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9/30 The Year in Quotes

CSNChicago.com’s Patrick Mooney compiled a “Year in Cubs Quotes,” which summed up some of the highs and lows of the 2014 season. Here are excerpts:

* “It’s as peaceful as I’ve ever been as a person.” — Rick Renteria, the 53rd manager in franchise history, at the opening of spring training, Feb. 13.

* “You guys are going to crown them the next Babe Ruth.” — first baseman Anthony Rizzo, responding to reporters asking about all the prospects, Feb. 18.

* “Just be myself. Be me. My mind’s clean and ready to play hard.” — shortstop Starlin Castro, promising to return to an All-Star level, Feb. 19.

* “It sucks for the person who parked there. They’re parking too close to the field.” — mega-prospect Javier Baez, after shattering a car window with a batting-practice bomb at Cubs Park, Feb. 21.

* “(Baez) doesn’t care. He’s like: ‘Oh, cool.’ Not cool for whoever’s car it was, I guess.” — eyewitness Logan Watkins, Feb. 21.

* “Losing sucks.” — Theo Epstein, after a reporter asked if winning is “overemphasized” in professional sports, April 22.

* “I was pretty hungry for that one.” — Jeff Samardzija, after allowing one unearned run in nine innings and throwing 126 pitches during a 12-inning loss to the White Sox, May 5.

* “I do believe in second chances. I do believe in redemption. I do believe that Manny has turned his life around for the better in the last couple of years.” — Epstein, stunning the baseball world by signing Manny Ramirez to a minor-league deal as a player/coach for Triple-A Iowa, May 25.

* “I got some goose bumps there. That’s kind of why you play this game, for moments like that.” — Jake Arrieta, after being four outs away from a no-hitter against the Red Sox and getting a standing ovation at Fenway Park, June 30.

* “We shared a beer and a cigarette and sent him on his way. It’s just tough to see your boys leave.” — James Russell’s farewell to Samardzija, July 5.

* “We certainly hope that this is the last year that we’ll be obvious sellers at the trade deadline.” — Epstein, July 5.

* “I got beer. I got chocolate milk. I got hair gel. I got shampoo. I got body wash. And then I got some more beer. It was great. Best shower I’ve ever taken.” — catcher John Baker, after pitching the 16th inning and scoring the game-winning run to beat the Rockies in the longest game in franchise history, July 29-30.

* “I was like: ‘Are you serious?’ And then I realized I was really going to the big leagues. I got really excited. I called my mom, told my brother and everybody started jumping around and crying.” — Javier Baez, before debuting at Coors Field and hitting the game-winning homer against the Rockies, Aug. 5.

* “The best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer — certainly from a baseball standpoint — was put together by 13-, 12-year-old kids from the South Side. At industry meetings, in lots of front offices around the game, people talk about (it). People ask the question: How can we get young kids playing baseball again, especially in cities, especially in the inner-city? There’s nothing that a bunch of suits in a boardroom can do that would be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be, make baseball cool again for young kids.” — Epstein, on the Jackie Robinson West team that won a national title at the Little League World Series, Aug. 27.

* “We’re just waiting for Bryant now.” — Baez, after Jorge Soler hit two homers to beat the Cardinals in St. Louis, Aug. 29.

* “To be the NL Central champs … that’s the message we’re going to send.” — Rizzo’s expectations for next year’s team, Sept. 28.

9/30 Scouting report: Pirates

As the playoffs get underway, two Major League scouts offered their take on the National League Central contenders. The Pirates play host to the Giants on Wednesday in the Wild Card game at PNC Park. Here’s their take on the Bucs:

Scout #1:

Andrew McCutchen

“In my opinion, what makes him such a good hitter is he has very minimal movement at the plate and a very quick bat,” said one scout. “It allows him to get a good long look at the ball, and therefore swing at more pitches in the zone. You can’t pitch him any one way — you have to mix up speeds and locations. His preference is to pull but he can/will use the opposite field and has some power that way as well. He’s a good all-around hitter with a great feel for the strike zone. The best way to get him out is to move the ball around the zone on him and if he doesn’t bite, make the next guy beat you and don’t let McCutchen beat you.”

Josh Harrison

“He’s a great story, and I’m rooting for him,” a scout said. “He has got a chance to play and has run with it. He can hit the ball the other way, not with authority, not like McCutchen, but his preference is to pull. He starts with an open stance and closes up with a soft dive in toward the plate. Harrison has some hook to his swing. With two strikes, he will gear down a touch and take more of a right center look to help him try to cover all pitches. You have to show him something in hard during the at-bat or he will go out and hook you to left field. He has filled in nicely at third base, making some nice plays.

“Pittsburgh’s secret weapon is no longer a secret — Josh Harrison has burst on the scene and is making a name for himself with his play. Manager Clint Hurdle knows how to get his guys motivated to play and is a good motivational manager.”

***

Scout #2:

Andrew McCutchen

“He’s one of the most exciting players in the game today,” said a second scout. “He’s an elite athlete who can beat you in so many ways. ‘Cutch’ can beat you with his offense, his defense and also his legs. He is the one guy that you can’t let beat you with the game on the line. He forces the defense to hurry on any routine ground ball and hustles down the line each time.

“Defensively, he has great baseball instincts and gets tremendous reads off the bat. He has a slightly above avg arm and is usually pretty accurate with his throws. He is a special player and will be in the MVP conversations again this year.”

Josh Harrison

“Harrison is a guy who grinded it out over the last few years and blossomed with the opportunity he has been given,” the scout said. “Josh is a special player in the fact he offers so much versatility giving the Pirates much flexibility when it comes to using him in so many different positions. Josh, a former college shortstop, can play all over the infield as well as the outfield. Guys like Josh are irreplaceable for a National League team like the Pirates. Josh has been a spark in the leadoff spot and was battling for the batting title. He’s settled in at third and is very athletic. He makes all the routine plays and most of the exciting ones. He plays with emotion and hustles each and every time out of the box and forces the defense to hustle and get the ball in as he will turn a single into a double very quickly. He has a good arm with power. Paired with McCutchen, they offer a dynamic 1-2 punch.”

– Carrie Muskat

9/29 Looking back at 2014 season

Baseball historian Bill Chuck provided these nuggest from the 2014 season:

1. In 2014, 15 MLB teams finished above .500, 15 teams below, and no team finished at .500.
2. No team had more home wins than the Angels (52), road wins than the Dodgers (49), Interleague wins than the Royals (15), and extra-inning wins than the Orioles (14).
3. Dodgers starters had the most wins this season with 76. The Diamondbacks the fewest with 41. Angels starters had the fewest losses with 42, the Twins and the Padres had the most with 70. The Indians bullpen had the most wins with 34, the Reds the fewest with 11. The Giants relief staff had the fewest losses with 14, the White Sox had the most with 32.
4. Freddie Freeman was the only player to play every game and every inning. He finished with 1448.2 inning played.
5. The players who played in the most wins this season are Mike Trout and Albert Pujols who appeared in 96 of the Angels 98 victories.
6. Ben Revere played in 86 of the Phillies 89 losses. No player played in more losses, including his teammate Chase Utley who appeared in 85 defeats.
7. In the 67 Astros victories in which Jose Altuve played, he hit .391. In the 64 White Sox victories in which Jose Abreu played, he hit .385.
8. You have to go back to 2006 to find a season in which an AL East did not have a postseason representative as a Wild Card team. The last time before that was 2002.

9/29 End of the party

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The Wrigley Field tours are over, as the ballpark is prepped for the renovation work.

9/29 Wrigley Field from Sheffield Ave.

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Crews are hauling scaffolding into the ballpark to prep the bleachers, while the Wrigley Field grounds crew continues to maintain the outfield grass.

9/29 Wrigley Field

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Waveland Avenue behind the left field bleachers at Wrigley Field is closed as city of Chicago crews wrap up their prep work for the renovation project.

9/29 Cubs 2014 stats leaders

Batting

Games played: Luis Valbuena, 149
RBI: Anthony Rizzo, 78
Hits: Starlin Castro, 154
Home runs: Rizzo, 32
Doubles: Valbuena and Castro, 33 each
Batting average: Castro .292

Pitching

Wins: Jake Arrieta, 10
Losses: Edwin Jackson, 15
ERA (starter): Kyle Hendricks 2.46 (13 games), Jake Arrieta 2.53 (25 games)
Innings pitched (starter): Travis Wood, 173 2/3 innings
Strikeouts (starter): Arrieta, 167
Quality starts: Arrieta, 18

Innings pitched (reliever): Justin Grimm, 69
ERA (reliever): Neil Ramirez, 1.44
Games (reliever): Grimm, 73
Strikeouts (reliever): Pedro Strop, 71
Saves: Hector Rondon, 29

* Cubs starting pitchers recorded 79 quality starts, yet had only 40 individual wins in those games.

* Ten players made their Major League debut: Rafael Lopez, Arismendy Alcantara, Jorge Soler, Matt Szczur, Javier Baez, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez, Eric Jokisch, and Tsuyoshi Wada.

* Starlin Castro led the Cubs with 386 assists, made 15 errors for .973 fielding percentage.

9/28 Extra bases

* The Cubs and White Sox finished 73-89 this season, the first time in the city’s history that the two teams posted identical records.

* If you’re looking ahead, the Cubs will pick ninth in the June 2015 First-Year Player Draft, according to MLBTradeRumors. Here’s the order based on how teams finished 2014:

1. Diamondbacks
2. Astros (for failure to sign 2014 No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken)
3. Rockies
4. Rangers
5. Astros
6. Twins
7. Red Sox
8. White Sox
9. Cubs
10. Phillies
11. Reds

The first 11 picks are protected, meaning that teams cannot lose those picks for signing free agents who have been extended qualifying offers.

– Carrie Muskat

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

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