Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

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Cubs, Jackson will live with the ups and downs

SAN DIEGO The last time the Cubs were at Petco Park, chairman Tom Ricketts was still gathering information for a decision that could define his familys legacy as owners of this marquee franchise.

On the final day of the 2011 season, Ricketts agreed to an interview with the beat writers. He was vague about the executive search that would end with Theo Epstein who would be universally praised as a home-run hire but he did talk about expectations.

Ricketts stood in the visiting dugout and pointed to the worst-to-first Arizona Diamondbacks as an example.

One thing youve seen in baseball over the last few years is that turnarounds can happen pretty quickly, Ricketts said last September. I dont think its meaningful to describe a year as a rebuilding year or a reloading year or any of that.

You get the right players on the team and they all stay healthy and they play hard, the team can go from 70 wins to 90 wins. It happens pretty frequently.

Things turn around fast. Thats the way we look at it for next year.

Epstein has flipped the roster since taking over at Clark and Addison, but the Cubs (43-64) long ago braced for the growing pains and have now decided that its no longer about wins and losses.

There are 55 games left after Mondays 2-0 loss to the San Diego Padres, and that space will essentially become a laboratory. There will be nights where Brett Jackson goes 0-for-4 with four strikeouts.

Thats just where we are in the organization, manager Dale Sveum said. We knew going in there was a good chance this was going to happen and that day has come.

Now we get to develop at the big-league level the Brett Jacksons, the (Josh) Vitters, the (Alberto) Cabreras, the (Brooks) Raleys, Travis Woods. All these guys its time to develop and take those extra steps to be a major-league player on an everyday basis.

The day after going 2-for-4 with a walk and a run scored in his major-league debut at Dodger Stadium, Jackson had to answer questions about the one part of his game that didnt look ready at Triple-A Iowa.

Thats the nature of the business, Jackson said. Its never fun to strike out four times. Thats something Im working on cutting down. Im going to keep working with (hitting coach James Rowson) and Dale and improving the swing. Theres no doubt in my mind were going to get the ability out of me.

The Cubs like Jacksons overall game enough the speed, the athleticism, the power that they promoted him after 158 strikeouts in 407 at-bats with Iowa.

Hes going to be in there, Sveum said. That was part of the deal. Hes going to be here to develop and make adjustments. But bottom line, it doesnt matter if youre not swinging at strikes.

This isnt to single out Jackson, who is one of several players with something to prove between now and Oct. 3.

Raley will be the 15th rookie the Cubs have used this season when he debuts on Tuesday night at Petco Park. This is a spot start in place of Matt Garza, whose stiff right elbow wont allow him to pick up a ball for at least two weeks and leaves him in the limbo of being reevaluated each homestand.

Trades and attrition have wiped out the pitching depth Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer built up last winter. Jeff Samardzija whos already blown past the innings total he reached last season as a reliever now has the most stature in the rotation in his first year as a big-league starter.

Wood (4-8, 4.77 ERA) who limited the Padres (47-64) to two runs across six innings is one of four starting pitchers who have spent time on the Triple-A level this season.

Were a very young team, but I think we can use that to our favor, Wood said. Were energetic. We got fire. We just need to start playing and get after it.

On Sept. 28, 2011, Mike Quade sat in the managers office and Hoyer was the Padres general manager who had made Anthony Rizzo the face of the future in San Diego. That day, Ryan Dempster gave up nine runs and lost his 14th game and Rizzo went 0-for-3 and finished with a .141 batting average.

The Cubs stuck around in the clubhouse afterward and pulled beers from the cooler, watching the fantastic finishes on side-by-side televisions, the Boston Red Sox in agony and the Tampa Bay Rays in celebration.

Epstein has total control over baseball operations, and a mandate to build this team from within. At this stage, players like Jackson are going to find out what theyre made of, while the Cubs live with all the ups and downs.

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

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USA TODAY

Cubs Talk Podcast: Breaking down the World Series hangover

Do the Cubs have a World Series hangover?

On the latest edition of the Cubs Talk Podcast, NBC Sports Bay Area Giants Insider Alex Pavlovic joins CSN's Patrick Mooney to talk about the World Series hangover, how last year's playoff loss lingered in San Francisco, Johnny Cueto's quirks, the legend of Madison Bumgarner and Jeff Samardzija's ups and downs.

Plus Kelly Crull, Jeff Nelson and Tony Andracki break down the Cubs’ defensive struggles this year compared to an historic 2016 and how Ian Happ fits into the Cubs’ lineup in both the short and long term.

Listen to the latest episode below:

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

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USA TODAY

What does Caleb Swanigan's departure for NBA mean for Purdue and the 2018 Big Ten title race?

Caleb Swanigan, unsurprisingly, is heading to the NBA.

Last season’s Big Ten Player of the Year announced Wednesday that he’ll pass up the final two seasons of his NCAA eligibility for a paying gig at the professional level, an awesome opportunity for a kid who battled obesity and homelessness to become one of the best basketball players in the country.

But Swanigan’s departure from West Lafayette means a heck of a lot to the Big Ten.

Without the league’s most dominant big man, what becomes of Purdue’s chances at winning a conference title? Similarly, with a weakened — though still strong — group of Boilermakers, what does the Big Ten race look like going into 2017-18?

First, Purdue. Matt Painter’s program is plenty healthy, and while there’s no doubt that losing Swanigan is a big deal, the Boilers got some really good news, too, Wednesday when Vincent Edwards announced he’ll be returning for his senior season. Seven-footer Isaac Haas also made the decision to return to West Lafayette, meaning the towering frontcourt hasn’t been completely decimated just because tha man called “Biggie” is gone.

Purdue will also return Carsen Edwards, who had an impressive freshman campaign, and Dakota Mathias, a terrific defender and 3-point shooter. Two more important pieces — P.J. Thompson and Ryan Cline — are back, as well. And Painter will welcome in freshman Nojel Eastern, a highly touted guard from Evanston.

So the Boilers are still in very good shape. There will be a big magnifying glass on Haas, who despite his physical attributes hasn’t always found consistent on-court success. But there have been plenty of flashes of brilliance from the big man. A big step forward in his game would go a long way in easing the blow of losing Swanigan and could keep Purdue as one of the frontrunners for a conference title.

That brings us to the Big Ten race. Ever since Miles Bridges, the conference’s reigning Freshman of the Year, announced he’d be returning to Michigan State for his sophomore season, the Spartans have been the near-unanimous favorite. Only something like Swanigan deciding to stay at Purdue could’ve changed that. And with Swanigan expectedly heading to the NBA, Michigan State remains the preseason pick to win the conference crown.

Like any good year in the Big Ten, though, there will be challengers.

But Michigan State is the popular choice to win it because of Tom Izzo’s insane 2016 recruiting class is returning completely intact: Bridges, Nick Ward, Cassius Winston and Joshua Langford are all back. And Izzo brings in one of the top 2017 recruits in forward Jaren Jackson.

But Sparty isn’t the only one with an impressive returning group. Purdue’s experienced roster has already been covered. Northwestern, a surprise contender in 2016-17, should be even better as Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey enter their fourth year playing together. Dererk Pardon, a shot-blocking whiz at center, is also back, as is sharp-shooter Aaron Falzon, who sat out the 2016-17 season with an injury after starting during his freshman year in 2015-16.

There will be big shoes to fill for some perennial contenders like Maryland — which must replace Melo Trimble — and Michigan, which watched eligibility run out on Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin before D.J. Wilson decided to head to the professional ranks Wednesday. But those teams have plenty of talent returning, too. The Terps will have all three of their fab freshmen — Justin Jackson, Anthony Cowan and Kevin Huerter — back for sophomore seasons, while the Wolverines have Moe Wagner back in the fold alongside Xavier Simpson and Duncan Robinson, among others.

And what of last year’s shocking contender, Minnesota? The Golden Gophers didn’t lose too much this offseason and will return almost every main player from last year’s 24-10 squad: Amir Coffey, Nate Mason, Reggie Lynch, Jordan Murphy, Dupree McBrayer and Eric Curry.

There are up-and-comers to think about, too, such as last year’s freshman-heavy squads at Iowa and Penn State. And could new head coaches Brad Underwood and Archie Miller make instant splashes at Illinois and Indiana, respectively?

If it sounds a little too much like the annual coach speak that “any team can win on any night” in the Big Ten, that’s because there is a good deal of truth to that oft-used phrase.

There are definitely tiers to this thing, though. Even without Swanigan, Purdue is still in one of those upper tiers. But there might be no team besides Michigan State at the very top of the heap, something underscored by Swanigan turning pro.