Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

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Cubs can be game-changers in N.L. West

Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2010
Updated 11:01 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

When the Cubs dealt Ted Lilly to the Los Angeles Dodgers, they didnt shift the balance of power in the National League West. They can do that now, aligning their rotation to make sure that the divisions frontrunners see Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster.

The Cubs will play the San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres two teams separated by a half-game on Wednesday morning seven times in 10 days. Its as close as they will come to impacting a playoff race.

At the July 31 deadline, the Dodgers were five games over .500 and hoping Lilly could be a difference-maker. They began Wednesday at five under and officially eliminated from playoff contention, with a manager on his way out (Joe Torre) and ownership on trial (the McCourts).

With Lilly gone, Randy Wells hoped to move up in the rotation. Nothing has come easy during his second season in the majors, but he is finishing strong. He again stated his case for 2011 with Wednesdays 2-0 victory over the Giants at Wrigley Field.

Were playing some good ball right now, Wells said. Everybodys loose, everybodys having fun. You wish it wasnt too little, too late. You try to build for next year and see what guys got. Everybodys responding pretty well.

On a 64-degree night in front of 37,285 fans, Wells retired 13 straight Giants at one point. He limited them to six hits and struck out six while walking only one. He has found a consistent release point for his sinker and changeup. Between this start and his last one a near complete game in St. Louis hes given up one run in 15 23 innings.

To get the final four outs and finish off the Giants (85-67), Mike Quade brought in closer Carlos Marmol, who notched his 34th save. The manager wanted this game.

Evaluating against the better competition obviously matters. (The Giants have) the best pitching in the National League, Quade said. You know youre going to be in a dogfight in situations like this 1-0, 2-1, 2-0 and execution and playing under those circumstances (is what) youd really like to see in the growth of a ballclub.

The Cubs (69-82) are now 18-8 under Quade, who isnt blind to whats going on. He knows that other candidates will be interviewed, but says that hes focused only on the 11 games remaining this season. Hes already made a positive impression upon the clubhouse with his energy and communication skills.

No doubt if hes back on board, he will be welcome with open arms, catcher Geovany Soto said. Hes been doing a great job. Hes from the system and it shows. Hes in there every pitch and he gets it.

Every pitch, every at-bat, doesnt carry the same weight for the Cubs as it does for the Giants and Padres right now. Its much easier to get rookie relievers acclimated this way. Even Kosuke Fukudome who drilled a line drive into the right-field seats for his 13th home run is getting his timing down.

Instead of playing spoiler, could this form the core of a contending team next year?

Im an optimist, Quade said. I dont see any reason (why not). You see this club play well here at the end (and) if we play this thing out for the next two weeks in good fashion, then Id go home and whoever gets the job next year should feel excited about this club.

Thats just the way I feel and that has no bearing on what happens this winter with (general manager Jim Hendrys) moves or anything else. There are just a lot of guys here that have finished up well.

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

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."