Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

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Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

SAN DIEGO The last time the Cubs were at Petco Park, chairman Tom Ricketts was still gathering information for a decision that could define his familys legacy as owners of this marquee franchise.

On the final day of the 2011 season, Ricketts agreed to an interview with the beat writers. He was vague about the executive search that would end with Theo Epstein who would be universally praised as a home-run hire but he did talk about expectations.

Ricketts stood in the visiting dugout and pointed to the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks as an example.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said last September. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently.

Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.

Epstein has flipped the roster since taking over at Clark and Addison, but the Cubs (43-64) long ago braced for the growing pains and have now decided that its no longer about wins and losses.

There are 55 games left after Mondays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres, and that space will essentially become a laboratory. There will be nights where Brett Jackson goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

Thats just where we are in the organization, manager Dale Sveum said. We knew going in there was a good chance this was going to happen and that day has come.

Now we get to develop at the big-league level the Brett Jacksons, the (Josh) Vitters, the (Alberto) Cabreras, the (Brooks) Raleys, Travis Woods. All these guys its time to develop and take those extra steps to be a major-league player on an everyday basis.

The day after going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, Jackson had to answer questions about the one part of his game that didnt look ready at Triple-A Iowa.

Thats the nature of the business, Jackson said. Its never fun to strike out four times. Thats something Im working on cutting down. Im going to keep working with (hitting coach James Rowson) and Dale and improving the swing. Theres no doubt in my mind were going to get the ability out of me.

The Cubs like Jacksons overall game enough the speed, the athleticism, the power that they promoted him after 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats with Iowa.

Hes going to be in there, Sveum said. That was part of the deal. Hes going to be here to develop and make adjustments. But bottom line, it doesnt matter if youre not swinging at strikes.

This isnt to single out Jackson, who is one of several players with something to prove between now and Oct. 3.

Raley will be the 15th rookie the Cubs have used this season when he debuts on Tuesday night at Petco Park. This is a spot start in place of Matt Garza, whose stiff right elbow wont allow him to pick up a ball for at least two weeks and leaves him in the limbo of being reevaluated each homestand.

Trades and attrition have wiped out the pitching depth Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer built up last winter. Jeff Samardzija whos already blown past the innings total he reached last season as a reliever now has the most stature in the rotation in his first year as a big-league starter.

Wood (4-8, 4.77 ERA) who limited the Padres (47-64) to two runs across six innings is one of four starting pitchers who have spent time on the Triple-A level this season.

Were a very young team, but I think we can use that to our favor, Wood said. Were energetic. We got fire. We just need to start playing and get after it.

On Sept. 28, 2011, Mike Quade sat in the managers office and Hoyer was the Padres general manager who had made Anthony Rizzo the face of the future in San Diego. That day, Ryan Dempster gave up nine runs and lost his 14th game and Rizzo went 0-for-3 and finished with a .141 batting average.

The Cubs stuck around in the clubhouse afterward and pulled beers from the cooler, watching the fantastic finishes on side-by-side televisions, the Boston Red Sox in agony and the Tampa Bay Rays in celebration.

Epstein has total control over baseball operations, and a mandate to build this team from within. At this stage, players like Jackson are going to find out what theyre made of, while the Cubs live with all the ups and downs.

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

White Sox draft pick Zack Collins wins Johnny Bench Award

This June just keeps getting better and better for Zack Collins.

Collins was selected by the White Sox with the No. 10 pick in the MLB Draft, made it to the College World Series with the University of Miami, signed his first professional contract and now he is the Johnny Bench Award winner.

The Johnny Bench Award was created in 2000 and is given to the top college catcher in Division 1. Previous winners include Buster Posey and Kurt Suzuki.

Collins already had a haul of first-team All-America honors from Baseball America, D1Baseball, the NCBWA, Perfect Game and Rawlings.

Collins hit .363 with 16 home runs, 59 RBIs and a .668 slugging percentage. He also led the nation with 78 walks this season for the Hurricanes, which went 0-2 at the College World Series. Collins started 62 of 64 Miami games and made 59 of those starts at catcher.

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

How Bulls could land a max free agent and re-sign E’Twaun Moore

Quick note here because we are all eager to get back to our twitter feeds and wild speculation. Even though the Bulls will only have approximately $24 million in cap space, there is one situation in which they can sign a Tier 1 max player AND re-sign E’twaun Moore.

This all hinges on the deal (and discount) that Moore would give the Bulls. The Bulls have Early-Bird rights with Moore; that means they can potentially sign him to a deal and not eat into their cap space. There are a lot of rules into how this works and I won’t bore you with details, but the bottom line is that the Bulls can offer a 3-year deal for approx. $21 million or a 4-year deal for appox $28 million. If Moore accepts this contract, the Bulls just to have account for his ‘cap hold’ of $980,431 in free agency until the actual deal is signed. 

This potential deal would leave the Bulls approximately $23 million to spend, well above the $22.2 million it would take to land a Tier 1 (0-6 year NBA player) in free agency. This includes restricted free agent Harrison Barnes. Again, this only works if Moore doesn’t want to test free agency, or doesn’t receive a better offer in free agency. If Moore wants more money, the Bulls have to use their cap space to sign him to a larger deal.

One important key to any restricted free agent like Barnes, the Warriors will have 3 days to match any offer sheet that Barnes signs. Barnes can’t sign an offer sheet until July 7th, so the Warriors effectively will have until at least July 10th to make that decision. This prevents any team like the Bulls ‘swooping’ in and landing Barnes while Kevin Durant conducts his meetings in the Hamptons.

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

Cubs aren’t sweating loss to Mets or NLCS flashbacks: ‘Big-boy games are totally different'

NEW YORK – The Cubs didn’t overreact to getting swept in last year’s National League Championship Series, but the New York Mets did expose some underlying issues while a deep playoff run created a sense of urgency in Wrigleyville.

The Cubs spent like crazy on the free-agent market (almost $290 million) and wore T-shirts around spring training that literally put targets on their chests, knowing the look would go viral on social media and spark love/hate responses.

Making a statement? Sending a message? That’s so last year, when the Cubs were a team still trying to find an identity and learn how to win. The Mets are now the ones feeling the season-on-the-brink anxiety, desperate for offense and crossing their fingers that all those talented young pitchers stay healthy.

Maybe this becomes a turning point for the defending NL champs, beating the Cubs 4-3 on Thursday night at Citi Field to kick off a marquee four-game series in front of 40,122 and a national TV audience. Not that John Lackey – the playoff-tested veteran the Cubs signed to lengthen their rotation for October – felt any added significance in facing the Mets.

“None,” Lackey said. “It’s June, who cares? Big-boy games are totally different.”

Yes, Lackey was “pretty surprised” and a little miffed that manager Joe Maddon pulled him with a runner on and one out in the seventh inning and the Cubs holding a 3-1 lead. Joel Peralta failed this bullpen audition, walking Alejandro De Aza (.158 average) and giving up an RBI single to just-promoted-from-Triple-A Las Vegas rookie Brandon Nimmo.

Neil Walker put the pressure on highlight-reel defender Javier Baez, who fielded a chopper at second base, didn’t have a play at home plate and made the split-second decision to throw toward backpedaling third baseman Kris Bryant. The Mets showed last October that little things matter in big-boy games, and the throwing error from a Gold Glove-caliber player suddenly gave them a 4-3 lead.  

“Getting beat’s one thing,” Lackey said. “But when you feel like you kind of gave one away – or let one go – that’s a different kind of loss.”

The Mets (41-37) might not have must-win games in July, but they needed some good news in “Panic City.” Steven Matz, who set off alarm bells this week with the disclosure he’s been pitching with a bone spur in his left elbow, managed to work into the sixth inning and throw 104 pitches, giving up homers to Bryant and Baez but limiting the damage to only three runs.

Yoenis Cespedes, who revived a lifeless lineup after last summer’s trade-deadline blockbuster, energized the Mets again with a big swing in the sixth inning, drilling a Lackey pitch 441 feet out to left field and onto the third deck, creating a 110-mph exit velocity with his 19th home run.

“New year, different team, different circumstances,” said Jake Arrieta, who lost Game 2 here last October, watching Daniel Murphy reach so far down for a curveball that his left knee almost scraped the dirt, driving it out for a momentum-shifting, first-inning, two-run homer. “We’ll probably relive some memories that weren’t very exciting.

“You never want to lose one step from a World Series. But, again, we had a team that was very young with a lot of rookies contributing. We gained a lot of valuable experience from those games, regardless of the outcome. And we’re obviously better for it this season with some new pieces. We look forward to ending in a little different fashion this year.”

The Cubs (51-27) still don’t have the answer for Mets closer Jeurys Familia, who finished off all four NLCS wins last October and is now 27-for-27 in save chances this season. Miguel Montero led off the ninth inning with a pinch-hit walk and Ben Zobrist followed with a double into right field before those all-or-nothing contact issues resurfaced.

Familia responded by striking out Bryant swinging – all six pitches were marked as sinkers clocked between 97 and 98 mph – and intentionally walking Anthony Rizzo to load the bases. Maybe this exposure will pay off in the playoffs, but Familia struck out Willson Contreras swinging and got Javier Baez to pop out to end the game. The Citi Field sound system started playing Ace Frehley’s “(I’m Back, Back in the) New York Groove.” Not that the Cubs were having flashbacks.

“We know the feeling of getting eliminated, getting swept, but I think we’re onto bigger and better things,” Bryant said. “We’re ready for it. Different year, different players here, different attitude.”