Cubs dont want to hear about next year

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Cubs dont want to hear about next year

Alfonso Soriano has heard Cubs fans loud and clear, the cheers and the boos, and always shows up the next day with a smile on his face.

When asked if they will be patient enough for a long-term rebuild, the 136 million man sort of shrugged his shoulders and gave a look that said: Eh.

I dont say long-term, man, because in baseball, you never know, Soriano said. We have very good young talent. If everybody stays healthy, were going to compete every game. The group that we got is hungry to win. Who knows? Well see what happens.

That pretty much sums up the team that will stare down Stephen Strasburg and the Washington Nationals on Thursday at Wrigley Field. They are on one side of the parallel tracks baseball czar Theo Epstein likes to talk about.

So much of this season figures to be about identifying core players for the future, pushing Starlin Castro to the next level, figuring out what to do with Matt Garza and integrating Brett Jackson and Anthony Rizzo.

But after Opening Day, the Cubs think they can give the ball to a credible starting pitcher 161 more times this season. They are banking on bounce-backs from Ian Stewart and David DeJesus and breakthroughs by Bryan LaHair and Jeff Samardzija. They think Dale Sveums no-nonsense DNA will transform the clubhouse.

Were going to have to have a lot of things go our way, Epstein acknowledged. Were going to have to earn a lot of victories in close games in order to put us in a position where we look up in the middle of the year and were in this thing. So nothing will be given to us.

If you listen to the prognosticators, if you look at it on paper, its probably an uphill battle. But that doesnt mean were giving anything away. The goal here is to get in the playoffs and win the World Series and we start out on equal footing. Well make our own way this season.

Over the winter, the Cubs didnt import any new stars. The front office clipped coupons during the industrys wild spending spree on impulse buys. Garza has Carlos Zambranos old locker, while Carlos Marmol moved into the space once occupied by Aramis Ramirez.

The Cubs say they are going to improve incrementally, that it will all add up across the course of a six-month marathon. Kerry Wood couldnt remember doing this much work on the back fields during spring training.

Its something that they wanted to address and something they wanted to clean up, Wood said. It wont be because of lack of effort and lack of work in spring, Ill tell you that. Weve gone out and at least addressed it the way we should have, which is working at it (and) trying to get better.

Sveums Straight Talk Express rolled through Arizona, pounding away at fundamental play, and maybe this time it really will carryover into the season. His body language doesnt say first-year manager.

Its a little more purpose-driven now, utility man Jeff Baker said. Its one of those things where (when Sveum) actually says were going to focus on this stuff during the year, I think were actually going to do it. In times past, (with) some of the things that are emphasized, its like as soon as you leave spring training, theyre kind of gone.

Unfortunately, thats kind of the way it goes, but I dont think its going to happen with him.

He already has that instant credibility from his baseball card, what hes done. Hes coached on some winning teams and hes been around winning players and winning organizations and I think guys are excited here to be a part of the next winning thing.

How soon will that happen? A front office driven by data will cling to the outliers. General manager Jed Hoyer thought back to 2010, his first season as general manager of the San Diego Padres.

We had no expectations, Hoyer recalled. Las Vegas thought we were going to be under 70 wins and I think we had the best record in baseball in mid-August and we ended up winning 90 games. To say I expected that would be a lie. The most important thing you can do is be prepared every game, have a team that plays hard every game. If you have that, anything can happen.

Every single year there are teams that are going to surprise people, teams that are going to prove the experts wrong. If that doesnt happen, if that isnt our script, I certainly hope that throughout the course of the year we continue to add talent to our organization and build for a great day in the future. But I would never give away any one season.

So a Cubs organization that has grown colder and more corporate will wake up on Opening Day, quiet the talk about processes and information-management systems and think: Why not us?

James Shields picks up White Sox bullpen in win over Cubs

James Shields picks up White Sox bullpen in win over Cubs

James Shields offered a taxed bullpen a significant boost on Tuesday night.

The right-hander pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and the White Sox offense provided him with enough support for a 3-0 victory over the Cubs in front of 39,553 at U.S. Cellular Field. Shields lowered his ERA over his last seven starts to 2.11 as he worked around four hits and four walks with five strikeouts. Shields threw strikes on 70 of 117 pitches as the White Sox won their fourth in a row, including their second straight over the Cubs. David Robertson recorded his 24th save in 28 tries.

A turnaround that began June 23rd in Boston reached its high point Tuesday.

Since an atrocious three-start introduction, Shields has rediscovered the form that made him one of the top starters in the American League for the better part of a decade.

With the bullpen in need of a huge lift after throwing 19 1/3 innings in the previous four games, Shields delivered. The Cubs made him work early as he needed 56 pitches for the first three innings. But Shields got a pair of quick innings in the middle and pushed deep into the second of four straight meetings with the Cubs.

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Only twice did Shields find himself in any trouble and he skillfully dodged it in both instances. After a catcher’s interference call on Dioner Navarro loaded the bases with two outs in the second, Shields induced a foul out to the screen on a 3-2 pitch against Dexter Fowler. Starting there, he retired 12 of 13 batters into the sixth. Shields put the next two men on base but got Javy Baez to foul out down the line with the aid of a nice catch by Tim Anderson.

Anderson also began nice inning-ending double play in the seventh inning, which allowed Shields to return in the eighth. He retired two before issuing a walk and exiting to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd.

Shields has a 2.11 ERA in 47 innings over his last seven starts.

The White Sox took some pressure off Shields with a run in the first inning. Shields, who entered ranked 130th among 138 qualified starting pitchers with 3.2 runs per game, found himself ahead 1-0 when Jose Abreu took advantage of a leadoff walk by Adam Eaton and a Tim Anderson single with an RBI base hit of his own. The White Sox left the bases loaded but made Hendricks work.

Hendricks rebounded and retired 10 of 12 into the fifth inning. He struck out seven through four innings and mostly held the White Sox in check.

But Adam Eaton gave Shields some extra cushion in the fifth when he blasted a solo homer to right to make it a 2-0 game. Eaton’s seventh homer traveled an estimated 395 feet.

The White Sox added another run in the sixth inning after Todd Frazier’s two-out single (a pop up to medium right that bounced off the glove of Anthony Rizzo) got things started. Frazier stole second against reliever Travis Wood, who then walked three straight batters, including Tyler Saladino, to force in a third run.

No late magic as Cubs shut out by White Sox on South Side

No late magic as Cubs shut out by White Sox on South Side

Aroldis Chapman was in uniform for the Cubs Tuesday night, but Joe Maddon never got a chance to employ his shiny new toy.

After posting late rallies the last two games, the Cubs offense was noticeably absent on Chicago's South Side, dropping a second straight game in this Crosstown matchup 3-0 in front of 39,553 fans at U.S. Cellular Field.

White Sox starter James Shields scattered four singles and four walks in 7.2 innings, using 117 pitches to shut down the Cubs lineup.

The first White Sox hitter of the game scored as Adam Eaton drew a walk and was eventually plated on Jose Abreu's RBI single three batters later.

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks settled down from there, allowing only a solo homer to Eaton in the fifth.

But the wheels came off for the Cubs in the sixth inning as Hendricks departed following two quick outs and a bloop hit from Todd Frazier that glanced off the glove of Anthony Rizzo in shallow right field.

Travis Wood came on to relieve Hendricks, but walked the first three hitters he faced to force in Frazier with the third run of the game.

The Cubs' best opportunity to score came in the second when they loaded the bases with two outs, but Dexter Fowler fouled out behind home plate. After that, only one baserunner reached second base all game for the Cubs.

Kris Bryant said before the game he was itching at another chance to face Shields after the veteran pitcher welcomed Bryant to the big leagues with a couple of strikeouts in the latter's debut last April at Wrigley Field.

But Shields once again got the best of Bryant Tuesday night, striking out the MVP candidate three times in four trips to the plate.

Bryant is now just 1-for-10 against Shields with seven strikeouts.

The Crosstown series moves to the North Side Wednesday night for the final two games.

Watch: CSN goes 1-on-1 with Illini head coach Lovie Smith

Watch: CSN goes 1-on-1 with Illini head coach Lovie Smith

It's the start of a new era at Illinois.

Lovie Smith has returned to the Land of Lincoln, the one-time head coach of the Bears taking over the reins of the Illini football program.

After several years of losing — and just four bowl appearances in the past 14 years — Illinois gave fans plenty of reason to be excited with this high-profile hire, giving the program instant credibility and a new feeling of optimism by bringing in an experienced NFL winner.

Smith met the media and ceremoniously joined the brotherhood of Big Ten coaches Tuesday during the second day of Big Ten Media Days and talked about his vision, recruiting in his old stomping grounds and his work to turn the Illini around.

CSNChicago.com sat down with Smith for a 1-on-1 interview Tuesday, and you can check out the interview in the video above.