On The Farm: Iowa Inches Closer To Division Title

On The Farm: Iowa Inches Closer To Division Title

Friday Sept. 3, 2010
Posted: 10:15 p.m.
By Kevin Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com

CUBSIowa AAA
The I-Cubs arent ready to give up first place just or their place in the Pacific Coast League playoffs. They made that much obvious Friday night at Principal Park by defeating Memphis, 4-2, in the opening game of a four-game series that will determine who wins the American North Division title.

Iowa took over sole possession of first and need to win two of the three remaining games to make the playoffs. Should the two teams split, Memphis would win on a tiebreaker. The I-Cubs have been in first or shared a piece of it for 47 consecutive days.

Brad Snyder continued his spectacular season, connecting for his career-best 25th homer in the seventh inning. The solo shot snapped a 2-2 tie and increased his career best RBI total to 103, second best in the PCL. Matt Camps RBI single in the eighth gave the I-Cubs a two-run cushion. Bobby Scales was 1-for-2, extending his hitting streak to 12 games. Hes batting .357 15-for-42 during the streak.

Luke Sommer pitched two scoreless innings for his first Triple-A victory before Jeff Stevens picked up his 10th save despite a shaky ninth inning.

In other action, Daytona was officially eliminated from the Florida State League playoff race after dropping a 3-2 decision at Lakeland. Luis Castillo bunted home Francisco Martinez in the 10th inning with the run that knocked the Cubs out of post-season contention. Brooks Raley started and allowed a run over 5 23 innings. Daytona managed only four hits, one of which was a Junior Lake two-out, two-run homer in the ninth that knotted the score at 2-2. Peoria lost 4-2 at Kane County. Brett Wallach allowed three runs in four innings to fall to 0-4 in seven starts as a Cub. Carolina edged Tennessee, 5-4, in 10 innings. Steve Clevenger had three doubles for the Smokies while Tony Thomas had a double, a triple and two RBIs. Esmailin Caridad took the loss. Trey McNutt started and allowed three runs in six innings. ... Eduardo Figueroa allowed an unearned run over five innings, picking up the victory as Boise defeated Yakima, 4-3.

Matt Szczur
Chicago prospect Matt Szczur, who left Peoria last month to return to Villanova to play football, made his season debut Friday night in a 31-24 loss to Temple. Szczur caught five passes for 17 yards, had five carries for 18 yards, completed his only pass attempt for 26 yards, returned a punt for one yard and returned seven kickoffs for 170 yards.
WHITE SOXWinston-Salem A
Terry Doyle had his final tune-up for the Carolina League playoffs on Friday and though he was a little shaky demonstrated that hes ready for the post-season in Winston-Salems 6-4 victory over Lynchburg at BB&T Ballpark.

Doyle 8-8 earned his third consecutive victory after scattering eight hits over five innings. He allowed four runs and surrendered a pair of homers in the process but still reached the .500 mark for the first time since July 20. Taylor Thompson and Brandon Kloess allowed two hits over the final four innings with the latter picking up his first save.

Andrew Garcia had two hits, including a homer, and three RBIs. Nick Ciolli extended his Carolina League hitting streak to six games while the Dash pushed their winning streak to eight.
In other action, Kannapolis began its last series of the season by dropping a 5-2 decision to Lakewood at FirstEnergy Park. The Intimidators managed only three hits. John Spatola had one of them and drove in two. Charlotte was bested at Norfolk, 4-2. Brandon Hynick allowed three runs over six innings and fell to 1-4. The Knights were without Brent Morel, who was promoted to Chicago earlier in the day. Mississippi bested Birmingham, 6-1. Chris Marrero was 1-for-3 with an RBI. ... Host Helena scored ninth-inning run and edged playoff-bound Great Falls, 5-4. Mike Earley had two hits and two RBIs for the Voyagers.

Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

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GM Jed Hoyer on how Cubs were built and where they go from here

The St. Louis Cardinals talked about how hard they played until the end against the Cubs, claiming a moral victory, yet another sign of how much this rivalry has changed.

“Do something!” is always the natural reaction when a team struggles, even one with the best record in baseball, even when a three-time Manager of the Year fills out the lineup card, and even coming off a 97-win season and an all-out winter.  

But scoring 21 runs within 23 hours against the Cardinals on Tuesday and Wednesday again showed how the Cubs were built (and how much St. Louis might miss John Lackey). The next time the Cubs fail to hit with runners in scoring position, or get shut out by a Madison Bumgarner, or experience a three-game losing streak, those offensive answers will have to come from within.

“No question,” general manager Jed Hoyer.

Between the final out of the National League Championship Series and getting swept by the New York Mets last October – and their first Cactus League game this spring – the Cubs committed $253 million combined to Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler.

The Cubs have gone 4-for-4 with hitters in their top draft picks – Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Ian Happ – every year since president Theo Epstein took over baseball operations at Wrigley Field. Plus taking Javier Baez with the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft during the final weeks of the Jim Hendry regime.

The Cubs invested $30 million in the Cuban market to sign Jorge Soler and used pitching trade chips (Andrew Cashner and Jeff Samardzija) to acquire half of their infield (Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell) potentially through the 2021 season.   

Rizzo is coming off a 3-for-35 road trip where the Cubs lost series to the Milwaukee Brewers and San Francisco Giants before closing strong in St. Louis. But Rizzo is also so much more mature and competitive than the overmatched hitter Hoyer rushed to the big leagues in 2011 with the San Diego Padres.

“As he goes, sometimes offensively we go,” Hoyer said. “With Anthony, when he’s good, he can carry you for a week to 10 days. He’ll get it going again. He knows he’s good now. He knows he can do it. When he goes to bed at night, he knows he’s an All-Star first baseman.

“That’s important when a guy’s going through a slump, that they have that confidence in themselves. (Now) it’s just a matter of that one swing that’ll click.”

Imagine what manager Joe Maddon described as “the butterfly effect” on the lineup once Heyward (.596 OPS) starts hitting the ball with authority to augment all the other subtle aspects of his game.

“He’s just a winning player,” Hoyer said. “Our players know that. He has that presence. Offensively, he’s been a slow starter like three of the last four years. There’s no question he’ll get it going.

“Once he (does), I think everyone will see the kind of player he’s been for most of his career. Everyone appreciates the defense and the baserunning. But the offense is a big part of that, too, and it will come here very shortly.”

If Heyward can’t be measured by batting average and RBIs, then the Cubs also dug into Zobrist’s peripheral numbers and underlying performance and found the super-utility guy had actually gotten better with age.

Zobrist turned 35 on Thursday and is hitting .346 and leading the majors with a .453 on-base percentage in the first season of a four-year contract.

“We love youth, (but) having some veterans is important,” Hoyer said. “With Ben, we felt like his skill set matched us perfectly. But we did really dig into the numbers to make sure that was the case.

“One of the things we look at is his ability to hit fastballs – it’s kind of gotten better and better throughout his career. Guys that can still hit a really good fastball don’t show a lot of signs of aging.”

It will be impossible to match the infusion of youth and energy Schwarber brought to the Cubs last summer, when he hit 16 homers in 69 games plus five more during the playoffs. 

The Cubs are 31-14 with Schwarber getting only five plate appearances during the first week of the season and now recovering from major knee surgery. 

Schwarber comparisons are unrealistic/unfair, but the next wave at Triple-A Iowa includes Almora, a potential Gold Glove center fielder who’s hitting .326 and top catching prospect Willson Contreras (.933 OPS).

“We knew we were going to miss Kyle,” Hoyer said. “There’s no question about that. You take a guy like Kyle (away) – that’s like taking Michael Conforto out of the Mets’ lineup.

“He’s that good a left-handed hitter. He kills right-handed pitching. We knew we were going to miss it. I think our guys have done a great job of filling that hole.

“As for Contreras and Almora, I look at those two guys and I think there’s a little development left. We know that they’re doing a great job at Triple-A. If the need arises, those are guys that might get forced into action.

“But right now, we want those guys developing. Obviously, if the major-league team needs that player at that moment, (Kyle) will be the precedent. But right now, I think they’re still developing, still learning.”

A 10-game homestand begins Friday afternoon against the rebuilding Philadelphia Phillies at Wrigley Field. As the Cardinals know by now, the Cubs are no longer a franchise that keeps score with minor-league updates or prospect rankings or moral victories.

White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

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White Sox opener with Royals postponed by rain

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox will remain in first place for at least another day.

With the Cleveland Indians off Thursday and their own contest washed away, the White Sox will maintain their half-game lead in the American League Central.

Set to open a four-game series against the Kansas City Royals, the White Sox instead received an unexpected day off as Thursday’s contest was rained out.

No makeup date has been announced, but a Royals spokesperson said the game wouldn’t be made up this weekend. The White Sox make two more trips to Kansas City later this season.

White Sox manager Robin Ventura said he wouldn’t make any changes to his rotation, which means Chris Sale will face the New York Mets on Monday instead of the Royals on Sunday.

Miguel Gonzalez, Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos will instead be pushed back one day, starting Friday with Gonzalez.

The Royals altered their rotation, removing Ian Kennedy from Saturday’s start. Thursday’s scheduled starter, Danny Duffy, will move back one day to Friday and Yordano Ventura will not pitch on Saturday. Edinson Volquez will start on Sunday as previously scheduled and Kennedy will start again on Monday. 

Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

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Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

From Collins to Caleb. From Campbell to Clausen. Where can the Bears find the next....Josh McCown?

It’s been well-documented by now that Jay Cutler hasn’t played an entire season with the Bears since he arrived in 2009. His backups have thrown five touchdowns and ten interceptions. And Josh McCown has four of those touchdowns.

As another draft passed without the Bears selecting Cutler’s presumed successor, the team reached terms with veteran Brian Hoyer shortly after the seventh round ended.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whatever way I can as the backup quarterback,” Hoyer said after Wednesday’s OTA at Halas Hall. “You’re always one play away, but I’ve also been a backup.”

But he’s also started 22 games the past two seasons, for Cleveland (where Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had the same role in Year 1 of the Manziel Mess) and for Houston last year. He’s a guy who has taken the high road through Browns management’s desire to get the unqualified Johnny Football on the field, to last year’s “Hard Knocks” competition with Ryan Mallett that was there for all the world to see.

And he continues to, despite a solid 2015 (19 touchdowns, seven interceptions) that ended in a disastrous Pick-4 finale at home in the playoffs to Kansas City. When free agency opened a couple of months later, the Texans wasted no time plopping $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) in Brock Osweiler’s lap.

“Look, it was a terrible last game, and that’s what it came down to. But prior to that, I had the best season I ever had, as a starter. So unfortunately, it ended down there but it opened another door for me here and I’m gonna make the most of it.

“In my experience,” Hoyer continued, “the best quarterbacks make those other guys around them better. After being around Tom Brady for almost four years, you see that, and he’s earned it. The right time, the right players, right scheme…I think a lot goes into it, more than just you see on the field.”

That shouldn’t be interpreted as an excuse for what happened against the Chiefs. Brady was a sixth round draft pick, and Hoyer was undrafted out of Michigan State before he backed up one of the best ever for three years. He’ll wear what the stat sheet shows from that game. 

But there are other times in helping guide the Texans back from a 2-5 start where he covered up some blemishes.

“The thing about football, it’s a team sport, moreso on offense than defense. If one guy messes up on offense, it can create a disaster for the whole play. Everything kind of has to fall into place. Obviously, you have to play well, but the guys around you have to play well.”

That’s what he hopes to do should something happen to Cutler. He went 7-6 in 13 starts (12 TDs, 13 interceptions) two years ago with Loggains in Cleveland, where Hoyer grew up. Once this offseason's quarterback merry-go-round stopped spinning, Hoyer felt things would fit well in Chicago.

“Really what it came down to was my relationship with Dowell,” Hoyer explained. “I’ve known Jay through the years as an opposing quarterback, and then his previous relationship with Dowell, he kind of hooked us together. Then the quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, I’ve known him for a long time – he went to my high school. I knew there was a comfortability there from the Midwest. It was close to home and good to get my family back up here. It’s just exciting to be a Bear.”

“He gives you an established backup veteran guy,” Loggains said earlier this month during rookie minicamp, shortly after Hoyer was signed. “There’s competition. We haven’t set a depth chart but it gives us a guy who’s played in the league, has a winning record (15-11) as a starter, so it just creates competition.

The safe guess here is he’ll prevail over David Fales and Matt Blanchard to become Cutler’s main caddy.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whichever way I can as the backup quarterback. You’re always one play away, I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve also been a backup. I’ve started the last two years with two different teams but before that I was backing up Brady, so I have experience with that.  It’s kind of a different role because you have to prepare as a starter without getting the same reps.

“So for me, it’s coming in here, help however I can, whether that’s being ready to go at a moment’s notice, or pushing our defense, giving them a good look on the scout team.  To have familiarity with Dowell and the quarterbacks coach, it just felt like a really good fit.”