Kaplan: Reasons for optimism from Cubs camp

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Kaplan: Reasons for optimism from Cubs camp

Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2011
12:56 p.m.

By David Kaplan
CSNChicago.com

While the legions of doubters are out there predicting another long season for the Cubs, there are a handful of reasons for Cubs fans to be optimistic about the 2011 season.

First, the energy and enthusiasm around the ballclub is vastly different from the past two seasons. Gone is the hangover from the 2008-playoff collapse at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Second, the sideshow that was Milton Bradley is no longer a question that the current Cubs have to deal with. Last spring Bradley was a question that everyone had to answer because he had just been traded to Seattle.

Manager Lou Piniella is no longer here and while he had an outstanding career, there is no denying the fact that he was no longer the right guy to lead the team going into last season. His energy was waning and his players and he did not have the communication that is necessary for a winning club to have.

In Piniellas place is Mike Quade who is a bundle of energy and his players have taken notice and are feeding off of his enthusiasm for the job. Quade is a master at communication and honesty evidenced by the manner in which he announced his selection of Ryan Dempster as the Opening Day starter.

Quade brought all three candidates, Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, and newcomer Matt Garza into his office together so that he could tell them of his plans and the reasons why he made the decision he did. That type of communication, according to several players that I spoke with, is extremely rare in todays game. The current Cubs are buying into what Quades selling and they all appear to be on the same page heading into a season in which not many are giving the Cubs much of a chance to contend.

Obviously every team in baseball feels good about their chances during spring training but the energy and the feel at Cubs camp is a whole lot different this year largely in part because of the attitude of their rookie manager. Add in the leadership of newly acquired first baseman Carlos Pena who has already assumed a large presence on the club and a much improved pitching staff and things are looking up for the Cubs.

Questions still loom large such as what type of seasons will the Cubs get from Aramis Ramirez, Alfonso Soriano, and Zambrano who make a combined 50 million dollars and are all coming off of disappointing seasons. Can any or all of them rebound to perform at their previous levels?

The other major question appears to be defense where the Cubs struggled mightily in 2010. Can second year shortstop Starlin Castro improve his defense? What type of defense will the Cubs get at second base from the tandem of Jeff Baker and Blake DeWitt?

A lot of things have to be improved upon from 2010 for the 2011 Cubs to be contenders but one thing is for sure. Their new manager sure has the enthusiasm and passion for the job to keep working until he gets it right and that is resonating down to his players.

David Kaplan is the host of Chicago Tribune Live on Comcast SportsNet. Follow him on Twitter @thekapman.

Preview: Cubs aim for sweep tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs aim for sweep tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN and live streaming on CSNChicago.com and the NBC Sports App.

First pitch with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies is scheduled for 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: Jon Lester (0-0, 2.66 ERA) vs. Tyler Glasnow (0-1, 7.94 ERA)

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Kyle Hendricks outduels Gerrit Cole in Cubs win

Kyle Hendricks outduels Gerrit Cole in Cubs win

PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Hendricks rediscovered his 2016 form, limiting the Pittsburgh Pirates to four hits over six innings to outduel Gerrit Cole and lead the Chicago Cubs to a 1-0 win on Tuesday night.

Hendricks (2-1) struck out two and walked three in easily his best start this year. The struggling Pirates managed just four singles off Hendricks and didn't reach third base until he was out of the game. Wade Davis worked a perfect ninth for his fifth save as the Cubs won for the sixth time in seven games.

Addison Russell doubled in the second off Cole (1-3) and scored when second baseman Alen Hanson airmailed first base on a Jason Heyward grounder, the Pirates' major league-high 20th error this season. They've also allowed 15 unearned runs, the most in the big leagues.

The miscue spoiled a terrific outing by Cole. He struck out eight without issuing a walk and retired 14 of his final 15 batters. It wasn't enough for Pittsburgh, which has lost six of eight.

Hendricks became the first Cubs pitcher in nearly 80 years to lead the majors in ERA last year (2.13) but entered at 6.19 after three lackluster starts. It dropped to 4.50 after he spent six innings keeping the Pirates off balance with a steady diet of breaking balls and changeups .

It was the second straight strong start for the defending World Series champions, who have spent the last week riding their offense to shake out of an early pitching funk. The Cubs' pitching did the heavy lifting while Cole dominated the highest-scoring team in the majors.

Russell's double and a two-out infield hit by Kris Bryant in the sixth was all the Cubs managed against the Pittsburgh ace, who is hoping to put an injury plagued 2016 behind him. After giving up five runs in a loss to Boston on opening day, Cole has surrendered just seven runs over his last 25 innings, a 2.52 ERA.

Pittsburgh had a chance to tie the score when John Jaso led off the seventh with a double against Koji Uehara. Jaso advanced to third on a fly ball but was stranded when Hanson struck out and pinch-hitter Jose Osuna flied to center.