What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

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What can the Cubs learn from the Giants?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011
8:00 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. It was 71 degrees here at first pitch, and from behind home plate you get a postcard view of the mountains. The San Francisco Giants are still celebrating their first World Series title in 56 years, and theres no better time to imagine the possibilities.

The Giants did it with pitching and defense and just enough offense, the brand of baseball the Cubs are trying to build on Mike Quades watch.

Maybe the Cubs will eventually fit that vision. But after Tuesdays 3-2 win over the Giants at Scottsdale Stadium, theyve committed nine errors through their first three Cactus League games.

Quades going to start cutting off fingers one at a time, pitcher Ryan Dempster joked. You better start making plays or youre not going to have a glove hand.

There are several takeaways from the Giants run to the World Series that you can apply to the Cubs.

They drafted and developed high-end starters like Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. They assembled a deep and versatile bullpen that was among the National Leagues best. They thrived without getting many returns on Barry Zitos seven-year, 126 million deal, showing that huge long-term contracts dont have to be crippling.

They did it when no one expected.

Pitching and defense is how you win championships, Dempster said. Anybody sees it as motivation. You dont have to be picked on somebodys preseason board to be the World Series champ.

San Francisco also finished with a fielding percentage (.988) that was tied for best in the majors. The Cubs committed 53 more errors than the Giants in 2010 and graded out as one of the leagues worst defensive teams. But its still too early for the manager to panic.

Get them out of the way now, Quade said. If I start raising hell after Game 1, first of all, it goes against who I am. And second of all, I dont know if you can lose 60 guys at once, (but) its possible.

The Giants came together at the right time. They spent only 37 days in first place last year, and lost 515 games of manpower to the disabled list. They needed the Cubs to win three of four games in San Diego during the final week of the season. They finished two games ahead of the Padres in the National League West.

Ex-Cubs Mike Fontenot and Mark DeRosa will soon be getting World Series rings.

Im still waiting for that bottle of champagne, Dempster said. Its crazy when you think about it.

So much can happen between now and October. Dempster went three innings on Tuesday and is feeling good. Todd Wellemeyer, who was released by the Giants last August and watched them on TV back home in Kentucky, threw two scoreless innings.

Wellemeyer thinks he might get his ring in April. Hes a non-roster invitee who figures: If these guys dont have a spot for me, maybe one of the other teams will.

Those are decisions for another day. On a gorgeous day in Scottsdale, the Cubs were reminded of the Giants, and how the Green Bay Packers didnt need to win their division to win the Super Bowl.

Its such a thin (line), Quade said. You just got to get in the tournament and then you dont know. Things fell into place for them. Its a good lesson for all of us.

Theres plenty of reasons to look around and say, Why not us?

PatrickMooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. FollowPatrick on Twitter @CSNMooneyfor up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

How Joe Maddon plans to use Aroldis Chapman in October

How Joe Maddon plans to use Aroldis Chapman in October

PITTSBURGH – The Cubs viewed Aroldis Chapman as the finishing piece to a World Series team, a shiny new toy for one of the game’s most innovative managers and a dominant closer who could change the shape of entire playoff series.  

That’s how president of baseball operations Theo Epstein sold a controversial trade with the New York Yankees in late July. After a rocky start, Chapman has been as good as advertised, doing his job with precision – 1.14 ERA, 16-for-18 in save chances, 40 strikeouts in 23.2 innings – and blending into an easygoing clubhouse. 

Joe Maddon also came to understand that Chapman ideally prefers to work in one-inning bursts rather than manufacture triple-digit velocity for four- and five-out saves. A suspense-free race in the National League Central has allowed the Cubs manager to slow down Chapman in September and conserve his energy for October, when all bets are off.

“It just depends on the magnitude of the game, what’s going on and where we’re at,” Maddon said before Monday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. “If our guys are rested, I’m good with Ronnie or Strop or C.J. getting to him in the ninth inning.”

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That would be Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. – plus Justin Grimm – and what the Cubs hope will be a bullpen strong enough and deep enough to do what the Kansas City Royals did during last year’s World Series run.  

“It just depends on what’s happening with our guys,” Maddon said. “I think we can still get to (Chapman) in the ninth inning. But you don’t leave anything on the table by not utilizing him if it’s absolutely necessary. That would be a conversation he and I would have before the game: ‘Listen, how do you feel about four outs tonight?’”

In a roundabout way, the Cubs actually feel better about their bullpen heading into the playoffs after Rondon (2.96 ERA) and Strop (2.82 ERA) experienced second-half injuries. That forced Edwards (.126 batting average against) and Grimm (1.11 ERA in his last 30 appearances) into bigger roles. Together, that group has put up 223 strikeouts against 55 walks through 177-plus innings, with 43 holds and 19 saves combined.

“We did well without (Strop) and Rondon, which really surprised me, honestly,” Maddon said. “I’m not denigrating the group that did well. I’m just saying I really thought that they were that important to us being able to win 90-plus games this year.

“They both get hurt, we’re able to sustain it with Grimmer coming on like he did. And the acquisition of Aroldis – right now you can really understand how important it was.”

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

Preview: Cubs open series with Pirates tonight on CSN

The Cubs take on the Pittsburgh Pirates tonight, and you can catch all the action on CSN. Catch first pitch at 6 p.m. with Len Kasper and Jim Deshaies. Be sure to stick around after the final out to get analysis and player reaction on Cubs Postgame Live.

Starting pitching matchup: Kyle Hendricks (15-8, 2.06 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-3, 3.73 ERA)

Click here for a game preview to make sure you’re ready for the action.  

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