Theo sees changes coming to Wrigley (or bust)


Theo sees changes coming to Wrigley (or bust)

The Cubs lost 101 games last season and it has been 104 years and counting since their last World Series title. But if you are willing to overlook that and suspend your disbelief, you can actually see the pieces forming for a mega-team.

This is the time to do it, with temperatures around the freezing point, pitchers and catchers less than a month away from reporting to Arizona and the fanfest downtown this weekend. Get ready to hear all about the Baltimore Orioles and Oakland As and the Cubs wondering: Why not us?

The Cubs will point to the outliers, how the Orioles flipped their record from the year before and went 93-69, how the As won 20 more games and the American League West. But the Cubs are really gearing up for 2015, when they think they can emerge as no-doubt-about-it contenders and stay at that level.

The forces are lining up that way, from the monster television deals on the horizon, to the prime years with guys like Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro to the ETA for some prospects in Chicago this week, getting a taste of life in the big city as part of the rookie development program.

And the juice that will come with a renovated Wrigley Field. Team president Theo Epstein was coy on Wednesday when asked for an update on those plans.

Um, I think there will be some sharing of information on that later this week, so I dont want to be a spoiler, Epstein said. Well see what happens this weekend.

The Cubs had stopped at a Marine Corps base on the Northwest Side to serve lunch as part of their winter caravan, which leads up to their convention at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers. Its unclear how this idea would be financed, but an official press release highlighted a Renew Wrigley Field session on Saturday with the teams business executives, who like to make news during that space.

There will be a lot of talk about the future, where Javier Baez might fit, whether or not Brett Jackson can become a core player and how much longer fans will have to wait to see Albert Almora and Jorge Soler.

But Epstein believes this is a team that can compete right away.

Absolutely, otherwise theres no reason to show up or build a team, Epstein said. Its postseason or bust every year. Thats what our goal is. Now that said, were obviously building for something greater, which is a time when we can expect to be in the postseason every year.

So behind the scenes, regardless of the results, theres progress being made. But as far as 2013, you can define it as a success or failure by whether we make the postseason and, ultimately, whether we win the World Series.

There are stories every year about teams that dont necessarily look like the favorites on paper that find their way playing meaningful games in September and playing into October and playing deep into October.

What else is he supposed to say?

Well, Epstein thinks Matt Garza and Scott Baker should be ready for an Opening Day rotation that will include Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson.

Dale Sveum sees Rizzo and Castro taking huge leaps forward, and a deeper bullpen with Carlos Marmol as closer and Kyuji Fujikawa setting up in the eighth inning. The manager welcomes greater expectations in Year 2.

The one thing you hate doing is saying: You know, .500 will be good. Because its not good, Sveum said. Its not 101 losses, but .500 isnt getting you to the playoffs.

Nothings acceptable except playing in the playoffs. The thing that you cant fall victim to is (saying): Yeah, we are obviously in a transition in the organization. We are trying to get it healthy. Dont fall into the category that we cant win right now. Baseballs a funny thing.

But this front office isnt hoping for a one-year fluke. Epstein insisted that signing Jackson to a four-year, 52 million deal was consistent with his philosophy. It made sense given Jacksons age (29) and durability (180-plus innings the past five seasons) combined with the organizations financial flexibility and lack of impact pitchers.

As Epstein said: I dont think we ever wanted to get into a situation where we had to wake up one day and say: Oh, now were going to be competitive. We have to go sign Players X, Y and Z. Thats not a good position to be in, so adding the right piece as you go along that fits the present and the future is something that well certainly be open to.

But the Cubs are still in a place where theyre willing to see if Ian Stewart and Nate Schierholtz can become everyday players. They arent quite ready to sacrifice a draft pick and part of their signing-bonus pool to sign a free agent.

And if it doesnt work out in 2013, well, Cubs fans are already used to hearing this message: Wait until next year.

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

He’s back: Kyle Schwarber takes center stage at World Series

CLEVELAND – Kyle Schwarber walked into the Progressive Field interview room at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, becoming the biggest Game 1 story at the World Series. He didn’t have a hit all season – and hadn’t played for the Cubs in almost seven months – but there was his name in the No. 5 spot in the lineup against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians.

“Once I hit that line, a lot of emotions will come pouring out,” Schwarber said. “I’ll probably cry at some point today. It was a long road, but once we step in between those lines, it’s game time. I’m going to be locked in. I’m going to be ready to go (and) try to win this.”

It’s hard to overstate how much the Cubs love Schwarber’s energy, presence and powerful left-handed swing, from the time they saw his hard-charging style and football mentality at Indiana University. Theo Epstein’s front office drafted him fourth overall in 2014 – at a time when that almost looked like a reach for a designated hitter with an unclear defensive future behind the plate or in the outfield.

Instead of sending him to Arizona, the Cubs also allowed Schwarber to rehab in Chicago and remain a part of the team after undergoing major surgery on his left knee in the middle of April, making him untouchable in any trade talks, even as the New York Yankees dangled game-changing reliever Andrew Miller, who now looms as an another World Series X-factor in the Cleveland bullpen.

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

After getting a better-than-expected progress report last week from Dr. Daniel Cooper – the head team physician for the Dallas Cowboys who reconstructed his ACL and repaired his LCL – Schwarber went full speed ahead.

“I called Theo right away and I was like: ‘Hey, I’d love the opportunity to try,’” Schwarber said. “Knowing that I had the opportunity to try and get back, it would kill me deep down inside if I didn’t. And I knew going into it there were no guarantees.

“I didn’t want the media attention. I didn’t want any of that. I did it for my teammates. I did it for me, too. That’s the competitor in me.” 

After playing in the Arizona Fall League in front of about 100 fans on Monday, Schwarber flew on a private plane from Mesa to Cleveland, where he could change franchise history with one big swing, the way he drilled five homers during last year’s playoffs and became a Wrigleyville folk hero.

“It’s going to be a complete 180,” Schwarber said. “You know you’re going in front of a packed stadium here. It’s going to be awesome. That’s what we live for as baseball players. We live to feed off that, especially since we’re in such a hostile environment here in Cleveland.

“I love that. It’s going to be great for our team. We’re in for a really hard-fought battle.”

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

Cubs confident Indians baserunners won't take Jon Lester off his game

CLEVELAND - Jon Lester's yips have been on full display this postseason, but it hasn't mattered.

Lester's issues throwing to bases haven't come back to haunt him in his first three October starts, in part because he's only allowed 16 baserunners in 21 innings.

The opposition can't take Lester off his game if they can't steal first base.

The Indians, however, are one of the game's best baserunning teams and had 134 stolen bases in the regular season, good for fourth in Major League Baseball.

And they don't plan to sit idly by when they get on against Lester in Game 1 of the World Series.

"I can't see us changing now because it's the World Series when it's worked (all season)," said Rajai Davis, who is leading off against Lester in Game 1 and stole 43 bases in 49 chances in 2016.

The Cubs understand the Indians have a clear advantage of the basepaths entering this best-of-seven series.

During Media Day at Progressive Field Monday afternoon, Jake Arrieta brought it up unprompted.

"Their stolen base threats are there," he said. "It's just gonna be up to us to control that."


"I think this time of year - the World Series more so than any other time during the regular season - you don't want to give up 90 feet for free," Arrieta said. "We're gonna have to do our best to hold the ball, vary our times [home], pick when we need to and some good throws from the guys behind the plate."

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

Arrieta's attitude embodies the Cubs' mentality all year - embracing the pressure instead of running from it.

The Cubs haven't been able to cure Lester's mental block throwing to first base, but they've found ways to minimize the damage.

Sure, runners stole 28 bases off Lester this season, but they've also been caught 13 times thanks in large part to Lester's quick delivery home and David Ross' excellent throwing and pop-up time behind the plate.

The Cubs also boast maybe the best tagger the game has ever seen in Javy Baez at second base.

In his World Series press conference on workout day Monday, the first question Lester fielded was about pitching with runners on and he put all the credit on his defense behind him.

It's not just when guys get on, however. The opposition is also trying to throw Lester off his game by bunting and forcing him to field his position and make throws to first.

FanGraphs reports Lester fielded 20 ground balls or bunts this season and turned 19 of those into outs without one throwing error.

So it's a risk for teams to weigh - do they want to take the bat out of their hitters' hands in trying to bunt and when they do actually reach base, is it worth the risk to try to run on Lester and Ross?

The Los Angeles Dodgers tried to play all kinds of games with Lester and wound up scoring just two runs off him in 13 innings between two games and lost both.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo isn't worried about it now, on the nation's biggest stage.

"We have fun with it," Rizzo said. "I think [Lester is] very underrated in that aspect, to where if he wants to, he could pretty much do whatever he wants.

"He's so quick to the plate where he knows that - especially with Rossy behind the plate - he kinda challenges people to run on him. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out."