Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

362876.jpg

Q rating: Cubs trying to create some buzz

Thursday, Jan. 13, 2011
8:32 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Maybe next week, while running baseball clinics in Italy, Mike Quade can escape all the questions.

Quade will likely view this through the prism he sees everything else, whether its a racing form or the thick binder of statistics on his desk. He will weigh the possibilities, play the percentages and realize: It is worth it. This is part of the job.

Even if Quade isnt entirely comfortable with some of the public aspects of being a major-league manager in 2011, he will still be front and center this weekend at the Cubs Convention.

Cubs executives wont be hanging a Mission Accomplished banner across the lobby of the Hilton Chicago. This offseason at Wrigley Field has seen an Undercover Boss cleaning toilets, two college football teams running at the same end zone, ownership asking local government for help and strangers weeping at Ron Santos memorial.

But the baseball operations department has achieved its three primary objectives, all with only about 10 million to spend this winter on a first baseman, a veteran reliever and a No. 2 starter.

If you are a Cubs fan, you will be impressed by how polished and intelligent Carlos Pena comes across (while wondering if hell hit .196 again).

You will appreciate that Kerry Wood values family and loyalty over greed (and hope that he doesnt get injured again).

You will be intrigued by Matt Garzas talent (as well as the potential of the five players it took to get him).

That wont erase the memories of an underachieving team, or automatically fill all those empty seats you saw in the bleachers. The 13-game plan that went on sale Thursday is a new way of doing business, part of the makeover.

A team official said that by Friday, when the convention opens, the Cubs will have sold roughly the same amount of tickets to the event as recent years, but acknowledged that hotel bookings have been soft.

In terms of a Q rating, the Cubs will be running behind the Bears and LeBron James at the United Center. And a source indicated that Santos replacement will not be announced this weekend, so they wont make headlines that way.

Still, the question-and-answer sessions with baseball management and business operations should feature some entertainingly awkward moments. The Ricketts family will have to defend their record after their first full year of ownership.

Fans will want to know: why Ryne Sandberg wasnt hired (relative lack of experience); who will bat leadoff (Blake DeWittJeff Bakerdepends on the matchups); and who will start Opening Day (Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster or Garza).

The second-guessing isnt why Quade will be leaving the country. But soon decisions will have to be made, the names on the big board in Jim Hendrys office coming to life.

It will be difficult to not bump into one of Sandbergs former teammates at the hotel. Time will tell if the general manager made the right call, which team chairman Tom Ricketts has said was all Hendrys.

If some are skeptical, the man who managed 2,378 games in the minors has already convinced the people that matter.

We feel like Q is one of us, catcher Koyie Hill said. There are a lot of different temperaments and personalities in a clubhouse. To get a guy in charge and feel like hes a part of what youre trying to do hes not just showing up and putting the lineup up but hes literally a part of the groupthat goes a long ways.

We really appreciate the honesty and the effort that he gives every day. I think youll see us give that back.

For someone with such a blue-collar approach, Quade is a bit of a foodie. On Wednesday he visited his old high school in Mount Prospect, a place filled with memories. One night next week, somewhere near Bologna, he might enjoy an Italian meal, sip a fine glass of wine and reflect on how far he has come and how much work he still has to do.

I will not change, Quade said on the final day of last season. Whether thats good or bad for the marketing department, youll have to talk to them.

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

Wake-up Call: Comeback Cubs; White Sox lose eighth straight game

Wake-up Call: Comeback Cubs; White Sox lose eighth straight game

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

White Sox manager Rick Renteria 'surprised' Melky Cabrera hasn't been traded

Familiar problems for Fire in loss at New York City FC

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

Royals think White Sox have done 'phenomenal job' acquiring young talent

For the Blackhawks defense, change is the new normal

With Kyle Hendricks back in the mix, Cubs set rotation for Crosstown series with White Sox

What White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is doing to combat second-year struggles

Blackhawks: Tommy Wingels fractures foot, will be ready for training camp

Freak of nature: Kris Bryant wows again with insane healing ability

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”