Cubs hope chemistry counts for something


Cubs hope chemistry counts for something

Friday, March 25, 2011
Posted 8:04 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney

MESA, Ariz. Ryan Dempster and James Russell were sitting on the couch. They had just finished playing a few games of hockey on Xbox. The entire afternoon was in front of them.

Dempster is almost 34 years old and will make 13.5 million this season. He turned to Russell on Monday with an idea: Lets go watch the boys play.

So they left the condo Russell and Andrew Cashner are renting in Scottsdale and drove over to Tempe Diablo Stadium. They got there in time to catch the first few innings before driving rains caused the Cubs and Angels to seek shelter and cancel another meaningless game in a month filled with them.

We had no clue where we were going. (We) asked every usher we saw where the visitors locker room was nobody had a clue, Russell said. So we just started walking around, made our way down to the front row and just hopped a fence. (We) walked on the field and into the dugout in jeans and tennis shoes.

Cash was kind of surprised to see me. He goes, Hey, what are you doing here? Nothing, man, just came to (watch you pitch).

That two players who were completely off the clock would show up at a road Cactus League is remarkable. It speaks to the team chemistry the Cubs think they are building.

Reed Johnson was part of that 97-win team that turned every home game into a Wrigleyville block party in 2008. He remembers Dempster and Kerry Wood organizing team dinners where 90 percent of the guys would show up and theyd need a full charter bus to get to the restaurant.

To have those two guys back together, Johnson said, is going to be huge this year and for the future.

General manager Jim Hendry brought in several veterans on minor-league deals to bring a sense of professionalism to camp. Johnson has made the team as the fifth outfielder, and he is what Hendry likes to call a character guy.

The Cubs felt their chemistry was an issue isolated to the one-man island of Milton Bradley in 2009. The media just dragged the story into the next season. Hendry says the Cubs always emphasize a players makeup and personality, whether its in the amateur draft or Latin America.

We didnt lose early last year because we had a bad clubhouse, Hendry said. Its always a premium.

Its hard to ignore the intangibles that Wood, Carlos Pena and Matt Garza bring to the room. The teams three major offseason acquisitions have already performed at an All-Star level and been tested in the playoffs. They instantly earned the respect of their teammates.

The Cubs try to keep it light in spring training. There is a sheet of paper posted on the bulletin board inside the HoHoKam Park clubhouse. It features the smiling face of Charlie Sheen above the word WINNING and this quote: I have decided just to win inside of every momentand the score is like a bazillion to zero.

There were times last year when a lead like that might not have felt safe with the Cubs bullpen. But its not just the young Texans like Cashner and Russell who are almost in awe of Wood.

John Grabow is about 17 months younger than Wood. And Grabow will make more than three times the amount Wood will this season. Even Grabow cant wait to listen to Wood talk down in the bullpen.
Kerry Wood talks with teammates in the dugout during a spring training game. Many Cubs veterans and youngsters are happy to have Wood back citing his ability to help build team chemistry. (US PRESSWIRE)
Im looking forward to picking his brain (and) just watching him get after it, Grabow said.

Pena, who is bilingual, connects with everyone and does not hesitate to speak up when he sees a different way to do things. Hes quick to walk over to the mound when a pitchers in a jam. The Gold Glove first baseman has been eager to help Tyler Colvin as he learns a new position.

Great guy, Colvin said of Pena. He has a wonderful personality. He goes out here and you can tell he has fun.

The day after Pena tried to settle Cashner down during his rain-shortened start, the pitcher pulls a chair next to Penas locker and the two have a long conversation.

At a table in the middle of the clubhouse, Colvin and Darwin Barney who once talked about what it would be like when they made it to the big leagues together are playing cards.

Dempster is trying to prepare for his start against the Dodgers that afternoon in Glendale.

We try to pick each other up, Dempster said. We try to push each other. When I went down to the cage to go hit (Tuesday) morning I got kicked out because there was like 20 hitters down there. Thats a really cool thing.

Has that happened in the past?

Not that I can remember, Dempster said. Its becoming a really tight group.

Thats easy to say now, when theres no pressure and no ones really keeping score. It may not matter all that much. But you can see Carlos Zambrano joking with manager Mike Quade and his teammates. You notice that Aramis Ramirez has a smile on his face. You wonder where Garza went, because he always seems to be on the move.

How long will it last? Dempster knows that winning is the only way to keep it fun for everyone.

PatrickMooney is's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

In Game 1, Jon Lester doesn't quite live up to his World Series reputation: 'We got a long ways to go'

CLEVELAND – While the Cubs came into this World Series as the heavy favorites, the team with the global following and baseball’s best roster on paper, Jon Lester understood the challenge ahead. The Cleveland Indians would counter with their own Game 1 ace, a dynamic reliever changing the way we think about bullpens and a future Hall of Fame manager.

That’s how it played out in a 6-0 game that felt a lot closer, Corey Kluber pitching like a Cy Young Award winner, Andrew Miller handling the seventh and eighth innings and Terry Francona improving his record to 9-0 in World Series games.     

Welcome to “Believeland,” where the Fourth Street bars on Tuesday were buzzing more than seven hours before first pitch. That night, LeBron James and the Cavaliers would get their championship rings and watch the banner-raising ceremony at Quicken Loans Arena, just up the street from Progressive Field.

By the first inning – when pitching coach Chris Bosio had to walk out to the mound to talk to Lester – the red video ribbons lining the stadium said: “CLEVELAND AGAINST THE WORLD.” With the bases loaded, Lester had just drilled Brandon Guyer with a pitch, forcing in a second run, a sequence set in motion by walks to Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez’s soft infield single up the third-base line.

It didn’t matter that Lester would eventually settle down and pretty much control this Cleveland lineup. (Except for that rocket Roberto Perez launched off the left-field railing for a solo homer and a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.) Or that the Indians didn’t run all over the bases, with Francisco Lindor going 1-for-2 in stolen bases. (“Whatever, it’s happened all year," Lester said.)

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This is Cleveland’s blueprint for October, maybe its only chance to win its first World Series since 1948.

“It’s always important (to get a lead), no matter what time of year it is,” Lester said. “It makes a manager’s job a lot easier. It makes your job a lot easier. When you give a guy like Kluber – who’s locked in from pitch one – two runs in the first, it makes his job a lot easier. I know the feeling on the other side. You’re just able to attack differently.

“With the bullpens and all that stuff that they’re setting up nowadays, all you got to do is get through six.”

Lester kept it a 3-0 game, but didn’t finish the sixth inning, a rare October night where he didn’t seem to be automatic. Until Tuesday night, he had gone 3-0 in three World Series starts, allowing only one earned run in 21 innings.

Lester won his two World Series rings with the Boston Red Sox, overlapping with Francona and Miller at different points. This is why the Cubs gave Lester a $155 million contract, to set the tone on the mound and within the clubhouse.

Near the end of a 103-win regular season – and even after winning the franchise’s first pennant in 71 years – Lester has offered colorful versions of: We haven’t done anything yet.

But Lester – the National League Championship Series co-MVP after putting up a 1.38 ERA against the Los Angeles Dodgers and watching the Cubs win both of those starts – also doesn’t do overreactions to losses.

“We got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “If we win tomorrow, we’re right back in it. Just like LA – everybody counted us out after Game 3. They said we were the worst best team in baseball. We’re here. We’re not giving up.

“I know my guys. I know my team. And I know that nobody in this clubhouse is giving anything up.”

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

Andrew Miller's outstanding postseason continues with escape to beat Cubs

CLEVELAND — Andrew Miller added another impressive chapter to an already legendary postseason performance on Tuesday night.

The Cleveland Indians reliever pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the seventh inning to preserve a three-run lead and help his team achieve a 6-0 victory over the Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series in front of 38,091 at Progressive Field.

Despite putting four men on base, Miller added two more scoreless innings to his 2016 playoff résumé. Miller also struck out more three batters, giving him 24 in 13 2/3 innings this postseason, the second most by any reliever in playoff history. Critical to the effort was the strikeout of Cubs veteran David Ross with a checked swing on a 3-2 slider to strand the bases loaded in the seventh.

“You’re just trying to see the ball as long as you can and stay up the middle,” Ross said. “The 3-1, that’s the one that kinda messed me up. It didn’t break as much, so now you’re like ‘OK, let’s protect and just battle.’ ... Looking back at it, I wish I just stood there and not swung at all. If I could rewind. If it were that easy. I wish it was. And then he’d throw one right down the middle and America hates me.”

Ross has had his share of success against Miller before, though it all came when the left-hander was still a struggling starting pitcher. The veteran catcher is 3-for-5 with a walk against Miller in his career. But that wasn’t the reason Cubs manager Joe Maddon opted to stay with Ross instead of pinch hit for him with either Jorge Soler or Albert Almora Jr. with two outs in the seventh inning and Miller struggling for the first time all postseason.

With a man on and nobody out, Miller took over for Corey Kluber and walked Kyle Schwarber — only Miller’s third free pass of the postseason. Javy Baez followed with a single to load the bases.

But Miller rebounded quickly and retired Willson Contreras on a fly out to shallow center before he struck out Addison Russell. Based on his experience, Maddon thought Ross was the right man for the spot.

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“I thought David could hit him or David would accept his walk more than the other guys,” Maddon said. “David works good at-bats in that moment. So I felt good about him, actually. I felt better about him.

“I think with Soler coming off the bench or Albert they had less of a chance than David because I thought there was a two-fold opportunity to either get the hit or draw the walk.”

Ross worked the count to his favor quickly as he took a fastball for a ball, and after swinging and missing a slider, took two more balls to get ahead 3-1. But Miller dropped a slider in for a called strike and then turned to it once again, getting Ross to commit just enough for the third strike. The strikeout improved the Indians’ chances of winning by 26.5 percent, up to 94.7, according to

“I was trying to throw a really good one because if he hits it, it goes a long way,” Miller said. “That’s David Ross. I think even he would say, you can pitch to him, but if you throw something in his wheelhouse it’s going to go a long way and do some damage. Fortunate that it worked out. I threw a good one that was in a spot that he went after in the situation.”

Miller struggled again in the eighth inning as he walked Kris Bryant and allowed a Ben Zobrist single with two outs. But Miller — who allowed two hits and two walks for the first time all season in 77 appearances — struck out Kyle Schwarber to strand the pair.

The Indians’ key acquisition before the July 31 trade deadline threw 46 pitches, the most he’s thrown in a game since Sept. 8, 2011, when he was still a starter.

Indians manager Terry Francona wouldn’t commit to whether or not he’d use Miller in Game 2 on Wednesday. Francona cited how Miller bounced back after throwing 40 pitches in a Game 1 victory over Boston in the American League Division Series and would have been ready if needed. But any number of factors could keep Miller from pitching, and Francona is happy to have a 1-0 series lead in his pocket.

“I don’t know,” Francona said. “He was ready to come back and pitch the next night. I just think there’s a lot that can happen.

“But we won tonight. I think when you have a lead, you try to win.”