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Q: With the Cubs showing they can win games and doing it well, what kind of record would the team have to put together over the second half to get a Wild Card? Not that I think by any means this will happen but I am curious. — Jeremy B., Denver, CO
A: You can dream. The Cubs are 36-52 as of today, and would have to go 45-29 just to get to .500 (81-81). They are on a good pace, with a 12-4 record since June 25. If the season ended today, the Braves and Pirates would be Wild Card winners. The Cubs are currently 13 games back.
Q: What are the team batting/OBP numbers/slugging percentage before and after Rudy Jaramillo was dismissed? — James B., Fredonia, NY
A: From April 5-June 10, the numbers were .247 batting average/.304 on-base percentage/.385 slugging percentage. From June 12-July 15, the numbers are almost the same, .249/.293/.388. What’s different are the pitching numbers. In the first 60 games, the Cubs were 20-40, the pitchers had a 4.39 ERA and converted seven of 18 save opportunities. In the last 28 games, the pitchers have a 3.93 ERA and have converted 10 of 11 save opportunities.
Q: Is Tony Campana in the Cubs’ plans after the All-Star break or is he on the trading block? In the 15 days prior to the break, he only got into 10 games, during which he came to the plate in five of them. — Pete V., Xenia, OH
A: In 21 games in June, Campana hit .237 (14-for-59) and had an on-base percentage of .250. That’s why he’s not getting more starts. He can’t steal bases if he can’t get on base. He’s the perfect 25th man, used as a pinch-runner, defensive sub.
Q: Can Bryan LaHair win Rookie of the Year? — Jeffrey B., Zion, IL
A: No. A player is considered a rookie unless during the previous season he has, No. 1, exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the big leagues, or, No. 2, accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League team during the 25-man limit in effect from Opening Day until Aug. 31. LaHair started this year with 195 Major League at-bats and 100 days service time.
Q: With Ian Stewart looking like he could miss the rest of the season, is there any chance that Theo and Co. will call up surging slugging, Josh Vitters? He hasn’t played 162 games in Triple-A but he has a lot of Minor League experience and with Javier Baez hot on his trail, this may be his only opportunity. — Dean S., Northbrook, IL
A: Baez is a shortstop, so he’s not a threat to Vitters. The Cubs are watching Vitters and Brett Jackson just as closely as they monitored Anthony Rizzo. On Saturday, GM Jed Hoyer said Vitters and Jackson need to show they deserve a promotion.
“Those guys need to force the issue, I would say,” Hoyer said. “Like we talked about with Rizzo, when they sort of prove to us that they’re ready and make it clear, then I think that’s something we’ll see.”
Through Sunday, Vitters was batting .301 with 13 home runs, 28 doubles and 51 RBIs, and had a great June, when he hit .324. His defense is a little suspect. Jackson was batting .256 through Sunday, and coming off a .282 June, but he struck out 50 times in 29 games that month. As for Stewart, he is done for the season.
Q: The extraordinary number of strikeouts by Brett Jackson makes me wonder the obvious. Have they tested his vision? — Eric H., Brandon, FL
Q: When is Jorge Soler expected to join the Major League team? — Christopher T., Chicago
A: Soler is 20 years old, and has yet to play in a game in the Mesa Rookie League. Sorry, my crystal ball is a little fuzzy and won’t give me an exact date.
Q: Sitting here watching the final three innings of Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game. This game is seldom mentioned as one of the all-time greatest games ever pitched. A 20-year-old ties a MLB record and the only hit was an infield single. A 1-0 game to boot. Any thoughts? — Jim R., Indio, CA
A: Wood’s 20 K game is my favorite of all time.
Q: Other than Wayne Terwilliger and Eddie Miksis, who else wore No. 21? — Sheldon D., Key West, FL
A: Jason Marquis, Tyler Colvin, Sammy Sosa, and now, Joe Mather.
Q: Please evaluate the Colvin and Marshall trades. The new front office shows they are not what they’re cracked up to be. They both stink. I’m holding my breath as we get down to the trading deadline. — Dwight A., Findlay, OH
A: The Cubs knew Stewart had a questionable wrist when they acquired him for Tyler Colvin (yes, Stewart did take a physical), but the team was ready to move on regarding Colvin. You have to admit his .150 average last season wasn’t very impressive. The Rockies did well in that deal as Stewart is done for the year. But I’d say the Reds and Cubs both got what they wanted in their deal which sent Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Roni Torreyes. James Russell has taken over the left-handed set-up role for the Cubs, Wood has won his last four starts, and Torreyes got off to a rough start but batted .330 in June and was hitting .304 in 12 games this month.
A perfect trade benefits both teams. How would you grade the deal for Rizzo? How about the pickup of Luis Valbuena? What about moving Marlon Byrd?
— Carrie Muskat
Sean Marshall hasn’t changed physically but it was strange to see him wearing as much as red as he was on Monday. The left-handed reliever is now with the Reds after the Cubs traded him to Cincinnati for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and a Minor League infielder. On Monday, he was back at HoHoKam Park for a Cactus League game between the Cubs and Reds.
“I’ve played against a lot of these guys for the last couple years,” Marshall said of the Reds. “To be their teammate is a little different but everybody has been as nice as they could be.”
Marshall is reunited with Cincinnati manager Dusty Baker, who gave the left-hander his first opportunity. The Reds also gave Marshall a three-year, $16.5 million contract, which gives him security.
“I’ve been very lucky to have been in a Cubs uniform for nine seasons,” Marshall said. “There are a lot of players traded every couple years. I was always thankful for all my days at Wrigley Field. We’ll be back the second week of the season playing the Cubbies, so it’ll be just like going home again.”
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs will have a new third baseman, first baseman, right fielder and most likely three new starting pitchers in 2012. Who knows what the bench will look like. You’ve followed the team all winter. What offseason move surprised you the most? Here are some suggestions to get the discussion started:
* Trading Carlos Zambrano to the Marlins. Big Z met with Theo Epstein and promised he would do whatever it takes to get back in the Cubs’ good graces but apparently the team wasn’t convinced. They will pay a huge chunk of Zambrano’s contract and received Chris Volstad in return.
* Naming Ian Stewart as the starting third baseman. Stewart is coming off a tough season in which he batted .156 with zero homers and six RBIs in 48 games with the Rockies. Aramis Ramirez has driven in seven runs in a game twice.
* Signing David DeJesus as the right fielder. DeJesus, who has a career OBP of .356, is projected as the Cubs’ leadoff man.
* Trading Sean Marshall to the Reds. Marshall was one of the most reliable lefty set-up pitchers in the game. James Russell, John Gaub and Scott Maine will compete for that spot.
* Dealing Tyler Colvin (to the Rockies) and Andrew Cashner (to the Padres). Both were first-round picks by the Cubs.
— Carrie Muskat
During a question and answer session with Theo Epstein on WGN Radio on Wednesday, the Cubs president of baseball operations touched on a variety of topics:
* On Carlos Zambrano and changing the culture:
Epstein said changing the culture involves players being accountable to the Cubs, their fans and each other. How does Zambrano fit in?
“The Carlos Zambrano of 2011 and years previous can’t fit into the culture that we have here,” Epstein said. “Change needs to happen and change will happen. Either he’ll change and buy in and fit into this culture — and I understand there are a lot of skeptics around about that, and I understand that, and frankly, I’m skeptical as well. He needs to prove to us that he can change and be part of this culture or we’ll change the personnel and move forward with people who are proud to be Cubs and treat their teammates with respect, treat the fans with respect and can be part of a winning culture in the Cubs’ clubhouse.”
* On the Sean Marshall deal:
Epstein said Marshall is the type of pitcher an organization wants but that the Cubs needed to look at the bigger picture. Marshall had one year left of club control. He would become a free agent after the 2012 season and, under the new basic agreement, could leave with the Cubs not receiving any compensation.
“With what we’re trying to accomplish, which is not just win the World Series in 2012 but build something bigger and more sustainable for the long-term, what’s more valuable to us?” Epstein said. “One season worth of Sean Marshall or five seasons worth of a 25-year-old left-handed starting pitcher who can go into our starting rotation … and two prospects we like a lot.”
He noted the other players acquired from the Reds will be under club control for a longer period of time.
* On dealing with players and large contracts:
Epstein didn’t name Alfonso Soriano’s deal or any others specifically, but did say a team has three options on how to handle players with large contracts that appear to be more of a burden than a benefit. One, a team can be creative and make a deal and eat part of the salary. Two, the best move may be to walk away from a player. Or, the third option is to get to know a player better, understand what makes him tick, and provide an infrastructure in which he can improve.
“There’s no one way to handle these things,” Epstein said. “I think you need to approach it with an open mind, with hard work and creativity and understand it’s a game played by human beings and the ability to bounce back is very real.”
* On re-signing Kerry Wood:
Epstein said Wood is “exactly the type of guy we want to build a winning culture here in Chicago.” The Cubs are negotiating with Wood’s agent about a new contract.
“You have a team that really respects a player, wants him back desperately, and you have a player who loves the city, is a huge part of the community here with his family and his foundation and wants to be back,” Epstein said. “If we can’t work this out, we’re doing something wrong.”
* On first base:
Epstein said the Cubs’ first baseman heading into 2012 is Bryan LaHair.
“I think hitters hit no matter where they are and this kid has hit,” Epstein said of LaHair. “He’s hit everywhere he’s ever been. You can’t dominate the Triple-A level more than he did this year.”
Some players are labeled “4A” hitters in that they’re not able to succeed in the Majors, but Epstein doesn’t buy into that.
“It’s the right time for an organization like us to give him the opportunity,” Epstein said.
* On new Cubs manager Dale Sveum:
Epstein said Sveum is “authentic and genuine.”
“He is who he is,” Epstein said. “He knows himself, he never tries to be something that he’s not. He’s perfectly genuine, never tries to put on facades or airs and show players he’s something he’s not.”
Epstein said that’s important because managers can’t “fake it” with players. He said managers are sometimes categorized as either a players’ manager or a disciplinarian. Sveum is both.
“What I like about Dale is he’s firmly in both camps,” Epstein said. “He holds the players to really high standards. This team will have a lot of discipline on the field, off the field. Players will be accountable to Dale, they’ll be accountable to each other. There will be no loafing, no excuse for lack of preparation, lack of aggressiveness, lack of hard work.
“But he’s also going to be extremely well liked because he’s a down to earth guy who doesn’t try to be something that he’s not,” Epstein said.
* On compensation with the Red Sox:
Epstein said it has yet to be resolved.
“It’s still on the table,” Epstein said. “We’ll get it resolved. I think both clubs are approaching it in good faith. We need to find a resolution that both parties are happy with.”
He is still good friends with the Red Sox staff, and admitted to using an office at Fenway Park for a conference call to announce the Marshall trade with the Reds.
— Carrie Muskat
Could the Cubs deal Matt Garza? They are apparently still listening to teams interested in the right-hander. The Cubs are most likely looking for a package similar to what the Padres received from the Reds for Mat Latos and what the Athletics received from the Nationals for Gio Gonzalez, which means a lot of talented prospects. According to reports, the Blue Jays and Yankees may be the front-runners. What makes Garza attractive to the Jays and Yankees is his 23-15 record, 3.34 ERA in 56 career games vs. the AL East. Plus, he’s 7-4 with a 3.83 ERA in 19 games against the Red Sox.
Chicago helped its system by dealing Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood and two other players. Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, has said Garza is “exactly the type of pitcher we want to build around” but is willing to listen as the team re-tools. They’d have to be overwhelmed to move Garza, who is under team control through 2013. Gonzalez, 26, and Latos, 24, will be under team control for at least four years.
— Carrie Muskat
There could be an announcement Friday finalizing the Cubs and Reds proposed deal which would send Sean Marshall to Cincinnati for Travis Wood and two Minor Leaguers. Marshall was in Cincinnati on Thursday to undergo a physical.
— Carrie Muskat
The Cubs and Reds are reportedly close to a trade which would send reliever Sean Marshall to the Reds for starter Travis Wood and two Minor Leaguers. FOX Sports and ESPN.com are both reporting the possible deal. Wood, 24, was 6-6 with a 4.84 ERA in 2 games, including 18 starts last season. He became expendable after the Reds acquired Mat Latos from the Padres. Marshall, 29, has been one of the top left-handed relievers in baseball the last two seasons, posting a 2.26 ERA over 75 2/3 innings in 2011.
Why trade such a valuable player as Marshall? The lefty is one year away from free agency while Wood would be under Cubs control through 2016. The Cubs also have James Russell and Scott Maine plus prospect Jeff Beliveau who could compete for the lefty set-up role. Beliveau was named the Cubs’ Minor League pitcher of the year after he held hitters to a .192 average in 53 appearances.
Wood made his Major League debut at Wrigley Field on July 1, 2010, and gave up two hits over seven innings. He made one other start there in 2010 on Aug. 8, and picked up the win, giving up three earned runs on four hits over 6 1/3 innings.
— Carrie Muskat
After Wednesday’s season finale, Starlin Castro will close as the National League’s hits leader with 200 plus. He has 206 going into the game and is tied with Joe DiMaggio and Hal Trosky for fifth on the all-time list of most hits in a single season 21 years or younger since 1900. Castro won’t be able to catch Lloyd Waner, who totaled 223 hits in 1927 and is the all-time leader.
* Ryan Dempster enters Wednesday’s game 3 1/3 innings shy of his fourth straight year with 200. With 10 wins, he’s tied for the team lead with Matt Garza.
* Sean Marshall set the single-season franchise record with 34 holds.
* The Cubs have not hit a grand slam in 161 games. This could be their first season without one since 1997.
* Darwin Barney has 146 hits, the most by a Cubs rokie since Ryne Sandberg had 172 in 1982.
* Tony Campana can finish with the second-highest single-season stolen base percentage in Cubs history. He’s at 92.3 percent (24-for-26), which trails only Bob Dernier (93.1 percent in 1986).
* The Cubs have three players with at least 25 homers in Carlos Pena (28), Aramis Ramirez (26) and Alfonso Soriano (26). It’s the first time since four Cubs did so in 2004: Moises Alou (39), Aramis Ramirez (36), Sammy Sosa (35) and Derrek Lee (32).
— Carrie Muskat
Matt Garza, who is making his last start of the season Tuesday, has the seventh-best ERA in all of baseball since the All-Star break at 2.44. The Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is tops with a 1.31 ERA.
* Garza is 9-10 in 30 starts this season despite a 3.35 ERA. He’s one of four pitchers in the NL’s Top 14 in ERA with as few as nine wins this season, joining the Nationals’ Jordan Zimmermann (eight wins, 3.18 ERA) and the Mets’ R.A. Dickey (eight wins, 3.28 ERA).
* Garza endured an eight-start stretch from July 2-Aug. 9 during which he was supported with run tallies of 0, 0, 2, 2, 3, 1, 1, 0, going 1-3 with a 3.38 ERA in those games. This year, he has left seven starts with a lead and not factored in the decision, plus a complete-game, 1-0 setback July 2 vs. the White Sox.
* Carlos Peña drew his 100th walk of the year Monday. It’s the 12th such campaign by a Cubs player in the 136-season history of the franchise. Peña is only the 10th different Cub to ever reach the mark, the first since Sammy Sosa did so in 2002 (103) and 2001 (116). In the last 80 years, only four Cubs have reached 100 walks in a season: Peña, Sosa, Gary Matthews (103 in 1984) and Richie Ashburn (116 in 1960). Pena’s career high in walks is 103 in 2007. However, Pena also has struck out 160 times this season. His career high is 166 Ks in ’08.
* In the season finale Wednesday, Ryan Dempster (10-13, 4.53 ERA) will face lefty Wade LeBlanc (4-6, 4.83 ERA). Dempster is 8-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 21 games (12 starts) against the Padres. The Cubs are batting .264 vs. lefties, .254 vs. right-handers this season. Dempster is 0-3 with a 3.34 ERA in five starts in September. He has not won since Aug. 11.
* Sean Marshall has 33 holds, the most by a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Marmol totaled 30 in 2008.
— Carrie Muskat
* The Cubs are looking for their first sweep of the Cardinals since a four-game series, July 27-30, 2006. Chicago has won its last four series at Wrigley Field for the first time since a five-series win streak Aug. 1-24, 2008. They have won this series vs. the Cardinals and now are 5-1 in six series this month after going 1-7 in eight July series.
* The Cubs are 13-5 in August and look to win 14 of the first 19 games in the month for the first time in 82 years. According to Elias Sports Bureau, the 1929 Cubs squad began August with a 14-5 record.
* Aramis Ramirez needs one home run to become the fourth player in Cubs history to record at least six seasons with 25 doubles and 25 homers. So far, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ryne Sandberg have accomplished the feat.
* Sean Marshall has 27 holds, setting the franchise mark for holds by a left-hander. Jeff Fassero set the mark of 25 in 2001. Marshall is three holds shy of matching Carlos Marmol’s single-season club record of 30 in 2008.
* Here are the pitching matchups vs. the Braves, who come to town for the four-game series starting Monday night:
Monday: Jair Jurrjens (12-5, 2.84) vs. Ryan Dempster (10-8, 4.61)
Tuesday: Mike Minor (3-2, 4.26) vs. Casey Coleman (2-5, 7.43)
Wednesday: Derek Lowe (8-11, 4.73) vs. Randy Wells (4-4, 5.84)
Thursday: Brandon Beachy (6-2, 3.32) vs. Matt Garza (6-9, 3.62)
— Carrie Muskat