September 2012

9/30 Baserunning 101

First it was Luis Valbuena getting thrown out at third trying to advance on what would’ve been a sacrifice fly, but instead ended up as a double play. Joe Mather made the same mistake. Dale Sveum said he hadn’t seen that in 30 years in baseball, yet saw it twice this year. On Sunday, there were a couple more gaffes. The Cubs loaded the bases with one out in the sixth, and one out later, pinch-hitter Dave Sappelt hit a run-scoring infield single. Anthony Recker was hit by a pitch to force in another run, and Bryan LaHair then lined a two-run single to right. But the inning ended as LaHair was picked off at first.

In the third, Anthony Rizzo doubled, and was picked off when he was walking off the base. He thought Alfonso Soriano had struck out, but instead it was only the second strike of the at-bat.

“It’s like a vitamin. One a day,” Sveum said of the strange base running mistakes. “It’s stuff you don’t teach it and don’t see it. It’s strange stuff, it’s unbelievable.”

What happened?

“Rizzo thought there were two strikes and two outs and thought Soriano struck out, and started walking off,” Sveum said. “LaHair got caught — [first base coach Dave] McKay was telling him to go and draw the throw and we could score the run on the backside. It’s one of those plays, you’ve got the outfielder where you want him. You can go, and if he throws to first, you walk into second. If he throws to second, you score the back-end run.”

The Cubs did work on that in Spring Training.

“It’s something that comes up rarely during the season,” Sveum said of LaHair’s play. “Two strikes, two outs, you’re not teaching that. We’ve got some pretty big scoreboards out here to let you know [the count]. You have no explanation for those.”

Rizzo took the blame.

“I just thought there were two strikes, two outs and I did the right thing if there were two strikes, two outs but there wasn’t,” he said. “It is embarrassing because I know Dale has to answer those questions. … I’m happy we came up with a win.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/30 Rusin finishes long year

Rookie Chris Rusin gave the Cubs something to think about this offseason when they consider their 2013 rotation. The lefty picked up the win in his final start of the season on Sunday, giving up one earned run on three hits over five innings. He spent the majority of the season at Triple-A, and finished with 173 innings combined, 34 more than he totaled in 2011. He’s learned a lot.

“It’s tough because everything is thrown at you,” Rusin said of his first big league stint. “You really want to do well because you feel this is your only opportunity to make a good first impression. I try not to worry about that. Today was my last outing, and I wanted to give it my all and whatever happened happened, and just have a good time out there.”

After a shaky first, Rusin settled down and gave up one hit over the next four innings. He struck out four.

“I thought I did a better job than last time, keeping the ball down,” Rusin said. “I was a little wild in the first inning and was able to find it between innings. As the innings went on, I found my location better and better.”

Said Dale Sveum: “Rusin did a nice job. He came back after a little hiccup and made some quality pitches to get the hitters out, too.”

– Carrie Muskat

 

9/30 Soriano “cornerstone” on Cubs

Alfonso Soriano’s trade value may never be higher than it is now but Cubs manager Dale Sveum would hate to lose the veteran outfielder.

“That’s been our one cornerstone as far as run production,” Sveum said of Soriano, 36, who has 32 home runs and a career-high 108 RBIs, with one year remaining on his contract. “It’s hard to replace that. [Anthony] Rizzo should be fine in a full season and then you find somebody else who can hit home runs to hit fifth. That’s where you start at. Who knows who that is? That’s the million dollar question we have to deal with.”

The Brewers have three players who have combined for more than 200 extra base hits. Sveum would like to see that kind of production from the Cubs lineup in the future. Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said they will have financial flexiblity to pursue free agents this offseason but Sveum said they have a lot of areas to address.

“We have multiple holes to fill,” Sveum said. “It’s not just one guy here, one guy there. It’s 10 different spots we have to look hard at and try to get better.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/30 Garza says thanks to Sveum

If Matt Garza had injured his elbow last season and had been placed on the 60-day disabled list, he would’ve gone home a long time ago. Instead, the Cubs pitcher has stayed with his teammates.

“If this happened last year, you wouldn’t see me, I’d be home,” Garza said Sunday. “I like coming here and hanging out with the guys. I have a whole different perspective on this thing and a whole different hunger and I’m chomping at the bit.”

Garza has been sidelined with a stress reaction in his right elbow. He last pitched July 21, and finished 5-7 in 18 starts.

On Saturday, Garza was one of the veterans who met in Dale Sveum’s office to give him feedback on the season.

“I told him we’re on the verge of [100 losses] … and I told him last year we were close to .500 and I hated every day of my life coming in here,” Garza said. “It was miserable [last year]. I said, ‘This year, I enjoy it, and I look forward to coming in here.’ I said, ‘You brought that back, so thank you.’ Last year was a trying year. This year was a different type of mental fight but I can actually enjoy this one.”

Last season, the Cubs finished 71-91 under first-year manager Mike Quade, who was dismissed. What’s been the difference with Sveum?

“He’s more open, more sociable with us,” Garza said. “He treats us like players. It’s not like, ‘This is you, this is you’ — he gives you the opportunity to fail. The way he’s handled the situation we’re in right now, it’s tough. It’s tough for him to keep it the same way each day, that’s huge.”

Garza has played for some of the most player friendly managers in the game in Ron Gardenhire and Joe Maddon. He adds Sveum to that list.

“To end up with a guy like Dale is awesome, especially coming from the situation last year — I’m not even going to go into it — but this is awesome,” Garza said.

The right-hander has seen positives from the young players as well despite the Cubs’ losing record. Darwin Barney, Starlin Castro and Welington Castillo have shown some maturity.

“It’s promising,” Garza said. “The guys who want it and know they’re going to be here, it’s exciting to see. I’ve seen a lot for six, eight weeks now. I think it’ll be fun [next year]. It might be slow, but it’ll be fun.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/30 Cubs lineup

Darwin Barney is back in the Cubs’ lineup for Sunday’s series finale against the Diamondbacks:

DeJesus RF

Barney 2B

Rizzo 1B

Soriano LF

Castro SS

Valbuena 3B

Jackson CF

Recker C

Rusin P

 

9/30 Fountain of youth

Alfonso Soriano did his part Saturday night, hitting a two-run home run in the ninth, his 32nd.

“I know I’m 36 years old, but I don’t feel like it,” Soriano said. “My body feels good, my hands. I know my knee is not the same but my hitting, my hands are still the same.”

Said D-backs pitcher Trevor Cahill: “I was 0-2 [in the count] and trying to throw one off the plate so he would groundout, get a double play and end it, but it stayed up high. He’s a good player.”

Soriano has 32 home runs and a career-high 108 RBIs, reaching 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the third time in his career and his first time with the Cubs. He has 32 home runs since hitting his first blast on May 15, the most home runs by any NL player starting that date. Soriano is one of only three players in the NL this season to reach 30 home runs and 100 RBIs, joining Ryan Braun (41 homers, 112 RBI) and Chase Headley (30, 112).

Soriano’s 108 RBIs have come at the age of 36 with the Cubs. He’s the first player in franchise history to reach at least 107 RBIs at the age of 36 or older. Ernie Banks had 106 RBIs at the age of 38 in 1969 and Moises Alou had 106 RBIs at the age of 37 in 2004.

– Carrie Muskat

9/30 Cubs vs. Astros

The Cubs have one series remaining in the 2012 regular season, and will wrap things up against the Astros, starting Monday night at Wrigley Field. Here are the pitching matchups:

Monday: RHP Jason Berken (0-2, 5.14) vs. RHP Lucas Harrell (10-11, 3.88)
Tuesday: RHP Chris Volstad (3-11, 6.64) vs. RHP Bud Norris (6-13, 4.82)
Wednesday: LHP Travis Wood (6-13, 4.39) vs. RHP Edgar Gonzalez (3-1, 4.15)

 

9/29 It’s 99 and counting

Sunday will be the biggest game of the year for the Cubs. If they want to avoid a 100-loss season, the Cubs must rebound from Saturday’s 8-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, the 99th of the season, and win in the series finale.

“Now, they’ve pushed us to the wall,” Alfonso Soriano said. “We don’t want to lose 100 games so now we have to win all four games left [in the season]. I’ve never been a part of a team that had 100 losses. I’ve never been a part of this and I don’t want to be a part of this. I want to try to come back tomorrow and win the last three games at home.”

The Cubs have lost 100 games only twice in team history, 1962 and ’66, when they finished 59-103 both times.

“Tomorrow is as important as any game we play,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said.

The Cubs also need a win on Sunday to avoid becoming the first Major League team to go winless against one division on the road in a single season. Chicago is 0-18 on the road against the National League West: San Francisco (0-4), Arizona (0-5), Los Angeles (0-3), San Diego (0-3) and Colorado (0-3). It isn’t just the Pacific or Mountain Time Zones that are a problem, either. The Cubs have lost a franchise-record 58 games on the road.

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Barney: “I had to make that throw”

And on the day after he made only his second error of the season, Darwin Barney rested. He did not start Saturday, one day after being charged with an error to end his streak of mistake-free games at 141, which ties a Major League single-season record for second basemen set in 2007 by Placido Polanco. Barney was three outs away from setting the mark before he was charged with a throwing error in the eighth inning Friday against the Diamondbacks.

“I had to make that throw,” Barney said Saturday. “The one thing I questioned myself on after it happened was if I had rushed it, and after looking at [the replay], I didn’t rush it. I had the chance to make that play and if the ball is on line, then [the runner is] out.”

His approach through the entire streak was to play aggressive and try to make plays.

“You just can’t hold the ball because of [trying to get a record],” he said.

Rookie first baseman Anthony Rizzo seemed more upset than Barney at the play because he wasn’t able to pick up the throw.

“I think there were a lot of emotions that a lot of these guys have probably never had on the baseball side of things,” manager Dale Sveum said. “As soon as he made that error, you could hear a pin drop. You couldn’t believe it happened, especially that way. Everyone was quiet and reflected on what went on and obviously the emotions carried on after the game as well.”

Rizzo stood by Barney during his post-game media session. Sveum said that just shows the type of player Rizzo is.

“There’s no blame in anything like that,” Sveum said. “It’s probably one of the most unfortunate things I’ve ever been a part of in baseball for something like that come to an end. A first baseman expects to pick a ball like that. He’ll probably pick 99 percent of them. The ball hopped over his glove, and he thought he had it and couldn’t believe it didn’t go in his glove. It’s very unfortunate.”

Barney’s bid for a Major League record fell short but he does own all National League records for consecutive error-less games at second base, having surpassed Ryne Sandberg’s former record 123-game error-less streak, allowing for multiple seasons, that ran from June 21, 1989-May 17, 1990. David Eckstein owned the previous NL single-season mark of 113-consecutive games set with San Diego in 2010.

Barney got a text message from Sandberg after game No. 124 of the streak. He received a few more texts from family and friends on Friday.

“It’s crazy to be a part of that with Polanco,” Barney said. “We were talking, and maybe something happened that was really special on Polanco’s run that he was supposed to keep it. Baseball’s a funny game that way.

“I feel blessed and fortunate to be a part of it with him,” Barney said. “It’s one of those things. Baseball’s a funny game that way. What are the odds of it happening on that day? It did. You’ll look back on it like it was supposed to happen.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Feedback

Dale Sveum met for nearly half an hour with the veteran players on the Cubs Saturday in his office to get feedback from them about how the season went and asked for any ideas they may have.

“I wanted to evaluate the season and evaluate how we as a staff have done things and if there’s anything we need to change, stuff like that,” Sveum said.

On Tuesday, Sveum will meet one on one with each player. On Saturday, he had a full team meeting to deliver his end of the year message.

“It was just common stuff about preparation and understanding it’s a full-time job and random stuff like that,” Sveum said.

His session with the veterans extended beyond getting feedback.

“It’s something I wanted to talk to those guys about and tell them how much I appreciated their professionalism through tough times and their work ethic,” Sveum said. “All the veterans have pretty good work ethics and go about their business the right way and come to Spring Training ready to go. A lot of it was that, too.”

Players in the closed-door meeting included David DeJesus, Jeff Samardzija, James Russell, Darwin Barney, Alfonso Soriano, Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair, Joe Mather, Carlos Marmol and Matt Garza.

– Carrie Muskat

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