Cubs will have to pay the price for pitching

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Cubs will have to pay the price for pitching

Scott Baker missed the entire 2012 season and wont throw from a mound again until the middle of December at the earliest. He couldnt even showcase himself with a bullpen session.

The Cubs still acted fast on Tuesday, guaranteeing Baker 5.5 million with a one-year deal that contains incentives that could yield an extra 1.5 million. That speaks to his reputation with the Minnesota Twins (63-48, 4.15 ERA) before a right elbow injury, the advancements in Tommy John surgery and the rising cost of pitching across an industry juiced by television money.

Baker was too polite to name names or get into other contract offers left on the table. The Cubs are simply going to have to pay this price.

There was definitely some serious interest from some other ballclubs, Baker said. We all know pitching is at a premium and I think youre going to see its going to be a very active offseason for a lot of teams. Im just excited to be here. I think this is an unbelievable opportunity for me and my family.

The Cubs are hoping for more good news after Matt Garza undergoes another scan on his right elbow this week to see how the stress reaction is healing. They still need to sign at least one more starter they can plug into their Opening Day rotation alongside Garza, Baker, Jeff Samardzija and Travis Wood.

Whos on deck for another Wrigley Field news conference? It appears Theo Epsteins front office could go bigger with their next move.

Were pursuing pitchers across the spectrum, Epstein said, some guys who would be classified as buy-low, others that might even be buy-high guys, or hopefully buy-high and stay there. Some one-year deals, some multi-year deals, some trades were looking for pitchers who can step in and improve our rotation.

If there are sound investments out there, whether theyre big or small, well pursue them and try to sign them.

Medical concerns recently helped convince the Cubs to pull the plug on the Carlos Marmol-for-Dan Haren trade with the Los Angeles Angels. The reality is they will likely wind up with another flawed pitcher with upside potential, whether its a Brandon McCarthy, a Shaun Marcum or a Francisco Liriano.

Obviously, youd love to sign pitchers who are 100 percent healthy and have never been hurt, but those animals dont really exist, Epstein said. The medical assessment on every pitcher is important, and if you have to sign a pitcher whos coming off surgery, Tommy John is the one you want, (because) its a very predictable rehab with a very strong success rate upwards of 95 percent.

Baker grew up in Shreveport, La., and went to Oklahoma State University, where he overlapped during the 2001 season with future Boston Red Sox pitching coach (and current manager) John Farrell, at the time an assistant coachpitching and recruiting coordinator for the Cowboys.

The Los Angeles Dodgers just bid 25.7 million for the right to negotiate with South Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin. Zack Greinke and Anibal Sanchez could wind up with nine-figure deals. By the time teams start throwing money around at next months winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., this could seem even more reasonable.

The reality is its not exactly a buyers market for pitching out there right now, so you have to take your risks, Epstein said. Do you want to take a risk on the guy with bad makeup? Do you want to take a risk on the guy with bad command? Or do you want to take a risk on a guy you really believe in whos coming off Tommy John at an appropriate value point? Were very comfortable placing our bet on Scott Baker.

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Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”