Cubs working to upgrade rotation

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Cubs working to upgrade rotation

Update: Sources close to the negotiations have confirmed to me that the Cubs have serious interest in Paul Maholm, but no deal appears to be imminent.

After hiring Theo Epstein and Company to start a major overhaul of the club, the Cubs have been relatively quiet this offseason adding David DeJesus and Ian Stewart but doing nothing so far to strengthen a woefully inadequate starting rotation. That however, may be about to change as Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer are negotiating to sign former Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Maholm who went 6-14 in 2011, but had a very solid 3.66 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP. According to two major league sources, a deal is not yet done but the Cubs have shown considerable interest in the 29 year old and a deal is definitely possible.

Maholm looks to be a very good fit at Wrigley Field because of his ability to keep the ball down and his propensity for keeping the ball in the park. His home runs allowed total is outstanding and is among the top 20 pitchers in the National League. One stat that jumped off of the page for me was the run support that Maholm received in 2011 which was the third worst in the National League. The Cubs are facing some competition to land the starter because while he is a below .500 pitcher for his career, he allowed just 2.8 BB9IP in 2011 and he is considered a very solid clubhouse guy as well. He was a first round pick of the Pirates (8th overall) in the 2003 MLB First Year Player Draft.

The Cubs had also put out a substantial offer for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish, but the New York Post is indicating the Toronto Blue Jays appear to have submitted the highest bid.

Cubs keep cruising vs. Pirates as future playoff foes battle injuries

Cubs keep cruising vs. Pirates as future playoff foes battle injuries

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs have so much going for them, all this blue-chip talent, a clubhouse mix of young players and grizzled veterans, arguably the best manager in the game, an impactful coaching staff and a front office that blends scouting and analytics as well as anyone.

But to win the World Series, you still need some luck, good health and the guts to perform in the biggest moments of your life. That reality of randomness and matchups made the pregame announcement some 250 miles away from PNC Park more telling than anything that happened during Tuesday night’s 6-4 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Washington Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos tore the ACL in his right knee, ending his MVP-caliber season. The National League East champions will lose a .307 hitter with 22-homer power from the middle of their lineup and a veteran presence for a playoff rotation that will likely be without injured ace Stephen Strasburg (right elbow) in the first round.

“That’s a tough one when you lose your catcher, a guy who’s that significant for the pitching staff,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “Think about the pitching staff. It’s so different when you know the guy back there is your guy and he knows what’s going on. The communication’s different. The trust factor, all that stuff is different.”

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Within that big-picture context, the Cubs survived their 101st victory, watching John Lackey (11-8, 3.35 ERA) tune up for the Big Boy Games by throwing five innings of one-run ball. Chris Coghlan looked like a solid role player for October, hammering a Ryan Vogelsong pitch off the center-field wall for a three-run triple in the second inning. Maddon used six different relievers — staying away from Pedro Strop, Hector Rondon and Aroldis Chapman — on a night that felt more like the Cactus League.

Now survey the rest of the potential playoff field, with the amazing New York Mets losing three of the frontline starters — Matt Harvey (thoracic outlet syndrome), Jacob deGrom (nerve damage in his right elbow) and Steven Matz (bone spur in his left elbow) — who shut down the Cubs during last year’s NL Championship Series ... and still holding onto the first wild-card spot.

This doesn’t guarantee anything in October, but the Cubs are just about as close to full strength as they could reasonably hope and not in crisis mode after losing an irreplaceable player like Ramos.

“That’s tough,” Maddon said. “Yeah, we lost Dexter (Fowler) for a bit. We lost (Kyle) Schwarber all year. Otherwise, when a couple pitchers got banged up, whether you’re talking about Rondon or Strop, I don’t think that our injuries have been as magnified because we’ve covered them pretty well.

“We still had our moments, like everybody else has. But when you get to right now, we’re getting well, and hopefully that trend continues. But to lose somebody of that magnitude for them, that’s got to be difficult.”

Cubs in holding pattern with Jorge Soler

Cubs in holding pattern with Jorge Soler

PITTSBURGH — The Cubs are downplaying the discomfort Jorge Soler has been feeling on his right side, saying the injury-prone outfielder should be cleared by this weekend and for what they hope will be a long run into October.

Soler stayed back in Chicago for another MRI and didn’t travel with the team to Pittsburgh, where the Cubs are trying to find the right balance between keeping players rested and sharp with a division title and the National League’s No. 1 seed already clinched.

“Nothing horrible,” manager Joe Maddon said Tuesday at PNC Park. “Nothing to be highly concerned about. But we kept him back for the test.”

Soler — who had already gotten an initial scan — didn’t play in five consecutive games (Sept. 17-21). He then pinch-hit against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday and started in right field the next day at Wrigley Field.

“The side bothers him,” Maddon said. “It wasn’t bad. I know that.”

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A series of injuries have stalled Soler’s career — he missed almost two months this season with a strained left hamstring — but there is no denying his immense talent, right-handed power and age-24 potential.

Built like an NFL linebacker, Soler is hitting .240 with 12 homers, 31 RBIs and a .773 OPS in 85 games, making him a physical presence in the lineup that opponents have to respect.

Whether or not you believe in the concept of clutch hitting, Soler played a big role in knocking the Cardinals out of last year’s playoffs, setting a new major-league record by getting on base in his first nine career postseason plate appearances and launching two homers in four games.