Cubs interested in Kuroda?


Cubs interested in Kuroda?

Now that the Dodgers are out of the running for Hiroki Kuroda, the talk is about Theo Eptsein being interested in the Japanese right-hander.

Epstein tried to deal for Kuroda at the July trade deadline while he was with the Red Sox and he isn't expected to return to the Dodgers since they signed Chris Capuano Friday. He may decide to return to Japan, but what about the Cubs?

Kuroda lost 16 games for the Dodgers last season but posted a 3.07 ERA in 32 starts. He struck out 161 batters and gave up 49 walks over 202 total innings. Do you think Epstein should pursue Kuroda?

Jason Heyward resets after mental break and responds to playoff-lineup talk around Cubs

Jason Heyward resets after mental break and responds to playoff-lineup talk around Cubs

SAN DIEGO – With Jason Heyward looking lost at home plate, could the Cubs be forced to sit their $184 million outfielder in October?

It’s a question Joe Maddon doesn’t have to answer directly now, one that the manager wishes will go away, because Heyward’s Gold Glove defense, baseball IQ and playoff experience should translate in cold-weather, low-scoring, one-run games.

Maddon didn’t frame this as a benching, hoping to reboot Heyward’s offensive game with a four-day break that ended with Monday night’s 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. It shouldn’t be like flipping a switch for a hitter who woke up with an overall .617 OPS, a .170 batting average after the All-Star break and one home run since June 11.

But maybe this fifth-inning sequence shows Heyward’s luck is about to change. Moments after what looked like an RBI double landed just foul on the wrong side of the right-field line, Heyward lifted an Edwin Jackson pitch 365 feet out toward the top of the right-field fence, where it bounced off a fan trying to make a catch for a two-run homer. The way this season has gone for Heyward, you sort of expected an interference call to erase it.

“I’m not worried about the playoffs,” Maddon said. “I just want to make the playoffs and then we’ll take it from there.

“You still got six weeks (left). There’s so much baseball to be played. So many different things are going to occur. He can become the hottest hitter in the National League over the next month. He’s very capable of that. I don’t even think about the playoffs. I don’t think about playoff rosters. I think about Monday night in San Diego.

“To get any further than that along mentally is a trap.”

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Heyward has talked repeatedly about ignoring his own personal numbers, focusing on how to help the Cubs win that night and getting a chance to start over in the postseason. He laughed when a reporter asked if he felt any better or different and believes his luck will even out and that hot streak could be around the corner.

“You always think you’re going up there every at-bat to get a hit,” Heyward said. “Right now, if I’m going to err, err on the aggressive side. That’s a good way to be. I’m going to be ready to hit and let the ball go if it’s not there. But I’m not worried about six weeks. I’m worried about tomorrow.

“Playoff-wise, my teammates know I can help this team win. My manager, my coaches know I can help this team win. I know I can help this team win. And that’s the bottom line. We’ve done this collectively, so it’s not about one person.”

Maybe Maddon reaching into his bag of motivational tricks and relaxation techniques will help unlock the player who created a bidding war among the Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and Washington Nationals during the offseason.

“He’s endured a lot, in the sense that he hasn’t hit like he wanted to,” Maddon said. “Being the free-agent signing, honestly, that’s got to weigh on you a little bit.

“I’ve been really impressed with how he’s been able to maneuver through all of this, not hitting to the level that you would expect, but I know that he’s going to. But in the meantime, he’s just playing (a good game of) baseball.

“I give him a lot of credit. The guy is just dripping with emotional intelligence.”

OK, this home run came against Jackson, an ex-Cub who’s on his third team since getting released last summer in the middle of a $52 million contract. And Heyward committed his first error in a Cubs uniform in the sixth inning, running in hard for Brett Wallace’s line drive and misplaying it for a two-base mistake. But the Cubs are looking for any sort of confidence boost at this point.

“I want to see a smile on his face,” Maddon said. “Just play hard, like he always does. I’d rather see him cut back on his work right now and just play the game. I want him fresh, mentally and physically, because there are so many different ways he can help you win a baseball game.

“I just want him to go play. I mean that sincerely. He can’t do any more work. He can’t try anything differently. He can’t work any harder. He can’t do any of that. It’s impossible. Just go play.”

Jon Lester, Edwin Jackson and a Cubs rotation that keeps rolling

Jon Lester, Edwin Jackson and a Cubs rotation that keeps rolling

SAN DIEGO – The Cubs completely whiffed in their evaluation of Edwin Jackson and still built the best rotation in baseball, one filled with Cy Young Award candidates.

Whether or not This Is The Year, the Cubs will feel confident in any October matchup, even with John Lackey (strained right shoulder) on the disabled list, reliever Rob Zastryzny (2013 second-round pick) finally becoming the first pitcher from the Theo Epstein regime’s five draft classes to play for the big-league club and Jackson on his third team since getting released last summer in the middle of a $52 million contract.

The Cubs kept rolling through this summer of great expectations with Monday night’s 5-1 win over the San Diego Padres at Petco Park, or about a mile from the Manchester Grand Hyatt, where team executives did shots in a hotel bar to toast the $155 million Jon Lester megadeal during the 2014 winter meetings.

Lester limited a rebuilding (again) Padres team to one run across six innings, giving the Cubs 15 quality starts through 20 games this month. The rotation has gone 13-1 with a 1.89 ERA in August, making the downturn that gave Cubs fans and the Chicago media All-Star-break fodder seem like ancient history.

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Lester’s All-Star season in Year 2 (14-4, 2.81 ERA) might get more attention if Jake Arrieta (15-5, 2.75 ERA) wasn’t the National League’s defending Cy Young Award winner and Kyle Hendricks (2.16) didn’t lead the majors in ERA. Take away two bad starts – a 10-2 loss to the New York Mets and Sunday’s clunker at Coors Field – and Jason Hammel would be 13-4 with a 2.14 ERA. Not that Lester – who comes from the Lackey School of Big Boy Games and Not Coming Here for a Haircut – feels overlooked.

“I don’t really care,” Lester said. “I don’t care what’s being said or what’s being looked at or whatever. I just try to do my job. That’s all I worry about. At the end of the year – like I’ve said before – the main number for me that I’m always concerned about is 200 innings. So if that’s there, then all the other stuff is kind of gravy.”

Lester has accounted for 154 innings this year and his 20 quality starts are tied for the major-league lead with Justin Verlander and Madison Bumgarner. Not that Lester – who brought a sense of purpose and a competitive drive into this clubhouse – is satisfied with that or happy with a 100-pitch count on a night where he had bat-breaking stuff.

“I don’t really like quality starts,” Lester said. “I think it’s kind of a made-up stat that helps guys that don’t go deep into ballgames. I think quality starts should go to the seventh inning.”

Jackson – who went 16-34 with a 5.37 ERA in a Cubs uniform and whose four-year deal will finally come off the books after this season – couldn’t navigate this lineup. Jackson got through five innings and gave up five runs, including homers to Addison Russell (18), Kris Bryant (32) and Jason Heyward (after a Joe Maddon-imposed four-game mental break).

“I wasn’t here when Eddie came in, but I can understand why the guys did it,” said Maddon, who managed Jackson with the Tampa Bay Rays. “He’s got that kind of ability, man. It’s in there. There’s no question it’s in there.

“He’s had a couple really wonderful years where expectations and reality came together. But overall with him, it’s just a matter of command and where his fastball is going. Stuff-wise, athletically speaking, he is one of the better young pitcher athletes to come around in a long time.”

That never happened in Chicago. The Cubs once dreamed about Jackson’s under-30 potential, giving a long-term deal to a player who had already bounced around to seven different teams. The Cubs understood you have to take risks in the free-agent market and projected a durable right arm. The Cubs got a good clubhouse dude who’s not a front-of-the-rotation leader.

Lesson learned. In Lester, Epstein’s front office could leverage all their shared history with the Boston Red Sox – makeup, medical, big-market/championship experience – and have a much better idea of the return on that investment.

“He’s just been really rolling them out there,” Maddon said. “Game after game after game, you kind of know what to expect from him right now.”

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs take on the Padres tonight on CSN

Preview: Arrieta, Cubs take on the Padres tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the San Diego Padres on Tuesday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 8:30. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jake Arrieta (15-5, 2.75 ERA) vs. Christian Friedrich (4-9, 4.69 ERA) 

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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