With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

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With Jackson and Vitters, the vision for the future comes into focus

LOS ANGELES Out in Hollywood, the vision finally came to life. The Cubs believe they will one day be starring in October baseball.

So much has to happen before that becomes a reality, but the Cubs took a step forward on Sunday by green-lighting Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters from Triple-A Iowa.

Ready or not, the two former first-round picks will get a chance to show they belong alongside their buddy Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, who at the age of 22 now seems like an old veteran on this team.

It was 83 degrees and sunny as Jackson looked all around Dodger Stadium.

I caught myself laughing a couple times: Youre kidding me right now? Jackson said after a 7-6 loss. (Its a) pretty indescribable feeling inspiring. I look forward to the days and hopefully years to come.

Jackson said it was hard to soak it all in. They were running on almost no sleep after getting the call from scoutingplayer development chief Jason McLeod late Saturday night and waking up for a 6 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Dallas, where they connected to Los Angeles.

In his big-league debut, Jackson went 2-for-4 with a walk, a run scored and a strikeout. That was all that seemed to be holding back the 24-year-outfielder from Cal-Berkeley, whose 158 strikeouts this season began to overshadow his 15 homers, 27 stolen bases and .817 OPS.

With the strikeouts, I wanted to be here and I knew how close I was and pushed myself a little too hard to be here, Jackson said. But Im here now and Im going to play my guts out and my heart out every day. Thats the type of player I am. Thats the type of player Ill always be.

Jackson rolled in with Vitters, who at 22 finally seems to be living up to the promise that was seen when he became the No. 3 overall pick in the 2007 draft. Vitters was hitting .304 with 17 homers and 68 RBI in his first year on the Triple-A level.

Its really amazing, Vitters said. It seems like half the guys here are guys that started out in Iowa (or) Ive known and played with (while) growing up a little bit.

I really just couldnt think of a better situation to be in right now.

The same way that Jackson has struggled with strikeouts, the Cubs need to see improved defensive play from Vitters at third base. But now 20 games under .500, the Cubs (43-63) will use these final two months to see what theyve got.

It will be a good experience for both these guys, general manager Jed Hoyer said. They can help us win for sure and they can also figure out what they need to do up here to have success. Either way: If they have success, wonderful. And if they struggle a little bit, hopefully theyll learn from those struggles and they can spend the whole offseason working on those things.

We had that with Rizzo in San Diego. He came up and struggled and spent the whole winter working on (those) things and its obviously really helped him this time around. So I dont really see a downside for either one of these guys as far as their development goes in coming up here and experiencing what the big leagues are about.

The Cubs believe Jackson will benefit from working directly with manager Dale Sveum and hitting coach James Rowson.

Its big-league pitching, Jackson said. It goes up a level. Im excited to be here and work with James and Dale and improve as a hitter so that I can beat big-league pitching and hopefully dominate.

Jackson said that last word quietly, matter-of-factly, and his breezy confidence could become part of this teams identity.

This is what its going to be hopefully from here on out, Rizzo said. We all need to stick together. Theres going to be bumps. Theres going to be valleys. But we just got (to) come together and play hard, have each others back.

Rizzo launched a game-tying homer in the top of the ninth inning, a high-arcing shot that just cleared the right-field wall before another bullpen meltdown had Hanley Ramirez and the Dodgers piling on each other celebrating a walk-off win.

Theres plenty of time to write an alternate ending.

I thought we were going to get a little magic for my first game, Jackson said, but well save that for a later date.

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

Scott Boras fires back at Jake Arrieta’s critics and makes another Max Scherzer comparison

LOS ANGELES – Scott Boras waved a Cubs beat writer over toward the VIP section behind home plate at Dodger Stadium. Holding a smartphone in hand, the super-agent started rattling off data points on Saturday afternoon, making the case for Jake Arrieta once he hits the free-agent market after this season.

Boras pushed back on the idea that Arrieta is something less than an elite pitcher and compromised by diminished velocity, launching into a defense that lasted roughly 15 minutes and drew in two more Chicago reporters before a security guard told the media to clear the field because it was an hour before first pitch.

Once again, Boras used 2014 Max Scherzer as a reference point, detailing five of six starts between May 21 and June 17 in which a Cy Young Award winner gave up seven runs, five runs, four runs, four runs and 10 runs. That didn’t stop Scherzer from making another All-Star team, going 18-5 with a 3.15 ERA, leading the Tigers to another division title and jumping to the Nationals for a seven-year, $210 million megadeal.

“I just remember going through this,” Boras said, “because when Detroit came to town, I got the ‘Oh my God, the ship is sinking.'"

The night before, Boras sat in a front-row seat with his entourage watching Arrieta during a 4-0 loss that saw aging Dodgers Chase Utley and Adrian Gonzalez crush fastballs over the center-field wall. One theory – floated by the media and essentially confirmed by manager Joe Maddon – is that Arrieta (4.92 ERA) will have to learn how to pitch in a new reality where he can’t automatically unleash a 95-mph fastball.

“That is so far remote from the truth,” Boras said. “To create a voice to your fan base to suggest that Jake is not Jake – Jake is throwing at frankly better levels than what Scherzer did. And the reality of it is that Jake has this history.

“He’s got a great history that goes on, like (Clayton) Kershaw does, like (David) Price does, like (Zack) Greinke does. These guys have not done this for one year. He did it ’14, ’15, ’16.”

Here’s how Brooks Baseball’s online database has tracked Arrieta’s average velocities across the last three-plus seasons:

2014

Four-seam: 94.59

Sinker: 94.49

2015

Four-seam: 94.93

Sinker: 95.21

2016

Four-seam: 94.32

Sinker: 94.44

2017

Four-seam: 92.64

Sinker: 92.50

Here’s the Brooks Baseball analysis of Scherzer’s fastball from 2012 through last season’s Cy Young Award campaign: 94.97, 94.46, 93.88, 94.67, 95.23.

[MORE: Scott Boras doesn't believe Jake Arrieta is feeling pressure of free agency]

Boras dismissed a question about Arrieta’s inconsistencies at the beginning of his career as he shuttled between the Orioles and their Triple-A affiliate and how that could impact the perception of a 30-something pitcher.

“I’m looking at a three-year window coming into ’17,” Boras said. “When you’re elite, you have not done it once. You have not done it twice. You’ve done it three times. Jake has had three premium years. He’s in the Cy Young voting three years in a row. That puts him in a class of all these people.

“(One) comment is: ‘Oh my God, he’s dropped in velocity.’ Fair observation. My point is they all drop in velocity. All the elite pitchers drop in velocity, because they come in the league, they’re throwing 96, they’re throwing 95, then they’re down. But what are they all doing? They’re all (within) the ranges, probably close to 92 and 93.5.”

The Boras Corp. pitch to owners and executives this offseason will also revolve around durability, advanced stats and postseason experience. Arrieta has made 25, 33 and 31 starts across the last three seasons, ranking second in the majors in WHIP (0.97) and third in soft-contact percentage (22.6) and pitching in six playoffs rounds.

Where Kershaw and Price have repeatedly had to answer questions about their big-game performances, Arrieta can cue up the highlights from the 2015 wild-card game in Pittsburgh and show off his 2016 World Series ring.

Boras clearly has an agenda, but all this is worth remembering amid all the instant analysis and overreactions to how the defending champs are playing now. It might also reinforce why Theo Epstein’s front office could view this as a bad investment and keep rolling the dice with change-of-scenery guys and trading from their surplus of hitters. 

“We’re going to sit here and evaluate a player on a 60-day moment or a 10-start moment when he has three years of his history?” Boras said. “Don’t do it. That’s not fair. It’s not an evaluation, because all their velocities drop.

“All these guys are all still doing well and all their velocities dropped. The key thing is they were able to do what they did three years running. What does Jake have an advantage over all of them at? What does Jake do better than anybody? He wins big games.”    

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

After getting shut down by Buck Farmer, White Sox ninth-inning rally falls short

The White Sox offense waited just a little too long to come to life in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader.

The bats were silent for eight innings before a jolt of a ninth-inning rally that saw the South Siders shave a 4-0 gap down to 4-3, only for back-to-back strikeouts to strand the would-be tying run 90 feet away and send the White Sox to a 4-3 loss at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Buck Farmer made his first big league start of the 2017 season for the visiting Detroit Tigers, and he kept the White Sox quiet, striking out 11 hitters in his 6.1 shutout innings of work. He allowed just three hits and two walks, preventing the White Sox from doing much of anything.

“Farmer certainly had a lot of action on his pitches,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said, “so it was tough to get anything started while he was in there.

“Farmer kept us from being able to string things together. His ball had a lot of action. He hid the ball well. … He was able to contain and continue to throw strikes and move the ball out of the zone.”

It wasn’t until the ninth that the White Sox were able to string some things together. Jose Abreu led off the final frame with a double and moved to third two batters later when Matt Davidson singled. Tim Anderson’s base hit up the middle brought home Abreu to end the shutout. Then Yolmer Sanchez tripled into the right-field corner to plate both Davidson and Anderson and make it a sudden one-run game.

But Todd Frazier and Adam Engel struck out, leaving Sanchez standing at third base.

[WHITE SOX TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

White Sox starting pitcher Derek Holland had a solid outing, allowing just one run and striking out eight batters in six innings of work. He did allow seven hits and four walks, but he worked out of most jams, the only run coming on a solo home run off the bat of John Hicks in the fourth inning.

The Tigers’ offense did the rest of its damage against the White Sox bullpen, a change from Game 1 of the doubleheader, which saw the relief corps throw four scoreless innings in a 3-0 win. But in Game 2, Gregory Infante allowed two seventh-inning runs on a sacrifice fly and a Michael Ynoa wild pitch after Infante departed. Victor Martinez smacked a solo homer off Juan Minaya to give the Tigers a 4-0 lead in the top of the ninth.

It’s been a long couple days on the South Side. Friday’s scheduled day-night doubleheader turned into a lot of waiting around and just one game that didn’t get started until after a rain delay. Then came Saturday’s straight doubleheader, two games played one right after the other.

While Holland dismissed any fatigue for the White Sox — who before these long days at home came off a 10-game road trip — but whether related to fatigue or not, these two teams struck out a combined 47 times and stranded a combined 35 runners in Saturday’s two games.

That being said, the White Sox had enough left in them to come 90 feet away from erasing a four-run deficit in the ninth.

“Look how we battled into the ninth inning,” Holland said. “We were still going strong. Definitely no fatigue over here, that’s for sure.

“This was a tough one today. We had two back-to-back games and long games. They played hard. That’s what it’s all about. Those guys were battling out there.”