Chicago's Inside Pitch
We begin the final Cubs homestand of the year tonight as the Pittsburgh Pirates come to Wrigley Field to open a three-game series. The Atlanta Braves celebrated their NL East division title yesterday in the visiting clubhouse. No sooner has the smell of champagne and cigar smoke begun to dissipate than we could have the same situation all over again tonight.
A victory tonight by the Pirates (89-67) and a loss in St. Louis by the Washington Nationals (84-72) would assure the Pirates their first postseason berth since 1992. The Pirates currently have one of the wild-card spots along with the Cincinnati Reds. They’re still trying to catch the Cardinals and win the NL Central. The Cubs finish in St. Louis this weekend, and it’s possible they could witness three celebrations.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum talked about a couple of the young players on the team this morning: Anthony Rizzo and Junior Lake. Rizzo is completing his first full year in the big leagues after coming up in June 2012 and having success. This year, it’s been a mixed bag.
“I think you have to analyze it in a way that we know how the game works and it’s his first time ever playing every single day in the big leagues,” Sveum said. “It’s his first time with the pressure of hitting third every single day, for the most part anyway. The 22 homers, 75, possibly 75 RBI for a second-year player isn’t the end of the world.
Can we have some peace and quiet around here, already? That was the feeling here at Wrigley at the end of what’s been a long week of trial and tribulation. As we reported this morning, the Cubs and closer Kevin Gregg have decided to let bygones be bygones, and Gregg will not be released after yesterday’s postgame session.
Gregg said he didn’t appreciate being told youngster Pedro Strop would close games the rest of the season, or at least that’s how he heard it. After some airing of words (some choice, no doubt) between team president Theo Epstein and Gregg, the pitcher apologized and cooler heads prevailed.
Theo said he would “sleep on” a decision about Gregg overnight, but Gregg said this morning Epstein called him last night and things were fine.
It’s always an eventful day on the Cubs beat, and today is no exception. We had both Theo Esptein and minor-league chief Jason McLeod talk to us on the field today. We’ll get to a few things here on the blog and flesh more out for the paper tomorrow (online tonight).
The one major news item is that catcher Welington Castillo had an MRI on his right knee this morning and that it revealed a partial tear in the meniscus and that he’ll have arthroscopic surgery. Theo said that, conservatively, the rehab is a 4-6-week process, so Castillo should easily be good to go by spring training barring any setbacks.
MILWUAKEE -- After a promising start to this 11-game road trip, the Cubs are trying to avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of the Brewers. The trip began with the Cubs taking two of three in Cincinnati before they lost three of four in Pittsburgh and the first three here.
“Going to Cincinnati and winning two out of three there, obviously, it hasn’t been real good at scoring runs and solidifying innings,” said manager Dale Sveum. “The bottom line is Pittsburgh, their pitching is going to hold you down. They were all close games, in every game. And here, once again, we just haven’t played very good.”
We’ll delve more into the offense for our take in tomorrow’s paper. But for this road trip, the numbers have not been good. Let’s take a look:
It was another busy, eventful and strange night at Miller Park last night, when the Cubs fell 4-3 in the bottom of the ninth inning on Logan Schafer’s bases-loaded suicide squeeze bunt. We’ll talk about that play in a sec, and we’ll also let Cubs president Theo Epstein go unfiltered on a number of topics. We can do that here in the blog because of the time-space continuum doesn’t hamper us here. And the readers seem to like it.
MILWAUKEE -- We’ll get to a few things today in advance to Game 2 of the Cubs-Brewers series here at Miller Park. We had a chance to meet with team president Theo Epstein for about a half-hour. We’ll flesh it out in the paper tomorrow, but here are a few tidbits and highlights:
--Theo said he believes manager Dale Sveum has done a “remarkable” job in keeping the clubhouse together through two difficult season. Epstein did not say Sveum is on the hot seat, but he said the manager is being evaluated.
Had a great talk with Paul Konerko this afternoon before the White Sox opened a three-game series against the Twins.
The Sox’ long-time captain was typically insightful, particularly when talking about the franchise’s worst season since 1970.
Read more in tomorrow’s paper, but here is a sample of what Konerko thinks of the White Sox’ 58-91 season:
“These seasons happen,” he said. “Next year, there will probably be some other team that has to deal with this. Every year there seems to be a team or two - one in each league - that just, the season won't let you in. That's been us.”
I respect Konerko’s decision to wait until after the season before deciding if he’s going to play again next year or retire. His contract with the Sox is up at the end of this season.
It should come as no surprise that shortstop Javier Baez was named today the Cubs’ minor-league player of the year. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks was named the organization’s pitcher of the year. The two will be honored Sept. 21 at Wrigley Field during a pregame ceremony.
Baez played for both Class A Daytona and Class AA Tennessee this season, putting up a combined line of .282/.341/.578 for an OPS of .920. Between the two stops, he hit 37 home runs, drove in 111 runs and stole 20 bases.
Congrats to the Cubs’ Class A Daytona affiliate for winning the Florida State League championship Monday night with a 4-0, 1-hit victory over Charlotte. Starting pitcher C.J. Edwards combined with reliever Ryan Searle on the 1-hitter as the Cubs won their second Florida State League title in three years.
Elsewhere, Class AA Tennessee was eliminated from the Southern League playoffs with a 7-4 loss to Birmingham. Javier Baez hit a long 2-run homer for Tennessee, which lost the best-of-five series three games to two.
Class A Boise fell 5-0 to Vancouver, which claimed its third straight Northwest League title.