Following a 66-96 season, the Chicago Cubs are in desperate need of a turnaround season.
Chicago has a plethora of young talent like Anthony Rizzo, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro hoping to erase the memories of last year's failure. For that reason in particular, the Cubs have a glimmer of hope heading into spring training.
Though Jeff Samardzija avoided arbitration during the offseason, the 29-year-old ace for the Cubs knows his time might be limited, according to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times:
All I can do is increase my value as much as possible, and I think in the end it’s going to help the organization no matter what. Either it helps the organization by keeping me here and proving to them that I’m that guy, or I increase my value and it helps them get prospects in return.
[...] But it’s all speculation, and you’ve got to start playing on the field before you get a better answer, a better feel for that. [...] Sometimes you’re just a product of the situation. I think that’s where I’m at.
Heading into the spring season, the Cubs will hopefully be working toward retaining Samardzija rather than looking to move him. With the team putting together a successful season, the starter might be able to stick around on the roster through the trade deadline.
Armed with a brand new manager in Rick Renteria and a young core, the Cubs could make a splash this season, which will start with figuring out the roster in the spring.
The Cubs got their spring season underway on Thursday. Here's a look at their recent results following each game, followed by a pre-spring training season prediction.
|Cubs Spring Training Schedule|
|Thurs., Feb. 27||Arizona Diamondbacks||3:05 p.m.||L, 5-2|
|Fri., Feb. 28||Los Angeles Angels||3:05 p.m.||L, 15-3|
|Sat., March 1||San Francisco Giants (SS)||3:05 p.m.||Rain|
|Sat., March 1||Arizona Diamondbacks (SS)||9:10 p.m.||Rain|
|Sun., March 2||Kansas City Royals||3:05 p.m.||L, 5-3|
|Mon., March 3||Milwaukee Brewers||3:05 p.m.||W, 4-2|
|Tues., March 4||Oakland Athletics||3:05 p.m.||W, 6-4|
|Wed., March 5||Colorado Rockies||3:05 p.m.||L, 7-5|
|Thurs., March 6||Cleveland Indians||3:05 p.m.||L, 1-0|
|Fri., March 7||Los Angeles Angels (SS)||3:05 p.m.||W, 3-2|
|Fri., March 7||Cleveland Indians (SS)||3:05 p.m.||L, 7-2|
|Sat., March 8||Cincinnati Reds||3:05 p.m.||W, 9-0|
|Sun., March 9||Milwaukee Brewers||3:05 p.m.||W, 3-2|
|Mon., March 10||San Francisco Giants||3:05 p.m.||W, 3-2|
|Tues., March 11||Colorado Rockies||3:05 p.m.||L, 13-0|
|Wed., March 12||Seattle Mariners||3:05 p.m.||L, 8-7|
|Fri., March 14||Los Angeles Dodgers||3:05 p.m.||W, 5-4|
|Sat., March 15||Kansas City Royals (SS)||3:05 p.m.||W, 6-5|
|Sat., March 15||New York Mets (SS)||3:05 p.m.||L, 9-4|
|Sun., March 16||Cleveland Indians (SS)||3:05 p.m.||L, 3-2|
|Sun., March 16||New York Mets (SS)||3:05 p.m.||W, 6-3|
|Mon., March 17||Oakland Athletics||3:05 p.m.||L, 6-2|
|Mon., March 17||Los Angeles Angels||3:05 p.m.||W, 4-2|
|Tues., March 18||Texas Rangers||9:05 p.m.||L, 7-6|
|Wed., March 19||Colorado Rockies||8:40 p.m.||L, 9-6|
|Thurs., March 20||Seattle Mariners||3:05 p.m.||L, 3-0|
|Fri., March 21||Chicago White Sox||3:05 p.m.||W, 7-0|
|Sat., March 22||Cincinnati Reds||3:05 p.m.||L, 8-3|
|Sun., March 23||Oakland Athletics (SS)||3:05 p.m.||W, 10-6|
|Mon., March 24||San Diego Padres||9:05 p.m.||L, 7-1|
|Tues., March 25||Los Angeles Angels (SS)||3:05 p.m.||L, 6-4|
|Tues., March 25||San Diego Padres (SS)||9:05 p.m.||T, 5-5|
|Wed., March 26||Arizona Diamondbacks||3:10 p.m.||L, 14-4|
|Thurs., March 27||Chicago White Sox||2:05 p.m.||W, 4-3|
|Fri., March 28||Arizona Diamondbacks||8:40 p.m.||W, 3-1|
|Sat., March 29||Arizona Diamondbacks||2:40 p.m.||W, 9-8|
March 29: Cubs Down Diamondbacks with Surge in Ninth, 9-8
The Cubs ended preseason play in dramatic fashion. After taking a big early lead, Chicago gave up six runs in the seventh inning to fall behind by two only to score three in the ninth to take the one-run victory.
It was a rocky day for the Cubs' pitching rotation. Marcus Hatley was absolutely torched by Arizona. He failed to record a single out while allowing five hits and five runs for an 11.12 ERA. Jonathan Sanchez wasn't much better, allowing two hits and two runs without recording an out either. He finished with a 9.72 ERA.
Luckily for the Cubs, the bats were on fire.
The scoring began in the top of the second inning, as Darwin Barney lined an RBI single to left field. Chris Valaika recorded an RBI single of his own in the fifth inning to put the Cubs up 2-0.
Chicago poured it on in the sixth.
Luis Valbuena brought in Dan Vogelbach on a sacrifice fly, Ryan Kalish recorded an RBI single and Arismendy Alcantara capped it all off with a two-run blast to right field.
After giving up eight-consecutive runs, the Cubs suddenly found themselves down by two entering the ninth inning.
Christian Villanueva got things going in a big way, bringing home two runs on a line-drive single to left field. Rubi Silva brough home Chadd Krist shortly after on a sacrifice fly to put the Cubs back into the lead.
Lendy Castillo came into the game in the bottom of the ninth and earned the save by pitching a shutout inning.
This is a great way for the Cubs to enter the regular season. Opening Day is fast approaching and Chicago has built up some great momentum over its three-game winning streak.
March 28: Cubs Knock off Diamondbacks, 3-1
The Chicago Cubs took advantage of a strong effort from Edwin Jackson on the mound to defeat the Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-1 on Friday night in spring training. Chicago's shutout bid was ruined in the bottom of the eighth inning when Evan Marzilli doubled to score the D-Backs' only run.
Anthony Rizzo would drive in the opening run for Chicago in the top of the first, per the club's official Twitter account:
The Cubs would add runs in the top of the fourth and fifth innings midway through the game.
Jackson earned the win for Chicago, allowing just one hit and striking out two in four innings pitched. The win makes Jackson 2-3 overall in spring training.
Trevor Cahill picked up the loss for Arizona, surrendering three earned runs in six innings pitched.
Chicago will close out spring training on Saturday with a rematch against Arizona.
March 27: Travis Wood Shines as Cubs Down White Sox, 4-3
The Cubs jumped out to an early lead on Thursday and never looked back as they downed their cross-town rivals.
Travis Wood was solid on the mound and pitched three scoreless innings, which helped to keep the White Sox off the scoreboard until the eighth inning.
On the mound, the only disappointment was Wesley Wright , who gave up home runs to Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo.
Offensively, it was Ryan Sweeney who came through the biggest thanks to his home run in the second inning. The Cubs made the most of their eight hits to cruise to victory.
March 26: Bullpen Blows Early Lead as Cubs Fall to Diamondbacks, 14-4
Jeff Samardzija turned in a stellar start on the mound for Chicago, yielding just one earned run in three innings of work. Unfortunately, Arizona lit up Chris Rusin for 10 hits and nine earned runs in just 2.2 innings en route to a decisive victory.
That came after the Cubs had built a 2-1 lead, courtesy of a tie-breaking RBI single from catcher Welington Castillo.
D'Backs left fielder Mark Trumbo jacked a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth in response, and Arizona never trailed thereafter. Zach Buchanan of AZCentral.com pointed out how Rusin gave up three first-pitch homers in a row:
As MLB.com's Carrie Muskat implied before the game, Rusin was trying to establish himself as the potential fifth starter in the rotation and could have used a strong performance on Wednesday to help his cause:
Trumbo's blast was the first of six dingers the D'Backs smashed on this occasion—none of which came off Samardzija. Arizona ace Brandon McCarthy improved to 2-0 this spring with the win in his final appearance ahead of Opening Day, yielding three earned in six frames with six strikeouts.
The relieving struggles are definitely not a good sign for Chicago near the end of spring training as it looks to rebound in 2014 following four straight losing seasons. Up next for the Cubbies is an intracity tangle with the White Sox on Thursday.
March 25: Cubs Mount Late Comeback, Tie Padres, 5-5
After the other half of the split squad let a ninth-inning lead slip away earlier in the day, the Cubs rallied for one run in the eighth and three more in ninth to force a 5-5 tie with the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night.
Top pitching prospect C.J. Edwards got his first taste of the big leagues but was roughed up, surrendering three runs on four hits and three walks in 2.2 innings. He struck out just one.
Still, the 22-year-old, who ranks as the 28th-best prospect according to Baseball America, showed glimpses of his promise despite battling the expected nerves in his debut.
“When I went out the first inning, the nerves were crazy-like,” he said after the game, via the Chicago Sun Times' Gordon Wittenmyer. “I can’t even explain the nerves that I had. But overall, being out there, I felt like I can be out there like I’m supposed to.”
The Cubs made sure his first foray into the big leagues wouldn't be paired with a loss, though, as Rubi Silva hit an RBI double in the eighth, Dustin Geiger delivered an RBI single in the ninth and two more scored to tie the game when Javier Baez reached on an error.
Baez, who ranks even higher than Edwards on most prospect lists, finished 1-for-5 with a stolen base, bringing his spring average to .298.
March 25: Cubs Blow Lead in Ninth, Fall to Angels 8-4
Alberto Cabrera blew a save by allowing the Angels five ninth-inning runs while recording just one out. This paved the way for the Angels to turn a 4-2 deficit into an 8-4 win.
Tsuyoshi Wada got the start for the Cubs after being re-signed to the a Minor League contract the previus day.
He was decent while pitching four innings and allowing two earned runs. He also picked up four strikeouts.
The Cubs picked up nine hits in the game. Only Dan Voglebach was able to record more than a single hit. He went 2-for-4 on the day to continue his solid spring and raise his average to .333.
March 24: Padres Breeze Past Cubs in Easy 7-1 Win
The Cubs got off to a strong start on Monday night against the San Diego Padres, knocking in the game's opening run and convincingly grabbing the early momentum.
But it didn't take long for the Padres to answer back.
San Diego knotted things up in the top half of the second inning off a Seth Smith double that drove home Jedd Gyorko, and Smith came home two innings later on a two-run jack from Tommy Medica that put the Padres up 3-0.
Two more runs in the fifth, then two more in the eighth, simply were too much for the Cubs, who couldn't get their own bats going en route to a 7-1 loss on Tuesday night.
It was an offensive barrage from San Diego, but Medica and Smith will go down as the heroes of the night as each amassed 2 RBI on the win.
Meanwhile, the Cubs struggled as a unit. Anthony Rizzo was 1-for-3, but only seven team hits weren't enough to generate the offense that Chicago needed to get back into the game.
March 23: Bats Come Alive as Cubs Beat Athletics, 10-6
After failing to score in the first five innings of the game, the Cubs lineup finally started getting on the board and they finished with 10 runs in the next four innings. The bullpen did the rest and Chicago left with a 10-6 win.
Jason Hammel got the start for the Cubs but the pitcher ran into trouble early. He gave up five hits in the first inning with a hit by pitch, but was fortunately able to limit the damage to just two runs.
He was then able to settle down to finish with a respectable line for a spring training game:
The 2-0 score remained until Junior Lake and Luis Valbuena decided to showcase their power. The batters hit back-to-back home runs in both the sixth and ninth innings, with Lake also adding a third home run in the sixth.
Brett Taylor of Bleacher Nation joked that this was similar to a home-run derby:
This power was enough for the Cubs to take over the lead and pull away late. The bullpen then only allowed a single earned run the rest of the game and they were able to leave with a quality win.
March 22: Rizzo Stays Hot but Cubs Lose to Reds, 8-3
It wasn't a good start for the Cubs or for starting pitcher Edwin Jackson, as he gave up three runs in the first inning. He cleaned it up a little bit from there, but ended the day with seven strikeouts and eight hits in five innings for a 5.14 ERA.
Jackson highlighted pitch location as his weakness after the game according to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune:
It’s just a matter of location, but overall we continue to battle and (stay) in the game. They made me work, which was good. I needed to get some work in. You’re going to have shaky starts and you realize it’s spring but I was able to come back and keep the team in the game. I just got to locate pitches better.
It didn't get much better once he left the game, as Cubs pitchers gave up 17 hits in total, but there were some positives to take away for manager Rick Renteria.
The biggest one was the continued excellence of first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He went 3-for-3 in the game, driving in two runs in the process, but the more important stat is that he has gone 5-for-11 against left-handed pitchers this spring—a significant improvement over the .189 batting average he posted against southpaws last year.
In addition, shortstop Starlin Castro returned to the lineup in a minor-league game, which is a good sign for his hopes of returning for the season-opener.
March 21: Valbuena, Rusin Shine in 7-0 Victory over White Sox
A day after getting held off the scoreboard, the Cubs returned the favor with a shutout of their own, earning a 7-0 win over their cross-town rivals.
Chris Rusin, a 27-year-old lefty who earned a 3.93 ERA through 13 starts last year, held the Chicago White Sox scoreless through five innings. He allowed two hits and no walks while amassing three strikeouts, making a strong case to win the club's final starting rotation spot.
While fans were not treated to any moonshots from Javier Baez, the youngster collected a hit while playing shortstop. This time around, the offense came from a more unlikely source in Luis Valbuena.
Battling with Mike Olt for playing time at third base, the 28-year-old smashed two home runs, giving him four during the spring. While he displayed some pop last year with 12 homers through 108 games, he hit an uninspiring .218/.331/.378.
However, as Rotoworld's Matthew Pouliot, it was encouraging to see the left-handed batter crush both deep balls off southpaws John Danks and Scott Downs.
He rarely receives playing time against lefties, but Valbuena actually hits better against them. He wields a career .712 OPS against left-handed pitchers compared to his .644 OPS against righties.
Olt also held some ground, going 2-for-4 with a walk as the designated hitter. He's now hitting .289 with four homers this spring and brandishes more upside than his competitor, even though they're both likely keeping the hot corner warm until Kris Bryant is ready for the big leagues.
March 20: Samardzija Sharp but M's Shut Out Cubs, 3-0
Chicago's offense couldn't get anything going against Seattle Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez in a 3-0 loss on Thursday afternoon in front of another Cactus League record crowd.
The Cubs drew 15,243 fans for their matinee against the M's, about 50 more than the record they set last week against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Cubs fans were treated to a strong showing from ace right-hander Jeff Samardzija, who struck out eight batters in 5.1 innings of work. But he was also charged the loss after giving up a pair of sacrifice flies—one to Dustin Ackley in the first inning and another to John Buck in the sixth.
In all, he allowed two earned runs on six hits and two walks. Trade rumors have surrounded Samardzija all offseason, and Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reported there were plenty of scouts on hand to watch his outing.
Following the game, Samardzija told reporters that he recently tweaked his mechanics with pitching coach Chris Bosio, via Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
The more I pitch, the more I realize it's little things. You start overhauling stuff too much, you'll find yourself constantly changing. Sometimes it just clicks, a lot of times it has to do with conditioning and your arm, and when your arm strength comes around, you're able to do more things than what you could do before.
But it could have been worse for Samardzija if it wasn't for a stellar catch by Junior Lake to rob Logan Morrison of a home run in the sixth inning.
Lake also hit a double on the afternoon, but it was the only extra-base hit for the Cubs, who had four total hits.
With less than two weeks before opening day, Samardzija is clearly still drawing a lot of interest from other MLB clubs. No details of progressing contract talks have emerged out of the media lately, so his status with the team will be a key storyline to follow as spring training winds down.
March 19: Cubs Fall to Rockies 9-6 After Wild Final Inning
Chicago rallied with three runs in the top of the ninth during Wednesday's game against Colorado, but Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon belted a walk-off, three-run homer off of Paolo Espino to end this thriller at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
The Rockies' PR Twitter account noted that Blackmon is the 17th different player to go yard for Colorado this spring:
All-Star Carlos Gonzalez had a three-run dinger in the third inning off of Carlos Villanueva, too, so the Rockies changed the complexion of the game with two big swings of the bat.
In that context, it was a poor display of execution from the Cubs in critical, situational baseball, which is what often separates the best from the rest in the MLB.
But part of what sparked Chicago's late charge was a massive, 452-foot solo blast to straightaway center field from 21-year-old prodigy Javier Baez in the eighth. ESPN Stats & Info noted how Baez stacks up with other top prospects in Keith Law's rankings (subscription required):
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough in the end.
Losing back-to-back games in heartbreaking fashion is a rather fitting development for the star-crossed Cubs, but the franchise has nevertheless shown signs of promise before the beginning of the 2014 regular season. Perhaps this very early adversity is something Chicago can learn from and apply to close games when the games start to really matter.
Before then, the preparation must continue, and the Cubs must focus on the task at hand. It can be hard to stem the tide in a situation like this, but they will do their best on Thursday in squaring off with the Seattle Mariners.
March 18: Cubs Blow Early Lead, Lose to Rangers, 7-6
Jason Hammel struggled in his most extended start of the spring, and the Cubs' bullpen bookended it with struggles of their own, as Texas came back to defeat Chicago 7-6 in 10 innings. Michael Choice won the game for the Rangers on a two-out infield single off Marcus Hatley, who lost his second game of the spring.
The evening was a double-edge sword for the Cubs, though, who continue to get promising out comes from their high-profile prospects. Mike Olt and Javier Baez hit back-to-back home runs in the third inning off Rangers starter Alexi Ogando, who was pelted for five runs in only three innings of work.
Olt and Baez have become two of the most promising signs this spring for Chicago, which dropped to 10-12 as it prepares for another non-playoff season. Olt may wind up playing his way into the everyday lineup if his power numbers keep up. Baez, meanwhile, has done nothing to disprove his standing among the best prospects in baseball.
Hammel was pelted across five innings of work, allowing seven hits and five runs while walking an additional two. His ERA rose to 4.50 this spring, and he seemed frustrated with his command after the game, per ESPN's Jesse Rogers:
The last two innings [I left] some balls up in the zone that they hit. Everything felt good. I felt strong. Threw some breaking balls early in counts. Not looking at the results I felt pretty good…The only thing that bugs me is the walks. Been walking too many guys right now.
Other notable performances from the Cubs' side included a 2-for-5 day from Ryan Kalish.
March 17: Edwin Jackson Pitches 4 Scoreless, Cubs Beat Angels, 4-2
After a rough outing against the Cleveland Indians 10 days ago, Edwin Jackson got back on track by tossing four scoreless innings against the Angels on Monday afternoon. He struck out six against Los Angeles' watered-down lineup, giving up just three hits and one walk.
He talked about his performance after getting the win, via MLB.com's Carrie Muskat:
It was one of those days when you don't necessarily have your best stuff, and you have to be able to throw out your best pitches for strike. I was able to go out and do that and fortunate enough to get out of a couple jams early in the game.
An Emilio Bonifacio RBI triple and Ryan Roberts RBI double fueled a three-run third inning, and that was all the insurance Jackson would need to record his first victory of the spring.
Darnell McDonald added two hits and an RBI, while Neil Ramirez recorded the three-out save on three pitches.
March 17: Stifled by Joe Savery and Oakland, Cubs Fall, 6-2
The split-squad Cubs didn't get on the scoreboard until second baseman Jonathan Mota smacked a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning, but by then, it was too little and too late, as the Athletics pulled out the 6-2 victory.
Starting pitcher James McDonald left the game after just two pitches due to shoulder soreness, and Yao-Lin Wang proceeded to give up two hits and two runs in 1.1 innings before eventually being saddled with the loss. Dallas Beeler was also roughed up in relief, surrendering five hits and three runs in 3.2 frames.
At the plate, the Cubs experienced similar problems.
Joe Savery struck out five while giving up just two hits in his two scoreless innings of work, while the bullpen continued to shut the Cubbies out for 26 outs. Ryan Kalish was the only player to record multiple hits, going 2-for-3 to raise his spring batting average to .300.
March 16: Strong Pitching, Hot Bats Spark 6-3 Cubs Victory Over Mets
Chris Rusin pitched four scoreless innings to open the game against the Mets, and he had plenty of help offensively to come up with the win. Allowing just one hit (a single), Rusin was in full command of his game, which is exactly what he needed to put himself in position to earn a roster spot this season.
"I was able to find all my offspeed [pitches] and keep the ball down in the zone with movement. And when I do that, I'm able to get ground balls, and that's what happened," Rusin said afterward, as noted by Carrie Muskat of MLB.com. "I just have to build on it. I'm pretty close with all my pitches -- breaking balls, fastballs, two-seams away. I just have to keep being consistent."
Donnie Murphy, Daniel Vogelbach, and Arismendy Alcantara each provided instant offense with home runs to spark the 6-3 victory, taking advantage of Mets starting pitcher Jenrry Mejia, who came out flat.
He's going to need to sharpen up quickly in light of the injury to Jon Niese, as alluded to by Anthony DiComo of MLB.com:
The Mets scored three runs after Rusin left the game, but by then the Cubs had already racked up five runs, which proved to be more than enough to win.
March 16: Cubs Hitters Come Up Short in 3-2 Loss to Indians
Travis Young overcame a rocky start on the mound to give the Cubs a fighting chance to beat the Indians on Sunday, but he had little help from Chicago's bats in the contest. Young allowed two runs in the first inning but settled down with four scoreless innings afterward.
Unfortunately, Chicago couldn't generate much offense on the day, scoring its first run in the sixth inning and earning just six hits total on the afternoon.
The team's struggles were largely due to the exceptional pitching display put on by Cleveland's Justin Masterson, who struck out eight batters in five scoreless innings. He's not yet allowed a single earned run thus far in spring training and is slated to be the opening-day starter for the Indians.
"He's just building." head coach Terry Francona said, as noted by the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "You see a little bit more power to the fastball. He's got three more starts, and he'll be ready to go."
March 15: Cubs Pitching Collapses in 9-4 Loss to Mets
It was an ugly start and an even uglier finish for the Cubs on Saturday. The Mets put runs on the board early, then again late, after some shaky pitching from the home team.
Tsuyoshi Wada got the start for the Cubs and looked rough out of the gate. He allowed three runs in the first inning after allowing RBI doubles from David Wright and Andrew Brown. Wada looked better in the second inning; however, he was yanked after giving up an RBI single to Brown in the third.
The pitching woes didn't stop there, as Zac Rosscup earned the loss on the day, walking two and allowing a two-run jack to Wilmer Flores.
Not all pitching was horrible, however. Carlos Pimentel pitched 2.2 innings, walking one and striking out four without allowing a single hit.
Offensively, Anthony Rizzo had the hottest bat of the game for either team. Rizzo blasted two home runs, totaling three RBI's and walked once. He finished the game with a batter rating of .417.
Five different players accounted for the Cubs' seven hits on the day.
March 15: Cubs Rally Late for 6-5 Win over Royals
It started out very shaky for the Cubs on Saturday. The Royals put up four runs over the first four innings and another in the eighth. However, the resurgent Cubs found their bats late and rallied with two-consecutive three-run innings in the eighth and ninth so come away with a one-run victory.
Relief pitching was on point for the most part; however, Jeff Samardzija had a rough outing. He pitched 3.2 innings, giving up seven hits and four runs while walking three and only recording one strikeout. He finished the game with a 6.39 ERA.
Samardzija was bailed out by the late-game heroics of Brett Jackson. In the eighth, Jackson started the scoring run with a line-drive, three-run homer to to right.
In the ninth, after a Marco Hernandez RBI single, Jackson was at it again. This time he singled on a ground ball to center, netting two more RBI's. That would be the difference in the game, as Jeffrey Lorick pitched a scoreless ninth to complete the save.
March 14: Cubs Hold on Late for 5-4 over Dodgers
A big sixth inning gave the Cubs the lead and the bullpen was able to hold on to come away with a 5-4 win.
Down 1-0, Luis Valbuena scored on a ground out in the fifth inning to tie the game. The third baseman then hit a two-run home run in the sixth to cap a four-run inning for Chicago. Carlos Villanueva allowed one run in three innings and Jose Veras allowed two more later, but the Cubs still were able to leave with the narrow win.
The team got a great start out of Kyle Hendricks, as noted by Carrie Muskat of MLB.com:
The 24-year-old pitcher is coming off a fantastic season between AA and AAA and he is hoping to making the leap to the majors this year. With more starts like this, it will be tough to keep him out of the rotation.
Overall, the Cubs should be happy with a solid all-around effort from the lineup and the pitching staff as the team gets closer to being ready for Opening Day.
March 13: Cubs Fall 8-7 to Rockies in Extra Innings
Ty Kelly singled in a game-winning run in the 10th inning and the Cubs' pitching foibles reared their ugly heads as the Mariners scored an 8-7 victory over Chicago in a late-night nailbiter.
At multiple points, the Cubs' offense put them ahead and in position to win. Mike Olt hit two home runs and Javier Baez had another, as Chicago's four-run sixth inning helped give it a 7-4 lead going into the ninth inning. But a two-RBI single from Mariners catcher John Buck capped off a three-run ninth inning and send the game to extras.
Kelly's single in the bottom frame an inning later ended the game, scoring Abraham Almonte. The Mariners have showed a propensity for late-game heroics thus far in the spring, and they're now 12-4 during a time when records mean very little. With a massive spending spree this winter, they expect to compete for an AL West title.
At the very least, outcomes like this can give management confidence going into the season.
The Cubs, meanwhile, couldn't really care less about the result—only development. Seeing Olt and Baez, two of their most prized offensive weapons, hitting the ball over the fence in the game game is probably worth a win in and of itself. Olt, 25, needs to find a way onto the Cubs' roster this season if the team really plans on developing him more.
With three home runs already this week, though, Olt should be back on the right track after some early struggles.
March 11: Cubs Fall to Rockies, 13-0, On Mistake-Filled Day
Starting Cubs southpaw Travis Wood didn't have his best stuff on Tuesday, but his defense didn't help either in the 13-0 loss to the Colorado Rockies.
Wood looked shaky in giving up a couple of early singles in the first frame before a hit to shortstop Darwin Barney scored another run. According to Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune, Barney made a questionable decision to throw the ball to third base after making a nice diving grab, allowing Corey Dickerson to score.
The defense stung Wood again in the third, when center fielder Junior Lake lost a ball in the sun and it let it fall for a Nolan Arenado triple.
That set the stage for Wood's downfall, as he allowed a home run to Kyle Parker on the next at-bat, before allowing four more straight hits and getting the hook. In all, Wood pitched 2.2 innings, giving up five earned runs on nine hits and a walk.
After his outing, Wood spoke to Gonzales about his hard luck.
It’s going to happen. It’s part of baseball. You’re going to see it every year several times on balls getting lost in the sun. I got to be able to come back and help him out and get out of the inning. I felt I made some good pitches. They just put some good swings on them. I said it’s just one of those days. Luckily, it happened in spring, so we can move forward from that and get ready for the next one.
It was a stark contrast to a three shutout inning performance that Wood had earlier in spring training, as the 27-year-old prepares to be another major part of the starting rotation.
The bullpen didn't fare much better once Wood left the game, as the Rockies pushed across three more in the sixth, three in the seventh and two in the eighth.
Reliever Hector Rondon was charged with six earned runs on five hits and one walk in 1.1 innings of work after being hit hard on the afternoon.
March 10: Late Runs Pick Up Samardzija, 3-2
Jeff Samardzija was nearly flawless through the first three innings against the San Francisco Giants on Monday afternoon, but the final frame was a different story for the righthander.
The 29-year-old gave up two runs and five total hits during the four-inning start, but had the Giants scuffling through the first three rounds. Samardzija spoke about his outing following the start, citing the Giants patience at the plate, per Chris Haft of MLB.com:
They're a great team to work against, a former world championship team. They come with a plan, a lot of smart players who have played together for a long time. You really get tested on days like this. I thought it went excellent. I gave up a couple runs, and singles that score runs, you can live with that.
While the last inning wasn't as successful for Samardzija, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune points out a statistic that shows just how brilliant he was through the first three:
But late in the game Mike Olt scored the game-tying run in the seventh and Christian Villanueva would plate another run on throwing errors by the Giants to pull ahead 3-2.
The bullpen was strong for the Cubbies after Samardzija's departure as they were able to hold on to get the win. Chris Rusin threw three scoreless innings to pick up the win as Jonathan Sanchez shut the door against his former team to pick up the save.
The outing for Rusin followed up a few rough ones in which he went 0-2 with a 13.50 ERA during his first 4.2 innings pitched. The ERA is only lowered to 8.22 at this point, but it could be a turning point for the lefty this spring.
As for other notables from the game, Emilio Bonifacio finished the game with a 1-for-3 performance with a RBI single to improve his spring batting average to .278.
March 9: Big 7th Inning Fuels Cubs to 10-8 Victory over Brewers
Drawing a Cactus League record in attendance, as Yahoo's Tim Brown points out, the Cubs and Brewers did not disappoint the fans:
This was a back-and-forth game.
Tyler Thornburg started for the Brewers and he went four innings. The Cubs got to him for two in the bottom of the first with a two-run blast from Justin Ruggiano. This gave them a 2-0 lead.
The Brewers answered right back with two runs of their own in the second. Those runs came off of Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.
Hendricks wound up going three innings and allowed just those two runs.
Armando Rivero was roughed up in this one for the Cubs. He allowed four runs and recorded just one out. That helped the Brewers to a five-run seventh and a 7-6 lead.
The Cubs, however, came right back with four runs in the bottom of the inning, as they took the lead for good.
The Cubs tweeted the news:
Ruggiano was the big star on the day. He added a third RBI and went 3-for-3 at the plate to raise his spring average to .583.
No other Cubs batter had more than a hit on the day.
March 8: Bats Awaken as Cubs Defeat Reds 9-0
For the first time in an otherwise disappointing spring session, the Cubs put all facets of the game together on Saturday. Jason Hammel threw three sterling innings of shutout baseball, Emilio Bonifacio had a day to remember and Nate Schierholtz hit a two-run homer as the Cubs thrashed the Reds, 9-0.
Hammel, making his spring debut for Chicago, made quite the impression. The 31-year-old righty struck out four and allowed just two hits in three innings, though he did struggle a bit with his command—a natural phenomenon for any pitcher at this point in the year. In the first inning, he loaded the bases and had to pitch his way out.
Overall, five Cubs pitchers combined for the shutout. Eric Jokisch matched Hammel with three shutout innings, striking out four and allowing three hits.
But the star of the show was the offense, which was the best it's been all spring. The Cubs opened the first with Schierholtz's two-run bomb and were up 4-0 by the end of the second thanks to an RBI triple from Bonifacio. Another underrated offseason pickup, Bonifacio has been playing his way to a final roster spot. He also drove in another run in the seventh inning on a sacrifice fly.
Bonifacio is one of the more random Player of the Month winners in recent MLB history, but he can help a team as a utility player off the bench. Schierholtz finished 2-for-3 with two runs scored and was the only Cub with more than one hit.
As for the Reds, Alfredo Simon isn't doing himself any favors. Simon was pummeled for five runs in four innings, negating what had otherwise been a nice start to the spring.
Also of note, Joey Votto finished the game 2-for-2. Overall, though, it was a miserable afternoon for Cincinnati and a dream for Chicago. Something tells me these roles will switch once the bright lights of the regular season start shining.
March 7: Cubs Beat Angels 3-2, Lose to Indians 7-2
Chris Valaika had a key RBI single to tie the game against the Angels in the seventh inning. He came back with an RBI double in the ninth inning to even the game after the Angels took the lead in the eighth.
Prized Cuban prospect Jorge Soler came up with the go-ahead RBI triple to bring Valaika home.
The Cubs got strong performances from the pitching staff. James McDonald went two scoreless innings and only allowed one hit. Jonathan Sanchez picked up his first save of the spring when he worked a scorless ninth to close out the first game.
In the second game, the pitching wasn't quite as sharp.
Edwin Jackson struggled mightily against the Indians. He allowed four hits and three earned runs in three innings. The outing raised his spring ERA to 7.20.
Kris Bryant did hit his second home run of the spring, but it clearly wasn't enough.
March 6: Cubs Suffer Shutout Defeat, Fall 1-0 to Indians
Offense was awfully hard to come by for the Cubs on Thursday as Chicago fell 1-0 to the Cleveland Indians.
Despite finishing with nine hits, five more than Cleveland, Chicago was unable to capitalize.
Although the Cubs' bats were cold for the most part, they can be encouraged by their overall performance on the mound, where they allowed just a single run in the bottom of the fourth inning.
Right-hander Justin Grimm, who allowed two hits and the lone run in one inning pitched, was given the loss for Chicago. Aaron Harang was awarded the win for Cleveland, his first of spring training. Scott Barnes earned the save for the Indians.
Travis Wood also made his debut on Thursday, looking strong en route to striking out three and surrendering just one hit in three innings pitched.
The gut-wrenching shutout loss is Chicago's second in a row and drops them to 2-5 in the Cactus League. The Cubs will look to rebound on Friday against the Los Angeles Angels, who haven't fared much better thus far.
March 5: Cubs Spring Troubles Continue, Lose 7-5 to Rockies
Back-to-back home runs from Javier Baez and George Kottaras weren't enough for the Cubs on Wednesday, as the Rockies' bats got off to a hot start early and buoyed a 7-5 win. Chicago drops to 2-4 in an up-and-down spring that's seen the Cubbies struggle in nearly every facet of the game at certain points.
Pitching was the culprit against Colorado. A close game early, the two sides traded off runs to go into the seventh inning tied 3-3. Both sides opened with a run in the first, Carlos Gonzalez led a two-run Rockies inning in the third and the Cubs answered to tie it up in the sixth.
In the seventh, though, things fell apart for the Chicago staff and defense. Chris Rusin continued his spring troubles, loading the bases up with two outs and setting the stage for a four-run seventh. Rosell Herrera knocked two runners in against reliever Ryan Searle, and then a wild throwing error from Christian Villanueva allowed two more runners to cross the plate.
The Cubs managed to scrape together two runs in the bottom half of the frame, but it was to no avail. Colorado got out of that inning and then kept the game scoreless the rest of the way, giving the upstart Chicago roster more reason to head back to the drawing board.
Wednesday's game was also concerning on the injury front. Starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija was hit in the leg by a line drive in the first inning, and in the third Baez fouled a pitch off his leg. Baez's solo homer in the sixth certainly laid to rest any concerns over his status, and Samardzija seemed in good spirits after the game.
“I’m pretty used to these comebacker, get drilled kind of things,” Samardzija said, per MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. “It happened a few times last year. It’s part of pitching. Protect the vital organs and hopefully [the ball] stops close to you and you can get the guy out.”
With the Cubs certainly not expecting a playoff berth in 2014, losing games isn't much of a concern. But losing players is something all teams hope to avoid, so Chicago has to be thankful it got out of Wednesday unscathed.
March 4: Cubs Win Second Straight Game Versus A's, 6-4
The winning ways continued for the Cubs Tuesday. With the game knotted at three entering the bottom of the eighth, Chicago broke it open with a three-run burst, then dismissed the Oakland Athletics' ninth-inning rally that netted just one run to win 6-4.
Mike Olt stepped to the plate with two outs and swatted a two-run homer in the eighth, adding insurance to Albert Almora's RBI single that initially put the Cubs on top in the inning. It must have pleased Chicago to see two younger prospects step up and keep the positive momentum going in spring training.
The win was also a nice way to honor a landmark day for the Windy City, per the Cubs' official Twitter account:
Highly touted minor league pitcher Kyle Hendricks took the mound for Chicago and struggled with location and command, walking three batters in two innings of work but giving up just one earned run and striking out two.
"It's not what you're looking for, but it was one of those days," said Hendricks, per MLB.com's Carrie Muskat. "My mechanics were off, even in the bullpen warming up. I couldn't get a fastball where I wanted to today to save my life."
Justin Ruggiano added three RBI of his own, including a two-run shot in the third inning off Tommy Milone to give Chicago an early advantage. That was a big hit in a clutch situation, and he also had an RBI double to add to his impressive outing.
Thankfully there was plenty of offensive firepower to back Kendricks up, and the bullpen held up well enough in the end for Brian Schlitter to finish things off and register the save.
Although the 2014 forecast doesn't look all that great for the Cubs, this recent stretch shows some early signs of promise, and it should also serve as a learning experience for Kendricks as he continues his development.
March 3: Cubs Pull Out First Win Over Brewers, 4-2
Javier Baez has already been putting together good numbers in Arizona and has shown a lot of power during the early going, but hadn't shown his home run power.
That changed on Monday as he jacked an outside pitch over the opposite wall in right center field. The homer and single later on in the game helped Baez move to .444 on the spring so far at the plate with a 2-for-3 day against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Baez's production is being thrust into the spotlight now after Starlin Castro right hamstring injury, according to Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago. But even with Castro out for now, Baez said he doesn't expect to be temporary:
No, he’s not down. I know he’s not down. He’s just taking it easy because it’s only spring training. He’s just trying to get ready for the season, and he’s going to take care of his body. [...] We need Castro. I’m trying to learn from him.
After being compared to Gary Sheffield, Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton, Baez has certainly made an impression this spring. As for any weaknesses in his game, Matthew Pouloit of Rotoworld jokes that his patience in the box needs some work:
Along with Baez, Walter Ibarra took over at the shortstop position and promptly hit a two-RBI single in the seventh inning to give the Cubbies the lead, which they would hold.
On the mound, another non-roster invitee in Eric Jokisch pitched three scoreless innings. The 24-year-old didn't allow a hit, but walked two batters during the start.
Last season, Jokisch pitched for the Double-A Tennessee Smokies and navigated his way through a complete game no-hitter thanks to the play of Baez in the infield.
The Cubs finally came away with a win over the Brewers and have two emerging stars to thank for their success. With Castro still on the pine while he heals, the North Siders could be seeing a lot of Baez's laser show this spring.
March 2: Cubs Lose Third Straight against Royals, 5-3
The Chicago Cubs got back on the diamond on Sunday, but their luck hasn't changed yet. They moved to 0-3 on the spring following a 5-3 defeat to the Kansas City Royals.
Chicago dug itself into an early hole, and it couldn't climb out later in the game. After the top of the fifth inning, the Cubs were down 5-0. The offense tried sparking a late rally, but it wasn't enough.
Edwin Jackson earned the loss. He started the game and pitched two innings, giving up one run on three hits. After the game, Cubs manager Rick Renteria said that if Jackson can improve his command on the mound, he can be a dominating pitcher, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com.
"Edwin has a fantastic arm, and when he commands the zone, he's an excellent pitcher," Renteria said. "The thing is to take a guy who is very durable, and hopefully as he continues to pitch, [get him to] command the zone a little better."
Carlos Villanueva came on in relief and really struggled. He gave up a two-run home to Mike Moustakas in the third inning and an RBI sacrifice fly from Norichika Aoki in the fourth inning.
Moustakas killed Cubs pitching on the day, as he had homered off Jackson in the fourth inning.
Javier Baez looked good in the loss, going 2-for-3 and scoring one run. Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus made the argument that watching him bat is better than anything the Oscars can put on:
Anthony Rizzo went 1-for-2, driving in Baez with a double in the bottom of the sixth.
All in all, it wasn't a great game for the Cubs. But this is what spring is for—work out the kinks and make your mistakes now.
If there was one good thing to come out of this game, it's that the Cubs broke the record for highest attendance at a Cactus League game:
Feb. 28: Angels Smash the Cubs
Spring training hasn't begun the way the Cubs would have hoped. On Friday, the Los Angeles Angels put a hurting on the North Siders behind a dominant performance from Mike Trout. He hit a grand slam and drove in five runs to spur on the rout.
The Cubs' pitching failed on almost every level in this game.
Chris Rusin got the start and gave up four earned runs and five hits in two innings of work. He took the loss. The bullpen didn't offer the Cubs any relief.
James McDonald was hammered for six earned runs and three hits in just one inning. Jonathan Sanchez only retired two hitters and three earned runs. All in all, it was a messy day in Tempe, Ariz.
Mark Gonzales of The Chicago Tribune says Cubs' pitching coach Chris Bosio is bound to shed even more pounds making trips to the mound:
If there was a bright spot, it was the play of 2013 first-round pick Kris Bryant. The 22-year-old hit a two-run home run to center field off the Angels' Jarrett Grube in the seventh inning.
Per Gonzales, Bryant took advantage of a slider from Grube.
The game was out of hand at that point, but it was still a positive sign for a player the Cubs have high hopes for.
Feb. 27: Diamondbacks Cruise Over Cubs, 5-2
Samardzija got the spring slate off to a great start with his 2014 debut.
The Cubs' ace surrendered a walk to the first batter that he faced, but he quickly regained control in two scoreless innings before handing it over to the bullpen.
The big right-hander gave up just two hits and struck out two while throwing a total of 15 pitches—11 of which were strikes after not throwing a ball to the final five batters.
Samardzija spoke about the impact of the trade rumors coming in and how that has affected his pitching, per Carrie Muskat of MLB.com:
If anything [the rumors] just put a chip on your shoulder and make you want to go out and prove even more. That's the thing about this game is that you're constantly going out to prove yourself.
It doesn't matter what your contract situation is or anything like that. The only thing that matters is proving yourself that day against the team you're playing against.
While the pitchers' allowed five runs throughout the game after Samardzija's departure, the bats showed they are slowly heating up.
At the plate, Emilio Bonifacio finished the game 1-for-2 with a triple and a run while Castro drove in a run while going 2-for-2 with a single and a double.
Muskat added a note on Bonifacio, who accomplished a historic feat with his first run scored at the new Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz.:
The Cubs will look to get their first win of the spring season when they face the Los Angeles Angels on Friday at 3:05 p.m. ET.
Pre-Spring Training Prediction for 2014 Season
After finishing 30 games below .500 in 2013, the outlook isn't exactly bright for the Cubbies.
New manager Renteria is hoping to help the team turn the corner, and it starts with the young players. Renteria believes he can see change from one of the brightest young stars that hasn't yet materialized in Rizzo, according to Mike Tulumello of the Associated Press, via The Republic:
The biggest thing is to continue to improve his approach at the plate, stay within himself, hit pitches he can handle more consistently over an extended period of time. When he does that, I think he has a chance to hit for a higher average and more productivity.
In a division with three postseason teams from last year, including the NL champion Cardinals, Renteria isn't coming into the brightest of situations in Chicago.
Samardzija returns, but the rumors are clearly already swirling that he could be out before the trade deadline if the Cubs aren't in contention. The same goes for Rizzo and others if they are putting together solid individual seasons.
After a rough year in 2013, Edwin Jackson returns to the rotation with hopes of turning it around on the mound. Travis Wood is also eyeing a successful campaign after finishing with a 3.11 ERA last year despite an underwhelming 9-12 record overall.
Wood was so successful last season that Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com made a case as to why he should be named the starter on Opening Day:
Wood was the Cubs' lone All-Star last season. His ERA (3.11) was more than a run better than Samardzija's (4.34) and Wood's batting average against hitters was .222, good for ninth in the National League. Samardzija's was .255. If statistics don't tell enough of the story, the eye test certainly does. Wood was in more command of more games than Samardzija last year.
Though the regular season is still over a month away, the Cubs have reason for optimism with bats in the infield and a one-two punch in Wood and Samardzija. If any of those bats can materialize for the Cubs, there's a chance they can be competitive in the division.
The likelihood of making the playoffs in 2014 is slim for the Cubs, but the team has a chance to compete and will look to come out of the National League Central with a winning record and continue to work toward the future. They'll improve upon their record but finish last in the division once again in 2014.
Follow R. Cory Smith on Twitter: