Chicago Cubs

Slow down: Cubs, Ramirez want green light to run

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Slow down: Cubs, Ramirez want green light to run

Sunday, March 6, 2011
3:14 p.m.
By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com
MESA, Ariz. Aramis Ramirez carried a sandwich and a Mountain Dew back to his locker on Sunday and saw five reporters approaching.

I thought I got traded or something, he joked.

They were curious about another idea that seems just as unlikely Ramirez telling manager Mike Quade that he wants the green light to run. Ramirez, who made his major-league debut in 1998, has 15 stolen bases in his career. He thinks he could get as many as 10 this year.

Hey, if you can sneak one here and there theyre not paying attention to me. I know that for a fact, Ramirez said. I dont think you have to be a fast runner to steal bases. I dont think (Albert) Pujols is fast. He steals 15 to 20 bags.

The Cubs do not have a prototypical leadoff hitter. The middle of their order Marlon Byrd, Ramirez, Carlos Pena and Alfonso Soriano will be at ages 34, 33, 33 and 35 by seasons end. Their lineup is built around power, not speed.

But as Byrd pointed out, new first-base coach Bob Dernier is pushing the Cubs to be more aggressive. Dernier stole 218 bases in his career and previously worked as the organizations minor-league base-running coordinator.

Oh yeah, we can run, Byrd said. Im sure 'Q' is going to let us run a little bit with all our athleticism that we do have on the team. We didnt show it last year. Now its time to pick it up.

The message from Quade on Sunday was slow down. Ryan Theriot, who was shipped out at last seasons trade deadline, led the team with 16 stolen bases in 2010. Overall the Cubs stole 55, which tied them for last in the majors.

I know Bobby is very interested in making sure that this label that we dont run gets eliminated, Quade said, but we need to run intelligently. (We) dont have a bunch of flyers on this club, but we want to take advantage when the situation presents itself. Were not selling out to quote-unquote run.

I always used to laugh (when guys say): I want to be aggressive and I want to run. I look at his roster and (they) got a bunch of heavy-legged home run hitters. Youre going to run yourself out of innings.

That sounds like a more accurate description of your 2011 Cubs. But Byrd, Kosuke Fukudome, Tyler Colvin and Fernando Perez if he makes the team as the fifth outfielder should pressure teams.

Ultimately, its not a question of running or not running. Its being smarter, more decisive and aware of your surroundings.

If you get a good jump, Ramirez said, you can steal some bases.

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

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

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USA TODAY

Once again, Javier Baez will be a huge X-factor for Cubs down the stretch

Javier Baez flicked his bat and watched the ball rocket in the direction of Waveland Avenue, the last of the back-to-back-to-back homers against Cincinnati Reds starter/Cubs trivia answer Scott Feldman.

That quick strike came during a four-homer fourth inning on Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, where the offense looked explosive and the pitching looked combustible in a 13-10 loss that left the Milwaukee Brewers one game out of first place, the St. Louis Cardinals right behind them and the Cubs awaiting a diagnosis on Jon Lester’s lat injury.

“I know the talent we got,” Baez said. “When they come to play a team like us, we know they’re going to come play hard and obviously play good baseball. They’re going to come to compete, and that’s what we got to do.”

Whatever happens from here – the Cubs are 2-2 so far during a 13-game stretch against last-place teams – you know Baez will be in the middle of the action as the No. 8 hitter with 19 homers this season and a power source with Willson Contreras (strained right hamstring) injured.

This is the starting shortstop until Addison Russell (strained right foot/plantar fasciitis) comes off the disabled list and the unique talent you couldn’t take your eyes off during last year’s playoffs.

“He’s not afraid of anything,” manager Joe Maddon said. “So I don’t care how big or small the game is, he’s going to play the same way. He’s going to do everything pretty much full gorilla all the time.

“Sometimes, he’s going to make a mistake. And that’s OK, because with certain people – with all of us – you got to take the bad with the good. Everybody wants perfection. He’s going to make some mistakes. But most of the time, he’s going to pull off events.”

The night before against the Reds, Baez led off the ninth inning with a line-drive double and scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch. Last week, Statcast clocked him at 16.11 seconds for his inside-the-park homer off the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. Over the weekend, he launched another home-run ball 463 feet against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

There are so many different ways Baez can help the Cubs win a game at a time when they don’t have anywhere close to the same margin for error that they did during last season’s joyride into the playoffs.

“I know we often talk about the strikeouts or the big swings,” Maddon said. “But look at his two-strike numbers. Look at his OPS (.808). Look at the run production in general (his 55 RBI match Kris Bryant). It’s been outstanding. And you combine that with first-rate defense.

“Now he’s going to make some mistakes. I’ve talked about that. That’s going to go away with just experience. As he gets older, plays more often, he’s going to make less of those routine mistakes. And the game’s going to get really clean and sharp.”

Until then, Baez will keep taking huge swings, making spectacular plays and trying to cut down on the errors (10 in 334 innings at shortstop, or one less than Russell through 729 innings), because he knows what he means to this team.  

“Javy’s very important,” pitcher Jake Arrieta said. “He’s one of our best defensive players, one of our most athletic players on the team.

“Javy’s got a really big swing, but he’s got a great eye and he handles the bat really well. For as big as his swing is, he still manages to make really good contact. I don’t want him to approach the game any other way than he does right now.”

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

Should the Cubs pursue Justin Verlander after Jon Lester's injury, and what would they have to give up?

The Cubs may be in some trouble, with the injury bug hitting them at an inopportune time.

First it was Addison Russell (strained right foot), then it was Willson Contreras, arguably the best catcher in baseball and one of the hottest hitters on the planet before going down with a hamstring injury, and now it's Jon Lester who may be on his way to the disabled list after suffering a strained left lat muscle in Thursday's 13-10 loss to Cincinnati.

All of this occurring during a time Joe Maddon's club is looking to pull away from the pack in the National League Central and capture their second straight division crown, which appears to be the only way the North Siders can control their own destiny.

So what should the Cubs do if Lester is sidelined for an extended period of time?

One option could be re-opening trade discussions surrounding Justin Verlander, who cleared revocable waivers in early August. But what would it take to get him, and how much salary would they have to take on for it to happen?

The SportsTalk Live panel weighed in on that possibility in the video above.