Chicago Cubs

What's left to find out in this Cubs season?

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What's left to find out in this Cubs season?

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 9:58 p.m. Updated: 10:14 p.m.

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com Cubs Insider Follow @CSNMooney
CINCINNATI The flood-the-zone Bears coverage has already begun, which probably means you have already stopped paying close attention as time runs out on this Cubs season.

There are now 15 games left after Mondays 12-8 win over the Reds. Then the real action will start.

When Tom Ricketts announced Jim Hendrys firing on Aug. 19 after the two kept it a secret for almost an entire month the chairman made it clear that the next general manager would come from outside the organization.

That person would be from a winning culture, committed to player development and fluent in statistical analysis. So Ricketts cant make direct contact until Sept. 29 at the earliest and may have to wait until the World Series winner is crowned.

Well just play the cards were dealt, Ricketts said at last months press conference.

So the Cubs could wait to see how the power struggle plays out in the American League East between Bostons Theo Epstein, Tampa Bays Andrew Friedman and New Yorks Brian Cashman. They could try to go Hollywood with Billy Beane the architect of Oaklands Moneyball organization or identify the next executive on the rise.

It did not go unnoticed in the clubhouse that Ricketts strongly endorsed several people in the front office, while saying the decision on manager Mike Quade and his coaching staff would be up to the next general manager.

Until then, heres what the Cubs will be hoping to get out of the next two-plus weeks:

Perception vs. reality

Where the media used to fixate on Tyler Colvin, reporters now question Quade when Bryan LaHair isnt in the lineup.

The Pacific Coast League MVP led all minor-league hitters with 38 homers and has hit safely in all seven games played since his call-up. That 1.515 OPS is weighed against LaHairs age (29 next season) and pedigree (39th-round pick).

We still have a lot of baseball to play, Quade said. Im not inclined to go nuts after watching a guy for four or five games. But the one thing Ive been completely impressed with (is his) at-bats, his takes, his pitch counts that hes running up. Hes doing a lot of good stuff. Well see if it continues.

The future

Heading into this season, the Cubs built their narrative around Colvin and Andrew Cashner, two homegrown players who were supposed to make the leap.

The entire logic behind the Kosuke Fukudome trade was to get the chance to see Colvin play every day. Colvin entered Monday hitting .198 with four homers and 12 RBI in 35 games since the deadline deal. Like LaHair, Colvin runs into Quades loyalty to veteran players, his tendency to play matchups and the natural desire to pad your record.

Its not easy to see someone just giving up on Colvins left-handed pop, but the next administration might not be as invested. It's on Colvin to put up some more numbers this month.

The Cubs will be watching closely any time Cashner steps onto the mound and tests the rotator cuff that derailed his season. He is the X-factor in their 2012 rotation, and perhaps their entire offseason plan.

The superstar

Starlin Castro isnt at that level yet, but hes closer than anyone could have predicted a little more than two years ago, when he was playing at Class-A Daytona.
Starlin Castro will likely reach 200 hits this season and is the Cubs' superstar of the future, but will Mike Quade be his manager much longer? (US PRESSWIRE)
On Monday night Castro returned to Great American Ball Park, where he finished with six RBI in his major-league debut last May. He sliced an RBI double into the right-field corner. He hammered another ball 425 feet to center for a two-run homer, his ninth of the year. It wont be long before the Cubs will be projecting him to hit 20-25 home runs a year.

I know that I have this kind of power, Castro said.

Castro needs only 10 more hits to reach 200, and the Cubs are rooting for him to do it at Wrigley Field. As Alfonso Soriano said: I hope that he can stay hot to finish the road trip with like six or seven more hits and get 200 at home.

Spoilers

History may have had an alternate ending if the Cubs hadnt won three of four games in San Diego during the final week of last season. The Giants snuck into the playoffs and ultimately celebrated their first World Series title since moving to San Francisco.

The remaining schedule is light on contenders, and the races are largely decided across baseball. The Brewers who come to Wrigley Field for a three-game series next week began Monday with a magic number of 10. Maybe theyll be spraying champagne in the cramped visiting clubhouse.

The Cardinals woke up that morning with flickering hopes of a wild card, 4.5 games behind the Braves. Perhaps the Cubs could put those out Sept. 23-25 in St. Louis and play spoilers again.

Way back at the beginning of spring training, club officials promised that the Cubs would draw three-million fans at Wrigley Field. With six home dates left, and attendance at 2,804,409, theyre on target to surpass that mark.

What will that mean for next years major-league payroll?

Ricketts has said that he will have no clue what that dollar amount will be until his staff does a full accounting at seasons end and the next general manager decides how to allocate those resources.

That means the Cubs will continue to be in a holding pattern on the big questions. Will an established executive take this job? Pursue Prince Fielder? Re-sign Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena?

Until then, there are games that have to be played.

You want to finish strong, catcher Koyie Hill said. No matter what youre doing, you dont want to drag across the finish line.

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

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

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USA TODAY

Joe Maddon finally sees Cubs playing with the right 'mental energy'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Joe Maddon looked back on the perfect baseball storm that hit the Tampa Bay Rays and played all the greatest hits for local reporters, waxing poetic about the banners hanging inside Tropicana Field, stumping for a new stadium on the other side of the Gandy Bridge, telling Don Zimmer stories, namedropping Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston and riffing on sabermetrics and information buckets.

But the moment of clarity came in the middle of a media session that lasted 20-plus minutes, Maddon sitting up on stage in what felt like the locker room at an old CYO gym: “We only got really good because the players got really good.”

There’s no doubt the Cubs have the talent to go along with all the other big-market advantages the Rays could only dream about as the have-nots in the American League East. Now it looks like the defending champs have finally got rid of the World Series hangover, playing with the urgency and pitch-to-pitch focus that had been lacking at times and will be needed again in October.    

Maddon essentially admitted it after Tuesday’s 2-1 victory, watching his team beat Chris Archer and work together on a one-hitter that extended the winning streak to seven games and kept the Milwaukee Brewers 3.5 games back in the National League Central.

“You’re really seeing them try to execute in moments,” Maddon said. “When they come back and they don’t get it done, it’s not like they’re angry. But you can just see they’re disappointed in themselves.

“Their mental energy is probably at an all-season-high right now.”

Six days after the Cubs moved him to the bullpen, lefty swingman Mike Montgomery took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, when Tampa Bay’s No. 9 hitter (Brad Miller) drove a ball over the center-field wall. Maddon then went to the relievers he will trust in October – Pedro Strop, Carl Edwards Jr., Wade Davis – with the All-Star closer striking out the side in the ninth inning and remaining perfect in save opportunities (32-for-32) as a Cub.       

“We want to go out there and prove every day that we’re the best team in baseball,” said Kyle Schwarber, the designated hitter who launched Archer’s 96-mph fastball into the right-center field seats for his 28th home run in the second inning. “The way our guys are just going out there and competing, it’s really good to see, especially this time of year. It’s getting to crunch time, and we just got to keep this same pace that we’re going at.

“Don’t worry about things around us. Just keep our heads down, keep worrying about the game and go from there.”     

In what’s been a season-long victory lap, Maddon couldn’t help looking back when the sound system started playing The Beach Boys and “Good Vibrations” echoed throughout the domed stadium, a tribute running on the video board and a crowd of 25,046 giving him a standing ovation.

“It was cool,” Maddon said. “I forgot about the bird, the cockatoo, I can’t remember the name. Really a cool bird. I told (my wife) Jaye I wanted one of those for a while. But then again, she gets stuck taking care of them.

“I was just thinking about all the things we did. You forget sometimes that snake. I think her name was Francine, like a 19-year-old, 20-footer. And then the penguin on my chair. You forget all the goofy stuff you did. But you can see how much fun everybody had.

“I appreciated it. They showed all my pertinent highlights. There’s none actually as a player. It’s primarily as a zookeeper.”

But within the last week, you can see the Cubs getting more serious, concentrating on their at-bats and nailing their pitches. There is internal competition for roster spots and playing time in the postseason, when Maddon becomes ruthless and doesn’t care at all about making friends. This just might be another perfect storm.

Montgomery – who notched the final out in the 10th inning of last year’s World Series Game 7 – put it this way: “I feel ready for anything after how this year’s gone.” 

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

Are Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 vs. Nationals?

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Are the Cubs lining up Jake Arrieta to start Game 1 against the Washington Nationals?

“I’m not even anywhere near that,” manager Joe Maddon said during Tuesday’s pregame media session with the Chicago media, immediately shifting his focus back to the decisions he would have to make that night – how hard to push catcher Willson Contreras coming off the disabled list, what the Cubs would get out of lefty Mike Montgomery, how the bullpen sets up – against the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Players can do that kind of stuff. I don’t think managers can. Honestly, I don’t want to say I don’t care about that. I just don’t worry about that, because there’s nothing to worry about yet. Because first of all, he’s got to be well when he pitches, too.”

Arrieta had just completed a throwing session at Tropicana Field and declared himself ready to face the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. That would be the Cy Young Award winner’s first start since suffering a Grade 1 right hamstring strain on Labor Day. It would set him up to face the St. Louis Cardinals next week at Busch Stadium and start Game 162 against the Cincinnati Reds at Wrigley Field.

“The plan is to be out there Thursday,” said Arrieta, who would be limited to 75-80 pitches against the Brewers and build from there, trying to recapture what made him the National League pitcher of the month for August. “The good thing is the arm strength is there – it’s remained there – and I actually feel better for maybe having a little bit of time off.

“The idea is to be able to be out there the last game against Cincinnati – pretty much at full pitch count – and to be ready for the playoffs.”

Five days after that would be the beginning of the NL divisional round and what could be a classic playoff series between the defending champs and Dusty Baker’s Nationals. The Cubs started Jon Lester in Game 1 for all three playoff rounds during last year’s World Series run and their $155 million ace could open a Washington series with an extra day of rest.

“It’s inappropriate to talk about that now,” team president Theo Epstein said. “We have a lot of work to do, and those would be the guys that would help get us there in the first place. If you’re lucky enough to get into that situation, you’d just use all the factors. You guys all know – who’s going the best, who matches up the best, the most experienced – and we figure it out and go from there. But we’re still a good ways away from figuring that one out.”