If healthy, Soriano believes he will keep producing

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If healthy, Soriano believes he will keep producing

Wednesday, Aug. 25, 2010
8:14 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

WASHINGTON Alfonso Soriano is 34 years old in a game that is emphasizing youth, with a contract that runs through 2014, a 136 million investment leftover from a different economic climate and ownership structure.

For Soriano, the calculus is simple: If the Cubs play well, hell be cheered. If not, he gets booed. Fifty-fifty, he likes to say nothing personal, just the way it is at Wrigley Field.

Soriano also clings to this basic idea: If he is healthy, he will produce. He is 11-plus months removed from the arthroscopic knee surgery that ended his 2009 season after 117 games.

Occasionally the left knee feels weak, but the Cubs outfielder has experienced no significant pain this year. And on Wednesday night in Washington he played his 118th game no one on the current roster outside of Marlon Byrd has appeared in more.

Soriano noticed how Byrd races across center field with maximum effort and thought: I can do that, too. Hes also been energized by 20-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro, a fellow native of the Dominican Republic he has mentored.

The night before Soriano took his time enjoying the flight of his three-run homer into the left-field seats at Nationals Park. It marked the ninth consecutive season he has hit at least 20 home runs. Among active players, only Alex Rodriguez (15 seasons), Albert Pujols (10), Adam Dunn (nine) and David Ortiz (nine) have been that consistent with their power numbers.

If Soriano continues to take care of his body, he thinks he can finish out his contract by putting together four more seasons of 20-plus homers.

No, I dont feel older, he said. I think Im in better shape this year than the last couple years.

The waiting area of the managers office inside the visiting clubhouse at Nationals Park has a framed Soriano jersey and photo. It commemorates his 40-40 season in Washington, the one he used to sign an eight-year deal with the Cubs in November 2006.

Soriano clearly isnt the same player anymore. He led National League outfielders in assists with 19 in 2007, but has six so far this season, a total that still keeps him among the leaders in that category.

Before taking over as manager for Lou Piniella, Mike Quades responsibilities included working with the outfielders and Soriano in particular.

Look, given where his legs are now, Quade said, compared to where they (were) when he became a Cub, theres a huge difference. And so the ground he can or cant cover has changed quite a bit.

The arm is fine, but his ability to close on balls and do things that allowed him to throw people out that first year (has) changed. But hes taken it upon himself and he deserves a huge tip of the hat here because I think hes done a much better job this year.

In April, it looked like Piniella might be forced to turn Soriano into a six- or seven-inning player, one who would almost always require a defensive replacement late in close games.

Instead, hes hit with the third group during batting practice, so he can take balls off the bat from the first group. Then he tracks balls off the fungo bat of coach Ivan DeJesus during the second round.

You just got to work and theres no magical thing, Quade said. Hes made a commitment to it.

Soriano is absurdly wealthy, but he still maintains a child-like enthusiasm for the game. He would like to be in the lineup every day from April through October, but concedes that is no longer a reality.

I want to, he said, but to be honest, nobody can play 162 games in Chicago. There are too many day games. The body doesnt have time to recover.

The Cubs have absorbed several shocks to the system this month. Soriano took out his earrings, folded his arms across his chest and stood in a clubhouse that bears little resemblance to the one he first walked into.

Its not easy, man, he said. Its not easy to play the game. And when those things happen around the team, it makes it more difficult (after) Lou announced his retirement and all those trades. (I) hope the last five, six weeks left of the season we can play more relaxed, because its nothing new now. Well stay together (and) finish strong.

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

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

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AP

John Lackey roughed up as Cubs blanked again by Dodgers

LOS ANGELES – The Cubs have scored zero runs through 18 innings at Dodger Stadium this weekend and still haven’t faced Clayton Kershaw yet. Neither game got tense enough for star closer Kenley Jansen and the sound system blasting “California Love.”

Of course, the Cubs survived a 21-inning scoreless streak last October and came back to eliminate the Dodgers and win their first National League pennant in 71 years.

But the Cubs have to keep saying this is a new year, even as a grueling schedule approaches the Memorial Day mile marker for a 25-23 team. And you could see the frustration during Saturday’s 5-0 loss in front of 48,322 and a national TV audience.

John Lackey walked off the field and down the dugout steps after the fifth inning and slammed his glove to the ground. A one-run game had turned into a 5-0 blowout as Lackey walked pitcher Brandon McCarthy and Chris Taylor then drilled the first pitch he saw into the left-field seats. Lackey screamed into his glove after Chase Utley knocked a two-out, two-run single into right field and Dodger Stadium got loud.

Lackey is now 4-5 with a 5.18 ERA for a team that had been built around reliable starting pitching. The Cubs will try to avoid the sweep on Sunday afternoon in what should be a must-see Kershaw vs. Jon Lester matchup.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”