Chicago Cubs coy about Manny Machado speculation
|Toronto Star 25 May 2018 at 15:58|
CHICAGOâ€”The idea of Manny Machado joining Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo in a powerhouse lineup sure is a tantalizing one.
Whether that happens or not, the Chicago Cubs are banking on the players they have to perform up to expectations. So far, that hasnâ€™t happened. And if fans are frustrated, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands.
â€śI think we should have high expectations,â€ť he said Friday. â€śI think this group has earned a tremendous amount of trust. Itâ€™s OK to be really frustrated with our inability to really get locked in and get hot and play up to our talent and our expectations, while at the same time being really optimistic that this group really figures it out.â€ť
Epstein insisted his team has not engaged in trade talks, despite speculation about a potential deal with Baltimore for Machado.
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He wouldnâ€™t comment on reports that the Cubs could be a landing spot for the slick-fielding slugger. He said there are â€śzero trade talksâ€ť at the moment and Chicago has enough to win the World Series for the second time in three years.
â€śThe simple way to put it is there have been a lot of trade rumours about the Cubs, and thereâ€™s essentially zero trade talks,â€ť Epstein said. â€śItâ€™s my job to clarify thereâ€™s nothing going on right now.â€ť
The Cubs have struggled to hit their stride with at 25-21 entering Fridayâ€™s game against the San Francisco Giants. They have been inconsistent at the plate and on the mound. And itâ€™s added up to another frustrating start for a team that got out slowly in 2015 and 2017.
Chicago was second in the National League in runs scored heading into Fridayâ€™s game but was batting just .222 with runners in scoring position â€” 26th in the majors. The Cubs had the NLâ€™s highest slugging percentage with the bases empty â€” and the majorsâ€™ lowest with men in scoring position.
â€śItâ€™s just odd,â€ť Epstein said. â€śWeâ€™re not getting the bang for our buck with the offensive production. A lot of our extra-base hits and home runs are with nobody on base. Weâ€™re not performing at that same level as we have with runners in scoring position, so it should even out. We just have to always make sure itâ€™s not something thatâ€™s baked into our approach or something. I donâ€™t think it is.â€ť
Maddon always tinkers with the lineup, moving players up and down in the order. He values versatility and he wants to keep a deep roster fresh.
While third baseman Kris Bryant is off to a solid start, first baseman Anthony Rizzo was batting just .207 / .301 / .360. Shortstop Addison Russell hasnâ€™t hit the way the Cubs hoped, either. And the starting rotation hasnâ€™t clicked behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
Yu Darvish has a 4.95 ERA and didnâ€™t pick up a win until he beat Cincinnati on Sunday. Jose Quintana (4.47 ERA) hasnâ€™t been as effective as the Chicago would like, and Tyler Chatwood leads the majors with 40 walks, despite a respectable 3.74 ERA.
â€śTheyâ€™re all very close,â€ť manager Joe Maddon said. â€śIt really comes down to command issues with most of those guys, where weâ€™re off. Physically, stuff-wise, weâ€™re fine.â€ť
He said hasnâ€™t thought about taking Chatwood out of the rotation at some point if his control issues continue. Instead, Maddon predicted Chatwood is â€śreally gonna take offâ€ť and will be â€ślooking really goodâ€ť by the end of the season.
Chicagoâ€™s prized free agent addition, Darvish at least looks like he is starting to come around. He held Cincinnati to a run in six innings for his first win since signing a $126 million, six-year contract. He went four strong innings in his previous start at Atlanta before exiting because of cramping.
â€śItâ€™s a process,â€ť Epstein said. â€śHe hasnâ€™t gotten to a point where heâ€™s at the top of his game and feeling great and feeling comfortable in everything. But I think heâ€™s on the road to getting there. Even if he goes out and has a bad one, it doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s starting over.â€ť