What was viewed as a strength of the team coming out of Spring Training has turned into a glaring weakness for the Chicago Cubs. And for the fourth time in four seasons a bad bullpen is costing the Cubs games.
Prior to this year, the Cubs were not expected to win games. Jed Hoyer has used the phrase “puncher’s chance” on numerous occasions to describe the odds the front office put on the big league team to compete in the three previous seasons under their leadership. This year is different, the Cubs have internal expectations and blowing games is demoralizing for any team, but especially for one that is looking to shake its losing ways and build a perennial contender.
The Cubs lost two relievers to the DL early in the season in RHP Justin Grimm and RHP Neil Ramirez. Grimm did not appear in a regular season game prior to landing on the DL and Ramirez was placed on the disabled list April 17. Not having Grimm and Ramirez coupled with the lack of innings from the starting staff has put a strain on the bullpen.
Justin Grimm reported to Triple-A Iowa on Monday and pitched in his first rehab game. Joe Maddon and Theo Epstein said prior to Monday’s game in St. Louis that Grimm was getting close to returning. Grimm pitched a scoreless inning with a walk and two strikeouts (17 pitches, nine strikes). Javier Baez made a leaping catch for the third out.
Reports from the Sun-Times and ESPN Chicago following Monday’s loss pointed to the Cubs possibly speeding up Grimm’s return and also the possibility of adding LHP James Russell to the big league roster.
When asked about James Russell, Epstein said it is “great” that Russell is pitching the way he is and he is “sure he’ll become an attractive option” for the big league team.
James Russell has not allowed a run in seven appearances out of Iowa’s pen. In 9 2/3 innings, Russell has given up four hits and no walks with 12 strikeouts.
The Sun-Times thinks several changes to the bullpen could be made before Tuesday’s game. Gordon Wittenmyer reported Theo Epstein “was non-committal about a possible bullpen shakeup.” Epstein and Hoyer are both with the team in St. Louis. But the changes, according to the Sun-Times, could involve LHP Phil Coke and/or RHP Gonzalez Germen.
The Cubs have not addressed the status of RHP Anthony Varvaro. The Cubs claimed the veteran reliever off waivers from the Red Sox on Sunday. Reports suggested he would catch up with the team Monday in St. Louis. But if he did, he was not activated. Varvaro is out of minor league options. Unless the Cubs tried to send him back through waivers or have plans to put him on the DL, Varvaro will have to be added to the 25-man roster.
Tuesday could be a rather busy day for roster moves in the pen, plus the team placing Chris Denorfia on the DL and recalling Matt Szczur from Iowa.
The unfortunate dispute over Ernie Banks’ estate has continued. According to reports, Banks left behind memorabilia and personal items but there was not an insurance policy and his only known assets were estimated at $16,000.
According to a report from ESPN Chicago, among Mr. Banks’ personal items are his Hall of Fame ring, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, autographed baseballs, a 2007 Silver Lexus, boxes of photos and used clothes in storage bins in Chicago and California, a Michael Jordan jersey and items from his rented condo in Chicago. Documents provided did not list any real estate as part of his assets.
Elizabeth Banks maintains that Regina Rice, Mr. Banks’ long-time caregiver, has not disclosed all assets in Mr. Banks’ estate and that includes a joint bank account Mr. Banks shared with Regina Rice and a trust.
Thomas Jefson, the attorney for Elizabeth Banks, has also requested details of “items belonging to Mr. Banks that were recently sold through a website Rice controls” according to ESPN. Regina Rice’s attorney, Linda Chatman, said “she doesn’t believe the accounts are part of Banks’ estate.”
Attorneys for both sides are expected back in court this month.
- Full Report from ESPN Chicago
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The Negro Leagues Museum is honoring Ernie Banks with a Barnstorming Tribute bus trip from Kansas City to Chicago for the Cubs and Royals series on May 31. Mr. Banks played for the Kansas City Monarchs and took the same route in 1953 when he went from Kansas City to Chicago prior to his debut with the Cubs.
Registration ends May 6, additional details for the event can be found by clicking here.
News, Notes and Rumors
• Jason Hammel told the beat writers he will not miss his next start. Hammel dealt with a broken/cracked nail on the middle finger of his pitching hand during Sunday’s start. Hammel was not able to pitch the way he wanted to but still put together a quality start. Hammel is scheduled to start the opener in Milwaukee on Friday night.
• RHP Neil Ramirez is reportedly getting close to throwing a bullpen. Ramirez is rehabbing in Arizona and throwing on flat ground. Ramirez has been on the DL since April 17 with right shoulder inflammation.
• Jorge Soler was not in Monday’s starting lineup. Maddon said he wanted to give Soler a break and felt Monday was the right time with RHP Carlos Martinez starting for the Cardinals. Soler pinch-hit in the ninth inning and is expected back in the lineup on Tuesday night.
• Miguel Montero (six games) and Addison Russell (seven games) extended their hitting streaks in Monday’s loss. Montero and Russell drove in four of the Cubs’ nine runs.
• Unless Terry Collins alters the Mets rotation, the Cubs will face Bartolo Colon, Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey in the first three games of the Mets series (May 11-14).
• Jason Motte talked to Carrie Muskat about returning to St. Louis with the Cubs. Motte received what was reported as a “warm welcome” when he entered Monday’s game in the sixth inning.
• Anthony Rizzo is currently third in the National League (fifth in baseball) in OBP (.458) behind Matt Holliday (.462) and Dee Gordon (.460). According to Christopher Kamka, Gary Matthews Sr. was the last Cub to lead the Majors in OBP. ‘Sarge’ had a .410 on-base percentage in 1984.
• And Anthony Rizzo thinks home runs are overrated according to a report from the Sun-Times.
• St. Louis is special for Joe Maddon according to Carrie Muskat.
• According to the Sun-Times, if the Cardinals series is a test, the bullpen flunked.
And last, but not least, a very good report from Mark Gonzales almost two years ago after the Cubs drafted Kris Bryant. The report recently made the rounds on Twitter, among the subjects discussed with his college coach was that Rich Hill thought Bryant could be a Gold Glove right fielder even though he knows Bryant wants to be a great third baseman.
This Day In Cubstory
2008 – Cubs signed free agent Hector Carrasco
2004 – Cubs released Bryan Corey
2001 – Sammy Sosa homered and drove in four runs behind seven solid innings from Julian Tavarez as the Cubs beat the Dodgers 20-1 at Wrigley Field.
1999 – In a 13-6 victory over the Cubs, the Rockies became just the third team in the 1900’s to score a run in every inning of a ballgame. The Rockies scored single runs in the first, second, third, fourth and sixth innings and scored two runs in the fifth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings. The Cardinals also accomplished the feat against the Cubs in 1964. The Giants scored a run in every innings against the Phillies in 1923.
1998 – Cubs traded Ben VanRyn to the Padres for Don Wengert
1991 – Cubs signed free agent Alex Cabrera
1958 – Dave Grumpert, born
1946 – Cubs scored 11 runs in the seventh inning. Pitcher Hank Borowy drove in four with a pair of doubles in a 13-1 victory over the Phillies at Wrigley Field.
1938 – Cubs scored 12 runs in the sixth inning off Hal Kelleher of the Phillies. Kelleher faced 16 batters in the sixth inning and was charged with all 12 runs in a 21-2 loss to the Cubs. The Cubs set a National League record for scoring the most runs in one inning of the same pitcher. Augie Galan collected three hit, scored three times and drove in four runs with a triple and a home run.
1923 – Jim Kirby, born
1917 – Lenny Merullo, born
1900 – Jimmy Ryan hit the 20th leadoff homer of his career and his final home run with the Chicago National League Ball Club in a 4-3 victory over Cincinnati at West Side Grounds.
1876 – In the National League’s first 1-0 game, St. Louis’ George Bradley beat Albert Spalding.
1867 – Tom Vickery, born