Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley

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Empty feeling? Cubs get the W at Wrigley

Monday, April 4, 2011
Posted: 7:58 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

This didnt make you want to skip work or cut class.

The Cubs are supposed to be a huge draw wherever they go spring training, on the road, at Clark and Addison. Wrigley Field is expected to be timeless, but it isnt immune to outside factors.

A soft economy, cold April weather and an Arizona Diamondbacks team that isnt generating any sort of buzz couldnt have helped. But the Cubs hosted whats believed to be their smallest crowd in almost nine years 26,292 on a gray, 47-degree Monday afternoon.

Those who were there saw a strong start from Randy Wells, clutch hitting by Alfonso Soriano and a collective effort out of the bullpen in a 4-1 victory over the Diamondbacks.

Its a little bit strange seeing those empty seats, Kerry Wood said, but its our job to change that.

Thats the thing you are now automatically used to seeing a packed house every night because the Cubs have set the bar so high. Unoccupied sections of the lower level and upper deck wouldnt be much of a story in other markets during the first week of the season.

Cubs officials say the season-ticket base is bigger than its ever been. They fully expect to pass the three-million mark in attendance for an eighth consecutive season.

Monday, cold weather people dont want to get out of their house. But I think when it gets warm, people will come to the game, Soriano said. We have a very good team and we play hard. We want to be (a) contender this year.

The Cubs are built around pitching, and Wells kept his composure long enough to give them another quality start.

Willie Bloomquist had more than 2,000 career plate appearances and 13 home runs on his major-league resume before he drove the games fourth pitch into the left-field bleachers.

Wells recovered and worked around four walks to limit the Diamondbacks to one run across six innings.

Thats not the end of the world. You got to almost start the game over and go back to work, Wells said. I put myself behind the eight-ball, (but) you just try to bear down and make pitches.

The Cubs (2-2) got enough offense through Soriano, who admired his solo home run in the third inning as it sailed into the left-field bleachers. But Soriano was more proud of his at-bat in the eighth, which yielded a two-out, opposite-field RBI single.

Soriano has notched at least one hit and driven in at least one run in three consecutive games. He will never win over all Cubs fans, but he likes where his game is at.

My mind is clear, he said. I feel very comfortable right now.

Thats how Mike Quade feels whenever he can turn a lead over to his bullpen. The manager used three relievers Sean Marshall, Marcos Mateo and John Grabow to get through the seventh inning before Wood and Carlos Marmol finished off the Diamondbacks (1-2).

For the second day in a row, Wood loaded the bases but escaped unscathed. About 24 hours after blowing a save, Marmol closed out the ninth inning. Neither wanted a day off. Both wanted a piece of the action and let Quade know that.

Of course, Marmol said. If they need me out there, Im going to be there.

The Cubs know that the fans will come back when theyre winning, and thats all that should matter. Obsessively tracking attendance figures is another quirk of Wrigley Field, like day baseball, swirling winds and flocks of seagulls.

Marmol got the 27th out by inducing a fly ball from Justin Upton. The seagulls hovered overhead as Marlon Byrd tracked it in center.

As long (as) were doing high fives at the end of the game, Byrd said, that doesnt bother me.

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

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”