With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

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With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

LOS ANGELES Out in Hollywood, the vision finally came to life. The Cubs believe they will one day be starring in October baseball.

So much has to happen before that becomes a reality, but the Cubs took a step forward on Sunday by green-lighting Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters from Triple-A Iowa.

Ready or not, the two former first-round picks will get a chance to show they belong alongside their buddy Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who at the age of 22 now seems like an old veteran on this team.

It was 83 degrees and sunny as Jackson looked all around Dodger Stadium.

I caught myself laughing a couple times: Youre kidding me right now? Jackson said after a 7-6 loss. (Its a) pretty indescribable feeling inspiring. I look forward to the days and hopefully years to come.

Jackson said it was hard to soak it all in. They were running on almost no sleep after getting the call from scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod late Saturday night and waking up for a 6 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Dallas, where they connected to Los Angeles.

In his big-league debut, Jackson went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a strikeout. That was all that seemed to be holding back the 24-year-outfielder from Cal-Berkeley, whose 158 strikeouts this season began to overshadow his 15 homers, 27 stolen bases and .817 OPS.

With the strikeouts, I wanted to be here and I knew how close I was and pushed myself a little too hard to be here, Jackson said. But Im here now and Im going to play my guts out and my heart out every day. Thats the type of player I am. Thats the type of player Ill always be.

Jackson rolled in with Vitters, who at 22 finally seems to be living up to the promise that was seen when he became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Vitters was hitting .304 with 17 homers and 68 RBI in his first year on the Triple-A level.

Its really amazing, Vitters said. It seems like half the guys here are guys that started out in Iowa (or) Ive known and played with (while) growing up a little bit.

I really just couldnt think of a better situation to be in right now.

The same way that Jackson has struggled with strikeouts, the Cubs need to see improved defensive play from Vitters at third base. But now 20 games under .500, the Cubs (43-63) will use these final two months to see what theyve got.

It will be a good experience for both these guys, general manager Jed Hoyer said. They can help us win for sure and they can also figure out what they need to do up here to have success. Either way: If they have success, wonderful. And if they struggle a little bit, hopefully theyll learn from those struggles and they can spend the whole offseason working on those things.

We had that with Rizzo in San Diego. He came up and struggled and spent the whole winter working on (those) things and its obviously really helped him this time around. So I dont really see a downside for either one of these guys as far as their development goes in coming up here and experiencing what the big leagues are about.

The Cubs believe Jackson will benefit from working directly with manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

Its big-league pitching, Jackson said. It goes up a level. Im excited to be here and work with James and Dale and improve as a hitter so that I can beat big-league pitching and hopefully dominate.

Jackson said that last word quietly, matter-of-factly, and his breezy confidence could become part of this teams identity.

This is what its going to be hopefully from here on out, Rizzo said. We all need to stick together. Theres going to be bumps. Theres going to be valleys. But we just got (to) come together and play hard, have each others back.

Rizzo launched a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning, a high-arcing shot that just cleared the right-field wall before another bullpen meltdown had Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers piling on each other celebrating a walk-off win.

Theres plenty of time to write an alternate ending.

I thought we were going to get a little magic for my first game, Jackson said, but well save that for a later date.

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

Preview: White Sox start series at Twins tonight on CSN

 

The White Sox take on the Twins on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on White Sox Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jose Quintana (8-8, 2.97 ERA) vs. Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.40 ERA)

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Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

Preview: Cubs host Mariners today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Seattle Mariners on Friday, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 12:30 p.m.. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (10-4, 3.09 ERA) vs. Hisashi Iwakuma (11-6, 3.96 ERA)

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Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are Cubs done dealing? ‘Wouldn’t put anything past’ Theo

Are the Cubs done dealing? Theo Epstein might be the baseball executive you’d least want to play poker against, and his team didn’t stop after winning 97 wins last season – committing almost $290 million to free agents – or hold onto the organization’s top prospect when the New York Yankees wanted Gleyber Torres in the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade.

“I wouldn’t put anything past him,” pitching coach Chris Bosio said.

That win-now impulse led the Cubs to Chapman, who instantly raised the energy level at Wrigley Field on Thursday night just by walking in from the bullpen, wowing more than 40,000 fans with his 100-mph heat and getting a four-out save to close out a 3-1 win over the White Sox.

“As fans of the game, you always see what Aroldis does,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “If he’s pitching, and you’re flipping through the channels, you stay on him just to see what he does, because he’s that type of player. What he does for our bullpen now is just incredible.”

This is the blueprint for October with enough timely hitting, a quality start from John Lackey, Pedro Strop working the seventh inning and manager Joe Maddon calling for Chapman to replace Hector Rondon with a runner on third and two outs in the eighth. Chapman threw Melky Cabrera six straight fastballs that registered between 98.6 and 102.3 mph on MLB.com’s Gameday, striking him out swinging.

“I was ready,” Chapman said through temporary translator/catcher Miguel Montero said. “I’m pretty pumped to be part of it.”

While the Cubs unveiled grand plans to construct a future World Series winner, Bosio became the no-nonsense foreman supervising a crew of veterans, short-timers and sign-and-flip guys.

Ex-manager Dale Sveum and coaches like Bosio, Mike Borzello and Lester Strode installed the game-planning system and did the grunt work to build up Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, putting in all that effort only to see them shipped off to playoff contenders in trade-deadline deals.

That roster churn yielded Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Strop, Justin Grimm, Carl Edwards Jr., Addison Russell, Hammel returning as a free agent and a trade chip (minor-league outfielder Billy McKinney) used in the Chapman deal.

“To be able to get a guy like him is a big step for the organization,” Bosio said. “It definitely sent ripple effects to everybody who’s a Cubs fan. I got so many phone calls and text messages.

“This one got a lot of people’s attention. Not just in baseball, but all over the world. He’s a headline guy coming to a headline city.”

Like virtually everyone else, the Cubs are looking for younger starting pitchers who come with years of club control, because right now only Hendricks and Jon Lester can be penciled into the 2018 rotation (when the $155 million lefty will be 34 years old).

The Cubs also can’t ignore the offense, even after pouring so much capital into their lineup, because Jason Heyward’s .632 OPS ranks 151st out of the 157 qualified major-league hitters, Montero is hitting .198, Willson Contreras will be making rookie adjustments and Kyle Schwarber’s left-handed presence will be missed even more against elite pitching in October.

If the Yankees decide to sell another rental player – and the Cubs are willing to mortgage their farm system – Carlos Beltran would be a good fit as a switch-hitter with an excellent track record as a playoff performer (16 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.155 OPS in 52 postseason games).

“There’s still a good amount of time before the trade deadline,” Epstein said this week. “So we’re going to engage with every other team and see if there’s an opportunity to get better. Either tweaks to the roster now, but I’d say it’s more focused on getting additional depth for this season and possibly making a move that makes sense for our longer-term picture, next season and beyond.”

The Cubs have until Monday afternoon’s non-waiver deadline to try to complete the World Series puzzle. Why stop with Chapman during an all-in season?

“Now we’re the ones looking to add pieces, whether it be a bat or a pitcher,” Bosio said. “I wouldn’t put anything past ownership or the front office, because they know how much we’ve invested into this year, and how hard it is just to win a major-league game.”