Chicago Cubs: Doug Padilla

Cubs come across ideal offensive blueprint

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
6:29
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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Jacob Turner Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJacob Turner lasted just five innings against the Dodgers offense.


CHICAGO -- Over one long weekend series, the Chicago Cubs caught an in-your-face glimpse of who they aspire to be one day one day in the future.

The playoff-contending Los Angeles Dodgers slugged their way to a series victory, even when their top pitchers were far from at their best, and Sunday’s 8-5 defeat came when their opponent used only relief pitchers for nine innings.

From the fifth inning Thursday until the completion of Sunday’s game, the Dodgers scored an impressive 36 runs, showing that offense can carry a club even when the pitching staff isn’t first-rate.

Nobody is going to average nine runs a game for an entire season, but for a team that is expected to have Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Starlin Castro in key roles next season, the Cubs have the potential to light up a scoreboard over brief four-game stretches like the Dodgers just did.

“We have a lot of good hitters in here, a lot of young guys, and with the time and the experience I think we’re going to be really good,” said Welington Castillo, who hit an eighth-inning home run, two days after leaving a game with a rib injury.

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Rapid Reaction: Dodgers 8, Cubs 5

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
5:08
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs fell 8-5 to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Sunday to conclude the second-to-last home series of the season.

How it happened: A day after collecting two home runs among his four hits, the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan went 2-for-5 with a double and three strikeouts. Cubs starter Jacob Turner gave up five runs on eight hits over five innings. The Dodgers beat the Cubs with their bullpen as reliever-turned-starter Jamey Wright gave up one run over two innings, while five other relievers backed him up. The Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig scored a career high four runs, while Matt Kemp had four hits, including his 23rd home run, and four RBIs.

What it means: Even a productive offense is nothing without a strong pitching staff. Case point: the Cubs scored 22 runs in the four-game series (an average of 5.5 runs a game), yet still lost three out of four, and needed an impressive comeback to win the one game. It happened because the Cubs pitching staff has given up 37 runs over the last 32 innings, after giving up just one run over the first 31 innings of the homestand (three games against the Reds and the first four innings against the Dodgers).

Outside the box:
The Cubs and Dodgers combined for 16 first-inning runs in the series, with the Dodgers collecting 10 of them. The Cubs scored two runs in the opening inning Thursday, three Friday and one Saturday. The Dodgers scored six in the first inning Friday, two Saturday and two Sunday.

Off beat: In turning a nice heads-up play on defense in the third inning, the young Cubs also got a prime example of what happens when you don’t hustle on offense. With the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez on first base, Carl Crawford hit a routine fly ball to Coghlan in left field. Coghlan caught the ball, got it into shortstop Javier Baez, who relayed the ball to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, all while Ramirez nonchalantly made his way back to first base. Ramirez was originally called safe, but a replay review overruled the call, turning it into a 7-6-3 double play.

Up next: The Cubs will send left-hander Travis Wood (8-12, 4.86 ERA) to the mound Monday against St. Louis in the opener of the final three-game home series of the season. The Cardinals will counter with right-hander Adam Wainwright (19-9, 2.45) in the 7:05 p.m. CST start from Wrigley Field.

Coghlan has been leading by example

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
3:16
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- A day after his monster Saturday afternoon that included a pair of home runs, all Chris Coghlan was thinking about is how to repeat the formula.

The former rookie of the year, who has been reborn with the Chicago Cubs this season, knows what it's like to see a run of success evaporate quickly so he won't relax after a little thing like a four-hit day.

[+] EnlargeChris Coghlan
AP Photo/David DurochikChris Coghlan says he's just grateful for the chance to try and resurrect his once-promising career with the Cubs.
He was on top of the world in 2009 with the Florida Marlins, batting .321 over 128 games to finish not only as the National League's top rookie, but also received a handful of MVP votes as well. Three years later his struggles had him back at Triple-A for most of the season.

Set free by the Marlins last year when he was non-tendered, it has been a redemption year for Coghlan, and his 4-for-4 day with a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning Saturday was just a small example. He entered Sunday's game batting .283 with a .349 on-base percentage and has proved himself to be a valuable piece moving forward.

"I would just say that it is a blessing because they don't come around [often]," he said about his season. "We have 10 games, nine games left, however many it is, and I really just want to finish the year. But when you do think about it, I'm just grateful that I have been able to stay healthy and that I had an opportunity.

"I tell people they don't come around, they don't hand them out for free and you don't get them as a gift, you have to earn them. I am grateful for the Cubs giving me the opportunity and I'm just trying to run with it and finish the year strong."

The curious thing about Coghlan is that he has seen enough in the game and certainly has been through plenty to be, at the very least, a cautionary tale, for young players about what can go wrong. After all, he experienced one of the most exasperating injuries in 2010 when he hurt his knee throwing a shaving-cream pie into the face of a teammate celebrating a victory.

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In lieu of speed, Renteria will take smarts

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
1:28
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- While team speed at the top of the order seems to be an obvious target for the Chicago Cubs this winter, manager Rick Renteria would be satisfied with improved base running.

In that sense, Renteria would be less dependent on personnel added by the front office and more reliant on what he and the rest of the coaching staff can impart on new and returning players during spring training.

“I think one of the things that we’re talking about right now is how we would like to go into spring training next year and try to get some skill work that will help us develop a better sense of how we need to advance on the bases,” said Renteria, who admitted that the subject came up with his staff Sunday morning.

“But it’s not just us. You see it a lot in baseball. There are a lot of different things that go on on the bases that you kind of scratch your head about and we’re hoping that just as part of the process we continue to develop our skills on the bases beyond the speed.”

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Cubs enjoy Little League thriller

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
11:34
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Rain delays in baseball are not usually welcomed, unless they manage to be timed perfectly to provide a little inspiration.

As it turned out, the 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay that hit during the Chicago Cubs-Baltimore Orioles game managed to give players from both teams the opportunity to watch Little League Baseball's United States final.

For the Cubs, there was a little more on the line since a team from Chicago was playing the Nevada champion out of Las Vegas for the U.S. title, with Chicago winning a thrilling 7-5 decision. The contest among mostly 12-year olds ended right before play in the Cubs-Orioles game resumed.

"Yes, we saw it. It was a really exciting ballgame," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. "The finish, I saw that they won on a 1-6-3 double play. I think the Little League World Series has been pretty exciting for everyone, a lot of interest.

"Obviously these kids are probably getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so. They're going out there and having a good time. Hopefully they remain humble through the whole thing because it can be overwhelming."

Chicago's Jackie Robinson West Little League has one more game remaining Sunday for the overall championship against South Korea.

"Yeah, that was actually a really fun game to watch," Cubs pitcher Justin Grimm said. "It was going back and forth a lot, so it was a fun game. We were in here having fun with it."

Grimm's enjoyment of the game was interrupted slightly when pitching coach Chris Bosio came to him to say that he would be on the mound when play resumed after the delay. "My heart just started beating really fast," Grimm said. "I was like: 'All right, here we go.' "

Right before the rain delay started, affording the Cubs' players the chance to watch the Little League game on television, Chris Coghlan had just delivered a bases-clearing triple that helped the Cubs take a 4-1 lead into the interruption.

"It was pretty cool to watch," Coghlan said. "I hadn't sat down and watched any Little League game from start to finish. I thought it was a really good game, fun, entertaining, intense for Little League. Obviously we were pulling for Chicago so it was pretty cool to see them win."

Cubs' kids are growing up fast

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
9:28
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- As the roster keeps getting younger, the play is getting more spirited, and while it is no guarantee the Chicago Cubs have moved past rock bottom and are now trending upward with their franchise overhaul, a better brand of baseball is clearly visible now.

The Cubs sucker-punched the Baltimore Orioles early, let nature cool off their opponents with a 3-hour-plus rain delay and then returned with more late rabbit punches to the midsection.

[+] EnlargeJavier Baez
AP Photo/Nam Y. HuhJavier Baez smacked his seventh home run in 19 games since being recalled from the minors as the Cubs beat the Orioles.
When it was over, Arismendy Alcantara had three hits, Javier Baez had a line-drive opposite-field home run to the basket in right field and Logan Watkins had two hits and two RBIs.

"Yeah, I think they're playing with a lot of confidence," manager Rick Renteria said. "The kids that have been joining us, like all young players they want to show you that they belong. So you have that going for you. But the skill set, they have the skill set, the variable to use and right now we've been able to get some decent at-bats and generate some offense.

"Javy lines it out to right, you have Watty driving balls into the gap. We have a lot of guys contributing right now. You talk about it and you have peaks and valleys in offenses but right now they seem to be picking each other up and doing a nice job."

Even the most complimentary offense doesn't work without pitching so there was Justin Grimm picking up the pieces after the long delay with 3 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball. He improved to 4-2 while delivering his longest outing of the season.

Knocking off the American League East leaders for the second consecutive day was truly child's play with Grimm, Alcantara, Baez and Watkins playing such vital roles.

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Rapid Reaction: Cubs 7, Orioles 2

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
7:39
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs moved one game away from a series sweep with a 7-2 victory Saturday over the Baltimore Orioles.

How it happened: Chris Coghlan had three RBIs, Arismendy Alcantara had three hits and Javier Baez hit his seventh home run. Kyle Hendricks pitched two innings but was removed after a 3-hour, 9-minute rain delay, giving way to Justin Grimm, who pitched 3 ⅓ scoreless innings. The Orioles have lost two consecutive games at Wrigley Field after sweeping the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field.

What it means: Maybe the Cubs would rather skip that long-awaited rest that arrives Monday. After Sunday's series finale, the Cubs will end a string of 33 games in 34 days. Monday's off day will be the Cubs' first since Aug. 4. Their young roster, though, seems to have the energy that most teams are lacking at this time of the year. The Cubs have now won five of their last seven games and 15 of their last 26.

Outside the box: Baez's all-or-nothing tendencies were in full display Saturday. He struck out in each of his first three at-bats, then went deep against Orioles reliever Tommy Hunter in the seventh. Baez now has seven home runs and 11 RBIs in his first 19 games and has hit a home run in both games of this series.

Offbeat: The grounds crew got it right this time. As a massive rain storm arrived at the end of the second inning, the Cubs' grounds crew got the tarp over the infield in barely over a minute. That wasn't the case Tuesday, when issues with the tarp led the game to be called, only to have it resumed two days later.

Up next: The Cubs will send left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada (3-1, 2.75 ERA) to the mound Sunday in the finale of the three-game series. The Orioles will counter with right-hander Miguel Gonzalez (6-6, 3.80) in the 1:20 p.m. CT start from Wrigley Field.

No trouble for Cubs' grounds crew this time

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
4:58
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Determined not to be embarrassed again, the Chicago Cubs' grounds crew solved its tarp issues Saturday during a rain delay in a game against the Baltimore Orioles.

Saturday was the first in-game delay for the Cubs since Tuesday when the undermanned grounds crew couldn’t get the tarp unfolded properly in a game against the San Francisco Giants, creating a muddy infield. After a four-hour, 34-minute delay while the grounds crew tried to make the field playable again, the game was eventually called.

Major League Baseball, however, determined that the game must be resumed at the point it was stopped, and the Cubs eventually won that game 2-1 on Thursday. As fate would have it, the resumed game was also delayed another two hours before it was played.

With a massive storm approaching Saturday, the Cubs had plenty of grounds crew members prepared for their most recent delay. The rain started to fall at the end of the second inning and the tarp was unrolled and unfolded on the field in about a minute to a mock cheer from the capacity crowd.

Rondon's 20th 'a tremendous accomplishment'

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
1:47
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – Lost in the shuffle of the Chicago Cubs' 4-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles on Friday was the 20th save from former Rule-5 pickup Hector Rondon.

While plenty of emphasis was placed on Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitching against his old team, Friday was just another instance of Rondon’s strong season flying low under the radar.

[+] EnlargeHector Rondon
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesHector Rondon has converted his last six save opportunities for the Cubs.
“It’s obviously a tremendous accomplishment,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He’s a young man who is really chipping away at the role. He’s had some hiccups along the way, obviously, but he continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches in order to get guys off his fastball because there was a point and time there where guys were just looking for his fastball and taking advantage of him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.”

Rondon has blown four save opportunities this season, but he has converted his last six chances, a season-best run. He has walked just one batter with 17 strikeouts over his last 20 innings, a stretch that goes back to June 30.

Going back to Aug. 10, Rondon has pitched seven consecutive scoreless innings, and over his 50 1/3 innings this season he has just 13 walks with 53 strikeouts.

Just last year he was in survival mode after the Cubs picked him up from the Cleveland Indians as a Rule-5 selection. If the Cubs tried to send him down to the minor leagues, he would have to first be offered back to his former team. That didn’t happen, as Rondon posted a 4.77 ERA over 45 outings after having just 19 games of Triple-A experience.

“He’s made adjustments and it’s a good story,” Renteria said. “He’s been getting better. I think everybody is comfortable with coming into closing out the ballgame that they can do what they need to do to give us a chance to close out ballgames.”

By saying that everybody is comfortable with closing it’s a reminder that Renteria never did announce that Rondon officially has the closer job. He has simply been doing the best with it of late.

“I think you have some guys with very good arms that you can comfortable slot into those positions and it just kind of takes care of itself,” Renteria said. “You let it play itself out. They chip away, they earned their ability to have the comfort level that everyone has for them in that particular situation to play itself out. It has and they have fallen into roles.”

Renteria said he wouldn’t hesitate using Pedro Strop in the role and he would even consider Neil Ramirez, but Rondon has clearly stood head and shoulders above that group.

“I think right now the way it’s kind of developed they can all be used to be able to help us chip away at closing down the back end of the ballgame," Renteria said.

Jacob Turner in as Cubs reset rotation

August, 23, 2014
Aug 23
12:54
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs will make some rotation alterations in the wake of Edwin Jackson's trip to the disabled list this week.

Jackson’s regular spot in the rotation comes up again Tuesday at Cincinnati, but Travis Wood will be able to move to that spot on a regular four days of rest thanks to an off day Monday. Jacob Turner, who was acquired Aug. 8 in a trade with the Miami Marlins, will move into the rotation and pitch Wednesday.

Jake Arrieta will remain in his regular spot in the rotation and pitch in Thursday’s series finale at Cincinnati.

Wood is 7-11 this season with a 4.91 ERA and hasn’t won a game since June 15. In 12 starts since then, he is 0-6 with a 5.43 ERA and opponents are batting .300 against him.

Turner has made two appearances in a Cubs uniform since he was traded, both in relief. He made 20 appearances with the Marlins this season, 12 of which were starts. In those starts, he was 4-5 with a 6.03 ERA and gave up eight home runs in 62 2/3 innings. In 20 innings as a reliever he has not given up a home run.

Turner did “start” for the Cubs when Tuesday’s rain delayed game against the Baltimore Orioles was resumed Thursday. Technically a relief appearance, he gave up one run in two innings and the Cubs went on to the victory.

Jackson went to the 15-day disabled list Thursday with a right lat strain.

Maddux starts at head of Hall rotation

July, 27, 2014
Jul 27
7:11
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Just like he carved up opponents from 60 feet, 6 inches away, Greg Maddux moved through his Hall of Fame speech Sunday with deft precision.

There was family to thank, teammates and coaches he appreciated and a few people who were key to his development at a young age. He showed love and respect to his wife Kathy for holding down the fort at home. He explained why his Hall of Fame plaque won't have a logo on the cap since he was unable to choose between the Chicago Cubs and Atlanta Braves.

[+] EnlargeGreg Maddux
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesGreg Maddux's Hall of Fame speech was short and sweet, done with precision, which was similiar to his approach to pitching during his career.
He even sprinkled his own deadpan humor into the proceedings, talking about flatulence, how he was mistaken for the batboy before his first major league game, and how he spent much of his time with the Braves watching John Smoltz's hairline recede.

Appropriately at the head of the rotation among Hall of Fame inductees, it took less than five minutes for Maddux to mix in a little potty humor during what he called the first speech of his life.

"My brother, Mike, led by example," he said about his sibling who is also the pitching coach of the Texas Rangers. "Everything I was about to do on and off the field, he had already done. I was very fortunate to have a brother that I could learn from. He even taught me a little bit about science. It has to do with a little methane and a lighter, and I still get a huge kick out of it today. That's funny, huh? OK."

In his more serious moments, Maddux expressed appreciation to the four franchises for which he pitched, focusing most on the Cubs and Braves, obviously. He ended his career with the San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers.

"With the Cubs, I had the opportunity to play with Andre Dawson, Rick Sutcliffe, Ryne Sandberg and two fine catchers, Damon Berryhill and Joe Girardi," he said. "The city of Chicago and the Cub fans were awesome, maybe the best in baseball."

The comment managed to bring out some groans from a large contingent of Atlanta fans in the crowd estimated to be 48,000 strong. He made up for it seconds later when talking about his free-agent move from Chicago to Atlanta.

"I picked Atlanta because I finally wanted to get a World Series ring and start a family," he said. "All right, sorry, Chicago, but yeah."

Maddux eventually did get that ring in 1995, with his career bringing him back to Chicago in 2004.

"I love Chicago so much," Maddux said. "The first time I played there, that I was very grateful that Gary Hughes and Jim Hendry brought me back over to Chicago. That would give me a second chance to win there, and maybe retire where it all started, but I wouldn't be a Cub if I couldn't handle a little heartache and we missed the postseason by one game my first year back.

"I was thankful I got a chance to play for Dusty Baker and work with Larry Rothschild. I enjoyed throwing most of my games to Henry Blanco and Michael Barrett, and again, it was even funnier when they would get hit in the face [with foul tips]."

For a first speech, Maddux handled the moment with aplomb. He didn't have to explain why he will go in to the Hall of Fame without picking the Braves over the Cubs or the Cubs over the Braves. He did anyway.

"People ask me why I have no Hall of Fame plaque, no logo, or why my Hall of Fame plaque has no logo," he said. "I spent 12 years in Chicago, 11 in Atlanta and both places are very special to me. Without experiences in both cities, I would not be standing here today."

Maddux's edge takes him to Cooperstown

July, 26, 2014
Jul 26
4:58
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Greg Maddux didn't use a blazing fastball to have one of the best pitching careers in major league history, yet he was intimidating nonetheless.

He crafted 355 victories over a storied 23-year career that at its peak earned him four consecutive Cy Young Awards from 1992-95.

[+] EnlargeGreg Maddux
AP Photo/Mike GrollGreg Maddux used precision to the highest level during his 23-year career, and his Hall of Fame speech figures to follow a similar blueprint.
Maddux was a study in consistency, and he was never above the subtle tricks of the trade, when he needed that little extra something to get to where he needed to go.

If quick-pitching a batter who didn't quite have his feet set could get Maddux back in the count, or get the out he needed, he wouldn't shy away from such a tactic.

"You're always looking for any edge you can get," Maddux said Saturday. "You're always trying to find out what's the easiest pitch to throw in any situation."

His savvy approach will lead to his Hall of Fame induction Sunday, and in typical Maddux fashion, the low-key pitcher will keep it short and sweet. He has 10 minutes to give his speech, but Maddux estimates he will only need seven.

Why take a long time to finish off what can be done so much sooner? Like his pinpoint precision from the mound, the speech figures to be precise and won't deal with too much fluff.

His gift of precision, though, wasn't just something he inherited.

"It's something you're always working on," he said of his ability to throw a ball wherever he wanted, whenever he wanted. "It wasn't like, 'Oh yeah, I can do it.' You're always constantly working on it and trying to improve.

"I think if you look at your delivery from the time you entered the game to the time you left the game, it's obviously a lot better when you left. It's a continuous thing where all you're really trying to do is get better."

Despite his accomplishments in the game, baseball still gives him a thrill. He had a memorable encounter as recently as Friday night.

"I got a chance to talk to Tom Seaver and that was pretty cool," Maddux said. "He played for the Reds and he was a good pitcher and somebody I tried to watch when he pitched. I wish maybe the games back then were more than just Saturdays."

He no longer has any more Saturdays on the field, but he continues to have the love from the two cities where he spent the bulk of his career. Maddux spent his first seven seasons with the Chicago Cubs and the next 11 with the Atlanta Braves, before returning to Chicago for 2½ more years.

"I appreciate both cities," he said. "I had two careers, one in Chicago and one in Atlanta when it boils down to it. I love both places."

Everywhere else and everybody else he loves will be mentioned Sunday in the most precise of speeches.

"I never wrote a speech before. I've never given a speech before so to sit here and have your first speech be at this event, I'll wish I went to class those days when you had to get up and give a speech," Maddux said. "I'll say what I want to say and hopefully the people I mention in the speech understand that I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. I took a piece from everybody. Everybody in that speech I took a piece from."

Cubs showing a youthful exuberance

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
8:08
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- Finally home after a road trip that would shake even the most confident player to his core, the Chicago Cubs insist they still have plenty of fight left inside them.

Five days into an 11-day journey that ended Thursday, the Cubs saw pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel get traded to the Oakland Athletics. A day after that a six-game losing streak started.

[+] EnlargeArismendy Alcantara, Justin Ruggiano
AP Photo/Andrew A. NellesJustin Ruggiano, right, says he likes the inclusion of Arismendy Alcantara, left, in the Cubs' lineup. "He's got a little spark to him," Ruggiano said.
Now the Cubs say they are ready to scratch and claw, but in comparing their roster to teams around the league, any fight they face in the foreseeable future looks to be fairly lopsided. The past two days, though, they have looked willing to stand up to conflict, both literally and figuratively.

On Friday, the Cubs went toe-to-toe with the Atlanta Braves, getting past the disappointment of a Hector Rondon blown save to win it 5-4 in walk-off fashion on Justin Ruggiano’s RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“[The spirit] is still there,” Ruggiano said. “We were probably a little down losing those two guys, they were big guys in the clubhouse. But we’ve got a pretty tight group of men in here and we all pull for each other. We’ll be all right.”

Fight, and youthful exuberance, will get you only so far, though. New staff ace Jake Arrieta was his typical stingy self on Friday, giving fresh-faced Arismendy Alcantara the chance to deliver when it mattered. Alcantara not only singled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, his steal of second base helped set up Ruggiano’s game winner.

“When you have a young person come in fresh to the big leagues there is a lot of energy and excitement,” manager Rick Renteria said. “There is a willingness to want to go out and show you what they have. This young man actually just has the energy and desire to get out there. He is very composed. He has a lot of composure to him for being out there for the first time.”

The problem is that he doesn’t have numbers on his side, specifically roster numbers. The Cubs can actually get away with only three starters until July 22 and with four starters until July 24. That means somebody will have to go when the rotation is returned to full strength, and Alcantara might be on borrowed time.

“I think that any player when they impact your team and show you what they have, I think the easiest thing to do is for people to start to speculate if he will stick around,” Renteria said. “We’ll have to make that decision as an organization when we come to it. It would be premature and irresponsible for me to say something like that, but he does impact the way you view him for sure.”

On Thursday, Alcantara had three hits in a game that ultimately became known for Anthony Rizzo’s beef with Aroldis Chapman. After Chapman sent two fastballs to the backstop while facing Nate Schierholtz, Rizzo was among Cubs players who expressed displeasure with the pitches.

When Chapman dismissed the Cubs’ gripes with a wave of his glove, Rizzo kept the conversation going before the next half inning started by shouting in Chapman’s direction while walking toward the Reds’ dugout.

Benches cleared, with no punches thrown, but the biggest happening of all might have been Rizzo’s move into a leadership role. The backup All-Star first baseman might have set a tone moving forward in the wake of Samardzija and Hammel taking a combined 2.91 ERA with them to Oakland, while not leaving a whole lot of experience behind.

“Yeah, there is always spirit, win or lose,” Rizzo insisted. “It’s a great group of guys and you just want to keep coming together and keep getting better.”

Since winning will be tough, getting better will be the key. It’s uncertain how far a rotation of Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Travis Wood and whoever else (likely Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks) will take the Cubs.

But for now it’s about not letting things get too out of hand, while also learning as much as possible in the process. The Cubs know that a whole lot of talented young players are coming soon, so for now it’s about bridging the gap until they are ready to arrive.

“The future's bright; that's very apparent,” Arrieta said. “There are guys like Alcantara, and we know we've got some guys in the pipeline who can definitely help us in the near future. I look forward to seeing those guys, [Javier] Baez and [Kris] Bryant, a couple of others.

“It's going to be a fun, fun period of time here over the next six to eight months, toward the end of season and beginning of next season -- just seeing those guys blossom and continue to grow and get some experience up here. That'll be very valuable for them leading into the coming season.”

For now, it’s Alcantara’s time to blossom, however long his stay lasts.

“We saw him play in spring, I saw him play in my rehab and he’s got all kinds of tools,” Ruggiano said. “Youth eventually can sometimes be a factor, but from what I see, he’s got enough tools I think where he could stay afloat and probably be a very good player for many years. Who knows what will happen? But I like him around. I like him in the lineup. He’s got a little spark to him.”

Ricketts on Wrigley: Time to move forward

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
6:17
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – One day after the Chicago Cubs received approval for their revised plans to renovate Wrigley Field, chairman Tom Ricketts described an upbeat feeling at the corner of Clark and Addison streets.

“Obviously, it’s very important for us to get those approvals to move forward,” Ricketts said Friday before the Cubs took on the Atlanta Braves. “We’re excited to begin the renovation process as opposed to the political process.”

On Sheffield and Waveland – addresses to the rooftop owners – there probably wasn’t much celebrating. The revised renovation plan includes five more outfield signs to be erected along with the two that were approved last year, that figure to block sightlines from across the street.

With the threat of eventual legal action still hanging in the air, Ricketts was asked if the team has reached out to the rooftop owners, who charge people to watch games and then return 17 percent of revenues back to the Cubs.

“Obviously the hearing was just yesterday,” Ricketts said. “We’ll reach out and talk to everybody. We’re confident there will be a solution that works.”

If there is any animosity from the Cubs side toward the rooftop owners, Ricketts wasn’t about to reveal it one day after scoring a major political victory.

“Obviously it’s been a long process,” he said. “We’re just glad that it’s behind us. I’m not worried about anything that happened in the past. We’re just going to go forward. As I’ve said, we’re just looking forward to moving forward.”

There remains no scheduled groundbreaking date on the project that could run over the $375 million mark, with an additional $200 million in related construction costs.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks unanimously approved the revised plans. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is expected to work with the Cubs and the rooftop owners to avoid litigation. The 20-year contract that allows the rooftop owners to charge people to watch Cubs games still has another 10 years on it.

“I was confident that everyone has an incentive to work together to save Wrigley Field,” Ricketts said. “Obviously we’ve always had a very long-term perspective, so a lot of short-term setbacks or friction in the process, we just kept in perspective and tried to take the high road and keep moving forward. I think we’re in a good spot now. We’re looking forward to getting things rolling.”

The project is expected to take four years once it is started, with some reports that the historic bleachers might be knocked down and replaced by a newer version with modern amenities. Rickets would not confirm that a razing of the bleachers was on the agenda.
“I don’t really know how the construction process works well enough to go into that,” Ricketts said. “… It’s a four year project. I’m not sure about all the final sequencing of everything, and not sure exactly how you start in October and finish in April.”

While the renovation plan isn’t on-field related, the on-again-off-again nature of the subject managed to creep into the clubhouse.

“I think just in general, just to have the approval to move forward is a big thing for the Cubs, for us,” manager Rick Renteria said. “I know it's been in the making for a long time. I'm just here for the first year, so I know it's kind of been worked through.

“If that's one less thing for us to think about, it's good for all of us. We keep moving forward and put the ballpark in a better position, and hopefully we can take advantage of it.”

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 5, Braves 4

July, 11, 2014
Jul 11
6:15
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs started their final series before the all-star break Friday with a 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Braves.

How it happened: Justin Ruggiano's single in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Arismendy Alcantara to give the Cubs the walk-of victory. Chris Coghlan's single in the sixth inning had tied it and Luis Valbuena's walk with the bases loaded put the Cubs ahead, but the Braves' Christian Betancourt tied it on an RBI single with two outs in the ninth inning. Starter Jake Arrieta was solid yet again, giving up three runs on four hits over 7 2/3 innings. Arrietta even drove home the first Cubs run of the game on a suicide squeeze in the third inning. Hector Rondon stranded a runner at third base in the ninth inning for his

What it means: The Cubs look to be moving past the shock of the Jeff Samardzija/Jason Hammel trade to the Oakland Athletics with a second consecutive victory after the six consecutive defeats that followed the deal. They definitely looked happy to be home after playing 11 games in 11 days on the just-concluded three-city road trip.

Outside the box: It was just the third time this season in 13 starts that Arrieta gave up at least three runs in a start. His season ERA remained a tidy 1.95, though. In fact, Arrieta has the second lowest ERA since May 3, which is when he made his season debut after starting the season on the disabled list. Only the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw (1.81) has a lower ERA over that time, while the Mariners' Felix Hernandez is at 1.99.

Off beat: Junior Lake showed off his bat-breaking prowess again in the sixth inning. The Cubs had just loaded the bases with nobody out as Lake came to the plate with his team trailing by a run. After he struck out on a pitch well outside of the strike zone, Lake raised his right knee and cracked his bat in half just above the handle. He has pulled off the stunt multiple times this season, the most recent before Friday coming when the Cubs were in Boston on the just-concluded road trip.

Up next: The Cubs will send right-hander Edwin Jackson (5-9, 5.05 ERA) to the mound Saturday in the middle game of the three-game series. The Braves will counter with left-hander Mike Minor (2-5, 4.54) in the 3:05 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jake Arrieta
WINS ERA SO IP
10 2.53 167 156
OTHER LEADERS
BAS. Castro .292
HRA. Rizzo 32
RBIA. Rizzo 78
RA. Rizzo 89
OPSA. Rizzo .913
ERAT. Wood 5.03
SOJ. Arrieta 167