Cubs trying to tap into that Rays magic again

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Cubs trying to tap into that Rays magic again

MESA, Ariz. The Cubs have a pitcher whos been tested in October and went to the World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays. They have to figure out what to do with him now. His name is not Matt Garza.

Andy Sonnanstine emerged as a key piece on that 2008 miracle team, which captured the American League pennant one year after losing 96 games. The Rays didnt care how much money the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox spent. They still found a way.

Theo Epsteins first offseason as Cubs baseball czar resembled the Rays more than any of the big-market splashes he used to make with the Red Sox. There were value signings hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, like this one-year deal.

Sonnanstine even mentioned how he was looking forward to a change of scenery, the buzzwords the front office used in trading for Ian Stewart from the Colorado Rockies.

Sonnanstine won 10 games before the All-Star break in 2008 and crossed the 200-inning mark during the playoffs. He won nine games combined for the Rays the next three seasons.

There was a combination of the scouting report getting out there, people getting a little more familiar, Sonnanstine said. In 2008, there were a lot of teams that had never seen me before and I was switching arm angles, changing tempos and first go-round it worked great. I won five games quicker than anybody else in that organizations history.

I think the hitters made a great adjustment to me the next year and I didnt make as good of an adjustment to counteract that. I still think Im the same guy. Im confident in my ability and I think coming to the National League should kind of help me. (People here) havent really seen me. I can use that to my advantage and exploit some weaknesses.

But Sonnanstine, who will turn 29 in two weeks, couldnt have been all gimmicks. The right-hander was Tampa Bays minor-league pitcher of the year in 2006. He finished the 2008 regular season with a 124 strikeouts against 37 walks and survived in that brutal division.

The Cubs tried to tap into that Rays magic last winter, when former general manager Jim Hendry signed Carlos Pena to a pillow contract and pulled off a blockbuster deal for Garza. They got what they expected from Pena and Garza, but it wasnt enough to save jobs.

Sonnanstine called Pena who liked to write Conquer the now! inspirational messages on the dry-erase board in the clubhouse and went back to Tampa on a one-year deal one of my favorite characters Ive ever met through baseball. The positivity that guy oozes is awesome.

Sonnanstine wondered if Garza still brings in Popeyes fried chicken on the days he pitches. (Yes.)

That, to me, is a great idea, Sonnanstine said. It gives your position guys, your whole team, something to look forward to the day that you need work. So thats an incredibly intelligent chess move.

Sonnanstine faces long odds to make the rotation here, but in 2010 he went 3-1 with a 4.44 ERA in 81 innings, either as a reliever or a spot starter, and the Cubs could use someone like that. His dry sense of humor also wouldnt hurt inside Wrigley Fields cramped clubhouse.

Surely, Epstein remembers that Sonnanstine won Game 4 of the 2008 ALCS at Fenway Park, which helped set the stage for Garza to collect his MVP award. Here Garza has ignored the expectations, looked at this Cubs team and referenced the Rays, saying Why not?

Youd be amazed how many games you can win just with the positive mindset, Sonnanstine said. It (would be) awesome, man, getting back to that World Series. Of course, right now, Im sitting on a 1.000 batting average in the World Series.

Sonnanstine laughed about his 1-for-1 night against the Philadelphia Phillies: But I would gladly take another at-bat in the World Series.

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Nationals today on CSN

Preview: Cubs wrap up series with Nationals today on CSN

The Cubs take on the Washington Nationals today, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 2:30 p.m. Then catch first pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester (5-4, 3.83 ERA) vs. Joe Ross (4-3, 5.40 ERA)

Click here for more stats to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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— Latest on the Cubs: All of the most recent news and notes.

Jake Arrieta doesn’t see fractures forming in Cubs clubhouse

Jake Arrieta doesn’t see fractures forming in Cubs clubhouse

WASHINGTON – An erratic, distracted, disconnected Cubs team got a pregame Moment of Zen at Donald Trump’s White House on Wednesday afternoon, a smaller group of players, staffers and executives going back to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the second time in less than six months to celebrate their World Series championship.    

The Cubs showed up at Nationals Park and of course had new Joe Maddon T-shirts folded all over the chairs in the visiting clubhouse: “Embrace the Suck” superimposed on the Captain America shield. Miguel Montero’s locker was completely empty after injecting some truth serum into the group media sessions where the Cubs almost always insist that everything is fine and will be all right in the end.

But the Cubs are at an awkward, sensitive point here, 39-39 after an 8-4 loss to a first-place Washington team that saw reigning National League MVP Kris Bryant leave the game with a sprained right ankle and veteran pitcher John Lackey give up all eight runs as his ERA ballooned to 5.24.

Paying $7 million to make Montero go away won’t magically solve the problems. Even the guy who Montero targeted late Tuesday night after the Nationals stole seven bases didn’t really have a problem with the message or the messenger. 

“I’m sad to see him go,” Jake Arrieta said. “I love Miggy. As you guys know, he’ll say some things from the heart, the way he feels. He’s open and honest. That’s the way Miggy is. He regretted what he said. He felt bad about it. I told him that I’m not upset or mad at him. I didn’t even really see the comments, and I don’t care what they were. 

“I know what it was about – and there was a lot of honesty there. I didn’t do him any favors. I was slow to the plate and (Trea) Turner’s one of the fastest guys in baseball, so it just makes it look worse than it was. It’s unfortunate it had to happen that way, but it is what it is.”

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Arrieta took his teammates along for the ride when he transformed into a Cy Young Award winner in 2015. Montero had trouble hiding his frustrations with Maddon and diminished playing time, not exactly pumped about the idea of wearing a onesie on an overnight flight from the West Coast. Montero wound up catching Arrieta’s no-hitter that unforgettable night at Dodger Stadium.    

The clubhouse vibes now aren’t necessarily awful – to use a Maddon term to downplay the injuries that have decimated the roster – but something is clearly off here.  

“It’s been slightly different, honestly, just because we’ve been up and down so frequently this season,” Arrieta said. “As soon as we get on a roll, we kind of hit the skid. We win two, lose two, win one, lose one. It’s just been this back and forth sort of rollercoaster that we’ve been dealing with. 

“As far as the guys in here, everybody gets along great. We got good relationships. Sometimes, there can be a lull in the dugout from time to time. That’s just kind of the nature of the back and forth that we’ve had, ups and downs. 

“But we’re all on the same page. We know that we need to tighten some things up. And it’s not just in one area. We’ve pitched well at times. We’ve swung the bats well at times. 

“Obviously, last season we were able to kind of collectively do all of that at the same time. That’s what we’re searching for. We’re trying to find that consistency on both sides of the ball.” 

The ironic part is that Montero clung to the idea of being Arrieta’s personal catcher last season, hoping that connection would prevent him from getting bumped off the playoff roster, and now it got him designated for assignment.        

“I don’t think either way it would have fractured the clubhouse,” Arrieta said. “There are certain things that are handled behind closed doors, but Miggy wears his heart on his sleeve. That’s one of the main reasons we all liked him. But we’re going to move forward from this and embrace the guys that are here.”