Cashner could be X-factor for Cubs

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Cashner could be X-factor for Cubs

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 9:33 p.m. Updated: 11:02 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
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CINCINNATI In the middle of the clubhouse, Andrew Cashner sat down in front of a laptop late Monday night to review his mechanics. There were certainly more interesting things to watch from this game. But maybe nothing meant more to the big picture.

It only took a few minutes for Cashner to process those two hitters he put away in the sixth inning of a 12-8 victory over the Reds. But he showed enough flashes of ability that the thought had to run through Mike Quades mind.

Yeahwhat could have been, the manager said.

The Cubs (65-82) never recovered from the loss of Cashner and Randy Wells during the first week of the season. And the next general manager will almost certainly have to make starting pitching the No. 1 priority this winter.

Rodrigo Lopez, who began the year with Atlantas Triple-A affiliate, hung around for 5 13 innings to earn the win. Lopez (5-6, 5.04 ERA) gave up two homers that combined traveled 961 feet in the second inning.

Juan Francisco crushed one 502 feet, making it the first home run to clear the right-field deck at Great American Ball Park, which opened in 2003. It was the second-longest in the stadiums history. (In 2004 Adam Dunn hit a ball that traveled 535 feet and landed in the Ohio River.) Brandon Phillips followed with a two-run shot into the upper deck in left.

On a night where the ball was absolutely flying, Cashner hit 96, 97 and 98 mph on the video boards radar gun before getting pinch-hitter Miguel Cairo to ground out to second.

Cashner then caught Phillips off-balance, getting him to swing and miss two straight sliders in the dirt. Phillips fouled off a 98 mph fastball before staring at strike three, another 98 mph fastball.

I feel good right now, Cashner said. I feel like Im 100 percent and ready to go.

This marked Cashners second big-league appearance since straining his rotator cuff on April 5. He still believes he can throw 150-plus innings next season and be a difference-maker for this rotation.

Yeah, definitely, but its not my decision, Cashner said. Thats kind of the question right now. Its out of my control and I just have to stay healthy. I feel like if I can stay healthy, I can help this ballclub out.

The Cubs know that the Brewers transformed their team by adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum last winter. Those are two major reasons why they should soon be spraying champagne and celebrating a division title.

Cashner, 25, is expected to pitch in the Arizona Fall League and compete for a rotation spot next spring, but there are variables that will go into those decisions. No one knows who will be making them either. But this was another step in the right direction.

Just keep him healthy and keep him going, Quade said. (Its) fun just to see him because I know how miserable hes been throughout these four or five months not pitching and rehabbing. (Hes) let us know how miserable he is. Its good to see him compete and do it well.

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

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 playoff lineup

Cubs give sneak preview of Game 1 playoff lineup

CINCINNATI – Joe Maddon couldn’t maintain a poker face and hide his smirk when asked if there’s a very good chance that this will be the Game 1 playoff lineup for the Cubs.

“There’s a shot,” Maddon said Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park as reporters started laughing. “I’m not a cloak-and-dagger guy.”

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So how the Cubs aligned against the Cincinnati Reds will likely be the group that runs out to thunderous cheers on Oct. 7 at Wrigley Field and faces the National League’s wild-card winner:

Dexter Fowler, CF

Kris Bryant, LF

Anthony Rizzo, 1B

Ben Zobrist, 2B

Addison Russell, SS

Jason Heyward, RF

Javier Baez, 3B

David Ross, C

Jon Lester, P

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

From top to bottom, Cubs have all the pieces in place, including new deals for Jed Hoyer and Jason McLeod

CINCINNATI – From top to bottom, the Cubs now have all the pieces in place to make October baseball at Wrigley Field a reality, year after year, with family ownership, rock-star executives and blue-chip players.

“It’s nice to keep the band together,” manager Joe Maddon said, reacting to Friday’s announcement that general manager Jed Hoyer and scouting/player-development chief Jason McLeod had finalized contract extensions, matching up their timelines with team president Theo Epstein’s new monster deal through the 2021 season.

Those architects constructed what’s already a 102-win team, a division champion and the National League’s No. 1 seed, making the Cubs right now the biggest story in baseball, if not professional sports.

The lineup for a 7-3 win over the rebuilding Cincinnati Reds featured two MVP candidates (Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo), a 22-year-old All-Star shortstop (Addison Russell) and marquee free agents (Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward, Dexter Fowler). The last two games of the regular season at Great American Ball Park will feature Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks making their final cases for the Cy Young Award. 

“It always starts with ownership and then it goes into the front office and eventually gets to us when you have that kind of stability,” said Maddon, who led a stunning turnaround with the Tampa Bay Rays despite all the uncertainty that came with small-market payrolls, a charmless domed stadium (Tropicana Field) and speculation about relocation and contraction.

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“We have a great product on the field,” Maddon said. “We have the best ballpark in the world. Our fans are spectacular. The city itself – there’s no more interesting place to live than Chicago. All those factors play into the success.

“I know in the past the Cubs haven’t been as successful as they wanted to be. But I don’t know that all the different ingredients have been put into place this well.

“So looking ahead, you just want to build off what you’ve done. Last year was a good building block coming into this year. And we want to keep moving forward. Of course, our goal is to play the final game of the year and win it. Under these circumstances, I think it becomes more believable on an annual basis.”

Since Epstein, Hoyer and McLeod reunited in the fall of 2011 – updating their World Series blueprints with the Boston Red Sox – the Cubs are just the third team in major-league history to win at least 100 games within four years of a 100-loss season. The Cubs have now qualified for postseason play in consecutive seasons for only the third time in franchise history.

“We had some good pieces,” chairman Tom Ricketts said. “But the organization itself was not in a position where you could believe that there was sustainability and consistency and success on the field. Obviously, Theo and the guys that he brought with him five years ago kind of took the organization down to the studs and started rebuilding.

“The time and energy to do it the right way has paid off with a team that should be successful for years to come.”