Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?

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Game over: Where do Cubs go from here?

Sunday, April 17, 2011
Posted: 5:57 p.m. Updated: 6:37 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

DENVER Maybe you havent been paying attention. Youd rather watch the Bulls and Blackhawks. Youre left wondering: Are these Cubs any good?

To get fans into Wrigley Field and fill those empty green seats, the Cubs can keep coming up with new ticket plans. But winning is always the best marketing strategy.

The Cubs boarded a charter flight home on Sunday at the end of the road trip they promised would show us what theyre made of. It was quiet in the room after a 9-5 loss to the Colorado Rockies, no music, only the sound of clubhouse attendants scraping dirt off cleats and zipping up bags.

In front of 42,212 fans, the Cubs finally snapped in the eighth inning of a 5-5 game. Marcos Mateo gave up an infield single and then watched as Kosuke Fukudome misplayed a ball in right field, allowing Jose Lopez to slide in for a double.

Mateo struck out the next two batters before Dexter Fowler lined a two-run double into center and it was game over from there.

Manager Mike Quade likes to break the season into 15-game blocks. At this point, you cant be overexcited or make any harsh judgments about a group that went 4-5 on this three-city trip through Milwaukee, Houston and Denver.

We hang around, Quade said. Weve been good and bad. Weve havent put it together by any means, but its a good sign when youre hanging around and still looking to jell as a group and get things going on all cylinders and all the other clichs that they use.

The Cubs (7-8) are hoping for good news on Monday, when Randy Wells (forearm strain) and Andrew Cashner (rotator cuff strain) will be re-evaluated by the medical staff and possibly begin to think about throwing programs.

That the Cubs are down two starting pitchers and only two games out of first place is remarkable. Theyve done it without Carlos Zambrano (2-0, 6.11) and Matt Garza (0-2, 6.27) performing up to expectations.

But in all probability the Cubs will hover around or below .500 if they dont get a bounce from their frontline starters.

The Rockies (12-3) roughed up Ryan Dempster for four runs in the first inning. Dempster settled down and ultimately gave up five runs in five innings, but with a series on the line didnt necessarily outpitch Alan Johnson, a 27-year-old right-hander making his major-league debut.

Afterward the typically upbeat Dempster (6.84 ERA) showed a side of himself he rarely reveals to the public.

Im sick and tired of this, he said. Im better than that. Its getting really old.

The Cubs arent panicking about Dempster. And at the end of the weekend, Darwin Barney could look over the hottest team in baseball and honestly say: We can play with those guys.

Offensively, the Cubs are in a strange place where Zambrano (one) has more home runs than Carlos Pena (zero). Yet Starlin Castro and Barney have given them an entirely new dimension at the top of the order, and Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano have looked locked in at the plate.

We have to be objective, Pena said. You look at our record no, were not where we want to be, but we may look at it the wrong way. (If) we get caught up in the emotion, (then) we go out there and we have baggage on our backs.

That might describe this organizations history, but with almost 91 percent of the schedule remaining, you cant print playoff tickets, or write the Cubs off yet. Theyre a team still finding its identity.

Were going to have to play better baseball if were going to make an impact, thats for sure, Quade said. But weve shown signs of doing that. We just need to be more consistent.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

Why Joe Maddon won’t tone down the stunts at Cubs camp

MESA, Ariz. – Joe Maddon teased reporters when pitchers and catchers reported to Arizona one week ago, promising the Cubs wouldn't tone down the gimmicks now that they're World Series champions: "We already have something planned for the first day that you might not want to miss."

A weekend of rain in Mesa postposed the first full-scale full-squad workout until Monday, and the wet grass meant the big reveal had to wait until Tuesday morning, when gonzo strength and conditioning coordinator Tim Buss drove a white Ferrari onto the field for the team's stretching session.

The bearded man they call "Bussy" rocked sunglasses, a gold chain around his neck, brown dress shoes and the same navy blue windowpane suit he wore to the White House. The overarching message as Buss blew kisses and Cypress Hill's "(Rock) Superstar" and Jay Z's "Big Pimpin'" blasted from the sound system: Humility.

"I hope everyone gets the sarcasm involved," Maddon said.

So, uh, no, the Cubs aren't going to dial it back or turn the zoo animals away or worry about the target they proudly wore on their chest last year.

"I don't know if the mime's coming back or not," Maddon said during the welcome-to-camp press conference. "Could you do a mime two years in a row? I don't know if that's permissible under MLB rules somewhere. I don't think you can bring a mime back two years in a row.

"Magicians are OK. You can anticipate a lot of the same, absolutely."

Before rolling your eyes at a star manager who loves the spotlight, it's important to note that the stunts are largely Buss productions.

"A lot of times, I'm not even aware," Maddon said. "He just knows he's got my blessings. He knows he does not have to clear it with me, unless it's absolutely insane. It works pretty well this way."

While every Maddon dress-up theme trip doesn't get universal love in the clubhouse, Buss has a unique way of getting millionaires to pay attention, almost tricking them into doing work.

"He's got several well-endowed players on the team that support his histrionics," Maddon said.

[MORE CUBS: MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field]

Since taking over this job in 2001, Buss has survived multiple ownership structures (Tribune Co., Sam Zell, Ricketts family) and the Andy MacPhail/Jim Hendry/Theo Epstein transitions in the front office, working for managers Don Baylor, Rene Lachemann (interim), Bruce Kimm (interim), Dusty Baker, Lou Piniella, Mike Quade, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria.

"He must have some good photographs, right?" Maddon said. "He's a different cat. He's a weapon."

Buss can clearly get along with almost any kind of personality. But it took Maddon – and the explosion of social media – to give him this kind of platform.

"No, nothing's changed, man," Maddon said. "It's all the same in regards to 'the same,' meaning the methods, the process. I just got aired out by one of our geek guys for not using the word ‘process.’ It’s true. Last year, I used the word ‘process’ often. I’m going to continue to use it a lot again this year.

"Why were we able to withstand the word 'pressure' and 'expectations' as well as we did last year? Because we weren't outcome-oriented. We were more oriented towards the process. Anybody in your job and your business – if you want to be outcome-oriented – you're going to find yourself in a lot of trouble just focusing on that word.

"It's all about the process. Our process shall remain the same, absolutely it shall. Hopefully, we're going to add or augment it in some ways that can be even more interesting and entertaining."

The irony is that the Cubs have repeatedly used outcome-based thinking in defending Maddon's decisions during the World Series. But the manager obviously deserves so much credit for creating an environment where this team could play loose and relaxed and not collapse under the weight of franchise history.

"Our guys are pretty much in charge of the whole thing," Maddon said. "I love the empowerment of the players. I love that they feel the freedom to be themselves. If they didn't, maybe Jason (Heyward) would not have gotten the guys together in a weight room in Cleveland after a bad moment.

"All those things matter. And you can't understand exactly which is more important than the other. So you just continue to attempt to do a lot of the same things. Process is important, man, and we're going to continue along that path."

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred open to idea of Cubs hosting All-Star Game at renovated Wrigley Field

PHOENIX – Rob Manfred is open to the idea of an All-Star Game at a fully renovated Wrigley Field, but the Major League Baseball commissioner won't make any guarantees about the 2020 target date the Cubs have proposed in a joint lobbying effort with Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office.

"I'm not going to get into specific years," Manfred said Tuesday during a Cactus League media event at the Arizona Biltmore. "Because there's a number of clubs – we're fortunate – that have interest in particular years. And I don't want to say anything that would suggest that I'm anywhere near making a decision."

During last month's Cubs Convention, president of business operations Crane Kenney expressed optimism in a Super Bowl-style bidding process, and not the old way of simply alternating the showcase event between the American and National leagues each year.

The Cubs will point to their starring role in a World Series that beat the NFL's "Sunday Night Football" in head-to-head TV ratings and saw more than 40 million people tune in for Game 7. By 2020, the $600 million Wrigleyville development is supposed to be finished, and Emanuel helped broker the deals that moved the NFL draft to Chicago the last two years after a long run at New York's Radio City Music Hall.

"I will say this: A renovated Wrigley Field would be a great location for an All-Star Game," Manfred said. "Chicago is a great city. And over time, we have tried to go to cities that would be great locations for the game – and to reward cities that had made substantial investments in either new or renovated facilities."

The Cubs still see potential roadblocks, needing City Hall's help with an increased security presence around an urban neighborhood ballpark that hasn't hosted the Midsummer Classic since 1990.

Kenney also acknowledged that All-Star Games have been used as bargaining chips in public negotiations in cities like Miami and Washington – Marlins Park (2017) and Nationals Park (2018) will make it four straight All-Star Games for NL stadiums – while the Ricketts family used private mechanisms to fund the project after striking out on other proposals.