Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

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Cubs welcome Deshaies to TV booth

Not two minutes after stepping in front of the microphone, where hell replace Bob Brenly next season as the Cubs television color commentator, Jim Deshaies started to tell a story.

It was about the last start of his major-league pitching career, which took place at Wrigley Field in July of 1995. The summer was particularly hot, and he remembered being able to see the heat radiating off the towers at the Hyatt on Wacker, where his team, the Phillies, were staying. He knew his playing days were numbered I was on life support pretty close to flat-lining and with the wind blowing out and the temperature something like 105 degrees, the fly-ball pitcher was worried.

My career is going to end today, Deshaies thought. I knew it.

The room laughed. Deshaies joked that at least he acted as a good scout in predicting his own downfall. More laughs.

The Cubs officially introduced Deshaies on Wednesday as their new TV analyst with a press conference at Wrigley Field during which Deshaies featured the quick wit and honesty that prompted the Cubs to pull him away from the Houston Astros, where he left a 16-year partnership with play-by-play man Bill Brown that had been regarded as one of the best in baseball.

To a certain extent, I feel like Im breaking up the band there, said Deshaies, a former left-handed pitcher who went 84-95 with a 4.14 ERA in 12 seasons, seven with Houston.

But he was drawn to a city where baseball is relevant regardless of the year the team is having. The Astro guy had a hard time leaving Houston, but the baseball guy says this is the place to be.

Deshaies said Houstons upcoming move to the American League didnt affect his decision to leave. But the Astros havent had a winning season since 2008 and lost 106 games last year, five more than the Cubs.

Deshaies, 52, signed a four-year contract that will pair him with Len Kasper for Cubs games broadcast on WGN, Comcast SportsNet and WCIU. Other reported candidates were former Cubs Eric Karros, Dan Plesac and Rick Sutcliffe, but for a second straight time, the Cubs hired someone with no connection to the organization.

Deshaies quickly showed he gets the significance of the booth hell step into, which has been filled by Jack Brickhouse and Harry Caray.

Im not going to pronounce any names backward, he joked.

Kaspers former partner, Brenly, left the Cubs after eight seasons for the same job in Arizona, where he won the 2001 World Series as the Diamondbacks manager.

Kasper and Brenly had also developed into a popular pair, but Deshaies personality seems to complement the usually straight-laced Kasper. While talking about his new partner, Kasper said that Deshaies humor will come in handy. Kasper didnt say this, but that might be most true next season as the Cubs continue to re-shape a team that lost 101 games in 2012.

You have to tell the truth and you have to have fun, said Deshaies, who wore a black blazer over a white shirt and a purple polka dot tie.

More of his self-assessment:

-- He said he points out players mistakes but is reluctant to bury guys because he thinks baseball is a difficult game and there is always context for any situation, which he learned when he once criticized an opposing player for not running hard to first base only to be told by one of the teams broadcasters that the player had a hamstring injury.

-- He prefers saying I dont know instead of bluffing and being wrong.

-- Hes a believer in sabermetrics, the statistics-based computer analysis that has swept over the game in recent years, but he understands that not all listeners want to hear about them all the time.

-- He likes to feel out players individually to get a sense of what theyre willing to share, and he makes it a point to be available to players before games in case they want to talk about a certain play he commented on.

Deshaies family wife Lori and daughters Libby, Molly and Kelly will move to Chicago after Kelly, the youngest, graduates high school next year. Libby is a second-year law student at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and Molly is a teacher.

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

After locking up homefield advantage, Cubs flummoxed by Cardinals in blowout loss

At the end of the day, a loss means essentially nothing for the Cubs right now.

But the Cubs also certainly don't want to hand games to their division rival as the St. Louis Cardinals make a run at the National League wild card spots.

After the Cubs clinched homefield advantage throughout the NL playoffs with the Washington Nationals' loss Friday night, they had no answer for the Cardinals in a 10-4 loss in front of 40,785 fans at Wrigley Field Saturday afternoon on national TV.

A few disturbing trends popped their heads above ground for the Cubs, including the offense's struggles at manufacturing runs, Jason Hammel getting shelled and some bullpen woes.

The Cubs had no trouble putting runners on base against Cardinals phenom Alex Reyes, but they had a tough time plating those guys, cashing in only once with a runner on third base in six tries over the first four innings.

In two of those spots, a Cubs hitter came up with only one out, but failed to bring the run home as Addison Russell struck out in the first inning and Kris Bryant popped out to shallow left in the second.

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Hammel recorded only seven outs and was tagged for six runs on six hits and a walk, watching his season ERA rise nearly 30 points to 3.83. The veteran right-hander fell to 15-10 as he attempts to make a push for one of the Cubs' final postseason roster spots.

Setup man Hector Rondon struggled in his appearance, needing 26 pitches to notch just one out, giving up three runs on three hits and a walk before handing the ball off to Felix Pena.

Of course, it's also just one game and one loss for a team with 98 victories and hopes of the World Series.

Rondon had been nearly unhittable since returning from the disabled list two weeks ago and the Cubs offense had been efficient and relentless in the past four games after Joe Maddon's meeting with the hitters earlier in the week.

Maddon also used the blowout to get regulars like Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Jason Heyward and Russell out of the lineup to help keep them fresh for October.

The Cubs will close out their season series with the Cardinals on another nationally-televised showdown Sunday night between Jon Lester and St. Louis ace Carlos Martinez.

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Cubs: Miguel Montero plays 'psychologist' to get the most out of Jake Arrieta

Lost amid the craziness of Friday's game and David Ross' emotional sendoff was Miguel Montero locking up a spot on the Cubs' postseason roster.

It's not official, of course. 

The Cubs don't have to get their National League Division Series 25-man roster until the morning of Oct. 7, Game 1.

But Montero proved his value to the Cubs, even in an 0-for-3 effort offensively.

The veteran catcher has struggled to find consistency at the plate this season, but his work behind the plate has proven invaluable, especially with reigning NL Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta.

Montero helped get Arrieta in rhythm Friday for a dominant performance - 10 strikeouts across seven shutout innings.

It was the first time the two had worked together in a battery since Aug. 12, with Willson Contreras catching Arrieta five times and Ross behind the dish once in that span.

"Quite frankly, I'm not gonna lie - I wanted to see that," Cubs manager Joe Maddon admitted after Friday's game. "Miggy did a great job with him. They were outstanding together."

The proof is in the numbers, too.

With Contreras over those five starts, Arrieta has posted a 4.50 ERA and 1.16 WHIP, averaging 6.4 innings per outing.

In the last six starts with Montero behind the plate, Arrieta has a 1.99 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and is averaging 6.78 innings per outing.

Of course, Montero was also Arrieta's primary catcher for the pitcher's other-worldly run to close out last season.

Maddon believes there's a comfort level there between the two and with the Cubs essentially just biding time until the postseason, now was the time to make a change and see how they worked together again instead of worrying about getting Contreras more experience.

If Arrieta can find consistency pitching at that level, it absolutely gives the Cubs a new look alongside 2016 Cy Young contenders Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.

"We work well together," Arrieta said. "I work well with Willson and with Rossy, but Miggy and I have worked together for quite a bit of time now throughout the last couple years. He knows the way my stuff works. 

"He has little nuances, little mannerisms that he makes behind the plate that can help me get back on track from time to time and it's nice to have a guy like that who can really pick things out visually and relay a message to me by something small that helps me get back in line."

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Montero admitted he wasn't even focusing on his at-bats throughout Friday's game, instead putting his full attention on getting Arrieta back on track.

It may only be one outing, but it worked, and Montero deserves credit for getting Arrieta to settle down, stop trying to be too perfect and just unleash his ace stuff.

"We have to be a psychologist. That's our job as a catcher," Montero said. "People don't realize that. People think the catcher needs to throw and hit. No, we need to be a psychologist.

"We need to know who we got out on the mound, how to talk to him, how to go about the business, how to explain to him how to do things. I like psychology a lot and he's one of the guys who you need to push him a little bit harder, and that's me.

"I'm gonna push a guy to the limits, 'cause I know I can get a lot more from him. I know who I can get a lot more from."

Maddon didn't tip his hand about who will pair up with Arrieta next start, but the Cubs don't have to make that decision right now. 

However, with a veteran catcher like Montero around who knows how to call a game and has been heralded as one of the best pitch-framers in baseball during his prime, it'd be hard to leave him off the postseason roster.

In October, the Cubs will place a premium on guys who have been there before and can work in rhythm with a veteran-laden pitching staff and in those areas, Montero has a leg up on rookie Contreras.

Montero handled his reduction in playing time gracefully when Contreras was promoted to the big leagues over the summer, but now, the 33-year-old looks to be reemerging for the Cubs as the "big boy" games loom.

"I don't know if I'm gonna catch [Arrieta] again, but I hope he keeps that momentum going, which I think is a good confidence-builder right there," Montero said. "... My main goal [Friday] was just Jake and just to get him out there and get him to throw a good game and build his confidence again.

"I went 0-for-3, but I don't care. I accomplished my goal - which was to get him to throw a good game and he did."