Chicago Cubs: Recap
By far the starting staff was the brightest spot on the big-league team, but even they couldn’t do it alone as poor defense early and a year-long problem of getting on base contributed to the team’s woes.
And finding the worst stories for a last-place team shouldn’t be hard right?
But don’t forget, the Cubs' record during this rebuilding phase is by design. If they wanted to win a few more games they wouldn’t be trading veterans during the season. So the five worst stories for the Cubs in 2013 have little to do with actual games won or lost.
BEST MOMENTS5. Donnie Baseball: No, infielder Donnie Murphy didn’t get the Cubs closer to the playoffs after being called up from the minors in early August, but his offensive performance over the final two months is worthy of mention. He hit 11 home runs and drove in 23 in just 149 at-bats. For comparison, shortstop Starlin Castro hit 10 home runs in 666 at-bats. Even more impressive was Murphy’s performance in clutch situations. In spots deemed “late in games and close,” Murphy hit .368 with three home runs and seven RBIs. That batting average was second on the team while the home runs were tied for first and the RBIs tied for second. And he produced those numbers in just 19 at-bats. His hot finish earned a contract for 2014.
4. Feldman/Garza trades: We’ll have to wait a while to know if these are for-sure winners, but when the Cubs moved Scott Feldman and Matt Garza to the Baltimore Orioles and Texas Rangers, respectively, in July, they got back three, younger dynamic arms. Jake Arrieta is already a back-of-the rotation guy -- just as Feldman was -- but his stuff screams the ability to be better. His devastating curveball can freeze hitters while his lone weakness is control. He showed flashes after coming over and says getting away from the Orioles and a fresh start with a new pitching coach is all he needs to flourish. Pedro Strop is a closer in the making, although he will probably start 2014 as the main set-up man. Feldman parlayed his season into a $30 million deal with the Houston Astros, but it’s the Cubs who could end up the big winners. As for Garza’s deal, the Cubs acquired righty CJ Edwards, who helped Single-A Daytona to a championship. He’s small of stature but can throw lights-out. The Cubs also acquired one-time hot prospect Mike Olt. The third baseman took a dip in 2013, but with injuries behind him, he might turn into a steal.
2. Drafting Kris Bryant: Remember, this was no slam-dunk pick. At least not in the mind of the public. The Cubs had a myriad of hitters and pitchers to choose from picking No. 2 in this past June’s amateur draft and by all accounts -- so far -- they hit a home run. (No pun intended.) Bryant is big, strong and can crush the ball. He hit 31 home runs for the University of San Diego to lead the NCAA last season. Second place hit 21. That says it all. He won honors for top collegiate player, then went on to rip up minor league pitching in the final months of the 2013 season. To top off his year he won MVP of the Arizona Fall League where he hit another six home runs to lead all hitters. In handicapping young prospects he’s more of a “sure thing” then Baez, but both can be transformative players for a given team.
1. Wood emerges: For a rebuilding team nothing is more important than advancement at the major league level by young players. During this phase the front office is always on the lookout for “core” players they can lock up. Lefty Travis Wood pitched his way into being one in 2013 with a masterful year. Despite lousy run support, he was the Cubs' most consistent and best starter from April to September. He ranked 12th in ERA (3.11) in the National League, pitching exactly 200 innings for the first time in his career. Opponents hit just .222 against him, sixth best in the NL. He worked both sides of the plate, up and down, and was nearly as good against righties (.226) as he was against lefties (.207). It was a breakout year which could put him in line for a long-term contract in the near future.
WORST MOMENTS5. Kevin Gregg's mea culpa: Towards the end of a meaningless season in the standings, closer Kevin Gregg was forced to march up to the press box in order to clarify previous critical statements about losing his role to recently acquired Pedro Strop. The Cubs were miffed that Gregg overreacted to manager Dale Sveum telling him Strop would get a few chances to close games down the stretch. Team President Theo Epstein also marched up to the press box to explain things -- pointing out how the Cubs helped resurrect Gregg’s career -- and nearly released him on the spot. His near roll of the eyes summed up the situation: it was the last thing he needed at the end of a long year.
4. Castro bats eighth: Tuesday, Aug. 20 may have finally sealed former manager Sveum’s fate. After moving Castro around in the order all season, the shortstop was dropped to eighth for the first time since his rookie year. And for the first time Castro voiced his displeasure. Sveum said he didn’t know how long he would leave Castro there, but by the next day he was batting lead-off again. At the time sources said it wasn’t Sveum’s call to move him back up. He stayed in the one-hole for the rest of the season -- and performed better -- and looking back, that kind of gap in communication may have been a contributing factor to Sveum’s ouster.
3. Samardzija’s second half: If Jeff Samardzija had pitched the second half like he did the first half then maybe the Cubs wouldn’t have any doubts about giving him big money two years before free agency. His rising ERA in July (5.28), August (5.54) and September (5.58) contributed to an average season for him as a starter who threw 200 innings for the first time. Maybe it’s no coincidence his woes came as the team sold its veteran parts and fell way out of the race. Samardzija needs the adrenaline of a pennant race to pitch his best, but until that day comes a better showing in non-meaningful games will help prove he deserves big pay day.
2. Castro's season: There’s plenty of blame to go around for a career worst season after back-to-back All-Star bids. His batting average dipped to .245 and his play in the field was just as curious as ever -- at least early in the season. A better final month-and-a-half on offense and defense gives hope for 2014, but did the Cubs mess with him too much to be fixed? The front office, Sveum and the coaches are all to blame along with Castro. A fresh start is needed for one of the Cubs mainstays.
1. Wrigley (non) renovation: The Cubs like to call it “Restoration”. Whatever. It’s nothing until it actually starts. If it’s red tape that’s holding it up then the Cubs have gone through a lot of it and still no resolution has been found. Rooftop owners have dug in while the Cubs aren’t changing their stance either: they claim they need the renovations in order to bring in new revenue in order to compete. The rooftop owners have a contract for unimpeded views. Neither side looks good and so the whole story counts as one of the worst of the year.
WASHINGTON -- While the Washington Nationals hardly noticed their first winning season in franchise history, the Chicago Cubs are in the midst of a third straight losing year.
On Monday, the Cubs lost their 83rd game of the season, one day after guaranteeing their first losing three-peat since 1990-92. The Nationals hung on for a 2-1 victory.
In many ways, it was a typical Cubs loss. Their one-run defeat gives them a 12-23 record in one-run games.
"That's a sign of a team that needs to get a long way before you start winning those games."
Ross Detwiler allowed four hits in seven shutout innings and Adam LaRoche homered for Washington.
The NL East-leading Nationals improved to 82-52. The club moved from Montreal to Washington for the 2005 season and went 81-81 that year. In 2008 and 2009, the team lost a combined 205 games, then finished 80-81 in 2011.
The Nationals' win allowed them to hold their 6½-game division lead over Atlanta.
Detwiler (9-6) struck out three and walked three, and allowed a runner to third only once.
Shawn Camp (2-5) walked Matt Kemp on four pitches with one out and Andre Ethier's single put runners at the corners for Ramirez.
Cubs talented rookie Anthony Rizzo had three RBIs including a tying solo home run leading off the top of the ninth against Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen (5-3) after Ethier gave Los Angeles a 6-5 lead with a two-run double in the seventh against James Russell. The blown save was Jansen's sixth in 27 opportunities.
Joe Blanton allowed two runs and five hits, struck out five and tied a season high with three walks in his Dodgers debut. The nine-year veteran right-hander, who was acquired from Philadelphia on Friday in a trade after Los Angeles claimed him on waivers, departed with a 4-2 lead before the bullpen squandered it.
Cubs reliever Scott Maine gave up a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Juan Rivera and the two-run single by Luis Cruz that put the Dodgers ahead 4-2 in the sixth. The rally began when Cubs starter Justin Germano hit Mark Ellis with a 3-2 pitch and Alberto Cabrera loaded the bases with walks to Kemp and Ramirez.
Germano was charged with two runs and three hits in 5 1-3 innings on the eve of his 31st birthday. The right-hander was recalled from Triple-A Iowa to help fortify a rotation that was depleted by the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm on Tuesday, and a triceps issue with Matt Garza that may have kept him from being dealt away as well.
Germano's only other start for the Cubs this season was last Monday, when he pitched five innings in a 14-4 win against Pittsburgh at Wrigley Field. The seven-year veteran was acquired from Boston in a cash deal on July 19, six days after he was designated for assignment following 16 starts for Triple-A Pawtucket.
Los Angeles tied the score 1-all in the fifth when James Loney singled and came all the way home on a two-out double by A.J. Ellis, who had two home runs and an RBI single on Friday night in the Dodgers' series-opening 6-1 win. But the Cubs regained the lead in the sixth on Welington Castillo's a two-out solo homer into the pavilion seats in right-center. It was the 23rd home run allowed by Blanton, the most in the NL.
Blanton, who gave up only 18 walks over 133 1-3 innings in his 20 previous starts this season, issued one in each of the first three innings in his fourth career start at Dodger Stadium. The only one that cost him was his first-inning leadoff walk to David DeJesus, who scored on Rizzo's one-out single. Rizzo has 21 RBIs in 33 games since getting recalled from the minors on June 26.
Brett Jackson, the team's No.1 draft pick in 2009 out of Cal-Berkeley, made his major league debut in center field just three days after his 24th birthday and singled twice in four at-bats after his contract was selected from Triple-A Iowa.
Third baseman Josh Vitters, the Cubs' third overall pick in the in the 2007 draft out of Cyprus (Calif.) High School, also was recalled from Iowa and flied out as a pinch-hitter in his big league debut.
The Cubs traded reserve infielder Jeff Baker to Detroit for two players to be named, after the Tigers claimed Baker off waivers. Outfielder Tony Campana was optioned to the Cubs' top farm club.
Kershaw (9-6) helped the Dodgers remain a half-game behind first-place San Francisco in the NL West. The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, coming off a five-hit shutout against the Giants last Sunday, struck out seven and allowed his only run on a fourth-inning double by Alfonso Soriano while lowering his ERA to 2.88.
Volstad (0-8) yielded two runs and six hits through seven innings before he was lifted for a pinch-hitter. The right-hander is 0-13 with eight no-decisions and a 5.49 ERA since beating Houston 5-4 on July 10 last season with the Marlins, who traded him to the Cubs in January for Carlos Zambrano.
Volstad was recalled from Triple-A Iowa on Wednesday, a day after starters Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm were dealt away before the non-waiver trade deadline. This is Volstad's third stint with the big club this season, including a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on May 5 at Wrigley Field.
Soriano's run-scoring double ended an RBI drought of five games and 23 at-bats since his two-run triple against St. Louis' Joe Kelly on July 28 at Chicago.
The Dodgers responded in the bottom of the fourth with Kemp's 16th homer, a towering drive that deflected off center fielder Joe Mather's glove as he attempted a leaping grab in right-center. Kemp is hitting .336 with 13 RBIs in 20 games since coming off the disabled list.
The Dodgers added a run in the ninth when Shane Victorino led off with a double and scored on a two-out error by shortstop Starlin Castro, who couldn't handle Hanley Ramirez's hard-hit grounder.
Kershaw walked No. 8 hitter Luis Valbuena his first two times up, and Volstad advanced the runner both times with sacrifice bunts. But Castro grounded out to third to end the third-inning threat, then took a called third strike to end the fourth. The Cubs' leadoff hitter is 0 for 13 against Kershaw.
Angel Pagan scored the game's first run after doubling to set a Giants record by extending his home hitting streak to 27 games. San Francisco went on to its 12th win in 17 games and moved a season-high six games over .500.
Zito (5-2) was rarely threatened by the struggling Cubs, allowing just four hits and two walks before leaving to a standing ovation after a one-walk to Darwin Barney in the ninth. Sergio Romo finished for his second save.
The Cubs got only one runner as far as second base against Zito when Ian Stewart and Reed Johnson hit one-out singles in the fifth. But Zito escaped that jam with a strikeout-double play with Stewart easily being thrown out at third by Hector Sanchez.
It started with the Wrigley Field summer holiday tradition of a bald eagle flying in from the center field scoreboard during the National Anthem and landing on the arm of its handler on the pitcher’s mound. It was the first time on the day the crowd was stirred into a frenzy, but not the last.
In the seventh inning, when the Cubs and Padres were separated by a mere run, there was another bird sighting. What appeared to be a pigeon, or perhaps a dove, was resting on the infield grass when Ian Stewart charged in on a grounder.
Chase Headley, who had already hit two home runs on the day, headed for the plate. Stewart avoided the bird, which was enjoying the day on the cool grass, and fired to the plate in time to preserve the lead.
“It made me have some good footwork over there,” Stewart said. “I saw it. I don’t know if it was hurt or whatever but I almost stepped on it in the end.”
David DeJesus had two triples, including one in the eighth inning that started out as a sky-high routine fly ball that was lifted by a gust and dropped untouched on the warning track.
Sure the wind helped, but it was there for both teams. And sometimes a little assistance is what is needed to get things back on track.
When the final out was secured and the Cubs had their first victory since a May 14 game at St. Louis, the Wrigley Field seagulls descended onto the playing surface in an orderly fashion for once.
Just two losses from the longest losing streak in franchise history, the Cubs were able to breathe a collective sigh of relief. It was only the seventh time in franchise history a losing streak had reached 12 games. They avoided just the fifth 13-game losing streak in club history.
“It’s (expletive) relief,” Sveum said afterward. “Let’s not kid yourself. You lose 12 in a row and finally win, thank god I didn’t break my streak.”
That “streak” would be the 12-consecutive defeats Sveum suffered as a player with the Milwaukee Brewers.
No Sveum didn’t reach new depths and his club had the wind to thank for part of it. It’s OK to admit it. Birds are known to appreciate a nice stiff breeze too.
Perhaps more than anyone, they know what it feels like to be on an extended losing streak -- 12 in a row, in the Cubs' case.
The Pirates used that to their advantage Sunday.
Since McCutchen made his major league debut in June 2009, Pittsburgh has had 18 losing streaks of at least five games. The Pirates dropped 12 in a row during their 105-loss 2010 season.
"We've been there before, we know how it feels, so we knew if we were able to get on the board early, we pretty much would have them," McCutchen said. "Just because we've been there. When you're (struggling), and then you're down early, it kind of knocks the breath out of you."
Alvarez hit a three-run homer in the first, giving Pittsburgh a lead it would never relinquish. A six-run sixth gave the Pirates a 10-0 lead before the Cubs scored all of their runs in the final two innings.
"Not only to not get results, but to feel like you are getting embarrassed, it is frustrating," Cubs catcher Koyie Hill said.
Take Monday’s late-inning comeback that ultimately got away when the Phillies broke an eighth-inning tie with two runs. Two weeks ago the Cubs weren’t capable of coming back to life, much using a home run to help do it.
Cubs starter Chris Volstad let some early first-inning bad luck get him into trouble. The bunt single and the infield hit were one thing, but the two-out, two run-single from Carlos Ruiz and the two-out run-scoring hit from No. 8 hitter Pete Orr were another.
“Two-out base hits killed me again,” Volstad said. “I just tried to realize that an infield hit, you threw a good pitch, the base-hit bunt was a perfect spot and not a whole lot you can do. You have to keep throwing. The slider to Orr was probably the worst pitch of the inning to give them that fourth run."
CHICAGO -- A victory in the final game of the series would have made Thursday’s flight to Philadelphia feel much shorter, but winning their first series was most important.
The Cubs will hold their head up high despite Wednesday’s defeat, knowing they beat the World Series champion in walk-off fashion each of the first two games of the just-completed three-game series.
Having lost each of their first five series, the Cubs feel as if they are finally moving forward.
“I think we’re happy with winning the series,” said Bryan LaHair, who hit his fourth home run in the fourth inning. “That’s our goal, to win a series. It’s our first series win of the year and we’ll be happy with that.”
It’s a young team, so baby steps are appropriate.
It still wasn’t easy as the Cubs had to rally in the late innings in each of the two victories over the Cardinals. But at least some clutch hitting showed itself this week.
“We still have to swing the bats a little better, score some runs and get bigger leads to be able to hold on,” said manager Dale Sveum, whose club fell to 6-13. “But it’s nice, especially two walk-off wins. It could have easily gone the other way but the guys battled and we came out on top in two of the three games.”
Sure Mather still has friends in the opposing locker room, but that didn't dull the excitement of beating the World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals with a two-run single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning to give the Cubs a 3-2 victory.
“I'd lie if I said there wasn't [satisfaction], yeah,” Mather said about beating the organization that drafted him in 2001 and called him one of their own until 2010. “I have a lot of good friends over there, but it does feel good. When it comes down to it ultimately, we won a big league game and the self-satisfaction was secondary.”
Maybe winning the big league game was secondary and beating his former team was third on the list. What could mean more is that the Cubs finally have a feel-good moment they can build on after a rough start to the season.
The good: In only three entire games this spring had the Cubs scored more than they did in the first inning Monday. They sent 12 batters to the plate, knocking out Mariners starter Jason Vargas before their outburst was over. Darwin Barney had two hits in the inning after returning from a weekend off because of a strain in his left side.
The bad: Travis Wood said after his last outing that it was time to get it going. It didn’t happen. After back-to-back home runs in the third inning the Mariners had matched the Cubs’ seven-run first inning. Wood’s seven earned runs Monday gave him 14 allowed (13 earned) in three spring outings. He also gave up six runs in an intrasquad game not counted in that total.
Outside the box: Jay Jackson's solid spring continued with four scoreless innings in relief of Wood. The right-hander, who spent the last two full seasons at Triple-A Iowa, has given up just one earned run in three Cactus League outings and one intrasquad appearance. He remains alive for possibly a long-man spot in the bullpen and his chances only increase if Jeff Samardzija earns a spot in the rotation.
Up next: In Mesa, Cubs right-hander Ryan Dempster (1-1, 4.15) will face off against Rangers right-hander Neftali Feliz (0-1, 7.20). In Phoenix, Cubs right-hander Rodrigo Lopez (0-0, 2.57) will face off against A’s right-hander Brandon McCarthy (0-0, 4.70). Both games Tuesday are set for a 3 p.m. CST start.
MESA, Ariz. -- After rallying late for a tie Sunday, the Chicago Cubs fell to the Chicago White Sox 7-5 for their seventh defeat in their last eight games.
The good: Casey Coleman isn’t in the starting rotation derby, but he still delivered an impressive outing Sunday. The right-hander went three scoreless innings to start the game, giving up two hits with three strikeouts. He is alive for one of the number of spots available in the bullpen.
The bad: Andy Sonnanstine struggled for the second consecutive outing, giving up five runs to the White Sox in the sixth inning. The White Sox then loaded the bases off Sonnanstine in the following inning, but he got out of it unscathed thanks to a key double play. Once considered a long shot for the rotation, Sonnanstine has work to do to land a bullpen role.
Outside the box: Setup man Kerry Wood preceded closer Carlos Marmol in the middle innings with both of them throwing a scoreless inning. Wood gave up two hits but got a double-play grounder to end his outing. Marmol walked a batter during his outing. Wood was coming back after giving up four runs in his last outing against the Diamondbacks. Marmol now has back-to-back scoreless outings after giving up a combined seven runs in his previous two outings.
Up next: Cubs left-hander Travis Wood (1-1, 20.25 ERA) will face off against Mariners left-hander Jason Vargas (0-1, 5.63) in a 3:05 p.m. CST time start at Peoria. Randy Wells (0-0, 0.00) will start in a “B” game against the Indians at Goodyear.
The good: Casey Coleman pitched six-plus innings, giving up only two earned runs while striking out six. It was quite possibly his strongest outing of the season. Carlos Pena went 3-for-4, hitting the game-tying home run in the ninth. Kosuke Fukudome's single drove in Blake DeWitt to win it for the Cubs. Jeff Baker nearly ended it one batter earlier, but the ball bounced into the stands for a ground-rule double, sending DeWitt back to third.
The bad: Tyler Colvin, getting a rare start in place of Alfonso Soriano, continued to struggle, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He's now hitting .121.
Beyond the box score: Pena's third home run on the season was also his third in the last four games and his first at Wrigley Field.
Up next: Ryan Dempster tries to follow up his stellar outing from Tuesday as he faces the Reds' Johnny Cueto in the series finale Sunday at 1:20 CT.
DENVER -- A quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 8-3 win over the Colorado Rockies on Saturday night.
The good: Right-hander Casey Coleman won his first game of the season as a temporary replacement for starter Randy Wells. Shortstop Starlin Castro had his first four-hit night of the year, tying a career-high that he’s reached five times. Castro also hit his first home run of 2011. Alfonso Soriano had a three-hit night, including a home run and two RBIs and has team highs in home runs (5) and RBIs (12). The Cubs had a season-high 17 hits.
The bad: Marlon Byrd is now 0-for-9 since his nine-game hitting streak was snapped on Friday.
Beyond the box score: Mike Quade is leaning towards James Russell as his Tuesday night starter against the San Diego Padres.
Up next: Ryan Dempster (1-2) faces Colorado right-hander Alan Johnson on Sunday. At 27, Johnson is making his first major league appearance.
DENVER -- A quick look at the Chicago Cubs' 5-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies on Friday night at Coors Field.
The good: Third baseman Aramis Ramirez continued his hot hitting, going 3-for-4. Ramirez is 7-for-11 in his last three games.
The bad: The Cubs failed to score for pitcher Matt Garza and have been shut out in Garza’s last two starts. The previously hot Starlin Castro, Darwin Barney and Marlon Byrd went 0-for-11 in the 1-2-3 spots.
Beyond the box score: Pitchers Jeff Samardzija and James Russell each threw a shutout inning in relief of Garza. Samardzija and Russell could pitch in tandem on Tuesday night against the San Diego Padres when the Cubs need a fifth starter to fill Andrew Cashner’s vacant spot.
Up next: Right-hander Casey Coleman (0-1) faces Colorado right-hander Jason Hammel (1-1).