Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

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Deshaies leaves Astros to become the next voice in Cubs TV booth

NASHVILLE, Tenn. After more than two decades with the Houston Astros, Jim Deshaies is heading to the broadcast booth at Wrigley Field.

This hire might generate more buzz than any free agents the Cubs may sign this week during the winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville, Tenn. The news made its way around the sprawling hotel on Monday and across Twitter before it became official: Deshaies has agreed to a four-year deal with WGN and will be partnered with play-by-play man Len Kasper.

I cant imagine anywhere else Id rather move than with the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, Deshaies said in a statement. My family and I look forward to meeting the great, passionate fans of the Cubs and were excited at what lies ahead in Chicago.

Deshaies replaces Bob Brenly, who left for the Arizona Diamondbacks in October, and the chance to go back to his Scottsdale-area home and call games for Fox Sports Arizona as well as its national network.

WGN -- in consultation with the Cubs and Comcast SportsNet -- decided to go with an outsider after assembling several candidates who used to play on the North Side: Dan Plesac; Rick Sutcliffe; Eric Karros; Gary Matthews; and Todd Hollandsworth.

Plesac interviewed and withdrew from consideration in the middle of November, deciding to stay with MLB Network, while Sutcliffe was viewed as a long shot from the start, given his national platform on ESPN. Plesac, who grew up in Northwest Indiana, had made a good impression while doing pre- and postgame work around Cubs broadcasts on CSN.

It was very appealing, Plesac said. It was the right job at the wrong time. I signed a new five-year deal here with MLB Network. I couldnt be happier.

One X-factor in any potential negotiation was WGNs television contract, which allows the Cubs to opt out after the 2014 season. Still, in the summer of 2011, Kasper received a five-year contract extension that locked him up through the 2016 season, which puts him on the same timeline as Deshaies.

JD is universally liked and respected throughout the game, Kasper wrote in a text message. Ive always enjoyed his work from afar. He knows the club well having done 15-18 Cubs-Astros games a year and will fit in nicely. I look forward to working with him and I cant wait for spring training.

From the beginning of the search process, Deshaies was considered a strong external candidate. Insiders reminded you that Brenly didnt have many connections to the organization when he joined the broadcast team for the 2005 season. Brenly had only worked in the WGN radio booth with Harry Caray and Thom Brennaman for two years before moving to the San Francisco Giants coaching staff in 1992.

Fans enjoyed listening to Brenly, and he developed an excellent chemistry with Kasper. Brenly was willing to criticize big-money players like Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano, but he could also shift gears and talk about music and movies. Brenly and Kasper watched some bad baseball teams over the past eight seasons, but they definitely added entertainment value.

Deshaies has been a color analyst for the Astros since 1997, developing a style that sounded a lot like Brenlys approach to the games.

Deshaies has been described as someone whos comfortable talking strategy as well as pop culture. He knows pitching after throwing more than 1,500 innings during his 12 years in the big leagues, including seven with the Astros.

The Astros are splitting with Fox Sports Houston and will air games on CSN Houston in 2013, part of the sweeping changes that have recently hit the organization, from new ownership to a new front office to new uniforms to a new league.

Deshaies recently told the Houston Chronicle that he was confident he could work out a deal with the Astros if he wanted to and wasnt worried about his future.

To get a measure of how much hes respected there, just check out this headline to a story on the newspapers website, after it was reported that he had interviewed in Chicago: Say it aint so! Deshaies departure would be PR fiasco for Astros.

Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

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Preview: Cubs-Dodgers Sunday on CSN

The Cubs take on the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday, and you can catch all the action on CSN. 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.

CSN will also carry the live audio call of Los Angeles Dodgers broadcasting legend Vin Scully during Sunday's game as the SportsNet LA audio feed will be featured during the third inning.

Sunday’s starting pitching matchup: Jon Lester vs. Kenta Maeda

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

Despite early hook again, Cubs may need Jason Hammel in October

LOS ANGELES – Even from the upper levels of Dodger Stadium, inside the Vin Scully Press Box, you didn’t need binoculars or a lip reader to tell that Jason Hammel wanted nothing to do with Joe Maddon.

Not this early on Saturday afternoon, not when the veteran Cubs pitcher came into a possible playoff preview with a 13-6 record and a 3.07 ERA. An animated Hammel gestured toward home plate and walked off the mound in the middle of the third inning, continuing a sometimes awkward/usually productive relationship with the star manager that dates back to their time together as Tampa Bay Rays.   

No, Hammel doesn’t get much latitude, even during his 11th year in the big leagues and a strong individual season that has so far answered the questions about a second-half fade.

But Maddon walked out from the dugout with two runners on, one out and Adrian Gonzalez up next, trying to extend a 3-1 lead with one big swing. Maddon summoned Rob Zastryzny from the bullpen and watched the rookie lefty get two groundball outs.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]  

The move worked, even during a 3-2 loss, as Zastryzny looked extremely impressive, retiring 11 of the 12 batters he faced, eight days after getting called up from Triple-A Iowa and making his big-league debut, showing that he could become an X-factor for October.

No, Hammel didn’t look all that sharp against a tough Los Angeles lineup, giving up five hits to the 12 batters he faced, including a first-inning homer to Corey Seager and three consecutive hits to begin the third. 

But Hammel is also a respected teammate who helped the Cubs transform into a playoff team last year and build baseball’s top-performing rotation this season.

Who cares? The Cubs are still 36 games over .500 and began the day with huge leads over the St. Louis Cardinals (14) and Pittsburgh Pirates (16.5) in a watered-down division.

Well, Hammel in particular is a guy who feeds off confidence and positive reinforcement. The Cubs might need him in October, especially if John Lackey (shoulder) experiences a setback before coming off the disabled list or another starter gets hurt down the stretch. 

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

Cubs can't climb out of early hole in loss to Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs had Julio Urias and the Los Angeles Dodgers on the ropes, but couldn’t knock out the young lefty from Mexico who’s drawn comparisons to franchise icon Fernando Valenzuela. 

Saturday afternoon began with Dexter Fowler drawing a leadoff walk at Dodger Stadium and MVP candidates Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo hitting back-to-back singles into right field.

Instead of going for the jugular, cleanup hitter Ben Zobrist dropped a sacrifice bunt back to Urias, who then struck out Addison Russell and Jorge Soler looking to keep it a 1-0 game.

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!] 

Urias – who pitched at four different minor-league levels last season and only turned 20 this month – settled down against the best team in baseball to earn the win in a 3-2 victory in front of 49,522.

Urias lasted through the sixth inning, allowing no more runs and finishing with eight strikeouts, helping rescue a first-place team that’s used 14 different starting pitchers and put a major-league record-tying 27 players on the disabled list.