On The Farm: Iowa On The Verge Of Clinching

On The Farm: Iowa On The Verge Of Clinching

Saturday, Sept. 4, 2010
10:30 PM
By Kevin Czerwinski
CSNChicago.com
Iowa AAA
The I-Cubs reduced their magic number for clinching a division title to one Saturday night at Principal Park by defeating Memphis, 8-5. A victory on Sunday or in Mondays regular-season finale would give Iowa the American North Division title in the Pacific Coast League.

Iowa rallied from a 4-2 deficit by putting up three runs in both the sixth and seventh innings. Bobby Scales three-run homer put the I-Cubs ahead in the sixth before Brad Snyders two-run double highlighted the seventh-inning outburst. Snyder now has a career-best 105 RBIs while Scales hit safely in his 13th consecutive game.

Mitch Atkins started and earned the victory after four runs two earned in six innings. The pen allowed only one hit over three innings. Jeff Samardzija 11-3 will be on the mound Sunday as the I-Cubs go for the clincher.
Kevin Czerwinski can be reached at ktczerwinski@gmail.com.

Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

stl_cubs_back_at_home_05-27_640x360_694588483909.jpg

Rebuilding Phillies are no match for win-now Cubs at Wrigley

Pete Mackanin interviewed for the manager's job that went to Dale Sveum in November 2011 — when the Cubs technically had Carlos Zambrano on their roster and Alfonso Soriano's mega deal still had three seasons remaining. The blueprints for a renovated Wrigley Field were just that, blueprints. Saturday afternoons like this didn't seem at all close, with no guarantees The Plan would ever work.

On a sunny, 75-degree day that started to feel like summer for the crowd of 41,555 at Clark and Addison, the Cubs handled the Philadelphia Phillies, improving their best-in-baseball record to 33-14 with a 4-1 win over a young team now in the rebuilding cycle. 

Kyle Hendricks — who's grown up into an outstanding fifth starter for a first-place team ever since Ryan Dempster decided to waive his no-trade rights and agreed to go to the Texas Rangers minutes before the July 31 trade deadline in 2012 — pitched all nine innings and nearly finished off the shutout.

Dexter Fowler — the final item in late February of a spending spree that approached almost $290 million — drilled his 16th career leadoff home run for what's become a relentless offense. Fowler lifted Jerad Eickhoff's fifth pitch of the game, a 92-mph fastball, and it bounced into and out of the left-center field bleachers. 

Mackanin — a Brother Rice High School graduate who grew up on the South Side and has managed in Venezuela, Australia, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico — knows what his Phillies (26-23) are up against here on Memorial Day weekend. 

"Very formidable team," Mackanin said. "These guys have a lot of everything. They got good pitching and defense. They got dangerous hitters up and down the lineup. It's always tough to come in here and play."

Mackanin became the interim guy when Ryne Sandberg abruptly resigned last summer, managing the Phillies during their surprising three-game sweep and a Cole Hamels no-hitter in late July. Since then, the Cubs are 79-33 and haven't lost a Jake Arrieta regular-season start. 

"A lot of it has to do with the entirety of this place," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "Our young guys are different because they don't act like young guys. Their comportment is not like a young man in a baseball sense where they get it. Their work ethic is so good, how they interact, how they attack the day. They don't take anything for granted. They've had a good day — they don't get haughty and proud of it. They just go back out the next day and play.

"These veteran guys that have been involved in championships know that's what it takes. You get the combination of Wrigley Field, the fan base, this facility and a youth-driven good team, that should bring out the best in all these guys," Maddon said. "It should make them feel that way. It's wonderful to come to the ballpark every day to be attached to all of this. 

"It's just the place you want to be, man. You want to be there as a professional right now in Major League Baseball."

Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

sox_frazier_post_05-27_640x360_694656579629.jpg

Report: White Sox have interest in San Diego pitcher James Shields

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The White Sox reportedly have spoken to the San Diego Padres about acquiring starting pitcher James Shields.

The San Diego Union-Tribune confirmed an internet report Saturday that the White Sox have interest in the 34-year-old right-hander. Shields is 2-6 with a 3.06 ERA in 10 starts for the Padres this season.

A member of the Kansas City Royals from 2013-14, Shields is in the second season of a four-year, $75-million deal he signed with San Diego before last season. He is owed at least $44 million over the next two seasons. The contract includes a $16 million team option for 2019 with a $2 million buyout. He’s earning $21 million this season and in 2017 and 2018. Shields can opt out of the deal at the end of the 2016 season.

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has made it no secret he hopes to add to a club that won 23 of its first 33 games in hopes of contending. Though the Sox had lost 12 of their past 16, they entered Saturday with a half-game lead over the Cleveland Indians and a game over the Royals.

The team’s interest in Shields was first reported Saturday on Twitter by @barstoolWSD. 

Better than advertised: Where Cubs stand on Memorial Day weekend

stl_cubs_back_at_home_05-27_640x360_694588483909.jpg

Better than advertised: Where Cubs stand on Memorial Day weekend

John Lackey gave one of his dismissive chuckles toward the end of spring training, when asked about the daily pressure of playing for an uber-team/cautionary tale like the 2011 Boston Red Sox and how these Cubs would respond to all the hype.

“I don’t believe in pressure in April and May – I’ve been in October about 10 times, man,” Lackey said. “We got too much talent for those things to not just handle themselves. Joe’s not going to allow any of that to get in here.

“Joe runs a really laid-back clubhouse, but (it’s) business-like on the field. It’s a great mix. If you can’t play for him, you can’t play for anybody.”

Joe Maddon, of course, helped design those “Embrace The Target” T-shirts that literally put bulls-eyes across their chests. And Theo Epstein’s front office purposefully signed veterans with championship experience, whether it’s a big-game pitcher like Lackey or an October-tested hitter like Ben Zobrist.

So far, the 2016 Cubs have actually been better than advertised. After the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend – a traditional mile marker along the 162-game season – this team had the best record in baseball (33-14) and the perception of being a lock for the playoffs. At least according to the projections on Baseball Prospectus (98.3 percent) and FanGraphs (98.9 percent).

• Zobrist remembered how Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays had almost no margin for error while competing in the brutal American League East and dealing with the financial realities of a small-market team. Those experiences of furiously trying to play catch-up brought a sense of urgency to the Cubs.

“I knew the number in my head for April,” Zobrist said. “I know how important it is to get off to a good start, because we had some great teams in Tampa Bay, and if we didn’t get off to a good start, we found ourselves trying to come back the whole rest of the year.

“My number that I was looking at in April is 17. That was the Cubs’ record for wins in April. (I thought): ‘We need to get there. We need to shoot for that.’ We had a shot to get 18, but we got rained out the last day of April. That, to me, said: ‘OK, we’re on the right path.’

“But you got to keep focusing on today, because the moment you start thinking about how great we’ve played is the moment that we stop focusing on what we need to keep doing.”

• If momentum is all about starting pitching, the Cubs have a rotation that leads the majors in ERA (2.56) and has gone 32-for-46 in quality starts. After Jake Arrieta, Jon Lester, Jason Hammel and Kyle Hendricks each remarkably made 30-plus starts last year, the Cubs have relied on that quartet plus Lackey to make every start so far this season.  

“We want to be that backbone,” Hammel said. “I want to be the guy who hands the baton to the next guy. And we have five guys who can do that. Just keep rolling with it.”

It figures to be a weaker market for pitching when trade talks start to accelerate after the June amateur draft, but arms have to be the priority for a franchise so heavily invested in hitters.

Still, as an overall staff, the Cubs lead the majors in batting average against (.205) and opponents’ OPS (.601). And the No. 2 teams in those categories – the Los Angeles Dodgers (.218) and Washington Nationals (.634) – aren’t even that close. Same with the plus-123 run differential – the Red Sox are second in the majors at plus-70.

• It’s been years in the making, but the Cubs finally have one of those Boston-style lineups, leading the big leagues in walks (piling up 223 before any other team crossed the 200-mark), getting on base almost 36 percent of the time and waiting for the weather to heat up this summer at Wrigley Field.

“We have guys that have that chip built in,” Maddon said. “It’s so hard to teach what our guys do, meaning that they are able to look over a pitch. They have this great decision-making (process) at home plate.

“Everybody wants that, but not everybody has that. So most of the time, you either have to draft it or buy it. To just attempt to nurture that through the minor leagues is very, very hard to do.

“Having said that, Addison (Russell) has made great strides because he’s surrounded by it so much (with) all these other guys in the lineup. Addison, just through observation, sees these other guys doing it and he’s much better at not expanding his strike zone.

“For years, everybody’s been clamoring for hitters (who) don’t give in. (But) it’s just a mindset. It’s just who you are. It’s hard to teach. You normally come equipped with it. I don’t know where it begins. But you look at our guys – Dexter (Fowler’s) had it built in. Jason (Heyward’s) had it built in. ‘KB’ (Kris Bryant) – it’s there. (Anthony) Rizzo’s always had it. ‘Zo’s’ always had it, from ever since I’ve seen him.

“A lot of these guys have had that chip. That’s part of their standard equipment.”

• The Cubs are 9-3 combined this season against the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals, two teams that together won 198 games last year. That’s helped the Cubs build leads over the Pirates (4.5 games) and Cardinals (8.5 games) in the National League Central.

The Cubs swept a four-game series against the Nationals in early May at Wrigley Field, walking Bryce Harper 13 times in what felt like a possible playoff preview.

The Cubs have also lost series to the Colorado Rockies, San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers, the types of teams that Maddon had in mind when he created the “Embrace The Target” campaign. 

“What we have to get better at as a team is really finishing off some of the teams that probably aren’t as competitive,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “and making sure you sweep some of those series and really win two out of three, because they count the same as the games against the Cardinals at the end of the year.”