Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs

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Soriano wants to lead the way for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. You can ask Alfonso Soriano just about anything and hell say whatevers on his mind.

When the clubhouse opened on Friday, the media staked out the corner by his locker, shoulder to shoulder, oblivious to the two players stretching out on the floor, forcing them to get up and move.

On a Cubs team without many big names, and with so many new faces, there is still Soriano.

Soriano was at ease standing there in front of the waves of reporters, resting his arm against a locker. He insisted that Starlin Castro did nothing wrong. He said he was happy for Ryan Braun, glad the Milwaukee Brewers star overturned a 50-game suspension for a positive drug test.

Carlos Zambrano? Soriano says: Nobody was happy. I think the team was happy they were able to trade him. I think Zs happy, too, now that hes in Miami, so it worked great for both (sides).

Zambrano is hanging with Ozzie Guillen, while Aramis Ramirez will protect Braun in the Brewers lineup. The sweeping changes at Clark and Addison didnt touch Soriano.

The past couple years we had a nice group, but some people (werent) giving 100 percent, Soriano said. Now this group is kind of young. Theyre hungry to play and were ready to compete.

The Cubs were coming off a last-place finish in 2006 when Soriano signed his 136 million contract. Hes a symbol of the old way of doing business, the win-one-for-the-Tribune mentality that overtook the organization.

Theo Epstein is supposed to build it the right way, for the long haul. A 36-year-old outfielder with creaky legs, no-trade rights and 54 million guaranteed through 2014 doesnt exactly fit the vision. But the new president of baseball operations expects Soriano to be a leader.

People respect me because of the way that I work Im not a lazy guy, Soriano said. Im the oldest guy (among the position players). People see me work. People see my attitude, so I think thats a leader.

Soriano believes he will get along fine with new manager Dale Sveum, whos promised to hold players accountable and call out anyone who doesnt hustle.

Its not a problem, Soriano said. We can play hard for him. I think if we play harder every day, well see a difference and I want to try to do my best to make him happy.

The bigger tension might be between the urge to win now and the patience it will take to build an annual contender. Its something Sveum mentioned in his first meeting with the whole team.

The biggest question (all) winter was rebuilding, (that) things are starting over, Sveum said. I just let them know (this is) a team that can compete Were not here to rebuild. Were here to try and win the World Series this year.

Chairman Tom Ricketts even corrected one reporter who used the word patience.

No, were not preaching patience, Ricketts said. Were preaching have expectations. Expect these guys to play hard. Expect them to compete every game. Expect them to have a great season. Its not about patience. We got a good team and were going to have a good year.

As much as the Cubs wanted someone to take on even a fraction of Sorianos contract, they need him now to generate 25 homers, 90 RBIs and anchor the middle of the lineup.

Theyve said nothing about a trade, Soriano said. Im here. I dont want to think about if I want to get traded in the future or tomorrow, whatever. I just got to concentrate and play baseball.

All these years later, and after a winter in which he was booed at the Cubs Convention and all over the trade rumors, Soriano has shown up for another rebuilding project.

I love this organization, he said. I signed here to try to make this team better and win. I think weve got a chance to win and thats my goal. I just want to stay here to see this team win one championship.

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”