Chicago Cubs

Mooney: Cubs, Looper feel Wainwright's pain

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Mooney: Cubs, Looper feel Wainwright's pain

Wednesday, Feb. 23, 2011
Posted 4:45 p.m. Updated 8:32 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

MESA, Ariz. The St. Louis Cardinals still have Hall of Fame pieces. Albert Pujols will be in the lineup and Tony La Russa will be in the dugout, at least for one more season.

Chris Carpenter has a Cy Young Award and Matt Holliday has a 120 million contract. This is an organization that has finished under .500 just once in the past 11 years, making seven playoff appearances and winning the World Series during that time.

Self-pity is not part of the approach that were going to take, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak told a St. Louis radio station.

The Cardinals will not crumble without Adam Wainwright, who had his right elbow examined Wednesday for whats being called a serious injury. He will seek a second opinion that may tell him to get Tommy John surgery. A baseball town should have the resources to do something.

Its a great franchise, Cubs general manager Jim Hendry said. They always have the ability to get better and add on. I fully expect them to be right in the thick of it no matter what.

The 29-year-old Wainwright has finished second and third in the Cy Young voting the past two seasons. Within that timeframe, hes won 39 games, made 67 starts and accounted for 463.1 innings.

Thats a damn shame, Cubs manager Mike Quade said. I dont know what else to say.

Braden Looper walled himself off from baseball last year. He went with his kids Little League team to two White Sox games, but otherwise didnt watch much of it as he eased toward retirement in Chicagos south suburbs.

Looper did make it a point to tune in when Wainwright pitched. Looper, whos trying to make the Cubs as a non-roster invitee, remains close with Wainwright from their time together as Cardinals teammates. Looper took the rookie out to lunch almost every day when he first came up.

You hate to hear that, Looper said. Hes such a great guy and has been pitching so well. You dont ever want anybody to get hurt. Its kind of sad, but hes young. Hell be all right. Hes strong.

Hendry, who once had so much invested in Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, knows what its like to receive those phone calls.

Its the nature of this business, Hendry said. The years you think you have it knocked and got great pitching, (one) or two devastating things happen and youre looking at a whole different ballgame.

The 36-year-old Looper has thrown 1,176 innings in 670 major-league games. Hes been on the disabled list just once in his career. He has no idea why hes remained so healthy.

The National League Central became a lot more interesting this winter when the Cubs traded for Matt Garza and the Milwaukee Brewers added Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Its still a wide-open division. The Cubs were in no way gloating over this misfortune.

The Wainwright news was a reminder that this is a fragile game and pitching is an unnatural action. The best offseason plans can be shredded instantly.

Any team youre ever on has to deal with adversity in some way, Looper said. Inevitably, theres something, (but) they got a good group of guys over there. Theyll be fine. Its going to be a good battle, with or without Adam. Its still a rivalry.

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

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

With or without Justin Verlander, Jake Arrieta expects Cubs to stay in first place: ‘We have the pieces’

The Cubs already have a Cy Young Award winner, someone who was transforming into the hottest pitcher on the planet around this time in 2015, and then beat the Cleveland Indians twice on the road in last year’s World Series.

So the Cubs can keep discussing Justin Verlander and trying to figure out the price point where it makes sense, what caliber prospects they would have to give up and how much money the Detroit Tigers would have to kick in to cover a bill that could soar toward $90 million. 

But Jake Arrieta showed why the Cubs might finally start to run away from the division and become a very dangerous team in October, dominating the White Sox on Wednesday night at Guaranteed Rate Field during an 8-3 win that vaulted them into first place in the National League Central.          

“We expect to remain in first place,” Arrieta said. “We know it’s going to be a tough task, but that’s kind of what you deal with at the highest level of sports. You expect to have really good competition from teams that are either equal with you or close behind.

“We feel like we have the group to separate ourselves at this point in time and remain in first place for the remainder of the way.”

The Cubs probably don’t have the blue-chip prospects – and the appetite to raid their farm system again – to blow away the Oakland A’s and win a bidding war for Sonny Gray. The Cubs kick the tires on everything, but Yu Darvish would be a rental and the Texas Rangers are torn over what to do with their Japanese star. 

This is another reason why the Cubs are focusing on adding a veteran backup catcher and strengthening the bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline: Arrieta Watch is back, taking a no-hitter into the fifth inning in front of a sellout crowd of 38,517 before Omar Narvaez drilled a ground-rule double into the right-center field seats.  

The Cubs are 10-2 since trading for Jose Quintana during the All-Star break, erasing a 5.5-game deficit against the Milwaukee Brewers heading into this weekend’s showdown at Miller Park. At 53-47, the Cubs are a season-high six games over .500, and it all starts with pitching.  

“I think we’ve got the pieces to get it done,” Arrieta said. “If there’s a situation where we can get another guy and not lose any key players, it might work in our favor.

“Obviously, when we traded for Quintana, that’s a huge addition to our ballclub. This guy’s really good. He works his butt off. And just seeing how he carries himself in between starts is a really great sign. To have a guy like that who works extremely hard and cares about the team winning ballgames – you can’t replace that.

“That trade right there in itself is one that’s going to pay huge dividends for this ballclub, not only for this year, but for the next couple years. But we’re a great team right now, and I think we have the pieces to get it done.”  

Arrieta was on cruise control until Yoan Moncada launched his 98th and final pitch – an 0-2 curveball – 409 feet over the center-field wall with two outs in the seventh inning. Arrieta only allowed those two hits, giving up two runs and finishing with five strikeouts against two walks, continuing the correction super-agent Scott Boras predicted when the Chicago media and Cubs fans wondered about his flashes of diminished velocity and spikes in hard contact during a free-agency push.

Arrieta has methodically put together 10 wins and three straight quality starts after the All-Star break, chopping his ERA down from 5.44 in the middle of May to 4.03. Ricky Renteria’s White Sox are obviously tanking for the future and there are a lot of conditions attached to this statement: 

But if Arrieta pitches like this, Jon Lester continues to be one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation, Quintana excels in a pennant race and Kyle Hendricks regains his feel and rhythm after six-plus weeks on the disabled list, then the Cubs might have a better playoff rotation than the one that ended the 108-year drought.     

“We’re feelin’ it,” Arrieta said, thinking back to last summer, when Theo Epstein’s front office added 100-mph closer Aroldis Chapman to a team with close to a 99-percent chance of making the playoffs. “I remember last year we were in this clubhouse around this same time, and it’s no different.” 

Look at the competition: The Washington Nationals might be forced into adding a frontline starter now that Stephen Strasburg is headed to the 10-day disabled list with a nerve impingement in his right forearm. The Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping a strained lower back won’t stop Clayton Kershaw from making a few tune-up starts in September before becoming their Game 1 starter in October.

With or without Verlander, the Cubs are ramping up to defend their title.

“I’m going to continue to get stronger as the year progresses,” Arrieta said. “I feel like my best baseball, my best pitching, is still ahead of me. And I’m ready for it.”

What happened between John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo in Cubs dugout? 'None of your business'

What happened between John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo in Cubs dugout? 'None of your business'

Nothing to see here, the Cubs insisted after a TV camera caught John Lackey and Anthony Rizzo arguing in the Wrigley Field dugout on Tuesday afternoon, a scrap overshadowed by Kris Bryant’s ejection and the White Sox getting eye-for-an-eye retribution.

It still became the pregame story on the South Side, even if it somehow didn’t immediately go viral on Twitter, or really register on the Cubs-Sox Richter scale that shook for Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen, Lou Piniella vs. Steve Stone and Michael Barrett vs. A.J. Pierzynski.

So what happened?

“None of your business,” Lackey said Wednesday with a big smile and the chuckle that punctuates most of his answers to the media. “It’s in that dugout.”

Minutes later, on the other side of the visiting clubhouse at Guaranteed Rate Field, Rizzo joked: “It was almost kind of like Zambrano and Derrek Lee.”

This wouldn’t have even come up during the anger-management sessions the Cubs forced Zambrano to attend after that incident here in 2010. Big Z showed up for spring training the next year and pronounced: “I’m cured. I got approval from the psychologist that I can be by myself.”

“It wasn’t a big deal at all,” Lackey said. “Like I said, none of your business.”

Frustrated by a potential double-play ball that found a hole with Tim Anderson running and shortstop Addison Russell covering second base, Lackey bumped into Rizzo in the dugout after a second inning that also saw White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon hit a two-run double. Rizzo’s eyes widened and the franchise first baseman gestured toward the field with both of his hands. A muttering Lackey turned his back and started to walk away from Rizzo.

“Like I said, none of your business,” Lackey said. “Just two men talking.”

The Cubs are used to Lackey Being Lackey, which means glaring at hitters, jawing with umpires and sometimes showing up teammates for perceived lapses on the field (even when last year’s 103-win team played defense at a historic level).

“We won the game,” said Lackey, who also became the first Cub to hit four batters in a game since Moe Drabowsky in 1957. “Let’s move on. You guys are trying to stir s--- up.”

Everything all right with you and Lackey?

“Yeah, as far as I know,” Rizzo said. “We’re just talking, making sure he knows we’re going to give him some more runs, not to worry about it. That’s really it. It’s pretty funny I have to talk about this the next day.”

Either way, this probably won’t end well for Lackey, who is 38 and has a 4.97 ERA in the final season of a two-year, $32 million contract. But clashing with Rizzo during a 96-loss season contributed to manager Dale Sveum getting fired in 2013. And burying Miguel Montero during Rizzo’s WMVP-AM 1000 gig foreshadowed the veteran catcher getting DFA’d last month.

“I think it’s just a lot of uneducated speculation, to be honest, about our team,” Rizzo said.

Well, educate us then, a reporter said.

“I don’t need to educate you guys on in-house matters,” Rizzo said. “Lackey’s one of my probably best friends on this team. That’s the good part about this team. When you have friends, you can talk to them, and it’s nothing more than just friends talking to friends.”

Manager Joe Maddon – who has known Lackey since he was a rookie on the 2002 Anaheim Angels team that won a World Series – sounded like a press secretary during the pregame briefing.

“Not at all (unusual),” Maddon said. “I don’t know if I’ve seen it before. The thing is, I’ve heard about this and it’s really kind of funny. Really innocuous to the point where I had no idea.

“First of all, there’s two things: There’s really nothing to report. Second of all, if there is a little bit of that that ever occurs, there’s nothing wrong with it. Nothing wrong with guys calling BS on somebody else in the moment. But that’s not what happened yesterday.”

The truth is we will miss Lackey when he goes home to Texas and disappears. This is a great cartoon villain/media foil/old-school curmudgeon with three World Series rings. The Cubs-Sox rivalry needs more of those characters.  

“He’s a competitor,” Rizzo said. “It’s really, really good for us. He does bring a lot of intensity every single start, and he expects the best out of everyone. That’s good for a team like ours with young guys. Five, six, seven years from now, they’re going to be talking about how Lackey used to play, and what he used to do to the younger guys coming up, and how he was locked in for every one of his starts.”