With cuts coming, it's decision time for Cubs

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With cuts coming, it's decision time for Cubs

Monday, March 21, 2011
Posted 6:42 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

TEMPE, Ariz. Mike Quade doesnt act like the smartest guy in the room, and he genuinely enjoys the give and take within every argument. But the Cubs manager might not get everything he wants.

Behind closed doors on Tuesday morning, Quade will meet with general manager Jim Hendry, assistant general manager Randy Bush, pitching coach Mark Riggins and bench coach Pat Listach.

Together they will break down the entire roster, identifying who still has a chance to make the team and who doesnt. They will analyze the depth at each position and rank players. They will assess the entire pitching staff and make contingency plans, in case someone gets injured.

You try to look at every angle, every possibility, Quade said. The picture (should) be a lot clearer (by) Wednesday after weve had a chance to digest this and figure out what were doing.

When the decision-makers walk out of that meeting, they will be some 240 hours away from Opening Day. This is what they will be talking about.

Blake DeWitt

Cubs staffers rave about DeWitts work ethic. On a recent morning at HoHoKam Park, DeWitt was the only player on the field, taking grounders from coach Ivan DeJesus and throwing to Listach at first base.

The 25-year-old DeWitt is a former first-round pick and a left-handed bat, but sources confirm that hes not yet out of minor-league options. Hes hitting .163 this spring, while utility infielders Jeff Baker (.395) and Darwin Barney (.371) make claims on the second-base job.

DeWitt is not a naturally gifted defender and needs to work on his double-play pivot, especially after spending so much time playing third base with the Dodgers. Quade was asked if DeWitt still has a spot on the roster.

Right now he does, Quade said, but theres some guys pushing him, and we aint left yet, so well see.

Reed Johnson

The fifth outfielder looks like it will be Johnson, who becomes a free agent if he doesnt make the club but will likely force the Cubs to make a change to their 40-man roster.

The 34-year-old is hitting only .206, but hes remembered as a key contributor to the 97-win team in 2008 and a solid veteran presence.

Fernando Perez, who turns 28 next month, might be the fastest guy in camp. But he has struggled at the plate (.161) and committed two errors in the outfield, showing that the rest of his game may need to catch up to his speed.

Im still learning about Fernando, Quade said. Thats a much tougher feel for me than Reed. I think we have a real feel for who he is, no matter what takes place.

Welington Castillo

A month away from his 24th birthday, Castillo is hitting .706 and has displayed what Quade calls a game-changing arm. But the Cubs view Geovany Soto as a foundation piece, so the young catcher can either sit the bench at Wrigley Field or play every day at Triple-A Iowa.

Koyie Hill has gone 1-for-27 (.037) so far, but is well-respected for how he handles the pitchers and what he does behind the scenes. The Cubs place a high value on his experience.

With Castillos bright future in mind, Quade has a good feel for what should be done.

Wow, hes a talented kid, Quade said. Hell continue to mature and if he can handle the mental part of the game, I think weve all watched some pretty darn good physical tools.
Bullpen

This meeting will take place the day before Carlos Silva is scheduled to throw again, and the Cubs will have to figure out how to salvage a pitcher guaranteed 13.5 million. Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner appear to be the fourth and fifth starters.

Braden Looper and Todd Wellemeyer are non-roster players with long resumes that could get consideration as the long man. James Russell, who was being stretched out, threw about 10 pitches on Monday in a minor-league game, which shows he could again be part of the Cubs bullpen.

Whatever the group decides, Quade will have to make the pieces fit.

Quade has been fired from other organizations for speaking his mind. But he enjoys a close relationship with the front office, and helped them out by pushing young players late last season. This is, after all, Hendrys hand-picked manager. They share a similar enough philosophy.

I expect the facts to win out in all these situations, Quade said. I have no doubt that people will enlighten me (about) contractual issues (and) options. All I can do is take a look at what Ive seen (here in Arizona and) in the past.

I (dont) have to (decide everything). Im not an ego guy. I want to do the right thing. I understand theres a lot more than just my opinion involved here.

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

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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.”