Cubs prepared to make last stand at Wrigley

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Cubs prepared to make last stand at Wrigley

Monday, Sept. 20, 2010
8:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

In six days Wrigley Field will go dark until April 1, 2011. The front office has approximately 117 more innings left in this season to help it decide which pieces should be kept for the next Opening Day.

The San Francisco Giants will wake up Tuesday morning in first place in the National League West, though less than two games separate them from the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies within the division.

That will give some meaning to a three-game series that begins Tuesday night in a city that has moved on to the 2-0 Bears. The years final homestand ends with the St. Louis Cardinals, who could be mathematically eliminated by the weekend.

The goal is to again become playoff contenders, and general manager Jim Hendry has said that the Cubs are only a few moves away, though at this point its unclear what they will be or how much money he will have to spend.

The stronger you finish this year, the more positive things (can happen) next year, Ryan Dempster said. Thats why I think its important to go through the finish line and not to it, because a lot of good comes out of it.

Lets say you were one of the 41,306 fans walking out of the ballpark on April 12 and someone stopped you on Clark Street to tell you all this. After the 2010 home opener, would you take it?

Carlos Zambrano hasnt lost a game since June 25. Dempster is closing in on a 15-win season. Ted Lilly is nearing 30 starts and almost 200 innings with his surgically-repaired left shoulder.

Carlos Marmol has more strikeouts by far than any other reliever in baseball and could finish with close to 40 saves in his first full season as closer. Sean Marshall has developed into one of the best set-up men in baseball.

Alfonso Soriano hasnt spent any time on the disabled list this year. Marlon Byrd is an All-Star. Geovany Soto can put his offensive numbers up against any other catcher. Starlin Castro and Tyler Colvin have been in the Rookie of the Year conversation.

That of course isnt a complete view of the big picture. With all that has gone right, the Cubs (68-81) wont spend a single moment above .500 all season.

No one knows if that masks deeper flaws on this roster what if theres a drop-off in any of those areas next year? or maybe you can write-off Aramis Ramirez still hitting under .200 in July as a freak occurrence and bank on some of the 16 other rookies the Cubs used this season to show significant growth in 2011.

(Lets) just keep riding it out, Jeff Samardzija said. Trust me its better to end a season on a positive note than a negative note.

Soto and Colvin spent Mondays day off in separate hospitals roughly 1,300 miles apart. Soto underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder in Chicago and is expected to be at full health by New Years Day. Colvin will remain in Miami for further observation after a broken maple bat punctured his chest cavity the day before.

That Colvin became such an integral part of this unpredictable season even though its now over for him will go down as one of its biggest surprises.

Pieces from teams that won two division titles were sold off to the Los Angeles Dodgers (Lilly, Ryan Theriot) and Atlanta Braves (Derrek Lee). Mike Fontenot will be back at Wrigley Field this week in a San Francisco uniform.

If you bought tickets months in advance hoping to see a team fighting for a playoff spot, then the Giants are as good as its going to get. And what might have been a farewell tour for Lou Piniella will instead be a homecoming for Mike Quade.

The Cubs are 17-7 since Quade took over for Piniella and that represents the best start by a Cubs manager in 78 years, since Charlie Grimm in 1932. They just finished an 8-1 road trip, something that had never happened before in club history.

You mean that dude in 32 didnt do that? Quade joked when relayed the stat.

Its hard to ignore the results, and just as difficult to make evaluations once the pressures off and the rosters expand in September.

But the pitching staff did post a 1.46 ERA on the nine-game trip. The veterans still seem very much engaged, and the young players have responded to a new voice. Taken together, that cant hurt Quades candidacy, though he wont say so publicly.

I got Oct. 3 on my mind to do the best job that we can do for the next two weeks, Quade said. Its foolish for me to go any further than that.

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

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

Kyle Schwarber has rocky start to Triple-A stint

The Cubs gave Kyle Schwarber time to sort things out by sending him down to Triple-A Iowa, and Schwarber's first game back in the minors shows he may need some time.

Schwarber's first game with the Iowa Cubs was a forgettable one. He struck out in his first three plate appearances before singling in his last at-bat. He struck out looking in the first inning before striking out swinging his next two times up.

Schwarber batted third in the lineup and played left field. Iowa won 1-0 against the New Orleans Baby Cakes.

He last played for Iowa in 2015, but only spent 17 games there. He hit .333 with three homers and a 1.036 OPS in that short stint. Before getting sent down Schwarber was hitting .171 with the Cubs with 12 home runs, but also 75 strikeouts in 64 games.

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

Cubs show why they are defending champs while Nationals still have something to prove

WASHINGTON – The Cubs already visited the White House. The Washington Nationals are still the team with so much more to prove.

Dusty Baker needs this October to cement his spot in Cooperstown, the way Joe Maddon put the final bullet point on his Hall of Fame resume. Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant took different routes out of Las Vegas, but only one has the World Series ring to go with the Rookie of the Year/MVP hardware. While the clock is ticking on Max Scherzer and that championship parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, the Jon Lester megadeal essentially paid for itself.

Cubs vs. Nationals is supposed to be a circle-your-calendar event. Except the Cubs rolled out a Cactus League lineup on Monday night and Nationals Park featured rows and rows of empty seats amid a crowd of 29,651 where the celebrity vibe became more George Will than A-Rod and J-Lo.

The Cubs still hung on for a 5-4 victory that might have been their best under-the-circumstances win in a season that will hit the halfway point this weekend, showing why they’re the defending champs.

“It is exciting – don’t get me wrong,” Maddon said. “It’s just that we’re attending with a different group than we thought we would be attending this party with.

“And that’s OK, because these guys now are getting the kind of experience that is going to be very beneficial to us in August and September.”

A rash of injuries forced the Cubs to start Jeimer Candelario at third base and Mark Zagunis in right field and Javier Baez kept making highlight-reel plays while Addison Russell rested his sore right shoulder, leaping to grab to a Harper line drive and racing across the left-field line and sliding into the wall to make another spectacular catch in foul territory.

“Games like this is what we need right now – competition,” said Baez, who struck out in his first three at-bats and finished at 2-for-5. “Playing tight games like this will make us make adjustments better and be more in the game.”

With Kyle Schwarber more than 1,000 miles away in Des Moines and hitting the reset button at Triple-A Iowa, Willson Contreras became the leadoff hitter of the day and launched Gio Gonzalez’s fifth pitch of the game into the left-field seats.

The young Cubs manufactured their next run in the eighth inning when Baez stole third base and scored on Albert Almora Jr.’s perfectly placed bunt into the no man’s land between the pitcher’s mound and the first-base line. The bullpen is Washington’s Achilles’ heel and showed with a three-run meltdown in the ninth inning.

Eddie Butler – who began the season in the Iowa rotation – neutralized a powerful Washington lineup while getting just one strikeout in five innings. Maddon pushed a lot of bullpen buttons, not going to Wade Davis for a four-out save and then summoning the All-Star closer when Hector Rondon couldn’t work with a five-run cushion.

In a dramatic finish, Davis survived giving up three hits, a walk and a wild pitch, striking out Ryan Zimmerman with a curveball to end a game that lasted 3 hours and 54 minutes.

“To play so well and not win that game would have really been awful,” Maddon said.

The Cubs needed this with Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg looming the next two nights. But for all of their talent and regular-season dominance – three division titles since 2012 and close to a 100-win pace this year – the Nationals still haven’t won a playoff series in a city where the Senators once won it all in 1924.

This could be an epic matchup in October, bursting with stars and pumping with bad blood. Just listen to Baker during his pregame media briefing, responding to a question about a power hitter like Anthony Rizzo batting leadoff: “I ain’t worried about the Cubs. They can do their thing.”

Or Baker dismissing Maddon’s mind games and the possibility of intentionally walking Harper when Zimmerman is a Triple Crown contender: “It’s a new time and a new day.”

The last word from Maddon, who keeps insisting the 39-37 Cubs have a hot streak in them and that he digs the youth movement: “If this was a spring training lineup, we might get a call.”