Chicago Cubs: Welington Castillo

First-half lows: Wood, Baez struggle

July, 16, 2014
Jul 16
2:18
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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Travis WoodJim Rogash/Getty ImagesTravis Wood has struggled to regain his All-Star form of a year ago.
Before we spin things forward to the second half of the Chicago Cubs' season, let's examine five players who didn't exactly move their careers in the right direction in the first half. These are players who matter in the Cubs organization (which means Jose Veras is not making the list).

We examined five positives from the first half on Monday. Here are the negatives:

Travis Wood


A year ago at this time, Wood was finishing up his first All-Star Game as the Cubs' lone representative, but that's now in the distant past. He has been a shadow of his former self, plagued with command problems, especially with his fastball. He has either left balls over the plate (117 hits in 110 2/3 innings) or missed his spots altogether (48 walks). His 4.96 ERA ranks 90th out of 94 qualified pitchers in Major League Baseball, as does his 1.49 WHIP (hits plus walks to innings pitched). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wood's line-drive percentage (24.1) is the highest of his career and 14th in the league in the first half.

Edwin Jackson's numbers might be worse, but there was no expectation out of him this season or for the near future. Wood is supposed to be a core guy -- on the path to being a No. 2 or 3 starter -- at least based on his age and last season. He needs to find that command to be thought of in that way again.

Javier Baez


His recovery after a slow start has been nice, but it didn't land him in the Triple-A all-star game Wednesday night. If he can't make that squad, how can he be ready for the big leagues?

The Cubs will tolerate some high strikeout totals from their sluggers -- that's baseball these days -- but 110 whiffs to just 28 walks isn't a ratio that will work in the majors. And remember we're just at the All-Star break.

Baez needs to be a more disciplined hitter to get that final promotion. He started to show signs of it in spring training, taking what the pitcher was giving him more often than not, but once Triple-A started he expanded his zone. Nothing about his season screams that he's ready despite some prodigious home runs, including Sunday in the Futures Game when he crushed an outside breaking ball out to right.

For the year he is batting .240 with 14 home runs and 47 RBIs with an on-base percentage of .305. Those are pedestrian numbers for a player of his talent. The good news is he has made only 11 errors after 44 last season. His manager noted Baez never took his offensive woes to the field. If he can pick up where he left off before the break -- he's on a 10-game hitting streak -- he still has a chance at the big leagues sooner rather than later.

[+] EnlargeMike Olt and Junior Lake
Robin Alam/Icon SMIThe season has only gotten worse for Mike Olt and Junior Lake.

Mike Olt and Junior Lake


The swings and misses have become so common for these two that it's almost a surprise when they do make contact. Lake was batting .250 on June 1, but he has hit .168 since with 34 strikeouts in his last 101 at-bats and is now batting .218 at the break along with 93 strikeouts. If the Cubs need a roster spot to keep Arismendy Alcantara, they may have just found one. Otherwise they could demote Olt, whose average got as high as .231 one day in April. By the next afternoon it was .207, and it has gone down ever since.

Currently hitting .144, Olt looks more lost than Lake and isn't that far behind in strikeouts (79). According to ESPN Stats & Information, Olt and Lake are No. 1 and No. 2 in MLB in strikeout rate when the count gets to two strikes at 60.8 percent and 59.2 percent, respectively. And Olt's .076 batting average with two strikes (9-for-118) is the lowest in the majors. Despite a few home runs, there is nearly nothing positive to hang on either of their first halves, at least not on offense.

Welington Castillo


After a surge in the second half last season, there were many whispers about a possible All-Star bid this season for the 27-year-old catcher, but things haven't panned out. A .236 batting average and .292 on-base percentage tell his offensive story, and he hasn't been the stalwart behind the plate that he was on track to become. Castillo has thrown out just 21 percent of base stealers, well below the league average of 27 percent. But that number is misleading as manager Rick Renteria hasn't made it a priority with the Cubs pitching staff, which has been the culprit as much as or more so than the catcher.

Still, according to Fangraphs, Castillo has zero defensive runs saved this season after leading all catchers with 19 last season. And the Cubs don't completely trust him with their young pitching staff just yet. John Baker has done the brunt of the work behind the plate any time a newcomer takes the mound. It's not that Castillo has been awful, but he was trending in a better direction at the end of last season. That progress has seemingly stalled.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 2, Red Sox 0

June, 30, 2014
Jun 30
9:15
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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BOSTON – The Chicago Cubs beat the Boston Red Sox 2-0 behind 7⅔ one-hit innings from Jake Arrieta. Here’s a quick look at the game.

How it happened: Stephen Drew broke up the no-hitter with two out in the eighth with a solid single to right field. Arrieta didn’t allow a baserunner until the fifth inning as he walked one and struck out 10 before being pulled after the Drew hit. The right-hander threw 120 pitches, a career high. Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run home run in the fourth inning after Welington Castillo drew a two-out walk for the Cubs’ lone runs. It was all Arrieta and the bullpen needed. Hector Rondon earned his 10th save after Pedro Strop threw one pitch to end the eighth.

What it means: It’s the second time in two starts Arrieta has taken a no-hitter into seventh inning or beyond -- his stuff is as nasty as it’s been since he became a Cub in July 2013. He’s come into his own under pitching coach Chris Bosio, who, incidentally, is the last pitcher to no-hit the Red Sox, back in 1993 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Arrieta improved to 5-1 while lowering his ERA to 1.81. It was his fourth consecutive victory. He’s been dominant.

What’s next: Edwin Jackson (5-8, 5.22 ERA) takes on Clay Buchholz (3-4, 6.75) in Game 2 of the series Tuesday night.

Jake Arrieta's hot streak continues vs. Reds

June, 25, 2014
Jun 25
1:23
AM CT
By Sahadev Sharma
Special to ESPNChicago.com
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Jake ArrietaJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJake Arrieta's stellar season continued with seven innings, nine strikeouts and three hits Tuesday.
CHICAGO -- It might have taken longer than some had hoped, but everything is finally starting to click for Jake Arrieta.

It all came together on Tuesday night, with Arrieta mowing down the first 18 batters he saw before finally losing his perfect game on Billy Hamilton’s seventh-inning leadoff single.

Arrieta was well aware of the stakes when he took the mound in the top of the seventh.

“I knew that’s kind of what was going on; most guys do when you’re in a situation like that,” he said. “Really, [I] just wanted to continue to execute pitches and try to pitch deep into the game. That’s really the only couple of thoughts going through my head.

“Nothing changes. It’s just kind of the way things worked out in the first six innings. Then you get to the meat of the order, and it’s tough to continue to put guys away like that."

Arrieta retired the next two batters after Hamilton but gave up back-to-back RBI hits to Davin Mesoraco and Jay Bruce before striking out Ryan Ludwick to wrap up his outing.

All in all, it was a seven-inning, three-hit night during which he struck out nine and didn’t walk a single batter.

Arrieta had led off the Cubs’ half of the sixth by taking a walk and spending a lot of time on the basepath. Then he waited for the inning to end as the Cubs tacked two runs onto their lead. Add that to the fact he waited out a 53-minute rain delay prior to even stepping on the mound on a muggy Chicago night, and it’s understandable Arrieta fell short of perfection.

“I was pretty gassed there, unfortunately,” he said. “Pretty humid night, long inning there in the sixth, running the bases, which really isn’t all that tough in itself. But couple that with being on the mound and having that long layoff, and it adds a little bit to it.

“I left a couple of balls up. Bruce and [Devin] Mesoraco were able to put some good wood on it and drive in a couple runs. But for the most part, I was down with pretty much everything and commanding the ball where I wanted to, so I was able to do some good things.”

(Read full post)

Series preview: Cubs at Marlins

June, 16, 2014
Jun 16
8:00
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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The Chicago Cubs open a three-game series with the Miami Marlins on Monday night.

The series: Monday, 6:10 p.m. CT, Jason Hammel (6-4, 2.81 ERA) versus Tom Koehler (5-5, 3.68).

Tuesday, 6:10 p.m., Jeff Samardzija (2-6, 2.77) versus Jacob Turner (2-4, 6.38).

Wednesday, 11:40 a.m., Jake Arrieta (2-1, 2.09) versus Nathan Eovaldi (4-2, 3.71).

Road win: The Cubs just won their first road series of the season in Philadelphia -- a milestone that comes as they close in on the halfway point of their road schedule. After this set in Miami, the Cubs will have 40 games left on the road and 52 at home, where they are 15-14. They’re just 13-25 on the road after taking two of three from the Phillies.

Scouting: Scouts wanting to see both Samardzija and Hammel for the next few weeks will have an easy time of it as they pitch one after the other in the rotation. There might be a few less at Wednesday’s matinee, with Arrieta not expected to be moved before July's trade deadline.

Who’s hot/who’s not: Starlin Castro has gotten hot again. After a 3-for-4 effort Sunday he’s 10-for-25 (.400) on the current road trip, with 6 RBIs in seven games. ... Neil Ramirez earned saves in both wins in Philadelphia and has three on the season while sporting on 1.06 ERA. ... Without Welington Castillo, Cubs catchers have struggled. Combined, John Baker and Eli Whiteside are 3-for-26 (.115) on the road trip so far.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 4, Brewers 2

May, 18, 2014
May 18
4:30
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs posted just their second series win of the season with a 4-2 victory Sunday over the Milwaukee Brewers.

How it happened: Welington Castillo and Mike Olt hit home runs to provide the Cubs’ offense in the victory. Travis Wood was solid, giving up two runs on two hits over seven innings. His only mistake was the two-run home run he allowed to Rickie Weeks in the fifth. Hector Rondon closed out the ninth inning for his fifth save. The Cubs posted consecutive victories for just the third time this season and the first time since winning three consecutive April 30-May 3. Despite the consecutive victories, the Cubs have lost 10 of their last 14 games.

What it means: Wood continues to be in his comfort zone at Wrigley Field. The left-hander improved to 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA in five home starts this season. On the road it has been a different story as he has gone 1-3 with a 8.02 ERA in four starts.

Outside the box: Perhaps the Cubs can adopt the Little League rule of six-inning games and save everybody a little time. With the lead after six innings the season, the Cubs improved to 14-2. When they are trailing after six innings this season, they are 1-21.

Off beat:
The Cubs showed in the first inning that sometimes a pickoff play can be too perfect. With the Brewers’ Jean Segura on first base after a walk, Wood snapped a quick flat-footed throw to first base that the runner appeared not to see immediately. With plenty of time to make the catch and apply the tag, first baseman Anthony Rizzo closed his glove too quickly, dropped the ball and Segura scrambled back to the bag in time. Wood eventually loaded the bases on two more walks, but a ground ball for the third out got him out of the jam.

Up next: After an off day Monday, Cubs right-hander Jason Hammel (4-2, 3.06 ERA) will square off against New York Yankees right-hander Masahiro Tanaka (6-0, 2.17) in the 7:05 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 3, Brewers 0

May, 17, 2014
May 17
4:25
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 3-0 on Saturday afternoon. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: The Cubs jumped on Matt Garza, who has had issues this season at the start of games, in the first inning. A bunt hit by Emilio Bonifacio started a three-run rally as two-out base-knocks by Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo drove home the runs. Garza settled down, not giving up another hit until the sixth inning. But Cubs starter Edwin Jackson was even better. He had a season-high 11 strikeouts while giving up just four singles and walking one. The Brewers were off balance all day long. Neil Ramirez threw a perfect eighth inning and Hector Rondon closed it for his fourth save.

What it means: Jackson is starting to pitch to his salary, as his ERA fell to under 4.00 (3.98) for seemingly the first time as a Cub. His pitches were simply working and he didn’t nibble. He also avoided the “one-inning syndrome” that usually costs him several runs. It was arguably his best performance since arriving in Chicago with a $52 million deal.

Ramirez and Rondon have emerged as the unlikely late inning go-to guys with a lead. Ramirez struck out two more batters as his fastball, slider and curveball have complemented one another since he was called up from the minors.

Injury updates: Ryan Sweeney “took a step back” as he rehabs a hamstring injury, according to manager Rick Renteria. But Justin Ruggiano's hamstring issue is getting better as he closes in on a rehab stint at Triple-A Iowa.

What’s next: The rubber game of the series takes place Sunday afternoon when Travis Wood (3-4, 4.91) faces Marco Estrada (3-1, 3.28).

Frustration shows for Cubs ... in Chicago

May, 7, 2014
May 7
11:58
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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video

CHICAGO -- On a day when the Chicago Cubs' minor leagues stole the spotlight, the major league club was overcome with frustration in their 8-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

For the third consecutive game against their crosstown rivals, the Cubs managed just four hits. And this time their manager was ejected while several players took issue with plate umpire Tom Woodring’s strike zone.

“We’re battling, we’re competing,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said after the game. “We’re not trying to show an umpire up, it’s emotion. We want to win.”

But right now the Cubs simply don’t have enough talent to win consistently, try as they might. And that’s when frustration can take over.

[+] EnlargeWelington Castillo
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

If the normally well-behaved Welington Castillo is frustrated, it's a strong indication there are troubling issues with the Cubs.

“It stemmed from the inning before,” Rizzo explained. “A really good pitch on one of their players and we didn’t get the call and they hit the three-run home run. Then a couple of pitches I don’t even need to say anything about.”

Rizzo was called out on strikes with men on base and the Cubs trailing only 4-3 at the time. They were questionable calls. And when a team -- especially an offensively challenged one -- is struggling, each injustice is magnified. The Sox could afford to have a call go against them on Wednesday; the Cubs could not.

“I thought we were going to be a little better, back on the track,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We have to continue to get better at grinding out at-bats.”

All was not lost on offense Wednesday, except the good news had no effect on the Cubs game at U.S Cellular Field. Double-A stud prospect Kris Bryant hit two home runs and drove in six as he continues a hot start to his season. And Triple-A prospect Javier Baez had three hits for Iowa. For a rebuilding team, that’s the best news they could get. The Cubs could use that kind of production in Chicago in the worst way.

“We need to start hitting,” Rizzo said. “It’s contagious. Four hits is not enough to win a game at the big league level.”

For good measure, the Iowa Cubs also had a no-hitter thrown by sometimes big leaguer Chris Rusin. Major help isn’t on the way any time real soon, but at least that light at the end of the tunnel is still flickering. That is, if the Cubs can survive the frustration that is the current team.

“We’re going to have some highs and have some lows,” Renteria said. “They have to continue to know we believe in them and trust in their abilities. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t say it.”

All you need to know about their frustrations is they didn’t come from the ejection of their manager or the confused look on Rizzo’s face after the bad calls. It came from the mild-mannered Cubs catcher.

After Welington Castillo struck out looking to end the sixth inning, he pointed at Woodring asking, “Where you got that one?” He pointed again when he didn’t get the answer he liked. Then he continued on his way. It was out of character, but the emotion took over. Losing will do that to you.

“I have to respect his word,” Castillo said. “I know where the strike zone is. I can’t control those things.”

And right now it seems the current Cubs can’t control the losses that are piling up.

Edwin Jackson finds 'extra motivation'

May, 7, 2014
May 7
12:35
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO -- If the Chicago Cubs are looking for another reason to sign pitcher Jeff Samardzija to a long-term contract, maybe they should listen to what teammate Edwin Jackson had to say about him.

One night after Samardzija threw a nine-inning gem -- in a 3-1, 12-inning loss to the Chicago White Sox -- Jackson followed it up with arguably his best game as a Cub. The result was yet another loss to the Sox, this time 5-1, but it wasn’t the much-maligned Jackson’s fault.

“Samardzija threw a hell of a game,” Jackson said after his seven innings of one-run ball. “I can’t lie and say that didn’t give me some extra motivation today to come out and follow up that performance with a strong outing. You see a guy go out and bust his butt like that and throw a hell of a game, it gives you confidence the next day to come in and try to follow that up with another great game.”

[+] EnlargeEdwin Jackson
David Banks/USA TODAY SportsEdwin Jackson followed Jeff Samardzija's gem with a one-run, nine-strikeout performance.
Jackson did just that, striking out nine without walking a hitter. He used all his pitches, according to his catcher.

“Everything was working,” Welington Castillo said. “Fastball, curveball, slider. He threw a lot of good sliders. He deserved to win the game. Like Samardzija.”

Jackson has been the target of Cubs fans and media since signing a four-year, $52 million deal before last season. His first year in a Cubs uniform was an 8-18 disaster. But he’s gradually thrown better since his second start this year, when he lasted only 4 2/3 innings.

“Maybe he’s more comfortable on the team this year,” Castillo said.

Jackson wouldn’t be the first free agent to need a year to find his way on a new team. There’s little doubt he felt the eyes on him after accepting the largest free agent offer in the Theo Epstein era. Maybe he can come around.

“Making pitches with men in scoring position is the difference between giving up runs and not giving up runs,” Jackson stated.

And maybe a little inspiration from the Cubs inspirational leader can’t hurt. The Cubs must know if they move Samardzija it will create a huge hole in the middle of their clubhouse. He means that much to this team -- on and off the field.

“That’s what winning teams do,” Jackson said. “Pitchers feed off each other from outing to outing.”

That hasn’t always been case since Jackson signed in Chicago. He was the weak link last year.

But if he feels like Monday’s performance by Samardzija helped him on Tuesday, who are we to argue? Salvaging the final two-plus years of his deal is worth any mental game he must play.

“He threw really well,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “You guys have seen him here the last couple of years. Probably one of his better outings.”

A little inspiration never hurts.

Renteria: 'There have been worse starts'

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
10:32
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE -- Someday the Chicago Cubs would love to ride the sort of wave the Milwaukee Brewers are on during this first month of the 2014 baseball season. Who ever thought that statement would be made regarding a team that finished nearly as low in the standings as the Cubs last season?

In getting out to an 18-6 start -- thanks in part to beating the Cubs in the first two games of their weekend series -- the Brewers are just another reminder of how far the Cubs are from being a winning team. And in already having lost yet another series this month, the 7-16 Cubs are left with just silver linings.

“To me, we had a lot more energy in the dugout,” manager Rick Renteria said after Saturday’s 5-3 defeat. “I know we didn’t do very much offensively early.”

[+] EnlargeTravis Wood
Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports"We're going to keep grinding, keep getting after it and play baseball," said Travis Wood, who took the loss Saturday to fall to 1-3.
So in losing 5-2 on Friday, the Cubs weren’t as energized as they were in the Game 2 loss. From the outside looking in, “big deal” might be the phrase that comes to mind. More important than energy levels are individual performances for the Cubs. That’s how they need to be measured this season as they fall further and further out of the race.

Pitcher Neil Ramirez made a nice major league debut Friday; catcher Welington Castillo continues to show improvement at the plate, connecting Saturday for his fourth home run of April.

“When a team does well, I think everyone is connecting and doing well,” Castillo said of the Brewers. “I think they have the momentum going. It’s a good team, good momentum going with them.”

And when the opposite goes on, it can get in the way of evaluation. Would Junior Lake, who’s struggling mightily, be better if the rest of the lineup was rolling? Would Starlin Castro's slumps of a year ago be shorter if there was more talent around him?

That’s the difficulty of a rebuilding situation. It has to start somewhere. And in terms of who’s on the field moving forward, this is really Year 1. Pushing out the old was part of the past two seasons, debuting the new is part of this season and next.

“You have to bear down,” Saturday’s losing pitcher Travis Wood said. “Lot of baseball left. It’s easy to turn anything around. We’re going to keep grinding, keep getting after it and play baseball.”

It’s easier for talented teams that have experience. The Cubs have some talent, but not the experience to go with it. And, frankly, they don’t have enough talent, either. But again, it has to start somewhere, so they'll take their lumps until they’re ready to deliver some to the opposition.

“We still have five months left in the baseball season,” Renteria said. “We want to keep pushing, keep playing.

“There have been worse starts in the game of baseball.”

It’s not the slogan the Cubs want, but it’s the one they own right now.

Rapid Reaction: Brewers 5, Cubs 3

April, 26, 2014
Apr 26
9:06
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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MILWAUKEE – The Chicago Cubs lost 5-3 to the Milwaukee Brewers on Saturday night. Here’s a quick look at the game:

How it happened: Travis Wood didn’t have his best stuff as the Brewers took an early lead for the second night in a row and never looked back. Milwaukee scored one in the first on a sacrifice fly by Aramis Ramirez, added two in the second on a two-run single by Jeff Bianchi, and one more in the fourth on a fielder’s choice. The Cubs scored on home runs: a solo shot by Luis Valbuena in the fourth, his first of the year, and a two-run job by Welington Castillo, his fourth. That came in the eighth. Marco Estrada lasted into the eighth inning for the Brewers and pitched well, giving up four hits, while Wood was tagged for five run in 5.2 innings. Anthony Rizzo is 0-for-8 in the first two games of the series.

What it means: It means the Cubs lost yet another series this month and need a victory Sunday just to avoid the sweep. They’ll have one more chance in Cincinnati on Monday through Wednesday to avoid going the whole month of April without a series win for the first time since 1997. Their record is 7-16.

Segura out: As he prepared to bat in the first inning, Brewers shortstop Jean Segura was hit in the face accidentally by a bat being swung by teammate Ryan Braun. Braun was on the top step of the Milwaukee dugout, swinging his bat back and forth to loosen up, when Segura came up from behind and was hit. He was replaced by Bianchi, who went 2-for-2 in the first two innings of the game with two RBIs.

Arrieta throws: Rehabbing Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta threw two innings for Double-A Tennessee in what should be his final tuneup before being activated from the disabled list. He totaled 44 pitches while giving up two hits and one earned run. The light workload went as scheduled.

What’s next: The Cubs try to avoid the sweep Sunday afternoon when Jason Hammel (3-1, 2.60 ERA) throws against Wily Peralta (3-0, 2.19 ERA).

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 8, Reds 4

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
4:48
PM CT
Padilla By Doug Padilla
ESPNChicago.com
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CHICAGO – The Chicago Cubs ended a five-game losing streak Saturday with an 8-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

How it happened: Justin Ruggiano, Mike Olt and Starlin Castro all delivered RBIs in the first three innings to get the Cubs started. Olt hit his third home run of the season in the second inning, a shot down the left-field line that stayed just inside the foul pole. Darwin Barney added a home run -- his first -- in the sixth inning, and Welington Castillo added his third in the seventh. Edwin Jackson gave up two runs on eight hits over 5 ⅔ innings as the Cubs won for the first time since April 11.

What it means: A better brand of baseball Saturday led to a much better result, although Olt threatened to undo things on defense in the seventh inning. The Cubs allowed two unearned runs in Friday’s 4-1 defeat to the Reds and were 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position. On Saturday, Olt booted a ground ball with two outs in the seventh, allowing a run to score, and then threw late and wild to first base. It could have been two errors on the same play, but first baseman Anthony Rizzo tracked down the errant throw and nailed Chris Heisey trying to advance to second.

Outside the box: In just six innings Saturday, Emilio Bonifacio delivered more hits than he had in his previous six games. His 19-for-38 start over his first eight games became but a memory when he went 2-for-24 in his six games before Saturday. But his 3-for-5 game Saturday could be the start of a new hot streak. His early hitting display still has his batting average up to a robust .358.

Off beat: Not always the most efficient pitcher around, Jackson couldn’t have been more economical in the third inning. The right-hander unleashed the rare three-pitch frame that actually included a Reds hit. Billy Hamilton led off the inning against Jackson with a first-pitch bunt single, but Joey Votto grounded into a nifty double play when Barney went up the middle from his spot at second base and flipped the ball to Castro at the bag to get it started. Brandon Phillips followed with a first-pitch comebacker to end the quickest of half innings.

Up next: The Cubs will send right-hander Carlos Villanueva (1-3, 11.57 ERA) to the mound Sunday against the Reds in the finale of a three-game series. Cincinnati will counter with right-hander Mike Leake (1-1, 2.45) in the 1:20 p.m. start from Wrigley Field.

Cubs go down quietly in New York

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:59
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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NEW YORK -- The Big Apple just took a bite out of the Chicago Cubs' offense.

On a long, cold day and night in the Bronx, the New York Yankees did just enough at the plate, while the Cubs did little there in losing 3-0 and 2-0 in a rare doubleheader shutout sweep. It’s the first time it has happened to the Cubs since June 27, 1962, against the St. Louis Cardinals, according to data from ESPN Stats & Information research.

"Both of them were good," Cubs shortstop Emilio Bonifacio said of Yankees starters Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. “Their breaking pitches were pretty good, both of them.”

And the Cubs aren’t very good. They just came off a decent seven games on offense but still went 3-4 last week. You get the feeling there will be more days like Wednesday over the course of the next 148 games. They’ve already been shut out four times in their first 14.

"They just have to keep playing. They have to keep getting after it and keep adjusting," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said.

Without much mystery to the talent on the team, the conversation turns back to playing time. Should Renteria play potential core players more, or is he doing a good job of protecting them by platooning?

"We have been giving everyone an opportunity to face as many guys as possible," Renteria said. "We’ll continue to evaluate and allow these guys to get into a rhythm if we can. Everybody has been getting a lot of at-bats. It’s really not for a lack of playing time."

But what’s the point if you’re simply not as talented as most of the league? The Cubs know this. If they’re going to lose 100 games, do it with a purpose. Ryan Kalish and Darwin Barney left a combined 11 runners on base in the nightcap on Wednesday. That does no one any good. At least if Mike Olt or Junior Lake struggle in that way, they can still actually get something out of it. Let’s face it, if Barney or Kalish are in a Cubs uniform in a year it will be a surprise to everyone. That’s not the case with Olt and Lake.

Olt struck out three times against Tanaka during the day game. He looked bad, but this is the time to let him struggle. The more he plays, the better he will be in the future. That’s common sense. The bottom line is the Cubs need to lose with some purpose. There was little of that in New York over the course of their 12 hours at Yankee Stadium.

Castillo bunting: Renteria indicated catcher Welington Castillo bunted on his own in the fifth inning of Game 2 on Wednesday night. With runners on first and second and none out, Castillo laid down a nice sacrifice, but it wasn’t what his manager wanted.

"We wanted him to swing the bat," he said.

The Cubs' Nos. 8 and 9 hitters were due up, as Kalish subsequently struck out and Barney flew out. Renteria has used the bunt often so far this season, so maybe Castillo thought it was the right move. It wasn’t.

Renteria on closer Veras: 'He's still our guy'

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
1:34
AM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
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ST. LOUIS -- Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria is sticking with Jose Veras as his closer despite Veras' second blown save in as many chances this season.

"Shaky outing, but he’s still our guy," Renteria said after the Cubs eventually won 6-3 in 11 innings against the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday night. "It’s too early to decide anything like that."

The Cubs were leading 3-1 in the ninth when Veras gave up two runs on a hit, a walk and two hit batters to send his ERA skyrocketing to 12.27.

"His stuff is there, but I think he just gets a little excited," Renteria said. "He starts pulling some pitches. He overthrows pitches. He just has to find his rhythm."

[+] EnlargeJose Veras
David Welker/Getty ImagesJose Veras has blown two saves in as many tries, but manager Rick Renteria is sticking with his closer.
The problem is Veras hasn’t found his rhythm since the Cubs signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal with a team option for another one.

He was just as bad in spring training as he is now, but the Cubs chose to ignore the signs, claiming the veteran knew how to get himself ready for the season. In 3⅔ innings pitched so far this season, he’s given up two hits and seven walks to go along with three hit batters.

"What happened to him has happened to everybody," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said. "I talked to him, 'Just keep your head up.'"

The Cubs had a similar problem at the beginning of last season when Carlos Marmol struggled just as he did in spring training of 2013. Marmol lost his job on the first Saturday of that season.

Renteria is in dangerous territory when it comes to the psyche of his team.

It’s one thing when a middle reliever struggles in a matchup, as James Russell did on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a Cubs loss. It’s quite another thing if someone is blowing games at the very end when the Cubs are about to win. And to allow it to happen at the hands of a player who has struggled since the first days of spring training is just asking for trouble.

Castillo gets the thanks


Maybe Veras will get to keep his job for at least one more day because the Cubs actually ended up winning the game on Friday due to Castillo’s three-run home run in the 11th inning.

"I was looking for a fastball," Castillo said. "I was just looking for something over the plate that I can drive and put my best swing on."

Castillo caught all 11 innings Friday, just as he did all 16 last week against the Pirates in an extra-inning affair. His maturity is starting to show, as he helped reliever Hector Rondon to his first career save. Rondon pitched the 11th.

"I said, 'Hey, I’m here to help you. We need to work together.'" Castillo said. "'I’m going to try and do all that I can to help you save the game.'"

Rapid Reaction: Cubs 6, Cardinals 3 (11)

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
11:50
PM CT
Rogers By Jesse Rogers
ESPNChicago.com
Archive


ST. LOUIS -- The Chicago Cubs won a seesaw game with the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3 in 11 innings. Here’s a quick look:

How it happened: Welington Castillo hit a two-out, three-run homer in the top of the 11th after Jose Veras blew a save in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Cubs scored a single run in the seventh and two more in the eighth to erase a 1-0 deficit and give Jeff Samardzija his first run support of the season. After Anthony Rizzo reached on an error, Ryan Sweeney brought him home with a base hit to tie the game at one.

In the eighth, Rizzo had a great at-bat that led to a sacrifice fly to score pinch hitter Justin Ruggiano who had singled. Nate Schierholtz then drove one home with a bloop to left -- he had four hits on the night -- but Veras couldn’t shut the door. He gave up two runs on a hit, walk and two hit batters. Samardzija lasted seven innings, giving up six hits and just a solo run in the second inning without walking a batter and striking out four. He’s piling up the quality starts after a third straight dominant performance.

What it means: Like Carlos Marmol before him, Veras can’t be long for the job. His stuff has been bad since the day the Cubs signed him.

Samardzija continues to take the next step in his career. He’s simply being so much more economical with his pitches than ever before. He’s outlasting opposing starters by keeping his pitch count down; on Friday, he walked none and struck out four. The fewer the strikeouts the better for him. Yes, that seems counterintuitive, but because his stuff is so good, he can pitch to contact and not be hurt by it. Through three starts, his ERA is 1.29. Enough said.

Barney sits: Nearly an every-day starter the past few seasons, second baseman Darwin Barney has played only against left-handed pitching so far this season. Most of that has to do with the start to the season for Emilio Bonifacio, who has been red hot through the first two weeks.

"He sees the landscape," Renteria said of Barney. "He sees what’s going on. He’s trying to do everything he can to maintain himself [be ready]."

Wright rusty: Reliever Wesley Wright hasn’t thrown in a game since April 4. He says he’s healthy. Renteria indicated that Friday could have been his night to get in. It never happened.

"Wesley is up and ready to go for us today," Renteria said before the game.

What’s next: Game 2 against the Cardinals takes place on Saturday afternoon at 1:15 p.m. CT with Carlos Villanueva taking on Adam Wainwright.

Cubs sign 19 players to 1-year deals

March, 3, 2014
Mar 3
2:50
PM CT
By ESPNChicago.com
ESPNChicago.com
The Chicago Cubs agreed to contract terms Monday with 19 players all with fewer than three years of experience, including catcher Welington Castillo, outfielder Junior Lake and pitcher Jake Arrieta.

Also signed were pitchers Zac Rosscup, Chris Rusin, Dallas Beeler, Alberto Cabrera, Justin Grimm, Blake Parker Neil Ramirez, Hector Rondon and Arodys Vizcaino. Infielders Arismendy Alcantara, Mike Olt, Christian Villanueva and Logan Watkins as well as outfielders Brett Jackson, Matt Szczur and Josh Vitters were also signed to contracts.

Terms of the contracts were not disclosed.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Jason Hammel
WINS ERA SO IP
8 2.98 104 108
OTHER LEADERS
BAA. Rizzo .283
HRA. Rizzo 25
RBIA. Rizzo 55
RA. Rizzo 67
OPSA. Rizzo .924
ERAJ. Samardzija 2.83
SOJ. Hammel 104