Like it or not, Silvas got competition

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Like it or not, Silvas got competition

Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2011Posted: 8:20 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. Carlos Silva is a proud man, emotional and sometimes defensive. He doesnt understand why reporters keep asking him about this competition at the back end of the Cubs rotation.

Silva will turn 32 in April and he overlooks the way last season ended. He doesnt need to take anything for the heart procedure he underwent, and says his elbow is fine. Those health issues limited the 6-foot-4-inch, 280-pound right-hander to 5.1 innings combined last August and September.

I dont think its a reason to take me out of the rotation, but theyre the boss, Silva said Tuesday. Theyre the ones that make the decision. If I have to win my spot, Ill do it. I have no problem with that. (But) for me, theres only maybe one spot open, because I am one of the starters.

In Silvas mind, he is the pitcher who reached the 2010 All-Star break at 9-3 with a 3.45 ERA in 17 starts. He dismisses any concerns about his physical conditioning.

The only thing you need to do is put zeroes on the board and everybodys going to be happy, Silva said. Youre going to have perfect weight, the best-looking face. Youre the perfect guy. (It) was two-months-and-a-half like that.

Everybody cheered for Carlos. Something bad happened: Boom, you need to lose weight, you need to do this (and that).
Only in Chicago

Silva instantly grew close with pitching coach Larry Rothschild, who helped him clear his mind on the mound. Rothschild eventually left to take the same job with the New York Yankees, and a new pitching coach (Mark Riggins) is one X-factor in this search process.

Riggins was the St. Louis Cardinals minor-league pitching coordinator when they made Braden Looper the third overall pick in the 1996 draft. Looper is 36 now with graying hair. He disappeared last year when he didnt receive an offer he liked after making 34 starts and winning 14 games with a 5.22 ERA for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Looper lives in Chicagos south suburbs with his wife and three kids and eased toward retirement. He coached his son in Little League, and didnt watch much baseball, except for the two field trips his team took to White Sox games. His kids are in school, and in pitching for the Cubs he wouldnt have to completely uproot his family.

This was the one situation that worked out perfect, he said.

Looper, who has saved 103 games in his career, isnt inclined to return to the bullpen, nor is he looking to showcase himself for another team if it doesnt happen with the Cubs.

I prefer starting without a doubt, he said, but the best way I can put it is this is the one team (where) I would consider anything. Well just cross those bridges when we come to it.

Somebodys going to be disappointed

Mike Quades right in saying that. Heres what else we know: Andrew Cashner and James Russell will be stretched out, but could slide back into their bullpen roles if they dont stick as starters. Jeff Samardzija, who is out of minor-league options, is being ticketed for the bullpen. The rotation will most likely be five right-handers.

And the manager will place a premium on experience when evaluating the fourth and fifth starters.

So you shouldnt discount what Randy Wells has done the past two years, or the more than 1,200 innings Silva has thrown in his career. Not to mention the 6 million of Silvas 11.5 million salary the Cubs will have to pay this season. (The Seattle Mariners are picking up the rest of the tab as part of the Milton Bradley deal.)

Its realistic to take different pieces of a guys career, including his current health and status and performance in spring training, Quade said. But the balance probably is based more on what a guy has done at the major-league level in the past.

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

What Cubs need to see during finals week before playoff test

What Cubs need to see during finals week before playoff test

PITTSBURGH – Winning or losing the final seven games of the regular season won’t change the perception of the Cubs as the on-paper favorites heading into the playoffs. It all goes back to the question president of baseball operations Theo Epstein got during his Opening Day media session: Will this year be a failure if the Cubs don’t win the World Series? 

The final judgments will come in October, but for now the Cubs will be running through postseason scenarios, adhering to Joe Maddon’s keep-everyone-fresh philosophy and trying to avoid any catastrophic injuries during this road trip through Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.

Before Monday’s 12-2 win over the Pirates, Maddon confirmed the Cubs are leaning toward carrying 11 pitchers and 14 position players for their first-round playoff series, with a 12-man staff being a possibility that hasn’t been ruled out yet. The manager had already scripted out the lineups for these four nights at PNC Park, beginning with Chris Coghlan as a leadoff guy, Willson Contreras as the cleanup hitter and Albert Almora Jr. starting in center field.   

“That fine balance between being rested and being sharp – we’re trying to thread that needle,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “There’s no guidebook for it.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

With the National League’s No. 1 seed, the best record in baseball and 100 wins already secured, the Cubs can focus on:

• Hoping to copy part of the World Series blueprint the Kansas City Royals used last year, the Cubs have built a dominant bullpen that can shorten games and might roll through October. But that depends on Pedro Strop (knee) and Hector Rondon (triceps) coming back from injuries and performing at full strength.   

After Strop pitched a scoreless seventh inning against the Pirates on Monday night, Rondon gave up back-to-back homers to Matt Joyce and David Freese in the eighth, which the Cubs will hope can be written off as lack of adrenaline coming into a 12-run game. Practicing the playoff script, superstar closer Aroldis Chapman worked the ninth inning with a 10-run lead.

• Maddon dropped into a hitters’ meeting last week at Wrigley Field to send a post-clinch message, stressing the idea of using this time wisely and focusing on the fundamentals the Cubs preached in spring training. That’s grinding out at-bats, understanding a two-strike approach and full-count situations and not relying so much on the home run. 

“That’s the key moving forward for us offensively,” Maddon said. “That’s the little nuance of the game as you get to this part (of the year) that really helps you separate.”

• Keeping a third catcher or not sounded more like talk-show filler than an actual debate around the Cubs. David Ross is locked in as Jon Lester’s personal catcher, but at the age of 39 “Grandpa” plays best in a backup role. Willson Contreras offers the most offensive upside and a rocket arm behind the plate, but the rookie would have to make up for his inexperience with energy and enthusiasm. 

Miguel Montero has caught more than 8,400 innings in The Show and finally seems to have found his left-handed swing – hitting .333 with two homers, three doubles and 10 RBI in his last 18 games – near the end of a disappointing offensive season. 

“It’s really tough to find guys like Miggy,” said Kyle Hendricks, a Cy Young Award candidate and projected Game 2 starter on Oct. 8 at Wrigley Field. “He controls the tempo (and) there aren’t many catchers that can control the tempo of a game. He keeps me in sync. He keeps me on time. He knows when to take a break and give me a breather. He just has a really good feel.    

“We go (in) with a good game plan, but I think his in-game adjustments are probably where he really picks it up the most. He’s been around. He’s seen all these hitters. He can feel when guys are trying to do certain things to you.”   

Getting Jake Arrieta back in the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year might require Montero’s presence as a game-caller, pitch-framer and ace whisperer.

• Will wild-card chaos reign? The New York Mets (83-74) and San Francisco Giants (82-74) woke up on Monday clinging to wild-card positions, with the St. Louis Cardinals (81-74) only a half-game behind. The playoff probabilities on FanGraphs project the Mets as a virtual lock (88 percent), making it a coin flip between the Cardinals (57.6 percent) and Giants (54.3 percent).

• If the wild-card winner gets hot and shocks the best team in baseball in a best-of-five series, the autopsy of this season will inevitably involve second-guessing how the Cubs handled success and if clinching by mid-September dulled their edge.   

But in trying to stack the odds in your favor, would you rather be scrambling after the season-ending surgeries (Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom) that have decimated New York’s power pitching? Or worrying about the flammable bullpen (major-league-leading 30 blown saves) that might torch San Francisco’s even-year hopes? And if the Cardinals haven’t put it all together by now, what makes you think the flip will be switched in October?

“As a whole, this gives us a chance to get everybody healthy and on the same page,” Ross said. “Throughout the year, we’ve done a good job of focusing on the day and what’s to come. As long as we focus on being the best team that we can be, I don’t think we’ll have a problem.

“If you want to put a negative spin to clinching early, you can, but I’m pretty excited about it. I think the guys in here are very excited about it. I think there are a lot of other teams that would love to be in our position right now.”

Kyle Hendricks helps transform Cubs into 100-win team

Kyle Hendricks helps transform Cubs into 100-win team

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs have gone from the happy-to-be-here team that crashed last year’s playoff party to a 100-win machine that’s expected to win the World Series or else be remembered as underachievers.  

The evolution of Kyle Hendricks from a fifth starter to a legitimate Cy Young Award candidate helps explain why the Cubs have lived up to the preseason hype and created such expectations for October.

The Cubs won’t be leaving their season up to the coin flip of a wild-card game, the way they did 355 days ago at PNC Park, where it almost looks like the Pittsburgh Pirates still haven’t recovered yet. What once appeared to be a circle-your-calendar showdown that could decide the National League Central is now glorified spring training for the Cubs in late September.   

[SHOP: Gear up, Cubs fans!]

Hendricks didn’t have to silence the blackout atmosphere during Monday night’s 12-2 win in front of an announced crowd of 20,519 and sections of empty seats. A quiet, polite Dartmouth College graduate would never troll Pittsburgh fans on Twitter the way Jake Arrieta did last year. But the Cubs are witnessing another historic run that could catapult them through October.  

Hendricks (16-8) lowered his major-league-leading ERA to 1.99 with six scoreless innings against the Pirates (77-79). The Cubs reached 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and that sense of momentum always begins with starting pitching. Hendricks has allowed three earned runs or fewer in each of his last 22 starts.  

“Obviously, we did not anticipate all of this,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s really exceeded, and good for him. This is something I think he can carry on for years. This is by no means a fluke. It’s not an anomaly. This is how good he’s capable of being. So it’s made a big difference that he’s been able to do what he’s done this year. No question.”