September 2010

9/30 Every game counts

Every game counts to Cubs manager Mike Quade. Thursday’s game against the Padres closes the Cubs’ stretch against playoff contenders. But there’s still something to play for this weekend.

“Every game means
something to everybody whether it’s myself or the guys who are in the lineup,” Quade said. “It’s the last game for us that will have an effect on the league as far as the
playoffs go and the postseason. Part of being a professional is playing to the
end and finding meaning in everything.”
Quade will likely play
some of the kids this weekend like Darwin Barney, Bobby Scales, Brad Snyder, and Welington Castillo
“We have to play straight
through,” he said.

The Cubs do have a chance to pass the Astros in the Central standings. Chicago was three games behind Houston and Milwaukee heading into Thursday’s games.

“They’ve had a wonderful
second half,” Quade said of the Astros. “We’ve played some contenders and played some teams that have been
tough on us and they’re been one of them. It’ll be a good challenge to go in and
see if we can compete with them at their place.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/30 New free agent rules

Major League Baseball and the Players Association have agreed to some changes regarding the free agent market. The changes include allowing free agents to negotiate with all teams at an earlier date, earlier dates for contract tenders and free agent arbitration offers, new protocols regarding public comments regarding free agent negotiations, and a prohibition on including “most favored nations” provisions in Player contracts. Specifically, for the 2010 off-season, the new dates that have been agreed to by the parties are as follows:

* Players no longer have to file for free agency; it will be automatic.

* Free agents now will be able to negotiate with any team on midnight ET of the fifth day after the World Series instead of 15 days after, as it had been previously.

* Arbitration must be offered by midnight ET Nov. 23 if a club wants to keep its right to  Draft-pick compensation. The previous deadline was Dec. 1. And free agents must accept by Nov. 30, as opposed to Dec. 7.

* Teams must tender contracts by Dec. 2, nine days earlier than the previous deadline.

The Cubs have only one free agent on the roster, Xavier Nady.

— Carrie Muskat

9/30 Mesa releases details

Mesa officials have released a “term sheet” to detail the city’s agreement with the Cubs for its proposed Spring Training facility in hopes of drumming up support for the project. The city of Mesa wants to get details out before early voting begins next week for the Nov. 2 election. Proposition 420 on Mesa’s ballot will ask voters’ permission to pay for the Cubs’ facilities. The city’s charter requires that voters approve any expenditure of $1.5 million.

According to the sheet, the city of Mesa will pay $84 million for the new stadium and facilities. City manager Chris Brady said the costs to upgrade the infrastructure will be no more than $15 million. That includes $1.8 million to improve the streets bordering the preferred site of Riverview Park with the remaining $13 million for improvements to access roads, parking and utilities.

The plan is to have Mesa lease the land to the Cubs and their developers rather than sell it in order to maintain control over the quality of the projects. The Cubs would agree to a 30-year deal with the city.

Two groups — Valley Business Owners Inc. and the Mesa Taxpayers Alliance — oppose the plan, according to the Arizona Republic. The two groups say the city is handing the team a blank check for the costs of infrastructure associated with the stadium.

Brady said Mesa would issue bonds to pay for construction, with the debt being repaid by Mesa’s enterprise fund, which is generated by utility and other business operations. That same fund was used in 2008 for early repayment of $9.7 million in debt on Hohokam Stadium, the Cubs’ current home. The enterprise fund, in turn, will be replenished over time by proceeds from selling city-owned land in Pinal County.

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Strikeout artist

Carlos Marmol has 36 saves, which means he’s saved half of the Cubs’ wins this season.

“I didn’t know that,” Marmol said Wednesday, laughing. “They’ve given me opportunities lately and I’ve taken advantage of them.”

He’s converted his last 15 save opportunities, and has held opponents scoreless over his last 17 outings. The only negative is that he’s walked 10 in his last 13 2/3 innings.

“I don’t worry about walks,” Marmol said. “It makes me mad and more frustrated. I keep fighting. That’s all you can do.”

Pitching coach Larry Rothchild has joked that Marmol might as well put somebody on base because he tends to focus better when he does.

“It’s kind of funny,” Marmol said.

Probably not to anyone watching from the dugout.

In 75 games, Marmol has struck out 134, which leads all Major League relievers, and is a franchise record for K’s in a single season by a relief pitcher. He’s averaging 15.94 strikeouts per nine innings pitched this season. The single-season record for a reliever is 14.98, done by the Dodgers’ Eric Gagne in 2003.

“I was surprised when I saw the numbers,” Marmol said. “I never expected to strikeout that many.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Underdog

After Tuesday’s game, Ryan Dempster endorsed Mike Quade and the job he’s done since taking over the Cubs on Aug. 23. Quade appreciated that.

“As long as my relationship with [the players] is good, and I think it is, then I stick to that and do what I have to do,” he said. “To get support from people is better than to not get support. I’m glad they’re happy with the way we’re doing things and the way things are going. Hopefully, they’ll be productive and happy for the next five days.”

The Cubs do have a 21-11 record since Quade took the helm. Winning helps.

“If we hadn’t been winning during this time, who knows what the comments would’ve been,” Quade said. “No matter what the situation, winning baseball games takes care of a lot of stuff. Things are never perfect, even when you’re winning, but it does make for a lot better environment.”

Usually teams continue to struggle when there is a managerial change.

“Every situation is different from a talent standpoint, from a division standpoint,” Quade said. “I got an opportunity to come in and do things the way I like and [GM Jim Hendry] gave me free reins and said, ‘Take this shot and go do it.’ Nothing has gotten in the way of me being able to do that. The results have been good and I’m thrilled.”

However, Hendry has interviewed Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg and there is talk that he’ll also interview Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Quade appears to be the underdog.

“I always like the underdog,” Quade said. “You guys can handicap the thing. I’m proud of the job we’ve done and the way these guys have finished. We’re not finished yet. Let’s hope we finish the next five games well. People who make the decisions will make the decision.

“When it comes to underdogs and handicapping,” he said, “I’ll stick to horses.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Soriano stat

Alfonso Soriano’s second home run on Tuesday off Mike Adams was the first homer that Adams served up to a right-handed batter at PETCO Park since Minnesota’s Craig Monroe took him deep on June 25, 2008. Since Monroe’s homer, Adams has pitched 71 games in San Diego and held right-handed batters to a .115 batting average there (15 hits in 131 at-bats). Credit Elias Sports Bureau with the info.

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Cubs lineup vs Padres

Randy Wells makes his final start of 2010 on Wednesday against the Padres. The right-hander is vying for his third straight win. It’d be a nice way to finish. Here’s the lineup:

RF Fukudome
SS Castro
CF Byrd
3B Ramirez
1B Nady
LF Soriano
2B DeWitt
C Hill
P Wells

— Carrie Muskat

9/29 Extra bases – early edition

Some notes heading into Wednesday’s game vs. Padres:

* Since 1901, there have been only three 20-year-old shortstops with a higher batting average than Starlin Castro, who was hitting .301. The list includes:

Alex Rodriguez, .358 in 1996
Arky Vaughn, .319 in 1932
Travis Jackson, .302 in 1924

* Carlos Marmol picked up his 36th save Tuesday and now has saved exactly half of the Cubs’ 72 wins this season. The last time a Cubs closer saved at least half was 1998 when Rod Beck had 51 saves in a 90-win season.

* James Russell and Andrew Cashner have appeared in 56 and 51 games, respectively. They are the first Cubs rookie duo to pitch in at least 50 games since 1991 when Chuck McElroy (71) and Heathcliff Slocumb (52) did so.

* Pitching probables for the final series in Houston will be Casey Coleman, Carlos Zambrano and Ryan Dempster. The Cubs are two games behind the Astros in the Central Division.

— Carrie Muskat

9/28 Extra bases – UPDATED

When Andrew Cashner struck out Adrian Gonzalez to end the Padres’ eighth, the PETCO Park radar gun flashed “100.” Ryan Dempster saw that.

“He’s got a special arm,” Dempster said of the rookie reliever. “For somebody who throws so hard, his command is incredible. I dream on my best day to be able to throw the ball where I want to like that and he does it at 100 miles an hour. It’s not easy to throw but his delivery is easy and smooth and he gets down hill. He’s got an electric arm. He’s got a chance to be somebody special. … God gave him a pretty cool thing on the right side of his body.”

Said Mike Quade: “I’m so glued to the hitter, I don’t care if it’s 80 [mph] or 180.”

Cashner also apparently is very steady. He was trimming masseuse Yoshi Nakazawa’s hair after the game.

* Dempster now has 15 wins with Tuesday’s 5-2 decision over the Padres. It’s the third time in his career he’s reached that number.

“I’ve still got one more to go,” said the right-hander who will finish the season Sunday in Houston. “I’m trying to finish as strong as I can. Given the season and how everything’s gone, it’s nice to get up there. I’ve given a few away and I feel I should have more than that. It’s a nice win for us. It’s a good start to the road trip.”

* Marlon Byrd added another catch to his personal highlight reel in the third when he snared Chris Denorfia’s ball.

“I hope he wins a Gold Glove,” Dempster said of the Cubs center fielder. “He deserves it. It’s not just those catches, it’s everything he does. He throws to the right base, he hits the cutoff guy, he gets to the ball quickly. As a pitcher, especially when playing in big ballparks, you say, ‘Let them hit it,’ and he goes and gets it. It’s a treat to have him behind you, that’s for sure.”

* Alfonso Soriano now has played in more games and has more RBIs than any other season with the Cubs. He’s stayed healthy.

“He hangs in there,” Quade said. “He is committed to defense and taking an extra group defensively [in batting practice].”

This isn’t the same player who first signed with the Cubs in 2007 and could steal 30, 40 bases.

“He can still hit the ball well,” Quade said. “This guy will go home and workout and get himself in shape and come back expecting to have a better year next year. He will. I know he will. Obviously, everybody here is hoping he does. He loves to play.”

* Carlos Marmol picked up his 36th save Tuesday and third in the last four games. So, no Marmol on Wednesday?

“You have a better chance of seeing me wake up with hair tomorrow,” Quade said.

* Several of the Cubs players and some of the coaches visited the U.S. Navy Seals training center on Tuesday and had a chance to fire off a few rounds on the range with their automatic rifles. “These guys are impressive,” said Micah Hoffpauir, who went on the trip with Andrew Cashner, James Russell and Jeff Samardzija, among others. “They don’t miss.”

* Asked if he believes in having an “ace” on the pitching staff, Quade said he isn’t into labels. “Those kind of descriptions, I have no time for whatsoever,” he said. “Does ace mean this moment? Does it mean entire year? Does it mean body of work? Names like that mean nothing to me.” Quade asked who the ace was in St. Louis, Adam Wainwright or Chris Carpenter. “It makes for interesting discussion but not for me,” he said. “I just want people to perform well. Just show me. I’m a Missouri guy. Just show me.”

* On Nov. 21, one day after Northwestern plays Illinois in a college football game at Wrigley Field, fans will be able to play football there. Tickets for the event are $50 per session, and sessions begin at 10 a.m. Proceeds will go to Chicago Cubs Charities.

— Carrie Muskat

9/28 Coleman to start Friday

Rookie Casey Coleman will make one more start on Friday, opening the Cubs’ final series of the season against the Astros. Mike Quade tabbed Coleman (3-2, 4.68 ERA) over Jeff Samardzija (2-2, 8.38 ERA). Both were considered. Samardzija threw a soft side session on Tuesday and will be available in the bullpen as early as Thursday. The right-hander, who was 11-3 at Triple-A Iowa this season, did lobby to make one more start, Quade said.

“I’m never happy when a guy says, ‘OK, great,'” Quade said. “I also think this will give Larry [Rothschild, pitching coach] some time to work on his delivery and try to get as much work here the last week, whether it’s pitching in games or pitching on the side to further his development and help with his command.”

In Samardzija’s last outing Sunday against the Cardinals, he gave up seven hits and walked seven over 4 1/3 innings and took the loss.

— Carrie Muskat