Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Stone's mailbag: Howry's return, Beckham's struggles

Friday, May 28, 2010
7:08 PM

Steve Stone dives into his mailbag to answer some of your questions about Bob Howry, Freddy Garcia, and more!

Question from Kendra - Morris, IL: Steve....why in the world would the Cubs ever re-sign Howry? Are they looking to really get the bullpen's ERA to explode?
Steve Stone: I believe sometimes organizations will take a shot on a veteran pitcher who also happens to be a pretty good guy who was well liked the first time around with the team, and figured their other guys weren't getting the job done. They will take a shot, if it doesn't work out, most of what he is being paid is being paid by Arizona, and for them its a no-lose situation. You cant trust a pennant chase which is the way the
Cubs see this year playing out to rookies like Samardzija and they would rather add a veteran. There is no doubt his stuff is not what it once was, they are just hoping what he can give is better than what they have.

Question from David - La Grange, IL: Steve, do you think it's a good idea to bring up Andrew Cashner and pitch him as a setup guy?

Stone: So far the Cubs fancy him as a starter; I believe he would be very effective at the tail end of the bullpen. He will get to the majors, as far as the role is concerned, I am sure he would be as good a right handed setup man as they have. Bear in mind he has been used in the minors as a starter.

Question from Chris - Chicago, IL: Steve, a two-part question. First, do you see Freddy Garcia continuing to have quality starts through the rest of the year, and second, if Garcia does falter, can Daniel Hudson step in and be okay?
Stone: I think Freddy's stuff is a little short but he is long on heart and not afraid of anything. That being said, your 5th starter is usually there for a reason and cant throw as consistently well as the first 4 guys ahead of him. I cant tell if he will last all year but I think he is still a good addition. Over the long haul, I don't see his stuff stepping up. As far as Daniel, he is throwing it as well as he has all year and certainly will be one of the alternatives turned to if and when the situation dictates.

Question from Mike- Naperville, IL: Steve, should the White Sox consider sending Gordon Beckham to Triple-A?

Stone: If you have been watching, he has been hitting a whole lot better. He will be a very good player, but currently he is going through the growing pains that all but a select few go through. Mauer and Pujols didn't go through any, and are part of a small club who had big first years and continued on without any bumps in the road. He is a good
solid player, will hit a lot better than he does now, and I don't think sending him to the minors when he is getting every day bats in the majors would help him at all.

Question from Jay - Batavia, IL: Steve, what's your opinion on Sabermetric stats? Do you buy them at all?
Stone: I really believe that computers have a place in baseball and all of the stats currently employed by the computer people have some validity to them. One of the things a computer will never be able to do is tell you the size of a guys heart, quantity of intestinal fortitude he has, and will he be the same player for a contending team as he will be for a 4th, 5th, or 6th place team. There are a lot of players who thrive on teams that wont win. Put them on teams that can and will win and you will find that they just don't seem to play the same. When you look at the stats, they can only tell you what a player has done, what he has done in certain situations, what he has done against pitchers and other things computers do. It cant tell you if this guy is a pitcher, will he beat the Yankees in September if he is traded to the Rays or Boston?

The computer can only speculate on how a player will respond which is why very good scouts with experienced eyes should always have a place in the game and always be counted on heavily while evaluating a player. During my major league career, I played on some very bad teams, some very mediocre teams, some teams who were in it for a while who fell out and some exceptional teams, and I can tell you there are a lot of players that excel on those teams that end up 3rd 4th and 5th and because of that their stats look good, many of the Sabermetric categories, they are traded to teams that are in the race and they suddenly dissolve. That is where good old fashion scouting, knowing backgrounds, understanding his nightlife habits, which types of pitches he cant hit if he is a hitter, how difficult it is to get out quality hitters in a key situation; all of those things are difficult. A mixture of all the tools we have at hand now in baseball makes, to me, the most sense. There are a lot of young baseball executives raised with the idea that Sabermetrics is absolutely the way to go. I prefer a combination of good old world baseball evaluations along with the new world of computers. That combination seems to be able to get it done. Taking a look at good scouts sees what it does when the Twins have 5 everyday players that they developed for their own system and brought them to the major leagues.

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

Cubs conserving Jake Arrieta for October and see another Cy Young push coming

SAN DIEGO – West Coast atmosphere, late August, almost no-hitter stuff for a Cubs team riding a wave of momentum. Jake Arrieta might be reentering the zone that made him the hottest pitcher on the planet last year. Get your onesies ready.

It felt that way on Tuesday night at Petco Park, where Arrieta shut down the San Diego Padres, allowing only two hits across eight scoreless innings in a 5-3 victory, making another statement in his Cy Young Award defense.

For all the questions about Arrieta’s fastball control and mechanical tweaks – and times where he’s admitted he’s felt a click off – this is still a top-of-the-rotation guy who leads the league with 16 wins and has a 2.62 ERA.

“He should be” in the Cy Young discussion, manager Joe Maddon said. “The only thing that’s been amiss is a little bit of command issues on occasion. Otherwise, stuff is the same. Numbers are fabulous. It’s hard to replicate what he had done last year, because he just nailed it.

“If he gets hot over these last couple weeks…”

It will be up to Arrieta to complete that thought in a World Series-or-bust season for baseball’s first team to 80 wins this year, one that’s now 35 games over .500.  

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This didn’t feel like a perfect game or create any no-hitter drama. The Padres are already 20 games under .500 and years away from being a serious contender. And Arrieta had to bounce back from last week’s ugly win over the Milwaukee Brewers – when he walked a career-high seven batters – and work around a first-inning walk to San Diego leadoff guy Travis Jankowski.

But the Cubs played spectacular defense behind Arrieta, with catcher Willson Contreras making a lightning-quick throw to pick off Jankowski at third base. The Cubs turned three double plays while a thunderous lineup led by Kris Bryant (33rd home run) and Addison Russell (fifth home run in his last five games) lowered the stress level. After Alex Dickerson’s single leading off the second inning, the Padres didn’t get another hit until Christian Bethancourt’s double with two outs in the eighth.

“I really wanted to let my defense work,” said Arrieta, who finished with six strikeouts against three walks. “When you have Addison and (Javier) Baez in the middle of the infield – two of the best athletes in all of baseball – you want the ball to go to those guys.”

At a time when Clayton Kershaw (back) and Stephen Strasburg (elbow) are on the disabled list, leaving potential playoff opponents like the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals in scramble mode, the Cubs can see Arrieta building toward October.

The way Arrieta did with that Aug. 30 no-hitter last year at Dodger Stadium on national TV, walking into the press conference in a moustache-covered onesie, Maddon going with the pajama theme again for the flight home after this weekend’s series in Los Angeles.

But the Cubs ultimately paid the price for all that effort poured into the wild-card chase, which explains why Maddon pulled Arrieta after 99 pitches with a five-run lead (leaving Aroldis Chapman to clean up Felix Pena’s mess in the ninth inning and get the final two outs, giving him eight saves in a Cubs uniform).

“Yeah, I was mad at Joe taking me out,” Arrieta said. “But at the same time, he came over to me and he said: ‘Hey, just remember last year and let’s conserve some things for October.’

“That’s our game plan. We want to be as strong and as dominant as we can be, but still in the back of our mind understanding that late September, early October, mid-October is really the most important time for us.

“Could I have finished the game? Yes. Does it play in our favor to maybe conserve that for later? Yeah. Joe’s a really smart guy. He knows what he’s doing. I feel like he makes the right moves in the right situations. And that’s why we’ve been playing as well as we have.”

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

No doubt, Addison Russell is becoming a star for Cubs

SAN DIEGO – On a team bursting with MVP frontrunners and Cy Young Award candidates – and in a clubhouse with louder, flashier personalities – Addison Russell can emerge as an All-Star shortstop and not become the center of attention.

But here at Petco Park last month, Russell drew scrutiny for his spot in the all-Cub infield, patiently answering questions from reporters about whether or not he deserved to be the National League starter the fans voted for in that popularity contest.

Russell might actually be developing into a superstar now, a Gold Glove-caliber defender with legitimate middle-of-the-order power, someone absolutely essential to what the Cubs are doing now. Russell crushed the San Diego Padres again on Tuesday night, opening up a two-run game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning of a 5-3 victory.

“Just watch me over the course of a year,” Russell said. “My numbers may not be great or whatever, but I contribute to my team every single day. I play my heart out for my team.”

Super-agent Scott Boras, posted up at Petco Park to see clients and watch Jake Arrieta pitch, pointed out that Russell is now only one of five shortstops within the last 40 years to have at least 19 homers during his age-22 season, joining Cal Ripken Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Troy Tulowitzki and Corey Seager.

Russell is the first Cubs shortstop to reach the 80-RBI mark since Ernie Banks did it in 1961. For all the comparisons to Barry Larkin, he didn’t make his big-league debut with the Cincinnati Reds until the age of 22, and didn’t exceed 12 homers in a season until five years later.

Russell has homered five times in his last five games, leads the best team in baseball with 23 multi-RBI games and exemplifies a no-panic approach that should translate in October.

“I’ve said all year, we have guys on our team that get on base and it’s my job to get them over or get them in,” Russell said. “I’ve taken that role to heart. It’s a lot of fun out there. I challenge myself whenever I’m in that situation.”

[SHOP: Get your Addison Russell jersey here]

Russell’s highlight-reel play during Monday night’s victory inspired manager Joe Maddon to give him a bottle of Justin Isosceles wine with a “6-3” written on it. Imagine the reward if Russell wins a Gold Glove.  

“Defensively, it’s as good as there is being played right now,” Maddon said. “It’s getting to the point where there’s nobody else like that right now.”

Whether or not Russell can stay healthy and remain productive enough to become another Mr. Cub – or come close to matching Larkin’s Hall of Fame numbers – you don’t get the sense he will be a one-time All-Star.

“I’m very happy for him, because I know prior to being selected, that was an issue,” Maddon said. “I’m so proud of him, how he came out and confronted it in his own way, very quietly, but in a distinguished manner. That’s who he is.

“Now he’s showing everybody how good he is. And I also believe that event has pretty much catapulted him to the point he’s at right now (with) the status that he felt by being here. In some ways, there was this negative dialogue going on. He’s turned it into a very positive one. Good for him.”

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

Golden State of mind: Joe Maddon meets Steve Kerr and sees similarities between Cubs and Warriors

SAN DIEGO – Wearing a blue T-shirt, jeans and Vans slip-on sneakers, Steve Kerr looked like a believer in the Joe Maddon dress code. The Golden State Warriors coach walked down the dugout steps and into the visiting clubhouse, meeting with the Cubs manager for almost 30 minutes before Tuesday night’s game at Petco Park, a natural connection between two teams that have embraced the target.

Maddon is open to new experiences, and appreciates these opportunities to speak with innovative coaches from other sports. The Padres had shown Kerr, a San Diego resident, on their video board in the middle of Monday night’s game. Kerr also played in Chicago, winning three championship rings on Michael Jordan’s Bulls, and two more with the San Antonio Spurs, before winning another as Golden State’s rookie coach during the 2014-15 season.

“You got a combination of great players and his touch, along with (Luke) Walton,” Maddon said, referencing the interim coach who took over while Kerr recovered from back surgery last season, helping guide the Warriors to an NBA-record 73 wins and earning a head job with the Los Angeles Lakers. “Walton did a great job in his absence, also, which is really unusual, but that also speaks to the quality of the player, too. What that tells me is they built something pretty dynamic culturally.

“I’m sure there’s a lot of freedom within that group, also, to be themselves and play. It’s kind of a loosely based structure that works somehow. Xs and Os – I’m sure there is a lot of that. But when you have individual talent like that – like we do – you don’t want to get in the way too often either. I don’t want to get in their way at all.”

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Of course, those Warriors are also the cautionary tale for Cubs fans watching a team dominate the regular season, only to see LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers win a Game 7 in the NBA Finals.

But when Kevin Durant ditched the Oklahoma City Thunder and joined the team that beat him in the playoffs, the superstar talked up Golden State’s chemistry, culture and vision, sounding a lot like Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder turned down the St. Louis Cardinals and switched sides in their rivalry with the Cubs.

“Believe me, it’s not everywhere,” Maddon said. “You don’t get that everywhere. It doesn’t happen. I’ve been in places where it doesn’t feel that way. Not a lot of fun to go to the yard sometimes. I’m sure it’s not a lot of fun to go to the shootaround in the mornings. But when you develop that, and people actually want to come there – good people want to come to your spot – that’s pretty solid.”