What's left to watch in this Cubs season?

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What's left to watch in this Cubs season?

Thursday, Sept. 2, 2010
6:36 PM

By Patrick Mooney
CSNChicago.com

Mike Quade planned to cook for his family, friends and staff on Thursday in Chicago. An option quarterback as a teenager at Prospect High School, he looked forward to watching college football. It didnt matter who was playing that night.

The Cubs manager could toast his new job, even if it doesnt become permanent, as well as his teams performance since he took over, no matter that his 6-3 record is skewed by two last-place teams.

And if I have a minute or two, Quade said, maybe I find a racetrack.

After the off day, there is exactly one month left in the season. If you have seen too much of the 57-77 Cubs, you probably are ready for some football. If you are a betting man, you probably didnt have a September with Lou Piniella in Tampa, Fla., Derrek Lee in Atlanta and Ted Lilly in Los Angeles.

Thats where an organization in transition finds itself. With 17 percent of the schedule remaining, heres what to watch for:

How the rotation turns. Tom Gorzelanny is expected to miss his next start after a line drive knocked him to the ground and sent him to Northwestern Memorial Hospital on Wednesday for X-rays. Thursdays CT scan revealed a small incomplete hairline fracture underneath the fingernail of his left pinky finger, which is stable. Gorzelanny will likely be skipped due to the swelling on the palm of his left hand.

The situation will be reassessed once the swelling subsides, but pitching coach Larry Rothschild was already facing several decisions on his staff. Carlos Silva threw 78 pitches and gave up five runs in 4 23 innings on Wednesday night at Kane County during his second rehabilitation start for Class-A Peoria. Whether or not Silva needs another, the front office would like to take a closer look at least one pitcher from Triple-A Iowa.

September call-ups. First-place Iowa began Thursday with a one-game lead and five to play, so the organization isnt in a rush to make more promotions. The Cubs have used 16 rookies this season, gutting Ryne Sandbergs roster, and theyre expected to bring up around six players once Iowas finished. The most anticipated move will involve Jeff Samardzija (11-3, 4.02 at Triple-A) and what sort of future returns the Cubs may see on their 10 million investment.

Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro. The Cubs are stressing scouting and development and when they explain the model they point to these two homegrown players. Colvins athleticism allows him to play all three outfield positions, but he will continue to work out at first base during batting practice. Quade is hesitant to push Colvin into game action at that position, but probably will against a non-contender later this month once the rookies comfortable enough.

Castro woke up Thursday tied for third in the National League with a .317 average. He is hitting .367 since July 10, but is trailing Colorados Carlos Gonzalez by 12 percentage points, and it remains to be seen how the shortstops body will hold up through Game No. 162. When asked if Castro could win a batting title, Colvin summed up his 20-year-old teammates vast potential: Why not?

Attendance figures. Wrigley Field has been filled to nearly 93 percent capacity this season, but has also seen some of its smallest crowds in almost four years. There are 12 home games remaining, including nine against decent box-office draws (New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals), plus a Labor Day gate with the Houston Astros.

During a rare interview with four beat writers on Wednesday, chairman Tom Ricketts acknowledged the relationship between tickets sales and payroll flexibility. Ultimately, that could influence whether or not the Cubs need Colvin to play first base, or can sign a free agent like Adam Dunn.

Champagne celebrations. After a brutal 20 games in 20 days stretch in August, the schedule gets noticeably easier, with four off days built in this month. The Cubs are playing 12 consecutive games against sub-.500 teams through Sept. 12.

Maybe they can eliminate the Cardinals from contention, or perhaps theyll watch the Padres clinch a division title in San Diego (Sept. 27-30).

We get paid to play, Aramis Ramirez said. The way I look at it is there are (30) teams and only eight go to the playoffs. The other ones go home at the same time we (will). We got (28) games to go. Well try to win as many of those as we can.

The search process. From the beginning, general manager Jim Hendry has said that he doesnt want to give daily updates, and will take his time working contacts throughout the industry. Sandberg and Fredi Gonzalez are in the mix, but it is Quade we will see before, during and after every game, so publicly he will be dissected the most.

If nothing else, it will raise the profile of a 53-year-old man who spent 17 years managing in the minors, in places like Rockford and Scranton, Pa.

Its a cool deal for him, said Randy Wells, who played for Quade at Iowa. Its probably not your most ideal situation, getting your first major-league job (like this). But sometimes its a little break like that. If he shows he can do it, you never know whats in store.

Hes going (to) give it everything hes got and try to get the best out of us. Who knows what platform that will lead to?

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

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

Jake Arrieta getting close and message to Cubs is clear: ‘We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut’

MIAMI – Kyle Schwarber’s offensive spiral had gone on for so long and gotten so deep that the shock value of sending a potential franchise player to Triple-A quickly wore off once the news broke on Twitter.

The Cubs sent their message directly to Schwarber. Even if the bosses wanted to, the Cubs couldn’t put the rest of the clubhouse on edge by demoting a .171 hitter with 260-plus plate appearances in late June. 

The Cubs are in survival mode, not a position to play mind tricks, beginning an 11-games-in-11-days road trip with World Series MVP Ben Zobrist (sore left wrist), Gold Glove outfielder Jason Heyward (cut left hand) and Cy Young Award finalist Kyle Hendricks (right hand tendinitis) all on the disabled list.   

The Cubs didn’t rebook Schwarber to Iowa so he can be converted into a pitcher. An aging, stressed rotation remains a much bigger concern than the boom-and-bust periods with a young offense. 

All these circumstances made a vintage Jake Arrieta performance during Thursday night’s 11-1 win at Marlins Park so important. Whether or not the Cubs make a blockbuster trade for a pitcher, there are still five-plus weeks left until buyers and sellers will feel the urgency of a deadline.   

“If something presents itself that makes sense, we’ll certainly jump on it,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “But to us, the answers are in that clubhouse. We can’t expect outside help to get us out of this rut. The answers are in there, and we believe in those guys. 

“Will we be active? No question. But that’s not going to happen for a while and there’s a lot of games to be played between now and July 31.”

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On a night where he felt “low energy,” rocked a new buzz cut and covered his right thumb with Dermabond to treat a cut/blister issue that can be traced back to spring training, Arrieta needed only 82 pitches to get through seven innings, completely shutting down a strong Miami lineup except for a Marcell Ozuna home run.

Arrieta’s inconsistencies (7-5, 4.36 ERA) have mirrored a 37-35 team, but he didn’t hesitate when asked where he is at now in a season that has so far not lived up to his Cy Young/All-Star expectations.  

“I’m close,” Arrieta said. “I’m really close.”

The Cubs are still the defending champs. Kris Bryant unleashed an MVP swing when he launched a three-run homer into the left-center field patio deck. Blocking out a messy personal situation, All-Star shortstop Addison Russell almost hit for the cycle (no triple) the day after getting questions about his divorce and a Major League Baseball investigation. This year’s Schwarber – rookie Ian Happ – also went 4-for-5 and gave the team another jolt.  

“It’s tough to see Schwarber go down,” Arrieta said. “We know that he’s going to be one of our mainstays in the lineup eventually. He’s hit a rough patch and it happens to the best of us. 

“I’ve been there. I talked to him yesterday a little bit about just keeping his head down and going to work and getting his at-bats and trying to find that comfort level. He’ll be back soon. He’s a tremendous hitter who’s going through some struggles and he’s going to right the ship. There’s no doubt about that. He’s too good of a hitter.

“A night like tonight where we pitch well and we score 11 runs, it looks easy. But it’s about consistency and trying to build off of a night like tonight. We’ve got the guys necessary to do so. We’re very capable of doing that.”

Especially if Arrieta gets hot again and shows how he can lift an entire team. 

“To get Jake pitching that kind of quality game again is going to be a big boon to us,” manager Joe Maddon said.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

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The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”