Mooney: What to make of the September bounce

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Mooney: What to make of the September bounce

Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010
6:12 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Dusty Baker is a thoughtful, honest man, and at this time last year he had to be wondering about his job security and legacy. Baker had celebrated his 60th birthday that summer and would be entering the final season of a three-year contract.

During that time, the Cincinnati Reds had shown minimal improvement, going from 74 to 78 victories and rising from fifth to fourth in the National League Central. By Opening Day 2010, their 71.7 million payroll was less than half what the Cubs were prepared to spend.

But to generate optimism the Reds could point to the 20-11 run that ended last season. One Baseball Prospectus preseason projection had them continuing that gradual growth and finishing at 82-80.

On Wednesday Baker will be chewing a toothpick at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, where the Phillies have sold out 123 straight games and are looking to hang their third consecutive pennant, and second World Series banner in three years.

For the 91-win Reds, Game 1 of this best-of-five series will mark their first playoff appearance since 1995, and it helped the ex-Cubs manager earn a two-year extension.

The Cubs closed out 2010 with a similar 24-13 push under Mike Quade, and you will be hearing about that statistic nonstop if he is named manager for next season.

Its not how you start, Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster said. When you finish like this it does carry over into next year (because) it makes it that much more exciting to get to spring training. Its unfortunate were going home right now, but well enjoy some time off and some relaxation and then get ready to get back at it.

It would have been the same story with the Padres if the Cubs hadnt won three-of-four games last week in San Diego. In 2009 the Padres went on a 37-25 run to finish at 75-87 and the momentum continued into a 90-win season, in a year and a league where 91 and 92 victories won the wild card and the division.

Anybody that discounts (this) and says it doesnt matter in September they couldnt be more wrong, general manager Jim Hendry said. I think youd ask the San Diego Padres if September mattered from a Cubs point of view.

The Pittsburgh Pirates also had a bump near the end of this season, going 13-17 from Sept. 1 on and 44-88 before that point. Does anyone honestly think they will experience the carryover effect?

Its difficult to assess all these performances, when the rosters are bloated with September call-ups and managers are making decisions while taking the long view and not trying to squeeze the most out of every matchup.

But in a game that is increasingly ruled by numbers, theres also something to be said for the feel of a clubhouse, the energy in the room. Near the end, all that changed around the Cubs. You could hear Bob Marley bouncing from the speakers after most wins.

(We) relaxed, outfielder Marlon Byrd said. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves at the beginning of the season, pressed when we werent winning. (Its) one of those things where we turned it on at the wrong time. Were just showing that we are a good team. Its just a little too late.

Theres also a difference between getting outs when the bleachers are empty and when 41,000-plus are packed into Wrigley Field. A young, inexperienced bullpen that began the season as a weakness ended it with 28 consecutive scoreless innings and a 1.19 ERA in its last 25 games.

When he managed at Triple-A Iowa, Quade was a September call-up to the Cubs, and Baker kept him around for the postseason. Quade will always be grateful for that opportunity. Again it could take years to really see what the exposure meant.

To say we want to build on this? Absolutely, but talk doesnt get it done, Quade said. Saying it and doing it are two different things. (But) much the way I said I think I found out a lot about myself these last six weeks, (those kids) better have found out a lot about themselves.

It doesnt mean they have it figured out. The minute you think you (do), youre in trouble. But theyve come a long way and I think theyre ready to take the next step to be better.

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

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

Report: Aroldis Chapman returns to Yankees on five-year deal

After helping bring a World Series title back to the North Side, Aroldis Chapman is headed back to New York.

The former Cubs closer signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees, according to FOX's Ken Rosenthal.

He was acquired by the Cubs in July in exchange for pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Rashad Crawford, Billy McKinney and Gleyber Torres.

Chapman notched 36 saves and owned a 1.01 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and recorded 90 strikeouts across 26 2/3 innings with the Cubs during the regular season.

He appeared in 13 postseason contests, where he registered a 3.45 ERA,1.09 WHIP and 21 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings. 

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

Why Cubs felt like they had to trade Jorge Soler now

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – Before making the blockbuster Aroldis Chapman trade with the New York Yankees, the Cubs checked in with the Kansas City Royals about Wade Davis and found the asking price to be Kyle Schwarber. 

The psychology and the supply-and-demand dynamics are different in July. Schwarber had been damaged goods, still recovering from major knee surgery and months away from his dramatic return in the World Series. Davis also could have impacted two pennants races for his new team instead of one.
 
By the time a $10 billion industry reconvened this week outside Washington, D.C., for the winter meetings, the small-market Royals could compromise with Jorge Soler, betting on his long-term upside and facing the reality that their World Series closer could have been part of a mass exodus of free agents after the 2017 season.

The Cubs also checked into the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center knowing that Soler is a diminishing asset for a loaded team at a time when his best attribute – right-handed power – could be found on the free-agent market in sluggers like Edwin Encarnacion and Mark Trumbo.  
     
“I think there’s some great baseball ahead for him,” team president Theo Epstein said Wednesday night after the Cubs finalized the Soler-for-Davis trade. “I think it’s more likely that he reaches his ceiling now than it was 24 hours ago, because he’s got a chance to play every day.” 

Soler became a top priority within the first weeks of the Epstein administration as Cubs officials scouted the Cuban defector in the Dominican Republic before Thanksgiving 2011, picturing him as a building block for future playoff teams at a renovated Wrigley Field. 

Even chairman Tom Ricketts met with Soler’s camp during a trip to the Dominican Republic before the Cubs won the bidding war and the prospect signed a nine-year, $30 million major-league contract in the summer of 2012. 

Years later, manager Joe Maddon would describe Soler as Vladimir Guerrero with plate discipline, the kind of talent who would be drafted No. 1 overall if he had been born in South Florida. 

Soler showed flashes of superstar potential. He absolutely crushed the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2015 playoffs (2.341 OPS) and will get a well-deserved World Series ring. But he didn’t look like a complete player or an athlete the Cubs could count on to stay healthy, profiling more like a designated hitter in the American League.

“When George was playing sporadically, he became a little bit more of an all-or-nothing power threat,” Epstein said, “because it’s hard to get into a good rhythm and you’re not seeing pitches as much. You’re not recognizing spin the same way. 

“When he’s locked in, he can work really good at-bats. And he’s a hitter – not just a power hitter. So I think it’s more likely now that his potential gets unleashed at some point. We’re rooting for him.”

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Maybe Soler – who still hasn’t turned 25 yet – can avoid some of the leg injuries as a part-time DH and put it all together in Kansas City as the Royals try to balance the present, the future and their financial realities. But the Cubs are a win-now team that believes Davis could get them the final out of the 2017 World Series. 

An October legend (Schwarber) and a $184 million Gold Glove defender (Jason Heyward) would keep blocking Soler at the corner spots in Wrigley Field, where a National League MVP (Kris Bryant) and a World Series MVP (Ben Zobrist) can move away from the infield. Javier Baez is another versatile, well-rounded player who would continue to marginalize Soler. 

“It became tough for us,” Epstein said, “with Schwarber looking like he’s destined to play quite a bit of left field. Not ruling catching out as an option to some extent, but he’s going to play a lot of left field. 

“And with Javy’s emergence – and what that means for Zobrist’s possible role in the outfield as well at times – it just became tougher and tougher to see George getting regular at-bats with us. 

“We felt like he needed to play – and it would have been a tough fit.”

It would have been even tougher to trade a spare outfielder during his fourth season in the big leagues. Stashing Soler – who has 27 career homers in less than 700 big-league at-bats – at Triple-A Iowa wouldn’t have been the answer. 

The Cubs saw this day coming. Schwarber wrecked his knee in early April and Soler injured his hamstring two months later and wound up missing two months.

“He just couldn’t quite stay healthy enough,” Epstein said, “and kind of slumped at the wrong time and started to get hot right before he got hurt.

“That was kind of how we envisioned it: ‘Hey, if there’s an opportunity, this guy can take the job and run with it – and then we have an even more valuable trade chip – or we’ve got an everyday leftfielder/middle-of the-order bat.’ It just didn’t quite come together. 

“But I think this trade – despite that – recouped a lot of his value. It made sense for him, for us and for the Royals.”