Cubs on edge after loss to Brewers

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Cubs on edge after loss to Brewers

Sunday, April 10, 2011
Posted: 4:35 p.m. Updated 6:47 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MILWAUKEE Everything will be magnified for this team. Its the way the roster is built and their city is wired.

WATCH: Byrd angry with questions

The Cubs are going to play close games and that means endless opportunities to second-guess and pick apart decisions. Frustrations boiled over after Sundays 6-5 loss to the Brewers at Miller Park.

So when Marlon Byrd singles to lead off the ninth inning and gets thrown out trying to steal second, people will be curious, even when there were several other plays that had a much bigger impact on the game.

Manager Mike Quade called it a miscommunication, something that will be dealt with on Monday to make sure that I didnt screw the damn thing up and I might have. But I didnt care for that situation.

Byrd refused to discuss the situation beyond saying he looks at the third-base coach and repeating the same words seven times: Did I go?

Next question, Byrd said. Done.

There were more significant game-changing moments, but the reaction showed a Cubs team on edge after missing out on another chance to win a series. They went 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position on Sunday and left nine men on base.

(We were) looking for a knockout punch all day long offensively, Quade said. We had a ton of chances. We just got to keep pounding and find a way to put teams away when we get them on the ropes.

It should be pointed out that Byrd scored three runs on Sunday and raised his average to .342. And that the Cubs havent stolen a base in the first nine games of the season for the first time since 1941.

But if the Cubs are going to contend, its going to be with pitching, not speed. Promoted from Triple-A Iowa, Casey Coleman made it through five innings and for the most part minimized the damage.

Coleman gave up two two-run homers to Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun. What really bothered Quade was a pickoff attempt moments before Fielders bomb in the first.

The manager ran out to first base to argue that Carlos Pena had tagged out Carlos Gomez before he dove back to the bag. With that Coleman would have escaped the inning.

There were plenty of mistakes made, both by guys in uniform and guys not in uniform, Quade said. We made our share. You got to get people out. Whether you get a break here or there or a break goes against you, you still got to play.

Still, it was all in front of the Cubs (4-5), who had a one-run lead and Sean Marshall, Kerry Wood and Carlos Marmol ready to handle the last three innings.

Wood began the eighth with a walk and it unraveled from there. Casey McGehee a player the Brewers once grabbed off waivers from the Cubs stepped in as a pinch-hitter with two outs.

McGehee sent a 94 mph fastball screaming past the wall in right-center field and into the Cubs bullpen for a two-run homer that brought a crowd of 37,193 to its feet.

Wood stood in front of his locker and took responsibility for the pitch. He understands that most days there wont be any margin for error.

We knew we were going to play tight games, Wood said. Thats part of it, but (when) you start the inning off with a walk you put yourself behind the eight-ball.

The Cubs havent got off to the fast start they talked about in spring training. A bounce here or a bounce there and its not that hard to picture the Cubs enjoying three consecutive series wins right now. But it doesnt work that way, and theyre losing ground.

You think theyre going to bounce your way eventually, (that) youre going to get some breaks, Wood said. (But) theres no question weve got to win that game and win that series. It didnt happen.

Box Score
PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor 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. 

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“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.”