Chicago Cubs: Mike Matheny

Foes appreciate Cubs are work in progress

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
7:41
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- It’s hard to find an opposing baseball executive that doesn’t like how the Chicago Cubs are going about their rebuilding plan.

Maybe they like the fact that it’s going to take some more time, which means their team can rack up some wins against the Cubs. Or maybe they’re just jealous of the long leash the front office has from ownership.

Not many general managers get five or more years before winning becomes essential.

But one thing baseball people like about president Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer’s plan is their patience. It’s hard not to waver in the face of so much criticism.

[+] EnlargePedro Strop, Rick Renteria
AP Photo/Paul BeatySo far this season, Cubs manager Rick Renteria has connected with his team and is doing his best to keep 25 players involved.
"It’s not a quick fix," St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said before his team played the Cubs on Friday night. "They’ve maintained that discipline not to try and do it just because of the pressures of winning now.

"Clearly, they have resources, but they are not going to make irrational decisions for short-term gains."

Whether "they have the resources" or not is an ongoing debate in Chicago. The question is will they have the resources when they need them. The Cardinals are well aware the Cubs could have a contending run in them.

"They have some good young talent and I don’t think you want to rush them," said Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday, a six-time All-Star. "Let them grow up together in the minor leagues, because once you get to the big leagues you sort of have that bond."

Unsolicited, Holliday brought up the names of Javier Baez and Kris Bryant, among others. He is well aware of their reputations to the point of reciting how they did in spring training this year. The Cubs train in Arizona, the Cardinals in Florida. Holliday might be the exception to the rule in terms of knowing other team’s players, but he realizes the Cubs could be a young contender with a modest payroll.

"Then you have an advantage because then you can have a bigger payroll if they need to bring in free agents here and there," he said. "They can go in and supplement their young players with a free agent on the market.

"They’re on the right track. A lot of good, young prospects will be here soon."

But will they be managed by the right guy? The Cardinals hired Mike Matheny when Hall of Famer Tony LaRussa stepped down. He’s getting universal praise as potentially the next special guy in the dugout, as he’s gone to the playoffs his first two seasons as manager.

"The guy just exudes leadership," Holliday said. "He doesn’t try. I think that’s the thing. He’s just a natural leader of men."

It’s hard to know if Cubs manager Rick Renteria will be described that way after his first two seasons, but Mozeliak reminds everyone he was hired in a different situation.

"[Renteria's] coming into an organization that has different expectations," Mozeliak stated. "I’m not sure which job is tougher."

Matheny was unproven but had a support system around him starting with better players. Renteria was hired to make the ones he has become better.

"[Matheny] walked into a good situation," Holliday said.

Matheny is described as having the "it" factor: the attributes to be a great manager that can’t be defined. You just know it when you see it.

"When you’re looking for that one secret sauce, it’s always harder to define or even articulate," Mozeliak said.

Holliday agreed.

"There's just something about him that guys respect," he said. "Guys want to play hard for him."

Holliday said being a prominent former player helps but, as everyone knows, it isn’t a prerequisite to becoming a great manager.

"It’s a guy that treats people the right way," Holliday stated. "Lives what he says."

In the early going of Renteria’s career, those words could apply to him. We already know he connects with his team and is doing his best to keep 25 players involved, though that can’t, and won’t, always be the case. He’s stuck to the things he’s said publicly and has certainly taken the optimistic view. We won’t know if he has the "it" factor for a while, but we might know if he’s headed in the right direction.

Same goes for the Cubs. The arrow looks to be pointing up as their prospects continue to progress, but we won’t know for sure about them for quite some time -- just like Renteria. All that can be done is what’s being done.

"From a strategic standpoint, they are doing it right," Mozeliak said.

Cubs facing short turnaround

June, 20, 2013
6/20/13
7:38
PM CT
By Rob Rains
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs were not pleased with the 7:15 p.m. CT start time for the final game of the series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday, basically guaranteeing the team would not arrive back in Chicago until after midnight Friday.

The Cubs will have to turn around and play at 1:20 p.m. Friday against the Houston Astros at Wrigley Field.

“It’s not our call,” manager Dale Sveum said of the decision to play a night game instead of a day game. “You don’t see this too often.”

Traditionally, the final game of a series is a day game, especially when the traveling team is going home. The Astros played in Milwaukee on Thursday afternoon and were scheduled to arrive in Chicago before the Cubs' game even started.

One of the oddities in the major league rules is that if a team is scheduled to have a day off at home following a road trip, the final game of the road trip has to be played during the day. There is no such protection when the team is playing the next day.

“It’s a strange rule,” Sveum said.

The Cubs even tried to get Friday’s start time pushed up to 3:05 p.m., giving them at least a little more rest, but could not get that request approved by city officials.

Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said he did not know why Thursday’s game was not scheduled during the day.

“I just show up when they tell me to,” he said.

The Cubs did send pitcher Matt Garza, scheduled to start Friday, back to Chicago before Thursday night’s game.

Castro looking for hits

Shortstop Starlin Castro was in the Cubs starting lineup for the 71st consecutive game Thursday night. The only two players in the National League who have played in more games and not missed a game so far this season are the Cincinnati RedsJoey Votto and the Philadelphia PhilliesJimmy Rollins.

With the playing time has not come production, however. Castro had just one hit in 12 at-bats in the first three games of the series in St. Louis and was only 4-of-26 in the first six games of the road trip.

For the month of June, Castro is hitting .134 (9-of-67) with only four extra-base hits -- all doubles -- and three RBIs. His OPS for the month is only .377.

The slump has dropped his season average to .235, the lowest it has been since April 6.

Asked what he has seen lately from Castro, Sveum said, “Not too much.”

Castro’s offensive numbers are down in almost every category from the past two seasons, after he hit .307 in 2011 and .283 last season.

“By numbers alone, he has regressed. There’s no question about it,” Sveum said. “You’re talking about an OPS under .600 [.596], and you have to get way, way down among all of the shortstops in baseball [to find him].”

Of the NL shortstops with more than 180 at-bats this season, Castro ranks 11th in OPS.

“He knows the formula,” Sveum said. “I said a few weeks ago the rest is up to him. He knows the issues and the mechanical things that are different from when he first got to the big leagues, so it’s up to him to get all of that ironed out.”

Johnson promoted

The Cubs on Thursday promoted their first-round pick from the 2012 draft, right-handed pitcher Pierce Johnson, from Class A Kane County to Class A Daytona in the Florida State League.

Johnson had gone 5-5 in 13 starts at Kane County with a 3.10 ERA, recording 74 strikeouts in 69⅔ innings.

Third-round, seventh-round picks sign

The Cubs also said Thursday they have signed third-round pick Jacob Hannemann, an outfielder from Brigham Young, and seventh-round pick David Garner, a right-handed pitcher from Michigan State.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Starlin Castro
BA HR RBI R
.280 11 52 42
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Rizzo 20
RBIS. Castro 52
RA. Rizzo 60
OPSA. Rizzo .890
WJ. Hammel 8
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104