Chicago Cubs

Covering the Cubs: A crazy summer rollercoaster

Covering the Cubs: A crazy summer rollercoaster

Thursday, Aug. 26, 2010
6:58 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON When the Cubs show up for work on Friday afternoon at Great American Ball Park, there will be 38 days remaining in the season, almost 21 percent of their paychecks still to be earned.

That doesnt sound like much time left for the pitchers and catchers who began reporting to the teams complex in Mesa, Ariz., about a week after the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV.

But then you flash back to all that has happened in the previous 38 days. It all started on July 20, when Lou Piniellas agent leaked the news that the Cubs manager would be retiring.

New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden a former Yankees beat writer who would be honored that weekend at the Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. broke the story online.

It was published hours before the Cubs planned to make a relatively low-key announcement, without any advance warning to the media outlets that wouldnt normally rush to Wrigley Field for a Tuesday night game against the Houston Astros.

Piniella broadcast his intention to finish the season, but would be pulled back home twice within the next two weeks. He traveled to Tampa, Fla., for his uncles funeral, and to tend to his ailing mother, a family situation that ultimately led to his resignation and Sundays teary farewell.

As an emotional Piniella wrestled with this decision, Derrek Lee was making his own calculations. On July 28 the Cubs first baseman explained why he used his no-trade rights to block a deal to the Los Angeles Angels.

With a home in Southern California and good friends in the Angels clubhouse, that represented something close to an ideal situation. But Lee didnt want to move his family. The timing wasnt right, the Angels werent a sure thing and the expectation was that he would complete the final year of his contract in a Cub uniform.

After the Cubs landed at OHare International Airport on Aug. 15, general manager Jim Hendry approached Lee about a new opportunity. The Atlanta Braves scouted Lee during a three-game series in St. Louis, where he crushed four home runs in three games.

The next day Lee signaled his approval. Two days later the trade became official. And two days after that he drove his car into his normal parking space at Wrigley Field and walked into the visiting clubhouse, where he hadnt stepped inside since celebrating with the Florida Marlins after the 2003 National League Championship Series.

By then, the Cubs seemed almost numb to all the changes. Laid-back first basemanoutfielder Xavier Nady who has already been traded three times in his career and is playing for his fifth team essentially shrugged his shoulders.

Thats the nature of the game, Nady said. Guys are going to be departing here and there and there will be a lot of new faces. But from our standpoint, you got to come ready to play.

Lee socialized with every corner of the clubhouse, and his ex-teammates understood his change of heart. They had already said their goodbyes to Ted Lilly and Ryan Theriot at the July 31 non-waiver deadline the day after Carlos Zambrano apologized to the entire team but at least they had a flight to catch.

A television camera tracked Mike Fontenot on Aug. 11 as he walked from one AT&T Park clubhouse to the other after he was dealt to the San Francisco Giants.

More than one Cub has said that he hopes to get a chance to play with Lilly again at some point. Both parties left the door open to the veteran left-hander possibly re-signing as a free agent. But the organization is also trying to find in-house solutions and will continue to audition young pitchers.

Left-handed reliever Scott Maine is set to become the 16th rookie to appear for the Cubs this season and the 10th to make his major-league debut. Since July 20, the Cubs have brought up a player from Triple-A Iowa 11 times. Theyve optioned a player down to the minors eight times during that stretch.

Rookie reliever Andrew Cashner sort of shook his head and laughed.

Its been a crazy year, he said. Its definitely been kind of a whirlwind season, not really knowing what to expect.

There was Carlos Silva having trouble breathing on Aug. 1 and being taken to Denvers Saint Joseph Hospital in an ambulance. Eight days later, he underwent cardiac ablation at Northwestern Memorial Hospital to fix an irregular heartbeat.

Like Silva, Carlos Zambrano thought about his family during what might have been his best start of the season on Tuesday night in Washington.

Zambranos postgame news conference lasted about six minutes, and during that time he was confrontational, thoughtful, cocky and philosophical before leaving to see his nephew at a hospital in Venezuela.

Anything close to deathsometimes people shouldnt leave until theyre old, Zambrano said, but when God has something in mind, He calls us to Him. What can we do?

The Cubs will regroup with Thursdays off day in Cincinnati, not exactly a world-class city if you are a millionaire with time on your hands. But the timing couldnt be better after 20 games in 20 days and 17 against teams with legitimate hopes of being soaked in champagne at some point in September or October.

They are on their third manager in the past two weeks. Randy Wells played for Mike Quade in Iowa in 2006 and says hes the same high-strung, funny guy that gets along with everybody.

Quade loves horseracing, but the past 38 days have shown that its impossible to handicap how this all will end.

Its no secret he can say what he wants, and you guys can say what you want, Wells said, but youd be stupid not to try to take this opportunity and show what you can do for possibly a managers job down the road.

You never know whats going to happen.

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

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

Kris Bryant knocks out Brewers and knows what big-game experience means for Cubs

MILWAUKEE – Teammates swarmed Kris Bryant in Miller Park’s visiting dugout late Thursday night, flinging sunflower seeds and forming a mosh pit around the National League’s reigning MVP.

Are you not entertained? The Cubs haven’t always played with this urgency or made it easy while nursing a World Series hangover. But they can feel it now, how close they are to October and how much they learned last year while making history.

It’s too early to pop champagne bottles, but the Cubs won a huge swing game in the NL Central race, beating the Milwaukee Brewers in the 10th inning when Bryant blasted Oliver Drake’s 92-mph fastball off a beam underneath the gigantic video board.

The Cubs watched it ricochet back onto the right-center field grass for a go-ahead two-run homer, bumping up the division lead to 4.5 games while cutting the magic number to clinch the division down to six.

After a head-spinning 5-3 victory that lasted 3 hours and 57 minutes and ended at 11:08 p.m., Bryant didn’t sound surprised or overexcited, the same way he didn’t overreact when the Cubs struggled to gain traction before the All-Star break and the Brewers swept the defending World Series champs two weekends ago at Wrigley Field.       

“We’ve done that so many times,” Bryant said. “We’ve had a nice run with that. I guess it is experience. The heartbeats aren’t going too fast when the game’s on the line there. It kind of plays to our advantage.”

So did the Brewers pushing their bullpen so hard this week trying to catch up that Cubs manager Joe Maddon would have to admit “their A-listers were not available,” meaning Corey Knebel, Anthony Swarzak and Josh Hader. Classic response from Bryant, who has 28 homers and likes to think of pitchers as nameless, faceless opponents: “I didn’t find out their top three guys were down until after the game was over.”

Maybe that changes the ninth-inning rally against Jeremy Jeffress where Ian Happ sprinted for a “Respect 90” single and scored the game-tying run when Javier Baez delivered a two-out, two-strike single up the middle. But the Cubs are in their element now, playing games that matter, not what-if.

“I just think we like loud,” Maddon said. “I think we’re a little bit like adrenaline junkies with the fact we’re used to 40,000 people a night.”

Just look at the stone face Wade Davis made in the ninth inning, escaping a bases-loaded jam by striking out Domingo Santana swinging at an elevated 95-mph fastball and forcing Orlando Arcia to chop a 3-2 pitch back to the mound. The All-Star closer who’s 32-for-32 in save chances went back out for the 10th inning and struck out the side to notch the win. That is a five-out playbook Maddon can use in October.

“You definitely feel it,” Davis said of the playoff atmosphere in a road stadium filled with Cubs fans. “It’s a lot easier to get up for the moment itself instead of having to create it yourself. You feel that.”

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

As Cubs move closer to division title, Jake Arrieta looks ready for October

MILWAUKEE – This was the type of game Jake Arrieta visualizes, a loud atmosphere with 35,114 fans on their feet and an opponent that really doesn’t like the Cubs at all.

This one would ultimately be out of his hands, lasting 10 innings and almost 4 hours on Thursday night at Miller Park, but Arrieta looked like a Game 1 starter as the Cubs roared back for a 5-3 win over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Those playoff plans are coming into focus, the magic number to win the National League Central title down to six and Arrieta managing the Grade 1 right hamstring strain that has been one of the biggest question marks hanging over the defending World Series champs.

“It’s just good to be back out there,” Arrieta said. “These are big games, and I want to be a part of as many as I can, especially to try and clinch the division as quick as possible and then kind of line things up for us in October. But we got to get there first.”

Arrieta threw his first real pitch in 18 days at 7:16 p.m., firing a 92-mph fastball toward Brewers leadoff guy Eric Sogard and giving the Cubs a shot of adrenaline. That always wears off, but the Cubs are a different team when Arrieta sticks his chest out and triggers his perfect posture into a crossfire delivery.

Arrieta looked sharp in his first real action since Labor Day, even as his five-inning, 71-pitch limit exposed how fragile this pitching staff might be right now. If it’s not Jon Lester laboring at the top of the rotation, it’s the softer spots in the middle of the bullpen, or questions about how much wear and tear the Cubs can take after a deep playoff run in 2015 and last year’s World Series madness stretched into early November. 

But Arrieta basically picked up where he left off as the NL pitcher of the month for August, realigning his unique mechanics and generating enough power from his right leg, restarting the momentum in a second half where he’s shown the flashes of dominance you saw during his 2015 Cy Young Award season. 

Arrieta exited this game with a 2-1 lead – before it spun out of control – and passed one test by hustling to cover first base to complete an inning-ending 3-6-1 double play in the fifth. He walked just one of the 20 hitters he faced and could really only regret one pitch in the fourth inning, the 92-mph fastball Domingo Santana drilled off the batter’s eye in center field.

“I felt OK,” Arrieta said. “I can tell that something happened. I think it’s just the residual feeling of something like a hamstring strain. But no pain, really no discomfort. That’s a good sign.

“Tomorrow is the biggest indicator moving forward of how we’ll be able to approach this. I don’t see any reason that I won’t feel good tomorrow.”

Arrieta is scheduled to make two more regular-season starts, but this dramatic comeback means the Cubs might be able to treat those as controlled experiments instead of must-win situations.

“Just an incredible baseball game,” Arrieta said. “This is a really awesome time to be in an organization like this, in a division like the NL Central, where there’s a couple teams that have playoff aspirations in mind. If we take care of business here over the next few days, we get a couple steps closer.”