Chicago Cubs

There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

There's no answer to Cubs leadoff question

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010
9:51 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

ST. LOUIS The Cubs have used three managers to put eight different players in the leadoff spot this season. Before heading off into retirement, Lou Piniella mentioned that a presence at the top of the order is one piece the organization needs to identify in the future.

The daily questions about the lineup wore on Piniella, who was even asked if he thought about moving Alfonso Soriano back up to leadoff as the Cubs struggled to score runs this season.

Only one player in the National League woke up Wednesday morning with more than 33 stolen bases. There was Houstons Michael Bourn atop the leader board with 50.

Twenty-five years ago at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis, that would essentially amount to a first half of the season for Vince Coleman, who led the league with 110 in 1985.

The game goes in cycles and it has phased out players like Juan Pierre. If the Cubs are stretching to find one, then they are in line with the rest of the industry.

When Mike Quade took over the team on Aug. 23, he looked at the numbers, saw Blake DeWitts on-base percentage (.360) and put him at the top of the order. It wasnt a permanent move because Quade plays matchups.

Jeff Bakers .346 average (47-for-136) against left-handers means he will hit there as well. It is a narrow window into a managers mix-and-match philosophy.

Qs not afraid to think outside the box, Baker said. I dont have the prototypical leadoff speed, but at the same time, Im going to try to make an aggressive base-running move and (get on base) against those lefties.

Bakers gone 11-for-24 (.458) in the six games hes hit leadoff since Aug. 29. At the age of 29, he doesnt want to be thought of as a platoon player. He can be used at three infield positions as well as play the outfield, which would make him a useful piece for the 2011 roster, though not a long-term answer at leadoff.

Versatility it can be a blessing and it can be a curse, Baker said. Id like to play every day somewhere. (When) an opportunity comes (and) youre in the position I am, you got to make the most of it.

Darwin Barney is 24 and approaching the same crossroads in his career. Hes worked at second base, subbed for Aramis Ramirez at third and started at shortstop on Wednesday night in St. Louis as Starlin Castro rested a bruised hip.

Even Barney has found himself at leadoff for two of the 21 games hes appeared in since his promotion Aug. 12. The rookie entered Wednesday hitting .406 (13-for-22) in his last 11 games. His defensive instincts are a given. If he produces offensively, maybe he could be more than a utility infielder. Thats what the Cubs are trying to find out.

You never want to put a cap on anybody, Quade said. Hes a bright kid that brings some intangibles.

Barney won a state championship in high school, a gold medal at the World University Games and back-to-back College World Series titles at Oregon State University. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft, one of several homegrown players currently filling the roster.

Im just trying to find my place on this team, Barney said. I dont know what the teams trying to do when they move forward. Were winning games right now. (Were) working on getting better and us young guys (have) to.

Everyone is waiting on answers as the Cubs try to rebuild for 2011. Baker entered spring training competing against Mike Fontenot at second base, a job that went to Ryan Theriot when Castro made his big-league debut in May. Fontenot and Theriot were traded away this summer, leaving openings at second and leadoff. It will be an interesting offseason.

Sometimes when you want something so bad, (you) try to do a little too much and you find yourself back in that utility role, Baker said. (But) Im at the point now where Ive been around long enough to know that as long (as) you have a functional job youre not just kind of buried somewhere you got a chance to help the team win.

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

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

quintana-924.jpg
USA TODAY

Jose Quintana’s ‘career-altering’ game has Cubs planning clinch party in St. Louis

MILWAUKEE – The Cubs are going to destroy Busch Stadium’s visiting clubhouse. The rivalry has fundamentally shifted to the point where the St. Louis Cardinals are hanging around the National League’s wild-card race in a transition year and it would have been a massive failure if the defending World Series champs didn’t win this division. But there will be some symbolism to popping champagne bottles and spraying beer all over that room.

“We intend to clinch there,” Ben Zobrist said after Jose Quintana’s complete-game masterpiece in Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park. “And I think for a lot of the guys that have been around here for a long time, it’s going to be very satisfying.”

Quintana has only been a Cub since the Brewers failed to close a deal with the White Sox and team president Theo Epstein swooped in to make a signature trade during the All-Star break. Quintana hasn’t yet pitched in the playoffs, but this is close enough, the Cubs winning back-to-back 10-inning games against the Brewers and shaking off a walk-off loss before the lefty faced off against Chase Anderson in front of a sellout crowd of 42,212.

Quintana gave the Cubs more data points to consider as they prepare for a probable first-round series against the Washington Nationals. The magic number to eliminate both the Brewers and Cardinals is two, with Milwaukee off on Monday and the Cubs playing a rivalry game in St. Louis that night, meaning the party goggles won’t come out until Tuesday at the earliest.

“It’s the playoffs already for this team,” said Zobrist, who again looked like a World Series MVP in the seventh inning of a 1-0 game when he launched Anderson’s first-pitch fastball into the second deck in right field for a two-run, breathing-room homer. “We’re already thinking that way.

“We’re in postseason mode right now. And we intend to continue that for the next month.”

While there are valid concerns about Jon Lester’s nosedive in performance since coming off the disabled list and the state of Jake Arrieta’s right hamstring, the focus should also be on how Quintana (7-3, 3.50 ERA in 13 starts as a Cub) could be an October game-changer for this rotation.

“Once he got over here, he was really jacked up about having a chance to play in the playoffs,” manager Joe Maddon said. “He’s showing you that right now. Games like that, to me, could be kind of career-altering for a pitcher.

“When you pitch a complete-game shutout on the road under these circumstances, that definitely does something for your interior. It definitely fluffs it up a little bit.”

“It’s exciting to be here,” said Quintana, who allowed only three singles, piled up 10 strikeouts against one walk and hit 93 mph on his 116th and final pitch in the ninth inning. “I just try to help my team and it’s really special when you get that opportunity. It’s about winning and I have a huge opportunity here.”

In all phases of the game – dominant starting pitching, an offense that created different ways to score runs, multiple bullpen contributors and an airtight defense that committed zero errors in 39 innings – Maddon saw what he was looking for: “We reacted in a playoff manner for these four games. Our mental intensity could not be beat.”

That drifting, in-and-out focus had been part of the background when the Cubs shocked the baseball world with the Quintana trade in the middle of July. Concentration won’t be an issue at Busch Stadium. And this hangover will be real.

“It will be nice to do it there, I’ll just say that,” said Zobrist, who understands the Cubs-Cardinals dynamic as someone who grew up in downstate Illinois. “But we got to win the games.

“As John Lackey said it before (this) series: ‘This is not a small series, boys.’ We knew it was a big one here in Milwaukee. And it will be another big one in St. Louis.”

Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

Joe Maddon gives Cubs space during national anthem: ‘Everybody’s got the right to express themselves’

MILWAUKEE – As protests formed at NFL stadiums across the country, sending an anti-Trump message after the president’s inflammatory rhetoric, a group of about 11 Cubs players and coaches stood off the third-base line while a men’s a cappella group sung the national anthem before Sunday’s 5-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park.

The night before, Oakland A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first Major League Baseball player to follow in Colin Kaepernick’s footsteps and kneel during the national anthem at the Oakland Coliseum, sending a jolt through a conservative industry.  

“Like I’ve always talked about, everybody’s got the right to express themselves in the manner in which they feel,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “I’ve always felt that way.”

That’s easer said than done in a team sport that doesn’t have the same outspoken culture as NBA or NFL locker rooms. It will be fascinating to see if this starts a similar movement across baseball. The Cubs are a marquee team that has already visited the White House twice since January and will likely return to Washington in October for a must-watch playoff series against the Nationals.

“I have no idea,” Maddon said. “We’re going to wait and see. And, again, if it does, that’s fine. I have no issues. I’m all into self-expression. And if a player feels that he needs to express himself in that manner, then so be it.”

[RELATED — Joe Maddon feels the heat from White House comments and rethinks Trump vs. sports world]

Maxwell, the son of a U.S. Army veteran who made his big-league debut last year, told Bay Area reporters this decision had been building and rooted in his own childhood in Alabama, where Trump appeared on Friday at a rally for Republican Senate candidate Luther Strange and told the crowd that NFL owners should fire any “son of a b----” kneeling during the national anthem.      

“The point of my kneeling was not to disrespect our military or our constitution or our country,” Maxwell said. “My hand was over my heart because I love this country and I have family members, including my father, who bled for this country, and who continue to serve.

“At the end of the day, this is the best country on the planet. I am and forever will be an American citizen and grateful to be here. But my kneeling is what’s getting the attention, and I’m kneeling for the people who don’t have a voice.

“This goes beyond the black and Hispanic communities because right now we have a racial divide that’s being practiced from the highest power we have in this country saying it’s basically OK to treat people differently. I’m kneeling for a cause, but I’m in no way disrespecting my country or my flag.”

Maddon’s anti-rules philosophy gives the Cubs the space to do whatever they think’s necessary to get ready for the next game. It’s freedom from: dress codes on road trips, guidelines on facial hair and overloaded mandatory batting-practice sessions.

That hands-off approach has worked to the point where the defending World Series champs could clinch a second straight National League Central title as soon as Tuesday at Busch Stadium and celebrate in front of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s not unusual to see only a small group of players, coaches and staffers standing on the field during the national anthem.

“That’s up to them,” Maddon said. “I’ve never really had a policy regarding being out for the anthem or not. A lot of times guys like to do different things right before the game begins. Sometimes, you’re on the road, you hit later and you get in later and then your time is at a premium. So I’ve never really had a specific theory about coming out for your anthem at all.”