Don't look now, but the Mets are undefeated

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Don't look now, but the Mets are undefeated

From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- The season is off to an unexpected start for the New York Mets. They're the ones getting big hits while their opponents make the crucial mistakes.Daniel Murphy singled home the winning run in the ninth inning and the undefeated Mets took advantage of a throwing error by reliever Henry Rodriguez to beat the Washington Nationals 4-3 on Monday night.Kirk Nieuwenhuis hit his first major league homer for the Mets, who are 4-0 for the first time since 2007. After a surprising sweep of Atlanta, New York rallied from a three-run deficit before a crowd of 23,970. Several fans filed out chanting "Undefeated! Undefeated!""Everybody is excited. We know that it's a long year, but we want to show our fans that maybe we are better than everyone expects us to be," manager Terry Collins said. "It's never about the effort with these guys."Coming off three straight losing seasons since Citi Field opened, the Mets were projected by most to finish last in the NL East this year. But they did upgrade the bullpen last winter and they received another excellent effort Monday from a retooled unit that ranked 28th in the majors in 2011 with a 4.33 ERA.Miguel Batista got out of trouble in the sixth, Ramon Ramirez escaped a seventh-inning jam with a double-play ball and Jon Rauch (1-0) worked two hitless innings for his first win with New York. Mets relievers are 2-0 with a 0.68 ERA in 13 1-3 innings.Pinch-hitter Mike Baxter drew a leadoff walk from Rodriguez (0-1) in the ninth and Ruben Tejada sacrificed with two strikes. Rodriguez looked at second, then threw low to first and the ball got by second baseman Danny Espinosa."I'm strong, so sometimes I throw sidearm and the ball moves," Rodriguez said.New third base coach Tim Teufel initially waved Baxter all the way around, but he threw up a late stop sign and Baxter slipped to the turf as he tried to slam on the brakes halfway down the line. He got back to his feet and scrambled back to third, barely beating Espinosa's perfect throw across the diamond."The only thing I wanted to make sure is, I didn't want to make that long throw, you know, throw behind him and have him get up and go straight (home)," Espinosa said. "So I wanted to make sure he had kind of a step to commit over there."Espinosa was shaken up after catching an elbow in the head from Tejada as he ran through the bag, but the Washington second baseman stayed in the game."It's just one of those crazy plays where if you just execute from the beginning, it's a little bit better. But things happen," Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman said.With first base open and David Wright on deck, the Nationals went after Murphy, who made a diving play at second base to end the top of the ninth. He fisted a looping single to right over a drawn-in infield that dropped in front of Jayson Werth.New York was 1 for 10 with runners in scoring position before Murphy came through. The Mets mobbed him near first base and a teammate pelted him in the face with a cream pie as he was interviewed on the field.Adam LaRoche extended his fast start with a pair of RBI singles for the Nationals. Washington fell to 2-2 in its first full season under Davey Johnson, who managed the Mets to their most recent World Series championship in 1986.Edwin Jackson squandered an early three-run lead in his Nationals debut and was pulled for a pinch-hitter after five innings. The right-hander signed an 11 million, one-year contract after helping St. Louis win the World Series last season.Looking for a bounce-back season, Mets starter Mike Pelfrey gave up 10 hits over 5 2-3 innings in his first outing of the year. But he struck out eight, matching a career high."If I can take that stuff out there every single time, it's going to be a good year," Pelfrey said.Nieuwenhuis was called up after newly acquired center fielder Andres Torres re-injured his calf on opening day. The 24-year-old outfielder had two hits in his big league debut Saturday and hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning Monday to tie it at 3."It could be the start of what might be a very good major league career," Collins said. "After he tied it up, the intensity in the dugout picks up."The drive to right, estimated at 385 feet, cleared the new fence at Citi Field and clanked off the old one, making it the second home run in four games (both hit by the Mets) that would have stayed in the ballpark under the previous configuration.Nieuwenhuis' parents were at the game, and he got the home run ball back as a souvenir. He plans to give it to his father -- even though it was his mother's birthday.Trailing 3-0 and booed as he stepped to the plate, the 6-foot-7 Pelfrey sparked New York's offense in the third. He ripped his fifth career double into the left-field corner and scrambled to third on Tejada's long flyout. Wright's two-out single made it 3-1.NOTES:Nationals LHP Tom Gorzelanny tossed 2 2-3 innings of scoreless relief in his season debut. ... New York 1B Ike Davis is 0 for 15.

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Bulls explode offensively to beat Bucks; Blackhawks battle Lightning tonight on CSN

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Sunday: 

Tonight on CSN: Blackhawks look to bounce back vs. Lightning

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Today on CSN: White Sox battle Dodgers in spring training game

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

White Sox rookie Charlie Tilson's foot could keep him out until late May

Joe Maddon doesn’t have any concerns about new Cubs closer Wade Davis

Nick Delmonico takes advantage of fresh start with White Sox

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Owners to consider on and off field changes this week during NFL meetings

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

From ‘When It Happens’ to ‘Where It Happens,’ Cubs mining next generation of talent

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs turned Theo Epstein’s “Baseball is Better” speech from his first Wrigley Field press conference into a marketing pitch that might distract fans for a moment from an awful big-league product.          

The 2017 “That’s Cub” ad campaign actually uses what started organically years ago within the farm system, two words that recognized a great at-bat or a heads-up play or a defensive stop.    

Business vs. baseball is no longer the dominant storyline it had been during the early phases of the Wrigleyvile rebuild. Business and baseball are booming for what’s become Major League Baseball’s version of the Golden State Warriors.

It’s just interesting that a franchise valued at north of $2 billion has found so much inspiration on the back fields of this spring-training complex, where staffers you wouldn’t recognize get to work before dawn and players you’ve never heard of dream about their big break.

It’s not just drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber. And trading for Anthony Rizzo, Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks and Addison Russell. And hiring a manager obsessed with T-shirts. Baseball operations became a marketing department, selling prospects to Cub fans, the Chicago media and the gurus putting together the rankings – and trying to get buy-in from players who all think they belong in The Show.

Minor-league field coordinator Tim Cossins gets credit for “When It Happens,” a theme that didn’t simply revolve around 1908 and the championship drought. Jason McLeod, the senior vice president who oversees scouting and player development, suggested pairing the W flag with that phrase, and it became this ubiquitous idea around the team.   

“We tied everything into it,” McLeod said Sunday at Sloan Park. “When that time comes, when it happens, can you lay the bunt down? When it happens, can you execute a pitch? Can you go in and pinch-run, steal the base when the time comes?

“The big ‘When It Happens’ is when we win, of course, but for us in (player development), it was about everything that we’re going to be asked to do in that moment: Are you going to be ready when it happens?”

Now what? The defending World Series champs are going with: “Where It Happens.”

A bullet point from Epstein’s bio in this year’s media guide references how his first three first-round draft picks with the Cubs “combined to set up the go-ahead run in the top of the 10th inning of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series when Schwarber singled and (Albert) Almora pinch-ran, moved to second on Bryant’s deep fly to center, and scored on Ben Zobrist’s double.”

“We’re never going to forget about the importance of young players,” Epstein said. “There’s definitely a lot of talented, interesting prospects still in the system and sometimes they get a little overshadowed because of the star young players we have at the big-league level and how quickly some of those guys moved through the system. But there’s a lot of talent there.

“We’re going to lean on young players beyond our prospects, not just in trades, but also to provide organizational depth and also to serve as the next generation, the next infusion of talent at the appropriate time.

“But it’s a process. There’s going to be a lot of ups and downs in development for all these guys. And we have a ton of faith in our player development operation to help these guys along the way.”

So Ian Happ will start the season one phone call away at Triple-A Iowa and see if some combination of injuries and his switch-hitting skills and defensive versatility gets him to the North Side at some point. Or used as a trade chip for pitching, the way third baseman Jeimer Candelario and catcher Victor Caratini appear to be blocked.

Joe Maddon already compared Eloy Jimenez – who can’t legally buy a beer in Wrigleyville yet – to a young Miguel Cabrera or Edgar Martinez. The Cubs are practically begging for someone like Eddie Butler to pitch his way into the 2018 rotation.

By Monday morning, when the full squad reconvenes after a weekend trip to Las Vegas, the Cubs could start making cuts and shaping their Opening Night roster. But the Cubs are going to need so much more than the 25 players who will be introduced next Sunday at Busch Stadium. Maddon used 26 pitchers and 149 different lineups last season. This is “Where It Happens.”

“If this particular group of youngsters were in a different organization that had a greater need right now, you’d probably hear a lot more about these guys,” Maddon said. “But the fact that they’re stuck behind a Bryant and a Russell and a Javy (Baez) and a Rizzo and a (Willson) Contreras and a Schwarber, et cetera, et cetera, it becomes more difficult to really push or project upon these guys.

“But I think these young guys have gone about their business really well. If it’s bothering them or if they’re concerned about that, they’re not showing that. I think they’ve put their best foot forward.”