Bricks & Ivy: April Showers Bring May...Answers?

Bricks & Ivy: April Showers Bring May...Answers?

Monday, May 3, 2010
5:48 PM

By Luke Stuckmeyer
CSNChicago.com

April Shower: The Cubs have questions to answer after the first month of the season, but almost every team in baseball can say the same thing. The Cubs concerns are obvious right now....the bullpen and their inconsistent offense. The biggest hit to the Cubs going into this season was the loss of Angel Guzman. He's not Cy Young but the Cubs were counting on him as a righty with experience and past success to bridge the gap to Marmol. That left young relievers trying the setup role and they were forced into pressure situations.

May Answer: Can Carlos Zambrano be the temporary answer? So far -- so good. Give Carlos credit for being a team player here. Two years ago a more immature Zambrano would never have taken this role. He's not happy, but he's doing it. Zambrano has the best winning percentage of any starting pitcher in Cubs history!! Its the boldest move in baseball this year.

April Shower: An offensive roller coaster with more lows than highs for the Cubs big three. Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez are struggling to hit their weight with slow starts at the plate. Alfonso Soriano heard more boos than A.J. Pierzynsksi in a crosstown game. This much is simple...all three have to produce if the Cubs are going anywhere.

May Answer: Don't worry. They will hit. Soriano is on a tear to start the month and the booing -- has turned into bleacher bum bowing! Lee was the best player in Chicago last year and a slow start isn't the end of the world. D Lee will hit and so will Aramis Ramirez. They are two of the most productive hitters in the National League every single year. That will be the case again this year.

If that doesn't cheer you up, try this:

1. Geovany Soto had a great first month after struggling last season.
2. Carlos Marmol has been terrific as the closer since taking over last year.
3. Marlon Byrd has been everything the Cubs need him to be on and off the field.
4. Tyler Colvin's spring training was not a fluke.
5. The Cubs starting pitching survived without Ted Lilly. They have been as good as anybody in baseball.

Now let's see if this all adds up to a big month of May on the Northside!

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

Cubs hopeful Kyle Hendricks returns before All-Star break

MIAMI – The Cubs are hopeful Kyle Hendricks could return before the All-Star break and stabilize a rotation that misses his overall consistency and the unique stuff that made him a National League Cy Young Award finalist last season.

A healthy Hendricks is critical to any second-half surge the Cubs are hoping for now, and so much of his game revolves around feel and the ability to manipulate a baseball in different ways. The tendinitis in his right hand has subsided to the point where he can soon reboot his throwing program.

“He’s feeling good,” manager Joe Maddon said before Friday night’s game at Marlins Park. “He’s going to throw any moment now, tomorrow or the next day possibly. (Athletic trainer) PJ (Mainville) was very optimistic, and so was Kyle.”

The Cubs placed Hendricks on the disabled list retroactive to June 5 and needed at least two MRIs to get a better sense of the inflammation in a tendon on the back of his middle finger.

The year after leading the majors in ERA, Hendricks is 4-3 with a 4.09 ERA and getting an unplanned break after making seven playoff starts in 2015 and 2016 combined. The Cubs aren’t thinking conservatively and waiting until after the All-Star break.

“If he’s ready to go, go ahead,” Maddon said. “This is one of those things in the finger (where) you got to throw the ball and just feel a baseball. If he’s doing that, there’s no reason to hold him back.

“Whatever that pinching feeling was…as long as he’s good to go, I think it’s wise to just let him go and play.”

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]  

On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.