Paul Maholm

theo epstein getty

Cubs ready to make a big play for pitching


The Cubs know they can’t just get by on change-of-scenery guys and sign-and-flip deals, planning to make a huge investment in their rotation either this offseason and/or next winter.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are a $2 billion franchise with an Opening Day payroll that soared to $235 million. They’re guaranteed a playoff spot, but a first-place team still needed a bullpen game to get through the season’s second-to-last weekend.

That again shows the cliché is true: You can never have enough pitching. Even when it’s in your DNA, from Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale, to Tommy John’s breakthrough surgery, to international stars like Fernando Valenzuela and Hideo Nomo. Orel Hershiser even watched from the SportsNet LA booth inside Wrigley Field’s press box.

A series that began with Cy Young Award winners Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw ended with Jamey Wright making a spot start on Sunday and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly going mix-and-match with five more relievers to secure an 8-5 victory.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs watch Arismendy Alcantara play his way into The Plan]

Theo Epstein’s front office hasn’t signed its Greinke or developed its Kershaw, and got outbid for South Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu, who’s been sidelined with a shoulder injury. The total bill for that Big Three is projected at more than $420 million.

The Cubs have found great value in free agents Paul Maholm, Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel, relying on a blend of scouting and analytics and leaning on coaches Chris Bosio (pitching) and Mike Borzello (catching/strategy).

Edwin Jackson’s $52 million contract is a sunk cost, but the Cubs will have to (at least) double that investment if they want to get serious about October and land a top-of-the-rotation starter. It’s absolutely worth trying, but it’s not realistic to think they’ll keep hitting on old names from the Baseball America prospect lists and discount arms recovering from injuries.

The Cubs haven’t been grabbing elite pitchers at the top of the draft, using first-round picks on Javier Baez, Albert Almora, Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber across the last four years. They cashed in their most valuable trade chip this summer (Jeff Samardzija) to get another shortstop (Addison Russell).

The idea being the Cubs could build a monster core of position players during a time of stricter drug testing, digital-video databases, incredibly detailed advance scouting reports and bullpens stocked with multiple relievers throwing close to 100 mph.

If you have one of the game’s better lineups – in an environment where power is fading and offense is down – can you win with an average pitching staff?

[MORE CUBS: Coghlan’s career day helps Cubs complete comeback over Dodgers]

“I think you can,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “The challenge is that average pitching staff can become below average in a hurry. I think a below-average pitching staff and an above-average offense isn’t going to work. But I do think the team that is probably average in run prevention – and really hits the ball in this day and age – probably does work.

“It’s a hard needle to thread, because if you try to go for average, and you end up on the other side of that – the wrong side of that – it’s not a lot of fun to watch.”

Jacob Turner (5-11, 6.25 ERA) wasn’t exactly entertaining on Sunday, making it through five innings, giving up five runs, four earned, and having trouble slowing down Yasiel Puig, Adrian Gonzalez and Matt Kemp.

After getting designated for assignment by the Miami Marlins, Turner became another reclamation project, the ninth overall pick in the 2009 draft the Detroit Tigers used to get Anibal Sanchez.

Between Turner, Felix Doubront and Dan Straily, the Cubs keep collecting pitchers who’ve experienced some success in the big leagues, without firmly establishing themselves for whatever reason. Doubront earned a World Series ring with the Boston Red Sox last year. Straily appeared in the American League’s Rookie of the Year voting with the Oakland A’s last season.

[MORE CUBS: Cubs don’t see bullpen wearing down as season comes to a close]

The Cubs also view Eric Jokisch as a future option for the rotation. The 25-year-old lefty out of Northwestern University put up a 3.58 ERA in 26 starts at Triple-A Iowa this season.

For now, Jake Arrieta (9-5, 2.65 ERA) keeps flirting with no-hitters, while Kyle Hendricks (7-2, 2.28 ERA) continues to impress with his poise, consistency and sneaky athleticism. Arrieta’s big-time confidence and Hendricks’ Dartmouth College education make you think they’ll find a way to stick.

“You always want pitching,” Cubs manager Rick Renteria said. “We’ve got guys that have come through the minor-league system that are pitching well and developing, so we also need to give those guys credit down there for everything they’re doing.

“We’ve got places to look, to turn to (and) I know that Jed and Theo will do what they need to do in order to continue to put us ahead. We’ll just wait to see what those things are.”

The Cubs aren’t as rich as the Dodgers, but they have enough financial flexibility that the Jon Lester sweepstakes will dominate the hot-stove headlines in Chicago, and enough trade chips that they shouldn’t be counted out of any big deals.

Elbow soreness puts Zack Greinke’s next start in doubt

Zack Greinke

Zack Greinke skipped his usual between-starts bullpen session because of elbow soreness and Dodgers manager Don Mattingly declined to say whether he expected the right-hander to take his next turn in the rotation Thursday against the Padres.

Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times reports that Greinke complained of elbow soreness following his August 9 start. He then tossed five shutout innings Friday against the Brewers, but Greinke walked a season-high five batters and needed 99 pitches to record 15 outs before the early exit.

Dodgers starters Hyun-Jim Ryu, Josh Beckett, and Paul Maholm are already on the disabled list, which is why they traded for veterans Kevin Correia and Roberto Hernandez as rotation depth.

Greinke has been brilliant this season with a 2.75 ERA and 170/35 K/BB ratio in 157 innings, giving him a combined 2.69 ERA in 53 starts for the Dodgers since they signed him to a six-year, $147 million contract.

Paul Maholm has a torn ACL

Paul Maholm

Dodgers pitcher Paul Maholm injured his right knee covering first base in the seventh inning of Friday night’s game against the Cubs. An MRI has revealed that the lefty has a torn ACL, the Dodgers reported via Twitter. Maholm will visit Dr. Neal ElAttrache to decide how to proceed. Surgery is, obviously, an option. Regardless of what he chooses, however, his season has ended.

Maholm, 32, has made eight starts and 22 relief appearances for the Dodgers this season, posting a 4.84 ERA with a 34/28 K/BB ratio in 70 2/3 innings. The Dodgers signed him to a one-year, $1.5 million contract back in February.

Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times suggests that the Dodgers will be on the lookout for starting and relief pitching via waivers throughout the month of August.

And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Mets 8, Braves 3: A rookie named  Jacob deGrom facing one of the best pitchers in the NL in Julio Teheran? You figure it’d be no contest. And it wasn’t. Just not in the way you’d figure. deGrom struck out 11 in seven shutout innings and he [altogether now] helped his own cause by singling and coming around to score on a double. In other news, the Mets lead all of baseball in players whose surnames begin with lowercase letters.

White Sox 8, Red Sox 3: Sox win. Conor Gillaspie had three hits, including a tie-breaking three-run homer in the sixth. The last place Red Sox have lost seven of eight.

Tigers 14, Dodgers 5: Justin Verlander was tagged for five runs in the first, but then Hyun-Jin Ryu was tagged for seven in the next two and a third. And Detroit didn’t let up then, going on to abuse Jamey Wright, Chris Perez and Paul Maholm too, as they scored 14 unanswered runs. Well, I suppose they were answered by lots of cussing and heavy sighs from Don Mattingly, but that’s all.

Twins 2, Mariners 0: I’m picturing a 90s action movie trailer: “HUGHES!” [explosion sound effect] “FULD!” [explosion sound effect] “BY THEMSELVES, A LOT TO HANDLE.” [explosion sound effect] “TOGETHER, TOO MUCH TO HANDLE!” Phil Hughes shut ’em out on eight hits into the eighth while striking out eight. Sam Fuld was 3 for 3 with a homer.

Reds 4, Cubs 2; Reds 6, Cubs 5: The Reds were down 5-0 themselves in the nightcap of this twin bill, but Jay Bruce, who homered n the first game, doubled home the tying run in the eighth inning of the second and Billy Hamilton’s broken-bat RBI single in the ninth to walk the Reds off. After the game he was kinda jacked: “Let’s play three! I’m ready to go right now!” he said.

Indians 5, Yankees 3: Masahiro Tanaka is starting to look pretty mortal as the season wears on. He took his third loss in his past four starts while allowing five runs on ten hits to the Tribe. Michael Brantley homered, doubled twice and drove in three. His ridiculous season continues as he’s now at .328/.391/.529.

Marlins 2, Diamondbacks 1: Vidal Nuno made his debut for the Dbacks and it went really well for him: 7 IP, 3 H, 0 ER, 7K. The night didn’t go well for the Dbacks overall, however, as Marcell Ozuna hit a two-run homer in the ninth.

Rockies 2, Padres 1: Charlie Blackmon, about whom who we will one day say “that guy was an All-Star?” hit a two-run homer. Against the 2014 San Diego Padres, about whom we will one day say “that team had major leaguers on it?” that’s all you really need.

Athletics 6, Giants 1: Six wins in a row for the A’s, three losses in a row for Madison Bumgarner. Sonny Gray struck out eight and allowed one run over seven. The series now shifts across the Bay to San Francisco.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $30,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Wednesday night’s MLB games. It’s $25 to join and first prize is $5,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on WednesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

Cardinals 5, Pirates 4: Two straight walkoff homers for the Cards. On Monday it was Matt Adams. Last night it was Kolten Wong. And it wasn’t a cheapie: he hit the thing 420 feet.

Blue Jays 4, Angels 0: Oh Dickey, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind HEY DICKEY! [clap clap, clap-clap] HEY DICKEY! [clap clap, clap-clap]. Seven shutout innings for R.A., 4 for 5 and three RBI for Jose Reyes.

What? You write a couple thousand of these recaps a year and see if you don’t reach for something once in a damn while.

Phillies 9, Brewers 7: Down 5-1 after the first inning, the Phillies broke out for five more in the second, one in the third and two in the fifth for their biggest offensive outburst in some time. Domonic Brown homered and had a two-run single.

Astros 8, Rangers 3: Chris Carter had two homers, leading off innings with both of them, and George Spring led off another inning with a bomb. That’s two in a row off Texas in this series and four against them overall. If they beat the Rangers today, Texas will fall into a last place tie with Houston.

Rays 4, Royals 3: Jeremy Hellickson made his season debut. It wasn’t a long one — he only lasted four and a third — but he only gave up one run. Kansas City left 11 dudes on base.

Orioles vs. Nationals: POSTPONED: Nobody feels any pain. Tonight as I stand inside the rain. Everybody knows, that Baby’s got new clothes. But lately I see her ribbons and her bows have fallen from her curls.

Drew Butera pitched a 1-2-3 inning last night, topping out at 95 m.p.h.

Drew Butera

The Dodgers used six relievers to mop up the mess that Paul Maholm left last night. One of those six was Drew Butera. Catchers often have great arms for obvious reasons, but Butera’s was so great that you have to wonder why someone hasn’t turned him into a pitcher yet.

Butera pitched the ninth. He got a 1-2 count on Christian Yelich before forcing him to line out, a 2-1 count on Ed Lucas before getting him to ground out and then he struck out Marcell Ozuna on three straight swinging strikes. One of those strikes registered at 94 on the stadium gun, but BrooksBaseball said that last pitch was 95.1 m.p.h.. Another one of those strikes was on a 74 m.p.h. breaking ball.

This is the second time Butera has pitched. He did it once in 2012 and then, as now, pitched a scoreless inning while striking out a batter. Given that he’s a career .186/.236/.273 hitter, and given how much trouble the Dodgers’ bullpen has experienced this year, well, do I need to do the math for you?