July 2011

7/31 Trade deadline update

The Cubs may not have made a deal by the 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline, but they can still make a trade in August. Expect some action then.

“To make a trade today to say we made one and get somebody who we don’t think is the caliber that I’d expect in return, I have no problem not moving the people we didn’t move,” GM Jim Hendry said Sunday.

The Cubs did deal Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians for two Minor Leaguers on Thursday. The move was to make room for Tyler Colvin; the Cubs want to find out if he’s an everyday big league outfielder.

It may be hard for fans to stomach any inactivity. They see a team that’s 23 games out in the National League Central. Hendry knows that.

“Everybody says ‘Oh, you didn’t do something by 3 o’clock today — this is a disaster, that’s a disaster’ — I don’t put much stock into that,” Hendry said. “The guys we kept are for the most part guys who still have a chance to be involved next year.

“If we do make a trade or two in August,” he said, “it’s no more or less significant than if we made one today.”

– Carrie Muskat

7/31 Cubs lineup

Reed Johnson is leading off and playing in right field Sunday for the Cubs in the series finale against the Cardinals. Johnson is 2-for-7 against Jake Westbrook; Tyler Colvin has not faced the right-hander. Chicago is 1-7 against St. Louis this season, including 0-5 at Busch Stadium. Here’s the lineup:

RF Johnson

SS Castro

3B Ramirez

1B Pena

CF Byrd

LF Soriano

2B Barney

C Hill

P Dempster

– Carrie Muskat

7/31 Trade Deadline passes

The Trade Deadline passed on Sunday with the Cubs standing pat.

The team did not make a move by Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT deadline, although Cubs GM Jim Hendry did tweak the roster earlier in the week when he sent outfielder Kosuke Fukudome to the Indians for two Minor Leaguers on Thursday.

The move was a first step toward 2012. It’s not that outfielder Abner Abreu and pitcher Carlton Smith, who were acquired from the Indians, are close to being Major League ready. This year is the last of Fukudome’s contract with the Cubs and the team wants outfielder Tyler Colvin to play more.

Colvin was on the Opening Day roster but scuffled with part-time at-bats, hitting .191 on May 13 when he was optioned to Triple-A Iowa.

The Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, Colvin batted .256 at Iowa with seven homers, 12 doubles, six triples and 32 RBIs. The hope is that with regular at-bats, he’ll find the power stroke that produced 20 homers last season. He has started two of three games since rejoining the team; Colvin was not in the lineup Sunday.

“The goal was to move a few pieces that we knew weren’t coming back,” Hendry said Friday.

If you followed the rumors on the Internet, it appeared that teams contacted the Cubs regarding Carlos Pena, Marlon Byrd and possibly Carlos Marmol. However, the reality is there was interest in players the Cubs didn’t want to part with, such as Sean Marshall and Jeff Baker.

Looking ahead, the Cubs do have a lot of money coming off the books in 2012, and are obligated for about $72.6 million, including $19 million for Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Zambrano and $14 million for Ryan Dempster. Players who are arbitration eligible include Matt Garza, Geovany Soto, Baker, Koyie Hill, Randy Wells, and Blake DeWitt.

They will have to make decisions on both Pena and Aramis Ramirez. Do they keep Pena, a solid defensive first baseman who is as advertised — a streaky hitter with power. The Cubs don’t have a first baseman in the Minor Leagues who is close to being ready.

What about Ramirez? The list of potential free agent third baseman whom Hendry can consider includes Wilson Betemit, Casey Blake, Eric Chavez, Mark DeRosa, Greg Dobbs, Edwin Encarnacion, Wes Helms, Melvin Mora, Miguel Tejada and Omar Vizquel. The Cubs’ best move may be keeping Ramirez.

Now that the non-waiver Trade Deadline has passed, deals involving players on the 40-man roster cannot be made unless the players already have cleared waivers. In other words, the player must be offered to the other teams in reverse order of the standings, and if he is claimed by one of the teams, he cannot be traded. The club that placed the player on waivers can either withdraw the request and keep the player, or let the player go to the claiming team, which would then have the rights to the player.

Last year, both Derrek Lee and Mike Fontenot were traded in August, with Lee going to the Braves and Fontenot to the Giants.

– Carrie Muskat

7/31 Extra bases

Some Cubs notes to pass the time as we wait for the Trade Deadline to pass:

* The Cubs now are 33-23 when they score at least four runs, good for a .589 winning percentage. When they score three runs or less, they’re 9-42. Saturday’s game was the fifth time since the start of June that they’ve scored more than four runs and lost the game.

* Ryan Dempster will make his 347th appearance as a Cub on Sunday night. That moves him past Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown” into 10th for appearances in franchise history.

* Aramis Ramirez heads into the final game of July with nine home runs and 23 RBIs. He has nearly matched the rest of the team combined for home runs in July. The rest of the Cubs have hit 10.

* James Russell’s scoreless streak ended on Saturday at 14 1/3 innings. That’s the fifth longest streak by a Cubs lefty reliever since 2000. Russell has a 1.69 ERA in 33 relief outings in which he’s thrown 1 1/3 or fewer innings per appearance.

* Geovany Soto posted his first RBI since July 23 on Saturday, and first multiple RBI game since June 30.

* Pitching probables for Cubs’ next series vs. the Pirates:

Monday: Carlos Zambrano (7-6, 4.59 ERA) vs. Paul Maholm (6-10, 3.16 ERA)

Tuesday: Randy Wells (2-4, 6.16 ERA) vs. Kevin Correia (12-8, 4.24 ERA)

Wednesday: Matt Garza (4-8, 3.99 ERA) vs. Charlie Morton (8-6, 4.04 ERA)

Thusday: Rodrigo Lopez (2-3, 4.40 ERA) vs. James McDonald (7-5, 4.17 ERA)

– Carrie Muskat

7/31 Minor League report

Brett Jackson hit his third homer and second in as many games but it wasn’t enough as Iowa lost, 6-3, to Memphis. Jackson tied the game at 3 with his solo shot in the sixth. He’s 8-for-21 in his last six games, and batting .241 overall. Steve Clevenger had three hits. Chris Carpenter took the loss, giving up three runs on three hits and two walks over 1 1/3 innings in relief.

Tennessee scored six runs in the sixth to beat Montgomery, 8-2. Blake Lalli had two hits, including a two-run single in the sixth.

David Macias drove in all three runs as Daytona edged Jupiter, 3-2. Macias broke up Jupiter’s no-hit bid with a single in the fifth, and with two outs in the ninth, hit a two-run walkoff single.

Anthony Giansanti hit a RBI triple in the ninth to help Peoria beat Clinton, 3-1. Taiwan Easterling tied the game with a RBI single in the sixth.

Rafael Lopez and Reggie Golden each homered in Boise’s 8-7 loss to Everett. Golden had two hits to end an 0-for-15 skid.

– Carrie Muskat

7/30 You make the call

Did you miss the controversial slide by the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday that upended Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro in the fifth inning Saturday? Here’s the video.

http://atmlb.com/rbSwiX

The Cubs didn’t question Holliday’s aggressiveness but did contend he made an illegal slide because he couldn’t touch the base. The Cubs led 5-2 when the Cardinals had two runners on and one out in the fifth. Albert Pujols, who had homered earlier in the game, was intentionally walked to load the bases and starter Rodrigo Lopez then walked Holliday to force in a run.

Lopez was pulled, and Jeff Samardzija took over and got David Freese to hit a grounder to second baseman Darwin Barney, who threw to Castro for the force. Holliday slid hard into the shortstop, and upended him. Holliday didn’t appear to touch the bag.

Both Cubs first baseman Carlos Pena and third baseman Aramis Ramirez went to Cousins to argue, and Quade then came onto the field to join in the discussion, which ended with the Cubs manager getting ejected for the fourth time this season.

“I applaud somebody for going in hard and trying to break up a double play to end an inning,” Quade said. “My thing is, it’s not a legal slide to me and that’s it.”

When Pena and Ramirez challenged Cousins’ call, Quade knew something wasn’t right.

“They don’t do that unless they feel that it was blatant and was out of the realm of what’s legal and what’s not legal,” Quade said of the two veteran infielders. “The rule is there for a reason.”

Castro was lucky Holliday wasn’t wearing metal spikes. His left shin was cut and raw from Holliday coming in high on the shortstop.

“It’s OK, because he didn’t have cleats,” Castro said. “If he had cleats, he would’ve cut me because he slid hard and way out of the base. It’s not good. It’s baseball. He tried to break a double play.”

Two runs scored on the play as Castro was down on the dirt, trying to regroup.

“I assumed he was hurt and waited to see what was going on with that,” Quade said. “At that point, somehow [throwing the ball home] was not on my mind. The fact that it could’ve been a double play and we could’ve been out of the inning was on my mind.”

But they weren’t, and the Cardinals scored eight runs in the fifth en route to a 13-5 win.

Quade had said he would do his best to not get ejected in the second half.

“I was pretty upset,” he said. “It was a combination of the play itself and the importance of it at that time had me really upset.”

Said Castro: “He’s out. He didn’t have a chance to touch the base.”

Said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa: “I watched it on tape. He’s sliding into the bag. He’s in the vicinity of the base.”

Guess it depends on your point of view.

“I disagree with Derryl’s assessment that it was a clean play,” Quade said. “I think that’s why they have the rule in place. I don’t think there was an attempt at the bag. He got a pretty good piece of Castro as well. That’s a huge play, obviously, in the game, too, and would’ve gotten us out with a 5-3 lead. I disagree a bunch, obviously, and fortunately Starlin is OK.”

– Carrie Muskat

7/30 Cubs lineup

The Cubs will try to avoid dropping to a season-low 23-games under .500 as they tackle the Cardinals in Game 2 of their three-game series on Saturday. Here’s the lineup:

SS Castro

2B Barney

3B Ramirez

1B Pena

CF Byrd

C Soto

LF Soriano

RF Colvin

P Lopez

– Carrie Muskat

7/30 Minor League report

Chris Rusin gave up one run on three hits over 5 2/3 innings in Iowa’s 1-0 loss to New Orleans in the first game of a doubleheader on Friday. The I-Cubs totaled four hits. In the second game, Brett Jackson had three hits, including his second homer since joining Iowa, in a 5-1 win. Jackson is 7-for-18 with four runs, one double, two homers and four RBIs in his last five games.

Ty Wright and Josh Vitters each homered in Tennessee’s 7-4 loss to Montgomery. Vitters went 3-for-4 with one RBIs. He’s batting .301 since the beginning of June. Rebel Ridling had two doubles.

Greg Rohan hit his third homer but Daytona lost, 8-4, to Jupiter. Angel Guzman started and gave up one run on two hits over two innings. It was Starlin Castro bobblehead night, and, unfortunately, Daytona shortstop, Rafael Valdes made three errors. Abner Abreu, acquired from the Indians in the Kosuke Fukudome deal, made his debut for Daytona. He singled in the seventh inning.

Luis Liria gave up six runs — three earned — on six hits over two innings in Peoria’s 11-3 loss to Quad Cities. Rubi Silva and Richard Jones each had two hits.

Yao-Lin Wang gave up two runs on seven hits in Boise’s 2-0 loss to Everett. Pin-Chieh Chen had two hits and two stolen bases.

Mesa totaled 24 hits in a 24-4 win over the Reds. Only four of the hits were for extra-bases. Taylor Davis and Kyung-Min Na each had four hits and Gregori Gonzalez was 3-for-5 with three RBIs.

– Carrie Muskat

7/30 Rebuild? Retool? Reboot?

Are the Cubs in rebuilding mode? Yes and no.

“There are certain people who won’t be back and there are a whole lot of people we should be happy with — young players, two kids in the middle,” GM Jim Hendry said Friday. “We’re hoping [Tyler] Colvin gets back to where he was. Marlon [Byrd's] been a fine player here and he has another year on his contract.

“You have a bullpen of a lot of guys coming back who are very good,” he said. “Everybody should be encouraged by the year Jeff Samardzija has had and where he’s going and the year James Russell has had since moving back into the bullpen. Sean Marshall will be here, [Carlos] Marmol will be here.

“You always need some kind of rebuilding when you’re in fifth place but you certainly don’t look at it like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to compete.’ When somebody says, ‘Blow the place up and start over and do it right,’ well, OK, does that mean we should get rid of the people who are really young and real good? I’ve said this a hundred times, wasn’t Pittsburgh 20 games under a year ago, and Cleveland? All you need is for your young people to get better and make the right moves, and why couldn’t we be right back in it?”

The Cubs did fall to 22 games under .500 after Friday’s 9-2 loss to the Cardinals.

“We’re having a bad year, and there’s no way around it, no excuses for it,” Hendry said. “Nobody picked us to be in the first three this year but we felt by now, we’d be at .500. [If we were .500] a week ago, it would’ve got you two or three back. We didn’t do our part. Excuses or no excuses, injuries or not injuries, we haven’t played to the level we should have.”

At the start of this road trip vs. NL Central teams, Mike Quade said he felt the Cubs still had a chance to get back in the race.

“I respect his optimism,” Hendry said. “There are a lot of teams above you. You don’t want Mike hanging his head and saying, ‘We can’t do something, we can’t do this.’ I’m sure in his heart he believes we can have a good couple months like he had last year at the end and hopefully we will. You’ve got a lot of people in front of you [in the standings] and you’re a lot of games behind. I wouldn’t want him to say, ‘Hey, we’re all done and let’s get the guys ready for next year.’”

– Carrie Muskat

7/29 Saturday’s starter: Rodrigo Lopez

On Saturday, Rodrigo Lopez returns to the mound for the Cubs, his first start since July 18. The right-hander has had to battle to stay in the big leagues, including spending time on the DL because he needed Tommy John surgery on his right elbow.

“It’s been tough to establish myself in the big leagues,” Lopez said. “I guess a lot of factors are involved. I don’t think my age has taken anything from my skills. My velocity hs been pretty consistent, 88 to 90 [miles an hour]. I’ve never been a power pitcher.”

 Growing up in Mexico, his hero was Fernando Valenzuela.
 
“In the ’80s, when ‘Fernando-mania’ hit Mexico, everyone started to play,” he said. “We were playing soccer, my brother and I, and baseball was a new sport, and we started playing that. That’s why I started playing baseball.”
 
Why did he become a pitcher?
 
“I’m a pitcher because I can’t hit,” he said.
 
Lopez was a catcher and shortstop but when he was 14, he was playing with boys older than he was. He couldn’t hit and the only spot open, if he wanted to play, was pitcher.
 
“My arm started getting some strength and it seemed like I had pretty good life on my fastball, so they wanted me to pitch,” he said.
 
Lopez was at a tryout where scouts had gathered to see his brother, but they watched Rodrigo pitch and signed him.
 
“Since then, I’ve been surviving,” he said.
 
– Carrie Muskat
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