September 2013

9/27 Cardinals 7, Cubs 0

Travis Wood reached a milestone in his final start but couldn’t stop the Cardinals from celebrating. For the third time in five games, the Cubs watched another team spray champagne. Yadier Molina drove in three runs and David Freese and Matt Holliday each hit solo home runs to power the Cardinals to a 7-0 victory on Friday night at Busch Stadium and their first National League Central title since 2009. Last Sunday, the Braves partied at Wrigley Field after their win over the Cubs secured the NL East, and the next day, the Pirates earned a playoff berth with a victory in Chicago.

“You can get something out of it, the guys who have never seen a celebration,” Dale Sveum said. “I’ve already seen it and I don’t like watching celebrations if I’m not involved.”

Lance Lynn struck out eight of the first 11 batters he faced, and finished with nine strikeouts over six innings for the win, which was the Cardinals’ 95th of the season and their most since 100 victories in 2005.

Wood entered the game with 199 innings, and Sveum said the plan was to have the left-hander pitch one inning and that would be enough. The team felt Wood had thrown enough pitches this season, and totaled enough innings. What they didn’t predict was the Cardinals batting around in the first. Wood retired the first two batters, helping himself by catching Carlos Beltran’s popup near the Cardinals dugout for the second out. He then gave up three straight hits, including a line drive to left that Brian Bogusevic just missed. Molina smacked a two-run double, then Freese walked, and Jon Jay followed with a RBI single. Wood intentionally walked Pete Kozma and then struck out Lynn.

“Plays are going to happen, plays aren’t going to happen,” Wood said. “I had plenty of opportunities after that play to get out of it. I had two lefties to get out and several other batters. When you get two outs of the first two hitters, and then face the nine, that’s on me.”

Wood has been the most consistent pitcher on the Cubs, leading the team with 24 quality starts.

“That was a shame,” Sveum said of the first inning. “It kind of makes you want to throw up. Two outs, nobody on and all that happens. It’s too bad. I thought he had one [heck] of a year and was as good as the top 10 guys in the league if not better than that. For what he’s done for our team, it’s a shame how that all turned out.”

The Cubs told Wood they were going to limit him a few days ago.

“They could’ve shut me down,” Wood said. “For them to give me the opportunity to at least start the game and get that 200th inning was huge, and I thank them for it.”

Despite the loss, Wood still finished with career highs in wins, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts.

“You can always do more,” the lefty said. “The record wasn’t what I wanted it to be and the team’s record wasn’t what I wanted it to be. There’s always stuff to improve on.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Sveum, staff to find out status on Monday

Dale Sveum will find out Monday whether or not he’ll be back at the helm for a third season. That’s when Theo Epstein will complete his evaluation of the manager and the coaching staff.

“It’s pretty standard at this time of year to take your time to look back at the season and make decisions on what can put the organization in the best position going forward,” Epstein said. “This is part of the process. At the same time, we owe it to everyone involved to get it done quickly and move forward. We’ll finish up the process on Monday.”

Epstein was in St. Louis to conduct end of the season meetings with most of the players along with general manager Jed Hoyer and Sveum.

Epstein first revealed the evaluation process regarding Sveum and his staff last week in Milwaukee. The lack of a definitive vote of confidence from Epstein prompted speculation regarding Sveum’s status.

“It is what it is,” Sveum said of the uncertainty. “It’s not like I have to deal with anything except the norm that comes along with this position and the situation the organization is in, the evaluation process of any team at the end of the year, especially a team that lost 90-plus games. It doesn’t affect me and doesn’t bother me like people might think it does. It’s just part of the process.”

The Cubs lost 101 games in Sveum’s first season in 2012, and will finish in last place in the National League Central this year.

“If you go into something not expecting this [evaluation] then it might be different,” Sveum said. “But when you go into any kind of job like this, you understand these things can happen at any given time. I’ve been around too long and have seen it on both ends. There’s nothing you can do but keep doing the same things you do. It’s not going to change you as a person or a baseball person.”

During the Milwaukee series, Sveum was caught on camera arguing with pitcher Edwin Jackson in the dugout, and the next day, Jeff Samardzija yelled at third base coach David Bell. Kevin Gregg also was upset at being told he would no longer close, but the problem was miscommunication.

“I look at those three little minor brushfires as things that naturally occur at the end of a difficult season and frankly, I think it’s been impressive that under Dale’s leadership we got through 11 months of the regular season without something like that happening,” Epstein said. “Those things are to be expected. If you don’t want those things to happen, then don’t trade 40 percent of your rotation every year. Those things are going to crop up.

“Frankly, the things behind the scenes are more important than some of the brushfires that sometimes become public,” Epstein said. “I don’t think those are a pattern at all.”

Epstein and Hoyer have said repeatedly they are not judging Sveum on the Cubs’ record.

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Wood to get 200 and that’s it

Travis Wood started Friday night against the Cardinals but was done after one inning. The lefty was one inning shy of 200, and will be allowed to reach that mark.

“[Being shut down] is just to protect him and get his milestone, the 200 innings,” Dale Sveum said. “We made that decision and he was OK with it. It’s trying to protect him. There’s no need to push him any further.”

There have been no red flags regarding Wood’s health.

“No, it’s just a lot of innings, pitches,” Sveum said. “He’s thrown about 100 pitches every start. He can get that milestone out of the way and he doesn’t have to prove anything else.”

Did Wood fight Sveum and the Cubs management on this?

“No,” Sveum said.

The Cardinals batted around against Wood in the first, and tallied on a two-run double by Yadier Molina and a RBI single by Jon Jay.

— Carrie Muskat

9/27 Cubs lineup

The Cubs open their final series of the season on Friday at Busch Stadium against the Cardinals, who have everything to gain from a win. The Cardinals can clinch the NL Central if they beat the Cubs, or the Reds beat the Pirates. In addition, the Cardinals can clinch home field in the NLDS if they beat the Cubs or the Rockies beat the Dodgers.

The Cubs, on the other hand, are wrapping things up. Travis Wood gets the start. He’s 3-4 in his career against the Cardinals, and 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA in four starts this year. Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Murphy 3B
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Bogusevic LF
Barney 2B
T. Wood P

9/27 Extra bases

* With one inning tonight, Cubs starting pitcher Travis Wood will reach 200 for the first time in his big league career. The lefty will join teammate Jeff Samardzija (207 2/3 innings) in reaching the milestone. Entering the game, only two other pairs of National League teammates have reached 200 innings this season: Philadelphia’s Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels and Cincinnati’s Mat Latos and Homer Bailey. With 4 1/3 innings tonight, the Cardinals’ Lance Lynn would join teammate Adam Wainwright in the 200 club. Wood and Samardzija would become the first pair of Cubs teammates to reach 200 innings since Ryan Dempster and Ted Lilly did so in 2008.

In the last 40 years, only two Cubs left-handed pitchers have reached 200 innings: Lilly (twice in 2007 and 2008) and Jamie Moyer (twice in 1987 and 1988)

* Wood begins tonight with a 2.98 ERA. In the last 50 years, only one Cubs left-handed pitcher has turned in a sub-3.00 ERA with at least 200 innings pitched, and that was in 1963 when Dick Ellsworth had a 2.11 ERA. No Cubs lefty in the 50 seasons since Ellsworth has compiled an ERA of 3.10 or less with at least 200 innings.

Going back further to 1920, only four Cubs left-handed pitchers have tossed at least 200 innings with an ERA of less than 3.00 covering those 94 seasons: Ellsworth, Johnny Schmitz (twice in 1946 and 1948), Larry French (1935) and Hippo Vaughn (1920).

* The Cubs have 90 quality starts this season, tied for fifth-most in the NL and 17 more than the 73 quality efforts Cubs starting pitchers recorded last season. In their 90 quality starts this year, Cubs pitchers have gone 42-20 with 28 no-decisions and a 1.93 ERA (131 ER/610.2 IP). The team is 14 games above .500 in those 90 games, posting a 52-38 record.

* The Cubs are 18-38 (.321) in their last 56 games starting July 29, the lowest winning percentage in the NL since that date. However, the Cubs turned in a 30-25 record in 55 games from May 26-July 28, a .545 winning percentage that was fourth-best in the NL in that span

9/25 Cubs 4, Pirates 2

The Pirates may be headed to the postseason but the Cubs were able to celebrate one more win at home Wednesday. Darnell McDonald hit a pair of doubles and a tiebreaking three-run homer to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Pirates and close the home portion of their schedule on a positive note in front of 26,171 at Wrigley Field.

After the final out, the Cubs players and coaches tipped their caps and waved to the fans from in front of the dugout to say goodbye.

“It was a nice gesture,” Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. “It hasn’t been a good season, but it’s nice to see the fans come out and to win the last game was nice.”

The Cubs had not beaten Pirates starter Francisco Liriano in four previous meetings, but with the game tied at 1 in the sixth, Donnie Murphy singled and Junior Lake walked to set up McDonald’s first home run since April 30, 2012. Despite their struggles this season, the Cubs lead the National League in home runs on their home turf with 102. McDonald had doubled to lead off the fourth but was easily thrown out on a bad baserunning move as he tried to advance to third on Ryan Sweeney’s fielder’s choice.

“I definitely wanted to atone for that,” McDonald said.

The Cubs would like to make up for this season. They finished 31-50 at Wrigley Field, setting a franchise record for most losses at home in a season. There were some gaffes Wednesday as Pedro Alvarez reached third on shortstop Starlin Castro’s error in the Pirates fourth, but also some highs as Murphy ended the inning with a leaping catch of Clint Barmes’ liner, then stepped on third for the double play.

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta, acquired in July from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman deal, is vying for a spot in the 2014 rotation. The right-hander gave up one run on four hits over six innings, and was able to escape the messes.

“There are going to be jams in the course of the game,” Sveum said. “The difference between guys who have a good season and sustain innings is guys who get out of those jams.”

In nine starts with the Cubs, Arrieta held opponents to a .185 batting average, striking out 37 over 51 2/3 innings. He credited the change of scenery as well as the Cubs coaching staff, beginning at Triple-A Iowa with pitching coach Mike Mason, for the improvement.

“I just feel more confident and more prepared to put together quality starts and quality outings than I was in the past,” Arrieta said. “I think that will show dividends.”

Liriano had given up four runs over 29 innings in his four previous outings against the Cubs, and on Wednesday, was charged with four runs over five-plus innings.

“We just got some balls to fall,” McDonald said of the difference against the Pirates lefty. “Liriano’s tough. He almost no-hit us the last time out. Guys got some hits early, and when you get hits, it breeds confidence in the lineup. You can’t make many mistakes against good teams and good pitchers like that. Fortunately, we were able to overcome mistakes and get the win.”

The Pirates have secured a postseason berth, but they are still jockeying for position with the Cardinals and Reds, who were eliminated from winning the NL Central with a loss Wednesday to the Nationals. The Cubs find themselves still playing a minor role as they head to St. Louis for the final three games of the season.

“We still have three games left and obviously it’s not looking good for Cincinnati and Pittsburgh right now [to win the division], but hopefully we can help them out and win Friday and see what happens the next two days,” Sveum said.

They can definitely learn from watching the Pirates.

“We’re trying to get to where these teams are at that we’re playing down the stretch,” McDonald said. “We’re watching how they go about their business, how they play the game. It’s important for us as a young team. I think every one of us in here wants to finish the season strong.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/25 Sveum waits for word

Dale Sveum is signed for next season but the Cubs manager and his coaching staff were expected to find out their status for 2014 on Monday in meetings with Theo Epstein.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie and say you’re not wondering what’s going to happen four, five days from now,” Sveum said Wednesday. “That’s just human nature. There’s nothing you can do about it, or control those decisions. You just keep plugging away.”

Last week, Epstein would not say whether Sveum would return, but said the manager and staff were being evaluated. Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer have said Sveum will not be judged on the Cubs’ record, knowing that the team is in rebuilding mode. Sveum knew that when he took the job.

“Nothing’s really changed,” Sveum said. “The bottom line is we haven’t won as many games as we’d like to. I knew getting this job there was going to be a good chance of people getting traded for prospects and that we needed to get the Minor League system much healthier and hit the jackpot on some free agents that we signed. Nothing’s really changed from what I was told. You’re never promised anything.”

Sveum, in his second full season as manager, said he understood that Epstein and Hoyer had a check list.

“That’s their job to evaluate the organization on a daily basis,” Sveum said. “Wins and losses, they’ve told everybody they’re not evaluating on wins and losses.”

The Cubs finish the season in St. Louis with a three-game series, starting Friday. Sveum and his coaching staff were expected to meet Monday in Chicago with Epstein and Hoyer.

“That’s part of the gig is knowing the day after the season,” Sveum said.

The Cubs have used a franchise record 56 players this season, with a few of those arriving via trades or waiver claims. Sveum is hoping fans can see the progress in the system, including players such as first-round Draft pick Kris Bryant.

“If anybody pays attention, they know we’re much much healthier than we were a couple years ago,” Sveum said. “Our Minor League pitcher of the year [Kyle Hendricks] came from a trade, plus the [addition of] C.J. Edwards and the international signings we’ve had. In two years, it’s come a long way. I think the fans know, but patience can go so far.”

Sveum wasn’t going to alter his style in the final four games.

“I don’t try to do anything other than who I am,” he said. “That’s how I live my life, and that’s my personality. I don’t let a lot of things bother me or dwell on things. There are frustrations that go with everything but I don’t really take it home with me.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/25 Cubs lineup vs. Pirates

The Cubs play their final home game of the season on Wednesday against the Pirates at Wrigley Field. Here is the lineup:

Castro SS
Barney 2B
Rizzo 1B
Murphy 3B
Lake LF
McDonald RF
Sweeney CF
Boscan C
Arrieta P

9/25 Cubs vs. Cardinals

The Cubs close the season with a three-game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals, who are trying to wrap up the NL Central. The Cubs have three pitchers to reach 30 starts apiece (Jeff Samardzija, 32; Travis Wood, 31; Edwin Jackson, 30) for the first time since 2008, when Ted Lilly (34), Ryan Dempster (33) and Carlos Zambrano (30) did so. Despite setting a franchise mark with 56 players used, the Cubs have utilized just nine starting pitchers, its fewest since nine started in 2010.

Here are the pitching matchups vs. the Cardinals:

Friday: LHP Travis Wood (9-11, 2.98) vs. RHP Lance Lynn (14-10, 4.09)
Satuday: RHP Edwin Jackson (8-17, 4.74) vs. RHP Joe Kelly (9-5, 2.81)
Sunday: RHP Jeff Samardzija (8-12, 4.33) vs. RHP Adam Wainwright (18-9, 3.01)

9/24 Extra bases

* With top prospect Javier Baez not playing in the Arizona Fall League, the Cubs have added infielder Wes Darvill to the Mesa Solar Sox roster.

“He’s an interesting player and does a lot of things well on the field and has good instincts,” Theo Epstein said. “It’ll be a nice opportunity for him.”

Darvill, 22, a fifth round pick in 2009, began this season at Class A Kane County, and batted .347 in 15 games before he was promoted to high A Daytona, and hit .253 in 79 games. A left-handed hitter, he played primarily at second base, but also played third and shortstop.

Albert Almora, the Cubs’ No. 1 pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, was on the Mesa taxi squad, but now will have the chance to play every day, Epstein said.

The Cubs also pulled Arodys Vizcaino off the AFL roster so he could pitch in instructional league, and were expected to add a pitcher to Mesa.

* Second baseman Darwin Barney did not start Tuesday, but will be back in the lineup on Wednesday in the home finale. Barney was batting .156 in 20 games this month. Could he be worn down?

“You never know,” manager Dale Sveum said. “I don’t know about physically but mentally he’s probably not where he wants to be.”

* The Cubs have four players converting to catcher during instructional league, including Ben Carhart, Gioskar Amaya, Giuseppe Papaccio, and Jordan Hankins. Epstein said the moves were an “experiment” for the quartet. Carhart played first and third with Daytona this season, batting .247, while Amaya played second base for Kane County. Hankins and Pappacio, both infielders, were selected in this year’s Draft in the 11th and 18th rounds, respectively.

— Carrie Muskat