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.

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Cubs: The Aroldis Chapman Show begins at Wrigley Field

Rage Against the Machine’s “Wake Up” blasted from the Wrigley Field sound system at 9:51 p.m. on Wednesday as Aroldis Chapman trotted toward the mound. Nothing would get lost in translation as the Cubs unleashed their new closer on the White Sox.

Chapman didn’t feel the full rush of adrenaline, because a revived offense scored five runs in the eighth inning, ending the save situation and any real suspense for the crowd of 41,166. The game within the game became looking up at the 3,990-square-foot LED video board in left field for the velocity reading after each pitch and listening to the oohs and aahs.

Chapman made it look easy against the middle of the White Sox lineup, with 13 of his 15 pitches clocked between 100 and 103 mph in the ninth inning of an 8-1 victory. That triple-digit default setting, fluid left-handed delivery and intimidating presence showed why the Cubs made a game-changing trade with the New York Yankees.

The first impressions from Tuesday’s press conference apparently bothered Chapman enough that he initially refused to speak to the reporters waiting around his locker after his debut. There had been questions about his 30-game suspension under Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, the off-the-field expectations from chairman Tom Ricketts and where the wires got crossed with coach/translator Henry Blanco.

After taking a shower – and listening to a few associates inside the clubhouse – Chapman agreed to two minutes of questions with catcher Miguel Montero acting as his translator.

“It happened,” Chapman said when asked about his portrayal in the Chicago media. “Don’t want to go further with it.”

The controversy will begin to fade after Chapman struck out Jose Abreu swinging at a 91-mph slider that almost scraped the dirt, forced Todd Frazier into a routine groundball and struck out pinch-hitter Avisail Garcia looking at a 103-mph fastball.

“It’s just entertaining to watch the gun, beyond everything else,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s a different kind of a pitcher. You don’t see that every 100 years or so. He’s just that good. Everybody talks about the fastball. How good is the slider? The slider is devastating.

“He was very calm in the moment. He was able to get through the last couple days to go out there. It was almost good it wasn’t a save situation just to get his feet on the ground.”

Picture the drama and the excitement when Chapman isn’t throwing with a seven-run lead and has to get the final three outs in a playoff game at Wrigley Field.

“I’m not impressed – I thought we were getting a guy that threw 105,” winning pitcher Jason Hammel joked. “I’ve never seen anything like it.

“It’s jaw-dropping. To see that type of velocity and command, it’s almost unfair to have a slider and offspeed pitches after that, too.”

This is what the Cubs envisioned when they decided to weather the media storms and absorb the PR hits, how Maddon could reimagine the entire bullpen and the whole team would sense the game-over feeling when the ball is in Chapman’s left hand.

“That’s a confidence-booster for us and it’s a morale kick for anybody out there,” Hammel said. “For the other side, it’s got to be black clouds: ‘Oh man, we can’t let the bullpen get in there.’”

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

Cubs felt the inevitable sense of trading a big-time prospect like Gleyber Torres

The New York Yankees directed blanket coverage of the Cubs in the weeks leading up to the Aroldis Chapman deal, looking closely at prospects throughout their farm system. Three names figured to be prominent if the Yankees decided to sell and the Cubs wanted to make a blockbuster trade: Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez and Ian Happ.

The Yankees made Torres their headliner in that four-player return from the Cubs, getting the organization’s top prospect and a supremely talented defensive shortstop out of Venezuela. The Cubs invested $1.7 million in Torres during the summer of 2013, the signing formalized the same day as the Jake Arrieta trade with the Baltimore Orioles.

This has been years in the making for Theo Epstein’s front office, building the first-place team that drew 41,116 to Wrigley Field for Wednesday night’s 8-1 crosstown victory over the White Sox, watching Chapman throw 13 pitches in the ninth inning that hit triple digits on the huge video board, understanding that the Cubs had to sacrifice parts of their future for the now.

“That’s the right word – inevitable – just because of the timing of when we thought we were going to be good,” said Jason McLeod, the senior vice president of scouting and player development. “We all knew as we were doing this that there was going to come that time when you trade the player that you not only feel is an impact-type prospect, but the organization just loves the person.

“Gleyber certainly fits that. That was one of the tougher calls I’ve ever had where we’re trading a guy, just because of how much the kid meant to us personally, and just hearing him, too.

“He was – as you would expect (with) a 19-year-old – shaken up and saddened by it, just because in three short years he had dreamt of nothing but being a Cub and playing here at Wrigley. I just told him: ‘You’ll still be wearing pinstripes. They’ll just be a different (color).’”

The Cubs didn’t want to trade core guys off their major-league roster and have a middle-infield foundation with Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Ben Zobrist. So they gave up a high-floor player from Class-A Myrtle Beach while holding onto Jimenez and Happ and seeking out more possible deals before the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“All of them would have been hard to swallow,” McLeod said. “But we know that’s part of why we try to stockpile as much talent as we can.”

The Cubs can market Happ as another polished college switch-hitter with first-round pedigree, second baseman/outfielder versatility and an early ETA (already at Double-A Tennessee during his first full season of professional baseball).

Jimenez – who got a $2.8 million bonus out of the Dominican Republic during the same signing class as Torres – enjoyed a breakout performance during the All-Star Futures Game in San Diego and almost has a .900 OPS at Class-A South Bend.

At the age of 19, with a 6-foot-4, 205-pound frame and a smooth right-handed swing, Jimenez reminds the Cubs a little bit of Kris Bryant during his freshman season at the University of San Diego, meaning the sky is the limit.

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

Tonight on CSN: Cubs-White Sox finale from Wrigley

The Crosstown Classic concludes on Thursday at Wrigley Field as the White Sox square off against the Cubs on CSN Chicago. Coverage begins with Cubs Pregame Live at 6 p.m. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Today’s starting pitching matchup: Chris Sale (14-3, 3.18 ERA) vs. John Lackey (7-7, 3.79 ERA)

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