Managing just fine, but Reds overpower Cubs

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Managing just fine, but Reds overpower Cubs

Friday, Aug. 27, 2010
10:10 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

CINCINNATI Joey Votto is on the cover of Sports Illustrated and chasing the Triple Crown. Dusty Baker has been offered a contract extension, but might want to wait for a more lucrative offer, if not a better job in a bigger market.

Lou Piniella will celebrate his 67th birthday on Saturday, out of uniform and away from a big-league stadium. Cincinnati reporters wont be able to ask him how great that 1990 Reds team was 20 years ago.

This city can worry about locking up Votto arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter and Baker at a later date. Right now, a franchise that has made the playoffs just once since Piniella led it to a World Series title is enjoying the thrill of a pennant race.

It sounded like a Springsteen concert on Friday night at Great American Ball Park, with a crowd of 36,219 chanting Bruuuuuuuuuuce!

The fans were saluting Jay Bruce, who launched three home runs and powered the Reds to a 7-1 victory over the Cubs, beginning a three-game series that shows just how far the gap has widened between these two teams.

The Cubs (54-75) now trail the first-place Reds (74-54) by 20.5 games in the National League Central, a division they dominated only two years ago.

On Thursday, general manager Jim Hendry interviewed Eric Wedge, who managed the Cleveland Indians to within one victory of the 2007 World Series before being fired nearly two years later.

The next night marked the first loss of the Mike Quade era. The Cubs manager for the next 33 games at least said he has no problem with Hendry meeting other candidates.

Quade felt Hendry was upfront with him on Saturday night, when he was informed that he would be promoted from third-base coach. This is how an extensive search process is going to work.

We covered everything and Im actually surprised that I remember most of it, because I was buckled, Quade said. Look, hes going to interview people. This is going to give him time to do that and not have some crush at the end of the season. (He) knows Im good with it.

And why wouldnt you (do more interviews)? Theres a lot of good baseball people out there. (Its) not a distraction at all. I get it.

Amid all these changes, Quade has found it to be most relaxing once the game begins 7:10 p.m. local time and the Cubs swept the Washington Nationals this week with the strength of their starting pitching.

Tom Gorzelanny who had thrown 240 pitches combined in his previous two starts watched as Bruce drilled a hanging slider and a fastball that stayed right in the middle of the plate.

Bruce and Chris Valaika hit back-to-back homers in the fifth inning that together traveled an estimated 801 feet, suddenly turning a 2-1 game into a 6-1 blowout. Gorzelanny surrendered six runs and snapped his streak of throwing at least six innings in eight consecutive starts.

Nothing was working, Gorzelanny said. Ive been focused on trying to keep the ball down and just get guys to ground out. Ive been fortunate enough to not give up too many long balls (this season.) You run out of luck real easy pitching in a park like this, facing a lineup like this.

Its not as if Quade was going to finish the year undefeated. And the front office clearly respects his teaching background after managing 17 seasons in the minor leagues. But he doesnt want to think about the alternative, like if the organization will find a spot for him even if someone else is managing the 2011 Cubs.

I love Chicago Id love to be here, Quade said. (Ill) do this audition (and) then (well) see where we go from there. For me to think, Well, if I dont get it, Ill do this Thats not how Im geared.

Right now Im going to do the best job I can here and see what happens. And if the scenario doesnt involve me here running this club, then you take a look at other scenarios. Just let me get through these five weeks.

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

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”