Cubs ready to make a big play for pitching

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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.

Pujols has 2 more RBIs, Cardinals beat Pirates 8-7 in 10

Cincinnati Reds v St. Louis Cardinals
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PITTSBURGH – Albert Pujols drove in two more runs and the St. Louis Cardinals went on to beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 8-7 in 10 innings Tuesday night.

Pujols hit a two-run single in the third inning to push his career total to 2,218 RBIs. That came a night after he broke a tie with Babe Ruth for second place on the career list. Hank Aaron holds the record with 2,287.

Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol then removed the 42-year-old Pujols at the end of the inning. St. Louis opens postseason play Friday when it hosts a best-of-three National League wild-card series.

Juan Yepez gave the Cardinals the win when he hit a tiebreaking single with one in the 10th inning off Chase De Jong (6-3) to score automatic runner Ben Deluzio.

“Tonight was interesting because you’re fairly scripted in who you want to use and who you don’t want to use and what you want tomorrow to look like so you can get ready for Friday,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “It was a good one to still figure out a way to come out on top.”

The Cardinals threw out the potential tying run at home in the bottom of the 10th when automatic runner Kevin Newman tried to score from second base on Oneil Cruz‘s line single off the glove of first baseman Alec Burleson. The ball deflected to second baseman Brendon Donovan, who threw home to catcher Andrew Knizner.

The Pirates challenged the call, but it was upheld on video review.

“I thought we were going to get it overturned,” Newman said. “I just thought he didn’t tag me until he got higher up on the body.”

It was the Pirates’ 100th loss, the second year in a row they have reached that mark.

The Cardinals got two hits each from Donovan, Corey Dickerson, Knizner and Paul DeJong.

Cruz had three hits for the Pirates and Bryan Reynolds, Rodolfo Castro, Jack Suwinski, Ke'Bryan Hayes and Ji-Hwan Bae added two apiece. Miguel Andujar drove in two runs.

Chris Stratton (10-4) pitched two scoreless innings for the win.

“They weren’t the prettiest two innings I’ve ever pitched but I got a great play from the defense in the 10th inning to help me out,” Stratton said. “It was a good play all the way around.’

Pujols’ hit put the Cardinals ahead 3-1 but the Pirates answered with six runs in the bottom of the third. Andujar’s run-scoring double highlighted an inning that includes RBI singles by Castro, Suwinski, Ben Gamel and Bae.

The Cardinals then scored four runs in the seventh inning to tie the score at 7-all. Donovan hit an RBI single, Dickerson drove in two runs with a double and the tying run scored on a throwing error by Cruz, the rookie shortstop.

Both starting pitchers lasted just 2 2/3 innings. The Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson was rocked for seven runs and nine hits while the Pirates’ JT Brubaker allowed three runs on four hits.

Brubaker was activated from the injured list before the game. He had been out since Sept. 16 with right lat discomfort.

HELSLEY HURT

Reliever Ryan Helsley, the Cardinals’ closer, left in the eighth inning with a jammed right middle finger. Helsley was injured after catching a line drive by Bae and using his hands to brace himself while dodging a piece of a broken bat.

Helsley said he expects to be ready to pitch Friday.

“I don’t think there was anything super wrong with it,” Helsley said. `Just give it some rest and let it resolve itself.”

ROSTER MOVES

The Pirates optioned right-hander Roansy Contreras to Triple-A Indianapolis to clear a roster spot for Brubaker. They also recalled infielder/outfielder Tucapita Marcano from Indianapolis and optioned catcher Jose Godoy to the same club.

PIRATES AWARDS

Center fielder Bryan Reynolds was voted the winner of the Roberto Clemente Award, emblematic of the Pirates’ MVP, by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Mitch Keller won the Steve Blass Award for best pitcher. Former infielder Michael Chavis was voted the Chuck Tanner Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Cardinals: OF Tyler O'Neill (strained right hamstring) has been ruled out for the wild-card series but St. Louis is hopeful he can play in the NLDS round if it advances. . 3B Nolan Arenado (left quadriceps tightness) missed his second straight game but could play Wednesday.

UP NEXT

Cardinals: Have not decided on a starter for Wednesday, though Marmol said LHP Matthew Liberatore (2-1, 5.46) and RHP Jake Woodford (4-0, 2.33) are possibilities.

Pirates: RHP Johan Oviedo (4-3, 3.12), who was acquired from the Cardinals on Aug. 1, gets the start.