The Cubs have watched Albert Pujols hit home runs over 11 seasons with the Cardinals. He came back to haunt them Tuesday night. Pujols launched a two-run homer with one out in the eighth inning to lift the Angels to a 4-3 Interleague victory over the Cubs, who have had games end this way too many times this season.
The slugger began the night with more home runs against the Cubs than any other opponent, and notched No. 54 in the eighth. The Angels trailed 3-2 when Erick Aybar singled to lead off against Carlos Villanueva, and one out later, Pujols drove the first pitch — an 89 mph fastball — into the left-field seats.
“It got too much plate, it’s as simple as that,” Villanueva said. “Pujols is a great hitter — I don’t really have to say that. If I make a better pitch there, maybe it’s different results. With a hitter like that, you can’t miss over the plate that much. He did what he’s supposed to do, put it in the seats.”
It was Pujols’ ninth home run of the season, and first since May 23. It was his first go-ahead homer in the sixth inning or later since joining the Angels. He had 41 with the Cardinals, and a few of those were against the Cubs as well.
“Sometimes [pitchers] let go of the ball and that’s what happens,” Pujols said. “Sometimes we put good swings and don’t get the success that we want, but it goes the same way for [pitchers]. I’m pretty sure he wanted to paint it inside, or I don’t know where he was going, but he left it up in the middle, and I was able to just be aggressive and put a good swing.”
Villanueva said he wanted to throw a fastball in, but the pitch caught too much of the plate and it was a little flat.
“It was a perfect pitch for him to hit, pull down left field, and it was probably exactly what he was looking for,” Villanueva said. “If I throw the pitch and it does what it’s supposed to do, maybe he hits a foul ball. It got too much of the plate and he hit it hard.”
This was Villanueva’s sixth relief appearance after eight starts, but the right-hander didn’t use that as an excuse.
“I was ready to go,” he said. “I actually felt pretty good.”
The trouble is, Villanueva’s pitch was not what the Cubs scouting report called for.
“We were not supposed to even come close to calling or throwing that pitch in that situation,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “It’s the human factor. Somewhere along the line, we lose the scouting report from the bullpen to the mound.”
This isn’t the first time the Cubs have had a late lead and blown it. Unfortunately, it’s the 19th game they’ve lost in which they’ve had a lead, most in the National League.
“We seem to beat a lot of people through seven innings,” Sveum said. “It tends to be a broken record. Our starters have been great all year.”
How do you fix it?
“That’s the million dollar question,” Sveum said. “Obviously, we’re having trouble fixing it.”
Sveum didn’t consider walking Pujols in that situation.
“[Mark] Trumbo could’ve done the same thing with the same pitch,” Sveum said of the Angels’ No. 4 hitter who followed Pujols in the lineup. “He’s been a little bit hotter than Pujols has been.”
Nate Schierholtz, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Sweeney each hit RBI singles for the Cubs, who were in line for their sixth straight Interleague win.
— Carrie Muskat
Paul Maholm admitted he felt a little “off” with his mechanics on Saturday.
“They had a pretty decent lineup,” the lefty said of the Angels.
Maholm gave up two runs on three hits, including a two-run homer by Albert Pujols in the first, over 4 2/3 innings. He struck out six.
“The first pitch to Pujols wasn’t supposed to be right down the middle and it was,” Maholm said. “He’s paid pretty well to do that.”
Maholm won’t have to face Pujols again until an Interleague matchup.
“There’s a reason I made sure no [American League] West team was on my wish list,” said Maholm, a free agent this offseason.
Maholm will pitch at Fitch Park on Wednesday, then join the Cubs in Chicago for Opening Day at Wrigley Field on Thursday. How good is the Cubs rotation?
“We’ll have to see,” Maholm said. “With [Ryan Dempster], he’s got a good track record. [Matt Garza] has the stuff and everything to be an ace, and the rest of us have to do our job. It’ll be on us. We’ll learn from each other, push each other and have fun and try to out pitch each other.”
Maholm has spent his entire career with the Pirates. How does he compare this spring with other camps?
“I thought everything was perfect,” he said. “Guys, on a consistent basis, were here early every morning, getting extra work in, making sure they were prepared to go on the field and when games start, guys were busting it. You don’t see a lot of guys taking it like, oh, it’s just Spring Training. We have to get ready and push ourselves to get ready for the season. I think that’s kind of [Dale Sveum’s] personality. You work hard, play hard and have fun later.”
Clint Hurdle set the tone with the Pirates last season. Maholm said Sveum isn’t as loud as Hurdle.
“You respect the guy for coming in, laying it down and saying this is how we’re going to play and this is what I expect, and guys are taking a hold of it,” Maholm said.
— Carrie Muskat
New Cubs manager Dale Sveum has made it no secret about how much he likes Prince Fielder. Could the free agent slugger come to Chicago? Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com and Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com both think the Cubs are in the mix in the bidding for Fielder. However, Fielder, 27, and his agent, Scott Boras, are reportedly looking for a 10-year deal close to the $254 million that Albert Pujols received. That kind of contract does not appear to fit what Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have said they want to do in Chicago. The Blue Jays and Mariners also are reportedly interested in Fielder. He’s a career .282 hitter, and has averaged 38 homers over the last six years. Fielder has a .298 average at Wrigley Field with 11 home runs and 15 doubles.
The Cubs’ obligations payroll-wise beyond 2012 include $38 million for two more years to Alfonso Soriano and $9.8 million owed Carlos Marmol in 2013. If the Cubs could get Fielder to defer money the way in the first year of his deal the Brewers did with Aramis Ramirez’s contract, it would might be possible. Should the Cubs sign Fielder? What do you think?
— Carrie Muskat
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported the Cubs are still involved in talks with Albert Pujols on Wednesday. If they are, the Cubs are not believed to be offering the slugger a 10-year deal. Pujols has such received such offers from the Marlins and Cardinals. The Cubs may be dangling a shorter term contract — maybe five years? — to the three-time MVP.
One thing to keep in mind is one year ago, then Red Sox GM Theo Epstein was quoted as saying, “We’re not close to anybody,” and shortly after that, signed Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal.
— Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer have divided the workload at the Winter Meetings, which Hoyer said has helped them be more productive. And at least one of them has apparently talked to representatives for free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder.
Where Pujols and Fielder go isn’t holding up the Cubs, but the two sluggers are the top topic at the Hilton Anatole.
“There’s a curiosity factor, for sure,” said Hoyer, the Cubs’ GM. “They’re two superstar level players but I don’t think those guys have to sign somewhere to break some kind of logjam. I think that’s already been broken. I think it’s a mistake if you’re waiting around for that.
“Obviously, they’re two players we’re involved in,” Hoyer said, “but to wait around for things to happen, you can miss out. We’re working on a lot of fronts.”
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that the Cubs made a “qualifying bid” for Pujols. Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, did meet with Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano on Monday but Epstein said those discussions were about pitcher Rodrigo Lopez. The Post-Dispatch reported it had confirmed the Cubs did submit a bid for Pujols, but more in the five-year range and it would include a full no-trade clause.
Hoyer would not comment on specific players. However, he did say Tuesday that no-trade clauses are to be “avoided.”
Fielder would make more sense for the Cubs than Pujols if they did want a big slugger. Although Fielder would still require a major financial commitment, it most likely would not be a 10-year contract, which is what Pujols was reportedly being offered by the Marlins. Plus, Fielder would be reunited with Cubs manager Dale Sveum, who was his hitting coach in Milwaukee.
“There’s rumors out there and all that,” Sveum said of the Cubs and Fielder. “I don’t see that we’ve started any talks or anything like that. … We’re not in any kind of process talking to him or anything like that.”
— Carrie Muskat
Dale Sveum has heard the rumors about the Cubs being linked to free agents Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder but he’s not penciling either in his early lineups.
“If they’re at HoHoKam [Park] at the beginning of Spring Training, that’s when you like to think more about that,” Sveum said Tuesday. “It’s obviously nice to be in an organization that can even mention their names to even think about them. They’re two great players.”
Sveum, taking his turn during the manager news conferences at the Hilton Anatole at the Winter Meetings, was in the process of finalizing his coaching staff. All that’s missing is a first base coach. So far, Rudy Jaramillo, Pat Listach and Lester Strode will return from the 2011 staff and be joined by pitching coach Chris Bosio and bench coach Jamie Quirk.
Also missing in the Cubs lineup is a big slugger as Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Pena are both gone via free agency. That’s why the Cubs have been linked to Pujols and Fielder. Sveum, who was the Brewers hitting coach before getting the managing job, would give the Cubs an edge in recruiting Fielder.
“He’s one of those special guys who comes around once in a while, once in a lifetime,” Sveum said of Fielder. “He should’ve played the game in the 1950s and ’60s and ’70s when guys played every day, they played as hard as they possibly could every single day. They cared about winning, they cared about their teammates. Prince is all those things. He’s one of those special guys.”
Sveum has heard the rumors linking the Cubs to Fielder, but said he’s not aware of any conversations.
“We’re not in any kind of process talking to him or anything like that,” he said.
How much of a force is Fielder?
“He’s an impact player who impacts the whole team,” Sveum said.
As for Pujols, Sveum is hoping the free agent finds a new team outside of the National League Central.
“I had to witness over the last six years what he could do,” Sveum said. “It’s pretty impressive. He’s definitely the best hitter in baseball right now. What he did in the playoffs and all that stuff speaks for itself. If he’s not with us, you hope he’s in another division.”
— Carrie Muskat
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday the Cubs have made a “qualifying bid” for free agent slugger Albert Pujols. That doesn’t mean the Cubs are offering a 10-year package, but they may have dangled a five-year deal which would include a no-trade clause. A 10-year mega contract is not likely because that does not doesn’t fit into what Theo Epstein has said he wants to do in Chicago. Epstein did meet with Pujols’ agent Dan Lozano on Monday, although Epstein said those discussions were more about pitcher Rodrigo Lopez. The Post-Dispatch says it confirmed the Cubs did submit a bid for Pujols. A Cubs official denied the reports. Jon Heyman of MLB Network says the Cubs are eyeing Prince Fielder more than Pujols. The Marlins and Cardinals have reportedly offered Pujols 10-year contracts.
— Carrie Muskat
With both Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder free agents, there’s a chance that at least one, if not both, could be out of the National League Central next season. Does that possibility of not having to face the two sluggers affect how Theo Epstein goes about his business with the Cubs?
“I try not to focus on that too much,” Epstein said Monday. “There’s a lot of work to do here. There’s a pretty big gap between where we are now and where we want to go, both at the Major League level and as an organization more broadly so. I think if we start tracking whether an opposing team might be a 91-win team or a 96-win team, it’s probably not the best use of our time.
“We need to try to build our own operation up to a point where we feel pretty good about consistently delivering a team that’s going to be a strong playoff contender,” he said. “There will always be good teams in this division — I think it’s an underrated division — and whether or not these impact bats stay or go, if they go, those teams are going to have more Draft picks and more resources available to them to improve the rest of their club. If they stay, those guys are tough to get out. Either way, I don’t think it will impact what we’re trying to do.”
— Carrie Muskat
Theo Epstein did meet with the agent for Albert Pujols on Monday. But Dan Lozano also represents Rodrigo Lopez, a pitcher whom the Cubs would like to return to give them pitching depth.
“You see [Lozano] going into someone’s room, it’s not always that you’re there to talk about the big Kahuna,” Epstein said.
That’s the nature of the Winter Meetings, which officially got underway Monday at the Hilton Anatole with lots of talk, not a lot of action.
The Cubs do need a first baseman, but Pujols and the multi-year, mega deal he’s seeking doesn’t appear to fit what Epstein & Co. are trying to do. Bryan LaHair might. Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer did meet with LaHair, who was at the meetings to receive an award Monday after leading all of the Minor Leagues with 38 home runs at Triple-A Iowa. No promises were made to LaHair, who was to return to Venezuela on Tuesday for a few more weeks of Winter League play with Magallanes.
“We told him we appreciate the things he can do as a player and asked him to concentrate on certain elements of his game as well and said we look forward to seeing him in Spring Training,” Epstein said.
At least LaHair is an option at first. As far as third base, Epstein said, they “have internal candidates more than definite internal solutions.”
The Cubs’ options include Jeff Baker, DJ LeMahieu, Josh Vitters and Junior Lake. There were reports the Cubs had talked to the Rockies about Ian Stewart, and Epstein said they’ve put a few feelers out.
“We’re not close to anybody,” Epstein said.
— Carrie Muskat