Ramirez drawing interest from Brewers


Ramirez drawing interest from Brewers

As the world turns, waiting to see if Albert Pujols would ever give any actual thought to coming to Chicago -- and whether Theo Epstein and Co. would ever give any actual thought at inking the slugger to a nine-year megadeal -- the Cubs could still face some bad blood in the NL Central.

Reports have come out that the Brewers and Aramis Ramirez are entertaining interest in each other.

FoxSports' Ken Rosenthal tweeted Thursday:

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Ken RosenthalSources tell me and @jonmorosi: A. Ramirez visited Angels, offer likely coming. Brewers have also inquired. MLB
Dec 02 via Twitter for MacFavoriteRetweetReply

And now Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is getting in on the act:

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TomBrewers Doug Melvin on his interest in Aramis Ramirez: "He has expressed interest in us, too. Thats something I always like to hear."
Dec 02 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

The apparent talk is of having Ramirez play third in Milwaukee with former Cub prospect Casey McGehee splitting time with Mat Gamel at first base in place of Prince Fielder.

Ramirez would fill some of the hole left in the offense by Fielder's departure and provide "protection" (you know that, always-popular term that sabermetricians generally hate) in the lineup for NL MVP Ryan Braun.

If this really happens, should the Cubs respond by signing Fielder?

'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs


'Grandpa Rossy' playing free and easy in final season with Cubs

David Ross pumped his fist and jogged back to the dugout, high-fiving Jon Lester and fellow Cubs teammates along the way.

As far as celebrations go, this one was pretty tame for Ross, but it was also just the top of the second inning in a scoreless ballgame in April against the team with the worst record in baseball.

Ross is a fun-loving guy who typically celebrates everything he can, but he's also taking it all in and playing free and easy during his victory lap before he retires at the end of the season.

We've seen him skip around on the bases, douse teammates in ice showers and whatever that celebration is in the dugout that may be a little NSFW

"He's always stopped and smelled the roses," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "He's unique. Different cat from what I've had in the past."

Ross also has more to celebrate this season, hitting .267 with an .851 OPS. He's already scored more runs (8) than he did all of last season (6) in almost 150 fewer plate appearances and has an OPS more than 300 points higher than 2015 (.518).

Over the first month of the season, Ross has twice as many homers as he hit in 2015.

"At least I'm contributing and working at-bats and making the guys throw rather than three pitches to get me out," Ross said. "I'm just trying to have good at-bats and being a part of this group. 

"These guys pride themselves on going up there and being tough outs and I just want to get in the mix."

The 39-year-old has also done a solid job of limiting the running game, throwing out four baserunners already this year.

Ross also caught his first career no-hitter last month in Cincinnati and sports a sparkling 1.64 catcher's ERA

"He's playing at a really high level right now, regardless of his age," Maddon said. "He playing at a really high level offensively, defensively, the way he takes command or control of the game. You don't see catchers take control as well as he takes control these days.

"He's not afraid to say something out to the pitcher or the defense. He had a coversation with the umpire [Friday]. He does a lot of things that guys don't really do a whole lot anymore."

After Friday's win over the Braves, Ross joked that his teammates keep asking him why everybody always thinks he's so nice even though he spends so much time yelling at everybody.

Ross admitted he does get on Lester a lot because he looks at the veteran southpaw as a little brother and expects a lot out of him.

Lester obviously appreciates that from his personal catcher.

"Rossy stinks," Lester joked after his start Friday. "I'm tired of Rossy. I'm tired of dealing with him. You guys don't get to see the other side that I get to see.

"I mean, obviously Rossy is a big contributor on a lot of different levels. ... He's had some really good ABs for us this year. This guy is the consummate professional. He's the guy that enver takes a play off, whether he's in the dugout or in the game.

"He always expects the best from everybody, so it's nice to see the reward for the work he's put in to get where he's at. I don't want to keep talking good about him because then he'll probably get wind of it and then I won't hear the end of it."

The Cubs entered the season with Ross figuring to fill a role as pseudo-coach, part-time catcher and full-time cheerleader with Kyle Schwarber and Miguel Montero also available behind the plate. 

But both Schwarber and Montero are now on the disabled list and Ross is currently the guy sharing the catching duties with recent call-up Tim Federowicz.

The situation may have changed, but Grandpa Rossy's self-awareness hasn't.

"I know I can't catch every day," he said. "I'll tell you that. I know I'm not an everyday catcher. Nope. Not that guy."

Ross also won't credit his uptick in playing time as a reason for his increased productivity this season.

"I've been doing this backup thing for a long time," he said. "It's just about having confidence in your approach and what you're doing up there.

"The everyday at-bats: Sometimes that helps, sometimes it doesn't. Depends on how you feel. I've had a good approach; I've worked on it since spring and this offseason and I just feel a lot better at the plate. That's the bottom line."

Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016


Five things we learned about the Cubs in the first month of 2016

Addison Russell strolled out of the Cubs locker room wearing a baggy pinstriped suit with a smile plastered across his face.

He paused for a second and looked back to see Kris Bryant in his American flag suit (complete with American flag shoes) and the rest of his teammates and coaches following suit.

Russell smiled wider and continued the march toward the team bus to the airport.

This was only hours after the sophomore shortstop committed the costly error that led to the worst team in baseball (Atlanta Braves) notching a series split with the best team in the game at Wrigley Field.

Forget the loss. Move on.

Yeah, the Cubs are feeling good about themselves right now.

As they should.

The Cubs ended April with the best record in baseball (17-5), living up to the hype they created after a wild offseason and throughout a wacky spring training.

Things would have been so much difficult if the Cubs had not gotten off to a hot start in a city that watched the Bulls crash and burn and miss the playoffs while the Blackhawks were knocked out in the first round.

Imagine how the city and its sports fans would have responded if the red-hot White Sox was the only baseball team looking like a contender 1/6 of the way through the season.

As the Cubs face their toughest test of the season to date with seven straight games against two of the best teams in the league (Pirates, Nationals), let's look back at the five biggest takeaways from the campaign to date:

1. Jake Arrieta has picked up right where he left off.

Everybody wanted to know what Arrieta would do as an encore to follow up his 2015 Cy Young season in which he put up the best second half the game has ever seen.

How about 5-0 with a 1.00 ERA, a 0.78 WHIP and a no-hitter? It's crazy to think Arrieta could be better than he was last season, but he's making it true with each outing. 

At the very least, Arrieta has picked up right where he left off and might well be the best pitcher in the game (though Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale would surely have something to say about that).

2. The pitching staff has carried the Cubs.

Even beyond Arrieta, the Cubs pitching staff as a whole has been fantastic. Only the Washington Nationals have a better team ERA entering play Monday. Cubs pitchers also have a batting average against of under .200, tops in the big leagues.

It helps when Arrieta, Jon Lester and Jason Hammel have combined to allow just 13 earned runs in 94 1/3 innings. John Lackey and Kyle Hendricks haven't been bad, either, as the rotation has recorded 18 quality starts in 23 tries.

The back end of the bullpen has been clicking, too, as Hector Rondon allowed his first run of the season Sunday, while Adam Warren still hasn't given up an earned run in eight innings and Pedro Strop is locked in (2.89 ERA, 0.64 WHIP, 13 Ks in 9 1/3 innings).

The Cubs pitching staff has also gotten it done at the plate, driving in eight runs on 10 hits.

"This month was the pitcher," Bryant said. "They were unbelievable and they hit pretty good, too, so they kinda picked themselves up at times. ... The pitchers have carried us the whole month."

3. This team is much improved defensively.

Theo Epstein's front office identified the weaknesses of last year's team that ran into the brick wall that was the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series and one of the main issues was defense — particularly outfield defense.

Gold Glover Jason Heyward's defense has been as good as advertised, with the big free agent acquisition gunning down baserunners and diving all over the outfield.

Dexter Fowler has earned positive grades defensively, too, as the Cubs forced him to play a little deeper in center field.

Bryant has looked solid in left field and at third base, and Ben Zobrist's steady glove at second has been a welcome addition in an infield that already boasts elite defenders in Russell and Anthony Rizzo.

"Defensively, we've caught the ball," Joe Maddon said. "We've played catch well. Everybody's talking about the offense, but primarily, it's been pitching and the defense that's set this whole thing up."

4. This team doesn't wilt in the face of adversity.

The Cubs had remarkably good luck on the injury front in 2015, but it took until only the second inning of the third game in 2016 for the first major blow.

Kyle Schwarber is lost for the season, yet the Cubs had just one letdown game after that news before righting the ship and marching forward without "Fast Hulk" in the lineup.

If somebody predicted the Cubs would be 17-5 in the first month of the season without Schwarber even collecting a hit, they would've been laughed off the internet.

Maddon and his coaching staff have seen just about everything there is to see in this game, and they have a stable of veterans like David Ross, Lester, Lackey and Zobrist who know what it takes to rise above adversity and keep everybody pulling on the same rope.

5. The Cubs haven't reached their peak.

Everybody is talking about a Cubs offense that ended the weekend with the second-most runs scored in baseball.

But the reality is, this lineup really hasn't hit its groove yet, scoring most of their runs with timely hitting and an insanely patient approach that keeps the conga line moving on the basepaths.

Yet Zobrist, Rizzo, Russell, Heyward, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler are all hitting .250 or below, and Schwarber notched just four at-bats before tragedy struck.

Imagine what this offense will do when everything gets clicking and the weather starts to warm up.

"A lot of us are just getting going," Bryant said. "It'll be fun to see when things are clicking when the pitching's going good and the hitting's going good."

That feeling is mutual around the clubhouse.

"We have some work to do in general," Heyward said. "We're not hitting on all cylinders right now. We're not clicking consistently."

So does that mean the Cubs are expecting months where they finish with a better record than April's 17-5?

"I'd love to just keep doing that every month," Maddon said. "I'd be happy with that. We've played pretty well this entire month. It's hard to knock our guys right now.

"Offensively, defensively, pitching — the baserunning's been really good. To be able to sustain all those components would be great. I think you're gonna see guys actually hit better. A lot of our offense has been just based on some really good at-bats, some timely hitting.

"But just to purely go out there and just literally knock the cover off the ball, we haven't done that yet. So I think there's an offensive push that we're capable of.

"You just look at the numbers in general, and there are guys that are capable of more, numerically speaking. You probably will see more come from the offense."

Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN


Preview: Cubs, Pirates do battle Monday night on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pirates on Monday night, and you can catch all the action on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies live from Pittsburgh for first pitch at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today's starting pitching matchup: Jason Hammel (3-0, 0.75 ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (2-2, 2.78 ERA)

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

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