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.

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

For Cubs, winter meetings will be all about the hunt for pitching 

As the Cubs prepare for the winter meetings outside Washington, D.C., their messaging might as well be: It’s the pitching, stupid.

This is an arms race that will never end, the Cubs trying to defend their first World Series title in 108 years, build out a bullpen that looked pretty thin by November and target the kind of young starter who could help anchor their rotation for years to come, ensuring Wrigleyville remains baseball’s biggest party.

The Cubs signed Brian Duensing to a one-year, $2 million contract on Friday, placing a small bet on a lefty specialist who spent parts of last season on the Triple-A level but made a good enough impression during his 13-plus innings with the Baltimore Orioles.

As executives, scouts, agents and reporters begin to flood into National Harbor on Sunday, the Cubs will intensify their search for pitching, everything from headliners to insurance policies to prospects.

“That’s been the significant bulk of our efforts,” general manager Jed Hoyer said, “It’s definitely not going to be through lack of trying on our part to make that kind of deal. That’s now. That’s at the deadline.”  

The Cubs are preparing for Opening Day 2018, when Jake Arrieta will probably be in a different uniform after signing his megadeal, John Lackey might be kicking back in Texas and enjoying retirement and Jon Lester will be 34 years old with maybe 2,300 innings on his odometer. 

The Cubs have unwavering faith in their pitching infrastructure at the major-league level, from the scouting and analytic perspectives that identified the right sign-and-flip deals during the rebuilding years to the coaching staff that helped mold Kyle Hendricks into a Cy Young Award finalist and a World Series Game 7 starter.

Mike Montgomery notched the final out against the Cleveland Indians and the Cubs see him as their next big project. The lefty checks so many of their boxes, from age (27) to size (6-foot-5) to pedigree (former first-round pick/top prospect) to the change-of-scenery confidence boost/mental reset.

Forget about the White Sox trading Chris Sale to the North Side and don’t just think about obvious names or trade partners. Maybe it’s making a deal for a guy you never heard of before and sifting through the non-tender bin. (As expected, the Cubs offered contracts to arbitration-eligible pitchers Arrieta, Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Justin Grimm before Friday’s deadline. Their 40-man roster stands at 35 after non-tendering lefties Gerardo Concepcion and Zac Rosscup, right-hander Conor Mullee and infielder Christian Villanueva.)

Remember how team president Theo Epstein framed the Montgomery trade with the Seattle Mariners this summer – comparing him to All-Star reliever Andrew Miller – and that gives you an idea of how they can address their pitching deficit this winter. 

“If your scouts do a good job of identifying the guys who are trending in the right direction – and you’re willing to take a shot – sometimes there’s a big payoff at the end,” Epstein said.   

While the Cubs did Jason Hammel a favor by cutting him loose and allowing him to explore the market as one of the best pitchers in an extremely weak class of free agents, Montgomery has only 23 big-league starts on his resume. 

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

The Cubs had five starters make at least 29 starts this year, while four starters accounted for 30-plus starts in 2015, a remarkable run that led to 200 wins.

“As we’ve talked about so many times,” Hoyer said, “we do have an imbalance in our organization – hitting vs. pitching – and we’re trying to make sure we can accumulate as much pitching depth as possible. 

“We were very healthy this year, which was wonderful and a big part of why we won the World Series. I don’t think you can always count on that kind of health every single year. Building up a reservoir of depth – preferably guys you can option (to the minors) – is something (we’re trying) to accomplish.”  

The Cubs have Jorge Soler stuck in a crowded outfield plus the types of interesting prospects who appear to be blocked – catcher Victor Caratini, third baseman Jeimer Candelario, infielder/outfielder Ian Happ – to make relatively painless trades for pitching (if not the kind of blockbuster deal that dominates coverage of the winter meetings).

Lefty reliever Brett Cecil getting a four-year, $30.5 million deal and no-trade protection from the St. Louis Cardinals became another sign of how shallow this free-agent pool is for starting pitchers and a reflection of a postseason where the bullpen became a major storyline.

The idea of Kenley Jansen intrigues the Cubs – and Aroldis Chapman made a favorable impression during his three-plus months with the team – but Epstein’s front office already made the major upgrades for 2017 by spending nearly $290 million on free agents after the 2015 playoff run. Philosophically, the Cubs also see smarter long-term investments than trying to win a bidding war for a guy who might throw 70 innings a year. 

With that in mind, the Cubs could get creative and have looked at free agent Greg Holland, a two-time All-Star closer with the Kansas City Royals who didn’t pitch this year after having Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.  

Remember that Chapman left the New York Yankees and joined a team that had a 56-1 record when leading entering the ninth inning. If Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. can’t handle the late shifts, then the Cubs could always go out and trade for another closer in the middle of a pennant race.    

The Cubs have the luxuries of time, zero pressure from ownership, their fan base or the Chicago media and a stacked, American League-style lineup. 

“Right now, we could go play from an offensive standpoint and feel very good about our group,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to still continue to look to improve the depth in our bullpen, improve the depth in our starting rotation. Those are things that probably never go away. You probably never stop trying to build that depth.” 

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

What will LeBron James wear to pay up on Cubs World Series bet with Dwyane Wade?

LeBron James is coming to town, and he will be all decked out in Cubs gear.

The Cavs are in Chicago to take on the Bulls Friday night at the United Center and it's time for LeBron to pay up on his World Series bet with Dwyane Wade.

The two former teammates made the wager during the World Series as LeBron's hometown Indians took on Wade's hometown Cubs, with the loser wearing the winning baseball team's gear when they showed up in the opposing city. This is LeBron's first trip to Chicago this season.

Wade and LeBron already acknowledged they're having fun with this and have a whole spectacle planned with a national TV audience.

LeBron told the Akron Beacon Journal he's not going to try to take the easy way out and just toss on a Cubs jersey. He is planning socks, hat, pants and possibly more. But he won't wear cleats or bring a glove with him.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

When the Cubs won it all a month ago Friday, Wade posted an Instagram photo of LeBron wearing a Cubs uniform:

And ESPN had a cutout of LeBron sporting a No. 23 Cubs road gray jersey outside the United Center Friday morning:

CSN Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill wonders whether LeBron will don signature Joe Maddon glasses, too.

This is gonna be fun, you guys.