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.

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

Theories on why Cubs haven’t played up to their defensive potential yet

“That’s what we’re supposed to look like,” Joe Maddon said Monday night after a 6-4 loss where the San Francisco Giants scored the first six runs and Wrigley Field got loudest for the David Ross “Dancing with the Stars” look-in on the big video board, at least until a late flurry from the Cubs.

But for a manager always looking for the silver linings, Maddon could replay Addison Russell’s diving stop to his right and strong throw from deep in the hole at shortstop to take a hit away from Christian Arroyo. Or Albert Almora’s spectacular flying catch near the warning track in center field. Or Anthony Rizzo stealing another hit from Brandon Belt with a diving backhanded play near the first-base line.

The highlight reel became a reminder of how the Cubs won 103 games and the World Series last year – and made you wonder why the 2017 team hasn’t played the same consistently excellent defense with largely the same group of personnel.

“Concentration?” Jason Heyward said, quickly dismissing the theory a defensive decline could boil down to focus or effort. “No shot. No shot. It is what it is when it comes to people asking questions about last year having effects, this and that. But this is a new season.

“The standard is still high. What’s our excuse? We played later than anybody? That may buy you some time, but then what?

“The goals stay the same. We just got to find new ways to do it when you have a different team.”

FiveThirtyEight.com, Nate Silver’s statistical website, framed the question this way after the Cubs allowed the lowest batting average on balls in play ever last season, an analysis that goes all the way back to 1871: “Have the Cubs Forgotten How to Field?”

Even if the Cubs don’t set records and make history, they should still be better than 23rd in the majors in defensive efficiency, with 37 errors through 43 games. The Cubs have already allowed 28 unearned runs after giving up 45 all last season.

“We just got to stay on it and keep focusing and not let the miscues go to our head,” Ben Zobrist said. “We just have to keep working hard and staying focused in the field. A lot of that’s the rhythm of the game. I blame a lot of that on the early parts of the season and the weather and a lot of difficult things that we’ve been going through.

“If we’re not hitting the ball well, too, we’re a young team still, and you can carry that into the field. You don’t want to let that happen, but it’s part of the game. You got to learn to move beyond miscues and just focus on the next play.”

Heyward, a four-time Gold Glove winner, missed two weeks with a sprained right finger and has already started nine times in center field (after doing that 21 times all last season). Zobrist has morphed back into a super-utility guy, starting 16 games at second base and 15 in two different outfield spots.

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Maddon has tried to drill the idea of making the routine play into Javier Baez’s head, so that the uber-talented second baseman can allow his natural athleticism and instincts to take over during those dazzling moments.

The Cubs are basically hoping Kyle Schwarber keeps the ball in front of him in left and setting the bar at: Don’t crash into your center fielder. Like Schwarber and Almora, catcher Willson Contreras hasn’t played a full season in The Show yet, and the Cubs are now hoping rookie Ian Happ can become a Zobrist-type defender all over the field.

“I’m seeing our guys playing in a lot of different places,” Heyward said. “It’s not just been penciling in every day who’s going to center field or right field or left field. We did shake things up some last year, but we did it kind of later in the season. We had guys settle in, playing every day. This year, I feel like we’re having guys in different spots.

“It’s May whatever, (but) it seems like we haven’t really had a chance to settle in yet. Not that we’re procrastinating by any means, but it’s just been a lot of moving pieces.”

The Giants won World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 with a formula that incorporated lights-out pitching, airtight defense and just enough clutch hitting. The Cubs are now a 22-21 team trying to figure it out again.

“Defense comes and goes, just like pitching,” said Kris Bryant, the reigning National League MVP, in part, because of his defensive versatility. “I feel like if you look at last year, it’s kind of hard to compare, just because it was so good. We spoiled everybody last year. Now we’re a complete letdown this year.”

Bryant paused and said: “Just kidding. Different years, things regress, things progress, and that’s just how it goes sometimes.”

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

For Joe Maddon, Cubs winning World Series came down to Giant comeback in SF and avoiding Johnny Cueto in elimination game

Jon Lester vs. Johnny Cueto at Wrigley Field – the playoff matchup the Cubs dreaded in an elimination game – will happen more than seven months later under far different circumstances.

The Cubs have a 2016 championship banner flying next to the iconic center-field scoreboard – the ultimate response to any questions about their slow start to this season. The San Francisco Giants can’t have Madison Bumgarner saunter out of the bullpen when he’s recovering from a dirt-bike accident, another reason why an odd-year team is much closer to last place than first in an improved National League West.

The Giants don’t have the same aura, because the Cubs staged an epic comeback to end a best-of-five division series last October, scoring four runs again five different relievers in the ninth inning at AT&T Park.

“I’m telling you, man, Game 4 pretty much won the World Series,” Joe Maddon said. “I did not want to see Mr. Cueto pitching back here again. I’ll get to see him (Tuesday night), but that’s OK, compared to whatever that day would’ve been.”

Maddon has admitted this already, but it is still telling from a manager who always tries to stay in the moment and ignore the negativity. It says something about a Giant franchise that had won 10 straight postseason elimination games and World Series titles in 2010, 2012 and 2014 – and a fan base that used to expect things to go wrong in Wrigleyville after more than a century of losing.

“That whole Game 4 in San Francisco, I did focus on that a lot,” Maddon said. “Just trying to understand Game 5 back at home – how this is going to play out – and do whatever we possibly can to win that game there that night in San Francisco.

“That was the game for me – out of the entire postseason. To have to play the Giants where they were battle-tested – Game 5, back here with (Cueto) pitching – I did not like that at all. I thought that pretty much the postseason hinged on that one game in San Francisco.”

Even though the Cubs still had to survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Los Angeles Dodgers before winning their first NL pennant in 71 years. And come back from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and beat the Cleveland Indians on the road in a 10-inning Game 7 for the ages.

[RELATED: Cubs can't complete another miracle comeback against Giants bullpen]

“That’s what good teams do,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “They’re a very talented club, very solid all around. You don’t win the World Series unless you are.

“Look back at our success, how many times were we looking at elimination? No, you’re never surprised in the postseason. Anything those teams do, it’s because they’re there for a reason. They’re very good.”

Lester beat Cueto in a 1-0 instant classic when Javier Baez lifted a 3-2 quick pitch into the basket beneath the video ribbon in the left-field bleachers. Cueto kept the Cubs so off-balance in Game 1 that Baez actually walked up to home plate in the eighth inning thinking bunt.

The Giants reacted to that Game 4 meltdown by giving All-Star closer Mark Melancon a four-year, $62 million contract at the winter meetings, trying to fix a bullpen that led the majors with 30 blown saves last season.

“It was close,” Bochy said. “Three outs from taking it to Game 5 with a pretty good pitcher going. We can speculate all we want. There’s no point in that. It didn’t happen.

“But, sure, you look back. That’s how tight that series was. Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold on. Give them credit – great job coming back. We’re a team that plays very well under pressure, and we did there. Just couldn’t hold on to that ninth inning.”