Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

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Up in the air: Cubs brace for Coors Field

Thursday, April 14, 2011Posted: 6:15 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mark Riggins felt sick the night Andrew Cashner went for an MRI at Northwestern Memorial Hospital last week.

The pitching coach had consulted with Cashner from the time the Cubs made him a first-round pick in 2008. Riggins whos in his first year on the job after working as the organizations minor-league coordinator felt just as bad for Randy Wells.

But the 54-year-old Riggins has been doing this long enough to know that its inevitable. The human body simply isnt meant to unleash a baseball at 95 mph over and over and over again.

Pitchers can hurt themselves with one throw at any time, Riggins said. Thats the way the game is. And so its an unfortunate thing, but in the business, we know it will happen at some point with almost everybody.

Cashner (rotator cuff strain) and Wells (forearm strain) will be re-evaluated next week. They are traveling and working out with the team, but havent thrown a baseball on this trip. There are no concrete plans right now, only a sense around the Cubs that Wells will be ready to come off the disabled list sooner than Cashner.

One mile above sea level, it wont get any easier this weekend in Denvers thin mountain air.

When difficulty sets in, it always opens up an opportunity for somebody else, manager Mike Quade said. Now you just wait and see if they can take advantage of it. (Well) see how it plays out.

Matt Garza is out to show that hes not the type of pitcher who gives up 20 hits in two starts. Casey Coleman wants to prove that he belongs in a major-league rotation. Ryan Dempster returns to Coors Field, where the Cubs endured a wild weekend last season.

Dempster got knocked out after four innings on July 30 and couldnt believe what he saw. The Colorado Rockies set a major-league record with 11 consecutive hits in the eighth and put a 12-run inning on the board. All that happened with two outs.

Dempster guessed that if you had Aramis Ramirez, Derrek Lee and Marlon Byrd throw batting practice with eight fielders behind them, the Rockies couldnt string together 11 straight hits again.

Thats how crazy that is, Dempster said afterward.

That same day, the Cubs reinstated Carlos Zambrano from the restricted list and the enigmatic pitcher began to try to make amends with his teammates. Lou Piniella revealed that he would have to go back home to Tampa, Fla., for a few days to attend his uncles funeral.

So acting manager Alan Trammell was stuck as the spokesman across the next two games.

The Cubs traded Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot to the Los Angeles Dodgers at the July 31 deadline. Hours later, Rockies slugger Carlos Gonzalez hit for the cycle. The next afternoon, Carlos Silva was rushed in an ambulance to a Denver hospital with an abnormally high heart rate.

The Cubs were beginning to bottom out with that three-game sweep and would lose 20 of 25 before Piniella retired and Quade took over as manager.

It would be impossible to top that head-spinning weekend in 2010. But this shouldnt be boring.

The 6-6 Cubs started the 2011 season with nine of their first 11 games decided by three runs or less. The first seven games unfolded that way, the first time thats happened to the Cubs since 1950. Already the fault lines are starting to show.

Were real happy with our bullpen, but weve gone to them pretty hard, Quade said. Weve had to because weve been in so many close ballgames. Every time someone else steps up and gives you an option, (it) takes the pressure off other people.

We dont want five guys in the bullpen with 90 appearances, running them out there the way were doing right now. So you manage that the best you can.

Thats a major concern, not simply replacing Cashner and Wells for a few turns through the rotation, but the accumulated stress on relievers when starters cant go more than five innings.

The Cubs have talked about finding out what theyre made of on this 10-day, three-city road trip. There will be nowhere to hide in Coors Field.

It takes more than 12 guys to get through a season, Riggins said. Every club has this problem at some point in the year our (turn) just happened to be now.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Forget the analytics, Joe Maddon sends will-to-win message to Cubs: ‘Don’t forget the heartbeat’

Forget the analytics, Joe Maddon sends will-to-win message to Cubs: ‘Don’t forget the heartbeat’

MESA, Ariz. – To set the tone for 2017, the Cubs gathered in a theater on Saturday morning and watched highlights from their unforgettable playoff run last year. The clips showed that Giant comeback in San Francisco, the nearly perfect game at Wrigley Field that beat the Dodgers to capture the National League pennant and a World Series Game 7 for the ages in Cleveland.

“I would say that a high percentage of teams would have lost that game,” manager Joe Maddon said. “But we were able to regroup and come back, just based on the heartbeat. And I really wanted them to understand the heartbeat.”

That became Maddon’s primary message inside the Under Armour Performance Center as steady rain fell in Mesa, washing out the first full-squad workout and postponing the first wacky team-bonding exercise for this camp.

Maddon would never completely channel Hawk Harrelson’s will-to-win spirit and stand up and tell the room: Save it, nerds.

But in an industry where practically every team is fluent in analytics and searching for that next cutting edge, a data-savvy, open-minded manager wanted to recapture what led Jason Heyward to call a players-only meeting during the rain delay at Progressive Field, emphasizing what allowed the Cubs to survive 10 high-stress innings against the Indians.

“I think in our game today, the way it’s run on a lot of levels, it’s more about math than people sometimes,” Maddon said. “I want our guys to understand that we understand the heartbeat around here, so don’t forget the heartbeat.

“We won that game purely because of competitive natures and the fact that we wanted to win and the heartbeat was so good. It has nothing to do with statistical information, mechanics physically. It had everything to do with people.

“And I really want our guys to understand that, because we’re going to do all the other necessary work. We’re going to do all the math work. We’re going to do all the physical work. We’re going to do all the work. But at the end of the day, man, (when it’s) a different uniform than you, you compete. You try to beat that guy in the other uniform. Don’t forget that.”

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

Tom Ricketts delivers state of Cubs address: Donald Trump, Steve Bartman, All-Star Game, global domination

MESA, Ariz. – Chairman Tom Ricketts wants the Cubs to be known as one of the greatest sports franchises on the planet, a first-class brand synonymous with winning.

With that ideal in mind – and setting specific policy ideas or agendas aside – has the first month of the Donald Trump administration matched up with the organization’s values? 

“I don’t really know what that question was,” Ricketts said Saturday during his annual state-of-the-team news conference in Mesa.

It’s worth asking, because at this time last year, Trump cryptically threatened the Ricketts family on Twitter, and then later in spring training told The Washington Post editorial board that the family has done a “rotten job” running the team. Ultimately, the family’s right-wing influence shifted from a stop-Trump movement to helping bankroll the Republican nominee’s presidential campaign.      

Beyond ending the 108-year drought and finally winning the World Series, the Ricketts family laid out the planks of the franchise’s platform and has in many ways lived up to it: investing in high-character people; creating a vibrant corporate culture; being a good neighbor in Wrigleyville; and growing Cubs Charities.

Do those community concepts line up with the rhetoric coming out of the Trump White House?

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” Ricketts said. “I think the fact is that we do have a good culture at the Cubs. And I don’t think anything that the White House has done – or hasn’t done – has any impact on that at all.”   

Ricketts is a patient, big-picture executive who showed how to think beyond the next day’s headlines, giving the green light to modernizing the entire operation, upgrading the infrastructure in Chicago, Arizona and the Dominican Republic and allowing team president Theo Epstein to oversee a complete teardown and rebuild.

The Cubs are no longer defined by that history of losing, but on some level their brand is now also tangentially associated with an early-stage administration of alternative facts, Chicago-to-Afghanistan comparisons, the Muslim ban, the border wall, murky Russian connections and a Holocaust memorial statement that didn’t mention the Jewish people.

Ricketts posed for a photo with his two brothers and Trump at a black-tie inauguration event. Pete Ricketts, Nebraska’s Republican governor, posted it on his official Twitter account.

“Obviously, my brother Todd is a nominee for undersecretary of commerce, so he’s waiting for that process to play out,” Ricketts said. “My sister (Laura) was a bundler for Hillary Clinton. The family has different political views. Away from that, I don’t think anything that’s going on in D.C. has any impact on us right now at all.”

• Ricketts wasn’t certain if Todd would have to step down from the team’s board of directors to accept that Cabinet position: “I know there are the conflict of interest kind of things and ethics rules. He may have to. I’m not really sure. But he’s got to go through the nomination process first.”

• Ricketts addressed the team inside the theater in the Under Armour Performance Center, thanking the players for all their contributions on a rainy day that washed out the first full-squad workout.  

“I also said I think we have a unique opportunity to not only be considered one of the great sports teams in the U.S.,” said Ricketts, who recently returned from the Laureus Sports Awards in Monaco. “But I just got back from Europe and I think that our long-term goal should be (having us) considered one of the great sports organizations in the world.” 

• Up and down the chain of command, the Cubs believe they can be in that conversation, given their talent base, financial muscle and a stable ownership group that plans to control the team for generations (an arrangement that currently includes an equity stake in CSN Chicago).

“What separates a really good team from a truly great team is the consistency of results,” Ricketts said. “We’ve won one World Series. Hopefully, we’ll be in the mix again for many years to come.

“If you look at the Yankees of 15 years ago, the Patriots of today, they’re just always right in the mix. On the global side, you look at teams like Man U or Real Madrid or the All Blacks and they just set the standard for how people perform. And their team means something all over the world.

“I’d like to think that one day – if we’re consistent enough and if we win – that Cubs logo will mean something to people around the world. Not just a team that didn’t win for a long time.”   

• Amid the afterglow three months ago, Ricketts told USA Today that the Cubs would reach out to Steve Bartman at some point and try to come to an understanding after a foul ball during the 2003 National League Championship Series forced the fan into hiding.

“I personally haven’t,” Ricketts said. “The team was thinking about it. I’m not sure what they did or what they didn’t do, to be honest.”

• Ricketts will defer to Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer when it comes to Jake Arrieta’s countdown to free agency and how to negotiate with the Cy Young Award winner after this season.

“That’s a Theo and Jed decision,” Ricketts said. “They have the right perspective on (how) they have to put a great team on the field this year. But they also have a longer-term perspective in realizing that decisions that effect this year might hurt us in a few years.

“But I’ll leave it up to them. I imagine that they’ve got a strategy around that and they know what they want to do.”

• The competitive-balance-tax threshold – which the new collective bargaining agreement sets at $195 million this year – appears to be a kind of soft payroll ceiling for the Cubs moving forward.

“The way it’s structured, it can be very punitive if you just ignore it and just blow through it,” Ricketts said. “So we’ll be thoughtful and strategic about when we go over the tax and when we don’t. But I’ll leave that mostly up to Theo.”

• The Cubs are lobbying Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball officials to host the 2020 All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable,” Ricketts said. “I think that it would be great for the league, great for the game and it would be great for Chicago to have it at Wrigley Field. But nothing’s inevitable on that. There’s a process that we have to go through and hopefully at some point soon the commissioner will give us the nod.”