The Cubs open their final homestand of 2013 on Friday against the NL East-leading Braves. Here’s the lineup against lefty Paul Maholm:
S. Baker P
The Cubs return home Friday for the final homestand of the season, playing host to the NL East leading Braves. Atlanta’s magic number is two, and they are off on Thursday. Former Cubs pitcher Paul Maholm gets the start Friday against Scott Baker, who will be making his final start for the Cubs for the season. Baker, coming back from Tommy John surgery, will then have to make a decision about next season. Here are the pitching matchups:
Friday, 1:20 p.m. CT: RHP Scott Baker (0-0, 0.82) vs. LHP Paul Maholm (10-10, 4.35)
Saturday, 3:05 p.m. CT: LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 3.05) vs. RHP Kris Medlen (14-12, 3.32)
Sunday, 1:20 p.m. CT: RHP Edwin Jackson (8-16, 4.75) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (12-8, 3.14)
The 2012 season was obviously a disappointment in terms of the final record, but Theo Epstein said he was encouraged by how the Cubs established a better culture and by some of the additions.
Fans will still have to be patient, said Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, who met with the media one day after the team wrapped up the season at 61-101.
“Having not been here previously, I think there was a real improvement in the culture around the team and the mood around the clubhouse,” Epstein said Thursday at Wrigley Field. “Despite being a losing club — and we can’t get away from that, we were a losing club — there was a real professionalism, a real spirit of unity, a real effort to play hard every day, to have each other’s back, to prepare.
“We had our lapses,” he said. “We had plenty of bone-head plays on the bases and things that shouldn’t happen, but on a whole, it was more of a winning atmosphere than you typically see around losing clubs. That’s something we can build on, that’s something we’re going to expect, that’s going to be the standard, that we can continue to build on.”
A lot of the credit for that change goes to first-year manager Dale Sveum and his staff. That could make the Cubs more attractive to free agents. Epstein said they will be looking at free agent pitchers to fill some of the holes in the rotation created by the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.
“Players want to play for certain managers,” Epstein said. “I guarantee you, starting today and throughout the whole winter, players will be talking about how great it is to play for Dale Sveum and be part of this clubhouse we have here.
“I’ve also heard that players want to be part of the solution here, and want to be part of the club that ultimately wins a World Series here,” he said. “We have an opportunity as well. With a certain tier free agent, we can sell opportunity.
“I think Paul Maholm would tell people he’s really glad he signed here. … I think he feels good about his Cubs experience, and would come back here in a second if he got the opportunity.”
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Epstein would prefer the roster was 100 percent homegrown. But some of the top prospects need more time. Josh Vitters and Brett Jackson, who struggled in two months with the big league team, were both told they will open next season at Triple-A Iowa. Epstein said Vitters has had a tough time initially at every level he’s advanced to. The third baseman batted .121 in 36 games with the Cubs. Jackson’s swing wasn’t ready, Epstein said, but they wanted to promote the outfielder so Sveum and interim hitting coach James Rowson could work with him. Jackson finished at .175 with 59 strikeouts in 120 at-bats.
“I think he’ll have a much more productive offseason because of what he was exposed to than if he had stayed at Triple-A,” Epstein said.
Rowson, who took over in May when Rudy Jaramillo was dismissed, will either remain with the big league team or could return to his duties as Minor League hitting coordinator.
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The 2012 season is significant because it’s the year Anthony Rizzo, Jorge Soler and Albert Almora joined the organization, Epstein said. Rizzo took over the No. 3 spot in the lineup when promoted from Triple-A on June 26. Soler, a 20-year-old Cuban outfielder, signed a nine-year, $30 million deal in June, and Almora was the team’s first-round pick in the First-Year Player Draft. Other highlights for Epstein included Javier Baez, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in 2011, who made progress in his development; Darwin Barney, who proved to be one of the elite defensive second basemen; and establishing the scouting and player development infrastructure.
The Cubs drew 2.8 million fans this year, the first time they did not reach 3 million since 2003. Fans can expect more growing pains.
“I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘Don’t worry about 101 losses because we have a magic plan to win the World Series in 2013, and it’s going to happen — be there now,'” Epstein said. “I think what we’re trying to communicate is there is a plan, there is a vision. It might be a little bit longer term than we all want it to be but we’re committed to it. There’s great reward at the end. You can’t guarantee results. But I’ll tell everybody, we won’t be satisfied unless we’re in the postseason year in and year out.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise, he said, was veteran Alfonso Soriano, 36, who hit 32 home runs and set a career-high with 108 RBIs.
“Coming in here, I actually had a little trepidation of how we’d handle him and the contract and if his skills declined, how we’d handle playing time,” Epstein said. “I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. Those concerns proved to be completely baseless. What a pleasant surprise he turned out to be.”
However, Soriano’s trade value is high. He has two years, $38 million remaining on his eight-year contract, but also has 10-and-5 rights.
“If teams pursue him in a trade, we’ll consider it,” Epstein said. “If we trade him, we’re losing something, so we have to get something back in return to justify that.”
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Despite the losing record and long hours, Epstein did enjoy his first summer in Chicago, saying it was a very livable city for him and his family. After a company softball game Friday, it’s back to work for 2013.
“My hope is that years from now, when we’re celebrating successes year in and year out, we look back at 2012, and say, ‘Look how far we came,’ and I think we will,” Epstein said.
— Carrie Muskat
The pitching hero of the day Sunday was rookie Jaye Chapman. The Cubs had taken a 10-9 lead after Anthony Rizzo’s grand slam in the sixth. Starling Marte tripled to lead off the Pirates seventh but Neal Walker lined out to Darwin Barney, and Chapman got Andrew McCutchen to strike out looking at a 93 mph fastball. Garrett Jones walked, and then took off for second. Chapman was about to throw, but saw Marte break for home and threw to catcher Welington Castillo, who tagged the Pirates’ speedster.
“I’m not even sure Garrett Jones knew he got picked off,” Chapman said. “I looked at him, and his head was down. I looked at second base, and a thought ran through my head, ‘Hey, that guy’s going to score,’ and I turned around and sure enough, Marte had taken off. I was like, ‘Just make the throw and let’s get out of here.'”
“He showed me a lot today, that’s for sure,” Dale Sveum said of Chapman, acquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm deal.
It was pretty gutsy to throw a fastball to McCutchen.
“I faced him [Friday] and threw him all breaking stuff, and I threw him all breaking stuff today,” Chapman said. “We got to 3-2, and he just swung over a slider, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know for sure, but I haven’t thrown him a fastball and he hasn’t seen one from me. Let’s see what happens.’ Fortunately for me, he took it.”
Told that Sveum was impressed, Chapman smiled.
“You have to make that inning count,” he said. “I’m grateful just to be here, in all honesty.”
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs have signed left-handed pitcher Horacio Ramirez to a Minor League contract, and he was assigned to Triple-A Iowa. Ramirez began the season playing independent ball with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the Atlantic League. He was 2-0 with a 1.96 ERA, giving up eight earned runs over 36 2/3 innings in 12 games (six starts). He was originally drafted by the Braves in the fifth round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft. Ramirez has played for five different teams, making his ML debut in 2003 with the Braves as a starter. He also has pitched for the Mariners, Royals, White Sox and Dodgers. A California native, he is 40-35 with a 4.65 ERA (356 earned runs/688 1/3 IP) and 318 strikeouts.
The Iowa Cubs also announced right-handed pitcher Jaye Chapman, acquired from the Braves in the Paul Maholm-Reed Johnson deal, was placed on the disabled list with a strained elbow, retroactive to Aug. 14. Chapman, acquired along with pitcher Arodys Vizcaino, was 3-6 with seven saves and a 3.52 ERA in 40 relief appearances with Triple-A Gwinnett this year. In six appearances with the I-Cubs, he gave up eight earned runs over 7 1/3 innings.
— Carrie Muskat
Ryan Dempster’s decision to block a deal to the Braves may have benefitted Atlanta. One week ago, the Cubs and Braves had a deal in place which would’ve sent Dempster to Atlanta for 22-year-old pitcher Randall Delgado. But Dempster apparently exercised his 10-and-5 rights, and said no. Now, the Braves have a starting pitcher and an experience right-handed bat on the bench after Monday night’s deal which sent Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson to Atlanta for two Minor League pitchers. The Cubs are looking to the future. They get heralded right-handed pitching prospect Arodys Vizcaino and Minor League right-hander Jaye Chapman.
“It was a perfect fit for us,” Braves GM Frank Wren told reporters in Atlanta Monday night, including MLB.com’s Mark Bowman. “We got two real key pieces for us that we were looking for. If we are done, if nothing else materializes for us [Tuesday], we’ll be very happy with where we are right now.”
Vizcaino, ranked as the Braves’ third-best prospect by MLB.com, is a hard-throwing right-hander who spent the final two months of the 2011 season in Atlanta’s bullpen. He underwent Tommy John surgery in March. Once he is healthy, the 21- year-old hurler has the potential to be a dominant force at the back end of the bullpen or possibly a starting pitcher.
“He’s a good-looking young pitcher and we gave up a quality prospect,” Wren said. “But to not give up some of the guys that have been mentioned, that was a real plus for us. The Cubs are in a different spot than we’re in. They’re looking for a long-range young pitcher that they can hold on to for a long time. We’re in a spot where we feel like we have a team that can win.”
When the Braves began their search for a starting pitcher, they put Zack Greinke at the top of their wish list. It appeared they had Dempster but once he rejected that deal, the Braves began looking at other options. Maholm is 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts.
“The thing that kept coming back from scouts is that he is not going to give in,” Wren said. “When I say that, he’s not going to throw a fastball just because he’s behind in the count. He’s not going to throw you a fastball in fastball counts. He’s going to pitch his game and he’s been very good at that.”
The Cubs also will send some cash to the Braves. Maholm isn’t just a rental; he has a $6.5 million option for the 2013 season. His presence allows the Braves the choice to send Kris Medlen back to the bullpen after he makes his first start of the year on Tuesday.
Wren said he tried to acquire Johnson before last year’s Trade Deadline and has always liked the talented outfielder. With some uncertainty surrounding Matt Diaz’s injured right thumb, the Braves had an even greater need to acquire Johnson this year. Johnson has batted .307 with three home runs and a .807 OPS in 166 at-bats with the Cubs this season. The 35-year-old outfielder has batted .280 with a .743 OPS in 161 career pinch-hit at-bats.
“He gives you a professional at-bat and he plays the game the right way,” Johnson said. “It’s hard to find right-handed hitters who can play center field and left field as well. With our club, that is so important. We need another right- handed hitter that you feel comfortable to put out there for a number of at-bats.”
— Carrie Muskat
Will Ryan Dempster make his start Tuesday night for the Cubs? Or will he be in another uniform? Will a team take a chance on Matt Garza, who has not pitched in one week?
The Trade Deadline is a little more than 24 hours away, and the Cubs’ roster is still intact. Dempster has drawn interest from the Braves and Dodgers, and although the Braves have said they’ve moved on, the Cubs may come back to them if they can’t work out a deal with the Dodgers. FOXSports.com’s Ken Rosenthal points out that under the new CBA, there is no longer a required 24-hour waiting period for 10-and-5 players to approve a trade. That would mean any deals can go right to the deadline as long as the player gives consent. That applies to Dempster, who has 10 years in the big leagues and five with the same team.
Garza is in a different situation in that he would be under team control through 2013. But Garza’s elbow cramp came at a bad time for the Cubs. He had to leave his July 21 start after three innings. An MRI confirmed the cramping, and a little fluid in the elbow, but it’s not serious. The Cubs have X-rays to prove it. He’s scheduled to throw a bullpen on Monday at Wrigley Field. Expect a few early bird scouts there to watch.
Paul Maholm may draw interest from teams, too. He’s 5-0 with a 1.02 ERA in his last six starts.
“As a manager, you’d be upset if anybody is gone as far as starting pitchers,” Dale Sveum said Sunday. “But that’s part of the game. Whatever happens, that’s part of what happens with organizations trying to do things different and trying to build for the future.”
The Cubs pitchers aren’t the only ones drawing interest. Teams looking for another bat for the bench are focusing on Reed Johnson, David DeJesus and Jeff Baker. Johnson and Baker are well suited to their roles as bench players; DeJesus has been a starter. The Pirates were believed to be keeping an eye on Johnson and DeJesus.
Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, and general manager Jed Hoyer have been working the phones rather than talking to the media in the last few days. The deadline is Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT.
— Carrie Muskat
There’s a first time for everything, and rookie Anthony Rizzo now has his first walkoff home run. Rizzo launched a two-run opposite field home run in the 10th inning Sunday to power the Cubs to a 4-2 win over the Cardinals and take the series.
“This is the best,” Rizzo said. “This is something I’ve always dreamed of doing since I was a little kid — I’ve never done it before, not in the Minors, not in Little League, not ever. This is awesome.”
He connected off Trevor Rosenthal, hitting an 0-1 pitch into the left field bleachers.
“It’s nice this early in his career to get his first walkoff in big time fashion, and a home run, too,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Rizzo. “It was nice, especially off a guy throwing 97, 98 miles an hour, to take that pitch opposite field and not try to do too much. It was awesome.”
In 49 games last year with the Padres, Rizzo batted .141 with one home run. In 27 games since he was called up June 26, he’s hitting .333 with seven home runs. Sveum had heard that Rizzo had problems with fastballs. Not now.
“As soon as he got here, the lineup got deeper and got better,” Cubs starter Paul Maholm said of Rizzo. “He’s not up there just hacking. He’s working the counts and goes the other way and just hitting what they give him. They tried to go away from him in the 10th and [Rosenthal] got it up. He’s come up with some huge hits.”
Did the rookie take a deep breath in the 10th?
“Over my Minor League career and last year and this year, later innings, sometimes guys press a little harder and I see veteran hitters relax at the plate and take pitches and not be too aggressive,” Rizzo said. “That’s something I took into this at-bat. I’ve always come up a little over-anxious in situations like that and I took a clean swing and let the rest take care of itself.”
His plan: Keep it simple.
“Just hit the ball hard,” Rizzo said of his approach. “I’m not really trying to move him over there. I’m trying to do some damage.”
— Carrie Muskat
Paul Maholm is the first Cubs pitcher in modern day history to post six consecutive starts of at least six innings with one or no runs allowed. Lefty Rube Kroh did put together a five-game stretch of at least six innings with one or no runs allowed in 1909. In his last six starts, Maholm has given up five earned runs over 44 innings for a 1.02 ERA.
“Paulie is arguably the best pitcher the last month in all of baseball,” Dale Sveum said.
He didn’t get a win Sunday, as the Cardinals rallied.
“He kept us off balance,” Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. “We had the one opportunity in the seventh to really make something happen but we couldn’t get that big hit we’ve been talking about. He did a nice job pitching. He kept us off-balance and mixed up everything. We just couldn’t get a lot going.”
Cubs catcher Steve Clevenger said Maholm had everything working.
“They’ve got a tough lineup, one through eight,” Clevenger said. “Paulie did a good job mixing the ball in and out of the strike zone and made them hit his pitch.”
Travis Wood, another lefty, served up five home runs on Friday to the Cardinals.
“That’s the best lineup in the National League, and by far the best right-handed hitting lineup, too, and he did a heck of a job against the best,” Sveum said of Maholm. “That’s when you know [he’s good], when you can do it against the best right-handed hitting lineup in the National League.”
Will Maholm still be on the Cubs after Tuesday’s Trade Deadline? Anthony Rizzo, Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney will be — they’re players the Cubs will build around. They need pitching, too.
“There was a reason I signed here,” Maholm said. “I’ve always enjoyed playing here throughout my career. There’s an option [for next year]. I finished last year hurt, and they gave me a chance to come in and prove I’m healthy and I am. Hopefully, we can turn this into a long term thing. We’ll see how everything unfolds and go from there.”
— Carrie Muskat
Steve Clevenger will be behind the plate with Paul Maholm when the Cubs close the series against the Cardinals on Sunday at Wrigley Field. Maholm enters the game riding a streak of five straight starts of at least six innings pitched with one or no runs allowed. He’s one of two Cubs lefties since 1900 to do so, joining Rube Kroh, who accomplished the feat in 1909. Maholm is 5-0 with a 0.96 ERA in his last five starts, and the five-game winning streak is a career high.
On the positive side, the Cubs have secured their first winning July since going 18-9 in July 2009. The Cubs are 13-9 with three games remaining. Last year, the Cubs were 9-17 in July.
Here’s the lineup:
— Carrie Muskat