Chicago Cubs coy about Manny Machado speculation
|Toronto Star 25 May 2018 at 15:58|
CHICAGOâThe 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 hasnât happened. And if fans are frustrated, president of baseball operations Theo Epstein understands.
âI think we should have high expectations,â he said Friday. âI think this group has earned a tremendous amount of trust. Itâs 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
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 wouldnât comment on reports that the Cubs could be a landing spot for the slick-fielding slugger. He said there are âzero trade talksâ at the moment and Chicago has enough to win the World Series for the second time in three years.
âThe simple way to put it is there have been a lot of trade rumours about the Cubs, and thereâs essentially zero trade talks,â Epstein said. âItâs my job to clarify thereâs nothing going on right now.â
The Cubs have struggled to hit their stride with at 25-21 entering Fridayâs game against the San Francisco Giants. They have been inconsistent at the plate and on the mound. And itâs 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 Fridayâs game but was batting just .222 with runners in scoring position â 26th in the majors. The Cubs had the NLâs highest slugging percentage with the bases empty â and the majorsâ lowest with men in scoring position.
âItâs just odd,â Epstein said. âWeâre 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. Weâre 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 itâs not something thatâs baked into our approach or something. I donât think it is.â
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 hasnât hit the way the Cubs hoped, either. And the starting rotation hasnât clicked behind Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks.
Yu Darvish has a 4.95 ERA and didnât pick up a win until he beat Cincinnati on Sunday. Jose Quintana (4.47 ERA) hasnât been as effective as the Chicago would like, and Tyler Chatwood leads the majors with 40 walks, despite a respectable 3.74 ERA.
âTheyâre all very close,â manager Joe Maddon said. âIt really comes down to command issues with most of those guys, where weâre off. Physically, stuff-wise, weâre fine.â
He said hasnât thought about taking Chatwood out of the rotation at some point if his control issues continue. Instead, Maddon predicted Chatwood is âreally gonna take offâ and will be âlooking really goodâ by the end of the season.
Chicagoâs 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.
âItâs a process,â Epstein said. âHe hasnât gotten to a point where heâs at the top of his game and feeling great and feeling comfortable in everything. But I think heâs on the road to getting there. Even if he goes out and has a bad one, it doesnât mean heâs starting over.â