Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

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Dempster, Cubs defeat Diamondbacks

It wasnt all Ryan Dempster that helped the Cubs to a 4-1 victory over Arizona on Saturday. Throwing six shutout innings sure helped. But so did some rare two-out clutch hitting, strong defense, and steady nerves.
Dempster (5-3) extended his shutout streak to 33 innings as the Cubs clinched a series victory with their second straight win over the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field. Luis Valbuena had two hits, an RBI and scored a run to lead the offense.
The Cubs extended their season-high home winning streak to five games, moving above the .500 mark at Wrigley for the first time since they were 6-5 on April 23.
Dempster, the constant subject of swirling trade talks, worked six innings, allowing four hits and three walks with five strikeouts in his second start since returning from a disabled-list stint. His scoreless inning pitched streak is the longest for a Cubs starter since Ken Holtzman also went 33 innings in 1969.
Its pretty crazy, said Dempster, whose previous career high shutout streak was 30 innings, which he did as a reliever. As a reliever when you do something like that, it seems a little more realistic because youre going out there one inning at a time. To go out there start after start and not give up any runs is pretty humbling. Im just trying to get outs and win ballgames.
Dempster allowed runners on base in every inning but this last, yet no Arizona runner reached third base against him. That in large part came from the defense, which turned two double plays for Dempster and another for closer Carlos Marmol to end the game.
Rookie Anthony Rizzo started two of them, and also made a nice unassisted play on a hard ground ball to get the Cubs and Dempster out of third-inning trouble.
The Cubs have turned at least one double play in nine consecutive games, their longest stretch in a single season since 1994.
Every one of our players is playing as good as he can defensively right now, from the guys on the bench to the everyday guys, manager Dale Sveum said. Defensively its -- knock on wood -- about as good as it can get right now.
Chicago built a 4-0 lead with a two-run fourth and single runs in the third and sixth. The runs in the fourth came from consecutive two-out hits with runners in scoring position, a a rarity this year for the Cubs.
After Alphonso Soriano led off with a single and moved to second a wild pitch, Darwin Barney scored Soriano with a double into the left-field corner. Barney then scored on a hard single to center by Valbuena, who scored the games first run in the third.
The Cubs entered the game hitting .209 with two outs and runners in scoring position, good for 11th in the National League. They were 15th in RBI in those situations with 80.
Weve been working hard all year to give our pitchers some support, especially a guy like Demp, Barney said. Early we struggled to get him some runs, so it feels good to get him a little bit. Right now he just needs one. Just get him one and youre feeling pretty good about yourselves.
Leading 3-0 in the sixth, the Cubs tacked on an unearned run when Jeff Baker scored after reaching on a two-base throwing error from Stephen Drew.
In Dempsters only perfect inning, he retired the Diamondbacks in order, striking out Justin Upton and Miguel Montero before Paul Goldschmidt popped out to Barney at second.
The Diamondbacks didnt score until Chris Young hit a one-out home run off James Russell, who pitched the seventh in relief of Dempster.
Marmol earned his ninth save, and his eighth consecutive, in a scary final inning. After Drew doubled to right-center to start the inning, Marmol walked Young. Geoff Blum then hit a deep fly ball to right, but Reed Johnson made the catch crashing into the wall.
Pinch-hitter Jason Kubel then grounded into the game-ending double play, which was started by Rizzo.
The double plays all came at the right time, Sveum said. That one at the end was real good. Rizzo didnt panic or anything. He gave Castro a perfect feed so where he could get off a strong throw, too.

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as a late-game force

MESA, Ariz. – Inside Wrigley Field’s state-of-the-art clubhouse, the Cubs posted a blown-up image of the 2015 Sports Illustrated cover where Pedro Strop is high-stepping next to Kris Bryant down the third-base line, the mosh pit awaiting at home plate.

Between his tilted-hat look, chest-pounding celebrations and overall joy for the game, Strop sets an example for the younger guys in the bullpen and the Latin players in the clubhouse. Strop has been so valuable that Jake Arrieta could have never thrown a pitch in a Cubs uniform and Theo Epstein’s front office still would have considered the Scott Feldman trade with the Baltimore Orioles an absolute success.  

Yet when the long rebuild reached its apex – and manager Joe Maddon searched for World Series answers – Strop had already been marginalized in the bullpen. A freak injury – Strop heard a pop and tore the meniscus in his left knee while trying to slide and field a groundball in August – bumped him from his role as the seventh- or eighth-inning stopper.  

“It was a little difficult,” Strop said. “After I came back from my surgery, it was a different situation. But it’s something that you got to get used to and understand the situation, understand how deep our bullpen is and just go and fight whenever they ask you to.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal.”  

During Sunday’s media session, Maddon dismissed any issues with Strop (2.85 ERA) or Hector Rondon, the former 30-save closer who strained his right triceps last summer and didn’t quite get his timing down for the playoffs. Down 3-1 in the World Series, Maddon summoned Aroldis Chapman to throw 97 pitches combined in Games 5, 6 and 7 against the Cleveland Indians.

“Listen, it’s not a lack of trust,” Maddon said. “(Strop) just got hurt. And when you get hurt like that at that time of the year, it’s hard to play catch-up. When guys get injured in-season and you get to the moment where you’re trying to win a championship, you got to put like personal feelings aside on both sides of it, whether you’re managing it or playing.

“I have nothing but trust. My God, the threat is when you have him, you want to use him too much, always. And the same thing with Ronnie. I talked to Ronnie about that – I don’t want to put him in a position. I think Rondon got hurt last year because part of it was my greediness on using him too much in the early part of the season.

“You really have to battle against that when you get guys that good. You want to use them all the time. (I have) a tremendous amount of trust in both of those guys. It’s just a matter of utilizing them properly and keeping them healthy.”

[MORE: What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez]

Since the middle of the 2013 season, Strop has notched 84 holds for the Cubs, putting up a 2.68 ERA and a 0.984 WHIP to go with 254 strikeouts in 211-plus innings. At a time when a $10 billion industry is reassessing the value of high-leverage relievers, Strop will make $5.5 million this year before hitting the open market.

“You never know,” Strop said. “I would love to repeat the championship season and win another one here before I hit free agency. Hopefully, they want to bring me back. I really like the city of Chicago. I love the fans and I love my team and the coaches.

“After this season, it’s going to become business, so hopefully we can put something together.”  

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

What Joe Maddon wants to see next from Javier Baez

MESA, Ariz. – In an alternate universe, Javier Baez might have become the goat after committing two errors in a World Series Game 7. But the young Cubs played without a sense of panic and wanted to write their own history.

Baez shrugged it off in Cleveland and homered off Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber that night. Baez will be remembered as a breakout star from those playoffs, a game-changing defensive force with his mixture of lateral range, rocket-arm strength and instincts for tagging.

But there have also been times where manager Joe Maddon would like Baez to be a little more boring. The next stage of Javy Being Javy would be showing more of the consistency that made Addison Russell an All-Star shortstop at the age of 22. It may also partially explain why Maddon for now still sees Ben Zobrist as his primary second baseman, even after Baez started all 17 postseason games at that position.  

“You definitely continually speak about (how) you want guys to make the routine play routinely,” Maddon said Sunday at the Sloan Park complex. “I’ve often talked about lack of chrome. Gary DiSarcina (with the Angels) was the guy that really embedded that thought in my head, because he was so chrome-less and he was so good at the routine play. I used to always yell that at my infielders in instructional league: ‘No chrome!’

“Having said all that, Javy comes from a different background, and he has a flair about his game, so I don’t necessarily want to subtract that. But just have him understand the routine stuff has to be made routinely well.

“He’s very capable of that. I think as his game continues to develop and mature, you’ll see him make less mistakes, whether it’s that or sometimes even on the bases. He’ll make a spectacular play on the bases and then again do something that you don’t like. But I think that’s just part of his nature and his game.” 

Zobrist delivered a World Series MVP performance after signing a four-year, $56 million contract last winter with the idea that focusing on one position – instead of moving around as a super-utility guy – would help him age better.

“Last year, I played 147 games,” said Zobrist, who will turn 36 in May. “I don’t know what that number’s going to look like. You got to stay healthy. There were probably only a few games that I missed because there was physically something that was keeping me from playing.

“We’ll play it by ear. Some of those will have to do with if I’m a little tired and the matchup is right, maybe they’ll choose to give me an off day on certain days. But I know that there’s other times last year where – whether you’re tired or not – you got to be in there because that’s the matchup that works best for the club. So just make adjustments as the weeks and series go on.”

[MORE: After playoff bullpen issues, Cubs again see Pedro Strop as late-game force]

Maddon is already thinking of ways to rest Zobrist – who played into early November after helping the 2015 Royals win the World Series – on a team with so many versatile athletes. The Cubs could also try to go back to last year’s model, putting Baez wherever their scouting-and-data projections predicted the ball would be hit most that night.

“We have to balance a lot of different things out,” Maddon said. “(Javy’s) going to play some second, of course, and so will Zo. Zo’s going to be out there primarily, and then we’ll work Javy in there. But Zo can also do what he’s done in the past and play some outfield.

“What happens – and I hate to say it like (this) – but baseball has a very cruel way of determining things. I don’t want it to be any injuries. I’d rather have to figure all of this stuff out on a daily basis. Javy was so significant to the conclusion of last season. He’s going to be very significant again this year and years to come.

“It’s all in theory right now. Of course, he’s going to play. Of course, he’s going to play a lot. How it’s going to balance out? We’re not 100 percent sure yet. But he’s pretty darned good.”