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.

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

As Cubs search for answers, Scott Boras doesn’t believe Jake Arrieta is feeling the pressure of free agency

LOS ANGELES – It’s harder to find perspective when the lights are flashing all around Dodger Stadium and the techno music is thumping and Adrian Gonzalez just launched a two-run homer 429 feet to straightaway center. 

But that’s why Jake Arrieta pays Scott Boras. The super-agent sat in a front-row seat behind home plate on Friday night, watching his client go through another up-and-down start for a Cubs team that needs Arrieta to pitch more like an ace.

It’s easy to lose sight of this during a 4-0 loss where the Dodgers looked more like the team on a mission after getting eliminated from last year’s National League Championship Series.

But Arrieta is someone who has already experienced the low points that made him think about quitting baseball as he shuttled back and forth between the Orioles and Triple-A – and the intoxicating high from ending the 108-year drought and creating so much joy for generations of Cubs fans.

So Boras isn’t buying the idea that Arrieta might be feeling the weight of his upcoming free agency.

“Coming from Baltimore to here and establishing himself in the big leagues was the major arc of his career,” Boras said, “the most difficult moment of illustrating that he is an everyday major-leaguer. The fact that he has the skills, and what he has up here (in his head), the dynamic of winning two World Series games and things like that, I’d say he’s (been) measured. When you win World Series games, that’s the most important thing.

“If you want me to measure pressure, I’d say that’s World Series cojones.”

To get back into October, the Cubs will need more consistency from Arrieta (5-4, 4.92 ERA), who’s still fine-tuning his delivery and not always getting that extra burst of velocity that made him a Cy Young Award winner and unhittable one night at Dodger Stadium.

Two aging Dodgers crushed Arrieta fastballs. Chase Utley – who began the game hitting .204 – drove one over the center-field wall in the third inning. Gonzalez had gone 131 plate appearances this season before notching his first home run with two outs in the sixth inning.

“I understand how difficult this game is,” Arrieta said. “It’s a work in progress. I’m still not exactly where I would like to be. But it’s close. It really is.”

Even as Arrieta worked through command/mechanical issues last season, he still wound up winning 18 games and limiting opponents to a .583 OPS that ranked second in the majors. It took until the middle of last August before he gave up his 10th home run, or where he’s already at through 10 starts this season. 

[MORE CUBS: The ‘friendly rivalry’ between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman with Cubs, Dodgers becoming NL superpowers]

“The one that Utley hit out was on the corner – that’s a good piece of hitting,” Arrieta said. “The one to Gonzalez was too much plate in a 3-1 count. It was elevated. Willson (Contreras) called a changeup. I shook to the fastball. I expected to locate a little bit better than I did. But I feel like if I continue on this progression, I think I’ll be OK.

“I don’t intend to continue to give up as much hard contact, especially balls over the fence. It’s been a little bit of tough luck, but they just flat out beat us.”

There’s some truth to that – Arrieta continued to pile up the strikeouts (nine) and limit the walks (one) – while Dodger lefty Alex Wood extended his scoreless streak to 25.1 innings before handing the game over to a dominant bullpen. But whether it’s an underperforming offense, a defense not playing at the same historic level or those velocity questions, Arrieta doesn’t appear to have the same margin for error anymore.

All those elements could come roaring back, but the Cubs are now a 25-22 team that could be looking to replace 60 percent of the rotation by Opening Day 2018.

“You don’t really think about (it),” Boras said. “When the Cubs come to town, I look at the standings: OK, where are they at? They’re trying to win again. This club’s a good club and you think about what moves they’re going to make to make it better.

“Jake’s total focus has always been about putting himself in a position that few players get to be in – and that is being on a club where you can win more.”

Whatever happens over the next several months, this will be the reservoir of confidence Arrieta draws from, and ultimately his legacy as a Cub.

“When the postseason hits, it’s Jake’s greatest measurement,” Boras said. “I don’t know, I heard winning a World Series in Chicago was difficult.”

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

Cubs: Is Joe Maddon turning Kyle Schwarber into a platoon player?

LOS ANGELES – Joe Maddon doesn’t want to put the platoon label on a young hitter who became a World Series legend before his 24th birthday. But the Cubs manager also isn’t planning to start Kyle Schwarber against left-handers anytime soon. 

“If people want to say that, I can’t avoid it,” Maddon said Friday at Dodger Stadium, where Schwarber sat against lefty Alex Wood, who took a 20.1-inning scoreless streak into this National League Championship Series rematch. “I’m going to do that until I feel good about him, because I don’t want to lay too many at-bats on him in a negative situation.

“If he’s not swinging the bat well against righties, it’s a bad assumption that I’m going to think he’s going to swing it well against lefties. Then I’m just putting him in a deeper hole by throwing him out there, just based on really bad logic.

“I’m just trying to pick his spots right now to get him going. Once he goes, he can play against anybody.”

[MORE CUBS: The 'friendly rivalry' between Theo Epstein and Andrew Friedman]

Schwarber – who’s hitting .181 with a .656 OPS and 55 strikeouts in less than 200 plate appearances this season – will start Saturday against Dodger right-hander Brandon McCarthy. But even with Clayton Kershaw looming on Sunday, Maddon didn’t want to give Schwarber the entire weekend off, the way Jason Heyward mentally reset last August at Coors Field.

“I don’t think it’s there yet,” Maddon said. “I’ve had good conversations with him. I think it’s a different set of circumstances.”

For the Cubs, this doesn’t really change their overall evaluation of Schwarber as a core player and potentially one of the most dangerous left-handed sluggers in the game. But Maddon has been backing away from the idea of Schwarber as a leadoff hitter, trying to reboot the player who had been such an intimidating postseason presence.

“My concern when the guy is struggling a little bit is you don’t want him to get him too many at-bats,” Maddon said. “It’s really hard to get yourself out of that mental, physical and numerical hole. By not getting him as many at-bats, it will be easy to get back to a number he’s more comfortable with.

“I don’t care about that – I really don’t. I’m looking at his past, process, what he’s doing for the team in regards to on-base, everything else. But for the guy himself, he looks up at the scoreboard and he sees numbers everywhere and they evaluate themselves based on numbers.

“I don’t want him to do that. I just want him to get back into the process of having good at-bats.”