Split decision: Your first-place Cubs?

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Split decision: Your first-place Cubs?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Posted: 9:15 p.m. Updated: 10:55 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

At the end of a 13-hour shift, Mike Quade collapsed into a chair in the interview room. What was left to say?

The manager had just watched 20 innings of baseball. He had promised that his team would grind it out and play the game the right way. Really, he couldnt complain after the Cubs split Wednesdays doubleheader against the San Diego Padres.

The Cubs can sleep in Thursday and wake up tied for first place, the first time theyve been there since Aug. 6, 2009.

Im a race-track guy they dont pay anybody at the 16th pole, Quade said after a 5-4 loss to the San Diego Padres. Weve got to work some things out. We still have to get better. But Im just so pleased with the effort.

Were doing enough good things that I am still very optimistic for down the road.

At these prices, you should still expect more.

And if momentum is the next days starting pitcher, the 9-9 Cubs will keep stalling like this: Theyve hit the .500 mark nine different times already. Its the first time in franchise history theyve started the season that way.

First pitch for Game 1 was at 1:21 p.m. It ended at 5:20. Game 2 began at 6:07. Thats 47 minutes of turnaround time.

The buzz from a walk-off win faded almost immediately. Ryan Ludwick drove James Russells 73 mph curveball into the left-field bleachers for a two-run homer in the second inning.

Russell could be a nice situational reliever for this team, as he was last year, but the 25-year-old left-hander is miscast in the rotation.

It doesnt matter, he said. Whatever they want to use me as, Im here for it."

The Cubs never sold this as anything more than two spot starts. Quade has been upfront: In my heart of hearts, hes a bullpen guy. Russell needs to improve his changeup and could use more experience to matchup better against right-handed hitters.

The damage from Russells two starts, both losses: nine runs on 14 hits across 5 23 innings. It looks like the Cubs still need to identify a fifth starter until Randy Wells andor Andrew Cashner get healthy. Will Russell get another shot next week?

Thats a great question, Quade said. Right now Im so baseball-ed out. I honest to God havent even had a chance to think about it.

Whoever gets this opportunity will need more run support, because the Cubs wont win every one-run game. Reed Johnson ended Game 1 with a walk-off homer and went 3-for-4 in Game 2.

But afterward he was being asked about getting thrown out at third on his RBI double in the fifth. If there were no outs or two outs, or if it was later in the game, he wouldnt have gone. It interrupted the flow and then the Cubs starting hitting. They came away with only two runs that inning.

If I had a crystal ball and I knew that three guys behind me were going to get base hits, Johnson said, I would have just held up. But I got around second and knew I was in trouble.

Teammates love Johnson, the image of the entire front of his uniform covered in dirt after that slide. He remembers how it was in 2008, when that 97-win team turned every home game into a Wrigleyville block party.

The Cubs announced Wednesdays combined attendance as 70,639. That figure doesnt come close to the number of actual bodies in the seats, or the seagulls fighting over pizza crust one bird dropped onto the field in the middle of Game 1. (Umpire Phil Cuzzi picked it up and tossed it into the Cubs dugout.)

Fans in Cincinnati, St. Louis and Milwaukee can also say theyre rooting for first-place teams. The last time the Cubs won the division, they went 55-26 at Wrigley Field. Eventually theyll have to start closing out series to gain separation. But theres no doubt theyve earned Thursdays off-day.

Its like the old-school National League West, Johnson said. It used to be a .500 team was leading the division, but thats not going to be the case. There are too many good teams in the division.

Were going to have to capitalize on opportunities and hopefully when we get a team down 2-0 we can get some sweeps. Thatll be huge for us, especially at home. (In 2008) we werent really all that good of a road team either. But we just won so many games at home that we were able to make that cushion for ourselves.

Box Score

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

Theo Epstein tops Fortune's list of World's 50 Greatest Leaders

The Cubs keep raking in the accolades.

Theo Epstein is the latest to be honored, with Fortune naming the Cubs president of baseball operations No. 1 on the newly-released list of the World's 50 Greatest Leaders.

Epstein — the architect of the Cubs team that ended a 108-year championship drought — beat out such names as Pope Francis, John McCain, LeBron James and Joe Biden.

Fellow Chicagoan and White Sox ambassador Chance the Rapper also made the list at No. 46.

The rationale for Epstein includes:

In his book The Cubs Way, Sports Illustrated senior baseball writer Tom Verducci details the five-year rebuilding plan that led to the team’s victory. The Cubs owe their success to a concatenation of different leadership styles, from the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts to the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of club president Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox. In the following passages, Verducci describes how a deeper understanding of important human qualities among his players—the character, discipline, and chemistry that turn skilled athletes into leaders—­enabled Epstein to engineer one of the most remarkable turnarounds in sports.

For more on why Epstein and the Cubs topped the list, head to Fortune.com.

Epstein had a classic reaction to the honor, texting ESPN's Buster Olney:

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house. That is ridiculous. The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball - a pastime involving a lot of chance. If Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

Now what? Jon Lester driven to deliver more World Series titles to Chicago

MESA, Ariz. — Now what? Ryan Dempster believes these Cubs are young enough, hungry enough and talented enough to become the first group to win back-to-back World Series since the three-peat New York Yankees built a dynasty with titles in 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2000.

But Dempster already understands the expectations at Wrigley Field this season, especially after pitching on disappointing Cubs teams that got swept out of the playoffs and working as a special assistant in Theo Epstein's front office.

"Nothing can top it," Dempster said. "You can win 162 games and sweep everybody in the playoffs and it won't be as exciting for people, other than maybe the guys playing it."

That's why Jon Lester isn't putting up the "Mission Accomplished" banner at his locker, even though the Cubs had the parade down Michigan Avenue in mind when they gave him the biggest contract in franchise history at the time. Dempster — who also earned a World Series ring with the 2013 Boston Red Sox — had given Lester a scouting report as the Cubs went all-out in their pursuit of the big-game lefty.

There are still four years left on Lester's $155 million megadeal. It has been less than five months since the Cubs finally won the World Series and unleashed an epic celebration.

"Now the hard part is you don't get complacent," Lester said Wednesday after throwing six innings against an Oakland A's minor-league squad at the Sloan Park complex. "I talk about these young guys — that's where that helps. Even though you've accomplished things personally, you still want these guys to accomplish things.

"That's where that drive still gets you. You don't want to let your teammates down. You still want to be accountable for what you do. And that means showing up and doing your work in between starts and in the offseason."

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Lester believed so much in Epstein's vision, the pipeline of talent about to burst and the lure of Chicago that he signed with a last-place team. The Cubs needed a symbol to show they were serious about winning, a clubhouse tone-setter and an anchor for their rotation.

A new comfort level in Year 2 of that contract helped explain how Lester performed as an All Star, a Cy Young Award finalist and the National League Championship Series co-MVP. But Lester wants to make sure that the Cubs don't get too comfortable — or feel like they're playing with house money.

"You enjoy that, you learn from it," Lester said. "The biggest thing is not getting complacent with yourself and with your teammates. That's what drives me, making sure I'm prepared to pitch.

"I'm called upon every five days, and I have to be there. That's where that goal of 30 starts and 200 innings comes into play. I feel like if I do that, then I've done my job, for my teammates and this organization.

"The championships and the World Series — that's stuff you can't predict. It's stuff you strive to do every single year. So that's all we're going to focus on again. Our team goal again is to win a World Series."