Barney looking toward the future for Cubs


Barney looking toward the future for Cubs

When Theo Epstein took over the Cubs little more than a year ago, he made it clear from the outset that 2012 was going to be a stepping stone year as the new front office nails down potential building blocks for the future.

Darwin Barney emerged as a cornerstone piece, parlaying a tremendous defensive season into an NL Gold Glove Award and beating out Brandon Phillips -- who took home three of the last four awards -- in the process.

"Being in only my second full year, it wasn't one of my aspirations to be a Gold Glover," Barney said Wednesday evening on Chicago Tribune Live. "Obviously that's what you're working toward individually, but we had some different team goals this year for sure -- getting better and trying to put ourselves in a good position for the future."

When asked about Phillips, Barney stayed diplomatic and flashed the qualities that have made him a valued member of the clubhouse the past two seasons.

But he opened up a bit more when asked about the future of the Cubs.

"You can look at it a couple ways," Barney said. "I try to not be the GM. I just worry about myself and my job, especially in the offseason. I trust in Theo, Jed Hoyer and those guys and what they're going to bring in.

"I know there's definitely holes to fill. If I were to try to point out a hole, it would be saying something negative on one of my former teammates. That's not my place to do that."

Some of the holes for the Cubs include third base and starting pitching, as well as an outfielder while Brett Jackson gets some more seasoning down in the minors.

The Cubs have three-fourths of their infield set with shortstop Starlin Castro, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and Barney, who turns 27 next week.

"We're happy with some of the core guys we've got. I'm really hoping I'm part of that," Barney said. "We're all going to continue to try to get better and turn this organization around in the near future."

2012 was a banner year for teams jumping from cellar-dwellers to contenders. The Oakland Athletics and Baltimore Orioles came out of nowhere to overtake the powerhouse Texas Rangers (in the division and Wild Card game, respectively) and advance to the Division Series.

Everything would have to break completely right for a Cubs squad coming off a 107-loss season, but Barney isn't counting things out heading into the winter.

"Hopefully it can happen next year," Barney. "Hopefully we can put some pressure on upper management to make moves in the opposite direction, so we don't have to say goodbye to all of our friends after the trade deadline.

"You just never know what a season is going to turn into, but you have a lot of control into what it starts out as. So we're going to work for that."

MLB official: World Series Game 2 to 'start on time' despite potential rain

MLB official: World Series Game 2 to 'start on time' despite potential rain

CLEVELAND -- Game 2 of the World Series is on -- for now.

With rain forecast for late Wednesday night, Major League Baseball officials said they have a contingency plan in place to suspend the contest in case it is disrupted by weather. MLB has only suspended one other World Series contest, Game 5 of the 2008 edition between the Tampa Bay Rays and Philadelphia Phillies.

MLB already made an early decision Tuesday to move up Wednesday’s start time by an hour to 6:08 p.m. CST in order to improve chances of avoiding the weather. The current forecast calls for steady rain to start falling at 9 p.m. CST.

“The plan right now is to start on time,” said MLB’s Peter Woodfork. “Right now we hope it’s light, nothing heavy.

“As long as the field holds up, the integrity of the field, we’ll continue to play. If something happens and we can’t go, we’ll pull the tarp and see where we’re at. Most likely if it’s that heavy, we’re going to have to suspend the game and finish tomorrow.”

Woodfork said MLB wouldn’t announce a potential re-start for Game 2 until later Wednesday night, if necessary.

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Cubs manager Joe Maddon and utility man Ben Zobrist were part of the 2008 Tampa Bay squad that waited two days for Game 5 to resume. Maddon said the Rays had already checked out of their hotel in preparation for the return trip to Tampa Bay for Game 6 and didn’t find a new hotel until after 1 a.m.

“You just have to play the game,” Maddon said. “There’s not a whole lot you can do about it. It’s one of those uncontrollable components. The game in Philadelphia was pretty severe. I don’t think it’s going to be Philadelphia-like weather conditions tonight. That game was very awkward to play. The rain was horizontal. It was freezing. There was actually standing water on the field.”

Woodfork said the current plan calls for Game 3 to begin on time in Chicago on Friday regardless if Thursday’s travel day is wiped out by a resumed game.

“When you’re playing the World Series, the weather is secondary,” Zobrist said.

Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions


Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions

It’s playoff time in MLS.

The local team may be looking towards the offseason, but 12 of the league’s teams are heading into the postseason.

Two games tonight and two games tomorrow comprise the single-elimination first round. Four more teams are waiting to face those winners in the conference semifinals. Here’s a brief look at each of the four first round games and an MLS Cup prediction. (Fair warning: check out my MLS season preview to see how pointless the exercise of predicting MLS is.)

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union, Wednesday 6:30 p.m.

Neither team has ever won a playoff game so that will end for one of these two. Both struggled to close the regular season. Philadelphia is winless in seven straight. Meanwhile, Toronto’s only wins in the last seven were two wins against the last-place Fire. Still, with reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco back from injury, Toronto could make a deep run in these playoffs.

Pick: Toronto

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Wednesday 9:30 p.m.

The Galaxy finished with a league-leading 16 ties and had a 3-3-8 record in the final 14 matches. Nothing about that says title contender, but LA still has a talented roster. Like Philly, RSL enters the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak. Look for an LA win because they’ve lost at home just once this season.

Pick: LA

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact, Thursday 6:30 p.m.

D.C. closed the regular season on a strong run, winning four in a row before losing its finale. Patrick Mullins has been a huge boost at forward since joining midseason. Montreal is without Didier Drogba, who appears to be leaving the club. This seems like the most unpredictable of the four first round matches, but stick with the hot hand.

Pick: D.C.

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, Thursday 9:00 p.m.

Seattle enters as the hottest team in the league. The 8-2-4 record since Nicolas Lodeiro’s arrival, which has also been boosted by the return of center back Roman Torres, makes the Sounders a trendy pick for a strong playoff run. Kansas City is never an easy out in the playoffs, but going into a packed crowd in Seattle while the team is playing as well as anyone in the league is a lot to overcome.

Pick: Seattle

MLS Cup prediction

FC Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield in the regular season, but is without MVP candidate Mauro Diaz for the playoffs. That could be enough of a blow to allow a team like Seattle to knock them off in the next round. Colorado, No. 2 seed in the West, is a defensive team that peaked in the first half of the year. LA against the Rapids in a conference semi would be intriguing, but I think Seattle takes either out to go to MLS Cup.

In the Eastern Conference the New York Red Bulls have been the most consistent team in the league since a 1-6 start. The Red Bulls carry a 16-match unbeaten streak into the playoffs and should be able to get by either D.C. or Montreal. In the other semi, New York City FC and Toronto is an enticing potential matchup. Both can be fun teams to watch when things are clicking. That’s a tough one to pick, but the Red Bulls should be the favorite.

Pick: Red Bulls over Sounders