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9/28 Rizzo: We want to win the division

The Cubs closed the 2014 season with a win and lots of momentum, and Anthony Rizzo made it clear what the goal is for next year.

“To be the [National League] Central champs,” Rizzo said after hitting a two-run homer in the Cubs’ season finale, a 5-2 win over the Brewers. “[We want] to win the division, and obviously, that’s the playoffs and we want to go deep.

“It takes a lot of work and we have a very tough division and teams aren’t going anywhere in it, it’s only getting better,” Rizzo said. “That’s our expectation, that’s the message we want to send.”

The Cubs finished fifth for the fifth straight season, but the future looks bright with players like Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks in the mix.

“All those guys know we want to step it up, and we need to go into Spring Training prepared to be a better club with the expectations of us improving and making ourselves hopefully a topic of conversation throughout the season,” manager Rick Renteria said.

– Carrie Muskat

9/28 Cubs 5, Brewers 2

Anthony Rizzo hit his 32nd home run, a two-run blast in the first, and scored on Arismendy Alcantara’s tie-breaking two-run double in the sixth to lift the Cubs to a 4-2 victory over the Brewers in the season finale Sunday in front of 33,837 at Miller Park.

Under new manager Rick Renteria, the Cubs finished 73-89, and below .500 for the fifth straight season, but they did top last year’s 66-win total and head into 2015 encouraged by the play of some of the top prospects, including Alcantara and Jorge Soler. It’s the first time the Cubs have won 73 games since a 75-87 season in 2010.

The Brewers, on the other hand, have to be wondering what happened after leading the division for 150 days and not making the playoffs.

Jacob Turner picked up the win, starting in place of Kyle Hendricks, who was scratched after the Cubs decided the rookie right-hander had reached his innings limit. Turner improved to 3-1 in six career games (five starts) against the Brewers, which included a win at Wrigley Field on Sept. 1.

Chris Coghlan walked to lead off the game against Brewers starter Mike Fiers, stole second and one out later, tallied on Rizzo’s 32nd home run. Rizzo is the first Cubs left-handed batter to hit 32 homers in a single season since Rick Monday did so in 1976.

– Carrie Muskat

9/28 Thanks to everyone

0928cubs

Appreciate all the comments and posts throughout the season. Here’s to a winning 2015.

– Carrie Muskat

9/28 Rusin claimed by Rockies

The Rockies claimed left-handed pitcher Chris Rusin off waivers from the Cubs. In 24 big league games over three seasons, Rusin was 4-9 with a 4.97 ERA. A fourth-round pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, Rusin was 8-13 with a 4.31 ERA in 23 starts for Iowa this year, including a no-hitter in May against New Orleans. He has a 38-41 record and 3.84 ERA in six Minor League seasons.

9/28 Game 162 lineup

Jacob Turner gets the start Sunday as the Cubs close the regular season at Miller Park against the Brewers. Here’s the lineup:

Coghlan LF
Baez SS
Rizzo 1B
Soler RF
Valbuena 3B
Alcantara CF
Valaika 2B
Baker C
Turner P

9/27 Starlin Castro update

It’s been a frustrating final month of the season for Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro, who will head home to the Dominican Republic after Sunday but plans to continue his rehab at the team’s facility in Mesa, Ariz. Castro, who injured his left ankle on Sept. 2 when he slid awkwardly into home plate, was examined Saturday by team orthopedic specialist Dr. Stephen Gryzlo at Miller Park. All the shortstop has been able to do is rehab and watch.

“It’s big time frustrating,” Castro said Saturday. “It’s tough for me because I worked really hard to come back for one game or two. It’s not going to happen but I’m not going to get frustrated. It’s a really important season next year and I’m going to be healthy.”

If there was some way he could get on the field for one more play, he would, but Castro is still wearing a supportive boot on his left foot.

The 2014 season was Castro’s fifth in the big leagues, and he finished as the top hitting shortstop in the National League (.290) ahead of the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez. This is the first time in the last four seasons that Castro will not lead the NL in errors. He made 15 in 133 games for a .973 fielding percentage, the highest in his young career.

“I think he’s grown up,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “I think he took a lot upon himself. As the season progressed, he was more accountable to himself and to his teammates. I think he worked very, very hard to overcome a lot of real and or perceived deficits in this game. He also became, as far as I could tell, a much better teammate. I think everybody started to gravitate to him. I think it’s been a positive season for him.”

Castro will spend time this offseason with Cubs strength coach Tim Buss to prepare for the season.

“I’ll just try to be healthy,” Castro said. “That’s a really important goal for me. I’ll try to do my full Spring Training without injuries. I’m prepared for that. When that happens, it’ll be better season.”

He sees a bright future for the Cubs. Castro has had plenty of time to watch young players like Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Arismendy Alcantara.

“We see a lot of good things here,” Castro said. “Those kids, those young guys, we have good communication. We’ll show next year that we can fight, we can fight with whatever. We can play baseball to win. I think we’re pretty close.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/27 Cubs lineup

Tsuyoshi Wada makes his final start Saturday as the Cubs play their penultimate game of the season. Here’s the lineup:

Coghlan LF
Baez SS
Rizzo 1B
Soler RF
Valbuena 3B
Castillo C
Alcantara 2B
Kalish CF
Wada P

9/26 Extra bases

* Javier Baez went 4-for-41 with 20 strikeouts on the Cubs’ final homestand, and leads the Major Leagues in strikeouts this month. And Theo Epstein isn’t that surprised.

“It’s gone very much as expected,” Epstein said Friday of Baez’s first two months in the big leagues.

“His confidence is high,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Baez. “Just like everyone, he understands he needs to make adjustments and knows he needs to do better.”

Renteria is quick to remind everyone that Baez is just 21 years old. Epstein said Baez is aware of what he needs to do, adding that sometimes it just takes an offseason to make those adjustments. Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro both did that after struggling in 2013; both had All-Star seasons this year. What’s encouraging, Epstein said, is that Baez is open to making adjustments.

“It’s like getting comfortable in the big leagues — you can’t just tell someone, ‘Get comfortable,'” Epstein said. “He readily admits he’ll be more comfortable in the big leagues than he is now. Sometimes you have to just experience it for yourself and the light goes on with one swing or one video session or one offseason when you can take a deep breath and come back differently.”

* Asked if Renteria will return to manage in 2015, Epstein said “absolutely.” However, there could be changes with the coaching staff. Epstein and Renteria said they expected to announce something Tuesday.

* Jacob Turner will start Sunday in place of rookie right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who is being shut down after reaching 183 innings. Hendricks totaled 102 2/3 innings in 17 starts at Triple-A Iowa, and 80 1/3 innings in 13 starts with the Cubs.

* Edwin Jackson has accepted the late season switch to the bullpen but Epstein said Friday the right-hander needs to come into next year and show he can be counted on. This year is the second year of Jackson’s four-year, $52 million deal, and it hasn’t gone that well. He led the National League in losses last season with 18, and is third this year.

“I think Edwin’s aware that he needs to turn his Cubs career around and work hard and show better form that he’s someone who can be counted on,” Epstein said Friday. “I think the default position is that given the competition we’re going to have, guys will have to need to pitch well to have a spot.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/26 Cubs lineup

Rookie Eric Jokisch gets the start Friday as the Cubs open their final series of the regular season. There are three more to go at Miller Park vs. the Brewers. Here’s the lineup:

Coghlan LF
Baez SS
Rizzo 1B
Soler RF
Valbuena 3B
Alcantara 2B
Szczur CF
Lopez C
Jokisch P

This will be Jokisch’s first Major League start, and fourth appearance. He’s had three relief appearances.

“For me, it was good to get the first three outings in, get my feet wet, and not jump straight into a start,” Jokisch said Wednesday. “I’m going to take it like every other start. I’ve got my routine. I’m going to go after them. It’s the same game. That’s what [Iowa pitching coach] Bruce Walton said to me all year. When you go to the big leagues, it’s a big huge game with a bunch of fans and lights but you just play the little game of pounding down in the strike zone. I’m going to focus on that and make sure I breathe and just go out and pitch.”

Walton was very instrumental, Jokisch said.

“I had some struggles early on in Iowa and we made some huge adjustments and a huge mentality change in how to approach pitching, and he’s such a good guy and really cares about the players,” Jokisch said. “For it to pay off and me to be here at all, a lot of credit goes to him.”

This will be Jokisch’s last outing for 2014.

“Any day I can spend in the big leagues, I’ll take that,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun up here and it’s a joy to come to work every day. It’s also been a long season. I was talking with [Kyle] Hendricks — we both had our first Spring Training that started in February and it’s our first time through September, too. We’re definitely dragging a little bit and it’s part of the grind, and it’s good to get used to it now because hopefully we can do that for a long time is pitch into September and October. I’m a little tired but I’ll take any day in the big leagues that I can.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/26 Cubs players on Jeter

I asked three Cubs players for one word to describe Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, and say why they picked that word.

Carlos Villanueva:
Respect.

“In 2011, I faced him in New York. We went back to Toronto, and to go to the clubhouse there, you have to go past the hitting cage. It just so happened he was walking in the same time I was coming in. I was starstruck — it’s Jeter. The guy just spoke to me like one of his peers. He remembered that I punched him out in the first at-bat — I think I threw a 3-2 changeup. He kind of smiled; I guess he was surprised. He mentioned it, he said, ‘Man, that was a good pitch you threw me that first at-bat of the game.’ I’ve played with a lot of superstars and some of their egos are a little up there more than you would want them to be, but this guy was so much about what you want the game to be. I don’t think I have as much respect for any opposing hitter than I have for him. A guy who conducts himself the way he does, the way he has for so many years in such a difficult city to play in, it’s an example I wish every player could see and follow. It doesn’t compare when everybody says it, but the respect, even not knowing him and seeing how he conducts his business, no showmanship, none of that stuff. Just winning and doing things the way you’re supposed to, and spend time enjoying the game. It’s something I don’t think we’ll see as good as he’s done it for such a long time. He respects the game.”

Starlin Castro:
Respect.

“He’s one of the greatest players who I’ve watched since I was a little kid. It’s how he plays baseball, how he controls the situation on the biggest stage with the Yankees. Not everybody can take that big responsibility to be a captain on the biggest team like that. It’s also how he plays the game, how his teammates respect him. Not everybody can do that. We won’t see that for a long time, everybody doesn’t have that kind of respect. In the world, we have a lot of Hall of Famers and great players, but to be captain on one team like the Yankees, not everybody can do it. Respect. That’s the most important thing. Everybody who plays on the Yankees, everybody respects him, everybody does what he says in a good way. He’s awesome. Everybody pays attention to him, and everybody listens to him because they respect him, and not only the players but the coaches, everybody.”

John Baker:
No. 2

“I think about No. 2, and the reason I think about No. 2 is because it’s the perfectly appropriate number for Derek Jeter because I think he’s the best player of all time. He’s gone through the steroid generation and never been in trouble and stayed relevant as baseball has improved. At the same time, he always takes a back seat to his team. No. 2 for me is the perfect number for Derek Jeter because he’s the best player who doesn’t want everyone to see him as the best player and it makes him the best teammate. No. 1 would be inappropriate because it would be selfish. No. 2 is perfect.”

– Carrie Muskat

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