Chicago Cubs

Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade

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Pirates rain on Cubs' Opening Day parade

Friday, April 1, 2011
Posted: 4:39 p.m. Updated: 8:08 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Distractions always rush in on Opening Day. There was the overflow media crowd, Robert Redford throwing out the first pitch and steady rain on a cold, gray afternoon.

WATCH: High expectations among Cubs fans on Opening Day

Kerry Wood came home again and received the loudest ovation during pregame introductions, wearing a No. 10 hat to honor the late Ron Santo. Manager Mike Quade took the Red Line to work on Friday morning, after so many years of riding buses from one minor-league city to the next.

Finally, baseball was back for the 41,358 fans inside Wrigley Field. Even if it was 41 degrees, summer didnt seem quite as far away.

But once the adrenaline wears off and the initial excitement goes away, this much becomes clear: Anything the Cubs hope to do this season is premised upon pitching, from the front of their rotation to the back of their bullpen.

It didnt happen in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates. Ryan Dempster cruised through 4 23 scoreless innings before giving up two home runs that made the difference. By the end, large sections of Wrigley Field were almost completely empty.

No storybook ending, but I dont believe in those things anyway, Quade said. Youre going to earn what you get and we didnt earn it today. We got beat.

Dempster lost a seven-pitch at-bat against Neil Walker with two outs in the fifth inning. Walker crushed a 3-2 fastball onto Sheffield Avenue for a grand slam that gave the Pirates a 4-2 lead.

But what really burned Dempster was his 114th and final pitch sailing away, the two-out, two-run homer Andrew McCutchen drove into the left-field bleachers. That seventh-inning sequence opened Quade up to second-guessing.

Those add-on runs (usually) end up putting you away for the rest of the game, Dempster said. I still felt good and I felt strong, but I wasnt able to get the job done.

Quade visited the mound in the seventh but liked what he saw from Dempster the inning before. Dempster was still within his pitch-count range and McCutchen was going to be his last hitter anyway. The manager left the ball in the hand of his most reliable pitcher.

Hes earned the right to do that, Quade said.

Pitching depth is the obvious strength of this group, from a rotation fronted by Dempster, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Garza, to a bullpen built around Wood, Sean Marshall and Carlos Marmol.

Its supposed to mask a lineup that will struggle to score runs, make up for some shaky defense and protect the middle relievers. Opening Day almost flipped the script.

The Cubs pounded out 11 hits, but those were 11 singles and none broke open the game. The middle infield looked strong particularly the range, reactions and decision-making by 21-year-old shortstop Starlin Castro. James Russell, John Grabow and Jeff Samardzija combined for 2 13 innings of scoreless relief.

Sometimes we look at the whole entire season and it seems like a lot (to) carry on our shoulders, Carlos Pena said. But this group (is) wise enough (to know) how important its going to be to take a pitch at a time. As clichd as that may sound, its something that we can handle.

Lets keep pressing for every single pitch. And at the end of the day we know that we have given our best and hopefully that will be many, many wins.

Pena missed the take sign on a 3-0 pitch during one at-bat and popped out during his first game at Wrigley Field. But the new first baseman preferred to take away the positives. And pitching should keep the Cubs optimistic and hoping that tomorrow will be a better day. If nothing else, it should be interesting Zambranos up next.

It wasnt the way we liked, Aramis Ramirez said, but we got 161 to go.

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

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”