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On the hill: Jeff Samardzija (6-11, 4.23 ERA); Homer Bailey (7-10, 3.73 ERA)
Samardzija vs. Reds (Career): 1-1, 3.22 ERA, 24 K's, 3 Walk, 22.1 IP
Bailey vs. Cubs: 4-1, 4.98 ERA, 36 K's, 18 Walks, 47 IP
Braves at at a glance: 66-52 (3rd in National League Central, 4.5 games behind Pittsburgh)
Avoiding fourth straight home shutout Yes, the Cubs can see the big picture coming together on the North Side, but that hasn't changed the fact they're looking to avoid their fourth consecutive shutout at Wrigley tonight against the Reds. It won't be an easy matchup for them, as Homer Bailey has won his last four starts against the Cubs.
Reds pitching leaders: Wins - Mat Latos (12); ERA - Mike Leake (2.86); Strikeouts - Latos (154); Saves - Aroldis Chapman (28)
Reds batting leaders: Average - Joey Votto (.322); Home runs - Jay Bruce (24); RBIs - Brandon Phillips (89); On-base percentage - Votto (.436)
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Dusty Baker showed up at HoHoKam Stadium during Year 1 of Theo’s rebuilding project, right in the middle of Camp Sveum.
The Chicago media embedded in Mesa, Ariz., surrounded Baker in the visiting dugout, knowing the Cincinnati Reds manager always has something interesting to say on any topic. It doesn’t matter if that 2006 last-place finish seems like ancient Cubs history.
“From my experience, patience wasn’t a real virtue here,” Baker said that day in March 2012. “They’ve been patient for a hundred years. That’s a hard sell in Chicago – more patience. They might be patient for a little while. But unlike any other place I’ve been, they count. People count. They can add real good in Chicago. Everybody – men, women and children.”
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Exactly 17 months later, Baker returned to Clark and Addison on Monday with a Reds team that was in third place but still had an 85 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to the website coolstandings.com, which simulates the rest of the season millions of times.
The Cubs (52-66) basically had to hit the Powerball jackpot to contend this season, an everything-breaks-right scenario where the team stayed healthy and over-performed and Theo Epstein’s front office didn’t become sellers at the trade deadline.
Patience won’t last forever. A 2-0 loss marked the first time in 89 years – back when they were playing the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Robins – the Cubs had been shut out three straight games at Wrigley Field.
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The Ricketts ownership group and Crane Kenney’s business side still has to deliver a renovated Wrigley Field, new television deals and all those flowing revenue streams to make this a big-market franchise again.
But it’s not unrealistic to think the worst is over, that there won’t be so much churn on the major-league roster next season.
“(You got guys who are) going to be here for sure,” manager Dale Sveum said, “the (Starlin) Castros and the (Anthony) Rizzos and the (Welington) Castillos and the (Darwin) Barneys. And then you see what happens with all the free agents after that.
“In a perfect world, you want (the turnover) to lessen, (but) a lot of this is best for the organization.”
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On the same day the Cubs promoted No. 2 overall pick Kris Bryant to advanced Class-A Daytona, completely skipping Kane County from Boise, they also confirmed the signing of Taiwanese right-hander Jen-Ho Tseng, Baseball America’s No. 23 international prospect.
At the age of 18, Tseng has already played for Chinese Taipei in the World Baseball Classic and will receive a $1.65 million bonus. The Cubs had already locked up Eloy Jimenez, Baseball America’s No. 1 international prospect, giving the Dominican outfielder a $2.8 million bonus in what’s supposed to be a banner class.
It’s been two drafts now for Jason McLeod, Tim Wilken and a blended scouting department to restock the system with more and more pitching. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have used two trade deadlines to flip free agents and short-term assets for more and more prospects to compete in a loaded National League Central.
“I certainly feel much better about our pitching than we did a year ago,” Hoyer said. “We just have to keep doing that year after year after year to get to that point to where we have that volume because you look at what the Cardinals are doing (now). We’re not there, by any stretch, (but) that’s a good benchmark.”
Even if the Cubs don’t hit on most of these guys, it comes at a time when the game is trending younger and younger. Life after A-Rod could mean tougher testing and harsher penalties for getting caught using performance-enhancing drugs.
“We have some pretty good bat speed coming without PEDs,” Sveum said, “with (Javier) Baez and the (Jorge) Solers and (Junior) Lake and the (Albert) Almoras and the (Arismendy) Alcantaras that are coming. They have pretty good bat speed without any help. But that’s always nice to (know that) all these guys can be here at the same time.”
Unlike last year, when the Cubs scrambled to find journeymen to fill their rotation, the fans are actually excited to see some of these Triple-A Iowa pitchers in August and September.
“We got some power arms coming,” Sveum said. “It may be a couple years away. But we’ve made a couple trades (for Jake) Arrieta and (Justin) Grimm (and Pedro Strop), guys that can get into 97, 98 miles an hour. We got some things coming that can all end as a pretty nice package at one time.”
That’s assuming everyone inside the organization and around the Cubs hasn’t run out of patience by then. Just ask Dusty.