Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley

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Brewers could be popping champagne at Wrigley

Sunday, Sept. 18, 2011Posted: 7:00 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney Box score Photo gallery
Marmol: No one better than Rivera
Dempster: Astros didn't hit the ball hard
Quade on his ejection

After the Brewers put the champagne on ice and hand out goggles, there will be nowhere to hide inside the cramped visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field.

With the Brewers closing in on their first National League Central title, the only question is whether the Cubs are going to stand in their way.

An 8-1 victory in Cincinnati reduced Milwaukees magic number to clinch the division to four while the second-place Cardinals were still in Philadelphia waiting to play the Sunday night game.

The Brewers have already sold three million tickets at Miller Park. Their fans should be motivated to drive down I-94 for a three-game series that begins Monday night at Wrigley Field.

(Someone else) jumping around and celebrating on your field, Cubs pitcher Randy Wells said. It leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

In early March, the Cubs went over to the Brewers complex in Phoenix and had a dugout altercation after the first inning of the fourth game in spring training. Carlos Silva never made it out of camp, and Aramis Ramirez could play his final game on the North Side during this series.

The Brewers havent imploded yet. But theyre testing the limits of their free-spirit clubhouse down the stretch.

Were going to come at them with the best baseball we got, Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena said.

Nyjer Morgan recently called out Alberta Pujols on Twitter. Francisco Rodriguez told CBSSports.com that hes not fine with only being a setup man. Prince Fielder gave an interview to TBS and said what everyone was already thinking that hes a goner.

(Ryan Brauns) one of the best players in Brewers history, Fielder told the network. The guy hits .330 every year and hes been great. Unfortunately, this might be the last year for the one-two punch.

The six years with me and him has been a good run. Hopefully, we can go out with a blast this year. Im signed through this year. But being real about it, its probably my last year (with Milwaukee).

When the Cubs signed Pena to a one-year deal last winter, speculation immediately started that theyd go after Fielder or Pujols. Penas definitely interested in another pillow contract, though no one knows who will be making those decisions at Clark and Addison.

Pena, like Fielder, is a Scott Boras client. He hasnt been worn down by playing day baseball or in bad weather or inside the Wrigley Field fishbowl. There was hardly anyone there by the end of Sundays 3-2 loss to the Houston Astros.

Pena appeared to hit his 29th home run through the driving rain in the eighth inning. It would have been the go-ahead, two-run shot off Brett Myers. At least one umpire signaled as much.

But the ball bounced somewhere off the left-field basket. The play was reviewed and overturned. Mike Quade thought the umpiring crew got the home-run call right, but argued over where the runners should be placed.

Quade wound up with his seventh ejection of the season, which leads all managers in the majors. Before the ninth inning started, everyone had to sit through a rain delay that lasted one hour and seven minutes. Its been that kind of year for the Cubs (67-86).

At this point, the Cubs are making salary drives and trying to pad their stats.

Starlin Castro now needs five hits to reach 200. Ryan Dempster is only 9.1 innings away from hitting 200 after going seven against the Astros (52-100). Dempster will get two more chances to hit that mark for the fourth consecutive season.

At least one team will have something real to play for this week at Wrigley Field. So dont expect Quade to run out any B-Team lineups.

Its our home turf, Dempster said. Theyve had a good year, but I could really care less to see anybody clinch it on our field.

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

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

Cubs: Ben Zobrist's path back to October and a possible three-peat

MESA, Ariz. – Ben Zobrist is focused on a personal three-peat, not worrying about a changing of the guard or any awkward moments with Javier Baez. Cubs manager Joe Maddon has repeatedly said that Zobrist will be the primary second baseman and another "Javy Being Javy" highlight reel from the World Baseball Classic won't change that thinking right now.

Zobrist sees the big picture better than almost anyone else in the clubhouse after going undrafted out of Eureka High School in downstate Illinois, perfecting the super-utility role Maddon envisioned with the Tampa Bay Rays and helping transform the 2015 Kansas City Royals into World Series champions.

While Baez started all 17 playoff games at second base last year, bursting onto the scene as the National League Championship co-MVP, Zobrist became the World Series MVP with his clutch hitting and still has three seasons left on his $56 million contract.

Maddon didn't spare anyone's feelings during the playoffs, turning $184 million outfielder Jason Heyward into a part-time player, giving a quick hook to major-league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks and shunning relievers not named Aroldis Chapman.

"We haven't had an extended conversation about it," Zobrist said. "But at the beginning of spring, we talked about it. I think his words were: ‘I really think rest is the next improvement in player performance.' Learning what rest means, what good rest is for players and what kind of rest certain players need versus others.

"That doesn't necessarily mean just because you're 35. It could mean you're 25 and you still got to take care of yourself and make sure you're getting the proper rest. Because we have such a deep team, he's able to do that at any given point in time and still feel confident about the team we have on the field.

"It's a good problem to have when you have really good players not playing and sitting on the bench. We had that all last year and we had guys accept their role and just buy into the team concept.

"The makeup of this team is the same, basically. We've got a few new guys and they've got the same mindset, so I anticipate more of the same."

Injuries are one variable that prevents Maddon from getting too stressed out about dividing the playing time over 162 games while the NCAA tournament is still going. Zobrist's stiff neck felt good enough to hit leadoff and play right field in Tuesday afternoon's 10-7 loss to the San Francisco Giants, seeing his first Cactus League action since March 19.

Zobrist plans to play again on Wednesday in Mesa and catch up with more at-bats on the minor-league side of the complex. Assuming Zobrist and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell (stiff back) are ready for Opening Night, Baez will be an NLCS MVP, all-WBC talent waiting for the right matchup or break in the schedule or to sub in as a defensive replacement.

"It's pretty impressive, looking around at the young talent in this clubhouse," Zobrist said. "All throughout spring training, we've seen there's definitely other talent coming, so this team is poised to have a good, long run of success. If everybody stays healthy and we stay together, this is a very good team.

"The biggest thing that I go into the season with this year is we have to be healthy and we have to make sure that we don't relax too much. That's the temptation for teams that just won, to go: OK, well, we're tired, because we had a long season last year and you kind of just assume things are going to go as well as they did.

"You can't assume anything. No matter how good this team is, we have to still go out and execute and perform – and that's going to determine where we are in the standings."

In real time, as the Cubs experienced their lowest moments during last year's regular season, Zobrist correctly pointed out the exhaustion factor while the team played 24 days in a row, losing 15 of their last 21 games before the All-Star break.

What looks like overwhelming depth on paper should help the 2017 Cubs survive and advance into October.

"It's huge," Zobrist said. "It's up and down the lineup on offense. It's all throughout the pitching staff and on the defensive side. It's so deep that you can absorb a little bit of injury here and there.

"With that being said, there are certain guys that you just don't want to lose. So we got to protect everybody. We got to protect our horses – both on the mound and in the lineup – and just make sure that we have our key cogs in there. And if we do, we're as good, if not better, than anybody out there."

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

Cubs return Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to Yankees as roster comes into focus

MESA, Ariz. - Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella - and a combination of right/left, outfield/infield and contractual considerations - appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

The Cubs returned Rule 5 lefty Caleb Smith to the New York Yankees on Tuesday and assigned injured non-roster players Jemile Weeks and Chris Dominguez to minor-league camp. That left 27 players still technically in the mix, though depth catcher Carlos Corporan isn't really part of that conversation.

The projected eight-man bullpen would look like this: Wade Davis; Koji Uehara; Pedro Strop; Hector Rondon; Carl Edwards Jr.; Justin Grimm; and lefties Mike Montgomery and Brian Duensing.

Szczur, who is out of minor-league options, could be a good fourth outfielder on a team that didn't have so much depth and World Series expectations, making him a potential trade chip for pitching. La Stella offers infield insurance and a left-handed bat off the bench.