, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday vs. Jacksonville: 0-for-4.

Trending: 14-for-46 (.304), one homer, 5 RBIs.

Season: 119 games, .275 batting average, 9 home runs, 59 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs ready for Soler power, top Reds 3-0

By Gordon Wittenmyer

CINCINNATI — Who knows what the Cubs will have to challenge the rest of the National League next year? But they’re on the verge of finding out quickly, say guys in the clubhouse awaiting the big-league debut of $30 million outfield prospect Jorge Soler on Wednesday.

‘‘You’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel,’’ cornerstone first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. ‘‘It’s a smart move to get him up here and get him a solid five weeks to play — just like Javy [Baez]. Hopefully it overwhelms him a lot and he goes into the offseason knowing what he needs to work on, his strengths and weaknesses.’’

Rizzo, who hit his 30th homer in the first inning of Tuesday’s 3-0 victory over the Cincinnati Reds, has been the strongest clubhouse advocate of bringing up the Cubs’ best prospects as soon as possible to let them sink or swim.

Guys such as Baez, who struck out four more times Tuesday but also has seven homers in his first 21 games (to go with 40 Ks). And guys such as Arismendy Alcantara, who added a two-run homer in the seventh off All-Star Reds starter Johnny Cueto (15-8).

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he expects Soler to play right field Wednesday and bat fifth or sixth in his debut. He’ll be the eighth player to make his debut with the Cubs this season.

Rizzo said the timing is ideal for putting so many of the Cubs’ fledgling prospects together in the majors ahead of September roster expansion. They’ll be playing in games that matter, with 24 of the final 31 coming against NL Central rivals.

‘‘It’s good that everyone’s going to see these guys,’’ Rizzo said. ‘‘If we’re going to do anything in the near future, we need to take care of our division first, because that’s how you stay in the race. And you want to be contending this time next year.’’

That’s a big expectation for a team on its way to a fifth consecutive losing season. And it’s going to take a lot more than Soler and Baez.

‘‘There’s more guys coming up,’’ said Baez, who spent about two weeks as Soler’s Class AAA teammate before his own debut three weeks ago and believes the power-hitting outfielder is ready. ‘‘The team keeps getting better.’’

Notes: Shortstop Starlin Castro had two hits in his return from five games on bereavement leave.

‘‘It’s a really tough time, man,’’ said Castro, who spent time with family in the Dominican Republic after losing close friends and family in a car accident there last week. ‘‘The only guy that knows [why] is God. He knows how things happen. . . . I’m all right.’’

Cubs starter Travis Wood (8-11) snapped a string of 12 winless starts with six effortless-looking innings before Renteria inexplicably hooked him after 96 pitches.

Rosters for the prestigious Arizona Fall League were announced, with seven Cubs named, including Baseball America’s No. 5 prospect, shortstop Addison Russell. Joining him are right-hander C.J. Edwards, first baseman Dan Vogelbach, lefty Gerardo Concepcion, outfielder Jacob Hannemann and right-handers Zach Cates and Ivan Pineyro.

Rizzo left the game on a double switch in the eighth as a precaution because of tightness in his lower back. It wasn’t considered serious.

Tuesday’s 50-minute rain delay in the first made for 16 Cubs games delayed by rain this season (total of 22 hours, 46 minutes). Six have been against the Reds.

Right-fielder Ryan Sweeney left the game with a hamstring injury after running out a grounder in the second.

Daily Herald

Rozner: Would Cubs go fishing for Stanton?

By Barry Rozner

As it turns out, the sky did not fall after the Cubs dealt Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

And for all the screaming and hysteria after the blockbuster trade — that served only to bolster a burgeoning farm system — fans and media so angry then are just as suddenly optimistic as prospects begin to arrive and cloudy skies give way to a bright future.

It would seem, then, that this is not the time for the Cubs to consider moving a couple top prospects to acquire another position player.

After all the work they’ve done building up the system, and seeing the results start to show up in Chicago, the Cubs wouldn’t turn on a dime and move a couple of them for an established player.

Or, maybe they would.

The Miami Marlins have one the best players in baseball right now in Giancarlo Stanton, who leads the National League in virtually every offensive category and is a fabulous right fielder to boot.

He is an absolute monster, and the Marlins know that in two years he will walk as a free agent. He’s also going to get big dollars in arbitration in the off-season, so they’re preparing to shop him this winter and are hoping the Cubs — with the best farm system in baseball — will be a buyer.

The Cubs have the young, cheap and talented players Miami will want in return, and the Cubs will have to at least listen when the Marlins call.

They’d be crazy not to.

With Cubs unlikely to win in the next two years, they might be better off waiting until Stanton hits free agency, thereby giving up nothing except money to acquire a beast.

Or maybe they believe he’d be a perfect part of the puzzle when they’re ready to win a World Series a few years from now and they don’t want to risk letting him get to free agency, where he will command an even bigger contract than if the Cubs extended him immediately after a trade.

Position players are hardly a scarcity in the Cubs’ system these days and Jorge Soler just got the call to play right field in the majors. The Cubs already have in place Starlin Castro, Javy Baez, Matt Szczur, Arismendy Alcantara and Anthony Rizzo, and on the way are more very, very big bats in the form of Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber.

They also have shortstop Addison Russell playing up a storm, and the Cubs will be moving at least one major infield name in the next year or two.

So what if the Marlins asked for Castro and Soler? Or Baez and Soler? Or Russell and Soler? Would the Cubs trade young, unproven players under financial control for a 24-year-old Stanton who is a bona fide superstar and will be looking soon for a very big contract?

Good question, but you’re talking about the National League MVP here. How would Stanton look in a lineup with Bryant, Schwarber, Rizzo and anyone of those shortstops?

It’s a frightening thought for the rest of the league.

But it’s just the kind of decision the Cubs will be making over the next few years, as they hype the players they intend to move and keep the prospects they believe are essential to the franchise moving forward.

Not every one of these kids is going to make it big, or make it at all. Some will wash out in the minors, some will fail in the majors, and some will be traded.

The key is self-scouting and getting ahead of the moment that prospects lose their value.

Mostly, the Cubs will be making those deals to acquire pitching, and some of their bigger names — like Bryant and Schwarber — are untouchable.

So while a Stanton deal doesn’t appear to fit the Cubs’ model on the surface, scratch the surface and you can see how the Cubs would have to kick the tires on a trade that might move up the timetable and give them a genuine star who doesn’t have to develop or live up to superstar potential.

Stanton is already there.

It might be just a pipe dream, and ultimately Theo Epstein might consider the price too high, the contract too long and the prospects too valuable to trade for anything other than pitching, knowing he can still take a shot at Stanton in free agency if another team doesn’t lock him up first.

But rest assured that some prospects will be dealt and deals will be made to improve the roster.

In the meantime, the conversation for Cubs fans is starting to move away from, “When and how?” And it’s moving toward, “Who and which position?”

That’s a good thing. That means they’re closing in on competing like a major-league team again. Even if that’s another year or two away, it’s starting to feel much closer than it was when fans and media were screaming about injustice only seven weeks ago.

What a difference a few fresh faces make.

26 8 / 2014

Daily Herald

Cubs prospect Soler to join team today

By Bruce Miles

Next prospect up: Jorge Soler.

The Cubs will recall outfielder Soler from Class AAA Iowa, and indications are he will be activated for Wednesday night’s game in Cincinnati. The Cubs open a three-game series against the Reds Tuesday night.

Soler, a 22-year-old native of Havana, Cuba, signed a nine-year major-league contract in June 2012.

Although he has suffered several nagging injuries during his short minor-league career, Soler has come on recently. He hit a 3-run homer in Monday night’s Iowa victory at Tacoma.

In 32 games at Iowa, Soler had a line of .278/.378/.618 with 8 homers and 29 RBI. He began the season at Class AA Tennessee, where a leg injury hampered him. With Tennessee, he put up a line of .415/.494/.862 with 6 homers and 22 RBI. He also hit 1 homer while rehabbing with the Cubs’ Rookie League team in Arizona.

Earlier this month, the Cubs called up top infield prospect Javier Baez from Iowa. Soler and Baez will be part of a major-league club that includes “core” players Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro along with another highly regarded young player, Arismendy Alcantara.

Cubs management repeatedly has said it’s unlikely third-base prospect Kris Bryant will be called up from Iowa in September. Bryant has hit 43 home runs this year between Tennessee and Iowa.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Rondon gaining attention with every save

By Bruce Miles

One of the more underreported stories on the Cubs this season has been Hector Rondon.

We’re here to fix that.

With all the hype and hoopla surrounding the arrival of Javier Baez and the excitement over the eventual arrivals of Kris Bryant, Jorge Soler and Addison Russell, Rondon is one of the equally nice stories about the Cubs.

During the weekend series against the Orioles, the 26-year-old Rondon recorded his 20th and 21st saves of the season. Not bad for a guy who did not begin the season as the closer or even as the No. 1 contender. And it’s not bad for a guy whom the Cubs claimed in the Rule 5 draft after he suffered a pair of serious elbow injuries, one potentially devastating.

"Yeah, I’m really happy for getting 20 saves," Rondon said. "I’ve not experienced being in that position. I say thanks to the organization and to the manager giving me an opportunity."

The Cubs claimed Rondon from the Cleveland Indians organization in the December 2012 Rule 5 draft.

Unlike many Rule 5 picks, however, the Cubs did not have to “hide” Rondon on the major-league roster last year. Instead, he was thrown into the fray and was reasonably productive in an ever-changing Cubs bullpen.

The Cubs took a chance on Rondon even though he underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010 and then suffered a broken elbow in 2011.

"When I had Tommy John, OK, I can play," he said. "But when I had the other one, the doctors said the chance to come back and play baseball was 20 percent. So that put a lot on my mind. But they did a really good job on my rehab."

Did he think his career was over when he broke the elbow?

"Yeah, I think a little in that moment, but now everything’s fine," he said.

Last year the Cubs’ closer situation transitioned from Carlos Marmol to Kyuji Fujikawa to stopgap veteran Kevin Gregg, who saved 33 games.

But Gregg made some critical comments about having to yield time to setup man Pedro Strop late in the season. Gregg apologized the same day, but his days as a Cub were done.

Before this season the Cubs went out yet again and signed a veteran closer: Jose Veras. That lasted until they cut Veras on June 3.

Strop, who has turned into a fine setup man, was the assumed successor to Gregg as closer. But new manager Rick Renteria never named a closer after Veras failed in that role. But Rondon took the job and didn’t let go.

In addition to his 21 saves in 25 chances, he has a record of 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA and a solid WHIP of 1.17. He has issued 1 walk and struck out 18 in his last 21 innings.

"It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment, a young man who’s been chipping away at that role," Renteria said. "He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously. He continues to develop his slider and his mix of pitches in order to get guys off his fastball because there was a point in time when guys were looking for his fastball and were doing some damage with him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.

"He started to make some adjustments. It’s a good story."

One of the key lessons to take away is that teams, especially rebuilding teams like the Cubs, don’t have to waste money on veteran free-agent closers. They can spend a lot less developing a homegrown closer.

Big-screen dreams:

During one of the interminable rain delays on the just-concluded homestand, fans gathered in the concourse and near the tiny TVs in the stands to watch Chicago’s wonderful team in the Little League World Series.

It’s the second time this year it hit me that it would be so nice if Wrigley Field had a big screen — a “Jumbotron,” if you will.

The other time was before a Sunday game when Greg Maddux was giving his Hall of Fame speech.

How much better would it have been, and how great a communal experience would it have been for fans to watch and listen together on the big screen?

Instead, Maddux’ speech, which took place before an afternoon game, wasn’t available at all to the crowd at Wrigley Field. And fans had to crane their necks and squint their eyes to catch the Jackie Robinson West Little League team on the little TVs in the park.

Let’s hope the Wrigley Field renovations get started and get done as soon as possible. Having been to renovated Fenway Park this year and in 2011, I can tell you the modernizations have done nothing to hurt the character of that park. Instead, they enhanced the experience.

It will be the same here once the Wrigley renovations are done.

Cubs.com

Soler called up, to join Cubs on Wednesday

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs fans have had a chance to see a glimpse of the future with recent callups of Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks and Arismendy Alcantara. Now, Jorge Soler will join the group.

Soler, 22, will join the Cubs in Cincinnati, and he’s expected to be at Great American Ball Park on Wednesday.

Ranked No. 5 on MLB.com's top 20 Cubs Prospects list, Soler belted a three-run homer in the third inning Monday in Triple-A Iowa's game against Tacoma, then was replaced in the field in the bottom of the frame.

The right fielder was batting .282 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs with Iowa, including a .373 average with runners on base.

Soler began the season with Double-A Tennessee, but he suffered a leg injury after his first game on April 3. He went on the disabled list and later returned in May, but he again played sporadically. After rehabbing in Mesa, Ariz., he rejoined the Smokies in July, and batted .463 in 15 games before he was promoted to Triple-A. In nine games in July with Iowa, he hit .304 and was batting .271 this month.

The Cuban outfielder signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012, and he’s on the Cubs’ 40-man roster. He’s part of the so-called “core four” that also includes Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. Bryant is at Iowa and leads all Minor League hitters with 43 home runs, while Almora is playing for Tennessee.

Cubs.com

Discussion with Torre clarifies Rule 7.13 for Cubs

Catchers Baker, Castillo now understand where to stand on plays at the plate

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — It’s taken nearly seven months, hours of video review, discussions with umpires, managers and other catchers, but the Cubs’ Welington Castillo and John Baker believe they finally understand Rule 7.13 after some hands-on guidance from Joe Torre.

Torre, Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations, stopped by Citi Field when the Cubs played the Mets there earlier in August. Chicago coach Mike Borzello, the team’s catching specialist, asked the Hall of Fame manager and former big league catcher for clarification. And it paid off on Friday against the Orioles.

The confusion began in February when MLB announced it was adopting experimental Rule 7.13, covering collisions at home plate. What Borzello and the catchers wanted help with is the second part of the rule, which states: “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.”

The rule puts catchers at a disadvantage, Borzello said.

"We’re giving a lane [to the runner], and most players are sliding headfirst outside the lane at an arm’s length distance," Borzello said. "So now we’re talking about two lanes. I wanted [Torre] to explain to me, if I catch the ball where I’m supposed to, how am I going to be able to catch and then have enough time to reach a guy who is now two lanes away from me?

"[The runner is] not in the lane I’m giving him, he’s outside that lane, with his arm sliding by home plate trying to touch it with his hand," Borzello said. "I just feel like [the rule has] obviously helped the offensive side. It’s protected the catchers, which is obviously the reason they put the rule in, and I understand that, and I get it. But it’s working against [the catchers]."

Torre stood up in the visitors’ clubhouse, and he did a demonstration.

"What we were told," Baker said, "was that if our left foot is in fair territory, not touching the base line, then we’re offering a lane for the player to slide. If the ball is thrown and we make a read on that ball, and that ball takes us into the base line, then we won’t be found at fault for trying to block the plate."

And Baker did just that in the fifth inning on Friday. The Orioles had two outs and runners at second and first when Caleb Joseph lined a single to right. Ryan Sweeney threw a strike home to Baker, who was perfectly positioned and made the tag on the runner, Chris Davis.

The Orioles challenged the call, but Baker said he knew he was in the right place.

"When the ball is hit to the outfield, you have time to walk up in front of home plate and look down at the ground and find your bearings and set yourself in the right position, and then wait for the ball to be thrown," Baker said. "That’s exactly what I did.

"I walked up, I looked and made sure my left foot started inside that line," he said. "Once the ball was in the air, the ball took me a little bit into the line, and I was 100 percent confident after the conversation we had [with Torre] that I was in the right place, and I knew they weren’t going to overturn the play.

"If I had messed that one up, then we would’ve really been unclear. I feel like we’re in a really good place now as far as understanding where we need to stand."

Castillo agreed.

"I think it will help me in the future because now I know exactly where I need to be and we’ll have no problems," Castillo said.

Baker and Castillo both are in favor of Rule 7.13.

"I think it’s helped reduce injury on plays at the plate, for sure," Baker said. "The only criticism I have of the rule is that, because we can’t stand in the base line, the baserunners don’t have to stay in any sort of lane, either. They can slide around and hook slide. If they can hook slide and we can’t stand in the lane, they’re not using the lane that we’re giving them.

"In the future, one of the things they could do to make this rule more fair is that if we’re not allowed to block the plate, they’re not allowed to hook slide around home plate," he said. "It would be just like third base or second base, where you have to slide to the base. And if you go past, you’re out."

The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig took advantage of the extra space in the sixth inning on Aug. 1, when he dove around Castillo to score on a wild play at the plate.

On Friday, Baker talked to crew chief Fieldin Culbreth. He’s also discussed it with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, and any other catcher he can find.

"It’s simple when you know, ‘This is where you get to stand,’" Baker said. "Maybe one day they will draw some sort of new chalk line in front of home plate that will be the catcher’s position, like a goal box in soccer. I know that would make a lot of baseball purists angry, I’m sure. But if that’s what it’s going to take to get the rules right, let’s do it. I think uncertainty is the biggest enemy here."

Players knew about Rule 7.13 in Spring Training. Why weren’t the details made clear then?

"I think we were all a little foggy on the [rule]," Borzello said. "Now, it’s almost seeing the plays happen and saying, ‘Wait a minute.’ It had to happen visually, and I think maybe for them as well. I’m just watching plays at the plate happen and saying, ‘We have to be able to do more than this.’"

And now they know.

ESPNChicago.com

Logan Watkins on front line of Cubs’ rebuild

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — If anyone can speak to the quality and depth of the Chicago Cubs prospect pool, it’s newly demoted utility man Logan Watkins.

Watkins, 24, has been in the Cubs system since being drafted in 2008. He has played with All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro — in the minors and at the major league level — and next to Kris Bryant, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler. He had a cup of coffee with the Cubs in 2013 and was needed last week as Castro was dealing with a death in his family and played well, batting .300 in four games before being sent down Sunday.

"Like I said when I first came up, it’s one of the most talented teams I’ve played on," Watkins said Sunday of the Cubs’ Triple-A Iowa team this season.

Many of those talented Iowa Cubs were with him in the majors, save Bryant and Soler. Major league sources indicate the Cubs might not be done making trades this month, which could open a roster spot for either player, although the Cubs have already indicated Bryant isn’t coming up. After a five-hit Saturday, plus three more including a home run on Sunday, Soler could be close.

"He’s a freak but has a good approach at the plate," Watkins said. "He’s not just up there just swinging."

Baez has shown a propensity to swing at anything — see his 41.9 percent strikeout rate — but Watkins believes Baez might be the most dangerous because he says pitchers will end up “pitching not to make mistakes.”

Like outfielder Matt Szczur, Watkins’ only chance to stick with the Cubs in the future likely is as a utility player. Nearly every time the organization wanted to look at a more highly touted prospect at a new position in Iowa, Watkins was moved around the diamond. When Arismendy Alcantara was moved from shortstop to second base at Triple-A, Watkins went to the outfield.

When Alcantara started playing more center field, Watkins went back to second base. And when Baez was preparing for his final promotion and moved to second, Watkins switched places with him and took over at shortstop.

"I feel like I’ve increased my value this year because I played everywhere," Watkins said. "I want to make myself a luxury for the manager. They’re building a championship team here. I want to be a part of it."

Whether fans believe in the Cubs’ rebuilding plan or not, the young talent believes in itself. The players think something special is on the way even if they can’t see every detail of the plan yet.

"I think we’re pretty much set up the middle if those two guys stay healthy," Watkins said of Castro and Baez. "Kris [Bryant] is a polished hitter. He goes pitch-to-pitch. He’s going to play the game a long, long time."

But it’s Soler who’s next up. Even if the Cubs don’t make a waiver deal between now and Sept. 1, rosters will expand for the final month and fans will get to see the best pure athlete of the group.

"He can do it all," Watkins said. "Obviously there are things he has to work on, but that’s a freakish athlete."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs see shutdown bullpen as big part of future

By Tony Andracki

While Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks have dominated the good headlines recently, the Cubs still see a shutdown bullpen being a big part of their future.

As the Cubs played to a 16-12 record over their last 28 games, the bullpen emerged as a bright spot, showing the organization’s stockpile of young, high-upside arms. In that time, the relievers put up a 1.69 ERA (19 earned runs in 101 innings combined).

During a three-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend, the bullpen tossed 11.2 shutout innings, allowing only three hits and four walks at Wrigley Field.

"It’s been a process," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "As they’ve continued to experience those types of situations early in the season, or they might have had a moment of falter, they gained ground by understanding what they needed to do the next time if it didn’t work out.”

The Cubs are tied for fifth in the National League with a 3.28 bullpen ERA this year. Take away Jose Veras and his rough start early in the season - 12 ER in 13.1 IP - and that mark would be at 3.12. (Veras has since regained his form with a 2-0 record and a 2.79 ERA in 21 games with the Houston Astros.)

The Cubs paid Veras $4 million for those 13-plus innings, but they’ve built the rest of the bullpen without having to commit significant funds, modeling the St. Louis Cardinals and their strategy of acquiring and developing a surplus of young, hard-throwing pitchers.

Neil Ramirez (13 holds, 1.11 ERA) and Justin Grimm - who tossed 3.1 hitless innings to get the win on Saturday - were part of the Matt Garza deal with the Texas Rangers last July. Pedro Strop (15 holds, 2.36 ERA) was another change-of-scenery guy in the Scott Feldman trade with the Orioles last summer.

Hector Rondon (21 saves, 2.81 ERA) was a Rule 5 pick. Brian Schlitter (3.47 ERA) was acquired in a 2008 trade with the Philadelphia Phillies for Scott Eyre. Lefty Wesley Wright (2.43 ERA) is only making $1.425 million in his second year of arbitration.

"They’ve been chipping away,” Renteria said. “As they continue to do well, their confidence grows. They’ve been going out there and doing a great job, so we’re very fortunate to have those guys."

And there’s more on the way with power arms Arodys Vizcaino and Armando Rivero making strides at Triple-A Iowa.

If the Cubs are going to be competitive in the next few years, they will be counting on those guys to hold onto late leads and close out wins in front of 40,000 fans at Wrigley Field.

CSNChicago.com

Kane County: Johnson named Midwest League Manager of Year

By Patrick Mooney

As the Cubs try to build from within, Mark Johnson has guided Class-A Kane County to an 86-46 record that’s the best mark in professional baseball.

That effort made Johnson as easy choice for Midwest League Manager of the Year. Monday’s announcement came after the Cougars used 50 players – not including big-league rehab appearances – and lost 15 from their 25-man Opening Day roster.

Kane County won the Western division in the first half and will compete in the playoffs in September.  

This is Johnson’s fourth season managing in the organization, making it a smooth transition for the former big-league catcher who played for the White Sox, Oakland A’s, Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria won this award in 1999, when the Cougars were affiliated with the Florida Marlins.

CSNChicago.com

Manny Machado says Albert Almora will be ‘a great Cub someday’

By Tony Andracki

Manny Machado and Albert Almora aren’t actually related by blood, but they call each other cousins after growing up together in South Florida. 

Machado thought of their Hialeah connection over the weekend at Wrigley Field, where Almora hopes to be an instant-impact player, the same way the Baltimore Orioles got a jolt from their All-Star third baseman.

"He’s dying to come up here," Machado said. "He’s had a couple injuries that have kinda held him back a little bit. But I tell him, ‘You gotta stay strong. I’m going on my second knee surgery and you gotta stay positive.’"

Machado, 22, had just faced the reality he would need a season-ending procedure on his right knee, missing what Baltimore hopes will be a World Series run. But Machado still found time to talk up his “cousin” Almora, who is just getting his first taste of Double-A ball.

"He loves [being in the Cubs system],” Machado said. “He wants to help the team win. He’s a very big team-oriented guy. He’s all about winning and I think he’s gonna be a great Cub someday. Hopefully, that day is sooner rather than later."

At the age of 20, Machado moved off shortstop and made the jump from Double-A to The Show, becoming an important piece to Baltimore’s surprise playoff team in 2012. He earned an All-Star selection and a Gold Glove last season.

Almora is 20 now, but the Cubs are in a different position and won’t accelerate his timeline. Not with only 29 games at Tennessee under his belt.

A broken hamate bone and a groin injury limited Almora to just 61 games last season at Class-A Kane County. He had to come out of Tennessee’s game on Saturday with a hamstring injury, but felt good enough on Sunday to collect a pinch-hit single.

Almora’s numbers haven’t been eye-popping this year. He entered Monday hitting .278 with nine homers, 59 RBI and a .701 OPS in 118 games split between two levels. But his intangibles are off the charts, a big reason why he became the first player drafted here by the Theo Epstein administration (sixth overall in 2012).

The centerfielder has shown maturity beyond his years, a baseball IQ Machado thinks Almora developed by playing up a level with the high-profile teams in Miami.

"He’s an overall elite player," Machado said. "He’s young, but he’s the type of player that, eventually, he’s going to be one of the best players in the major leagues one day.

"I think what makes him the best is his defense. He’s one of the best defensive outfielders out there. He could be one of the top guys in the big leagues right now. I’m a big defensive guy and I think that’s what’s gonna get him here.

"Overall, he’s just a great kid, a great clubhouse guy that everybody loves. He’s a team guy. He’s going to go out there and bust his ass off for everything and lay it all on the field."

Machado and Almora still talk on a regular basis, trying to help each other make it in a sport that has a way of humbling young players.

"He hits me up on how he’s doing and the things he needs to face, the things he’s feeling hitting-wise and just overall," Machado said. "The biggest advice I gave him is to just keep grinding every day. Give 110 percent of what you do out there.

"That will take you a long way. He’s a tremendously hard worker who addresses areas of his game that need to be worked on. And I think that will get him to the big leagues."

Chicago Tribune

Jorge Soler to join Cubs Wednesday

By Paul Sullivan

The pipeline of Cubs prospects continues to flow.

Slugger Jorge Soler will join Javier Baez on the Cubs in Cincinnati beginning Wednesday, a major league source said late Monday night.

The Cuban outfielder was pulled from Iowa’s game in Tacoma on Monday after hitting a three-run home run, his eighth of the season for the Iowa Cubs.

Overall Soler is hitting .338 this season with 15 home runs and 54 RBIs, mostly at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, with a brief stint rehabbing with the Rookie League club in Mesa, Ariz.

Injuries limited Soler’s playing time in 2013 and in the first half of 2014, and though he was promoted to Iowa on July 23, he fell off Baseball America’s top 50 prospects list at midseason.

But he came on strong after a slow start, aided by the tutelage of Iowa player/coach Manny Ramirez, earning the call-up.

“He’s just an unbelievable talent,” Kris Bryant told the Tribune. “We’ve just got to keep him on the field. He’s scary. I wouldn’t want to be playing third base when he’s hitting. A really great kid, and an amazing outfield arm. I just think he’s a really good guy to have in the organization.”

Along with Baez, Bryant and Albert Almora, Soler was one of the so-called Core Four prospects heading into the season.

The Cubs have already called up Arismendy Alcantara, Baez and Matt Szczur in the last few weeks, joining red hot rookie starter Kyle Hendricks. Cubs president Theo Epstein has stated they won’t call up Bryant, who is in line to become the Minor League Player of the Year.

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Cubs at Reds

By Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Reds 9-3.

Tuesday: 6:10 p.m., CSN.

LH Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91) vs. RH Johnny Cueto (15-7, 2.20).

Wednesday: 6:10 p.m., CSN.

RH Jacob Turner (4-7, 5.77) vs. TBD.

Thursday: 11:35 a.m., WGN-9.

RH Jake Arrieta (7-4, 2.53) vs. TBD.

Who’s hot: Jay Bruce is hitting .333 with 12 RBIs against the Cubs this year. Arismendy Alcantara has seven hits in his last four games (7-for-16, .438). Chris Coghlan is hitting .306 when leading off innings other than the first.

Who’s not: The Reds are 14-25 since the last time they faced the Cubs. Reds batters rank last in on-base percentage in the majors (.272) since the All-Star break. Wood is winless in his last 12 starts and has a six-game losing streak.

Chicago Tribune

Rookies bring energy, winning streak to Cubs

By Fred Mitchell

The gang’s all here.

Or so it might seem as the Cubs’ minor league call-ups have contributed significantly to a recent winning surge.

Watkins, who was called up from Triple-A Iowa when Starlin Castro went on bereavement leave, proved clutch at the plate and in the field during his brief stint. He was sent back to Iowa after Sunday’s game to make room for Castro, who will return on Tuesday night in Cincinnati.

"It’s like an Iowa Cubs party in here," Watkins said after he arrived at Wrigley Field last week. "It’s good. It just shows that the organization … they trust us to come up here and play the game."

Watkins hit .300 and drove in three runs in four games.

Baez has hit seven homers in just 20 big-league games and looks smooth in the field.

"We’re never going to give up. We’re going to play the nine innings hard every time," Baez said of his crew’s mission.

Alcantara has four homers and seven stolen bases in 41 games while performing well defensively in center and at second base.

"It’s pretty comfortable because you know guys from the beginning of the year," Alcantara said of his transition from the minors. "It’s good because we are having fun. We know we are together."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria appreciates what newcomers have added.

"There’s some energy, obviously. And I am hopeful that the energy they have with the guys who have been here … they are kind of coming together, they’re jelling," Renteria said.

The Cubs are coming off a three-game sweep of the AL East-leading Orioles and have won six of their last eight.

"It doesn’t hurt you when you are playing good baseball," Renteria said. "Your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with some timely hits or some really nice defensive plays. It doesn’t hurt the atmosphere and it doesn’t hurt the mood of a club. I think basically it just (builds) confidence in each other."

Major league rosters can expand next week, but four rookie pitchers already have made their big-league debut with the Cubs this season: Neil Ramirez, Kyle Hendricks, Dallas Beeler, and Wada (who is 33).

"You have to tip your cap to the guys who are all down there in the minor leagues, working with all of these young men, preparing them to get here," Renteria said. "There may be times when there might be hiccups. You know they try to continue to make adjustments and move forward and play good baseball."

Learning on the job: Baez, certainly better known for his slugging than his bunting, raised eyebrows Sunday when he attempted to bunt in the sixth inning with a runner on second and no outs. He popped up the bunt to Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez.

"I spoke to Javy," Renteria said. "He is not your prototypical No. 2-type hitter. Would I rather him swing the bat? Of course. But I will say this: He is thinking the game. Everybody talks about young players not thinking the game. He was thinking about trying to do something productive for his team. It is not necessarily something I would want him to do in that moment … but his mind was in baseball mode."

Extra innings: Anthony Rizzo leads the Cubs with 52 extra-base hits and 70 RBIs. He has 11 homers on the first pitch of an at-bat, tops in the majors. … With a 13-10 record in August, the Cubs already have surpassed their win total for August 2013, when they went 8-20.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Kris Bryant homers again

By Fred Mitchell

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa (Triple-A)

Sunday at Tacoma:  1-for-6, homer, 2 RBIs, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  8-for-31 (.258), 4 home runs, 7 RBIs, 15 strikeouts.

Season: 131 games, .333 batting average, 43 home runs, 108 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Sunday at Tacoma: 3-for-5, homer, 2 RBIs, 2 walks.

Trending: 12-for-43 (.279), 2 homers, 8 RBIs, 10 strikeouts.

Season:  61 games, .338 batting average, 14 home runs, 54 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Sunday vs. Jacksonville: 2-for-5, homer, 3 RBIs, strikeout.

Trending: 13-for-45 (.289), 4 home runs, 16 RBIs.

Season:  62 games, .297 batting average, 13 home runs, 44 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Sunday vs. Jacksonville: 1-for-1, run scored.

Trending: 14-for-42 (.333), one homer, 5 RBIs.

Season: 118 games, .278 batting average, 9 home runs, 59 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Sun-Times

Kyle Hendricks cites Maddux, Peavy as biggest influences

By Toni Ginnetti

Maybe it’s no coincidence Cubs rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks so often is compared to Hall of Famer Greg Maddux. After all, Maddux was one of his childhood idols, a pitcher to pattern himself after.

‘‘Growing up, I watched Greg Maddux a lot,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘I’ve heard the comparisons, but that’s going to be tough to live up to. But it’s hard not to like the guy because he was a complete pitcher in every essence of the word.’’

Hendricks, 24, said he would have relished the chance to sit beside Maddux in the dugout during a game, listening and learning.

‘‘I would have loved to have done that,’’ he said. ‘‘If you have someone like that around, why not pick their brain?’’

The Cubs’ dugout Hendricks occupies is populated mostly with young players learning the ropes together. They are fueled by optimism, if not experience.

‘‘In a way, having a lot of young guys is comfortable because we’ve played together coming through the minor leagues,’’ Hendricks said. ‘‘At the same time, you have to have veteran guys because they’ve been here. They know the ins and outs. They’ve faced a lot of these hitters for years, so it always helps to have older guys to lean on and learn from and see how things are done.’’

Less than two months into his major-league career, Hendricks seems to have separated himself as a quick study to a complex game.

‘‘I think he goes into it with a pretty calm demeanor and how he wants to go about it,’’ manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘I think that’s just preparation.’’

And, in Hendricks’ case, a personality and approach not unlike the student of economics he is.

‘‘In a way, I guess it is,’’ he said. ‘‘I like to watch a lot of video and break down hitters. I really stick pretty close to the scouting reports we have on guys. It’s just the way I work and what’s worked for me so far. I guess school [he earned an economics degree from Dartmouth] helped with my mindset and working through situations.’’

Hendricks was the Cubs’ minor-league pitcher of the year last season and has continued to live up to his talent in the majors. He is 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in eight starts and is the first Cubs rookie to post six consecutive quality starts since Kerry Wood had two streaks of seven in 1998.

‘‘When I first got up here, you’re kind of unsure of yourself because you throw to minor-league hitters and then come up here and face all these big-league lineups,’’ he said. ‘‘You’re thinking, ‘Am I really good enough to play at this level?’

‘‘Then you start getting guys out and start realizing it’s pretty much the same game. If you make good pitches, even though they’re the best hitters in the world, a good hitter still gets hits only three out of 10 times. You start building confidence and getting into a routine, and you realize it’s the same game.’’

That philosophy isn’t unlike the thinking Maddux nurtured. But it isn’t the only approach Hendricks wants to follow.

‘‘Being from Southern California, I loved watching [former White Sox right-hander] Jake Peavy when he was with the Padres, the way he competed, the bulldog mentality on the mound,’’ he said. ‘‘[Maddux and Peavy] were different kinds of pitchers, but that’s kind of how it is. You look up to some guys who are similar [to you] and some guys you kind of want to be like.’’

25 8 / 2014

Sun-Times

Tsuyoshi Wada takes no-hitter into 7th; Cubs sweep O’s

BY TONI GINNETTI

When the best of the Cubs’ future takes over next season, it will welcome the kind of performance the present Cubs got Sunday from Tsuyoshi Wada.

And Wada wants very much to be part of the future.

“My focus is to achieve that,” the Japanese left-hander said after a sterling one-run, one-hit outing against his first American team, the Baltimore Orioles. “But my focus now is on one game at a time, and I’ll hope to have more like today.’’

Wada earned the win in the 2-1 victory, which gave the Cubs a three-game sweep of the American League East leaders. But his 61/3 innings with eight strikeouts, one walk and a home run by Steve Pearce in the seventh had bigger implications for a team in need of pitching next season.

“I would say right now he’s pitching very well,” manager Rick Renteria said. “Those are decisions [about next year] that have to be made, but he’s putting himself in good position.”

Wada (4-1, 2.56 ERA) has improved steadily in eight starts since being recalled from Class AAA Iowa in July as one of the potential replacement arms for traded starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

Catcher Welington Castillo has seen steady improvement in the lefty who, at 33, is a major-league rookie with nine seasons in Japan — and Tommy John surgery in 2012 — under his belt.

“He’s been getting better and better and working hard with us in his bullpen sessions,” Castillo said. “It’s been paying off.

“He threw a lot of strikes [Sunday]. That was the important thing, and he was commanding his fastball. When Wada hits his spots, he’s hard to hit. Two runs was enough the way Wada was pitching.”

Wada threw like the pitcher the Orioles thought they were getting when they brought him in after he had pitched masterfully for almost a decade in Japan. He was 107-61 with a 3.13 ERA, he helped Team Japan win the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and he was his league’s MVP in 2010.

But after two seasons in the Orioles’ farm system, he suffered the elbow injury pitchers dread in spring of 2012.

The Cubs signed him to a minor-league contract this spring, and he was named a Pacific Coast League All-Star before being brought to the majors.

“I know a lot of the players on [the Orioles],” he said. “I feel I let people down not being a factor on the team. So I tried to be the player they thought they acquired, to prove I was the player they thought.”

Wada was helped by a bullpen that has been stellar in the last 28 games. Its collective ERA is 1.71 (19 earned runs in 100 innings), and it has held opponents to a .189 batting average. Hector Rondon has earned nine of his 21 saves in that span.

“I still think carrying the extra arms in the pen [nine relievers] has served us well to do some of the protecting [of starters] we had to do during the season,” Renteria said.

The Cubs have gone 16-12 in those 28 games, a feel-good mark that has included victories against the division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Orioles.

“It’s really good,” Castillo said of the team’s series sweep, their third of the season. “They’re a first-place team, and that was a good thing for us. This is a young team, and our pitching did a good job this whole series.’’

Sun-Times

Arismendy Alcantara gets hitting stroke back against Orioles

BY TONI GINNETTI

Arismendy Alcantara entered the weekend against the Baltimore Orioles hitting .135 (7-for-52) in his previous 14 games, cooling off his hot start since coming from Class AAA Iowa on July 9.

But he finished the series going 4-for-8 with a home run, three runs scored, two RBI and two steals.

“In the beginning, nobody knows you and you hit it where they throw to you,” he said of his hot start. “You have to make adjustments.”

Alcantara homered in the fifth ­inning off Orioles starter Miguel Gonzalez (6-7), his fourth of the ­season and first at Wrigley Field since July 22. He’s hitting .438 (7-for-16) in his last four games but .228 overall.

“We were happy with the way he’s finished off this series,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s not as tentative and is aggressive early in the count.”

Roster adjustments

Starlin Castro will return to the team Tuesday for the start of a three-game series in Cincinnati. He had been away since Friday on the bereavement list after the deaths of a family member and several friends in an auto accident in the Dominican Republic. Infielder Logan Watkins will be optioned back to Iowa.

 Pitcher Brian Schlitter was activated from the disabled list then optioned to Iowa.

‘Next year’ coming in two weeks

The Cubs will ask season-ticket holders to ante up for next season by mid-October, months before what had been the team’s policy.

Season-ticket holders will receive invoices the first week of September. Previously, bills went out after the season in October. The team will ask purchasers to commit a down payment by Oct. 13 but will continue to allow full payment by January 2015.

Daily Herald

Wada’s effort for Cubs much appreciated

Bruce Miles

Tsuyoshi Wada has made quite a statement since coming up to the Cubs from Class AAA Iowa.

He made another big one Sunday, tossing 6⅓ innings of 1-hit, 1-run ball as the Cubs beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 to sweep the three-game series at Wrigley Field.

Wada had a no-hitter going through 6 innings before Steve Pearce led off the top of the seventh with a home run that cut a 2-0 Cubs lead to 2-1. Adam Jones popped out, but manager Rick Renteria went out and got Wada, whose pitch count was 92.

Would Renteria have removed Wada with a no-hitter if the pitch count got too high?

"For me? In my heart I would tell you no," the manager said. "He was going to stay out there until he got through it. I’m telling you that right now after the fact. My mind was he was going to keep throwing until someone got a hit. He gave us a great outing."

Wada got a standing ovation from the crowd of 32,744 (including many Orioles fans) as he exited.

"It was right after I allowed the home run, so I feel appreciated that they honored me even after I allowed that home run," Wada said through a translator.

Wada, a 33-year-old lefty, went to spring training with the Cubs as a nonroster player and began the season at Class AAA Iowa. In two stints with the big club, he is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA.

"I know it’s not an easy world out there," he said of his early success in the big leagues. "I’m just trying to concentrate on that. Nothing’s easy, and I’m not taking anything for granted."

Wada pitched in Japan from 2003-2011 and went to spring training with the Orioles in 2012. However, he underwent Tommy John surgery in May of that year and pitched only for the Baltimore’s Triple-A Norfolk club 1 game in 2012 and 19 last year.

"I know a lot of players on their team, and I feel I let people down not being able to be a factor on the team," he said.

Cubs relievers Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (21st save) held the Orioles hitless the rest of the way.

Swing away, kid:

Rookie slugger Javier Baez raised some eyebrows when he bunted into a popout in the sixth inning after Chris Coghlan led off with a double.

"I spoke to Javy," Rick Renteria said. "He’s not your prototypical No. 2-type hitter. Would I rather him swing the bat? Of course. But I will say this: He’s thinking the game.

"Everybody talks about young players not thinking, but he was thinking about trying to do something productive for his team, not necessarily something that I would want him to do in that moment. He knows. You have to explain it to them. His mind was in baseball mode."

Castro set to return:

Shortstop Starlin Castro will come off the bereavement list Tuesday in Cincinnati. Castro missed five games as he went back to the Dominican Republic after a relative of Castro’s and three close friends were killed in a car crash.

After Sunday’s game, the Cubs optioned infielder Logan Watkins back to Iowa.

This and that:

The Cubs activated reliever Brian Schlitter off the disabled list and optioned him to Iowa. Schlitter had been on the DL since Aug. 9 with right-shoulder inflammation. … Arismendy Alcantara homered in the fifth inning, his fourth of the year. He had multiple hits and a stolen base in each of his last two games. … The last time Cubs pitching held a team to 1 hit was June 13, 2010, in a 1-0 victory over the White Sox.

Daily Herald

Miles: Much different Cubs vibe in Epstein’s 3rd year

Bruce Miles

We’re well into Year 3 of the Theo Epstein experience with the Cubs.

Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel to which Epstein referred isn’t an oncoming freight train after all.

Having covered all three of these sometimes painful rebuilding years, I can tell you this one has a different look and feel from the previous two.

The main reason is that there are more players on this team who are part of the future than in the previous two seasons.

Javier Baez has come up to join Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. That happened after Arismendy Alcantara arrived and made an immediate impact.

But one of the biggest changes has come in the bullpen, where young relievers Pedro Strop, Neil Ramirez, Justin Grimm and Hector Rondon are making a positive difference.

The trade of Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland on the Fourth of July represented a watershed moment in recent Cubs history. Yes, it was another midseason sell-off. But it may have been the last time the Cubs have to do that.

It also seemed to signal another second half of losing, and, indeed, the Cubs went 0-6 right after the trade, but the expected free fall hasn’t happened. It seems the post-trade hangover was short-lived.

Let’s face it, the last couple of years Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer were trying to piece teams together, accumulate high draft picks and hope the kids down on the farm would develop as quickly as possible.

It’s painful to look back at the rosters from 2012 and 2013, but it’s also instructive as to what’s going on now. The contrast between those rosters and today’s is stark.

Do you remember Miguel Socolovich, Justin Germano, Jason Berken, Alex Hinshaw, Adrian Cardenas, Alex Burnett, Kameron Loe, Julio Borbon and J.C. Boscan?

No disrespect to any of those players. They’re all professionals. But most were roster fillers who had absolutely no role in the Cubs’ future.

Yes, the Cubs are losing more than they’re winning this season. As recently as June 3, they were on pace to lose 100 games. But after Sunday’s 2-1 victory and series sweep over the Baltimore Orioles, they’re 17-13 over their last 30 games.

The infusion of youth, and quality youth, has helped fuel a more positive feeling in the Cubs’ clubhouse this late in the season, a time when the dog days of August can really hound a team.

"There is some energy, obviously," manager Rick Renteria said. "I’m hopeful the energy that they have and the guys that have been here that it’s coming together, they’re jelling. It doesn’t hurt you when you’re playing good baseball.

"Your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with some timely hits or some really nice defensive plays. It doesn’t hurt you, and it doesn’t hurt the atmosphere. It doesn’t hurt the mood of the club. I think it just breeds confidence in each other."

This is Renteria’s first year as a big-league manager. In fairness to previous skipper Dale Sveum, the clubhouse never got out of hand amid the losing the last couple of years.

Epstein admitted as much even as he was firing Sveum. The veteran talent wasn’t there, and the good young kids weren’t ready.

Renteria passed the credit down.

"You’ve got to give the players credit because they’re the ones who have maintained a particular type of attitude," he said. "Everybody does things differently. I don’t think our mood has changed from Day One of spring training.

"I think we all understand that the major-league baseball game is a tough game. It’s hard to win major-league ballgames. It’s not an easy game to play. We all understand that. I hope that all the guys here have been encouraging and motivating and getting on guys when they have to in the right way.

"We just allow these guys to play and be themselves and hopefully that’s something that will continue."

Daily Herald

Kasper: Talking baseball with Pat Hughes

Len Kasper

Pat Hughes is now in his 19th season as the radio voice of the Cubs and has been a big-league announcer for three full decades. He is one of the best in the business who will someday win the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting excellence.

He kindly agreed to answer some questions I had on how he goes about his craft.

LEN: What’s changed the most about your job since you started back in the 1980s?

PAT: The first thing that comes to mind is the length of games. I think when I first started the average time was about 2½ hours. I would say (now) it’s in excess of three hours. It may not sound like a great amount of time when you talk about 40 minutes until you’ve actually done it like you and I have.

The short ones, you’re never at a loss for words; there’s a great pace, you work with your partner, you’ve got everything cooking, the action takes care of itself.

We’ve done a couple nine-inning games this year (that lasted) over four hours, and that is a great challenge. It’s part of our job, so naturally you do your best.

LEN: Replay is fairly easy to cover on TV. What sort of challenge does it pose for radio?

PAT: Your television people are showing us several different angles. But I really tap into Ron Coomer’s knowledge on when the tag took place on a headfirst slide at second base, for example.

We go over it in detail and offer our opinions (on) the outcome. I do agree with the system. Getting the calls right is the objective, and I think it’s here to stay.

LEN: You’ve called multiple sports. Can you break down one big difference between play-by-play in baseball vs. every other sport?

PAT: I think the misconception is that because we are all familiar with baseball and we know the game and the basic rules that it’s the easiest game to broadcast. I think the guys who are really great — Vin Scully, Harry Caray, Jack Buck, Bob Uecker — they make it sound really easy.

When I listen to Vin Scully, I picture him in a rocking chair in his family room calling the game. You and I know that it’s a lot more difficult. It’s because there is a limited amount of action.

Football, basketball, hockey and most of the other team sports (have) nonstop action. Baseball (is a) whole different game.

You could have a 2-1 ballgame where almost nothing happens on the field and it takes three hours and eighteen minutes to play. You may literally have four to five minutes of frenzied action. What about the other three hours you have to cover?

That’s what makes baseball difficult. It’s not just calling the home runs. It’s the ability to fill in the empty spaces with interesting, entertaining and perhaps even educational material.

LEN: Can you go back to early in your career and find a broadcaster you emulated or wanted to sound like?

PAT: There are three guys I would call the grand masters of sportscasting: Vin Scully, Bob Costas and Bill King, the great radio voice of the Oakland Raiders of my youth and the Golden State Warriors.

He (King) was a radio man, not television, that’s why very few people outside the Bay Area have ever heard of him. Later he became the voice of the Oakland A’s.

He was amazingly accurate, prepared, descriptive. (He had) an incredible vocabulary, understood the game, did his homework, understood how to build drama, how to use his voice with perfect inflection.

He’s the best radio play-by-play man across the board — talking about football, basketball and baseball — in the history of America, and no one is even close.

Cubs.com

Wada flirts with no-no as Cubs finish sweep

Lefty has career-high eight K’s, gets first big league hit vs. former team

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — On Friday, Jake Arrieta beat his former team, the Orioles. On Sunday, it was Tsuyoshi Wada’s turn.

Wada set a career high in the U.S. with eight strikeouts and gave up only a home run by Steve Pearce over 6 1/3 innings as the Cubs beat the Orioles, 2-1, to sweep the Interleague series.

"That’s a first-place team, so this is good for us," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said of beating the American League East leaders.

Wada, 33, whose career single-game strikeout high in Japan was 15, walked Adam Jones with two outs in the first, then retired the next 16 batters he faced. Pearce ended the lefty’s no-hit bid with a leadoff home run in the seventh, hitting Wada’s 90th pitch over the left-field bleachers. Wada was then pulled one batter later.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria knew Wada had a no-hitter going, as did Wada, as did the 32,774 at Wrigley Field.

"In my mind, he was going to keep throwing until someone got a hit," Renteria said. "He gave us a great outing."

Wada smiled when asked by a reporter in English about a possible no-hitter. Some things don’t need translating.

"I knew a no-hitter was going on, but I tried not to focus on it too much," said Wada, through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. "The pitch count was getting to me and fatigue was a factor as well."

Wada credited an improved fastball, and also Castillo for calling it when needed. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had liked Wada when they first scouted him.

"[What made him tough was the] same reason we had interest in him when he was healthy — good fastball command [to] all four quadrants," Showalter said. "Late life, like a lot of pitchers who come out of there have. You kind of throw away the radar gun. He’s got a little late hop. Enough changeup. Spun a few balls, but basically fastball-changeup."

In 207 starts in Japan, Wada had never thrown a no-hitter, and he was vying to become the first Japanese pitcher to do so in the U.S. since Hideo Nomo. Nomo accomplished the feat twice, most recently April 4, 2001, for the Red Sox against the Orioles.

The crowd gave Wada a standing ovation when he was lifted. He had a little extra motivation against the Orioles.

"I knew a lot of the players on their team, and I feel I let people down by not being able to be a factor on the team," Wada said. "I tried to be the player who they thought they acquired. I tried to prove that the player they felt they got was what I did today."

Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez retired the first eight batters he faced before Wada’s infield single with two outs in the third. It was Wada’s first Major League hit, and it came against the first Major League team he signed with. The lefty, who pitched nine seasons for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, spent two seasons in the Orioles’ system but never made it to the big leagues. He injured his left elbow in 2012 Spring Training and needed Tommy John surgery. Wada signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs last December.

Wada got some run support in the fifth. With one out, Arismendy Alcantara smacked his fourth homer of the season, lining a 2-1 pitch into the basket rimming the right-field bleachers. It was only the second hit off Gonzalez. Chris Coghlan doubled to open the sixth and scored one out later on Anthony Rizzo’s opposite-field double to go ahead, 2-0.

With the win, the Cubs improved to 9-8 in Interleague Play this season and posted their second sweep. Chicago also took all three games against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, June 30-July 2.

"Pitching always sets the tone," Renteria said. "All in all, it was a really clean series."

Cubs.com

Castro to return for series vs. Reds, Watkins optioned

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who has been on the bereavement list, will rejoin the team in Cincinnati on Tuesday for the start of a six-game road trip.

Castro, 24, had returned to the Dominican Republic to attend to family after a car crash that killed a relative and three friends last Wednesday.

Javier Baez has started the last five games at shortstop for Castro, and was expected to move back to second base. Infielder Logan Watkins was optioned to Triple-A Iowa to make room on the roster for Castro.

Baez went 3-for-22 with two home runs on the just completed six-game homestand and surprised Cubs manager Rick Renteria with a bunt attempt with one on and no outs in the sixth inning Sunday.

"He’s not your prototypical No. 2 type hitter," Renteria said of Baez. "Would I rather have him swing the bat? Of course. But I will say this, he’s thinking about the game. Everybody talks about young players not thinking about the game, and he was thinking about doing something productive for his team, [but] not necessarily something I would want him to do in that moment. We talked to him. His mind was in baseball mode. Sure, I would want him to swing the bat."

Baez and Watkins were two of five rookies in the Cubs’ starting lineup Sunday, the first time the team has had that many since Oct. 3, 2012, against the Astros at Wrigley Field. The last time the Cubs started five rookies before rosters expanded on Sept. 1 in a game was in the second game of a doubleheader, Aug. 18, 2012, against the Reds (Steve Clevenger, Anthony Rizzo, Adrian Cardenas, Brett Jackson, Brooks Raley).

Wright, Jackson proud of Chicago’s LLWS team

CHICAGO — No matter how the Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers did in Sunday’s championship game against South Korea, they are winners to the Cubs players.

"Win, lose or draw, they should enjoy the experience," Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson said Sunday.

Jackson and fellow Cubs pitcher Wesley Wright were among the Major League players who contributed money to help pay for the families of the Chicago team to go to Williamsport, Pa., to watch the Little League World Series, which wrapped up Sunday. However, the Jackie Robinson West team came up short, losing in the finale, 8-4, to South Korea.

"I’m excited for them and this opportunity," Wright said Sunday. "I’m so happy for them and their families, and the way they’ve represented their city and their families on a grand stage has been amazing to me. They’re 12-year-olds, and I’m just really proud of how they’ve persevered through that game [Saturday], and they lost the lead late and kept fighting. They’ve been an inspiration to me and a lot of people in the U.S."

Jackie Robinson West rallied to beat Nevada in the U.S. championship and advance to the final. The Cubs’ rain delay on Saturday was almost perfectly timed so the players and fans on the concourse could watch the game on television.

"It’s fun for them — and it’s motivation," Jackson said. "You watch the news and the parents say they’ve already had kids sign up for next year’s team. It’s always fun watching the little kids play, especially when they come back to win. You see the emotions go from crying to mad to excitement and full of joy, and then the other team is just the opposite. It’s an emotional game at every level, and the higher you go, the more you have to control it."

The win Saturday was especially sweet for the Jackie Robinson team, which had lost, 13-2, to Nevada earlier in the week.

Jackson and Wright have enjoyed more than just the Little Leaguers’ skills. It’s also nice to see positive headlines about Chicago and the South Side, where the team is based.

"I’m not from Chicago, but I am African-American, and I know there are a lot of African-Americans predominantly on the South Side and some of the headlines that come out of there can be tough at times," Wright said. "I’m glad these kids can overcome some of the tough obstacles and be successful, whether it be on the baseball field or in life. I just want to be able to help mentor them in any way I can, whether it’s baseball or life in general. I’m just really proud of them."

Jackson agreed.

"It’s definitely a positive outlook on the city," Jackson said of the Little League program, which he did participate in as a youth. "Instead of the headline being something negative, you can have a bright spot in the city. It’s definitely energizing to pick up the paper and see a positive headline. It’s fun for the city and motivation for the kids at home.

"This is where it starts. When they come home, they’ll be looked at as celebrities in the city. It should encourage more kids to play. The more you’re in activities, the more you’re out of trouble and [sports] keep you occupied."

Renteria, Hyde grab grounds crew worker from under tarp

CHICAGO — On Tuesday, the Cubs grounds crew was shorthanded and couldn’t get the tarp on the field fast enough to handle a sudden downpour at Wrigley Field. On Saturday, the crew was quick and efficient, but needed help from Cubs manager Rick Renteria and bench coach Brandon Hyde, who pulled a worker out from underneath the tarp.

Rain halted play at the start of the third inning Saturday between the Cubs and Orioles, and as the crew was pulling the tarp across the infield at Wrigley Field, one of the workers stumbled and fell, and was caught underneath. The crew didn’t stop, and the tarp was pulled over him.

Renteria and Hyde saw what happened from the dugout, and went to the worker’s aid.

"I just didn’t think it was good for him to be under the tarp and just reacted," Renteria said Sunday. "Brandon went in there and lifted it and got him out."

Weren’t they nervous going under there?

"I didn’t think about it to be honest with you," Renteria said. "The guy needed to get out of there."

Renteria comfortable with short bench

CHICAGO — The Cubs have carried 13 pitchers most of the season, but manager Rick Renteria said he hasn’t been hampered by the short bench.

"You have as many options as you have," he said. "I still think carrying the arms in the ‘pen has served us well to do some of the protecting we’ve had to do over the course of the season. The guys we’ve used have done a nice job coming off the bench."

On Saturday, pitcher Travis Wood subbed as a pinch-runner.

"You just have to be creative," Renteria said.

Extra bases

• Brian Schlitter, on the disabled list since Aug. 9 with right shoulder inflammation, was reinstated Sunday and optioned to Triple-A Iowa. Schlitter pitched one inning in relief in a rehab outing Saturday, giving up one run on one hit over one inning.

• Felix Doubront gave up three earned runs on five hits over 4 1/3 innings in Double-A Tennessee’s 9-7 loss to Jacksonville on Sunday. Doubront, scheduled to start one of the Cubs’ doubleheader games on Saturday against the Cardinals, threw 95 pitches, 59 for strikes. He struck out five, walked three and gave up five hits.

Cubs.com

Reds aim to keep up dominance of Cubs

Cueto looks to outduel Wood as rivals open series in Cincinnati

By Maria Torres

Things haven’t been even between the Cubs and Reds for a long time.

When the teams start their three-game set at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday, Cincinnati will be aiming for its 10th win of the year over Chicago. In the last three seasons, the Reds lead the series 35-13.

That control over Chicago extends to Tuesday starter Johnny Cueto, who is 9-6 with a 2.90 ERA in 20 career games facing the North Siders.

The All-Star righty has a 5-0 record and a 1.55 ERA in his last eight starts vs. the Cubs dating back to Sept. 7, 2011. The last time he faced them, he yielded two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings on July 8, which was the beginning of Cueto’s seven-game winning streak that ended last Wednesday in St. Louis.

For five straight starts before his last turn, Cueto had emerged the victor and lasted at least seven innings. But the Cardinals tagged him for five runs (four earned) on seven hits in five-plus innings, his shortest outing since a five-inning performance on July 20.

The Cubs’ Travis Wood, meanwhile, will try to break out of a six-game losing streak. In 12 starts since his last win on June 15 in Philadelphia, Wood is 0-6 with a 5.45 ERA.

He scattered four runs, walked one batter and struck out six Giants across six innings on Thursday.

When he last faced the Reds on July 8, Wood allowed four runs (three earned) in 5 1/3 innings. The left-hander is 1-5 with a 3.68 ERA in eight career starts against his former team.

Reds: Offense cold since All-Star break

Much has changed for Cincinnati since the last time they met Chicago in July. The Reds won four of five games against the Cubs then, which pulled them within 2 1/2 games of the National League Central lead.

But they’re 14-25 since that series and are now 9 1/2 games out of first in the division.

Cincinnati’s struggles can be traced back to poor second-half hitting. Reds batters ranked last in the Majors in on-base percentage (.272) and 29th in runs (113) and batting average (.219) since the All-Star break before breaking out for 10 hits and five runs on Sunday.

"I don’t think there’s any quit in this team," manager Bryan Price said. "We can play a lot better than we have."

Cubs: Influx of youth energizes team

Chicago has been busy recalling players from Triple-A Iowa for over a week. And this weekend against the Orioles, the team reaped some benefits from that youth movement.

Thanks to contributions from rookies like Logan Watkins, Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs managed to win the first two games of their series vs. Baltimore. The Cubs went on to sweep the AL East-leading team on Sunday.

"There’s some energy," manager Rick Renteria said. "I’m hopeful the energy they have with the guys who have been here is coming together. It doesn’t hurt when you’re playing good baseball and your spirits are uplifted when you have some of the young men coming through in big situations with timely hits or some really nice defensive plays."

Overall, the Cubs have fielded 12 rookies this year. Their seven rookie pitchers had combined for a 2.55 ERA in 120 games (17 starts), an 11-8 record, three saves and 25 holds entering Sunday.

"Basically it just breeds confidence," Renteria said. "You have to tip your cap to the guys in the Minor Leagues working with these young men and preparing them to get here."

Worth noting

• Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro will return from the bereavement list on Tuesday.

• The Cubs have won more games this August (13) than they did one year ago, when they went 8-20 in that month.

• Reds outfielder Jay Bruce snapped an 0-for-13 skid with two hits on Sunday. He’s hitting .333 with 12 RBIs against the Cubs this year.

ESPNChicago.com

Castro to return vs. Reds Tuesday

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro will rejoin the team in Cincinnati when they open a series there on Tuesday night, the team announced on Sunday afternoon.

Castro has been on the bereavement list since a car accident in the Dominican Republic earlier this week claimed the lives of several people, including one of his relatives.

Castro has missed the last five games after playing in all of the Cubs’ first 125 contests. He’s hitting .284 with 13 home runs and 64 RBIs this season. To make room for Castro, the Cubs optioned infielder Logan Watkins to Triple-A Iowa.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ sweep a sign of things to come?

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — There are no statements to be made for last-place teams, but there is progress to be made. If any series this year can show the Chicago Cubs are moving in the right direction it might be their latest — a three-game sweep of the first-place Baltimore Orioles.

Yes, youngsters like Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez helped them to victories with key home runs over the weekend, but make no mistake — the Cubs had a winning series (and have a winning month) thanks to their pitching. It’s been lights-out.

“Pitching always sets the tone,” manager Rick Renteria said after Sunday’s 2-1 win. “All the guys have been doing a great job attacking the hitters. The game plan they go into with and execution is very important. And we’ve been playing really good defense.”

The Cubs’ team ERA in August is 3.07 after Tsuyoshi Wada and three relievers held the Orioles to just one hit in the series finale. That’s second best in the National League. That’s right, the Cubs are pitching better right now than every NL contender save the Washington Nationals. And remember, Edwin Jackson just went on the disabled list. Most of the good work has been done by Wada, Kyle Hendricks and Jake Arrieta.

As well as a bullpen that’s been outstanding.

“They gained ground by understanding what they needed to do next time if it didn’t work out (last time),” Renteria said of his young pitchers this season.

The latest find has been Wada. He’s deceptive and pinpoint with his control. And he’s been every bit as good as Hendricks since they were both called up from the minors around the same time. His 2.56 major league ERA stands out after a dominant Triple-A season.

“The board might read 89-90 mph but he’s able to get it by hitters,” Renteria said of the late life to Wada’s fastball. “I will simply say he’s pitching very, very well. There’s decisions that have to be made (for next year). He’s putting himself in a very good position.”

And the Cubs are winning games. After going 8-20 last August they’re 13-10 this year. That record, complied in these games against contenders, is the foundation the Cubs hope to build off of for next year and beyond. Everyone wants to know if a leap in the standings can occur in 2015. A series sweep against a likely playoff team gives hope. And maybe, just maybe there is more pitching here than first thought.

“All in all, a really clean series,” Renteria said.

And a winning one.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 2, Orioles 1

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs beat the Baltimore Orioles 2-1 on Sunday to sweep the series. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Arismendy Alcantara broke up a scoreless game in the fifth with his fourth home run of the season. One inning later Chris Coghlan and Anthony Rizzo each doubled to make it 2-0 Cubs, but the story of the day was former Orioles farmhand Tsuyoshi Wada. He gave up just one hit — it came in the seventh inning — a Steve Pearce solo home run. Between walking Adam Jones in the first and the Pearce hit, Wada retired 16 in a row. He struck out a career high eight batters and gave up very little hard contact. Relievers Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon locked down the win for Wada, who is 4-1 with a 2.56 ERA since coming up from Triple-A Iowa.

What it means: Over the three games against the Orioles, former Baltimore employees now pitching for the Cubs totaled 15.1 innings while giving up just six hits, three walks and two runs. Jake Arrieta, Strop and Wada showed their old team what they’re missing.

Though the Cubs are still in rebuilding mode, this August has been much different than last. Both featured change to the roster due to trades, but the Cubs were 8-20 last year during this month while they’re already 13-10 this time around. It’s further proof their young prospect base is talented and starting to learn how to win games, as evidenced by a sweep of the first-place team in the AL East. That’s not an easy accomplishment.

What’s next: The Cubs get the day off on Monday before starting a seven-game road trip to Cincinnati and St. Louis. Game 1 on Tuesday features Travis Wood (7-11, 4.91) taking on Johnny Cueto (15-7, 2.20)

CSNChicago.com

Behind Wada’s career day, Cubs complete sweep of Orioles

By TONY ANDRACKI

Tsuyoshi Wada finally got to show the Baltimore Orioles what he could do in the big leagues, but it wasn’t the outcome the first-place O’s had in mind.

Wada left Japan to sign with Baltimore before the 2012 season, but underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after and never found his way up to the big-league club in his two years in the organization.

Sunday, he made his eighth career big-league start — in a Cubs uniform — tossing a gem to beat his former team 2-1 in front of 32,774 fans at Wrigley Field. That completed a three-game sweep for the Cubs, who limited the AL East-leading Orioles offense to just four runs in the weekend series.

"I knew a lot of the players on their team," Wada said through a translator. "I feel like I let people down not being able to be a factor on the team [in Baltimore]. I tried to be the player that they thought they acquired at first, so I tried to hopefully prove that the player they felt they got was what I did today."

Wada took a no-hitter into the seventh inning before Baltimore first baseman Steve Pearce hit one to Waveland Ave. The 33-year-old lefty finished with a career-high eight strikeouts in 6.1 innings, allowing just the one hit and one walk to notch his fourth victory. He also recorded his first MLB hit - an infield single in the third inning.

"He’s been getting better and better every outing," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "He’s been working really hard with [pitching coach Chris Bosio] in bullpen sessions, so I think that work has paid off."

Wada lowered his ERA to 2.56 and WHIP to 1.05 and has 41 strikeouts in 45.2 innings in the majors. He was 10-6 with a 2.77 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 19 games (18 starts) with Triple-A Iowa earlier in the year.

Is he an option for the Cubs’ rotation in 2015 and beyond? He is under team control through the 2019 season.

"That’s for the team to say," Wada said. "Right now, my focus is for one game at a time and hopefully I can keep the results going like I did today.

"I know nothing’s easy and I’m not taking anything for granted."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria doesn’t like to talk about the future, but did admit that Wada is doing what he can to be in the conversation for next year.

"I will simply say that right now, he’s pitching very, very well," Renteria said. "There are decisions that have to be made. He’s certainly putting himself in a good position."

Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop (picking up his second hold of the weekend against his former team) kept the game intact for Hector Rondon to collect his 21st save.

Arismendy Alcantara put the Cubs on the board in the fifth with a solo homer into the basket in right-center. Anthony Rizzo drove home Chris Coghlan with a double in the sixth to close out the scoring for Chicago.

The three-game sweep was a nice way to wrap up a wild homestand that featured nine-and-a-half hours of rain delays.

"We’ve been playing really good defense … and we’ve been able to get some timely hitting," Renteria said. "All in all, just a really clean series."

CSNChicago.com

Logan Watkins thinks he can be a part of the Cubs’ future

By TONY ANDRACKI

You won’t see Logan Watkins’ name on any of the Cubs’ top prospect reports, but the rookie thinks he can play a part in the Cubs’ rebuild.

Watkins will turn 25 later this week and believes he can be a complementary piece to all the Cubs’ top young position players like Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant.

Watkins, a natural second baseman, has morphed into a super-utility role with the Cubs, playing every position but pitcher and catcher down in Triple-A Iowa. He may never find a home in any one spot, but could provide value as a role player filling in all over the diamond.

"Obviously, I’m going to have to play a bunch of different positions," Watkins said. "Castro and Baez are pretty much cemented in the middle of the infield.

"It’s something I’ve worked on at Iowa this year - playing a bunch of different positions and getting comfortable in the outfield. I’m going to have to do that here if I want to stay."

Watkins won’t win any batting titles or home run derbys, but he has carved out a niche as a guy who gets on base (.360 career minor-league OBP) and can use his speed (117 steals, 41 triples in the minors). He said his gameplan every time up is to get on base any way he can, whether by a hit, hit-by-pitch, walk, bunt, etc.

Could he be one of the guys occassionally setting the table for Baez, Bryant and Rizzo at Wrigley Field?

"You get on base for guys like Kris Bryant and Javy to hit the ball out of the park," he said. "… I’ve never played with guys like them. So much God-given ability. So much fun to play with, hitting in the two-hole [at Iowa] in front of those guys, knowing if you get on base you’re gonna find a way to score.

"With this organization and the way this team is shaping up now, [getting on base] is going to be more important than ever."

Since he was selected in the 21st round of the 2008 Draft, Watkins has marched his way up through the Cubs system, spending only a year at each stop until repeating at Triple-A Iowa this year. He’s seen the Cubs rebuild at every level.

Sunday afternoon, Watkins was a part of a Cubs lineup that featured six players who had started the season at Iowa.

"So many good, young players," he said. "The Cubs have done a good job of drafting and trading and acquiring guys that look like they’re gonna be here for a long time.

"We’re very optimistic about how this team is shaping up and how it works. It’s fun to be part of."

Watkins spent most of the last two months of 2013 in Chicago, but rarely saw any playing time, earning only five starts and mostly serving as a pinch-hitter.

He’s been in the lineup a lot with Starlin Castro back home in the Dominican Republic on bereavement leave but Watkins said the Cubs haven’t defined his role for the remainder of this season - or beyond.

"I’m just going to take it day-by-day," he said. "I try not to [think about the future]. I want to just play hard every day and hopefully I force their hand and they want me in the lineup and they find places to put me.

"I feel like I can be a pretty valuable piece to this team moving forward."

Tribune

Big day for Wada, but does he have a Cubs future?

Fred Mitchell

Young and old, Cubs starters have been pitching in to give their team a chance to win against some of the elite clubs lately.

On Sunday it was 33-year-old Tsuyoshi Wada’s chance to turn away the first-place Orioles. Wada had a no-hitter through six innings before Steve Pearce jumped on a fastball for his 14th homer.

With less experienced arms eager to be tested, the question for the Cubs is whether to stick with Wada, an aging left-hander who signed a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.

"He is pitching very, very well. There are decisions that have to be made. He certainly has put himself in a good position," manager Rick Renteria said.

Wada, who pitched nine seasons for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks of the Japanese Pacific League, then spent three minor league seasons in the Orioles system. He injured his left elbow in his first spring training with the Orioles and underwent Tommy John surgery on May 11, 2012.

Wada balked when asked to comment on his possible future with the Cubs.

"Right now my focus is one game at a time and hopefully I can keep the results going like the pitching I did today," Wada said through a team interpreter.

Wada (4-1, 2.56), has been impressive by hitting his spots and changing speeds.

"In my last outing, my fastball wasn’t working too well, so the fastball was better this time around," Wada said.

Wada’s only mistake was the pitch to Pearce.

"It was a mistake," catcher Welington Castillo said. "It was supposed to be a two-seam (fastball) down and away, off the plate. It was like up and middle in. So it was right where (Pearce) wanted it. But (Wada) threw the ball good. What can you ask for?"

Rain man: Renteria is willing to do practically anything to help out around Wrigley Field.

During Saturday’s 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay, Renteria noticed a grounds crew member had fallen under the tarp as it was being drawn over the infield.

"He went down, he was underneath," Renteria said Sunday.

Renteria and bench coach Brandon Hyde immediately went to the rescue.

"I just didn’t think it was good for him to be under the tarp," Renteria said. "I just reacted. Brandon went out there and we just lifted it and we got him out of there."

Returning: Starlin Castro, who had been on bereavement leave in the Dominican Republic, will return to the Cubs for Tuesday’s series opener in Cincinnati. Infielder Logan Watkins has been optioned back to Triple A.

Extra innings: Cubs pitchers held the Orioles to one hit Sunday. The last time the Cubs held an opponent to one hit was June 13, 2010 vs. the White Sox. … Wada recorded his first major league hit in the third inning with an infield single.

Tribune

Sunday’s recap: Cubs 2, Orioles 1

Fred Mitchell

The summary

The Cubs swept the American League East-leading Orioles with a 2-1 victory Sunday at Wrigley Field.

Tsuyoshi Wada took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against his former organization. Miguel Gonzalez took the loss. The Orioles were held to one hit, a home run by Steve Pearce.

The Cubs earned their second interleague series sweep of the season. They also took care of the Red Sox June 30-July 2 in Boston.

On the mound

Wada fanned eight and walked one. Relievers Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon blanked the Orioles and allowed just a walk. Rondon earned his 21st save.

At the plate

Arismendy Alcantara hit his fourth homer in the fifth to give the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Anthony Rizzo hit an RBI double in the sixth. Rizzo has hit safely in eight of his last nine games at Wrigley Field.

The number

1: Career hit by Wada, who earned his first with an infield single in the third inning Sunday.

The quote

Wada, who began his pro career in the Orioles organization, describing his motivation to pitch well Sunday: “I felt like I let people down, not being able to be a factor on the team, so I tried to be the player they thought (I would be).”

Up next

Cubs (Wood 7-11, 4.91) at Reds (Cueto, 15-7, 2.20), 6:10 p.m. Tuesday, CSN.

Tribune

Cubs’ Jackson savors ‘emotions’ of JRW’s run

Fred Mitchell

Veteran Cubs right-hander Edwin Jackson joined his teammates in watching a clubhouse TV as Jackie Robinson West defeated Nevada 7-5 on Saturday during the 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay at Wrigley Field.

On Sunday morning, Jackson was wearing a T-shirt that read: “Cubs Love JRW.”

"I heard the parents saying they already have people calling up to sign up for next year for that team," said Jackson, who grew up playing Little League ball. "It’s always fun to watch the little kids play, especially when they come back to win. You see the emotions go from crying to mad to excitement and full of joy. Then the other team is just the opposite.

"It just goes to show you that it is an emotional game on every level. It’s just that the higher you go, the more you can control it."

 

25 8 / 2014

Chicago Tribune

Bosio has young Cubs pitching staff on right track

By Fred Mitchell

The Cubs’ pitching staff — a veritable grocery store conveyor belt assortment of items — has had its moments this season.

Recent moments have been quite encouraging, from the resurgent season of starter Jake Arrieta to the debut showing of starter Kyle Hendricks and the coming of age of young closer Hector Rondon.

Saturday’s stellar bullpen performances of Justin Grimm, Wesley Wright, Neil Ramirez and Zac Rosscup in a 7-2 victory over the Orioles provided more evidence that pitching coach Chris Bosio has his staff on the right track.

Bosio has his eye on all of them, especially the young arms who are making an immediate transition to the majors.

"The biggest thing for me is (observing) their tendencies," Bosio said. "We always like to get to know our young pitchers like, for example, Jacob Turner. Hendricks is a little ahead of the curve because we had him in spring training, and with the communication with our minor league department, they let us know how he was doing and what other things they were working on. Really, it’s a get-to-know (experience) about what they can do and things they can’t do. Then we try to build a plan that works for them."

Hendricks (5-1, 1.78 ERA) sought his fifth straight win Saturday but had to be lifted after just two innings when a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay interrupted his routine. But Grimm, Wright, Ramirez and Rosscup blanked the AL East-leading Orioles the rest of the way.

Bosio heard about the burgeoning potential and accomplishments of the younger pitchers when they were in the minors.

"But really it’s getting them (big league) experience in games," he said. "You can work with them all you want on the side. But once they are in that game, you tend to see a little bit different animal. Hendricks, Grimm, Ramirez, Rondon, you know, they are doing a really nice job.

"Sometimes the minor leagues is not a good way to gauge these guys. As (former Cubs manager) Lee Elia used to say, ‘You don’t find out what they are going to do until you see that upper deck (in the major league parks).’

"I tend to live by that rule as well but also give them the respect and let them go out there and either succeed or fail on their own. And it’s important that these guys stick with their plan and they believe in themselves, and they get out there and they feel comfortable with what they are doing."

Chicago proud: Manager Rick Renteria offered his support for Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League team before it beat Nevada to capture the U.S. title Saturday.

"I know everybody is keeping their eye on it a little bit," Renteria said. "We are very excited for them. We wish them well. I know that they have been battling the whole year and there were a couple of good stories going on this year with the club out of Philadelphia (with female pitcher Mo’ne Davis) and it had some interest for everybody. These (Chicago) kids are inspiring, they are having a lot of fun."

No show time: The days of major league teams taking infield and outfield practice before every ballgame are gone.

"It’s changed a little bit, even during the end of our (playing) career," Renteria said. "But I think the guys get a lot of work during batting practice. And the outfielders are still doing some throwing and fielding out there. Back in the day, I think everybody did (pregame drills) and it was a little bit of a show … it was something you did as fun."

Extra innings: The Cubs scored more than five runs Saturday for the first time at home since July 25 against the Cardinals. … Javier Baez has seven home runs, the most by a Cub in his first 19 career games since Mandy Brooks had eight in his first 19 in 1925. … Rondon has 20 saves in 24 chances this season. “He continues to develop his slider, and he is mixing pitches to get guys off his fastball,” Renteria said.

Chicago Tribune

Following long rain delay, Cubs topple Orioles 7-2

By Fred Mitchell

The summary

The Cubs emerged from a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay to defeat the Orioles 7-2 Saturday at Wrigley Field. With a strong effort from their bullpen, the Cubs have taken the first two games of this three-game series against the American League East leaders.

At the plate

Chris Coghlan cleared the bases with a triple in a four-run second inning. Javier Baez hit his seventh homer with an opposite-field shot into the right-field basket in the seventh. Arismendy Alcantara broke out of a slump with three hits, and Logan Watkins drove in a pair of runs.

On the mound

Justin Grimm earned the win with 31/3 scoreless innings of relief while fanning three. Starter Kyle Hendricks allowed two runs on five hits in two innings.

In the field

Anthony Rizzo did the splits at first base and kept his foot on the bag to save a throwing error by shortstop Baez in the sixth inning.

Delayed reaction

The Cubs have had 15 games delayed by weather this season with delays amounting to 21 hours, 56 minutes.

The number

1.19Hendricks’ ERA in four career starts at Wrigley Field.

Up next

Orioles (Gonzalez 6-6, 3.80) at Cubs (Wada 3-1, 2.75), 1:20 p.m. Sunday, WGN-9.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Soler hits 3-run homer

By Fred Mitchell

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Friday at Reno:  1-for-4, 3 strikeouts.

Trending:  8-for-32 (.250), 3 home runs, 7 RBIs, 15 strikeouts.

Season: 129 games, .332 batting average, 41 home runs, 105 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Friday at Reno: 1-for-4, homer, 3 RBIs.

Trending: 4-for-39 (.103), 4 RBIs, 11 strikeouts.

Season:  59 games, .314 batting average, 13 home runs, 50 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Friday vs. Jacksonville: 0-for-4, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 11-for-45 (.244), 3 home runs, 12 RBIs.

Season:  60 games, .291 batting average, 12 home runs, 40 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Friday vs. Jacksonville: 1-for-4, strikeout.

Trending: 13-for-42 (.310), 4 RBIs, 8 strikeouts.

Season: 116 games, .272 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs top Orioles again to end strange, soggy week

By Brian Sandalow

Even by their pretty lofty standards, this has been a bizarre and unusual week for the Cubs.

On Tuesday there was the tarp fiasco, in which the Wrigley Field grounds crew was unable to cover the field in time to keep it from being soaked and unplayable. After a long delay, the Cubs were awarded a five-inning victory over the San Francisco Giants, only for Major League Baseball to make history the next day by upholding the Giants’ challenge and ordering the game picked up Thursday as part of a sort-of doubleheader.

Fittingly, the resumption of that game was delayed by rain. It was followed Friday by an invasion of orange-clad Baltimore Orioles fans who made their presence felt at Wrigley. They did the same Saturday despite a 7-2 Cubs win and a three-hour, nine-minute delay that brought the Cubs to a total of nine hours, 40 minutes of delays this week at Wrigley.

If you were wondering, the tarp made it onto the infield in a quick manner Saturday, though a member of the grounds crew was briefly trapped underneath it after falling. Cubs manager Rick Renteria was among a group who for a short time went under the tarp looking for the worker, who was quickly rescued.

This might not be the weirdest week in Cubs history, but it’s up there.

‘‘I think that they’re understanding that there are some things that they can control and there’s some things that they can’t,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I think that it’s important that we not make a big deal out of anything when something kind of goes awry. It is what it is. You kind of deal with it and move on and just keep going out there and playing the game.’’

To their credit, the Cubs did that again Saturday, even as fans seemed content to let the delay linger so they could watch Jackie Robinson West’s triumph at the Little League World Series.

Kyle Hendricks started and gave up two runs in two innings before the delay. He was replaced by a bullpen that threw seven scoreless innings, led by 3 1/3 from Justin Grimm. The Cubs went into the delay with a 4-2 lead after Chris Coghlan’s bases-loaded triple in the second — also his first hit in 16 at-bats against Orioles starter Bud Norris — and Javy Baez padded the lead in the seventh with his seventh home run.

Baez homering and striking out plenty in the same game has become common — he fanned three times Saturday — but weeks such as this one likely won’t be common for the Cubs. Without question, it hasn’t been easy the last few days.

‘‘It’s tough. It’s very tough,’’ Coghlan said. ‘‘Think about: We went and played that night game and then we’re here for 4 1/2 hours, go home, get home at 2 [a.m.] and then having to play two games [Thursday] and then a day game and then having to play another day game with another three-hour rain delay and then another day game [Sunday] after that.

‘‘It’s tough, but we’re really young, so that helps us out.’’

The Cubs are indeed young and at the point where anything they go through now could help them for later, when games aren’t just for development but for pennant races.

It figures, then, that this stretch could only be a long-term positive.

‘‘It’s not just going to help them on the playing field,’’ Renteria said. ‘‘I think it’s going to just help them in general in life.’’

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs catchers benefitting from grasp of Rule 7.13

By Brian Sandalow

After John Baker tagged out Chris Davis at home plate Friday to end the fifth inning of the Cubs’ 4-1 win over the Baltimore Orioles, Baker knew the play wouldn’t be overturned. Umpires indeed initiated a review, but the call was upheld after 55 seconds, and the Cubs were out of the inning.

Baker knew he was in the right place thanks to Mike Borzello, the Cubs’ catching/strategy coach, who recently talked to the league office to get a clearer understanding of Rule 7.13. That’s the controversial measure that was put in place to protect catchers from collisions at home plate but which also has led to confusion about where they can and can’t set up at home plate, occasionally turning outs into runs and angering managers and players.

In short, Baker said, a catcher has to set up with his left foot in fair territory before an outfielder throws into the infield, which would give a base-runner a chance to get to home plate unimpeded. That makes the rule a bit easier to understand for everybody.

‘‘I think just like that,’’ Baker said. ‘‘Keep your left foot inside the [third-base] line, and tell the baserunners to slide.’’

Closing argument

Hector Rondon picked up his 20th save in 24 chances Friday and converted a season-high sixth straight opportunity. He has thrown seven straight scoreless innings and has solidified a position that gave the Cubs fits earlier this year.

Not bad for a former Rule 5 pick who had a 4.77 ERA in 45 appearances last year.

‘‘It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment — a young man who’s been chipping away at that role,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously. Continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches in order to get guys off his fastball because there was a point in time there when guys just started looking for his fastball and they were doing some damage with them or not allowing him to get through that particular inning. He started to make some adjustments.

‘‘It’s a good story.’’

Not theirs

The Cubs were one of the teams interested in signing Cuban defector Rusney Castillo, but the Boston Red Sox on Saturday announced they had acquired the 27-year-old outfielder.

Castillo was hosted earlier this month at a private workout at Wrigley Field but chose the Red Sox, who gave him a seven-year major-league deal worth a reported $72 million. That contract would be the biggest ever given to a Cuban defector, topping the $68  million for the White Sox’s Jose Abreu.

Pitching maneuvers

Renteria announced that Jacob Turner will make his first Cubs start Wednesday in Cincinnati and that Travis Wood will pitch Tuesday and Jake Arrieta on Thursday.

Turner was acquired from the Miami Marlins on Aug. 8 and has a 2.08 ERA in two relief appearances since joining the Cubs.

Daily Herald

Renteria goes by what he sees, likes results

By Bruce Miles

With apologies to the “Peanuts” comic strip, sometimes you just have to tell your statistics to shut up.

That’s what Cubs manager Rick Renteria did Saturday both before and during a three-hour, nine-minute rain delay. The good, old-fashioned managing-by-the-gut approach paid off for the Cubs in a 7-2 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at rain-soaked Wrigley Field.

Delays this past week at the old ballpark totaled nine hours and 40 minutes, so maybe everybody was just a bit punchy.

Renteria saw that his left fielder, Chris Coghlan, was 0-for-14 lifetime against Orioles starting pitcher Bud Norris. No worries. Coghlan started and hit a 3-run triple in the second inning to help rally the Cubs from a 2-0 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

It worked with pitcher Justin Grimm, too.

After Kyle Hendricks pitched 2 innings before the rains hit, Renteria made the surprise choice of going with Grimm, who has been more of a late-inning short guy, over long man Carlos Villanueva.

All Grimm did was pitch a season-high 3⅓ innings of hitless ball to get the win and improve to 4-2. The best was how Grimm heard about his surprise assignment from pitching coach Chris Bosio.

"It was right before, actually," Grimm said of the resumption of play. "I was sitting in the locker room watching the Little League World Series game. Bosio came up and said, ‘Hendricks, you’re down, and Grimm, you’re in.’ My heart just started beating really fast. All right, here we go."

Renteria, who has been a by-the-book guy to the point of tediousness in his first year as a big-league manager, shrugged off the devil-may-care approach of Saturday.

"I know people try to point to two different schools — numbers and gut and old school and blah, blah, blah," he said. "You take a balanced approach to what you do. You’ve got to trust what your eyes are telling you, too.

"It just worked out. It could have easily not worked out, and it would have been the same thing: ‘What were the factors that you used to make the decisions you were making?’

"It worked out, and the guys did a really nice job up and down through the lineup. We’re very happy the way we played these last couple days. Actually, the whole homestand we’ve been competing, and against a pretty good club."

The Cubs (57-72) won their second straight over Baltimore (73-54), the leaders of the American League East. They got home run No. 7 from Javier Baez, who launched a line drive to the opposite field in right for a seventh-inning solo shot.

They also got 3 hits from No. 7 hitter Arismendy Alcantara and 2 hits and 2 RBI from No. 8 hitter Logan Watkins.

And then there was Coghlan, who playfully feigned ignorance over Norris having his number.

"He has?" Coghlan asked. "What’s his numbers? Just for whatever reason, he’s a good pitcher. Yeah, guys were reminding me. I guess they had it on the stat sheet. But it was good to be able to get that (triple). Big situation.

"He (Renteria) is the man. I didn’t know what was going to happen, so I appreciate him having faith in me."

Daily Herald

Rain turns attention to Little League World Series

By Bruce Miles

The best baseball viewing at Wrigley Field on Saturday?

That would have been the Jackie Robinson West Little League team winning the national championship. During the three-hour, nine-minute rain delay of the Cubs’ game against the Baltimore Orioles, fans were able to watch the LLWS game between Chicago’s Jackson Robinson West and a team from Nevada on the small screens in the stands.

(A “Jumbotron” would have made the communal experience more fun, but the Cubs are a ways from that.)

After big plays, fans at Wrigley Field cheered loudly for Jackie Robinson West. After the Chicago kids clinched a spot in the world-championship game, the cheers got even louder.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria was asked early in the day about the excitement Jackie Robinson West has created in the Chicago area.

"It’s pretty cool," he said. "I know everybody’s kind of keeping their eye on it a little bit. It’s pretty exciting. We’re very excited for them. We wish them well. They’ve been battling the whole year.

"These kids are inspiring. They’re having a lot of fun. You see when they take the losses how emotionally they carry it with them. But they’re enjoying themselves. They’re showing a lot of sportsmanship in the Little League World Series this year with everybody.

"It’s good to see kids enjoying playing the game of baseball. It’s something that over time people have talked about baseball not having as many kids wanting to play, but I think the way the coverage has been going and the way these kids have been performing and the interest that the world has been taking in it has been good for baseball."

The Cubs had the game on in the clubhouse during the rain delay.

"That was actually a really fun game to watch," said reliever Justin Grimm, who got the win in the Cubs’ 7-2 victory over Baltimore. "It was going back and forth a lot. We were in here having fun with it."

Injury updates:

Right fielder Justin Ruggiano was a late lineup scratch because of what the Cubs said was left-ankle soreness. Ryan Sweeney replaced him.

Relief pitcher Brian Schlitter was set to move his injury rehab from Arizona to Class AAA Iowa on Saturday. Schlitter, a Park Ridge resident, has been on the disabled list since Aug. 9 with right-shoulder inflammation.

Rotation roulette:

The Cubs get an off-day Monday after playing 20 games in 20 days and 33 games in 34 days. When they resume Tuesday in Cincinnati, their starting-rotation order will be Travis Wood, Jacob Turner and Jake Arrieta. Turner is taking the spot of the injured Edwin Jackson.

From there, the Cubs will travel to St. Louis for four games, including a doubleheader Saturday. Left-hander Felix Doubront is expected to come off the DL to pitch in one of the Saturday games. Doubront, obtained in a trade from Boston last month, is rehabbing a left-calf strain.

Cubs.com

Grimm, ‘pen spotless in Cubs’ rain-soaked win

Righty tosses 3 1/3 scoreless frames in game delayed by three hours

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — The Cubs weathered yet another lengthy rain stoppage in Saturday’s 7-2 win over the Orioles to bring their delay tally this week to nine hours, 40 minutes.

"It’s tough," left fielder Chris Coghlan said. "But we’re really young, so that helps us out."

The three-hour, nine-minute delay on Saturday, in between the second and third innings, forced manager Rick Renteria to turn to the bullpen earlier than planned. But the four relievers, led by winning pitcher Justin Grimm, tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just four batters to reach base.

Grimm tossed his longest outing of the year, 3 1/3 hitless innings with three strikeouts and a walk.

"What a great job, Grimmer, picking up [starter] Kyle [Hendricks] there and giving us four innings," Renteria said. "He kept his pitch count down throughout. We were obviously watching it. We wanted him to give us as many innings as he could to get us to the back end and the guys who were available to us. Tip your cap to him because he really did a great job."

The right-handed Grimm was watching the Little League World Series in the clubhouse during the delay when he was informed that he’d be replacing Hendricks, who allowed two earned runs on five hits in two innings.

"[Pitching coach Chris] Bosio came up and said: ‘Hendricks, you’re down. Grimm, you’re in,’" Grimm said. "My heart just started beating really fast. I was like: ‘All right, here we go.’"

Wesley Wright followed with 1 2/3 innings, striking out two. Rookie Neil Ramirez tossed a one-hit eighth and rookie Zac Rosscup sealed the win in the ninth.

Coghlan’s three-run triple in the second gave the bullpen the cushion it needed to hold off the first-place Orioles. It was the highlight of a four-run, four-hit inning for the Cubs.

Coghlan was 0-for-15 with six strikeouts and one walk against Orioles starter Bud Norris to that point.

"Guys were reminding me," Coghlan said. "I guess they had it on a stat sheet. Yeah, it was good to be able to get that — big situation."

Javier Baez overshadowed three strikeouts with a solo home run in the seventh, a line drive to right field. Baez also homered Friday, registering home runs in back to back games for the first time in his career. His seven homers are the most by Cub through 19 games since Mandy Brooks in 1925.

Chris Valaika chipped in with an RBI single in the sixth after taking over for Luis Valbuena at third base. Logan Watkins had an RBI double in the eighth.

Hendricks’ streak of quality starts ended at six due to the delay, which he knew was coming after the grounds crew told the team the delay would last at least two hours.

"You never want to come out, especially only going two innings," said Hendricks, who boasts a 1.19 ERA at Wrigley Field. "As a starter, we’re not really used to that. You definitely want to go out there. It’s just not the smart thing, especially after a delay like that."

The Cubs secured their third series win of August, and on Sunday will go for their first sweep since July 2. Chicago’s final 11 series, including this weekend’s against Baltimore, are all against contending teams.

"They’re a good, solid aggressive bunch and they’re trying to establish themselves in their organization," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Their intensity level is always going to be good. They’ve got a lot of things to establish and prove, as we do."

Cubs.com

After tough road, Rondon finding success as closer

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — Cubs closer Hector Rondon picked up his 20th save in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Orioles.

"It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment," manager Rick Renteria said.

Rondon was a 2012 Rule 5 Draft pick who the Cubs acquired from the Indians, the team he signed with as an amateur free agent in ‘04. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm in 2010, then fractured the same elbow a year later.

Rondon was never officially named the closer this season, but he worked his way into the role. Kevin Gregg earned 33 saves in 38 opportunities as the Cubs’ closer last year.

"[Rondon] is a young man who is really chipping away at the role," Renteria said. "He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously, but he continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches, in order to get guys off his fastball, because there was a point in time there where guys were just looking for his fastball and taking advantage of him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.

"He’s made adjustments and it’s a good story. All the paint has actually been chipping away and getting better."

Rondon has a 2.86 ERA in 51 games entering play Saturday. Without his five-run outing on June 23 against the Reds, his ERA would be 1.99.

Worth noting

• Right fielder Justin Ruggiano was scratched from Saturday’s lineup due to a sore left ankle. Ryan Sweeney took his spot and batted fifth.

• Friday’s winner Jake Arrieta trimmed his season ERA to 2.53, the lowest by a Cubs pitcher in his first 20 starts of a season since Greg Maddux’s 2.33 in 1992.

• Javier Baez’s six homers through his first 18 games are the most by a Cubs rookie since 1925, when Mandy Brooks hit six through his first 15 contests.

Cubs.com

Gonzalez returns to O’s for series finale

Chicago calls on Wada, looking to continue his strong rookie campaign

By Daniel Kramer

Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez will make his first start since Aug. 7 after a stint with Triple-A Norfolk in Sunday’s series finale against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Cubs won the first two games of the series.

Gonzalez returned to the team on Saturday, but he won’t be officially added to the roster until before the game. He’s 6-6 with a 3.80 ERA in 20 games this year. The right-hander threw a three-inning simulated game at Norfolk on Monday.

"Everyone’s receiving me like it was my first time being called up," Gonzalez said. "It was fun. They’re all excited to have me back, so I’m excited as well."

Gonzalez was optioned earlier this month to clear roster space for Ubaldo Jimenez, who has since been moved to the bullpen.

Cubs southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada will look to continue his strong rookie run and help the Cubs to a series sweep. In seven starts this season, he’s posted a 3-1 record with a 2.75 ERA.Wada threw five scoreless innings against the Giants on Tuesday before the game was suspended after a four-plus hour delay, then picked up on Thursday.

"I think, obviously, the conversation shifted, but he threw well enough to keep us in there for those five innings," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said that night. "Worked a little bit of traffic, but he did a nice job. Another nice outing."

Wada was en route to his third straight quality start before Tuesday’s game was suspended, and he picked up his third win. He’s allowed two runs or fewer in six of his seven starts.

Wada was called up after of the Cubs’ July 4 trade that sent top starters Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland.

Cubs: Renteria utilizing versatile position players

Renteria has exploited the versatility of the players on his roster this season — a luxury, he noted, not available to every manager.

"It just depends on how you can incorporate those skill sets into the needs of your club," Renteria said. "The ability to be able to move guys around is important. If somebody goes down, you have someone who you feel like you could fill in to hold their ground."

Javier Baez has moved back to his natural position at shortstop while Starlin Castro is on the bereavement list. Arismendy Alcantara has done well in center field, a position he’s played more at the Major League level (25 games) than he did in the Minors (11). Recent callup Matt Szczur can fill in at every outfield position.

"Their flexibility allows us to put them in the lineup a little more often, so it’s helpful," Renteria said. "In the end, you would want, if you possibly can, as it all boils down, your steady core of players. You have those other guys who are going to be able to spell them. They’re vitally important pieces."

Orioles: Machado out for season

The Orioles will make their postseason push without Gold Glove Award-winning third baseman Manny Machado, who will undergo knee surgery for the second year in a row. After a left knee injury ended his 2013 campaign, Machado tore the medial patellofemoral ligament in his right knee during an at-bat on Aug. 11.

"From the get-go, we knew it was partially torn, so [surgery] was in the back of my mind," said Machado. "Obviously, with the position we’re in now, you don’t want to hear about surgery. You want to try to get back out there on the field and be back with the team and help the team get to the playoffs and continue with my season, but it’s been a couple weeks now, and the pain hasn’t gotten any better, so I think it was just the best decision to get it done now rather than later and wait like we did last year. I think it got to the point where I just had to make a decision."

Machado’s recovery time is expected to be 4-6 months. He is the Orioles’ second starter lost for the season, joining catcher Matt Wieters, who underwent Tommy John surgery.

Worth noting

• The Cubs had a .992 fielding percentage in their 20 games since Aug. 2, tops in the Majors.

• The Orioles boasted a .591 winning percentage away from Camden Yards entering play Saturday — their best since 1997.

Cubs.com

Pair of reviews favors O’s in rainy tilt vs. Cubs

By Daniel Kramer

CHICAGO — A pair of reviewed calls went in the Orioles’ favor on Saturday at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs prevailed with a 7-2 victory in a game that saw a three-hour, nine-minute rain delay.

A seventh-inning crew-chief review regarding MLB rule 7.13 that prohibits catchers from blocking the plate without possession of the ball confirmed umpire Chris Segal’s call that Anthony Rizzo was out at home.

With one out in the seventh and a 6-2 Chicago lead, Rizzo tried to score on Ryan Sweeney’s grounder to first, but first baseman Steve Pearce threw to catcher Nick Hundley, who tagged Rizzo.

Rizzo had doubled with no outs and reached third when pinch-hitter Matt Szczur grounded out to short. The review lasted one minute, 20 seconds.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged a call in the eighth when Logan Watkins was ruled out at third on a 5-3-5 double play. The call stood after a two minute, eight second review.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs enjoy Little League thriller

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — Rain delays in baseball are not usually welcomed, unless they manage to be timed perfectly to provide a little inspiration.

As it turned out, the 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay that hit during the Chicago Cubs-Baltimore Orioles game managed to give players from both teams the opportunity to watch Little League Baseball’s United States final.

For the Cubs, there was a little more on the line since a team from Chicago was playing the Nevada champion out of Las Vegas for the U.S. title, with Chicago winning a thrilling 7-5 decision. The contest among mostly 12-year olds ended right before play in the Cubs-Orioles game resumed.

"Yes, we saw it. It was a really exciting ballgame," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "The finish, I saw that they won on a 1-6-3 double play. I think the Little League World Series has been pretty exciting for everyone, a lot of interest.

"Obviously these kids are probably getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. They’re going out there and having a good time. Hopefully they remain humble through the whole thing because it can be overwhelming."

Chicago’s Jackie Robinson West Little League has one more game remaining Sunday for the overall championship against South Korea.

"Yeah, that was actually a really fun game to watch," Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm said. "It was going back and forth a lot, so it was a fun game. We were in here having fun with it."

Grimm’s enjoyment of the game was interrupted slightly when pitching coach Chris Bosio came to him to say that he would be on the mound when play resumed after the delay. “My heart just started beating really fast,” Grimm said. “I was like: ‘All right, here we go.’ “

Right before the rain delay started, affording the Cubs’ players the chance to watch the Little League game on television, Chris Coghlan had just delivered a bases-clearing triple that helped the Cubs take a 4-1 lead into the interruption.

"It was pretty cool to watch," Coghlan said. "I hadn’t sat down and watched any Little League game from start to finish. I thought it was a really good game, fun, entertaining, intense for Little League. Obviously we were pulling for Chicago so it was pretty cool to see them win."

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs’ kids are growing up fast

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — As the roster keeps getting younger, the play is getting more spirited, and while it is no guarantee the Chicago Cubs have moved past rock bottom and are now trending upward with their franchise overhaul, a better brand of baseball is clearly visible now.

The Cubs sucker-punched the Baltimore Orioles early, let nature cool off their opponents with a 3-hour-plus rain delay and then returned with more late rabbit punches to the midsection.

When it was over, Arismendy Alcantara had three hits, Javier Baez had a line-drive opposite-field home run to the basket in right field and Logan Watkins had two hits and two RBIs.

"Yeah, I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence," manager Rick Renteria said. "The kids that have been joining us, like all young players they want to show you that they belong. So you have that going for you. But the skill set, they have the skill set, the variable to use and right now we’ve been able to get some decent at-bats and generate some offense.

"Javy lines it out to right, you have Watty driving balls into the gap. We have a lot of guys contributing right now. You talk about it and you have peaks and valleys in offenses but right now they seem to be picking each other up and doing a nice job."

Even the most complimentary offense doesn’t work without pitching so there was Justin Grimm picking up the pieces after the long delay with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. He improved to 4-2 while delivering his longest outing of the season.

Knocking off the American League East leaders for the second consecutive day was truly child’s play with Grimm, Alcantara, Baez and Watkins playing such vital roles.

"It just shows you that we’ve kind of turned the corner," Grimm said. "We’ve been playing some good baseball lately, and it’s been a lot of fun to be a part of."

Perhaps a newfound dose of confidence shouldn’t be overlooked for a Cubs team that has won five of its last seven and 15 of its Past 26.

"That’s a very good ballclub on that side and we get to see what it looks like," Renteria said. "More than anything, everybody knows that when you get good pitching, when you catch the ball, anything is possible. If you can generate some offense and get some timely hitting like they’ve been doing and just keep pushing, the factors they can control to play the game of baseball, they put themselves in a good position. Fortunately for us, the last couple of days it’s worked out."

Chris Coghlan had five years of major-league experience before this season, so he doesn’t necessarily qualify as part of the youth movement, but his three-run triple in the second inning gave the Cubs some positive vibes heading into the rain delay.

Coghlan has a team-high five triples, and although he has slipped a touch of late, he did just bat .348 in 39 games from June 28-Aug. 11.

"That’s a dangerous team and they can put runs up on anybody," Coghlan said. "I think what it just shows is that we have the talent to win. I think that’s why Baltimore wins so often and why they’re so good is because of how consistent they are, and I think that’s an area of growth that we could definitely use and I think we’re starting to build that now and hopefully that can carry over to next year."

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Orioles 2

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs moved one game away from a series sweep with a 7-2 victory Saturday over the Baltimore Orioles.

How it happened: Chris Coghlan had three RBIs, Arismendy Alcantara had three hits and Javier Baez hit his seventh home run. Kyle Hendricks pitched two innings but was removed after a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay, giving way to Justin Grimm, who pitched 3 ⅓ scoreless innings. The Orioles have lost two consecutive games at Wrigley Field after sweeping the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

What it means: Maybe the Cubs would rather skip that long-awaited rest that arrives Monday. After Sunday’s series finale, the Cubs will end a string of 33 games in 34 days. Monday’s off day will be the Cubs’ first since Aug. 4. Their young roster, though, seems to have the energy that most teams are lacking at this time of the year. The Cubs have now won five of their last seven games and 15 of their last 26.

Outside the box: Baez’s all-or-nothing tendencies were in full display Saturday. He struck out in each of his first three at-bats, then went deep against Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter in the seventh. Baez now has seven home runs and 11 RBIs in his first 19 games and has hit a home run in both games of this series.

Offbeat: The grounds crew got it right this time. As a massive rain storm arrived at the end of the second inning, the Cubs’ grounds crew got the tarp over the infield in barely over a minute. That wasn’t the case Tuesday, when issues with the tarp led the game to be called, only to have it resumed two days later.

Up next: The Cubs will send left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (3-1, 2.75 ERA) to the mound Sunday in the finale of the three-game series. The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (6-6, 3.80) in the 1:20 p.m. CT start from Wrigley Field.

ESPNChicago.com

No trouble for Cubs’ grounds crew this time

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO – Determined not to be embarrassed again, the Chicago Cubs’ grounds crew solved its tarp issues Saturday during a rain delay in a game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Saturday was the first in-game delay for the Cubs since Tuesday when the undermanned grounds crew couldn’t get the tarp unfolded properly in a game against the San Francisco Giants, creating a muddy infield. After a four-hour, 34-minute delay while the grounds crew tried to make the field playable again, the game was eventually called.

Major League Baseball, however, determined that the game must be resumed at the point it was stopped, and the Cubs eventually won that game 2-1 on Thursday. As fate would have it, the resumed game was also delayed another two hours before it was played.

With a massive storm approaching Saturday, the Cubs had plenty of grounds crew members prepared for their most recent delay. The rain started to fall at the end of the second inning and the tarp was unrolled and unfolded on the field in about a minute to a mock cheer from the capacity crowd.

ESPNChicago.com

Rondon’s 20th ‘a tremendous accomplishment’

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO – Lost in the shuffle of the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday was the 20th save from former Rule-5 pickup Hector Rondon.

While plenty of emphasis was placed on Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitching against his old team, Friday was just another instance of Rondon’s strong season flying low under the radar.

“It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s a young man who is really chipping away at the role. He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously, but he continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches in order to get guys off his fastball because there was a point and time there where guys were just looking for his fastball and taking advantage of him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.”

Rondon has blown four save opportunities this season, but he has converted his last six chances, a season-best run. He has walked just one batter with 17 strikeouts over his last 20 innings, a stretch that goes back to June 30.

Going back to Aug. 10, Rondon has pitched seven consecutive scoreless innings, and over his 50 1/3 innings this season he has just 13 walks with 53 strikeouts.

Just last year he was in survival mode after the Cubs picked him up from the Cleveland Indians as a Rule-5 selection. If the Cubs tried to send him down to the minor leagues, he would have to first be offered back to his former team. That didn’t happen, as Rondon posted a 4.77 ERA over 45 outings after having just 19 games of Triple-A experience.

“He’s made adjustments and it’s a good story,” Renteria said. “He’s been getting better. I think everybody is comfortable with coming into closing out the ballgame that they can do what they need to do to give us a chance to close out ballgames.”

By saying that everybody is comfortable with closing it’s a reminder that Renteria never did announce that Rondon officially has the closer job. He has simply been doing the best with it of late.

“I think you have some guys with very good arms that you can comfortable slot into those positions and it just kind of takes care of itself,” Renteria said. “You let it play itself out. They chip away, they earned their ability to have the comfort level that everyone has for them in that particular situation to play itself out. It has and they have fallen into roles.”

Renteria said he wouldn’t hesitate using Pedro Strop in the role and he would even consider Neil Ramirez, but Rondon has clearly stood head and shoulders above that group.

“I think right now the way it’s kind of developed they can all be used to be able to help us chip away at closing down the back end of the ballgame,” Renteria said.

ESPNChicago.com

Jacob Turner in as Cubs reset rotation

By Doug Padilla

CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs will make some rotation alterations in the wake of Edwin Jackson’s trip to the disabled list this week.

Jackson’s regular spot in the rotation comes up again Tuesday at Cincinnati, but Travis Wood will be able to move to that spot on a regular four days of rest thanks to an off day Monday. Jacob Turner, who was acquired Aug. 8 in a trade with the Miami Marlins, will move into the rotation and pitch Wednesday.

Jake Arrieta will remain in his regular spot in the rotation and pitch in Thursday’s series finale at Cincinnati.

Wood is 7-11 this season with a 4.91 ERA and hasn’t won a game since June 15. In 12 starts since then, he is 0-6 with a 5.43 ERA and opponents are batting .300 against him.

Turner has made two appearances in a Cubs uniform since he was traded, both in relief. He made 20 appearances with the Marlins this season, 12 of which were starts. In those starts, he was 4-5 with a 6.03 ERA and gave up eight home runs in 62 2/3 innings. In 20 innings as a reliever he has not given up a home run.

Turner did “start” for the Cubs when Tuesday’s rain delayed game against the Baltimore Orioles was resumed Thursday. Technically a relief appearance, he gave up one run in two innings and the Cubs went on to the victory.

Jackson went to the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a right lat strain.

CSNChicago.com

Cubs endure another rain delay to wrap up wacky week with a win

By Tony Andracki

There was no TarpGate at Wrigley Field on Saturday afternoon, but another rain delay halted play on the North Side.

After a delay stretching more than three hours, the Cubs prevailed over the Orioles with a 7-2 victory in front of an announced crowd of 37,156 (before the rain hit).

The Cubs had just taken a 4-2 lead over the O’s with a two-out, three-run triple off the bat of Chris Coghlan in the bottom of the second inning when it began to pour. (The grounds crew had no issues getting the tarp on the field.)

It marked the 15th weather delay of the season for the Cubs, stretching a total of 21 hours, 56 minutes, including Tuesday night’s four-and-a-half-hour rain delay before suspending the Cubs-Giants game.

"It’s tough. Very tough," Coghlan said when asked how the Cubs have gotten through the week. "To think about we went and played that night game (on Tuesday), were here four-and-a-half hours, go home, get home at 2 a.m., then having to play two games (Thursday), then a day game (Friday), then having to play another day game with a three-hour rain delay then another day game after that.

"It’s tough. But we’re really young, so that helps us out."

The rain didn’t wash away the Cubs offense, which tallied insurance runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. The Cubs have had some clutch hitting in the series against the Orioles, totaling seven two-out RBIs in the first two games of the weekend set, rising above the grueling week they’ve endured.

"I think they’re understanding that there are some things they can control and some things that they can’t," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "I think it’s important that we not make a big deal out of it when something goes awry. It is what it is. You gotta deal with it and move on."

After three strikeouts to start the game, Javier Baez delivered his seventh MLB homer, a line shot into the right-field basket.

Rookie Arismendy Alcantara had a big game for the Cubs with three hits, two runs, a stolen base and an outfield assist, nabbing Baltimore’s Adam Jones at second base to end the eighth inning.

"I think they’ve been playing with a lot of confidence right now," Renteria said. "Like all young players, they want to show you they belong."

Baltimore came out with a good approach against Cubs rookie starter Kyle Hendricks, scoring solo runs in the first and second innings. But the Cubs bullpen shut down the O’s offense from there, not allowing a run the rest of the way.

Justin Grimm got the ball after the rain delay and retired the first 10 batters he faced, earning his fourth victory of the season. Grimm said the Cubs told him he’d be the long man Saturday while he was watching Jackie Robinson West win the national championship in the Little League World Series and his “heart started beating really fast.”

The Cubs finished 5-2 on a week that started in New York and finished with five games against contending teams at Wrigley Field and three lengthy rain delays.

"It’s just been long days," Grimm said. "Just gotta find ways to stay locked in mentally."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Hector Rondon has been a pleasant surprise in closer role

By Tony Andracki

For a guy that has never been announced as the Cubs’ “closer,” Hector Rondon has certainly taken to that role.

Veteran free agent signing Jose Veras never found his way with the Cubs, forcing manager Rick Renteria to make a move early in the season. But even though Rondon — who picked up his 20th save Friday afternoon — has been used in that role almost exclusively, Renteria never actually made a formal announcement.

Save No. 20 represented a milestone for Rondon, a Rule 5 draft pick of the Cubs before the 2013 season.

"It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment," Renteria said. "A young man who’s been chipping away at that role. He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously. … It’s a good story."

Rondon has had an interesting road to the back end of the Cubs bullpen. He signed with the Cleveland Indians out of Venezuela in 2004 and became one of the organization’s top pitching prospects, even earning the Indians minor league pitcher of the year award in 2009.

But injuries — including a Tommy John surgery — wiped out most of the next three seasons before the Cubs made a move to acquire the righty in December 2012.

Rondon, 26, got off to a shaky start with the Cubs, posting a 6.14 ERA and 1.64 WHIP in 25 games before the 2013 All-Star break. But he made some adjustments and turned in a strong second half (3.20 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and has ridden that success into 2014, where he is 20-for-24 in save opportunities with a 2.86 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 9.5 K/9 rate.

Rondon has allowed just one earned run since July 11 — a span of 16 innings — and has established himself as one of the young, hard-throwing arms the Cubs hope to build a bullpen around.

Rondon has shown he can handle closing out games at Wrigley Field, bridging the gap from Cubs starters to “Go Cubs Go” blasting at the Friendly Confines.

Even still, Renteria was hesitant to slap the “closer” label on Rondon, mentioning guys like Pedro Strop (2.40 ERA, two saves) or Neil Ramirez (1.17 ERA, three saves) who can also do the job if called upon.

"You have some guys with some very good arms that you can comfortably slot in those positions," Renteria said. "It just kind of takes care of itself. … I would still be hard-pressed not to say that anytime you could use Stroppy in that situation or you could use Neil, but I think that right now, the way it’s kind of developed, they’ve all been able to help us chip away at closing out the back end of a ballgame."

CSNChicago.com

Cubs rooting for Jackie Robinson West

By Tony Andracki

Wrigley Field was ready for the Cubs-Orioles game on Saturday, but nobody would blame you if you forgot who was playing.

"Good luck Jackie Robinson West" flashed across the Wrigley scoreboards during pregame and the right field LED board had the JRW matchup highlighted instead of Cubs-Orioles.

The Cubs’ support for the Chicago kids started immediately, sporting “Cubs love JRW” t-shirts during batting practice on their last homestand. Saturday, Cubs manager Rick Renteria wished Jackie Robinson West luck.

"It’s pretty cool," he said. "I know everybody’s kinda keeping their eye on it a little bit. We’re very excited for them. We wish them well.

"I know they’ve been battling the whole year. There have been a couple of good stories with the club out of Philadelphia that also had some interest from everybody.

"These kids are inspiring. They’re going out there and having a lot of fun. You see when they lose, how emotionally they carry it with them. They’re enjoying themselves."

The Chicago kids beat the team from Philadelphia — led by 13-year-old Mo’ne Davis, the female pitcher who landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week — Thursday night to advance to the championship game.

Renteria knows the game of baseball could use more kids paying attention and getting involved at a young age. Jackie Robinson West’s success is even more encouraging when considering the South Side has not been known as an area with a lot of interest in baseball in the past.

But JRW is helping to change that.

"It’s good to see kids enjoying playing the game of baseball," Renteria said. "It’s something that over time, people have talked about baseball not having as many kids that want to play, but I think the way the coverage has been going and the way the kids have been performing and the interest the world has been taking in it, it’s been good for baseball.

"We wish all those clubs well, but we certainly wish Jackie Robinson some success."

Jackie Robinson West captured the U.S. Championship on Saturday by defeating Las Vegas, Nev. and will play for the Little League World Series international championship against South Korea on Sunday at 2 p.m. CT.

23 8 / 2014

CSNChicago.com

Business as usual? Arrieta shuts down former team in Cubs win

By Tony Andracki

The Orioles may not have recognized Jake Arrieta at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon. After all, he’s a completely different pitcher since he last put on a Baltimore uniform 14 months ago.

The 28-year-old righty never lived up to his top-prospect billing with the Orioles, but has found his way again with the Cubs, developing into a frontline starter and a franchise cornerstone after coming over in a trade last July.

Arrieta showed how far he’s come with a gem against his former team Friday, allowing just four hits, one walk and one run in seven innings. He picked up his seventh victory of the year and lowered his ERA to 2.53 in the process.

"There’s a little bit more to it with it being your former team," Arrieta said. "After the first inning, it was just kinda business as usual.

"It’s nice to face those guys. It’s good to see a lot of them again. It’s been a while. It was just another start for me, really, after that point."

Arrieta said he talked to a few of his former Baltimore teammates before and during Friday’s game, but planned to catch up with more throughout the weekend.

He retired the first 13 batters he faced, once again flirting with a no-hitter into the fifth inning, the fifth time he’s done that in his last 13 starts.

"Using all the information that I’m able to acquire in between starts [is part of why I’ve had success early in games]," Arrieta said. "Knowing my body better, knowing how to execute at a higher percentage. Those things are really starting to translate."

Arrieta showed flashes of his potential while in Baltimore, but wound up spending his last few seasons there bouncing between the big leagues and Triple-A, never quite able to put it all together.

With the Cubs, he’s been near the top of his game almost every time out over the last three months.

"He had [consistency] for periods with us," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He was starting Opening Day. … That’s the way things work out. We wish him well."

After the game, Arrieta reflected on his time in Baltimore and pointed to an uptick in command and an ability to make adjustments as big reasons for his development into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

"I think about [Baltimore] all the time," he said. "It was just part of my development. Those years still are very important for a lot of reasons. Regardless of how certain situations went negatively or positively, they all impacted my career in a certain way.

"I’m thankful for those times over there, those years there. And I’ll continue to use them for future reference, to reach back in the memory bank to think back to certain times and situations that I had there that I have now, how I react or handle those. So yeah, I think about it a lot."

Arrieta wasn’t the only former Oriole to go up against his old team. Cubs setup man Pedro Strop, also in the Arrieta deal, pitched a scoreless eighth inning and recorded a hold.

"It was a little weird because those are the guys that used to be my teammates," Strop said. "I was a little pumped up, obviously."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria thought both pitchers channeled their intensity in the right way and didn’t let the weight of the matchup get to them.

"Whenever you face your former club, there’s always some adrenaline, but they seemed to contain it," Renteria said. "If they had, I didn’t really see it affecting them. I thought they did a nice job."

CSNChicago.com

The Cubs flipped the script in win over Orioles

By Tony Andracki

This is just how you draw it up: Solid pitching, great defense and timely hitting.

The Cubs (56-72) flipped the script on the AL East-leading Baltimore Orioles (73-53) Friday afternoon, pulling off a 4-1 win in front of 33,761 fans at Wrigley Field, a large number of which were wearing Orioles orange.

"All around [good game]," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We got enough offense, hit some balls out of the yard, and got some good defense. It’s a good recipe."

Jake Arrieta showcased his stuff against his former team, tossing seven innings of four-hit, one-run ball and netting his seventh victory.

The Cubs played great defense behind him, including some stellar plays at second base from rookie Logan Watkins, who was just recently called up from Triple-A Iowa.

"Awesome," reliever Pedro Strop said. "That gives you more confidence as a pitcher when guys are making amazing plays behind you."

After Luis Valbuena’s solo homer in the fourth inning, the Cubs scored their next three runs on clutch two-out hits, including Logan Watkins’ first big-league RBI later in the fourth inning.

Javier Baez also went deep, getting reacquainted with Waveland Ave. and depositing Kevin Gausman’s pitch out of the ballpark in the fifth inning.

"It feels great," Baez said. "I’m going to keep fighting to hit the ball hard. I mean, I’m not afraid to strike out. … I’m just gonna keep doing what I’m doing."

A little over two weeks into his big-league career, Baez is still impressing his teammates.

"You want to see every one of that kid’s at-bats, that’s for sure," Arrieta said. "It’s starting to get to the point, even though it’s so early in his career, that nothing really surprises me anymore with what he does at the plate.

"Everyone knows that if he connects with that swing, he’s gonna hit it a long way. I don’t know if many of his homers here [at Wrigley] will touch the seats, honestly."

The fans at Wrigley have seen the ups and downs with Baez, watching as he struck out four times in Thursday night’s game against the Giants.

Cubs fans will also get to see what the young players can do against some good competition like the Orioles, who are streaking toward the playoffs while pacing the AL East.

The Orioles fans traveled well for the weekend series, peppering the stands at Wrigley with black and orange.

"I saw and heard it," Arrieta said. "Especially warming up in the outfield. I like that kinda stuff. The fans are passionate about their team. They’re in a great place right now, eight or so games up on the AL East, so their fans have a lot to be happy about. It’s good they’re getting that kinda support."

CSNChicago.com

Buck Showalter ‘proud’ of Jake Arrieta’s resurgence with Cubs

By Tony Andracki

At this point, it’s safe to say the change of scenery is what Jake Arrieta needed.

Arrieta, the former top prospect in the Orioles system, never found consistency in Baltimore, posting a 5.46 ERA through parts of four seasons in the majors.

But since joining the Cubs following an early-July trade in 2013, Arrieta is 10-6 with a 2.93 ERA in 28 starts and has developed into a top-of-the-rotation starter and a core piece for the Cubs moving forward.

The Cubs used three good months of veteran pitcher Scott Feldman last year to net two pieces of their current pitching staff in Arrieta and setup guy Pedro Strop.

Arrieta got his shot to showcase his stuff against his old team Friday at Wrigley Field. His former manager, Buck Showalter, broke down the Cubs-Orioles deal 13 months later.

"I’m real proud of [Arrieta]," Showalter, a two-time AL manager of the year, said. "I pull for him every day. When I look at the Cubs, I want to see him do well. Maybe not today…

"It was a good trade. It worked out for both of us. They gave us [Steve] Clevenger, who is still a really good left-handed hitting catching option for us. [Scott] Feldman filled a big need for us. … You try to be fair. You give up quality for quality."

Arrieta was ranked as high as the No. 67 prospect in the game before the 2009 season according to Baseball America and had some dominating seasons in the Orioles system. But his 3.18 career minor-league ERA never translated to the majors and Baltimore ran out of patience.

After a stint in Triple-A following the trade, Arrieta was solid down the stretch for the Cubs, going 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA in nine starts.

The 28-year-old righty got off to a slow start in 2014 after a shoulder injury in spring training, but has been one of MLB’s best pitchers since returning, posting a 2.61 ERA, 1.02 WHIP and 9.4 K/9 in 19 starts.

"Sometimes, the change of scenery and change of atmosphere [helps]," Showalter said. "Anytime you get a guy that’s kinda getting back to going again with that type of ability, you hope you can put him in a position where they can succeed.

"At the time, I told Jake and Pedro, ‘This is a great move for both you guys.’ They did some great things for us and we’re very appreciative of it. They handled themselves very professionally, good teammates and the Cubs are going to like them for a long while. I’m happy for them."

Chicago Tribune

Orioles a good model for Cubs development plan

By Fred Mitchell

The “Cubs Way” often espoused by President Theo Epstein and his faithful lieutenants has yet to produce the measurable evidence impatient fans want to see.

And what exactly is the Cubs Way?

"When you see the guys coming up (from the minors) … we try to maintain great working approaches during batting practice, how they go about playing the game, how to treat people," manager Rick Renteria said before his team knocked off the AL East-leading Orioles on Friday.

"There are a lot of different pieces to it. The other one is how they co-exist with each other. They are teammates; they are not independent of each other. They work alongside and for each other. And their mentality should be team first."

Veteran Orioles manager Buck Showalter can do without any catchy rhetoric when it comes to developing talent and winning games. Strong pitching, hitting and defense have earned his team a comfortable lead.

"We don’t have a corner on it," Showalter said. "It’s the same thing I am sure they are trying to do in Chicago. If a guy comes through your system and spends the proper amount of time down there — which is a challenge in today’s game — you should be able to assume things when they come through our system.

"We have some very good leadership down there and good managers. But if (a prospect) comes up here and he can’t do it, I am going to look down the list and say, ‘Who had him?’ "

Showalter demands accountability for the development of his young players.

"I think ‘hammer’ is too strong a word, but the authority to say, ‘No, you are going to have to defend to come here,’ " he said. "But it’s nothing everybody else isn’t trying to do. It’s just trying to be as (vigilant) as you can on the basics. … I am always a little dubious of someone trying to re-invent the wheel, somebody trying to test the methods."

Second chances: With Starlin Castro on bereavement leave and Javier Baez shifted back to shortstop, Logan Watkins was called up from Triple-A Iowa. He singled in a run in the fourth and sparkled on defense at second base.

"I hate that Castro is going through what he has to go through," Watkins said. "I’ll be here until he gets back, and we’ll see what happens."

Watkins has been able to watch minor league third baseman Kris Bryant, who has hit a combined 41 homers at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa.

"He’s going to play this game for a long time," Watkins said. "He’s a fun kid to talk to. I hang with him in the dugout and talk to him. I try to get him to smile a little more. He takes it pretty serious. He’s pretty intense — but he’s fun to play with."

No fear: Baez has 31 strikeouts in 74 major league at-bats.

"I am going to keep fighting to hit the ball hard," he said. "I am not afraid to strike out. So I am just going to keep swinging the bat."

All business: Jake Arrieta said he tried his best to keep emotion out of the outing against his former team.

"After the first inning, it was business as usual," Arrieta said. "It was nice to face those guys; it was good to see a lot of them again. It was just another start after that point."

Extra innings: The Cubs have won seven of their last 10 interleague games and are 7-8 in interleague play this season. … Despite their loss Friday, the Orioles own their best road winning percentage (.591) since 1997, when they were a club-record 52-29 (.642).

Chicago Tribune

Friday’s recap: Cubs 4, Orioles 1

By Fred Mitchell

Summary

Jake Arrieta beat his former teammates as the Cubs cooled off the first-place Orioles 4-1 on Friday afternoon at Wrigley Field. The Cubs acquired Arrieta in July 2013 with reliever Pedro Strop in exchange for pitcher Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger.

At the plate

Javier Baez hit his sixth home run in the fifth. Both of his Wrigley Field homers have landed on Waveland Avenue. Luis Valbuena hit his 12th homer.

On the mound

Arrieta (7-4, 2.53) retired the first 13 batters and allowed four hits — including Nelson Cruz’s 34th homer — over seven innings. Strop pitched a scoreless eighth against his former team, and Hector Rondon earned his 20th save.

In the field

Second baseman Logan Watkins made hit-saving stops in the second against J.J. Hardy and in the fourth on a grounder up the middle by Steve Pearce. Chris Valaika flashed leather at second in the eighth.

The number

6 — Extra-base hits at Wrigley Field by John Baker, who doubled Friday. He has only seven all season.

The quote

Strop on the large number of Orioles fans at Wrigley Field: “Unbelievable … a lot of orange in the stadium. Usually this town is like, Cubs. That was kind of weird.”

Up next

Orioles (Norris 11-7, 3.69) at Cubs (Hendricks 5-1, 1.48), 1:20 p.m. Saturday, CSN.

Chicago Sun-Times

Jake Arrieta pitches Cubs to 4-1 victory vs. Orioles

By Brian Sandalow

Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta hasn’t forgotten his time with the Baltimore Orioles. Instead of simply moving on from that part of his career, he still draws on the positive and negative experiences he had in Baltimore.

It was clear during the Cubs’ 4-1 victory Friday against the Orioles that those years haven’t been wasted.

‘‘You think about it all the time,’’ Arrieta said. ‘‘That’s just part of my development. Those years still are very important to me for a lot of reasons. Regardless of how certain situations went — negatively or positively — they all impacted my career in a certain way.’’

In July 2013, the Orioles traded Arrieta, reliever Pedro Strop and two international signing slots to the Cubs for right-hander Scott Feldman and utility player Steve Clevenger. The deal put an end to an up-and-down four years with the Orioles for Arrieta, who went from being their Opening Day starter in 2012 to a piece of a trade for

another pitcher after struggling with consistency and control.

Those problems seem to have been fixed with the Cubs.

‘‘He’s just being more consistent; he always has [had] the good stuff,’’ Strop said. ‘‘It’s just being consistent and being focused on what he needs to do.’’

When he was traded to the Cubs, Arrieta was 20-25 with a 5.46 ERA in his career and was languishing

in Class AAA. He needed a change of scenery.

He got it and has matured into the Cubs’ best starter. Arrieta (7-4) retired the first 13 batters he faced Friday and allowed one run in seven innings to lower his ERA to 2.53.

‘‘I’m thankful for those times over there, those years there, and I’ll continue to use them for future reference, to reach back in the memory bank and think about certain times and certain situations that I had there that I have now and how I react and handle those,’’

Arrieta said. ‘‘I think about it a lot.’’

The impact of the trade was easy to think about Friday. The Orioles got three months from Feldman before he signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent, and Clevenger is in Class AAA. The Cubs, meanwhile, picked up a potential long-term piece of their rotation in Arrieta and a setup man in Strop, who pitched a scoreless eighth Friday and has a 2.40 ERA.

Orioles manager Buck Showalter called it ‘‘a good trade’’ that worked out for both teams.

‘‘At the time, I told Jake and

Pedro, ‘This is a great move for both you guys,’ ’’ Showalter said. ‘‘They did some great things for us, and we’re very appreciative of it. They handled themselves very professionally, good teammates, and the Cubs are going to like them for a long while.’’

They will if Strop and Arrieta do what they did Friday, which was more than enough after home runs by Luis Valbuena in the fourth and Javy Baez in the fifth against the Orioles’ Kevin Gausman.

‘‘I thought [Arrieta] was throwing extremely well, executing pitches,’’ Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. ‘‘Did a great job.’’

NOTES: Manager Rick Renteria said everyone in the Cubs’ rotation will be pushed back a day. He said left-hander Travis Wood will pitch Wednesday in Cincinnati, but he hasn’t named a starter for Tuesday, which would have been right-hander Edwin Jackson’s turn. Jackson went on the disabled list Thursday.

† Multiple media outlets reported Orioles third baseman Manny Machado needs surgery on his right knee and will miss the rest of the season. He missed the end of last season after having surgery on his left knee.

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Arrieta, Strop shut down their former team

By Bruce Miles

The plot lines were there for easy pickings Friday.

You can say that the Cubs played up to their competition during a 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles at Wrigley Field.

Or you can say that starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and reliever Pedro Strop had a little something extra working against the team that traded them to the Cubs last year.

Either way, the Cubs played one of their better games of the season against the runaway leaders of the American League East.

"A really well-played game all the way around," said Cubs manager Rick Renteria, whose team improved to 56-72. "The stage was actually set … Jake did a great job. Phenomenal 7 innings of work, retired the first 13 in a row, had some nice defensive plays behind him."

The Cubs got both Arrieta and Strop in July 2013 from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade. Strop has been solid out of the bullpen while Arrieta has been a revelation this season since coming off the disabled list in May. He gave up 4 hits and the 1 run against his former team as his record improved to 7-4 with a 2.53 ERA.

The narrative of facing one’s former team is an easy one, but Arrieta admitted there was something to it.

"There was a little more to it, just beating the former team," he said. "After the first inning, it was just kind of business as usual. It was nice to face those guys. It’s good to see a lot of them again. It’s been awhile. It was just another start, really, for me, after that point."

The run Arrieta gave up came on a homer by Nelson Cruz in the seventh, but that’s no disgrace. Cruz has 34 of those.

Speaking of homers, the Cubs got 1 each from Luis Valbuena (No. 12) and Javier Baez, who crushed his sixth of the year, inside the left-field foul pole and onto Waveland Avenue.

"I want to keep fighting to hit the ball hard," said Baez, who also has 31 strikeouts in 74 at-bats. "I’m not afraid to strike out. I’ve just got to keep swinging the bat."

That’s OK with Arrieta.

"You do want to see every one of that kid’s at-bats, that’s for sure," he said. "It’s starting to get to the point that even though it’s so early in his career that nothing really surprises me with what he does at the plate. Everyone knows that if he connects with that swing, he’s going to hit it a long way. I don’t know if many of his home runs will touch the seats here, honestly."

The Cubs also got great defensive work from Logan Watkins and Chris Valaika at second base and from Luis Valbuena at third and Ryan Sweeney in right field.

The game was played in front of 33,761 fans, a great many of whom were wearing the black and orange of the Orioles.

"I saw and heard it, especially warming up," Arrieta said. "But I like that. I like that kind of stuff. The fans are passionate about their team. They’re in a great place right now, 8 or so games up in the AL East. Their fans have a lot to be happy about. It’s good that they’re getting that support."

Strop said he, too, was excited to face his former team. He gave up a hit and a walk in a scoreless eighth before Hector Rondon earned his 20th save. As for playing up to the competition, Strop said it was a good thing for the Cubs.

"That tells you that you can compete as a team," he said. "If you can beat a team, that kind of team, that gives you the confidence to play and compete because it’s one of the best teams in the major leagues."

Daily Herald

Visiting fans making voices heard at Wrigley

By Bruce Miles

An interesting phenomenon took place in Chicago this week. All around town, baseball fans walked the streets decked out in black and orange.

Many were San Francisco Giants fans in town for the three-game series against the Cubs. And many were Baltimore Orioles fans, in Chicago for games against both the White Sox and Cubs.

"It’s a very proud tradition in Baltimore," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter. "I remember when I was with other clubs how well the Oriole fans traveled. You see it in Sarasota (Florida, for spring training) especially.

"I know there was a lot of Giants black and orange around yesterday when I was walking around. I just claimed all of them as Orioles. Part of Chicago thinks the last few days have been Halloween with all the black and orange."

Showalter said his team would spend some time going over the idiosyncrasies of Wrigley Field.

"You go over so many things, about the caroms back here and how they come back toward first and third base and what to do if the ball is stuck in the ivy," he said. "It’s one of the few fields, maybe the only field, where the fence isn’t padded. I’m not real sure how they get away with that. But not my job."

The Orioles have a comfortable lead in the American League East, and the Cubs are attempting to build for success in the National League Central.

"This isn’t quite as complicated as some people try to make it out to be," Showalter said. "It’s the same things that make everybody successful in past years. It’s the same thing in play now. I am always a little dubious of someone trying to reinvent the wheel, somebody trying to test the methods."

Making his mark:

Logan Watkins started at second base for the Cubs and made a couple of nice backhanded plays to turn groundball outs in Friday’s 4-1 victory. He is up because Starlin Castro is on the bereavement list.

At Iowa, Watkins had a line of .256/.329/.364 with 4 homers. He played in 27 games for the Cubs last year.

"Last year, I kind of got sporadic at-bats, but I’ve been playing every day in Iowa this past month," he said. "I’m ready to go. I’m not sure what the plan is. I hate that Castro is going through what he’s going through. I’m going to be here until he gets back and we’ll see what happens."

It’s been a fun season in Iowa for Watkins, who has gotten to watch third-base prospect Kris Bryant up close.

"That was probably one of the more talented teams I’ve ever played on," he said. "I got a lot of experience in certain positions I don’t usually play. So I felt like I learned a lot this year.

"(Bryant) is going to play this game for a long time. He’s a really good. I try to get him to smile a little bit more. He takes it pretty serious, and he’s pretty intense. He’s fun to play with."

Ready for rotation if needed:

It’s possible Jacob Turner will come out of the bullpen to start next Tuesday at Cincinnati. He pitched 2 innings in Thursday’s resumption of a suspended game against the Giants. Turner warmed up as a starter and came on in the sixth inning after Tsuyoshi Wada went 5 Tuesday.

"This whole month has kind of been a whirlwind, so I haven’t thrown a whole lot," said Turner, who came to the Cubs in a trade with Miami earlier this month. "I’m just looking forward to getting out there.

"I started at the beginning of the month, so I don’t think I’ll having any problem going 5, depending on how stressful the innings are."

Cubs.com

Cubs homer twice as Arrieta stifles former team

Righty gives up one run in seven innings; Valbuena, Baez go yard

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Jake Arrieta wasn’t a welcoming host to his former Orioles teammates on Friday.

Arrieta gave up four hits, including Nelson Cruz’s 34th home run, over seven innings, and Javier Baez and Luis Valbuena each hit a solo home run to lift the Cubs to a 4-1 Interleague victory over the Orioles, who brought plenty of their orange-clad fans to Wrigley Field.

The Orioles’ fifth-round pick in 2007, Arrieta was dealt to the Cubs along with Pedro Strop for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger in July 2013. Baltimore knew how good Arrieta was. After all, he was their Opening Day starter in 2012.

"He [was consistent] for periods for us," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "We knew. He’s in a good spot, and we got quality in return. That’s the way things work out. We wish him well. [We] wish we would have had some of those balls fall in today, we might have had a different story."

Arrieta was looking forward to facing his former team, which leads the American League East, and the right-hander retired the first 13 batters he faced — getting some nice glove work from second baseman Logan Watkins — and he did not serve up a hit until Chris Davis singled with one out in the fifth.

"There was a little more to it, being your former team," Arrieta said. "After the first inning, it was just business as usual. It was nice to face those guys. It’s good to see a lot of them again — it’s been a while."

After the first inning, Arrieta said it was just another start. He had dominated the Mets with his curve in his last outing, but didn’t have that this time.

"I missed a lot around the zone and not in the zone, which was good," he said. "That was a point of emphasis for me."

Arrieta and the Orioles players exchanged casual nods, and he had a chance to chat in the third inning when he singled. Adam Jones did a little trash talking in the seventh after hitting a comebacker to Arrieta. On Saturday, Arrieta will be able to catch up.

"It’s part of my development," he said. "Those years were and still are very important to me for a lot of reasons. Regardless of how certain situations went negatively or positively, they all impacted my career in a certain way. I’m thankful for those times over there, those years there, and I’ll continue to use them for future reference, to reach back in the memory bank and think about certain times and certain situations that I had there, that I have now, and how I react and handle those. I think about it a lot."

He didn’t have to deal with much on Friday. Valbuena hit his 12th home run with one out in the fourth, and one out later, Ryan Sweeney doubled and scored on Watkins’ single. Baez made it 3-0 when he gave the ballhawks on Waveland Avenue behind the left-field bleachers a souvenir, belting his sixth home run with two outs in the fifth.

Baez did some early work with hitting coach Bill Mueller Friday that paid off.

"[Thursday], the guy threw me all fastballs and I couldn’t hit it because it was up in the zone," said Baez, who struck out four times against the Giants Thursday. "I asked [Mueller] to get the machine and get the fastball going today."

"You want to see every one of that kid’s at-bats," Arrieta said of Baez. "It’s starting to get to the point, even though it’s so early in his career, that nothing surprises me with what he does at the plate. Everyone knows when he connects with that swing, he’ll hit it a long way. I don’t know if many of his home runs will touch the seats here, honestly."

Cruz connected with one out in the seventh, lofting a changeup from Arrieta to left. But the Cubs added a run in their half when pinch-hitter Chris Valaika doubled and scored two batters later on Arismendy Alcantara’s infield single.

The Orioles’ biggest threat came with two outs in the fifth. They had runners at first and second when Caleb Joseph singled to right. Davis tried to score from second, but he was thrown out at home on a perfect strike from Sweeney to catcher John Baker.

Cruz has seen Arrieta. He was impressed by the right-hander.

"I think he looked more mature," Cruz said. "He was commanding all his pitches and he didn’t make many mistakes."

This is the third series between the Cubs and Orioles, and the second at Wrigley Field. Baltimore took two of three in Chicago on June 24-26, 2008, after the Cubs went 2-1 at Camden Yards in June 2003. Arrieta saw all the orange in the stands and heard the “Let’s go O’s” chants.

"I like that kind of stuff," Arrieta said. "Fans are passionate about their team, and [the Orioles are] in a great place now, eight or so games up in the [American League] East. Their fans have a lot to be happy about. It’s good they’re getting that support."

Of course, Arrieta was wearing a T-shirt with the Chicago skyline on it.

Cubs.com

Cancer patient who inspired Rizzo visits Wrigley

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — A month ago, Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo visited a cancer patient, Mike Kasallis, and promised the 22-year-old he would hit a home run for him. Rizzo hit two blasts against the Padres on July 22, and he made sure to touch his lips and point to the sky as a signal.

"I was absolutely stunned," Kasallis said about seeing Rizzo deliver his request. "All I said was, ‘If you hit a home run, blow a kiss to the sky for me,’ and he did."

On Friday, Kasallis, his girlfriend, Ashley Souk, and his family were at Wrigley Field as part of the pregame ceremonies.

"When my son asked, [Rizzo] said, ‘I’ll do my best,’" said Donna Kasallis, Mike’s mother. "To not only hit the home runs, but to remember to do that [touch his lips and point], that’s what was so touching."

Rizzo and Kasallis have exchanged text messages since that July day and since Mike began chemo treatments. Rizzo knows what Kasallis is going through. In 2008, the Cubs slugger was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He has recovered and is ranked second in the National League in home runs entering play Friday.

Kasallis, of suburban Buffalo Grove, Ill., graduated from Illinois State in May, and he was diagnosed on June 20 with pancreatitis.

"We have six months and two years to go," Donna said of the chemo treatments, which includes weekly sessions for six months, then monthly treatments for two years. She said the good news is that doctors say Mike is already in remission.

Kasallis was at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago when Rizzo visited that morning. What was their reaction when Rizzo homered that night at Wrigley Field?

"I started crying," Donna said. "[Mike] got all choked up. And then to do it again — we started crying."

Rizzo had said the visit brought back memories of his own experience.

"This one hit more at home for me," Rizzo said in July about meeting Kasallis, his mother and his girlfriend. "I usually don’t get flashbacks, but I did this time."

When Rizzo visited Kasallis in the hospital, Donna said her son perked up for the first time since the diagnosis. She had taken Mike to see a doctor because he was complaining of stomach pains, and it turned out to be much more serious. Donna said they were lucky to get a diagnosis so early.

"It was the first time I’d seen him with any spark," Donna said of Rizzo’s visit. "It was like I saw my kid again that day."

Rizzo’s mother, Laurie, joined him at the hospital, and Donna asked for advice.

"I said, ‘How do you deal with this?’ and she said, ‘One second at a time,’" Donna said.

If needed, Turner ready to answer starting call

CHICAGO — Jacob Turner pitched in relief on Thursday, although it was more like a start, and it could lead to a start on Tuesday against the Reds.

Officially, Turner entered in the sixth inning in relief of Tsuyoshi Wada, who had started Tuesday’s game. That contest was suspended because of rain, and it resumed on Thursday in the sixth. Turner threw 34 pitches over two innings, and the Cubs held on for a 2-1 win over the Giants.

Manager Rick Renteria has yet to name a starter for next Tuesday against the Reds. It would be Edwin Jackson’s start, but the right-hander was placed on the disabled list Thursday with a strained right lat.

Turner is ready.

"Definitely," he said when asked if he could go five innings. "I was starting at the beginning of the month. I don’t think I’d have any problem going five [innings], and depending on how stressful the innings were, getting back up and down wouldn’t be a problem."

Turner did throw more pitches on the side after his outing Thursday.

"Whatever they decide, I’ll go out there and do the best I can," Turner said.

The Cubs acquired Turner on Aug. 8 from the Marlins in exchange for two Minor League pitchers. Turner, 23, was 4-7 with a 5.97 ERA in 20 appearances (12 starts) for Miami.

Turner admitted he felt a little anxious Thursday because he wanted to preserve the Cubs’ 2-0 lead.

"You feel like you have extra pressure, because you don’t want to blow it for the starter, especially since I’ve been a starter for so long," Turner said. "I can appreciate that, coming out of the bullpen, keeping the team in the game, keeping us in the lead. It was fun to warm up like normal."

Watkins among familiar faces on Cubs

CHICAGO — Logan Watkins felt right at home at Wrigley Field, even though he was just called up from Triple-A Iowa. He’s not alone in players who have been promoted from the Minor League team.

"We were saying last night, it’s like an Iowa Cubs party in here now," said Watkins, who started at second base on Friday. "It just shows the organization trusts us to come in."

Watkins, who was batting .256 at Iowa, was added to the Cubs’ roster after Starlin Castro was placed on the bereavement list.

"Last year, I got sporadic at-bats, but I’ve been playing every day at Iowa this past month, so I’m ready to go," Watkins said. "I hate that Castro is going through what he has to go through. I’ll be here until he gets back, and we’ll see what happens."

Watkins’ role at Iowa was to get on base and let Kris Bryant, Mike Olt, Javier Baez and Jorge Soler drive him in.

"That was one of the more talented teams I’ve ever played on," Watkins said. "It was fun to watch. Every day something cool would happen. Even guys like [Matt] Szczur, who aren’t quite the high-profile guys, they’re fun to watch, too. Guys like that, you get on base for Kris Bryant and Javy to hit the ball out of the park. We had a really good team and it was a lot of fun to play on."

Bryant has hit 41 home runs combined this season at Double-A Tennessee and Iowa, and Watkins has tried to get the third baseman to loosen up.

"He’s going to play this game for a long time," Watkins said. "He’s a fun kid to talk to. I hang with him in the dugout and talk to him. I try to get him to smile a little more. He takes it pretty serious. He’s pretty intense — but he’s fun to play with."

Renteria will wait for signal before challenging

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria will make sure he waits for the signal from the dugout and won’t rely on a player’s reaction before challenging a call.

On Thursday, Arismendy Alcantara thought he was hit by a pitch in the third inning, and Renteria challenged the call that the rookie was not plunked. Video did not support it, and the call stood.

"Do I believe he was hit by a pitch? I do," Renteria said Friday. "Do I believe there was conclusive enough evidence to show to everyone that he was? Probably not. As I went out, he takes first base — he’s not a very good actor. I truly did believe he was [hit by a pitch], but there wasn’t enough evidence. It probably would’ve been more prudent for me to look in [to the dugout]."

Renteria often walks backward as he’s headed out to chat with the umpires, waiting for a signal from the dugout about whether to challenge.

"We’ve played 100-plus games and it’s the first time I’ve used the challenge, and it’s ended up coming back and biting me in the rear," Renteria said.

That’s because in the fourth inning, Renteria felt left fielder Matt Szczur had thrown out Joaquin Arias at home plate, but he couldn’t challenge the call.

"That’s one of those situations to make sure I have guys reviewing the plays [to] give me a definitive one way or the other if I can use it," Renteria said. "At that time, I was hoping I could get [Alcantara] on base. I really did think it hit him, based on his reactions. In this age of technology, I need video proof."

Extra bases

• Reliever Brian Schlitter began his rehab assignment on Thursday with the Cubs’ Rookie League team in Mesa, Ariz., and he pitched one inning. Schlitter has been sidelined since Aug. 9 with right shoulder inflammation, and he had been rehabbing at the Cubs’ Spring Training complex. There is no timetable for his return.

• Class A Kane County has set a single-season franchise record for home wins following Thursday’s 7-3 victory over Clinton, which was their 51st at home. The Cougars have surpassed the 2001 team, which compiled a 50-20 home mark en route to winning the Midwest League championship. The Cougars now have won 84 games this season and are 51-15 at home, which leads both Major League and Minor League Baseball.

With 11 regular-season games remaining, the Cougars need five more wins to break the franchise record for most in a season, set by the ‘01 Cougars, who went 88-50 during the regular season.

• With the help of two of the Cubs’ clubhouse attendants, Luis Valbuena fulfilled the Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS on Friday in the shower. He was challenged by coach Franklin Font’s daughter, Veronica, 20, and another friend in Venezuela. Valbuena’s reaction?

"It was cold," he said.

Cubs.com

Norris, Hendricks set for duel in middle game

O’s righty, Cubs rookie both in the midst of excellent stretches

By Tim Healey

It might not be all that surprising if the Orioles-Cubs matinee on Saturday at Wrigley Field turns into a pitchers’ duel. Baltimore righty Bud Norris, fresh off one of his best starts of the season, will get the ball opposite Chicago rookie Kyle Hendricks, who has turned in six straight quality starts.

The game will carry greater big-picture significance for the O’s, who had their four-game win streak snapped by a 4-1 Chicago win on Friday. Baltimore will look to further pad its American League East cushion toward double-digit territory as they face the cellar-dwelling Cubs all weekend.

Norris is charged with that task on Saturday. He, like most of the Baltimore rotation, has been rolling of late, earning a 2.87 ERA and 1.21 WHIP over his last 10 starts.

On Monday, Norris beat the White Sox, allowing two runs over seven innings to outduel Chris Sale before the Orioles’ offense broke it open late. Norris allowed just one baserunner through the first six innings and issued no walks for the first time since his first start of the season.

Hendricks, meanwhile, has been a recent bright spot for the Cubs, as he’s ventured into waters uncharted by a first-year Cubs pitcher since a young Kerry Wood tossed seven straight quality starts (twice) in 1998.

During Hendricks’ streak, not only has he met the requirements for a quality start — at least six innings, no more than three earned runs — but he’s cruised past them. The 24-year-old righty has lasted a minimum of seven innings in five of those six games and allowed no more than one earned run in all six, posting a 0.84 ERA and 0.89 WHIP in that span.

Nearly two-thirds of all of Hendricks’ pitches this month have been sinkers, according to brooksbaseball.net, and it’s worked out just fine for him. Opposing batters are hitting .224 with a .293 slugging percentage against the sinker.

Hendricks’ most recent gem came Monday against the Mets when he allowed one run in seven innings for his fourth consecutive win. A Lucas Duda homer was the lone blemish on his ledger.

"I know it’s a short snippet, and [Hendricks has] been very, very good, but he is [Greg] Maddux-like in his execution and approach," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said afterward, referencing the former Cubs pitcher and recent Hall of Fame inductee.

Cubs: Myriad of strikeouts part of growing process, Renteria says

The Cubs strike out — a lot. They entered play Friday second in the Majors with 1,127 punchouts, trailing only the Marlins (1,129). They also tied Miami with a 23.4 percent strikeout rate that’s tops in the big leagues.

According to Renteria, though, it can at least in part be chalked up to the Cubs’ many young position players still finding their way at the Major League level. Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez, for example, had struck out in 27. 3 percent and 40.5 percent of their plate appearances, respectively, and although they are only relatively recent callups, the since-optioned Mike Olt (39.6 percent) and Junior Lake (33.4 percent) also did their fair share of swinging and missing.

"For some of the young guys who just arrived, it’s still a learning process, it’s still trying to get comfortable at the Major League level," Renteria said. "It’s also getting comfortable understanding there’s a lot of information out there, and the opposition can dissect every single thing about a particular batter’s approach and attack it and use anything they can against that particular hitter. They’re in a learning curve and trying to understand both sides of it.

"You have to break down young men having the at-bats and see what their thought process was during the at-bat. By the same token, you still want guys to have the aggressiveness they have."

Worth noting

• Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones said Friday he isn’t sure whether he will go with the team of MLB players headed to Japan for a five-game exhibition series in November. Jones was one of four players selected to the team earlier this week.

• Righty Jacob Turner pronounced himself ready should the Cubs opt to give him the start Tuesday against the Reds in place of the injured Edwin Jackson. Turner threw 34 pitches in two innings of relief Thursday, and he last started — for the Marlins, also against the Reds — on Aug. 3.

• In a combined 61 plate appearances against Norris, the Cubs own a .167/.246/.278 slash line. The Orioles have never faced the rookie Hendricks.

Cubs.com

Cubs halt O’s rally, third out confirmed by replay

By Brittany Ghiroli

CHICAGO — The Orioles watched a potential fifth-inning rally go by the wayside, as a crew-chief review confirmed the on-field ruling that catcher John Baker wasn’t illegally blocking home plate for the inning-ending out.

Former O’s starter and current Cubs righty Jake Arrieta retired the first 13 batters he faced before Chris Davis’ one-out single into center field. Arrieta walked J.J. Hardy, and one out later, Caleb Joseph singled into right field. A hustling Davis rounded third and headed home, with right fielder Ryan Sweeney’s throw right on target for Baker to apply the tag.

O’s manager Buck Showalter came out to argue, and the umpiring crew decided to review the play. After 55 seconds, it was determined that Baker was not in violation of Rule 7.13.

"The throwout at the plate, [Davis] probably took a little wide turn there. I haven’t seen it [on replay]," Showalter said after the O’s 4-1 loss. "I’ll have to look at it. If that’s not blocking the plate, what is? I’m totally confused now. I hate even coming out there. We all know the rule’s got some challenges to it, but boy, I don’t know what else. … You tell me."

ESPNChicago.com

Javier Baez blasts another into the street

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – At this rate, Chicago Cubs infielder Javier Baez may never hit a home run in Wrigley Field. As for landing a few outside the Friendly Confines, well, he’s got that part down.

“You want to see every one of that kid’s at-bats,” starter Jake Arrieta said after Baez hit a ball onto the street beyond the left field bleachers on Friday. “I don’t know if many of his home runs will touch seats here, honestly.”

It was Baez’s second career home run at home and second to leave the park entirely. This one came on a 3-2 pitch in the fifth inning of a 4-1 win over the first-place Baltimore Orioles. The ball hugged the left-field foul line before leaving the stadium.

“I hit it pretty good,” Baez said afterward. “I didn’t know if it was going to be fair or foul.”

He hit it so far that ESPN Stats and Information still doesn’t have a distance on it. His first one went 432 feet. There will be many more tape-measure home runs before Baez’s career is over.

“It’s starting to get to the point, even though it’s early in his career, that nothing really surprises me with what he does at the plate,” Arrieta said. “Everyone knows if he connects with that swing he’s going to hit it a long way.”

Baez continues to strike out at a high rate – he whiffed four times Thursday but just once Friday – but he’s just fine with it. You have to take the good with the bad.

“I’m not afraid to strike out,” Baez said. “I’m going to keep swinging the bat.”

But that doesn’t mean he’s not going to work at it. After a rough game the day before, Baez went to the coaches to work on some things.

“The guy (on Thursday) threw me all fastballs … up in the zone,” Baez explained. “I asked them to get the machine and hit fastballs early today (Friday). I get mad at myself because I’m swinging at bad pitches.”

The extra work paid off in the form of his sixth home run of the season and second to leave the stadium. It won’t be the last.

ESPNChicago.com

Arrieta, Strop help beat former team

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO – It’s the trade that might go down as one of the best in Chicago Cubs history if Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop keep pitching like they did Friday in helping their current team beat their former one, 4-1.

“At the beginning it was a little weird,” Strop said of his eighth-inning appearance against the Baltimore Orioles.

Strop got in and then out of trouble to help preserve the victory for the other former Oriole, Arrieta. As he has so many times this season, Arrieta was dominant, lasting seven innings while giving up just one run, a solo blast by the league leader, Nelson Cruz.

“Phenomenal seven innings of work,” manager Rick Renteria said.

Arrieta came to Chicago with Strop last July for pitcher Scott Feldman, who has since moved on to Houston. An inconsistent pitcher with a great arm who had struggled in the spotlight, Arrieta has blossomed into an ace. He took down a dangerous Orioles lineup — many of them his friends.

“You think about it all the time,” Arrieta said of his time in Baltimore. “It’s part of my development. Those years are very important to me for a lot of reasons.”

That development has led him to this point: a 2.53 ERA in 20 starts this season after Friday’s effort. He’s 11-6 as a Cub after going 20-25 as an Oriole.

“Making adjustments on the fly, that might be the biggest (difference),” Arrieta said. “That’s something that I wasn’t able to do frequently enough in Baltimore. I’m getting to the point where it’s becoming second nature for me, so it feels good.”

It’s also becoming second nature for Arrieta to mow down opposing teams early in games. Once again he flew through the first few innings without giving up a baserunner. This time he retired the first 13 batters he faced.

“(He’s) just being more consistent,” Strop said of his teammate both in Baltimore and Chicago. “He’s been focused on whatever he needs to do.”

The first-place Orioles are doing just fine without Arrieta and Strop, but where would the Cubs be without them right now? If the Feldman trade hadn’t worked out there would be a big hole in the pitching staff. But the Cubs did their homework and now have a budding No. 1 pitcher who should be entering his prime, as well as a live arm in the bullpen. Arrieta’s spring training was delayed because of shoulder stiffness, but that’s long forgotten.

“I don’t know if durability has ever been an issue for me,” Arrieta said. “I guess I’m starting to show why it’s not. It’s nice to pitch into games consistently.”

And now Arrieta is even starting to learn how to win without his devastating stuff. That would never have happened before. Walks would have ruled the day. He walked one Friday.

“Didn’t really have particularly crisp breaking stuff early in the game,” Arrieta said. “I recognized that and was able to miss around the zone and not in the zone, which was good.”

Arrieta missed down most of the time and wasn’t even upset at the one pitch that left the yard, calling it a “pretty good one” to Cruz. His ex-team managed little else.

“There was a little more to it being a former team, but after the first inning it was business as usual,” Arrieta said. “It was nice to see those guys.”

The feeling may not have been as mutual.

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Orioles 1

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Here’s a quick look at the Chicago Cubs’ 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday afternoon:

How it happened: The Cubs got to Orioles starter Kevin Gausman for two runs in the third inning as Luis Valbuena tied a career high with his 12th home run of the season and Logan Watkins drove in another run with a base hit. Javier Baez crushed a ball onto Waveland in the fifth inning for his sixth of the season to extend the lead to 3-0. Nelson Cruz hit his 34th home run of the season to break up the shutout in the seventh as Jake Arrieta dominated his former team, sending the first 13 batters of the game back to the dugout without reaching. He lasted seven innings giving up just four hits, one walk and the Cruz home run. The Cubs got that run back in the bottom of the inning when Arismendy Alcantara drove home Chris Valaika with an infield hit after Valaika doubled to lead off the inning. Hector Rondon earned his 20th save of the season.

Key play: With the Cubs leading 2-0 in the fifth inning, right fielder Ryan Sweeney threw out Chris Davis at home after a Caleb Joseph single. The play was reviewed to make sure catcher John Baker wasn’t blocking the plate in violation of the new rules this season and the call was upheld.

What it means: Arrieta said he had nothing to prove to his old team but he did anyway. Cruising through the first three innings is becoming the norm. It’s taking him very little stress to get through opposing lineups that first time around. His issues actually stem from being in the dugout too long while the Cubs are scoring runs. It happened again in the fifth inning but this time he got out of a jam with some help from Sweeney. His ERA is now 2.53. Baez is doing what Baez does. The strikeouts might pile up one day but then he’ll crush a ball the next. The at-bats are still decent when he doesn’t swing way outside the zone. Alcantara is actually struggling more right now but that’s expected as well. He struck out with a man on third and less than two outs in the third inning but got a run home in the seventh.

Pitching rotation: Rick Renteria hasn’t declared who will take Edwin Jackson’s spot in the rotation after the right-hander went on the disabled list on Thursday. With an off-day on Monday the Cubs can stay on schedule with Travis Wood pitching Tuesday in Cincinnati.

What’s next: Game 2 of the series is at 1:20 p.m. CT Saturday when Kyle Hendricks (5-1, 1.48) takes on Bud Norris (11-7, 3.69).

ESPNChicago.com

Arrieta goes from O’s castoff to Cubs ace

By Jesse Rogers

CHICAGO — Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta didn’t necessarily circle his calendar when the schedule came out, but it’s safe to say he’s pretty excited to face his former team, the Baltimore Orioles, on Friday for the first time since being traded to Chicago last season.

"I’ve thought about it quite a bit," Arrieta said earlier this week. "I’m approaching it the same way as other games."

There’s a quiet confidence to Arrieta these days that wasn’t around when he was traded to the Cubs in July 2013 along with pitcher Pedro Strop for starter Scott Feldman and catcher Steve Clevenger. Feldman was 5-6 with a 4.27 ERA in 15 starts for the Orioles, who missed the playoffs, but he departed via free agency. The Cubs were left with a blossoming 28-year-old pitcher whose head has seemingly caught up to his arm.

"It’s no surprise," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said of Arrieta this week. "Wish him well. I like Jake. It was a good move for both of us."

That’s underselling how Arrieta has developed since struggling after being the Orioles’ Opening Day starter in 2012. His ERA that season was 6.20 in 24 games, including 18 starts. At the time of his trade to the Cubs, Arrieta sported a 7.23 ERA and a 1.77 WHIP in five starts.

Heading into Friday’s start, Arrieta ranks seventh in the National League among regular starters with a 2.61 ERA in 19 starts and has taken over as the Cubs’ ace since they traded Jeff Samardzija to the Oakland Athletics in July.

"I don’t think it surprises anybody that Jake and Petey [Strop] have done well, but timing’s everything," Showalter said. "I think it was a good move for their career, both of them, and I’m excited that it’s worked out for them. I hope it doesn’t work out Friday."

More times than not, it has worked out for Arrieta, who has flirted with no-hitters and perfect games this season by using devastating off-speed pitches.

But that wasn’t always the case. He couldn’t command his stuff in Baltimore, leading to a career-high five walks per nine innings pitched last season. The further he gets from the trade the less Arrieta likes to talk about his struggles in Baltimore where he and former pitching coach Rick Adair didn’t see eye-to-eye. It wasn’t a hostile relationship, but it didn’t bring out the best in Arrieta on the mound.

"There were some things there that inhibited my ability to take that next step," Arrieta said last year. "There were things going on there that kind of restricted me a little bit."

Which means the change of scenery may have been the best thing for him.

"I think it was a factor that helped," Arrieta said. "It was kind of that time."

After struggling in five starts with the Orioles before the trade last season, Arrieta paid immediate dividends for the Cubs, posting a 3.66 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in nine starts. He showed enough to convince the Cubs that he belonged in the 2014 rotation.

After overcoming shoulder stiffness that limited him in spring training and kept him out of the rotation until early May, Arrieta has taken off, becoming one of the most dependable starters in the National League. The difference, according to his catcher, is confidence.

"It’s a big difference from last year to this year," Welington Castillo said. "The more important thing he has this year is his confidence. He throws any pitch in any count no matter who’s the hitter.

"If he knows there’s one pitch is not where he wants it, right away he knows what he’s doing bad. He knows what to do mechanically and physically to put the pitch where it needs to be."

Arrieta, who has allowed three earned runs or fewer in 13 of his past 14 starts, says he gets most “amped” about two hours before a start. By the time he takes the mound Friday against some good friends, he thinks he’ll have calmed down enough to pitch like he’s capable.

"They have a great team," he said. "A really good team. If I execute, I’ll be OK. If I don’t, I’ll get into trouble."

Is there anything to prove to the team that sent him packing?

"I don’t look at it that way," Arrieta said. "I like how far I’ve come. It’s happened to a lot of players. They hit the ground running and they take off. I was a candidate for it."

22 8 / 2014

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Giants 5, Cubs 3

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs dropped the nightcap of a doubleheader Thursday, missing out on a sweep in a 5-3 defeat by the San Francisco Giants. A quick look:

How it happened: The Giants got on the board early, striking quickly off Cubs starter Travis Wood. Wood allowed a leadoff single to Angel Pagan, then a one-out walk to Buster Posey, before giving up an RBI single to Pablo Sandoval. Wood hit the next batter to load the bases with just one out before retiring the next two batters without allowing any further damage. The Cubs responded quickly in the bottom half of the inning with a two-run home run from Justin Ruggiano followed by Welington Castillo’s solo shot onto Waveland Avenue. The Giants took the lead back with single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings, the last of which came on a Posey home run. Giants starter Madison Bumgarner bounced back from a rough opening inning to toss seven strong, striking out 12 Cubs.

What it means: Wood continues his rough season after a breakout 2013, but Thursday’s struggles were primarily caused by two players: Posey and Sandoval. The two went 5-for-5 with three doubles, a home run, a walk and three RBIs against Wood. The Cubs would certainly like Wood to rediscover his previous form, but with so many options for the rotation and more likely to be added in the offseason, Wood’s future role with the team could become a legitimate question.

Outside the box: Matt Szczur picked up his first major league hit with a single to left in the seventh inning. … Blake Parker was called up as the Cubs’ 26th man for the doubleheader’s second game, marking his sixth stint with the Cubs this season. … Javier Baez struck out four times in one game for the third time in his short MLB career, placing him in a tie for second for most four-plus strikeout games in the National League this year.

Up next: The Cubs open a series with the Baltimore Orioles on Friday afternoon as Jake Arrieta (6-4, 2.61 ERA) takes on his former team and youngster Kevin Gausman (7-4, 3.70).

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 2, Giants 1

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs finished off the San Francisco Giants on Thursday evening, scoring a 2-1 victory in a game that began and then was suspended Tuesday night because of weather. Here’s a quick look:

How it happened: After Anthony Rizzo hit a two-run home run and Tsuyoshi Wada threw five scoreless innings Tuesday, the game resumed in the bottom of the fifth Thursday. Yusmeiro Petit came out strong for the Giants, retiring all six batters he faced, the first five via strikeout. Jacob Turner didn’t fare as well for the Cubs, getting two quick outs, then giving up a double to Adam Duvall, who came around to score on Joe Panik’s single, cutting the Chicago lead to 2-1. The Cubs didn’t manage to get a hit after the third inning and had only one baserunner (a Javier Baez walk) after the game resumed Thursday evening. Regardless, the Cubs managed to hold on for the victory, as Pedro Strop worked a perfect eighth and Hector Rondon closed it out in the ninth for his 19th save of the season.

What it means: Turner, a potential piece of the Cubs’ future rotation, tossed two innings, giving up one run on three hits. The 23-year-old right-hander didn’t strike anyone out, but on the plus side, he didn’t walk anyone and four of his six outs were via grounders, which is what the Cubs and pitching coach Chris Bosio like to see.

Outside the box: After less than 15 minutes of rain led to a disastrous four-plus hours of delay Tuesday, the resumption of the game was once again delayed Thursday by rain. The total rain-delay time ended up being 6 hours, 31 minutes.

Up next: The Cubs wrap up the three-game set with the Giants later Thursday night, with Travis Wood taking the mound for the Cubs against Madison Bumgarner.

ESPNChicago.com

Giants latest to find holes against Wood

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO — Travis Wood isn’t following up his breakout 2013 season the way he planned. The Chicago Cubs left-hander tossed 200 innings and delivered a solid 3.11 ERA last year, but through 26 starts in 2014, he has seen his ERA climb to 4.91 and his walk rate jump to a career-high 9.7 percent.

Though the walks were down in the second game of Thursday’s doubleheader with the San Francisco Giants, Wood still didn’t get the results he and the Cubs were hoping for, giving up four runs on eight hits in six innings in a 5-3 loss that left them with a split.

“On the plus side, one walk,” Wood said after entering the night having given up at least three free passes in 10 of his previous 14 starts. “On the not, every ball they hit seemed to go right down the line. Lot of doubles, and doubles score runs, especially when you get multiple in an inning.”

The Giants managed four doubles and a home run off Wood on the evening, with two of their stars doing most of the damage. Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval combined to go 5-for-5 off Wood, with three doubles, a home run and a walk, with three runs driven in.

“Sandoval hit one at his eyes down the line, good piece of hitting there,” Wood said. “And he hit a curveball that was going to bounce down the other line. It seemed like everything they made contact with found a soft spot.”

Though it wasn’t an issue Thursday, Wood’s increase in free passes this season, combined with teams hitting him more regularly (he allowed a .643 OPS against last season, compared to .770 this year), have brought poor results. Obviously the walks need to come down, but to really find the success he had last season, Wood is going to have to start inducing weaker contact, since he’ll never be a power pitcher who racks up the strikeouts — although his K rate has jumped to a career-high 18.6 percent this season.

Regardless, along with Edwin Jackson, Wood’s rough season has him on the fringe of what is likely to become a crowded battle for the back end of the Cubs’ rotation. His final few starts this season could help determine just how solid his footing is heading into 2015.

ESPNChicago.com

Jacob Turner gives intriguing glimpse

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO — The Chicago Cubs have numerous arms they’d like to give starts to over the final six weeks of the season. Jacob Turner, at one time a top Detroit Tigers prospect, is one of them.

Turner took over for starter Tsuyoshi Wada in the top of the sixth when Tuesday’s suspended game resumed Thursday evening. The right-hander tossed two innings of one-run ball against the San Francisco Giants, giving up three hits with no walks or strikeouts.

Turner ran into some trouble in his first inning of work, giving up a two-out double to Adam Duvall followed by an RBI single to Joe Panik before getting Brandon Crawford to fly out to end the inning. Turner looked headed for more problems in the seventh, when he gave up a lead-off, line-drive single to Travis Ishikawa. However, he retired Angel Pagan on a fielder’s choice groundout and induced a double-play grounder by Hunter Pence.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria said keeping the ball down and getting ground-ball outs — of which Turner recorded five — is a key for Turner’s future success.

“I watched some of his film, he’s got some tilting, sinking action, arm-side,” Renteria said of Turner. “His ball’s got some life to it, he hit 92 [mph], maybe 93 today. Keeping the ball down is obviously important, and like all pitchers, commanding the zone. I think he made some pitches when he needed to and fortunately for us, gave us two innings of good work.”

Renteria added that he had Turner — who threw 34 pitches Thursday — toss in the bullpen after his outing to get him some extra work, as the Cubs hope they can build him up and have him start a few games in the final month of the season.

It might seem odd the Marlins gave up on Turner at such a young age, but as surprise playoff contenders with a roster crunch, they had to make a decision on the erratic 23-year-old. With no options left to send Turner to the minors, Miami decided to trade Turner to the Cubs for some low-level prospects. The Cubs got another underperforming arm from whom they hope they can extract some value.

Turner entered Thursday with a career-high 51.6 percent ground-ball rate (which would put him in the top 20 in all of baseball if he had enough innings to be eligible) and walking only 6.4 percent (the league average is 7.7 percent) of the batters he has faced, both very solid peripherals. Unless something changes, it doesn’t appear he’ll ever be a big strikeout threat (his career strikeout rate is 15.1 percent, well below the league average of 20.3), but the ground balls are something he and pitching coach Chris Bosio can work with down the line.

Turner might never live up to the lofty expectations that came with being drafted ninth overall in 2009 and becoming a consensus top-25 prospect, but that doesn’t eliminate him from being a quality arm in the future. The Cubs hope they can magnify Turner’s strengths and turn him into another effective, young piece of the puzzle.

ESPNChicago.com

DL trip muddies Jackson’s Cubs future

By Sahadev Sharma

CHICAGO — In a move that came as a bit of a surprise, the Chicago Cubs placed pitcher Edwin Jackson on the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a right-lat strain. With Jackson’s struggles well-documented and the Cubs searching for innings for numerous pitchers, the DL stint, while certainly unfortunate, does give the Cubs a chance to look at some of their younger arms.

Jacob Turner is already part of the bullpen and took over for Tsuyoshi Wada when Tuesday’s game resumed in the bottom of the fifth inning Thursday. Felix Doubront, scheduled for a rehab start with Double-A Tennessee on Sunday, is slated to start one end of the doubleheader against the Cardinals on Aug. 30. Dan Straily, acquired in the Jeff Samardzija trade in July and who has already made a spot start with the Cubs, has looked good in recent starts at Iowa and might deserve a chance come September.

Clearly, the Cubs have numerous intriguing arms who could help the team in the future. First, however, they need to find spots for them to fill. As of now, it’s clear that Jake Arrieta (2.61 ERA in 117⅓ innings) will be in the rotation. Kyle Hendricks (1.48 ERA in seven big league starts) appears to have a spot next season as well. Wada has been very strong in his outings, but picking up the left-hander’s 2015 option, depending on the price and the team’s need, is a decision that will likely be made in the offseason. And while Travis Wood has struggled, it’s very possible he’ll return and be given an opportunity to bounce back to his form of 2013, when he tossed 200 innings and delivered a 3.11 ERA.

With Jackson putting up two of the worst seasons of his career since joining the Cubs, he has been the logical choice to be moved out of the rotation. That is not, however, an easy decision. Put aside the fact that Jackson has another two years and $22 million left on his deal after this season. Jackson, 30, is also one of the hardest-working and most respected players in the clubhouse. While some might feel that isn’t a valid reason to keep an underperforming player in his current role, it does make it easier for a manager to justify giving the player every opportunity to work through his issues.

Jackson said he’d been feeling the effects his injury for a few starts now but tried to battle through it and perform to the best of his capabilities.

“I’ve never been one to make any excuses,” the right-hander said. “I’ve never said anything to anyone about anything. You go out and you have a job to do. Once you choose to take the field, you choose to handle anything that comes with it. That’s pretty much the approach I’ve taken.

“I haven’t been out there pitching like I know I could, and I haven’t really made any complaints about anything going on with my body, because as a professional, you go out there and you don’t live by any excuses. But you battle, you battle, you battle, and it comes to the point where you have to suck up pride and do what’s best for yourself and the team.”

In his time with the Cubs, Jackson has made 57 starts, tossed 314⅓ innings and posted a rough 5.47 ERA. However, Jackson has never lashed out at the media or a fan base that’s often very critical of him — and, to be fair, criticism comes with poor performances, which Jackson seems to understand.

“I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do, what I’m capable of doing,” Jackson said. “Maybe a glimpse here and there, but I still think I have a lot of upside and I still have a lot to bring to the table. I just haven’t proved it. At the end of the day, you have to go out and do it on the field.”

According to Brooks Baseball, Jackson’s fastball velocity peaked in July, with an average of 94.69 mph, and dipped to a career low for a month at 93.35 mph in August. At times, Jackson appeared to have his best “stuff,” but getting to it wasn’t always the easiest.

“I feel like it’s been a battle within myself, I have to really dig down and reach down to get the velocity,” Jackson said. “Earlier, it was just coming nice and easy — I didn’t have to do anything to try to get velocity, it was pretty much there. When you’re dealing with [an injury], it causes you to make changes in mechanics, different arm slots, and as a pitcher that’s something you don’t want to do.”

Jackson pointed out that making mechanical tweaks to try to compensate for an injury can lead to an even worse injury — and he didn’t want to a minor injury turning into a season-ender or, worse, surgery that could take him out for 2015.

And though his velocity was down, Jackson said he hasn’t lost faith in his ability.

“I haven’t lost any confidence, when I take the field, I feel like I’m the best pitcher on the field,” Jackson said. “It just hasn’t shown. I feel like I have a lot to prove to the organization and I have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago and I feel like I still owe them a lot. I’m being paid a lucrative contract, I still owe a lot on the field and to the team.”

Jackson’s future with the team and his ability to live up to the lofty expectations that come with that large contract are a little foggy at the moment. The team could give him another shot at rediscovering the formula that made him an innings-eating, midrotation starter — and he certainly can’t currently be described as an “innings-eater,” as he hasn’t tossed seven or more in a start since May 17.

The Cubs could move him to the bullpen to see if he would be more effective in shorter bursts, though he has shown a tendency to struggle early in games. However, that might not be relevant to relieving, as a pitcher is prone to try to establish different pitches and has a different game plan when starting than when relieving.

It’s also possible that Jackson could be with another team next season, whether he’s traded or just released. But with his current contract, either of those options would be a little tricky.

Jackson has proved to have an even-keeled personality, not prone swings of emotion in good times or bad.

Unfortunately, while with the Cubs, the bad moments are the ones that have seemed to dominate. The Cubs have a lot of decisions to make this offseason — and over the next 18 months. What happens with Jackson might be one of the more important ones.

CSNChicago.com

TarpGate: Cubs got caught in perfect storm

By Patrick Mooney

John Baker has become a face for this punch-drunk season of Cubbie baseball as the lead guitarist/backup catcher/emergency pitcher/quote machine.

A white towel covering his head, Baker strummed his acoustic guitar as the rain delay stretched from Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, jamming with first baseman Anthony Rizzo in the Wrigley Field dugout.

The San Francisco Giants left town after Thursday night’s 5-3 victory over the Cubs. The Giants split the game-and-a-half doubleheader, losing the suspended game after making history as the first team in 28 years to win a protest.

All that waiting around — Rizzo compared it to watching paint dry — left both teams back where this series started. The Giants (67-59) are one game up in the race for the second wild card while the Cubs (55-72) are still stuck in last place with an image problem.

While TarpGate went viral and made national headlines for the wrong reasons, Cubs players and executives backed their grounds crew, even before the Chicago Sun-Times exposed some of the organizational staffing issues that might have put less-experienced workers on the field during a flash storm, compounding the problems with the rollout.

“My heart goes out to the grounds crew more than anybody else,” Baker said, “because those guys have done a great job all year. We haven’t exactly had the best weather here in the Midwest this year. It’s been tough. Hot. Cold. Raining. Not raining. Up and down, on and off. Put the tarp on, take the tarp off.

“It gets really windy, and it is called the Windy City. I felt bad for those guys.”

It’s also easy to second-guess umpire Hunter Wendelstedt, the crew chief who could have called for the tarp earlier on Tuesday night. Then again, the radar didn’t show a downpour coming.

The White Sox stayed dry on the South Side that night — almost 10 miles from Clark and Addison — while losing to the Baltimore Orioles. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said it didn’t rain near his Lincoln Park home located about 12 blocks from Wrigley Field.

“Listen, those guys do an incredible job,” Hoyer said. “Our grounds crew’s fantastic. In Chicago, there are so many different storms. They pull it so often that it’s a rare thing when that happens. It was a bad confluence of events.”

Baker compared Wrigley Field’s drainage system — billed as a state-of-the-art investment installed before Opening Day 2008 — to his experience in South Florida.

“I’ve seen a lot of rain delays in my time playing for the Marlins,” Baker said. “There’s no way anybody was going to be able to fix that field. The dirt is thicker here. The grass is thicker here. There are rocks on the warning track. It just seems like it’s going to take longer.

“In the Marlins’ old stadium — there was so many different names when I was there, Land Shark, whatever you want to call it, Sun Life — it would rain and it would rain hard for an hour-and-a-half and that field would be ready 25 minutes after the tarp was off. It was dry.”

This is Chicago.

“In this city, with the wind and the lake being four blocks away, it’s not the easiest thing to predict,” Rizzo said. “The grounds crew, I give them a lot of credit because they do a really good job here dealing with all the variables.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs: Edwin Jackson knows he has a lot to prove after DL time

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs and Edwin Jackson had already run out of answers for why this $52 million investment went wrong.

Shelving Jackson on the disabled list with a right lat strain shed some light on the issues, even though Thursday’s decision won’t tell the entire story.

Jackson sounded resigned to the idea of change after Wednesday night’s 8-3 loss to the San Francisco Giants, again sitting inside Wrigley Field’s interview room/dungeon answering for another disappointing start.

Jackson spoke up and informed the club about the soreness after giving up seven runs in 2.2 innings, which left him at 6-14 with a 6.09 ERA. He dealt with a similar injury toward the end of last year and doesn’t think this will be a season-ender.

“I haven’t lost any confidence,” Jackson said, sitting with reporters in the home dugout. “When I take the field, I feel like I’m the best pitcher on the field. It just hasn’t shown (yet). I have a lot to prove to the organization. I still have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago. I still feel like I owe them a lot. I’m being paid a lucrative contract. I still owe a lot on the field and to the team.”

At a time when the organization has built a strong pitching infrastructure, Jackson is now 14-32 with a 5.47 ERA through 57 starts in a Cub uniform. After this season, there are two years and $22 million left on a deal that was supposed to be a signature move for the Theo Epstein administration.

“I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans of Chicago or the organization what I can do,” Jackson said. “Maybe a glimpse here and there, but I still think that I have a lot of upside and I still have a lot to bring to the table. I just haven’t proved it. At the end of the day, you have to go out and do it on the field.”

Manager Rick Renteria declined to say how the Cubs will reconfigure their rotation without Jackson – lefty reliever Zac Rosscup got called up from Triple-A Iowa – but they have options in Jacob Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily.

“He’s not a guy that complains,” Renteria said. “We’ll just kind of see how it goes and try to get him back and right.

“That’s part of his makeup – not wanting to let people down – (and) he’ll take the ball any time you give it to him. He’s been grinding through it.”

Everyone agrees Jackson is a good guy, popular with teammates and accountable to the media, which can make it that much harder to watch.

“I come to the field every day,” Jackson said, “and try to be in the clubhouse every day, to where if somebody sees me, they don’t know if it’s a good day or a bad day. It’s just the way I carry myself, whether I’m feeling 100 percent or whether I’m not feeling 100 percent. It’s just one of those matters you take as a professional.

“Regardless of what you’re dealing with, once you take the field and you decide that you’re going to pitch, you have to be ready for anything that comes with it. That’s just part of the job.”

Jackson will turn 31 in September and has already accounted for almost 1,600 innings in the big leagues. Durability became a big reason the Cubs were drawn to Jackson, who’s made at least 31 starts every year between 2007 and 2013.

But the Cubs haven’t really seen the guy who helped the Tampa Bay Rays get to the 2008 World Series, or became a 2009 All-Star with the Detroit Tigers or earned a World Series ring with the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

“I’ve never been one to make any excuses,” Jackson said. “You go out and you have a job to do. Once you choose to take the field, you choose to handle anything that comes with it.

“Clearly, I haven’t been out there pitching like I know I could. I haven’t really made any complaints about anything – or anything going on with my body – just because as a professional you go out there and you don’t make any excuses.

“(But) you battle, you battle, you battle, and it comes to a point where you just kind of have to set that pride (aside) and do what’s best for yourself and your team.”

Jackson said he’s struggled a bit to find his mid-90s velocity, and that extra effort may have thrown his mechanics off-balance. This will be a chance to regroup.

“It’s something you try to work through, but obviously it hasn’t worked out for me,” Jackson said. “I just figured it’s in the best interests of myself – and the team as well – to try not to fight through it anymore before something major happens.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs place Castro on bereavement list after family tragedy

By Patrick Mooney

The Cubs placed Starlin Castro on the bereavement list as he deals with a tragic family situation back home in the Dominican Republic.

People close to Castro were involved in a fatal car accident, and Thursday’s roster move will give the All-Star shortstop up to a week to be with his family. At minimum, it will be a three-day absence.

“He was very upset,” manager Rick Renteria said. “We just hope Starlin’s OK when he gets back.”

While Javier Baez will play shortstop in the interim, the Cubs called up infielder Logan Watkins from Triple-A Iowa to take Castro’s roster spot, making him available for the suspended game restarting Thursday against the San Francisco Giants at Wrigley Field.

Castro had played in all 125 games this season before getting scratched from Wednesday’s lineup. The news was devastating.

“It’s tough,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “That’s life. Anything can happen at any moment. You just got to be grateful for a lot of things.”

CSNChicago.com

After TarpGate, Cubs hang on to beat Giants in protested game

By Patrick Mooney

More than 48 hours later, “Go Cubs Go” spilled out of Wrigley Field’s sound system. 

The suspended game finally ended Thursday night, the Cubs hanging on for a bizarre 2-1 victory after TarpGate and the San Francisco Giants winning a protest with Major League Baseball.

Closer Hector Rondon had just knocked down Angel Pagan’s line drive with two runners on in the ninth inning, flipping the ball underhanded to first baseman Anthony Rizzo for the 27th out.

Another storm late Thursday afternoon pushed the “official” delay to six hours and 31 minutes. But this one began Tuesday night, went down as a 2-0 five-inning victory for the Cubs on Wednesday morning and resumed play on Thursday night after the Giants became the first team since 1986 to successfully protest a game.

While Cubs officials worked with the Giants to make their case, convincing Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, it was a “mechanical” issue, that spirit wasn’t necessarily universally shared inside the clubhouse.

Rizzo had definitely changed his tune by late Wednesday night, going from calling the win a good team-bonding, sing-along experience – “We were all sitting around just kind of having like a slumber party” – to no-commenting MLB’s ruling.

“I think it would be better if I didn’t comment on that,” Rizzo said. “I’m just not even going to say anything.”

Rizzo’s two-run homer off Ryan Vogelsong onto Sheffield Avenue in the first inning on Tuesday night wound up being all the offense the Cubs needed. The Giants retired 11 in a row on Thursday before Javier Baez drew a walk in the eighth inning. Jacob Turner (one run), Pedro Strop and Rondon (19th save) preserved Tsuyoshi Wada’s win.

“I believe in karma,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said, “and I think everybody was trying to do the right thing.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs call tarp debacle a ‘freak occurrence’

By Paul Sullivan

So who was really to blame for Tarpgate at Wrigley Field? Try ‘freak’ weather system.

Long after Wednesday night’s game ended, Cubs head groundskeeper Roger Baird was working on the infield when manager Rick Renteria walked up and gave him a hug.

It was a nice gesture and a much-needed show of support for Baird, a good man caught in a bad situation, one that put him in the media spotlight for the first time in his two-decade career at Wrigley Field.

Baird and the Cubs grounds crew had been tossed under the bus after Tuesday night’s tarp debacle, when they couldn’t get an already soaked infield covered in time to prevent it from turning into swampland.

Everyone has a bad day. Few of us receive as much national media attention as the Cubs grounds crew did after the longest night of their careers.

Giants announcer Mike Krukow claimed they intentionally botched the tarp deployment to ensure a Cubs victory, before eventually retracting his remarks. ESPN’s Keith Olbermann included them on his daily list of “worst persons” in the sports world.

And Major League Baseball cited the Cubs for “failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use” in its press release announcing the decision to uphold the Giants’ protest, which led to the resumption of the game Thursday.

Naturally, another round of showers delayed the resumption, officially turning it into a 6-hour, 31-minute rain delay. Taking no chances, the Cubs employed 32 grounds crew members to pull the tarp, about twice as many as Tuesday night.

Fans gave them a mock ovation when they rolled the tarp onto the field in the late afternoon, and everyone laughed.

The grounds crew certainly wasn’t blameless in the fiasco, but in some respects they were victims of circumstance. Umpire Hunter Wendelstedt turned out to be the Alex Gonzalez of the tarp game, getting off the hook despite his tardy decision to call for the delay in the first place.

Even worse, Wendelstedt blamed Mother Nature — a notorious White Sox fan — for her stealth attack on Wrigley.

"We watched the radar loop," Wendelstedt said Tuesday. "Mother Nature was not raining, according to the radar. No one had any facts that saw this coming. Then it was just a bad set of unfortunate things."

Adding to the unfortunate occurrences, some members of the Wrigley security staff were pulled off their jobs Tuesday night to assist the grounds crew after the Cubs had sent employees from the morning crew home, believing it would not rain.

Baird was unavailable for comment. The Cubs asked the grounds crew not to speak to the media, deferring to spokesman Julian Green.

"There should be no thought or any question these guys fumbled the ball," Green said. "They step up to the plate and do this with a guy who’s led our crew for decades. Even after (Tuesday night’s) game, I would put my money on Roger Baird every time."

Was the decision to send employees home a factor?

"Staffing, hours and scheduling had absolutely nothing to do with Tuesday’s freak occurrence," Green said. "There was no rain in the forecast. The umpires saw no rain in the forecast. This was an exercise that is done before every game. Typically if there is rain in the forecast, the morning facilities crew stays on to assist the night game crew.

"In this case, since there was no rain in the forecast, the morning crew was not on hand. This is typically why, if a rain system is coming, you may see upward of 20 or 25 people on the field. In this case we had adequate numbers. There were enough guys to pull the tarp.

"Unfortunately with this freak occurrence weather system, along with the mishap with the roller, it led to a lengthy delay. The good news is per the rules in baseball … it was resolved."

It was, thanks in part to the Cubs’ support of the protest by the team they beat so the game could end in a fair manner. The Cubs wound up winning 2-1, fair and square.

"I don’t know for a fact, but I think (the Cubs helped) because they were for us finishing the game today," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said beforehand. "My compliments to all the organization. It’s the right thing to do."

Sometimes the Cubs do the right thing, against all odds.

Chicago Tribune

Jacob Turner could replace Edwin Jackson in Cubs rotation

By Mark Gonzales

After all the trades, slumps and injuries he has witnessed in his rookie season, manager Rick Renteria didn’t hide his satisfaction with the Cubs’ 2-1 win over the Giants in the completion of a suspended game Thursday.

"I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that we wanted to close it out, especially since everyone tried to do everything possible to get it in," Renteria said.

There were benefits to finishing Tuesday’s game, originally declared a 2-0 Cubs win after 41/2 innings and a 4-hour, 34-minute rain delay. Major League Baseball upheld the Giants’ protest, citing a “mechanical malfunction” of the Cubs’ tarp.

After waiting through another 1-hour, 57-minute delay before the resumption of play, the Cubs employed reliever Jacob Turner for two innings. Although Turner, acquired two weeks ago from the Marlins, allowed the Giants’ lone run in the sixth, he showed enough promise to potentially earn a start.

Turner could take the spot of embattled Edwin Jackson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list because of a muscle strain near his right shoulder. Jackson was tagged for seven runs in 22/3 innings Wednesday, raising his ERA to 6.09.

Jackson, who has lost 32 games in two seasons with the Cubs, believes he can return in September and start to pay back the Cubs and their fans, who haven’t seen a positive return on the four-year, $52 million contract he signed in 2013.

"I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do," Jackson said.

Turner induced Hunter Pence to ground into an inning-ending double play during a 34-pitch effort, then went to the bullpen to throw more pitches.

"We’re trying to get him extended for the possibility of (a start)," Renteria said.

With shortstop Starlin Castro on the bereavement list for up to seven days, Javier Baez looked comfortable in his second game at his old position after admitting to nervousness before Wednesday’s game.

"I hadn’t played shortstop in about a month," said Baez, who moved to second base during his final weeks at Triple-A Iowa. "But after the first ground ball I took, it was normal. I was just scared to make a bad throw."

In control: Jake Arrieta believes his emotions will be in check when he faces the Orioles for the first time Friday since they traded him in July 2013.

"The adrenaline will be there," said Arrieta, who spent 51/2 seasons in the Orioles organization. "You learn to control that. I pitched in some games that were pretty tough to control emotions — pitching opening day (in 2012), making my major league debut against the Yankees at home (in 2010)."

Arrieta isn’t surprised the Orioles hold a nine-game lead in the American League East.

"They’ve got a good rotation," Arrieta said. "They’ve got four guys with an ERA under 4.00. And you combine that with their defense, which was first last year in fielding percentage, and obviously you’ve got the offense and power potential. They’re pretty solid in all facets of the game."

Extra innings: Infielder Travis Watkins was promoted from Iowa to take Castro’s roster spot, and left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup will take Jackson’s spot. Reliever Blake Parker was added for the regularly scheduled game as the 26th player. … Left-hander Felix Doubront will make his final minor league rehab start Sunday for Double-A Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Future Four report: Bryant, Russell Almora hitless

By Mark Gonzales

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Thursday at Reno:  0-for-4, 2 strikeouts.

Trending:  15-for-50 (.300), 5 home runs, 13 RBIs, 13 walks, 20 strikeouts.

Season: 128 games, .333 batting average, 41 home runs, 105 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Thursday at Reno: 1-for-4, strikeout.

Trending: 3-for-35 (.086), 2 doubles, RBI, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts.

Season:  58 games, .314 batting average, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Thursday at Montgomery: 0-for-5, strikeout.

Trending: 9-for-28 (.321), 3 home runs, 9 runs, 11 RBI.

Season:  59 games, .296 batting average, 13 home runs, 42 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Thursday at Montgomery: 0-for-5, double play.

Trending: 9-for-29 (.310), 3 runs, 3 RBI, 5 strikeouts.

Season: 115 games, .272 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Thursday’s Game 1 recap: Cubs 2, Giants 1

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

After rain delayed the resumption by nearly two hours, the Cubs held on in the final four innings against the Giants to win 2-1, completing a game that was suspended Tuesday night after 41/2 innings. The Giants scored in the sixth off Jacob Turner, who took over after Tsuyoshi Wada pitched five scoreless innings Tuesday.

At the plate

Rookie pitcher Kyle Hendricks pinch-hit for Wada in the bottom of the fifth and struck out. The Cubs’ three hits were their fewest in a win since they collected three on April 4, 2013, in Pittsburgh.

On the mound

Closer Hector Rondon absorbed a hard grounder by Angel Pagan but recovered in time to throw to first for the final out with the tying and go-ahead runs on base.

In the field

Third baseman Luis Valbuena started an inning-ending double play in the seventh.

The number

6:31 — Combined length of rain delay that started Tuesday.

The quote

Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson, who went on the disabled list Thursday: “I just figure it’s in the best interests of myself and the team to not try to fight through (an injury) before something major happens.”

Chicago Tribune

Thursday’s Game 2 recap: Giants 5, Cubs 3

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

Travis Wood couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead as the Giants took the lead for good on a home run by Buster Posey in the fifth. Justin Ruggiano and Welington Castillo hit consecutive home runs in the first off Madison Bumgarner, who struck out 12 in seven innings.

At the plate

Javier Baez struck out in each of his four at-bats against Bumgarner on fastballs of 90, 92, 92 and 91 mph.

On the mound

Blake Parker, promoted as the 26th player for the second game, pitched a scoreless ninth.

In the field

Baez, playing his third game at shortstop, made a strong throw to retire Adam Duvall to end the seventh.

The number

6 — Times the Cubs have hit consecutive home runs this season.

The quote

Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta on facing the Orioles: “It’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting to face guys I played with for a long time. To now be on the other side, it will be fun. I know (the Orioles) are going to come out and compete the best they possibly can, and I’m sure they expect the same for me.”

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Baez shakes off nerves at shortstop

By Mark Gonzales

Javier Baez showed no fear when he made his major league debut on Aug. 5 and backed it up with a game-winning home run in the 12th inning at Coors Field.

But for the first time since joining the Chicago Cubs, Baez expressed some nervousness in taking over at shortstop after three-time All-Star Starlin Castro left for the Dominican Republic to attend to relatives who were involved in a fatal automobile accident.

“I was nervous because I hadn’t played shortstop in about a month,” said Baez, who was moved from shortstop, his natural position, to second base during his final weeks at Triple-A Iowa. “But after the first ground ball I took, it was normal.”

Baez played flawlessly Wednesday night and was credited with four assists as he looked more comfortable than he initially felt.

“I was just scared to make a bad throw,” Baez said. “After the first ground ball, I was fine.”

Baez will remain at shortstop as Castro was placed on the bereavement list, which lasts from three to seven days.

Chicago Tribune

Jackson ‘owes’ a lot to Cubs, fans

By Mark Gonzales

Edwin Jackson believes he can return from a latissmus dorsi muscle strain near his right throwing shoulder by the end of the season and give the Chicago Cubs and their fans a snippet of better days ahead.

“I don’t think I‘ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do, what I’m capable of what I’m doing,” said Jackson, who said he has tried to pitch through the injury through his recent starts. “Maybe a glimpse here or there. I still think I have a lot of upside and can bring a lot to the table. I haven’t proved it. At the end of the day, you have to prove it on the field.”

Jackson, who was placed on the 15-day disabled list Thursday morning, has a 6-14 record and 6.09 ERA after losing 18 games last season. He is in the second year of a four-year, $52 million contract.

“I still I feel I have a lot to prove to the organization and the fans of Chicago . I feel like I still owe them a lot, being paid a lucrative contract, that I still owe a lot on the field and to the team.’’

Jackson tried to pitch through what he described as ‘’soreness” until he had to put extra emphasis on his pitches just to reach his 94 mph velocity. Jackson experienced similar discomfort

“I don’t feel like it’s something that will be a season-ending deal,” Jackson said. “That was the point of this conclusion, that it wouldn’t be a season-ending deal and something that can be taken care of.”

San Francisco Giants pitcher Jake Peavy believes Jackson was wise in expressing his discomfort before he risked a severe injury. Peavy suffered a detachment of the lat muscle and missed the final three months of the 2010 season and the first six weeks of 2011 with the Chicago White Sox and lost a few miles on his fastball that was once clocked in the mid-90s.

“The biggest thing is we know now, with what happened to me, if you continue and try to push through that, and you start to tear your lat, nobody wants to get to the point where I was,” Peavy said after learning of Jackson’s injury. “So I think that’s why I’m grateful for drawing attention to the matter when we were recognizing these injuries earlier or looking for them and diagnosing them right. The biggest thing is this is something you can’t push through because it’s such a big, crucial muscle that can lead to the problem I had.

“That being said, Edwin doesn’t look the same as I’ve seen him when he’s healthy. I’m not making excuses for Edwin Jackson. I love him and played with him (with the White Sox), and I know he’s a professional and great teammate and competitor. He looks like he’s battling.

“It’s tough when you’re battling yourself and the other team, fighting through injuries. We’ve all been there.”

Manager Rick Renteria wasn’t sure how Jackson’s spot would be filled. The Cubs could insert Jacob Turner for Tuesday night’s start at Cincinnati.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs defend grounds crew after rain delay led to suspended game

By Paul Sullivan

The Cubs are backing their grounds crew after a report they were inadequately staffed to handle the rain delay that led to Tuesday’s suspended game against the Giants.

Cubs spokesman Julian Green said the sudden downpour was a “freak occurrence” that led to the field being so wet play could not resume. Some employees from the morning crew were not told to stay for the night game because the Cubs did not believe it would rain, but Green said that was not the reason for the mishap.

“Staffing, hours and scheduling had absolutely nothing to do with Tuesday’s freak occurrence,” Green said. “There was no rain in the forecast, the umpires saw no rain in the forecast.  This was an exercise that is done before every game. Typically if there is rain in the forecast, the morning facilities crew stays on to assist the night game crew.

“In this case, since there was no rain in the forecast, so the morning crew was not on hand. This is typically why if there’s a game a rain system is coming, you may see upwards of 20 or 25 people on the field.  In this case we had adequate numbers. There were enough guys to pull the tarp.

“Unfortunately with this freak occurrence weather system, along with the mishap with the roller, it unfortunately led to a lengthy delay. The good news is per the rules in baseball… it was resolved.”

MLB upheld the Giants’ protest, leading to the continuation of the game this afternoon at Wrigley Field.

The Wrigley Field ground crew was faulted by MLB for the tarp fiasco. A press release on the decision cited the Cubs for “failure to properly wrap and spool the tarp after its last use.”

The Cubs pointed out there was no rain in neighborhoods just north and south of the ballpark, and Wrigley was just in the path of a sudden downpour. A late decision to delay the game when it began raining added to the problem.

Green defended the grounds crew and head groundskeeper Roger Baird, and said there would be no repercussions.

“It’s the usual crew, and it’s also important to keep in mind, once we’re in the game, guys in the grounds crew are assigned other duties,” he said, pointing to employees that run the scoreboard. “A couple scoreboard guys came down (to help) but since there were still games in progress, a few guys kept working the scoreboard. That said, the number or experience (of the employees) didn’t have anything to do with it.

“We have the best ground crew in the business. These guys make a living exercising precision, and there should be no thought or any question these guys fumbled the ball. They step up to the plate and do this with a guy who’s led our crew for decades. Even after last night’s game, I would put my money on Roger Baird every time.”

Chicago Sun-Times

The Cubs: A franchise stuck in the mud

By Rick Telander

Why do we always pile on the Cubs with criticism?

I believe it’s because they’re so pile-on-able.

Want a bad team?

Got it. The Cubs are 55-72, 17 games under .500, with a good chance of losing 90 or more games for the fourth season in a row.

Want funny feuds?

Check. The endless Cubs vs. the Rooftops dispute is like Gomer vs. Goober, or Dumberer vs. Dumberest, with barbecue smoke.

Want a rundown stadium?

Yep. Wrigley Field is an oxymoron: a lovely, crumbling, historic, intimate dump.

How about some front-office fun?

Got that, too. The Ricketts family ownership either does or doesn’t have enough money to run the franchise properly.

They have enough coin to likely propel board member Pete Ricketts into the governor’s office in Nebraska, but they are tight enough to have fired a number of low-level workers in the offseason or kept their hours under the 130-hour-per-month cap so ownership doesn’t have to pay dreaded “Obamacare’’ insurance for full-timers.

Oh sure, it’s easy to be profligate with other people’s money, and I believe the Rickettses should open the floodgates and let their wealth gush over all things Cubs. But the only reason I believe that is because the baseball they have served up so far is garbage.

That’s fact. And it’s also a fact that fans have nowhere else to turn.

The Cubs are Chicago’s North Side team, a team, like the White Sox, whose reach and historic pull goes way beyond one owner’s mismanagement or fans’ alleged boycotts and feigned disinterest.

Cubs fans are waiting, angrily, sadly, hopefully — as they always do — for the worm to turn. Put a genuine contender on the field, and those fans will flood Wrigley Field like something from the Old Testament. Again.

Speaking of floods, the great “Tarp Incident’’ of Tuesday night falls under the financial ignorance umbrella for the Cubs. Field workers that were let go, or could have been working that blustery night, but were sent home early (time clock, remember), could have grabbed a couple handles and maybe gotten the big blue sheet over the infield quicker.

As it was, the game was called late at night, in the fifth inning, because of muck, and the Cubs were declared 2-0 winners over the Giants.

The Giants protested, and actually won! First time in 28 years a protest was upheld. And, of course, it would be against the Cubs. For dumbness.

Just be patient, the Cubs tell us over and over. A good team will rise up. Like blue grass through the dandelions.

Ah, patience:

“Had we but world enough, and time/ This coyness, lady, were no crime…”

That’s what Andrew Marvell wrote back in the 1600s, and I’m down with him.

Thing is, Marvell was trying desperately to get laid. Me, I’m trying desperately to see a Cubs World Series title before I die. Before Andy’s “worms’’ come after me in my marble vault and I — like you — disintegrate into the “deserts of vast eternity.’’

Yikes! Don’t do it, Cubs!

Some day Kris Bryant will be old, still in Des Moines, a beard flowing like Abe Lincoln’s from his chin, a thousand or so minor-league home runs to his credit. Starlin Castro will have won a World Series crown with the Yankees and be long retired. His shortstop replacement, Javy Baez, will have followed the Sox’ Gordon Beckham to the Angels and out of baseball, and a new Kerry Wood clone for the Cubs will have turned his 20-year-old arm to mush while pitching 15 consecutive innings of no-hit ball against the Reds, then losing.

Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, makes $3.5 million a year. Senior vice president for scouting Jason McLeod makes around $1 million. Those are two titles the Cubs didn’t have before the Rickettses took over.

They’re getting Obamacare or Cubs Care or whatever is necessary to live well. But what do we get?

The same ticket prices as before this ugly demolition, plus $8 beer.

I remember Greg Maddux sliding on a slick infield tarp at Wrigley during a rain delay during the first night game back in 1988. Baby-faced, he took a full-tilt run and greased across the red Cubs logo in the center of the tarp, arms up like a swan diver, into the waiting hands of teammates who kept him from sailing into the dugout.

A lovely sight.

Of course, Maddux dried off and left the Cubs in 1993.

The mud stayed behind.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs win ‘Tarpgate’ game, but fall in nightcap 5-3

By Gordon Wittenmyer

It took another seven-plus hours Thursday – including nearly two more hours of rain delay – but the Cubs finally completed a victory they thought they’d already won Tuesday, then finished a three-game series against the San Francisco Giants with a 5-3 loss in a regularly scheduled “nightcap.”

If it seemed like a day of firsts for the Cubs, that’s because it was – including:

— Starting pitcher Edwin Jackson’s first trip to the disabled list in a decade-long career. After admitting soreness after Wednesday’s 2 1/3-inning start, the struggling right-hander was placed on the DL with a lat strain;

— Outfielder Matt Szczur’s first big-league hit, a line single to left in the seventh inning of his fourth game since the former Villanova football star was recalled from AAA Iowa last weekend;

— And, of course, the final four innings of a game that was suspended as the result of MLB’s first successful protest in 28 years.

Naturally, after a tarp snafu and a 4-hour, 34-minute delay Tuesday night, Thursday’s resumption was delayed another 1 hour, 57 minutes by actual rain – before the Cubs survived a run by the Giants in the sixth to win, again, 2-1.

“It feels real good,” manager Rick Renteria said of closing out a game the Cubs were ruled to have won 2-0 on Tuesday – until MLB ruled, with the blessing of the Cubs, that the game should instead be suspended and completed Thursday because of a problem with the tarp that allowed enough water on the field to make it unplayable long after rain ended.

“I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that we wanted to close it out, especially since everybody tried to do everything possible to get it in,” he said.

Starter Tsuyoshi Wada (3-1) earned the victory without throwing a pitch Thursday. He had completed five shutout innings Tuesday, and although he had his complete game and shutout taken away by the protest, his win survived.

“In my heart he officially got the win already,” Renteria said.

Surviving the suspended game allowed the Cubs to avoid a three-game sweep to the Giants, who won the regularly scheduled game behind a seven-inning, 12-strikeout performance by left-hander Madison Bumgarner.

He gave up three first-inning runs on back-to-back Cubs homers by Justin Ruggiano and Welington Castillo, but allowed only four hits in scoreless pitching the rest of the way.

According to research done by Cubs historian Ed Hartig, Thursday marked the first time the Cubs had been involved in playing the conclusion of suspended game as the result of a successful protest since July 2, 1934.

In that game against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cardinals successfully argued that an infield fly rule should have been called on a play that led to a run and kept alive an inning in which the Cubs scored twice more.

That game was replayed from the point of the seventh-inning play and the Cubs — like Thursday — won the same game a second time.

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs cut grounds crew’s hours to avoid paying health benefits — sources

By Gordon Wittenmyer

Thanks a lot, Obama.

Add the Affordable Care Act – or, specifically, the big-business Cubs’ response to it – to the causes behind Tuesday night’s tarp fiasco and rare successful protest by the San Francisco Giants.

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That’s the full-time worker definition under “Obamacare,” which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for “big businesses” such as a major league team.

“Cheap,” said one of three high-ranking officials from other organizations the Sun-Times contacted Thursday – all of whom fall below the Cubs on Forbes’ annual revenues list.

Speaking to the industry standard for grounds crew staffing, all three officials said the video of Tuesday’s incident showed an apparently “undermanned” crew (of 15 pulling the tarp on the night’s first unsuccessful try).

“Embarrassing,” said one, “and they got caught.”

The Cubs played damage control on the issue much of Thursday, insisting staffing played no role in the problem and defending “the best head groundskeeper in the business,” as team spokesman Julian Green called the widely respected Roger Baird.

That the Baird and his grounds crew are better than most at their jobs and handled Tuesday as well as could be expected was not in dispute from anybody involved, ranging from umpires to Cubs executives, other team officials, players and media.

The issue is the short hand Baird was dealt by policies driven from the top of the business and stadium side of the operation, leading to a national embarrassment – which might have been preventable, if not foreseeable.

Sources say 10 crew members were sent home early by the bosses Tuesday night with little, if any, input from the field-level supervisors

Green doesn’t dispute that but says it’s common practice when the forecast calls for clear weather as he claimed Tuesday’s forecast did (contrary to several reports that day).

But sources say this year’s protocol has changed dramatically since the off-season shakeup with game-day personnel in anticipation of the ACA taking effect – along with the experience level in many areas because of resulting attrition.

“There have been organizational changes,” Green acknowledges. “Every organization, whether it’s baseball or corporate, is always continuing to evaluate inefficiencies, and obviously that translates to ours.

“We’re no different than any organization trying to gain efficiencies. However, our efforts to manage costs had nothing to do with the episode on Tuesday night.”

Multiple sources involved that night insist it had a direct and obvious impact, especially when compared to previous seasons.

No game-day employees would not go on the record, they said, fearing reprisals including possible termination for talking to media. Baird referred questions to Green.

One of the rival-team officials scoffed at the “cost managing” efforts in such critical game management areas by a team ranked among the top five in the majors in revenues – and that has spent millions on rapidly expanding its roster of baseball and business executives in recent years.

All said their teams did not make changes in their operations, regardless of the ACA.

“You get what you pay for,” said another.

Green said that even with the off-season changes, there “was no line reduction in grounds crew/field maintenance budget.”

Maybe it’s a transition issue with the new individual hour limits imposed or a matter of spreading the same hours over more events (a recent high school showcase at Wrigley, more extra inning games, including the longest in franchise history, for instance).

But the people on the ground say the difference is clear.

And to even take the chance of erring on the side of understaffing after a process to “evaluate inefficiencies” would seem to contradict chairman Tom Ricketts’ repeated mission statement of building “the best organization in baseball.”

“We are always evaluating, as any organization, trying to balance cost efficiencies,” Green said in response, “but we’re not going to do that at the expense of not making sure we can take care of Wrigley Field.”

Chicago Sun-Times

Cubs place sore Edwin Jackson on DL

By Gordon Wittenmyer

It might have looked like adding injury to insult when the Cubs placed struggling, $52 million pitcher Edwin Jackson on the disabled list Thursday with a lat strain.

But Jackson remains confident he can return stronger and better from soreness that has plagued him for weeks until finally admitting the issue to the medical staff Wednesday night.

While fans on Twitter reacted with apparently bitter satisfaction over Jackson’s departure from the rotation under any circumstances, the veteran right-hander and one-time All-Star accepted responsibility for the disappointment his performance has been nearly halfway through his four-year contract.

“I’ve never been one to make excuses,” said Jackson (6-14, 6.09 ERA), who vowed to show over the rest of the deal the kind of pitcher he has been during more successful stretches of his career.

“I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans of Chicago or the organization what I can do, what I’m capable of doing,” he said. “But I still have a lot of upside. I haven’t proved it, and at the end of the day you have to go out and do it on the field.

“I haven’t lost my confidence. When I take the field, I feel like I’m the best pitcher on the field. But I still think I have a lot to prove to the organization, and I have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago, and I still feel like I owe them a lot.

“Being paid a lucrative contract, I feel like I owe a lot on the field.”

Jackson said he didn’t have an anticipated timeline for a return but believes his injury isn’t season-ending. He finished the season with something similar last season but rest took care of the issue, and he said he was fine by the time he started his off-season program.

Recently acquired Jacob Turner, who gave up a run in two innings leading off the completion of Tuesday’s suspended game Thursday, likely will be stretched out and could be a candidate to take Jackson’s slot in the rotation while he’s sidelined.

Left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup was recalled from AAA Iowa to take Jackson’s spot on the roster.

Castro update

With shortstop Starlin Castro officially going on baseball’s bereavement list, the Cubs recalled infielder Logan Watkins from Iowa to take his roster spot.

Castro returned home to the Dominican Republic to be with grieving family after he lost four close friends and family in a car accident Wednesday.

The bereavement policy allows the club to fill his roster spot with another player for up to seven days. Manager Rick Renteria said he had no timetable for Castro’s return.

Daily Herald

Cubs get win they had, then lose

By Bruce Miles

What a long strange week it’s been.

That seems a fitting way to sum up the proceedings at Wrigley Field. The team from San Francisco was in town for three eventful games, and Cubs manager Rick Renteria got into the spirit by invoking “karma.”

That karma kicked in instantly for the Cubs on Thursday as they won the completion of Tuesday night’s suspended game 2-1. In the regularly scheduled game, the Giants beat the Cubs 5-3 to take two of three in the series.

Originally awarded a rain-shortened 2-0 victory after Tuesday had turned to Wednesday, the Cubs had to finish it off Thursday after a successful protest by the Giants, who claimed a Cubs failure to keep the field playable.

The Cubs seemed almost happy with the ruling.

"I believe in karma, OK?" Renteria said Wednesday. "I think everybody was trying to do the right thing (Tuesday). We didn’t make the decision. The league has made the decision. This is what should be done. We’re going to abide by it. Hopefully we’ll go out there and finish it off."

They did just that as play resumed, so I asked Renteria if the karma took effect Thursday or of he wanted to save its effect for another day.

"I hope that it kicked in today," he replied.

Thursday wasn’t without its rain. The suspended game was supposed to begin at 4 p.m. but steady showers delayed the resumption almost two hours, making the total delay 6 hours and 31 minutes.

The Giants were feeling grateful they got another chance in the first place.

"It’s over now," said their manager, Bruce Bochy. "All we wanted was a chance, and we got it."

Tsuyoshi Wada (3-1) had to wait two days to see a “W” officially posted next to his name after he was at first credited with a 5-inning, complete-game victory.

"In my heart, he had officially gotten it the other day," Renteria said.

Newcomer Jacob Turner pitched the sixth and seventh innings Thursday and gave up a run in the sixth before Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon (19th save) finished it.

Rondon had two runners on in the ninth with one out but got pinch hitter Gregor Blanco on a called third strike before knocking down Angel Pagan’s comebacker and throwing him out.

In the regularly scheduled game, Cubs lefty Travis Wood gave up a run in the first and couldn’t hold the 3-1 lead his teammates got him in the bottom half as they put across single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings. San Francisco batters hit 4 doubles off Wood, and a solo homer by Buster Posey in the fifth gave them a 4-3 lead.

Wood lasted 6 innings, as he gave up 8 hits and 4 runs as his ERA went from 4.86 to 4.91.

The story of this day, however, was the waiting, and the waiting some more, for the first game to be completed.

"It was an interesting day, obviously, because we got more weather," Renteria said. "We had to wait before we could resume it … It was good."

Daily Herald

Jackson lands on DL; Cubs to ‘assess and evaulate’

By Bruce Miles

After another rocky outing by right-hander Edwin Jackson in Wednesday night’s 8-3 loss to the Giants, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said the club would “assess and evaluate” Jackson’s situation.

That initial assessment and evaluation Thursday landed Jackson on the 15-day disabled list with what the Cubs termed a strained right lat.

"It’s been the last few starts, something you try to work through," Jackson said. "Obviously, it hasn’t worked out for me. I just feel it’s in the best interest of myself and the team, as well, to not try to fight through it anymore before something major happens."

It’s been another rough season for Jackson, who turns 31 on Sept. 9. He is 6-14 with a 6.09 ERA. Last year, he led the National League in losses with a record of 8-18 and a 4.98 ERA. This is the second season of his four-year, $52 million contract.

"I’ve never been one to make any excuses," he said. "I’ve never said anything to anyone about anything. You have a job to do. Once you choose to take the field, you choose to handle anything that comes with it. That’s been pretty much the approach I’ve taken.

"Clearly, I know I haven’t been out there pitching like I know I could. I haven’t really made any complaints about anything or anything about my body because as a professional you go out there and you don’t go by any excuses. You battle, you battle, you battle and it comes to a point where you just have to suck that pride in and do what’s best for yourself and the team."

He added that he hopes to be back by September and that he feels better days are ahead.

"I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do what I’m capable of doing," he said. "I still feel I have a lot to prove to the organization and I still have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago. I still feel like I owe them a lot, being paid a lucrative contract, that I still owe a lot to the team."

Castro to bereavement list:

The Cubs officially placed shortstop Starlin Castro on the bereavement list. Castro has gone to the Dominican Republic after a family member and three friends were killed in a car accident.

A player on the bereavement list is out for a minimum of three days and a maximum of seven.

To replace Castro, the Cubs recalled infielder-outfielder Logan Watkins from Class AAA Iowa. Watkins played in 27 games for the Cubs last year. They also recalled left-handed reliever Zac Rosscup from Iowa to replace Edwin Jackson on the roster.

Arrieta eager for Orioles:

Right-hander Jake Arrieta came to the Cubs from Baltimore last year in a trade, and he’ll make his first appearance against the Orioles Friday as the teams begin an interleague series.

"It’s going to be fun," Arrieta said. "It’s going to be exciting to face guys I played with for a long time to now be on the other side. It’s one of those things where I know they’re going to come out and compete as best as they possibly can, and I’m sure they expect the same from me."

Daily Herald

Cubs prevail in suspended game

By Bruce Miles

After rain delays totaling 6 hours, 31 minutes covering parts of three days, the Cubs and San Francisco Giants finally resumed their suspended game Thursday evening.

The game was picked up in the bottom of the fifth inning, and the Cubs held on for a 2-1 victory.

The Cubs orginally thought they had a 2-0 rain-shortened victory Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, but the Giants protested the result, citing mechanical failure with the Wrigley Field tarp, which left the field unplayable. Major League Baseball agreed and ordered the teams to pick up where they left off Tuesday night.

Play was halted Tuesday night, and umpires waited 4 hours and 34 minutes before calling the game at 1:16 a.m. Wednesday. Rain also delayed the start of Thursday’s resumption almost two hours, but the field was covered in plenty of time, and there were no issues.

Left-hander Tsuyoshi started the game Tuesday and worked 5 shutout innings. He was replaced Thursday in the sixth inning by right-hander Jacob Turner. With two outs in the top of the sixth, the Giants cut the Cubs’ lead from 2-0 to 2-1 on a two-out double by Adam Duvall and an RBI single by pinch hitter Joe Panik.

Pedro Strop followed Turner into the game and pitched a scoreless eighth. Hector Rondon worked the ninth and earned his 19th save.

Cubs.com

First-inning homers don’t hold up for Cubs

Ruggiano, Castillo go back-to-back; Wood winless in last 12 starts

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Justin Ruggiano and Welington Castillo hit back-to-back home runs in the first inning Thursday, but that was all the Cubs could muster.

Madison Bumgarner struck out a season-high 12 batters and Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval combined to go 7-for-8 and drive in three runs to lead the Giants to a 5-3 victory over the Cubs.

This was the two teams’ second game of the day. The Cubs picked up a 2-1 win when they completed a suspended game from Tuesday.

"I wish we could’ve finished off the second game," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "We’re playing against clubs that are competing and our guys are holding their own."

Among Bumgarner’s dozen K’s were four by Javier Baez. Renteria said pitchers are fooling Baez on pitches out of the zone at this point.

"He’s trying to make adjustments," Renteria said. "You see him, he’s very conscientious in the at-bat. It’s a matter of re-zoning and getting pitches in his hitting area that he can do some damage with. They’re little hiccups that will continue to arise that we have to deal with."

Bumgarner screamed and pounded his fist into his glove after getting Baez looking to end the seventh and strand two. It was the lefty’s 12th K of the game.

"We have to win all the games we can win right now and that could have been the turning point in the game, depending on what happened there," Bumgarner said. "He was probably my last hitter, so I gave it everything I had to get us back to the dugout."

Bumgarner also hit an RBI single for his 14th win of the season and 10th on the road. Chicago’s Travis Wood, on the other hand, is now winless in his last 12 starts, giving up 40 earned runs over 66 innings in that stretch for a 5.73 ERA.

"Every ball they seemed to hit just seemed to go right down the line," Wood said. "They had a lot of doubles, and doubles score runs."

It wasn’t that Wood made bad pitches. The Giants’ lineup is loaded with good hitters.

"I threw some good pitches that they made contact with and put [the balls] down the line," Wood said. "There was a changeup to [Joaquin] Arias [in the fourth] that he one-handed out. Sandoval hit one at his eyes down the line, good piece of hitting there. He hit a curveball that was going to bounce down the other line. It seemed like everything they made contact with found a soft spot there."

The Giants, who are trying to catch the Dodgers in the National League West, tallied in the first on Sandoval’s RBI single.

Chicago had a runner at first and two outs in the first when Ruggiano smacked an opposite-field homer to go ahead, 2-1. One pitch later, Castillo hit his career-high 10th home run, marking the sixth time the Cubs have gone back-to-back this season and third time this month.

"After the initial explosion, [Bumgarner] settled down and started making more pitches," Renteria said.

Posey and Sandoval hit consecutive doubles with one out in the Giants’ third to pull within 3-2. In the fourth, Arias doubled with one out and scored on Bumgarner’s single despite a strong throw home from left fielder Matt Szczur to tie the game.

Posey, who has been bothered by a sore right hip, launched his 14th homer leading off the fifth to go ahead, 4-3. He began the game with six hits in his last 35 at-bats.

"That’s a tough lineup, a lot of good hitters," Castillo said of the Giants. "[Wood] made a lot of good pitches and they hit them. That was bad luck. Posey, Sandoval, [Michael] Morse, that’s not an easy lineup. He has to make his pitches to those guys."

Cubs.com

Replay confirms Alcantara not hit by pitch

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged whether Arismendy Alcantara was hit by a pitch in the third inning of Thursday’s second game vs. the Giants.

Alcantara led off the third and felt he was hit on the leg by the first pitch from the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner.

Home-plate umpire Mike DiMuro had ruled that Alcantara was not hit, and the review confirmed the call. Alcantara then grounded out.

Cubs.com

Cubs keep victory in resumption of protested game

Turner allows run; Rizzo’s homer stands up after two-day delay

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Anthony Rizzo’s home run Tuesday night held up Thursday.

After more than six hours of rain delays, a full day, a protest and a ruling, Rizzo’s two-run home run in the first inning Tuesday was enough to give the Cubs a 2-1 victory over the Giants in a game completed Thursday.

Let’s go back to the beginning. The Cubs and Giants played 4 1/2 innings Tuesday when a sudden downpour stopped play. The Wrigley Field grounds crew had difficulty putting the tarp on, and the infield was soaked. When the rain did stop, the crew tried to repair the damage, but the field was determined unplayable, and the game was called after a four-hour, 34-minute delay.

The Cubs led, 2-0, after 4 1/2 innings but the Giants protested, and Major League Baseball announced Wednesday that the game would resume in the bottom of the fifth. MLB cited Rule 4.12 (a)(3), blaming a “malfunction of a mechanical device under control of the home club.”

The start of Thursday’s game was scheduled for 4:05 p.m. CT but that was delayed 1:57 by rain, so the official delay time was 6:31. There were no tarp problems Thursday.

The Cubs wanted this win, and it had nothing to do with where they are in the standings.

"I’d be lying to you if I didn’t tell you that we wanted to close it out, especially since everybody tried to do everything possible to get it in," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

The Cubs took the 2-0 lead in the first on Rizzo’s 29th home run off starter Ryan Vogelsong. On Thursday, Yusmeiro Petit took over for the Giants and struck out the first five batters he faced.

Chicago’s Jacob Turner started the Giants’ sixth and retired the first two batters. Adam Duvall then doubled and scored on pinch-hitter Joe Panik’s single.

With the resumption of the suspended game, Chicago starter Tsuyoshi Wada, who threw five scoreless innings Tuesday, was not credited with a complete game but did get the win.

"In my heart, he had officially gotten [the win] the other day," Renteria said.

The suspended game was the first at Wrigley Field since the Cubs and Dodgers played on July 10, 1987, when play was stopped because of darkness with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the score tied, 4-4. That game resumed the next day, and the Dodgers won, 5-4, in 10 innings.

The Cubs’ last suspended game was May 1, 2007, in Pittsburgh. The game was halted in the bottom of the seventh because of weather with the Cubs leading, 6-5. It was completed the next day, ending in an 8-6 Chicago win.

Cubs.com

O’s aim to to keep spotless mark in Chicago

After sweeping White Sox, AL East leaders head to North Side

By David Wilson

Halfway through their six-game swing through Chicago, the Orioles are perfect. The second leg kicks off Friday as Baltimore heads to Wrigley Field to face the Cubs and a couple of familiar faces.

The weekend will start against Jake Arrieta, who pitched for the Orioles for more than three seasons before being traded in 2013. This season, Arrieta (6-4) has a 2.61 ERA and has shown the kind of consistent success that often eluded him while in Baltimore.

"It’s no surprise," O’s manager Buck Showalter said. "Wish him well. I like Jake. We all pull for Jake."

This will be Arrieta’s first start against his former team, and he guessed that the last time he faced the Orioles’ hitters was in Spring Training intraquad games. And he is certainly not surprised at the success Baltimore has had this season.

"They have a good rotation," Arrieta said. "They have four guys under a 4.00 [ERA] pitching in the AL East, which is pretty impressive. You combine that with their defense. They were either first or second in the league in defensive fielding percentage last year. You’ve got the defense, you’ve got the arms, and then the offense they have."

On Sunday, the Orioles will square off against Tsuyoshi Wada, who signed with the team from Nippon Professional Baseball before the 2012 season but never made it to the Majors.

On Friday, Kevin Gausman will start for the Orioles. The rookie didn’t have his best stuff last time out, but still managed two-hit ball over six innings for his best start since the All-Star break.

Baltimore hopes this is the start of extended success for Gausman. The O’s moved Ubaldo Jimenez from the starting rotation to the bullpen Tuesday, which means Gausman will play a critical role as they try to build on a nine-game lead in the American League East.

"He’s going to be pitching at a time he’s never pitched before in his life," Showalter said. "When you look for young players, you look for, ‘Can they make that adjustment when they aren’t throwing 95 [mph]? Can they keep you engaged in the game? Or are they going to implode and say, I just didn’t have my good stuff today?’

"Well, the game doesn’t stop if you don’t have your good stuff. You have to say, ‘How am I going to survive?’"

Cubs: Castro placed on bereavement list

Shortstop Starlin Castro was placed on the bereavement list Thursday to travel back to the Dominican Republic after one of his relatives and three friends were killed in a car accident Wednesday.

"He was very upset," manager Rick Renteria said Thursday.

The Cubs recalled infielder Logan Watkins from Triple-A Iowa to take Castro’s spot on the roster. Players on the bereavement list can miss from three games to seven games.

Orioles: Cruz reclaims home run lead

A day after Jose Abreu joined Nelson Cruz atop the AL home run leaderboard with 32, Cruz put himself in a class of his own.

Cruz blasted a go-ahead two-run home run to left in the fourth inning of a 4-3 win against the White Sox on Wednesday night and sits alone with 33 home runs.

The 33 homers also match a career high for the outfielder, who has hit safely in 10 of his last 12 games and has four home runs in August.

Worth noting

• Arrieta went 20-25 with a 5.36 ERA in parts of four seasons in Baltimore.

Cubs.com

Cubs place Castro on bereavement list

By Carrie Muskat

CHICAGO — Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was placed on the bereavement list Thursday so he could take care of a personal matter in the Dominican Republic.

Castro was initially in the Cubs’ starting lineup Wednesday, but he was scratched shortly before the game started.

"He was very upset," Manager Rick Renteria said Thursday.

One of Castro’s relatives and three friends were killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday.

Rookie Javier Baez will start at shortstop while Castro is away. Players on the bereavement list can miss from three games to seven games.

"My plan is just to keep [Baez] there until Starlin gets back," Renteria said. "It makes the most sense … because that’s what [Baez] has been doing his whole career. We just hope Starlin is OK."

The Cubs recalled infielder Logan Watkins from Triple-A Iowa to take Castro’s spot on the roster.

Struggling Jackson hits DL with right lat strain

CHICAGO — Edwin Jackson said he could no longer pitch through the discomfort, and on Thursday, the Cubs pitcher was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right lat strain.

It’s been a struggle this season for the right-hander, who gave up seven runs over 2 2/3 innings on Wednesday against the Giants to fall to 6-14 with a 6.09 ERA. Jackson led the National League in losses last year, and he was on pace to do so again.

"It’s been the last few starts and something I’ve tried to work through," Jackson said Thursday. "I figured it was in the best interest of myself, and the team as well, to try not to fight through it any more before something major happens. It’s one of those things that you try to work through, and it didn’t work out for me."

Jackson ended the 2013 season with a similar injury, and he was pulled from his final start against the Cardinals on Sept. 28 after 2 2/3 innings to end the year 8-18 with a 4.98 ERA. Those aren’t exactly the type of numbers the Cubs envisioned when the signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract in December ‘12. Jackson has two years remaining on that deal.

"I don’t think I’ve proven to the fans or the organization of Chicago what I can do, what I’m capable of doing," Jackson said. "I still think I have a lot of upside and a lot to bring to the table. I just haven’t proved it.

"At the end of the day, you have to go out and do it on the field. Regardless of what anyone says about confidence … I haven’t lost any confidence. When I take the field, I feel like I’m the best pitcher on the field, and it just hasn’t shown. I feel I have a lot to prove to the organization and I still have a lot to prove to the fans of Chicago, and I feel I owe them a lot being paid a lucrative contrct. I still owe a lot to the team."

Jackson said the injury will not force him to miss the rest of the season, but there is no timetable for his return. He will simply take it day to day.

"He’s not a guy who complains," manager Rick Renteria said. "I think he just tried to push his way through it. That’s him, that’s his makeup. Obviously, it’s just prudent for him not to keep pushing through it, and we’ll make adjustments."

Jackson’s next start was scheduled for Tuesday against the Reds, but who will start that game is still to be determined, Renteria said.

The Cubs could start Jacob Turner, who was slated to take the mound Thursday to continue the suspended game against the Giants. However, Renteria wasn’t sure if Turner had been stretched out enough.

Jackson’s velocity did not appear to change this season, but he says it was a struggle.

"The velocity has been there sometimes," Jackson said. "It’s a battle within myself. I have to dig down and reach down to get the velocity."

Arrieta set to face former teammates in Chicago

CHICAGO — Jake Arrieta was drafted by the Orioles and came up through their system, and on Friday, he is scheduled to make his first start against them as the Cubs open an Interleague series.

"It’ll be fun to face guys I played with for a long time," Arrieta said. "I know they’re going to come out and compete as best as they possibly can, and I’m sure they expect the same from me."

Arrieta guessed that the last time he faced the O’s hitters was in Spring Training scrimmages.

"I don’t know if there’s an edge or not," Arrieta said. "I know if I execute pitches, I like my chances. If I make a lot of mistakes, their success will go up. I think it’s going to be a good one."

Extra bases

• Felix Doubront will make his third Minor League rehab start on Sunday with Double-A Tennessee, and he is expected to start one of the Cubs’ games on Aug. 30 when they play a day-night doubleheader against the Cardinals.

Doubront, sidelined with a left calf strain, has given up six runs on 12 hits over 10 innings in two Minor League games with Triple-A Iowa.

• Left-hander Zac Rosscup was recalled from Iowa to take Jackson’s spot on the Cubs’ 25-man roster. Rosscup is making his fifth stint with the big league team. In seven games, he’s given up five earned runs over six innings. With Iowa, the lefty was 2-0 with four saves and a 2.10 ERA.

• Infielder Josh Vitters, the Cubs’ first-round Draft pick in 2007, was placed on Triple-A Iowa’s disabled list Thursday. Vitters suffered a broken ring finger on his right hand while reaching for second base on an awkward slide Wednesday. He was batting .213 with 14 doubles, 11 home runs and 38 RBIs in 112 games with Iowa.

21 8 / 2014

Cubs.com

Bryant regains Minor League homer lead with No. 41

By Teddy Cahill

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Jackson struggles in Cubs’ loss to Giants

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Castro to be placed on bereavement list

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Renteria plans to give Szczur playing time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Giants, Cubs to play one and a half on Thursday

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

By Ryan Hood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs: Baez learning on the job

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

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

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

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

Giants: Panik has no problems with pinkie

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

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

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

Worth noting

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

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

Cubs.com

Giants’ protest upheld; rain-shortened game to resume

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoyer also praised the grounds crew.

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

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

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

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

Those laws have since been altered.

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

ESPNChicago.com

Rizzo won’t comment on suspended game

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Jackson’s starting role coming to a close?

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Castro to go on bereavement list

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Rapid Reaction: Giants 8, Cubs 3

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Hoyer: ‘They get a fair shot now’

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Family emergency keeps Castro out

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Giants win appeal of tarp game

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Giants said they were surprised by the decision.

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

Hoyer called it a “just” decision.

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

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

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Hard to see Rusney Castillo in Cubs uniform with decision coming

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Edwin Jackson knows Cubs could make changes soon

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Starlin Castro leaves Cubs to deal with family emergency

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

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

By Tony Andracki

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out more from Hoyer in the video above.

Chicago Tribune

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

By Mark Gonzales

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

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

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

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

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Wednesday at Reno: did not play.

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

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

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

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

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

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

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune

Jackson’s starting status in jeopardy with Cubs

By Mark Gonzales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He did look good,” Renteria said.

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

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

First baseman Anthony Rizzo chose his words carefully.

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

Chicago Tribune

Wednesday’s recap: Giants 8, Cubs 3

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

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

At the plate

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

On the mound

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

In the field

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

The number

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

The quote

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

Up next

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

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

Chicago Tribune

Cubs satisfied even after protest goes Giants’ way

By Mark Gonzales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Sun-Times

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

By Gordon Wittenmyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daily Herald

Giants’ protest upheld; Cubs game to resume Thursday

By Bruce Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He seemed to revel in Wednesday’s result.

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

Daily Herald

Castro sidelined by family emergency

By Bruce Miles

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

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

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

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

Jackson rocked again:

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

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

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

Jackson seemed ready for anything.

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

Cubs make ticket offer:

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

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

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

Minor matters:

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

20 8 / 2014

Daily Herald

Cubs’ Szczur thrilled to be with big club

By Bruce Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all 4s:

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

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

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

Minor matters:

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

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

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

Daily Herald

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

By Bruce Miles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hoyer and Epstein sounded almost apologetic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Giants manager Bruce Bochy was understandably upset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Rizzo’s homer the difference in rain-shortened win

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

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Tarp troubles lead to long delay, shortened game

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

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, the imperfect storm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Bryant returns to lineup in Triple-A Iowa

By Daniel Kramer

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

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

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

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

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

Coghlan happy to be healthy, leading off

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs host ‘Buses for Baseball’ children

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

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

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

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

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

Worth noting

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Peavy leads Giants against prospects-laden Cubs

Chicago counters with veteran Jackson at Wrigley Field

By Ryan Hood

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs: Club aiming to play spoiler

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

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

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

Giants: Panik hopes to play Wednesday

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

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

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

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

Worth noting

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

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

Cubs.com

Russell’s and Edwards’ big games not enough

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

By Teddy Cahill

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Szczur’s skill set a need for winning team

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His type will be needed.

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs prevail after long, messy delay

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

Cubs will play a part in playoff push

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You take no one for granted."

ESPNChicago.com

Time to welcome Sosa back to Wrigley

By Nick Friedell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

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

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Cubs vs. Giants: What happened at Wrigley Field?

By Patrick Mooney

What just happened at Wrigley Field?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Sammy Sosa in exile while Manny Ramirez rewrites Cubs Way

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

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

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

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

By Tony Andracki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune

Cubs don’t gloat after rain-shortened win

By Mark Gonzales

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

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

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

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

Bochy wasn’t sure what recourse the Giants had.

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune

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

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

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

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

At the plate

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

On the mound

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

In the field

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

The number

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

The quote

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

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

Chicago Tribune

Giants’ suspicions with Cubs, rain delays

By Mark Gonzales

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

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

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

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

Cubs President Andy MacPhail fiercely rejected the Giants’ allegations.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune

Good chemistry between Cubs veterans, rookies

By Mark Gonzales

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

No rookie hazing. No jealousy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Tribune

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

By Mark Gonzales

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

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

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

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

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

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

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

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

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

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

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

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

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

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

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

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

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

Chicago Sun-Times

Veteran mentor is high on Cubs’ shopping list

By Gordon Wittenmyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chicago Sun-Times

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

By Gordon Wittenmyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 8 / 2014

Chicago Sun-Times

Renteria says Cubs won’t shut down pitcher Jake Arrieta

By Gordon Wittenmyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shutdown rookie

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

4-1 victory Monday against the Mets.

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

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

Chicago Sun-Times

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

By Gordon Wittenmyer

NEW YORK — Get used to it.

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

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

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

But then there also was this:

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

Whew. That’s a lot of airmail.

A lot of special delivery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And they still like on-base ­percentage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait till Bryant gets here.

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

Cubs.com

Rizzo, Baez crush Mets behind stellar Hendricks

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

By Carrie Muskat

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

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

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

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

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

Baez apparently is feeling pretty good, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The streak of quality starts is impressive.

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

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

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

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

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

The Mets’ David Wright was impressed.

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Baez having a blast while learning on the job

By Carrie Muskat

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arrieta set to keep pitching down the stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alcantara remains leadoff candidate for Cubs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extra bases

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

Giants hope road remains kind to Vogelsong

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

By Jamie Ross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wada is 2-1 with a 3.15 ERA.

Cubs: Baez learning offensive intricacies

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

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

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

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

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

Giants: Morse’ confidence returns

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

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

Worth noting

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

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

Cubs.com

Cubs split challenges in finale against Mets

By Carrie Muskat

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

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

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

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

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

Cubs.com

MRI on prospect Bryant reveals foot bruise

By Carrie Muskat

NEW YORK — Cubs fans can exhale.

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

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

There was no timetable for Bryant’s return.

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

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

ESPNChicago.com

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

By Jesse Rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CSNChicago.com

Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro shows Mets what they’re missing

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No, not at all,” Hoyer said.

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

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

CSNChicago.com

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

By Patrick Mooney

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

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

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

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

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

Baez created the highlight-reel clip in the ninth inning, crushing a two-run homer 434 feet out to left and into Citi’s Field second deck.

“That’s typical right there,” Hendricks said. “Not really shocking for us. He can do that any time he’s up.”

Combine that with Anthony Rizzo, who blasted his 28th homer, a go-ahead shot in the eighth inning, and you get an idea of the offensive attack the Cubs (54-70) envision. But Baez isn’t digging himself, saying he didn’t have a good game after going 1-for-5 with two strikeouts, giving him 24 in his first 14 games. That’s the trade-off for his five bombs.

“Pretty comfortable,” Baez said. “For me, it’s the same game with more fans and bigger (stadiums). They still got to throw the ball over the plate. They just know how to pitch to you.”

Who knows what the ceiling will be, but Hendricks definitely knows how to pitch. When asked who reminds you of Hendricks, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he wouldn’t go there and then mentioned a Hall of Famer.

“I reserve the right to (not) pigeonhole him or compare him to anybody,” Renteria said. “I think he’s establishing himself. I know it’s a short snippet, but he’s been very, very good. He is Maddux-like, a little bit, in his execution, his approach.”

Hendricks – who’s posted a 0.97 WHIP through almost 50 innings – has never looked rattled or in awe of his surroundings.

“In the very beginning, maybe, there was some of those moments,” Hendricks said. “Now I’m kind of settling in.”

CSNChicago.com

Cubs have no plans to shut down Jake Arrieta

By Patrick Mooney

NEW YORK – The Cubs aren’t pulling the plug on their best pitcher.

However the Cubs reconfigure their rotation across the last six weeks, those plans don’t include shutting down Jake Arrieta.

Rick Renteria had to put out that fire on Monday morning, the day after the manager’s comments made it sound like Arrieta might not make it to Game 162.

“I don’t know how that came about,” Renteria said at Citi Field. “But, no, there’s no plan of shutting Jake down.”

It started before Sunday’s 2-1 victory over the New York Mets, when a reporter asked Renteria about having Arrieta on the mound as a stopper after a three-game losing streak. Renteria talked about how Arrieta’s done a great job – particularly coming off a rehab assignment (right shoulder tightness) in early May – and then pivoted the conversation.

“We’re all cognizant of the fact that it’s getting later on into the season,” Renteria said. “We’re still monitoring everybody and we’re trying to make sure that we don’t put them in any peril.”

Given that the front office wants to get looks at Dan Straily, Felix Doubront and Jacob Turner – general manager Jed Hoyer mentioned getting creative – another reporter asked a follow-up question: Would you expect Arrieta to finish out the season through the end of September?

Renteria’s vague comments – the Cubs will keep monitoring Arrieta’s pitch counts and innings, evaluating and assessing the situation, etc. – framed the postgame line of questioning. That caught Arrieta off-guard as he stood by his locker after throwing seven shutout innings in another dominant start that had the Mets flailing at his curveball (two hits, nine strikeouts).

Renteria clarified the plans during Monday’s pregame media session, saying that keeping an eye on Arrieta was nothing out of the ordinary. 

“We monitor everybody,” Renteria said. “I’ll be honest, I don’t know how that would be construed as shutting anybody down.”

The Cubs gave Jeff Samardzija the September shutdown after his breakthrough as a starter in 2012. Samardzija and Jason Hammel had both expressed frustrations with pitch-count limitations before getting traded to the Oakland A’s on the Fourth of July.

The Cubs also got their wires crossed with the Neil Ramirez situation last month, trying to option their best reliever to Triple-A Iowa for a timeout before putting the right-hander on the disabled list with a sore triceps muscle.

Protecting and preserving arms is a clear mandate for a last-place team building toward the future.

Arrieta is 6-4 with a 2.61 ERA through 19 starts, accounting for 117-plus innings in the big leagues. He threw 20 more innings during five rehab starts in April. He has no interest in taking an early vacation.

Arrieta’s 28 years old and solidly built with a 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame. He tossed almost 155 innings last year between his time with the Cubs, Baltimore Orioles and their Triple-A affiliates.

Depending on your perspective, this was either a simple misunderstanding, a media-driven narrative or Renteria’s blind spot when it comes to his daily obligations as a voice for the organization.

Either way, Renteria called Arrieta’s right shoulder a non-issue that doesn’t require a precautionary shutdown.

“That’s not something that we were considering,” Renteria said. “If it was interpreted as that…we’re not shutting him down. We’re not looking to shut him down. We haven’t talked about shutting him down.”

CSNChicago.com

Former Cub Nate Schierholtz signs with Nationals

By Tony Andracki

Two weeks after being designated for assignment by the Cubs, Nate Schierholtz has caught on with another team.

The 30-year-old outfielder could become a part of the National League pennant race after inking a minor-league deal with the Washington Nationals Monday:

Mark Zuckerman via Twitter: #Nats have signed veteran OF Nate Schierholtz to minor-league contract. Will report to Syracuse. Would imagine we’ll see him in September.

Schierholtz could become a nice left-handed bat off the bench for Washington down the stretch. He’s a plus defeneder at the corner outfield spots and has some pop, hitting 21 homers with the Cubs in 2013.

After a career season last year, Schierholtz could never get on track this year and became the odd man out in Chicago with top prospect Arismendy Alcantara joining the outfield mix last month. Schierholtz finished his Cubs career hitting just .192 with a .541 OPS in 99 games in 2014.

Chicago Tribune

Cubs’ Core Four report: Bryant walks, Russell homers

By Mark Gonzales

A look at how the Cubs’ “Future Four” prospects are faring in the minor leagues:

Kris Bryant

Third baseman, Iowa Cubs

Monday vs. Salt Lake:  walk (pinch hit).

Trending:  12-for-40 (.300), 4 home runs, 11 RBIs, 11 walks, 16 strikeouts.

Season: 125 games, .333 batting average, 40 home runs, 103 RBIs at Tennessee and Iowa.

Jorge Soler

Right fielder, Iowa.

Monday vs. Salt Lake: 0-for-4, walk, 2 strikeouts.

Trending: 2-for-28 (.071), 2 doubles, RBI, walk, 8 strikeouts.

Season:  56 games, .322 batting average, 12 home runs, 47 RBIs at Iowa, Tennessee and Arizona Cubs.

Addison Russell

Shortstop, Tennessee (Double-A)

Monday at Montgomery: 2-for-5, double, home run, 2 RBI, double play.

Trending: 5-for-14 (.357), home run, 5 runs, 4 RBI, walks.

Season:  56 games, .297 batting average, 10 home runs, 33 RBIs at Stockton, Midland and Tennessee.

Albert Almora

Outfielder, Tennessee

Monday at Montgomery: 2-for-5, double, strikeout.

Trending: 6-for-15 (.400), 3 runs, 3 RBI, 2 strikeouts.

Season: 112 games, .274 batting average, 8 home runs, 57 RBIs at Daytona and Tennessee.

Chicago Tribune

Finding playing time for all a challenge for Cubs

By Mark Gonzales

NEW YORK — Jake Arrieta will continue to pitch through September, but finding innings for other Cubs players the rest of the season will be a challenge for manager Rick Renteria.

The Cubs outfield figures to get more crowded in September if Jorge Soler is promoted from Triple-A Iowa, as anticipated, along with recently demoted Junior Lake.

And the Cubs still want to evaluate left-hander Felix Doubront and right-hander Jacob Turner as starters to give them some clarity heading into 2015.

Of the newcomers to the rotation this season, rookie Kyle Hendricks continues to make the biggest contribution. He pitched seven innings of three-hit ball Monday as the Cubs pulled away to a 4-1 win over the Mets on home runs by Anthony Rizzo and rookie Javier Baez in the eighth and ninth innings.

Rizzo’s 28th homer snapped a 1-1 tie, and Baez’s homer, his fifth in his first 14 games, reached the second deck in the ninth.

"I’ve just got to realize there’s a guy behind me, and they’re going to pitch to me so they don’t have to pitch to Rizzo," Baez said. "I’ve just got to be patient."

Hendricks (5-1) became the first Cubs rookie to post six consecutive quality starts since Kerry Wood had two streaks of seven quality starts in 1998.

"That’s good company," said Hendricks, who lowered his ERA to 1.66. "I met (Wood) a couple weeks ago when were at home in the clubhouse. That’s an honor."

As for Arrieta, Renteria made it clear to four beat writers Monday that there is no intention of shutting down the ace for the final month. A day earlier, Renteria acknowledged that Arrieta had pitched deep in a few games and the Cubs would continue to evaluate and “make that determination as we move forward.”

"There’s no plan of shutting Jake down,” Renteria said. "We monitor everybody. I’ll be honest. I don’t know how that was construed as shutting him down."

Arrieta has thrown 1171/3 innings this season, just two shy of his career high.

"I monitor everyone’s pitch counts," Renteria said. "That’s just part of it."

Alcantara returned to the leadoff spot partly because Coghlan has been nursing a sore toe and is batting .174 in his last six games.

"(Alcantara) fits the leadoff profile," Renteria said before Alcantara went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts. "He is a good candidate. His numbers right now might not be what everyone wants to see in terms of production. But he is a leadoff candidate.

"We still want him to get comfortable … because in the end, you’ll ultimately see him as a leadoff guy."

Before his July 9 promotion, Alcantara had a .353 on-base percentage and 21 stolen bases in 89 games at Iowa.

Extra innings: Doubront was scheduled to play catch Monday, one day after throwing 94 pitches and six innings in his second rehab start for Triple-A Iowa. The Cubs haven’t decided whether Doubront will need another rehab start.

Chicago Tribune

Monday’s recap: Cubs 4, Mets 1

By Mark Gonzales

The summary

After being blanked for five innings by Carlos Torres, who started after Bartolo Colon left to attend to his ill mother, the Cubs pulled away. Anthony Rizzo hit a tiebreaking home run in the eighth, and rookie Javier Baez hit a two-run homer in the ninth that traveled an estimated 434 feet and reached the second deck. Cubs pitchers held the Mets to 16 hits in the four-game series.

At the plate

Rizzo hit a double in the sixth to snap an 0-for-12 slump and scored the tying run on Luis Valbuena’s single.

On the mound

Kyle Hendricks’ only blemish was a home run to Lucas Duda in the fourth.

In the field

Valbuena, playing near second base as part of a shift, ranged far behind second to make an off-balance throw, with Rizzo stretching far to take the throw to retire Duda in the second.

The number

3 – Home runs Baez has hit in games started by Hendricks.

The quote

Hendricks on Baez’s homer: “That’s typical. Not really shocking for us, but he can do that any time he’s up.”

Chicago Tribune

Series preview: Giants at Cubs

By Staff

All games on WGN-AM 720.

Season series: Giants 2-1.

Tuesday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

RH Ryan Vogelsong (7-8, 3.71) vs. LH Tsuyoshi Wada (2-1, 3.15).

Wednesday: 7:05 p.m., WCIU-26.

RH Jake Peavy (2-12, 4.57) vs. RH Edwin Jackson (6-13, 5.74).

Thursday: 7:05 p.m., CSN.

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