This and that …
* Travis Wood will be making his 100th career start Wednesday. He has a 2.92 ERA (20 ER/61 2/3 IP) in 10 Interleague starts for the Cubs, going 3-3 in those outings. He’s given up three or fewer earned runs in all 10 starts and two or fewer earned runs in seven of those, including each of his last four. Wood has a 2.19 ERA (6 ER/24 2/3 IP) in his last four starts against the AL dating to June 28 of last season.
* Wood’s 2.92 Interleague ERA as a Cub is third-best all-time in franchise history. Matt Garza’s 2.60 ERA ranks first amongst Cubs hurlers.
* Cubs designated hitters have batted .280 (142-for-508) with 23 home runs and 89 RBIs in 128 games at AL ballparks. The 23 homers have been hit by 13 players, including a franchise-record six by Alfonso Soriano.
Who has the edge when players face a former teammate? The Cubs will find out Friday when they have to deal with Matt Garza, now starting for the Brewers.
“Obviously, these guys have played alongside him and know him and they’re preparing to face him like they do against any other pitcher,” manager Rick Renteria said. “You’d be surprised — sometimes when you have a guy on the same team and you think you know exactly what they’re about until you face them and then you realize you really didn’t have as good an idea as you thought you did.”
Garza has never faced the Cubs in his career.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs open a three-game series in Milwaukee against the Brewers. Carlos Villanueva faces Matt Garza in the opener. Chicago was 3-7 at Miller Park last season, and 6-13 overall against the Milwaukee. Starlin Castro is batting fourth for the second time in his career. In the only other time, he was 3-for-5. He needs to pick it up on the road. Castro is 18-for-52 (.346) at Wrigley Field, and 5-for-32 (.156) on the road. Here’s the lineup:
Looking ahead to the Cubs’ weekend series against the Brewers, it’ll be an interesting matchup on Friday when Matt Garza faces the Cubs.
Friday: RHP Carlos Villanueva (1-4, 10.93) vs. RHP Matt Garza (0-2, 4.50)
Saturday: LHP Travis Wood (1-2, 2.52) vs. RHP Marco Estrada (1-1, 2.66)
Sunday: RHP Jason Hammel (3-1, 2.60) vs. RHP Wily Peralta (3-0, 2.19)
Rangers GM Jon Daniels apparently is kicking himself after last July’s trade with the Cubs in which he sent four players to Chicago for Matt Garza.
“I thought way too short term with the Garza deal last year,” Daniels told the Arizona Republic. “That one’s got a chance to haunt us and haunt me.”
The Rangers dealt Mike Olt, C.J. Edwards, Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez to the Cubs in exchange for Garza last July.
“Having seen all of them, and C.J. will throw for us on Tuesday night, I won’t speak for [Daniels],” Cubs Rick Renteria said. “Do I think we’re in a good place with the guys we got? Sure. That’s all I’ll say.”
Garza went 4-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 84 1/3 innings for the Rangers, who didn’t make the postseason. Olt is vying for a spot on the Cubs’ Opening Day roster, Edwards had a terrific season in 2013 and will start Tuesday night for the Cubs, and Grimm is in the mix for a bullpen spot.
The 2013 season was another step in the Cubs’ rebuilding process. For the second straight year, the Cubs dealt 40 percent of their starting rotation. They seemed to set a record for most deals in July as Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol and Scott Hairston also were traded. In August, David DeJesus was sent to the Nationals.
In return, the Cubs felt they strengthened the organization with players such as third baseman Mike Olt and pitchers Pedro Strop, Justin Grimm, Jake Arrieta, Ivan Pineyro, C.J. Edwards and Corey Black. It’s all part of Theo Epstein’s plan since taking over as Cubs president of baseball operations.
All the transactions didn’t solve the 2013 team’s problems, and the Cubs finished last in the tough National League Central at 66-96, the fourth straight year they’ve posted a sub .500 season.
As 2013 comes to a close, here are five storylines from the Cubs’ season:
5. Hot prospects
Every time Javier Baez hit a home run, or first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant won another award, there were questions about where the Cubs top prospects would fit in the big league lineup. Baez, the No. 1 pick in 2011, and Bryant, who was the second overall selection in June, stole some of the headlines from the big league team. The Cubs front office’s mantra is that the kids need time to develop but fans are eager for someone to cheer for. Baez, who belted 37 homers and drove in 111 runs combined at Class A Daytona and Double-A Tennessee, and Bryant, the college player of the year who was named the Arizona Fall League MVP, aren’t the only super kids. The list of potential impact players in the Cubs system also includes Albert Almora, C.J. Edwards, and Jorge Soler. Now, the question is when.
4. Marmol, Fujikawa and Gregg
Carlos Marmol lost the closer’s job one week into the regular season, and Kyuji Fujikawa took over but he was limited because of elbow problems. The Japanese pitcher eventually needed Tommy John surgery, and the Cubs had to scramble. They signed Kevin Gregg, who was released by the Dodgers April 3, and he proceeded to reclaim the job, finishing with 33 saves. Marmol was eventually traded to the Dodgers for Matt Guerrier, and didn’t get another save opportunity the rest of the season. The Cubs bullpen was a problem most of the season, ranking on the bottom of the National League in ERA, walks, and home runs allowed.
3. Alfonso Soriano is traded to Yankees
For the second straight year, the Cubs were busy at the Trade Deadline, but none of the moves affected the players the way the departure of Alfonso Soriano did. The veteran outfielder was dealt to the Yankees, where he began his U.S. pro career in 1999. He has one year remaining on the eight-year, $136 million contract he signed with the Cubs in November 2006. While fans were critical of Soriano’s defensive ability, he was revered in the Cubs clubhouse. Soriano topped the Cubs in home runs and RBIs at the All-Star break, and they struggled to fill his spot in the lineup after he left. The Cubs may have been the only team to use a backup catcher, Dioner Navarro, in the No. 4 spot.
2. Manager Dale Sveum is dismissed
Sveum was a no nonsense kind of guy. He held players accountable. He believed in face to face communication. In Spring Training, he organized a bunting tournament, and included himself in the bracket. When Sveum was hired in November 2011, Epstein trusted the manager and his coaching staff to compile “The Cubs Way” handbook, to be used throughout the organization.
The Cubs lost 197 games in two seasons under Sveum, but Epstein and GM Jed Hoyer said the record wasn’t the reason the manager was dismissed. There were issues regarding the development of some of the Cubs, and Sveum got his signals crossed with a few players and the front office.
“There has to be a clear, unified message, and [players] can’t be getting different signals from different directions and collectively — myself included — we failed to provide that,” Epstein said.
Sveum wasn’t out of work for long. Royals manager Ned Yost waited one hour after Sveum was dismissed before calling to offer him a job on Kansas City’s coaching staff.
1. Starlin Castro takes a step backward
Castro was disappointed when he didn’t bat .300 for a third straight season in 2012, finishing at .283. But no one expected the shortstop to struggle as much as he did in 2013, batting .245 — including a .167 June. What happened? The shortstop lost his aggressive approach, struck out a career-high 129 times, and often looked lost at the plate. He was dropped to eighth in the order in August.
“This year, it’s too many things to think about [and] I’m not supposed to think [up there],” Castro said. “Sometimes you have a tough season, and you want to please everybody. But it’s not right. You have to listen to the things that can help you — not everything. When you come to home plate, you don’t have any idea, because you listen to too many things.”
Toward the end of the season, Castro announced he was just going to “be me.” The shortstop may be the Cubs’ new leadoff man in 2014 — he batted .263 there this past season — and the team can only hope he regains his approach, especially since this is Year 2 of his seven-year, $60 million contract.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs claimed right-handed pitcher Neil Ramirez off waivers from the Rangers, and he will be the “player to be named later” to complete the Matt Garza deal. Here’s a scouting report on Ramirez:
Ramirez was the No. 14 prospect on the Rangers’ Top 20 list when he was sent to the Cubs as the player to be named in the Matt Garza deal. The right-hander was initially a supplemental first-round pick in 2007 and developed slowly. He had a huge breakout season in 2011 that saw him pitch at three levels, ending in Triple-A. That momentum didn’t continue in 2012, as he was demoted to Double-A to try and right the ship. He has spent all of 2013 in the Double-A Texas League again and was leading the circuit in strikeouts at the time of the trade. Still only 24, he has an intriguing combination of stuff and command, that if he can rediscover consistency, he has what it takes to be a mid-rotation starter. He can command his fastball well and throws a deceptive changeup. He throws both a slider and curve, with the former the better of the two. Given his up-and-down career, it’s hard to know exactly what Ramirez’s ceiling is. He is still young enough to figure it out and help out a big league rotation in the future.
To refresh your memory, the Cubs sent Garza to the Rangers on July 22 in exchange for right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards, right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm, third baseman Mike Olt and a player to be named later (now Ramirez).
Olt was batting .121 (12-for-99) in 28 games at Triple-A Iowa with two home runs, two doubles and four RBIs. He was batting .213 in 65 games with Triple-A Round Rock before he was traded. He had vision problems that caused him to miss all of May. Olt batted .288 with 28 home runs and 82 RBIs at Frisco in 2012.
Edwards has a 1.84 ERA in four games with Class A Daytona, striking out 20 over 14 2/3 innings. He was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 18 games with Hickory before he was dealt.
Grimm is 1-3 with a 5.46 ERA in six starts with Iowa, striking out 33 and walking 12 over 31 1/3 innings. He was 1-0 with a 1.59 ERA in one start at Round Rock before the deal.
— Carrie Muskat
Matt Garza has made three starts for the Rangers since he was acquired on July 22, but there’s still a player to be named later that the Cubs will receive as part of the trade. Double A Frisco pitcher Neil Ramirez could be that player or the Rangers could sent two other players to Chicago.
“You hear stuff from the Internet, but I’m just trying to get healthy,” Ramirez told MLB.com. “Whatever happens, happens. It’s one of those things you can’t control so there’s no use in worrying about it. Either way, I just got to get healthy, go back out there and compete again.”
Ramirez was placed on the disabled list on July 24, retroactive to July 21, with a right shoulder injury. The 14th best prospect in the club’s farm system, according to MLB.com, has had shoulder problems before during his six years in the Minors.
“It’s kind of been from throwing and a combination of some other things,” Ramirez said on the injury. “For the sake of not really wanting to get into that, it was just an off the field thing. It wasn’t anything serious. I’m just glad to get back out there now.”
The Rangers supplemental first round pick in the 2007 MLB First-Year Player Draft threw a 35-pitch bullpen session this week and plans to have another session Sunday, throwing around 45-50 pitches. If all goes well, Ramirez thinks he’ll be ready to return.
“I’m just taking it day-by-day, but it’s definitely feeling a lot better,” Ramirez said. “I thought the effort level and intensity was good. I was able to make all my pitches with no problems and felt comfortable.”
Instead of pitching for the Cubs Monday night, Matt Garza is headed to the Rangers.
The Cubs will receive four players, and possibly five, in return for Garza, including third baseman Mike Olt and right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards. Olt, 24, was Texas’ first-round pick in 2010 (49th overall). He was batting .211 in 61 games at Triple-A Round Rock with nine home runs and 14 doubles. Edwards, 21, the Rangers’ 48th round pick in the 2011 Draft out of Mid-Carolina High School, was 8-2 with a 1.83 ERA in 18 starts at Class A Hickory with 122 strikeouts in 93 1/3 innings.
The Cubs also will get right-handed pitcher Justin Grimm and a player to be named later. Minor League right-handed pitcher Neil Ramirez could be added in the deal if he has no further issues with his right shoulder. The Cubs could also choose two other Minor League pitchers instead.
Grimm is 7-7 with a 6.37 ERA in 17 starts this season and 2-4 with a 9.91 ERA in his last eight starts. He left his last start against the Tigers on July 12 with some stiffness in his right forearm but has been available to pitch since the All-Star break. Olt was No. 2 among the Rangers’ top 20 prospects, as ranked by MLB.com, while Grimm was No. 10 and Edwards No. 20.
The Rangers, who trail the Athletics in the American League West by three games, had been the most aggressive in pursuit of Garza, who was 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA in his last six outings.
Texas had five starting pitchers on the disabled list (Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish, Alexi Ogando, Nick Tepesch and Colby Lewis), and opened the second half with Derek Holland, Ross Wolf and Martin Perez in the rotation. Darvish was expected to come off the DL on Monday, and Ogando could do the same Tuesday.
Last year, the Cubs helped the Rangers rotation when they dealt starting pitcher Ryan Dempster for Minor League right-hander Kyle Hendricks and third baseman Christian Villanueva. Dempster went 7-3 with a 5.09 ERA for Texas, then signed a two-year, $26.5 million deal with the Red Sox.
— Carrie Muskat
Talks between the Cubs and Rangers regarding Matt Garza reportedly hit a snag Friday. FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said the problem may have been related to the medical records of one or more of the players in the deal. Garza threw a bullpen on Friday in Denver and was prepping for his Monday start against the Diamondbacks. A National League team could get involved, and there were reports that the Nationals were interested in the right-hander. Stay tuned.