September 2013

9/19 Barney: “It’s hard to blame anybody”

The Cubs lost 101 games in Dale Sveum’s first season as manager, and entered Thursday’s game with 89 losses and 10 games to play. The front office has said it will not evaluate Sveum on the basis of wins and losses. But an evaluation is underway.

“In a season like this, it’s hard to blame anybody,” Darwin Barney said. “We’re all accountable for our own actions and our play on the field. … It is a business and any time a team has this kind of a sesaon, there’s obviously going to be evaluations,” he said. “That’s not to say [Sveum] did a bad job or any of us think he did a bad job — I stand behind Dale. It’s just an evaluation and we’ll see how it goes.”

Theo Epstein will meet with Sveum and the coaching staff on Sept. 30 in Chicago after the regular season ends.

“I think a lot of us stand behind Dale and think he’s the right fit for this team,” Barney said. “That’s obviously not our call. Everybody’s being evaluated now, it’s top to bottom. It’s how can we make this better and turn this around.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/19 Strop to close

Kevin Gregg has saved the Cubs this season, stepping in to notch his third career 30-save season. But the Cubs have decided to look ahead, and will use right-hander Pedro Strop in save situations in the final games. Strop, acquired from the Orioles in the Scott Feldman trade, was 0-for-3 in save opportunities this season, and has 15 holds.

“I’ll try to get him an opportunity,” manager Dale Sveum said Thursday of Strop.

The switch is not a reflection on Gregg’s performance. The right-hander was 32-for-37 in save situations. But Gregg will be a free agent after this season. Strop will be entering his first arbitration year.

“Kevin’s done far and above the call of duty,” Sveum said. “He’s done one heck of a job. It’s going to be an opportunity [for Strop]. We want to see what he does in that role. Kevin has been one of the better closers in all of baseball. God knows where we’d be without him.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/19 Cubs lineup

Jake Arrieta closes the Cubs’ series against the Brewers on Thursday at Miller Park. Here’s the lineup:

Castro SS
Valbuena 3B
Rizzo 1B
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Castillo C
Lake LF
Watkins 2B
Arrieta P

9/19 Cubs vs. Braves

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)

9/18 Sveum: “I understand the process”

On Tuesday, Theo Epstein said Dale Sveum was being evaluated just like the players, and wouldn’t say definitely whether he would return as the Cubs manager. Sveum said Wednesday he understood the process and expected to know his future once the regular season ends.

“We’ve been in good communication through all this, and I understand that they go through what they have to go through on their end as far as the evaluation of myself and the coaching staff,” Sveum said Wednesday about conversations he’s had with Epstein. “That’s basically where we are. It’s the same as last year and it’ll always go on. That’s the way it is.”

The Cubs lost 101 games in Sveum’s first year at the helm and have lost 88 so far with 11 games to go. Did Sveum feel he was safe for next year?

“I would hope to think so,” he said. “I’ve been around the game long enough to understand how the whole process works. I’ve been happy with the way we’ve done things. Some things haven’t gone too well and some things have gone really well. I’m happy with my coaching staff and all that. That’s up to [the front office] and they’re the bosses, and they make those decisions and they have all kinds of things to evaluate.”

One of the criteria Epstein said he was using to evaluate Sveum was the development of young players such as Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo. Both have struggled this season.

“”We all are accountable for people’s production,” Sveum said. “Obviously, they haven’t had too good a season. On the other hand, it’s only Rizzo’s second season and we seem to forget that a lot of times. This kid came up last year on top of the world, coming from Triple-A, and fell right in and was living on electricity last year.

“This year, he’s putting too much pressure on himself for whatever reason,” Sveum said of the first baseman, who was batting .227 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs. “This is a grueling season and it’s a grueling thing to be in the third hole in the Chicago Cubs lineup in Chicago. Those are things that are learning experiences that go on.

“Castro has already been there and done that as far as two, three good seasons in a row but Castro is really swinging the bat like he can [now], and going down the stretch, he’s figured some things out and is doing really well right now.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/18 Instructional league

The Cubs will open instructional league on Sunday in Mesa, Ariz., which allows some of the Minor Leaguers a chance to work on their skills in game situations. Here is the roster of players expected to participate:

Jose Arias
Paul Blackburn
Johermyn Chavez
Trevor Clifton
Scott Frazier
David Garner
Zach Godley
Trevor Graham
Tyler Ihrig
Trey Lang
Erick Leal
Dillon Maples
Jeferson Mejia
Juan Paniagua
Brad Renner
Jose Rosario
Tyler Skulina
Daury Torrez
Jen-Ho Tseng
Duane Underwood
Michael Wagner
Sam Wilson

Tyler Alamo
Cael Brockmeyer
Ben Carhart
Erick Castillo
Mark Malave
Alberto Mineo
Wilfredo Petit
Will Remillard

Gioskar Amaya
Jeimer Candelario
Frandy De La Rosa
Kelvin Freeman
Jordan Hankins
Jesse Hodges
Daniel Lockhart
Giuseppe Papaccio
Carlos Penalver
Gleyber Torres

Jeffrey Baez
Yasiel Balaguert
Charcer Burks
Rashad Crawford
Jose Dore
Shawon Dunston
Eloy Jimenez
Trey Martin

9/18 Cubs lineup & more

Chris Rusin enters Wednesday’s game against the Brewers with a 2.85 ERA, the lowest ERA of any rookie left-handed starting pitcher in baseball this season. Next closest are the Reds’ Tony Cingrani (2.92 ERA) and the Dodgers’ Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.03 ERA).

If Rusin ended the season today with a 2.85 ERA, it would be the lowest by a Cubs left-handed rookie starting pitcher (minimum 10 starts) in 100 years, when George Pierce turned in a 2.31 ERA in 21 appearances, 14 starts, in 1913.

Here’s Wednesday’s lineup:

Castro SS
Valbuena 3B
Rizzo 1B
Navarro C
Schierholtz RF
Sweeney CF
Bogusevic LF
Barney 2B
Rusin P

* The Cubs are nearly .500 against teams outside their division this year at 40-43 while turning in a 23-45 mark against the NL Central, the lowest winning percentage (.338) by any team against its own division in baseball (Houston is next closest at 25-48, .342 vs. AL West)

* The Cubs are 9-for-55 (.164) with runners in scoring position through the first nine games of this road trip. The team .219 season batting average (250-for-1,143) with RISP is lowest in the Majors.

— Carrie Muskat

9/18 Convention passes on sale 9/24

Individual weekend passes for the 2014 Cubs Convention will go on sale next Tuesday at 10 a.m. CT. Each weekend pass is $60 plus convenience fees and is valid for all three days, January 17-19, at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers in downtown Chicago. Passes will be available for purchase by visiting or calling 1-800-THE-CUBS.

The 29th Annual Cubs Convention will feature Cubs players, coaches, alumni and some of the organization’s top Minor League prospects. Fans will be able to meet, listen to, and secure autographs. This year’s Cubs Convention attendees will get a first look at many of the promotions and activities planned to celebrate 100 years of Wrigley Field during the upcoming season.

Attendees are still able to book rooms at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers by visiting or calling the hotel at 800-325-3535 and asking for the Cubs Convention rate of $183 per night plus tax. Hotel guests may purchase up to four Cubs Convention passes for a reduced rate of $20 each.

A percentage of the proceeds from Cubs Convention benefits Chicago Cubs Charities. To date, Cubs Convention has raised approximately $4 million for Chicago Cubs Charities.

9/17 Brewers 4, Cubs 3

Jeff Samardzija reached 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career and also notched his first recorded dugout argument with coach David Bell.

Carlos Gomez smacked a tying two-run homer in the seventh, and pinch-runner Jeff Bianchi scored on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Logan Schafer in the ninth to lift the Brewers to a 4-3 victory Tuesday night over the Cubs at Miller Park.

It got interesting in the Brewers’ sixth. Milwaukee led 1-0 when Norichika Aoki tripled down the right field line. Samardzija escaped any damage as Jean Segura popped up and Jonathan Lucroy hit into a fielder’s choice with Aoki getting caught in a rundown. Lucroy tried to reach second on the play, but was thrown out. After the inning ended, Samardzija and Bell got into a heated discussion in the dugout. It’s the second argument in as many days for the Cubs. On Monday, Edwin Jackson and manager Dale Sveum had an animated shouting match in the dugout when the pitcher was pulled.

The problem between Samardzija and Bell was that the pitcher wasn’t happy with where first baseman Anthony Rizzo was positioned against Aoki. That’s Bell’s job.

“They were just screaming a little bit about our strategy,” Sveum said.

But in back to back games?

“Sometimes that happens,” Sveum said. “We’ve obviously been fortunate to not have anything like that happen. Unfortunately, it’s back to back nights. Tonight, that was really nothing.”

“We were just talking strategy,” Samardzija said of the disagreement.

“Some of the best teams I’ve ever been on, and the best players I’ve been around, this stuff happens quite often, unfortunately,” Bell said. “It’s not something you want to have happen but in the heat of the moment when you’re competing, like I said he does, and we all do, I think things like this are going to happen. The best teams and best players, it seems to happen more. It’s not a big deal.”

How much of a competitor is Samardzija? Before anyone could ask him a question, Bell said, “I love everything about this guy, the way he competes and the way he cares and the way he goes about everything and his intensity. It’s going to make him a great pitcher for a long time. I absolutely love the guy.”

Samardzija has seen plenty of brouhahas during his Cubs career involving Carlos Zambrano and former manager Mike Quade. On a scale of what he’s witnessed in the past, the right-hander graded Tuesday’s incident a “one.”

“There are a lot of cameras out there, that’s the way it is,” Samardzija said. “It’s just competitive dudes, man, playing to win a game. It’s good to see. People care. Our record isn’t where we want it to be right now and nobody’s happy about it. We’re out here scraping and clawing and doing everything we can to win a ballgame.

“‘Belly’ is the epitome of that, of doing whatever he can to win a ballgame,” Samardzija said of the third base coach. “He cares, everyone on this team cares. Nobody is happy where we’re at as a team and we just want to win every game we can. We’ve had some pretty good characters here on these teams that would overshadow this.”

Welington Castillo gave the Cubs a 3-1 lead in the seventh with a two-run homer. But Samardzija walked Aramis Ramirez to open the Brewers’ seventh, and Gomez followed with his 20th home run off a hanging slider to tie the game.

“Besides one pitch, he was really good,” Sveum said of Samardzija. “He used his fastball, pitched inside, did really well pitching inside and had his fastball working really well.”

In the Milwaukee ninth, Justin Grimm walked Ramirez, who was lifted for Bianchi, and he moved up on Gomez’s single. Scooter Gennett then bunted, but he was safe on an error by Grimm, who could not field the ball cleanly and whose throw pulled Rizzo off the bag. With the bases loaded, Caleb Gindl popped up to shortstop Starlin Castro, and Schafer bunted to Grimm, with Bianchi scoring.

“Leadoff walks never help,” Grimm said. “I threw some close pitches on the outside and they were a little out. Then the base hit, and then I don’t field my position and didn’t give myself any help at all. Bases loaded, and the guy got the bunt down. Maybe I should’ve gone fastball, I don’t know. I thought it was a good pitch [to Schafer],” Grimm said. “I was trying to get the guy out. It didn’t work out in my favor. I made it really tough on myself.”

— Carrie Muskat

9/17 Free agency not the answer now

The Cubs offense has sputtered this season, and one of Theo Epstein’s offseason goals is to find creative ways to have a more productive lineup, just don’t expect the team to be spending on free agents.

“Right now, we’re clearly no where close to where we want to be offensively,” said Epstein, who met with manager Dale Sveum on Tuesday to discuss the roster. “Getting on base will be a hallmark of this organization and we’re not good at it yet. And frankly, a lot of the more talented young hitters who we have coming tend to be more aggressive and not naturally on the patient side.”

Finding those perfect hitters won’t be easy.

“I don’t think we’re going to get to where we need to be through free agency for the short term, honestly,” Epstein said. “Given the needs that we have and where we are and the likely price tags on the market, I don’t think we’ll have the ability to add multiple impact pieces in free agency.

“We’re going to have to take a multi-dimensional approach to changing things,” he said. “We won’t solve our problems through free agency. It’s a very viable and sometimes attractive way to add talent and to be a great organization you have to do it from time to time. Given our situation on a lot of fronts it’s not the cure for our ills.”

The Cubs have gotten the go-ahead from the city of Chicago to install a video scoreboard at Wrigley Field next season but have yet to determine whether they can do that because of possible litigation from roof top owners. What does that have to do with the team? The Cubs need the revenue from advertising on the scoreboard.

“We know we’re not going to be able to pick and chose what we want in free agency,” Epstein said. “We’re going to be aggressive where we can be, and when we can be.”

— Carrie Muskat