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Offense can't find groove in Arrieta's brief outing

Dependable starter allows six runs in four innings as Cubs drop finale

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Offense can't find groove in Arrieta's brief outing play video for Offense can't find groove in Arrieta's brief outing

CINCINNATI -- In the bottom of the sixth inning Thursday afternoon, Cubs second baseman Javier Baez couldn't hold on to a throw from third baseman Luis Valbuena, and he was charged with an error. Earlier in the inning, the Reds had taken advantage of an error by center fielder Arismendy Alcantara to score a run.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria went to the mound for a little chat after Baez's misplay. Renteria couldn't do anything to salvage the game, which ended with the Chicago losing, 7-2, at Great American Ball Park. He did want to get the players focused on the task at hand. It's all part of the development process that will be very evident in the final month of the Cubs' season.

"[I told them], 'Hey, keep playing,'" Renteria said. "Things happen like [Baez's error]. 'Get another ground ball and let's turn a double play if we can.' They're kicking themselves. I don't need them kicking themselves when everybody is already kicking them.

"It wasn't a clean game -- I'm sure everybody is [thinking] the sky is falling, the wheels are coming off the wagon," Renteria said. "I just want to make sure [the players] understand we're still there for them and they have to keep playing the game."

Renteria has obviously picked up on Cubs fans' neurosis in his first season as manager.

The Reds did not score again that inning -- they did all the damage they needed against starter Jake Arrieta, who tied a season low with a four-inning outing. Arrieta gave up six runs for the second time this season, and he couldn't have his outing saved by any Jorge Soler heroics or even a Baez big fly.

Todd Frazier, Billy Hamilton and Brandon Phillips each drove in two runs to lift the Reds to victory and improve to 11-5 against the Cubs this season.

It was Arrieta's shortest outing since May 13, when the Cubs were still being careful with the right-hander who had reported to Spring Training with tightness in his shoulder. He threw 96 pitches over four innings, and after the game was sporting a buzz cut.

"The beard's going to stay," Arrieta said.

Arrieta is a big part of the Cubs' future, and also part of the transformation that has occurred this season. Think about this: only three players in Thursday's starting lineup were on the Opening Day roster -- Starlin Castro, Valbuena and backup catcher John Baker. There's been an infusion of youth.

"Each day is progress, regardless of the results on the field," Arrieta said. "They're moving in the right direction."

The Reds were on the move against Arrieta, totaling a season-high six stolen bases while he was on the mound.

"I was bad at controlling the running game today," Arrieta said. "That's my fault, not giving Baker any opportunity to throw those guys out. Putting them in scoring position sets them up for some of those hits."

Five of the Reds runs came with two outs, and he couldn't get the strikeout in big situations when needed.

"Arrieta, we knew, was going to be very hard to score on," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "So I felt we needed to create some scoring opportunities by running. He's a little bit slower and more deliberate to the plate, and we were able to take advantage of that."

But Arrieta couldn't keep the Reds off the bases, as they totaled six hits and four walks against him.

"He just didn't have his 'Jake-like' command today," Renteria said.

The Cubs had two hits over the first eight innings, but Castro and Valbuena both singled off Jumbo Diaz in the ninth, and Soler followed with an RBI single. Playing in his second big league game, Soler doubled to lead off the second. The right fielder, who homered in his first big league at-bat on Wednesday, was a triple shy of hitting for the cycle in his first five at-bats. He finished 2-for-4.

Renteria is in charge of keeping the mistakes to a minimum.

"The thing we're going to try to concentrate on is give the pitcher some support by defending well, and making sure the little things we have to do in terms of the game are taken care of," Renteria said. "The at-bats and the offense could come and go, and there could be hiccups. That's to be expected.

"We still have to play clean baseball and everybody is capable of doing that. If we have a rough game, we talk about it, address it in our own way, and see if guys adjust."

And that process will continue for the remaining 29 games.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Recovering from back injury, Rizzo out of lineup again

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Recovering from back injury, Rizzo out of lineup again play video for Recovering from back injury, Rizzo out of lineup again

CINCINNATI -- Anthony Rizzo did not start for a second straight day Thursday because of tightness in his lower back, but he hopes to return to the Cubs' lineup Friday for the start of a three-game series against the Cardinals.

Rizzo said he couldn't get his back loose after a 50-minute rain delay Tuesday against the Reds, and he asked to come out of the game as a precaution.

"There wasn't one thing I did that hurt it," Rizzo said. "It just grabbed me. I'm not too worried about it. It's just frustrating."

Rizzo was able to loosen up on Wednesday, and he received treatment most of the day. He woke up Thursday feeling better.

"Hopefully, I can get it loose and keep it loose for a while," Rizzo said.

Rizzo said his back bothers him when he extends it, which is what he does on his swings.

"Obviously, going through a swinging motion grabs at it, too," Rizzo said. "Hopefully, today it gets a lot better. I don't think it's going to get any worse. I'll just gut through it, worst case."

Rizzo has been taking anti-inflammatory medication and keeping the team masseuse busy.

"No one is 100 percent healthy right now," Rizzo said.

{"content":["injury" ] }

Coghlan tossed for arguing after strikeout

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CINCINNATI -- Cubs left fielder Chris Coghlan was ejected in the fifth inning Thursday for arguing a called third strike with home-plate umpire Ben May.

Coghlan had walked in the first, and he was called out on strikes in the third against the Reds' Dylan Axelrod. Coghlan also disagreed with May's call at that time.

He was called out in the fifth, and Coghlan again argued the call. This time, May wasn't as patient.

Coghlan is the second Cubs player to be ejected this season. Anthony Rizzo was ejected on June 1 for arguing balls and strikes.

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{"content":["team_preview" ] }

Hendricks, Cubs take on playoff-hungry Cardinals

Hendricks leads rookie-laden squad; St. Louis has eyes on division title

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Hendricks, Cubs take on playoff-hungry Cardinals play video for Hendricks, Cubs take on playoff-hungry Cardinals

At this point, the Cardinals may not even recognize the Cubs.

St. Louis, pounding through another punishing stretch run in the National League Central, will play against Chicago on Friday for the first time in a month. But it's been an eventful month.

The Cubs have promoted two of their top prospects in August, and they had five rookies in the starting lineup on Sunday. Javier Baez has shown some mixed results in his first few weeks of big league action, but Chicago added high-impact outfielder Jorge Soler to the mix on Wednesday.

Baez, MLB.com's No. 5 overall prospect, is batting .189 with seven home runs in his first 23 games. Soler, meanwhile, has batted .340 with 15 home runs across three Minor League stops. Soler homered in his first Major League at-bat on Wednesday against the Reds, and he'll see St. Louis before he plays at Wrigley Field.

And it will be another rookie -- right-hander Kyle Hendricks -- on the mound in Friday's series opener against the Cardinals. Hendricks has gone 5-1 with a 1.78 ERA in his first eight big league outings, and he'll be matched against right-hander Shelby Miller, who has won just once since June 7.

The Cardinals have won four straight series at home, and they remained 1 1/2 games back of division-leading Milwaukee after a loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday. St. Louis and San Francisco currently control the NL's two Wild Card slots, but the Pirates and Braves are hot on their trail.

Hendricks came out after just two innings last week due to a rain delay, but prior to that outing, he had completed at least six innings in each of his first seven starts. Hendricks, acquired from Texas in a 2012 trade for Ryan Dempster, has allowed more than two earned runs just once this season.

Miller, meanwhile, logged a 3.15 ERA in April and has been over 4.00 in every other month. The 23-year-old has allowed 18 home runs this season, and he's 1-1 with a 4.17 ERA in his last seven starts. Miller won 15 games for St. Louis last season, and he has a career 3.52 ERA in 63 games.

Cubs: Rizzo hopes to be back in lineup Friday
First baseman Anthony Rizzo missed the final two games of the Cubs' series with the Reds due to lower back tightness, but hopes to be back in the lineup for Friday's series opener against the Cardinals.

"There wasn't one thing I did that hurt it," Rizzo said on Thursday. "It just grabbed me. I'm not too worried about it. It's just frustrating. … Obviously, going through a swinging motion grabs at it, too. Hopefully, today it gets a lot better. I don't think it's going to get any worse. I'll just gut through it, worst case."

Rizzo earned All-Star accolades this season, and he's quietly become one of the most productive power hitters in the league. He has 30 home runs this season and 53 since the start of the 2013 campaign, which is fourth-most among all NL players over that span.

Miami's Giancarlo Stanton (57), Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt (55) and Pittsburgh's Pedro Alvarez (54) are the only NL players with more homers over that time. Rizzo, 25, is just the seventh left-handed hitter in Cubs history to have 30 homers, and he's the first since Fred McGriff in 2002.

Cardinals: Veteran leadership on its way back
St. Louis could get catcher Yadier Molina back on the roster as soon as Friday, potentially ending a seven-week absence due to a torn ligament in his right thumb. Molina is batting .287 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs in 83 games, but he hasn't played for the Cardinals since July 9.

Molina, an All-Star in each of the last six seasons, began a rehab assignment with Double-A Springfield Wednesday, and if all goes well, he'd likely play again for Springfield on Thursday. St. Louis could activate Molina in time for Friday's opener against the Cubs, but the club may opt to wait for the weekend.

"I think he can have a huge impact, and I think anybody in baseball would want to have him on their club in any capacity," manager Mike Matheny said. "We want to have him right, too, so we have to see how he looks when he gets back. The leadership he brings, everything, the package, is important."

In 133 games against the Cubs, Molina has a .307 average, 13 HRs and 76 RBIs (his most against any opponent).

Worth noting
• Eight players have made their Major League debuts for the Cubs this season.

• Chicago closer Hector Rondon has thrown nine straight scoreless innings, and he's notched eight saves in that span.

• The Cardinals gave up a homer on Wednesday, but they are one of just five teams that have given up fewer than 100 homers this season. St. Louis has allowed 96 home runs, third-least in baseball.

{"content":["team_preview" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Soler's first game, homer brings 'exciting news'

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Soler's first game, homer brings 'exciting news' play video for Soler's first game, homer brings 'exciting news'

CINCINNATI -- Jorge Soler did get the ball from his first big league home run. And he got rave reviews from his Cubs teammates.

Soler hit a 2-1 fastball from the Reds' Mat Latos 423 feet to straightaway center in his first Major League at-bat Wednesday in the second inning of the Cubs' 7-5 loss.

"He was in a hitter's count, 2-0, and didn't get overanxious," Anthony Rizzo said Thursday. "He took a strike and put a nice swing on the ball. For everyone who has been following us and chattering about the future, it's exciting news for the organization.

"It's definitely exciting being here and sitting back and watching. Hearing [the media] talk about [the prospects] over and over and over and over and over again since Spring Training this year [is tiring]. Now that they're here, it's very exciting. Cubs fans have a lot to be excited about."

Cubs coach Jose Castro liked Soler's approach at the plate, too.

"Last night, he showed plate discipline and understanding what they're trying to do right off the bat," Castro said. "That's really big for a 22-year-old to show that kind of aptitude."

Cubs manager Rick Renteria is well aware there will be what he calls "hiccups" in the development of the young players.

"But in the end, the city of Chicago should be pretty excited and proud of the things that are coming together," Renteria said. "I know it's not the final product by any means, but there is reason to be hopeful if all the pieces play out. It will give us something pretty positive moving forward."

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Coghlan imparts wisdom to rookies Baez, Soler

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Coghlan imparts wisdom to rookies Baez, Soler

CINCINNATI -- Chris Coghlan didn't make a splash in his Major League debut as Jorge Soler or Javier Baez did, but he learned from it.

Coghlan's first big league game was May 8, 2009, with the Marlins in Colorado, and he went 2-for-4. That began a stellar season for the outfielder, who finished with a .321 batting average and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Coghlan's advice to youngsters like Baez and Soler, who made their debuts this year?

"Don't read anything, don't watch anything -- but that's what you do when you're a rookie," Coghlan said. "You can't blame them. Soler probably stayed up and watched himself hit a home run on ESPN [Wednesday night]. Enjoy it.

"I remember doing that. One time I hit two homers in one game, and I waited for 40 minutes to see it on 'Baseball Tonight,' and they didn't show either one. I was like, I'm done. From that point, I never stayed up again to watch."

Coghlan admits there's only so much the players can control.

"It's a new story ... it's exciting, because this is what's been pitched for the last couple years [with the Cubs]," Coghlan said. "There's really a lot that's out of their hands."

Coghlan also made his big league debut on the road, and he credited Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein for planning that for Soler.

"He's smart with that stuff," Coghlan said of Epstein. "Another thing is that each guy who has come up has come to a hitter-friendly park. I don't think that's by accident. I think on the road is smart. There's a little bit less pressure. As soon as he goes home, there will be 50 people at his locker. It's better to make it on the road, then go home after a couple days and you still deal with it, but it's not as crazy."

So far, Soler and Baez, who hit a game-winning home run in the 12th inning of his first big league game, seem to have handled the promotions well.

"When you come up here, everything is going 1,000 miles an hour," Coghlan said. "Enjoy it."

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{"event":["prospect" ] }

First homer, no waiting: Soler arrives with a bang

Prospect first Cub to go deep in inaugural AB since Castro, who also did it in Cincy

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First homer, no waiting: Soler arrives with a bang play video for First homer, no waiting: Soler arrives with a bang

CINCINNATI -- Jorge Soler got some last-minute advice from Triple-A Iowa player/coach Manny Ramirez before joining the Cubs on Wednesday.

"[Ramirez said], 'Everything you've been doing here in Triple-A, do it over there. Don't change anything,'" Soler said. "He knows how hard it is the first day and said, 'Relax, and everything will be all right.'"

Did Ramirez think Soler was ready for the Major Leagues?

"Yes," Soler said, smiling.

Apparently, he was. Soler homered in his first at-bat in the second inning of the Cubs' 7-5 loss to the Reds, hitting a 423-foot blast to center off starter Mat Latos. He's the first Cubs player to hit a home run in his first at-bat since Starlin Castro did so May 7, 2010, also at Great American Ball Park.

Soler's blast was the second in a back-to-back effort with Luis Valbuena that had given the Cubs a 2-0 lead at the time. Soler added an RBI single in a three-run eighth inning to cap a 2-for-4 debut.

"I feel real proud about it," Soler said. "All of my family was watching the game, especially my father here at the game. I feel real happy and proud that I did well today."

The Cubs felt Soler was ready, promoting the 22-year-old outfielder with 30 games remaining. Soler started in right field Wednesday and batted fifth. He is the eighth Cubs player to make his Major League debut this season, joining Arismendy Alcantara, Matt Szczur, Javier Baez, Dallas Beeler, Kyle Hendricks, Neil Ramirez and Tsuyoshi Wada.

"The key to the decision on Soler was the fact that he was going to be a September callup for us mainly because he needs the at-bats," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said Wednesday. "He missed significant time because of the hamstring injury. He needs to play, he needs to get the at-bats.

"We've been certain in our minds for a while now that he was going to be a September callup for us. It's the best place for him to continue to get at-bats, continue to learn, continue to make adjustments."

Epstein said they were waiting for a "developmental moment," and it happened when Soler had a mini slump but was able to get back on track. The powerful right-handed hitter hasn't had many slumps this season. He was batting .282 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs with Iowa, including a .373 average with runners on base.

Ranked by MLB.com as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, Soler belted a three-run homer in the third inning Monday in Iowa's game against Tacoma and was then pulled from the game after two innings. Iowa manager Marty Pevey wouldn't explain why until after the game was over.

"[Pevey] said, 'You don't play any more here,' and they didn't tell me for one hour that I was getting the call," Soler said through coach/interpreter Franklin Font. "I was really surprised."

Soler began the season with Double-A Tennessee but suffered a leg injury after his first game April 3. He went on the disabled list and returned in May, but he again played sporadically. He rehabbed at the Cubs' complex in Mesa, Ariz., and the focus was not just on getting his legs healthy but taking a holistic approach.

The Cubs changed Soler's diet -- more salads, water and less soda -- and worked on his posture. Epstein said Soler had a disproportionate amount of muscle mass located on the anterior side of his body, which was putting extra strain on his hamstrings. The training staff worked to redistribute that muscle mass to make him more balanced. They changed the way Soler runs, too.

Asked if he feels healthy, Soler smiled again and said yes.

After rehabbing in Mesa, he rejoined the Smokies in July and batted .463 in 15 games before he was promoted to Triple-A. In nine games in July with Iowa, he hit .304 and was batting .271 this month.

Epstein said Soler was "born with a very advanced approach at the plate," and that he's made strides with his swing mechanics and swing path so he can get the barrel to the ball better.

"He's always hit the ball hard, he's always controlled the zone, but now he's hitting the ball hard with loft and elevation," Epstein said. "His ground balls have become line drives, his line drives have become fly balls, and his fly balls tend to leave the ballpark. He's a really dangerous hitter. When he's right, he can use the whole field and loft the ball with ease."

That doesn't mean Soler is a finished product.

"He comes to the big leagues with a lot of momentum, but with an awful lot to learn and adjustments to make up here as well," Epstein said.

And Soler knows that. He's already been told about how Major League pitchers are more consistent in terms of their location. He has to be disciplined at the plate.

The Cuban outfielder signed a nine-year, $30 million contract in June 2012 and is on the Cubs' 40-man roster. He's part of the so-called "core four" that also includes Baez, Kris Bryant and Albert Almora. Bryant is at Iowa and leads all Minor League hitters with 43 home runs, while Almora is playing for Tennessee.

Epstein said having Soler join the team on the road will give him time to bond with his teammates. It worked well with Baez, who was promoted when the Cubs were in Denver on Aug. 5.

September can be a tough month to evaluate players, but the Cubs will be facing primarily contending teams. Does a good showing mean Cubs fans can write Soler's name into the 2015 Opening Day lineup?

"It's way too early to answer that," Epstein said. "It depends on a lot of factors. These kids are up here to continue to learn, to continue their development, but also to get opportunities that they can help us win baseball games. That's what this is all about."

Soler's promotion drew cheers from White Sox slugger Jose Abreu.

"Very happy, very happy that he's made it to the Major Leagues and he's able to accomplish one of his dreams, which is to play in the big leagues," Abreu said Tuesday through interpreter and coach Lino Diaz. "My advice to him would be to be very mentally tough and to prepare himself every day to play the game the way he's capable of playing it."

"I've waited two years for this moment," Soler said. "I'll just do everything I can."

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Soler goes deep, aids late rally that falls short

Prospect homers in first AB after Valbuena's blast; Baez adds big bat

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CINCINNATI -- The young Cubs are making great first impressions in their Major League debuts.

Javier Baez hit a game-winning home run in his first big league game, although it didn't come until the 12th inning. On Wednesday, Jorge Soler topped that, smacking a 423-foot blast to center field in his first big league at-bat.

And, coincidentally, the last Cubs player to homer in his first at-bat also did so at Great American Ball Park.

Soler's impressive home run wasn't enough as the Cubs came up short in a 7-5 loss to the Reds. Skip Schumaker drove in two runs to back Mat Latos, who struck out 10 over seven-plus innings, to lead the Reds, who have a 10-5 lead in the season series against the Cubs.

Wednesday marked the unveiling of Soler, 22, ranked by MLB.com as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, who was promoted from Triple-A Iowa and arrived with much fanfare. He finished 2-for-4 in his first game.

Luis Valbuena led off the Chicago second with his 13th home run, a new career high. Soler immediately followed with his first, launching a 2-1 fastball 423 feet to center, much to the delight of the Cubs fans and Soler's father, Jorge Sr., who was in the crowd of 20,497.

"I'm real, real happy about it," said the young Soler, who admitted to being a little nervous. "First time in the big leagues, first at-bat. I was very excited and happy about that."

He's the first Cubs player to homer in his first at-bat since Starlin Castro did so on May 7, 2010, in Cincinnati. The Cubs players excitedly greeted Soler upon his return to the dugout, and he got a hug from Baez, who had homered on Aug. 5 in his debut game against the Rockies.

Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said they prefer having their top prospects break in on the road to keep the distractions to a minimum and give the players a chance to bond with their teammates. It worked for Baez, and in the second inning, it worked for Soler. According to ESPN's statistics, the Cubs are the first team to have two players, each age 22 or younger, hit a home run in their first Major League game.

"Soler was supposed to be a two-seamer in," Latos said of the pitch. "It didn't move. I didn't feel like I had my release point. The next inning, I made sure I worked on getting a feel of where my release point should be and getting the ball out in front. I think it helped out."

Latos found his groove, holding the Cubs to two baserunners over the next five innings. But that's not why Chicago lost the game.

The Reds apparently weren't interested in letting Soler enjoy both his first homer and a win. Cincinnati tied the game in the second on an RBI double by Schumaker and a run-scoring groundout by Zack Cozart. The Reds then took the lead in the fourth, when Kristopher Negron doubled and scored on a single by Schumaker. Two outs later, a run scored on a fielding error by Castro, and Todd Frazier then reached on an error by Valbuena.

Chicago starter Jacob Turner was then pulled. This was the right-hander's first start for the Cubs and 13th of the season; his last came Aug. 3 against the Reds, when he went four innings. The Cubs acquired the right-hander from the Marlins on Aug. 8 for two Minor League pitchers.

"I would've liked to have gotten a little deeper in the game," said Turner, who was on a limit. "That part is definitely frustrating. At the same time, you've got to build the pitch count up, too."

Brandon Phillips and Devin Mesoraco followed with RBI singles off Carlos Villanueva to put the Reds ahead, 6-2.

The Cubs tallied in the eighth against Jonathan Broxton on a two-run double by Baez. Castro then smacked a long hit off the center-field wall, but only made it to first base while sending Baez to third. It may have proved costly as Soler then drove in Baez from third on a single before Welington Castillo grounded into an inning-ending double play.

"He feels bad," Cubs manager Rick Renteria said of Castro, who returned from the bereavement list on Tuesday. "He knows. He's apologizing to everybody about not getting over there. He's got a lot of things on his mind, and he's out there doing the best he can.

"When a young man tells you he's made a mistake, it's very hard to do anything other than accept it. Quite frankly, there were a host of things prior to that, and part of that whole ballgame, that put us in the position we were in."

Baez nearly made up for the mistake with two outs and two on in the ninth, when he flied out to deep center.

"It sounded good," Renteria said.

"I had to take a couple of steps back, and I got a little scared; it sounded so loud and it was really high, but, the ball jumps off his bat no matter where he hits it to," Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton said. "I was just talking to [someone] about how his foul balls go up in the third deck every time he hits a foul ball off to the right. The guy has some power. And he had power coming in at him; all he had to do was touch it a little bit. But we got the win, and we did a good job."

 

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Chicago holds parade for Jackie Robinson West

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Chicago holds parade for Jackie Robinson West play video for Chicago holds parade for Jackie Robinson West

CHICAGO -- Jackie Robinson West's run in the Little League World Series culminated Wednesday with a nearly four-hour parade that weaved through roughly 100 blocks of Chicago.

Fans flocked to the team's home field in the Morgan Park neighborhood before the South Side's storied squad embarked on trolleys to U.S. Cellular Field and then Millennium Park downtown.

Family, friends and fans -- including politicians and representatives from Major League Baseball -- gathered for what some said rivaled professional sports championship parades.

"This is the way Chicago celebrates a championship," Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said.

White Sox broadcaster Hawk Harrelson moderated the event, which featured speeches from Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, and Kenny Williams, the White Sox executive vice president.

Foes became friends through Jackie Robinson West's "common bond," as Harrelson referenced -- a testament to the unity that these 13 pre-teens embodied during their 25-day run to a U.S. championship.

"I never thought I'd get introduced by Hawk," Epstein told the crowd with a chuckle.

JRW isn't the first Illinois squad to surge through the Little League World Series, in fact it's the fourth in state history to reach the title game. Yet its story enthralled American audiences at new heights, yielding a 71 percent increase in television ratings during the U.S. championship.

Team leader Marquis Jackson rooted the unprecedented draw in the most frank manner.

"I think because we're African-American boys from the South Side," Jackson said. "There's so many people from the South Side, [and] it's just not about bad things. Something good can come from the South Side of Chicago. Period."

Morgan Park is a blue-collar neighborhood brimming with fresh-cut grass, brick houses, renowned rib restaurants and a state-of-the-art baseball facility.

Yet the grander South Side has made national news this summer for all the wrong reasons -- violence and murder have dominated headlines.

As of Tuesday, Chicago had endured 261 homicides, according to the Cook County Medical Examiners Office -- a majority of those on the South and West Sides.

It was the elephant in the room Wednesday, yet Williams tackled it head-on.

"People who are gathering and rallying," he told the crowd of 10,000, "are sending a message to put down the guns.

"Pick up a ball, a glove, a book, a paint stick, a science project. Put down the guns. We have cease fires going on over the Middle East. Nobody has said, 'Let's call for a cease fire in our communities.'"

Jackie Robinson West's rise has made the players role models in the White Sox and Cubs clubhouses. The latter featured the game during a three-hour rain delay on Saturday.

JRW's run to become the first all-African-American team to win a Little League World Series Championship was cut short by an 8-4 loss on Sunday to South Korea. Yet it grinned in defeat and crafted extravagant and congratulatory handshakes with their opposition.

"This team exemplifies what can happen when a strong community provides its children with support and opportunities to become positively engaged and achieve their dreams," Emanuel said.

All 13 hoisted their hands when asked if they wanted to someday play in the big leagues. Six of them -- Jackson, Ed Howard, Cameron Bufford, Brandon Green, Joshua Houston and Trey Hondras -- already are receiving first-hand guidance through the White Sox Amateur City Elite program.

ACE, in its eighth year, gathers 100-plus inner-city youth into a program to develop skills that might not be afforded the travel-team culture prevalent in youth baseball. It focuses as much on academics as athletics.

"This is my first year playing with them," Hondras said. "I had heard a lot of good things about it."

The team's pit stop at U.S. Cellular Field was welcomed by White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and select coaches and players. The White Sox then let the team bring the 2005 World Series trophy to the ceremony at Millennium Park.

"Hopefully, at least in the Chicago area and Illinois, maybe this pushes kids into our game instead of something else," said team captain Paul Konerko.

The White Sox will welcome JRW for a game this Saturday against the Tigers, and the Cubs will do the same during their next homestand, a six-game set starting on Monday.

JRW was founded in 1971 by Joe and Anna Haley, whose son, Bill Haley, is the current director. Bill said his parents' idea was not to win championships, but to make a significant impact on the lives of children through dedicated volunteers and parents.

"What these young boys have done the last six weeks shows that the core values that the league started with way back in 1971 still hold true," Haley said.

Epstein echoed: "People ask me all the time: 'How do we get kids playing baseball again? There aren't enough kids playing baseball. How do we get kids in the city playing baseball?' Well we just need to go to school on everything that Jackie Robinson West stands for and start duplicating that all around our city -- and every big city in the country."

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Tight lower back keeps Rizzo out of starting lineup

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Tight lower back keeps Rizzo out of starting lineup play video for Tight lower back keeps Rizzo out of starting lineup

CINCINNATI -- Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo did not start Wednesday because of lower back tightness, which had forced him out of Tuesday's game.

Manager Rick Renteria said Rizzo would receive treatment Wednesday, and he could be back in the lineup Thursday.

Rizzo, who hit his 30th home run on Tuesday in the Cubs' 3-0 win over the Reds, has started 129 of the team's 132 games.

He is the first Cubs left-handed hitter to reach 30 home runs in a season since Fred McGriff belted 30 in 2002. A Cubs left-handed hitter has totaled 30 home runs in a season 11 times, including five by Hall of Famer Billy Williams. Williams owns the franchise record for most home runs by a lefty, hitting 42 in 1970.

Chris Valaika started at first base Wednesday for the Cubs.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ,"transactions" ] }

Sweeney, Ruggiano to DL; Watkins recalled

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Sweeney, Ruggiano to DL; Watkins recalled play video for Sweeney, Ruggiano to DL; Watkins recalled

CINCINNATI -- The Cubs placed outfielders Ryan Sweeney and Justin Ruggiano on the disabled list, and the team was still testing the two players to determine if either injury is season ending.

Sweeney was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain on Wednesday. Ruggiano was put on the 15-day DL, retroactive to Saturday, because of left ankle inflammation.

Manager Rick Renteria said both players were undergoing tests to determine the extent of their injuries.

The Cubs recalled Logan Watkins and Jorge Soler from Triple-A Iowa to take their spots on the roster.

Sweeney, who was batting .251, had to leave Tuesday's game after one at-bat because of the injury. He said he injured it running to first base in the second inning. Sweeney missed time in June because of a right hamstring strain.

Ruggiano was batting .323 in his last 44 games with nine doubles, four homers and 20 RBIs. He said his ankle has been bothering him for the last two weeks, and he has not started a game since last Thursday.

{"content":["injury" ,"transactions" ] }
{"content":["injury" ,"transactions" ] }

Part of rally, Epstein lauds JRW, organizers

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Part of rally, Epstein lauds JRW, organizers

CINCINNATI -- Who's the best baseball team in the city of Chicago? It could be the Jackie Robinson West team, which won the U.S. title in the Little League World Series and was celebrated with a parade in Chicago on Wednesday.

"Anyone who watched that team play for an inning or two on TV probably couldn't help but watch the rest of the tournament," said Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who took part in the pep rally. "There was a magnetic quality to that team.

"Probably the best thing to happen to the whole city of Chicago this summer from a baseball standpoint was put together by 13 12-year-old kids from the South Side of Chicago," he said. "It's good for the city, the country and the game of baseball."

The Cubs will have some of the Little Leaguers at Wrigley Field during the next homestand. The date has not been set yet.

"At industry meetings and in front offices around the game, people ask how we can get young people playing the game of baseball," Epstein said. "There's nothing that a bunch of suits in a board room can do that will be as powerful as what those 12-year-old kids did to demonstrate how compelling the game of baseball can be. They made baseball cool again for young kids."

He complimented the Jackie Robinson West organizers, who have been proactive in terms of finding kids, selling them on the game of baseball, and getting them to practice and off the streets so they can learn about sportsmanship, hard work and discipline.

"We can all go to school on how they built their program," he said.

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{"content":["replay" ] }

Cubs win challenge on safe call at first base

Reds' Negron initially given infield hit, but Renteria's eye proves otherwise

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Cubs win challenge on safe call at first base play video for Cubs win challenge on safe call at first base

CINCINNATI -- The Cubs challenged a call at first base in the fifth inning, and it was overturned.

With Cincinnati leading, 6-2, Kris Negron led off the Reds' fifth by hitting the ball toward first baseman Chris Valaika, who flipped to pitcher Carlos Villanueva. First-base umpire Ben May ruled Negron was safe with an infield hit.

But Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged the call, and after a 44-second review, it was overturned.

The Cubs now have challenged 48 calls this season, and won 20.

{"content":["replay" ] }

Homers fuel Cubs' three-hit shutout in Cincinnati

Wood dominant over six for first win since June 15; Rizzo hits No. 30

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Homers fuel Cubs' three-hit shutout in Cincinnati play video for Homers fuel Cubs' three-hit shutout in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI -- Travis Wood finally halted his winless streak at 12 starts, and he did it not only against his former team, but against one of the best pitchers in the game.

The left-hander outdueled Johnny Cueto with the help of homers from Anthony Rizzo and Arismendy Alcantara as the Cubs beat the Reds, 3-0, in the opener of a three-game series at Great American Ball Park on Tuesday night. It was Chicago's fourth straight win and seventh in its last nine games.

"It feels good, especially to be able to throw the ball the way I did, and that was a good pitcher we beat tonight," Wood said.

Wood went six innings and allowed just two hits while walking one and striking out five to earn his first win since June 15 at Philadelphia. Cubs manager Rick Renteria lifted the southpaw after six frames because Wood had thrown pitches to stay loose during a 50-minute rain delay that began in the top of the first.

"He still threw 90-plus pitches [96], so I'll be honest with you, that was an easy decision to make," Renteria said.

But though he didn't go as deep as he might have had it not been for the weather, Wood showed the type of dominance that made him an All-Star last season.

"He was attacking the strike zone, he was probably working the fringes more effectively this time, changing speeds, using the curveball today to get some swings and some early strikes," Renteria said. "He was pitching with some confidence today. I thought he had a real good feel for his pitches."

Wood won for only the second time in nine career starts against Cincinnati, the team he was drafted by and played for in his first two Major League seasons.

"It's always nice to beat the team you came from," he said. "I've still got a lot of friends over there and stuff. They're a good ball team, and we just had the upper hand tonight."

That upper hand came courtesy of Rizzo, who belted a 408-foot blast to right in the first inning, making him the seventh left-handed batter in franchise history to hit 30 or more homers in a season. The last to do so was Fred McGriff in 2002 (30). Rizzo left in the eighth inning with lower back tightness, but Renteria said the move was precautionary and Rizzo should be back in the lineup on Wednesday.

"It was a hitter's count, and I was just looking for a fastball," Rizzo said of the pitch he hit, which extended the Cubs' streak of games in which they hit at least one homer to 11. "I was trying against [Cueto] to not do too much because he's got so much he can get you out with, so luckily I put a good swing on it."

Rizzo was thrilled to join the Cubs' 30-homer club for left-handed hitters.

"It's great, especially in this organization with a lot of history, a lot of great players," he said. "But the season's not over, you've just gotta keep going and keep playing."

Following the homer, Starlin Castro, who returned from the bereavement list, singled and a steady rain became a downpour that led to the delay.

Matt Szczur, who entered the game in the second for right fielder Ryan Sweeney after Sweeney strained his left hamstring running out a ground ball, singled to open the seventh. The next batter, Alcantara, lined a two-run homer to right, his fifth of the season, to make it 3-0.

"I just try to make contact," said Alcantara, who is batting .400 (8-for-20) with two homers and four RBIs in his last five games. "The pitch before, [Cueto] threw a cutter inside, and I thought they'd probably come in again, and he threw me the same thing, and I just tried to get on top of the ball and put it in play."

Chicago's bullpen continued its recent dominance with a strong inning apiece from right-handers Neil Ramirez and Pedro Strop, followed by a 1-2-3 ninth for right-hander Hector Rondon, who picked up his 22nd save of the season.

Cubs relievers have posted a 1.64 ERA in the last 29 games and haven't allowed a run since the eighth inning of last Thursday's game against the Giants, covering a span of 16 2/3 innings. Rondon extended his personal scoreless streak to nine innings over his last nine appearances.

"They've been chipping away and establishing themselves a little bit," Renteria said of his relievers. "They've been gaining trust through some hiccups, obviously, through the beginning and middle of the season, having some things go on. And they continue to make adjustments and trust their stuff -- they've got good stuff."

With the Cubs playing well and another of their top prospects, Jorge Soler, set to join the club on Wednesday, adding to a group of young players that has already made an impact at the Major League level, Chicago has reason to anticipate success on the horizon.

"We always think [we can win], as players," Rizzo said. "And why not? It's a young team. We're going to be young and we're going to play together, stick together and we're going to do well together and we're going to do bad together.

"It's all a part of the process."

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{"event":["prospect" ] }

Calling all hitters: Cubs adding Soler to display case

Prospect arrives as singular talent in club's staggering collection of young bats

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Calling all hitters: Cubs adding Soler to display case play video for Calling all hitters: Cubs adding Soler to display case

CHICAGO -- Don't blink or you'll miss it.

The arrival of another young Cubs hitter with an impressive pedigree.

Go out of town, fail to check the box scores and you might miss the arrival of a couple of guys you've been waiting on -- for one year, two years, three years or maybe all your life, if you have been waiting for the start of the Cubs' era.

A Chicago season that started with the White Sox's Jose Abreu arriving on the South Side as the second coming of Frank Thomas is ending with the Cubs starting to put the pieces together after three years of a ground-up rebuilding effort by president of baseball operations Theo Epstein.

When Cuban Jorge Soler takes his place in right field on Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, playing alongside newcomers Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez and young veterans Anthony Rizzo (25) and Starlin Castro (24), the Cubs will have a lineup built to last -- the kind that makes fans dream about long runs at the top.

And, as you know, this isn't all that's in the Pipeline.

By this time next year, third baseman Kris Bryant and possibly shortstop Addison Russell and left fielder/catcher Kyle Schwarber will have taken their places at Wrigley Field. Outfielders Albert Almora and Billy McKinney shouldn't be far away, either.

These might be the dog days around Major League Baseball, but not for fans of the Cubs. As painful as it was to watch their team play out the string in recent seasons, this September will be different. It will offer a sneak preview of the team that Epstein, general manager Jed Hoyer and senior vice president of player development and amateur scouting Jason McLeod have been patiently assembling since they arrived late in 2011.

No one knows where the franchise goes from here.

When you haven't won a World Series for 106 years, it's preposterous to think about winning three in 10 years, as the Red Sox did after Epstein took over the strong organization he inherited from Dan Duquette and Mike Port, or the five in 14 seasons that the Yankees did under Joe Torre and Brian Cashman. But for the first time since baseball games were on the radio, it is not delusional for Cubs fans to dream about their team achieving sustained success.

How can you not get excited about what these kids are doing? Soler, signed at age 20 to a nine-year, $30 million contract on the heels of Yoenis Cespedes' deal with the Athletics, has put together a career slash line of .307/.383/.551 with a .935 OPS in 151 Minor League games -- totals that could have been higher if not for injuries and the challenges presented by his abrupt cultural shift. He's hit .340 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and a Minors-best 1.132 OPS in 62 games this year.

Any organization would be thrilled to have Soler.

Bryant, selected second overall in 2013 from the University of San Diego, leads the Minor Leagues with 43 home runs this year. He has a .331/.431/.679 slash line in 168 career games (including a 1.118 OPS this season). Bryant is probably as ready for the Major Leagues as Baez, Alcantara or Soler, but the Cubs are leaving him in Triple-A Iowa to finish out his Minor League Player of the Year season and hopefully carry the I-Cubs to a Pacific Coast League title.

Imagine an organization getting to pair Bryant and Soler.

Baez, who was a first-round pick in 2011, is a natural shortstop who has hit 67 home runs the last two seasons, including seven in his first 20 Major League games. He put up a career slash line of .278/.336/.545 in 319 games in the Minors.

Isn't it sick for one organization to have three kids with the power of Baez, Bryant and Soler?

Then there's the left-handed-hitting Schwarber, a first-round pick this year from Indiana University who balances out the right-handed bats. He's played only 68 games as a pro and is currently in the Class A Advanced Florida State League. Schwarber's slash line is .352/.440/.664 -- the third 1.100-plus OPS among the Cubs' top prospects.

Are these guys using aluminum bats?

Between them, Baez, Soler, Bryant and Schwarber have played 426 games as pros. Divide their combined production into blocks of 500 at-bats and you have four guys hitting .300 with an average of 34 home runs and 104 RBIs.

These are Minor League numbers, sure. But they were put together in an era of dominant pitching, and at Wrigley Field, the kids get to hit around Rizzo and Castro, who this year have combined to hit .282 and project to produce 52 home runs and 167 RBIs.

Here's one final number to add to the equation: one error in 41 games. That's what has been charged to Russell since he arrived at Double-A Tennessee after he and McKinney were acquired in the trade for Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel.

The 20-year-old shortstop is yet another high-level hitter (slash line of .301/.381/.527 in 227 games as a pro), but Russell figures to be the steadiest player of the bunch. His profile is absolutely Jeterian.

Maybe you've seen a time when one organization had this many ultra-productive, ultra-promising players age 25 and under. But I don't think I have.

With Rizzo, Castro and Soler signed long term, and so many other young, low-salaried guys in the lineup, the Cubs are positioned as well as any team in the Majors to chase free agents or big-ticket talents available through trades for the foreseeable future.

Forget goats, black cats and unfortunate fans making ill-advised plays on foul balls. The Cubs aren't going to take chances with their next contender. They're going to overwhelm their sad history with a wave of talent like only the best teams ever put together.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Cubs excited to welcome Soler for latest debut

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Cubs excited to welcome Soler for latest debut play video for Cubs excited to welcome Soler for latest debut

CINCINNATI -- With Jorge Soler scheduled to join the Cubs in Cincinnati on Wednesday, a second member of the so-called "core four" Cubs prospects who are at the center of Chicago's rebuilding effort will be making his Major League debut this month.

The 22-year-old from Cuba is ranked as the Cubs' No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, and will join 21-year-old Javier Baez, who made his big league debut on Aug. 5. Chicago's No. 1 prospect, Kris Bryant, and No. 4 prospect, Albert Almora, are the other "core four" members. Bryant is at Triple-A Iowa and Almora is at Double-A Tennessee.

Soler missed much of 2013 with a fractured left tibia as a result of a ball he fouled off his leg. He also sustained strained hamstrings in each leg earlier this season. But he still posted a .340/.432/.700 line with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs between the Cubs' Rookie league (rehab games), Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.

"I think it's pretty exciting for the whole organization," manager Rick Renteria said. "A young man that's been talked about quite a bit will be joining us tomorrow. Everybody's pretty excited about it."

The Cubs' youth movement, which has been heralded since president of baseball operations Theo Epstein and general manager Jed Hoyer took the helm, has been materializing at the big league level, particularly over the past two months. Baez, along with Arismendy Alcantara, Kyle Hendricks and others have made their first appearances with the club.

"We're starting to see that light at the end of the tunnel," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "There's always an expectation to win, but with these guys coming up, they're going to be patient and let them develop and get their at-bats in, but at the same time, we want to win, too."

The Cubs didn't wait until rosters would expand from 25 to 40 players on Sept. 1 to bring Soler up, but that doesn't surprise Renteria.

"I'm sure that the organization feels that he's been moving along and that they'd like to get him up here to start experiencing some big league baseball and kind of get his feet wet and chip away and see how he goes," Renteria said.

Rizzo agreed.

"I'm not [surprised]," he said. "He's been on a tear, he's been doing everything you can do, and having an extra week, to having five weeks in the big leagues would be good -- to have him up here and get him going and go into the offseason on a high note, or maybe he doesn't do so well here, but going into the offseason knowing what to work on."

Soler will have the comfort of seeing several familiar faces in the visitor's clubhouse when he gets to Great American Ball Park, with Baez, Alcantara and others who have preceded him on the path to the Majors there to welcome him.

"With people coming up that you've played with before, it's good because you know how they play the game and you can still learn stuff from them," Baez said. "I'm pretty sure he knows how to handle [the expectations], but if anything comes up, I'm sure he'll ask me or the other guys how to handle stuff."

"I think the benefit is that he's probably going to see his teammates relaxed and comfortable in their environment," Renteria said of Soler, "which hopefully will translate to him feeling comfortable in his environment."

Renteria said Soler will likely play right field and bat fifth or sixth in the lineup against the Reds on Wednesday.

"We have yet to kind of finish the final conclusion as to where he'll be, but he'll be somewhere in that order," Renteria said.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Russell among Cubs slated for Fall League

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Russell among Cubs slated for Fall League play video for Russell among Cubs slated for Fall League

CHICAGO -- Shortstop Addison Russell, ranked No. 3 on MLB.com's list of the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list, and No. 6 on list of the game's Top 100 Prospects, will play for the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.

The Cubs acquired the shortstop on July 4 from the Athletics in a deal involving right-handers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel. Russell is batting .297 in 62 games this season, and since joining Double-A Tennessee, he has hit .297 with 12 home runs and 10 doubles in 44 games.

A strong right-handed hitter, the 20-year-old Russell batted .282 in 21 games for the Mesa Solar Sox last year, and he was teammates with Cubs prospects Kris Bryant, Albert Almora, Jorge Soler, Wes Darvill, Dallas Beeler, Matt Loosen, Armando Rivero and Lendy Castillo. This year, Castillo will be reunited with some of his teammates from the A's Minor League system who will also be on Mesa.

A first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Russell batted .275 in 107 games at Class A Advanced Stockton in 2013.

Another player on the Cubs' Top 20 Prospects list who's scheduled to play for Mesa is right-handed pitcher C.J. Edwards (ranked No. 6), who will turn 23 on Sept. 3. In nine starts at Tennessee this year, Edwards has given up 11 earned runs on 26 hits and 18 walks over 44 innings. He's struck out 45. In his Minor League career, Edwards has given up two home runs over 233 innings.

Russell and Edwards will be joined by other Cubs prospects on Mesa, including right-handed pitchers Zach Cates and Ivan Pineyro, lefty Gerardo Concepcion, first baseman Dan Vogelbach (No. 11) and outfielder Jacob Hannemann. Hannemann will be on the taxi squad and play twice a week.

Vogelbach was batting .266 with 15 home runs, 27 doubles and 72 RBIs at Class A Daytona this season.

The Arizona Fall League will open on Oct. 7, and teams will play at the Spring Training stadiums in the Phoenix area, including Cubs Park in Mesa, Ariz. Bryant was named the Fall League's Most Valuable Player last year.

{"event":["prospect" ] }
{"event":["prospect" ] }

Pipeline Perspectives: Bryant ready to help Cubs

Third-base prospect's performance in Triple-A worthy of September callup to Chicago

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Pipeline Perspectives: Bryant ready to help Cubs play video for Pipeline Perspectives: Bryant ready to help Cubs

There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.

Monday is a big day, and not just because it's Labor Day. Monday is Sept. 1, the day that all 30 teams can expand their rosters and an influx of prospects can flock to the big leagues. For contending teams, a late contribution from a September callup can be the jolt of electricity needed to put them over the top. For teams looking to the future, the final month of the season can provide an audition of sorts, allowing young players the opportunity to show what they can do.

With less than a week before callup day, it made perfect sense for Pipeline Perspectives to discuss potential additions. The precise question Jim and I are pondering: Which prospect would we most like to see get called up in September?

This isn't a debate over who we think will get called up, but rather the prospect we would really want to see compete at this level, regardless of whether it will realistically happen. I'm taking the obvious choice of Kris Bryant, while Jim is going "off the board" with an intriguing pick, Julio Urias of the Dodgers.

Why is Bryant, the Cubs' No. 1 prospect (and No. 3 on the Top 100 list), the obvious choice? There are a few reasons. He's at the top of the Cubs' Minor League system, in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League. Bryant is performing well there, continuing to hit for average and power, just like he did in the first half of his first full pro season in Double-A. The Cubs are clearly giving many of their top prospects a chance to show what they can do, with Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara being joined by Jorge Soler.

Those are simply the reasons why Bryant should get called up. There are some rationales for why he shouldn't. Bryant is not on the 40-man roster and technically doesn't have to be added until 2017. Yes, it's true that Baez wasn't on the roster, either, but this is his third full season of pro ball. It may seem difficult to believe, given how successful he's been, but Bryant is finishing up just his first full pro season. As of Tuesday, he had 713 plate appearances (Baez had 1,350 when he was brought up). These are the reasons why Bryant likely won't see Chicago in 2014.

But let me reiterate that this is a discussion on who we would like to see come up. Again, Bryant is the obvious choice, one that Jim won't even try to dispute. Who wouldn't want to see Bryant take his hacks for a month against big league pitching? He's only leading the Minor Leagues in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS, while sitting in second in RBIs and on-base percentage. Did I mention that Bryant is hitting a combined .306 and has 15 steals in 18 attempts to boot? Granted, no one wants to see him get to Wrigley to watch him run, but it was worth pointing out that he's a more complete player than some people think, with his gaudy power numbers overshadowing his overall game.

Sure, Bryant swings and misses a bunch (154 strikeouts), but that's part of the fun. He's far from a three true outcomes type (though he does have 84 walks) and he's shown an ability to make adjustments every time he moves up a level. Watching Bryant do so against the best the National League has to throw at him would be a lot of fun. Seeing if he could get to 50 home runs in a season while doing it only would add to the excitement. It's not far-fetched that Bryant could get there. Remember last year, between college, his pro debut and the Arizona Fall League, he hit 46 homers in 775 at-bats. Bryant currently has 43 in just 470. What would he do with another month of at-bats? You do the math.

The Cubs are in the NL Central cellar, but they've become a much more interesting team to watch since Baez joined them. If Bryant could hit every day in that lineup with him, Alcantara and Soler, they might be the most entertaining last-place team in baseball, and one no contender would want to face down the stretch.

Bryant's arrival is going to happen sooner rather than later, even if it's Opening Day 2015. I'd just rather see it now and get a head start on the future.

{"event":["prospect" ] }

Starlin returns after taking bereavement leave

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Starlin returns after taking bereavement leave play video for Starlin returns after taking bereavement leave

CINCINNATI -- Shortstop Starlin Castro returned to the Cubs and was in the starting lineup for their series opener against the Reds on Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park after being on bereavement leave.

Castro went back to his native Dominican Republic to be with family following a car crash that killed a relative and three friends last Wednesday.

"He's doing fine. He was thankful to be able to go home and be with his family, just to put closure with his family member there," manager Rick Renteria said. "He said he's ready to go. He looks like he's in a good place."

"Losing people in your family is not easy," said first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "It's a reality check for everyone, not just for us, but everyone who knows him. One day you're here, and one day you're gone. It's life, and that's why you appreciate little things so much, because you just don't know what's going to happen at any time. ... It's just a tough time, and you just want to support him."

Castro went 2-for-4 in the Cubs' 3-0 victory.

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Discussion with Torre clarifies Rule 7.13 for Cubs

Catchers Baker, Castillo now understand where to stand on plays at the plate

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Discussion with Torre clarifies Rule 7.13 for Cubs play video for Discussion with Torre clarifies Rule 7.13 for Cubs

CHICAGO -- It's taken nearly seven months, hours of video review, discussions with umpires, managers and other catchers, but the Cubs' Welington Castillo and John Baker believe they finally understand Rule 7.13 after some hands-on guidance from Joe Torre.

Torre, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, stopped by Citi Field when the Cubs played the Mets there earlier in August. Chicago coach Mike Borzello, the team's catching specialist, asked the Hall of Fame manager and former big league catcher for clarification. And it paid off on Friday against the Orioles.

The confusion began in February when MLB announced it was adopting experimental Rule 7.13, covering collisions at home plate. What Borzello and the catchers wanted help with is the second part of the rule, which states: "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe."

The rule puts catchers at a disadvantage, Borzello said.

"We're giving a lane [to the runner], and most players are sliding headfirst outside the lane at an arm's length distance," Borzello said. "So now we're talking about two lanes. I wanted [Torre] to explain to me, if I catch the ball where I'm supposed to, how am I going to be able to catch and then have enough time to reach a guy who is now two lanes away from me?

"[The runner is] not in the lane I'm giving him, he's outside that lane, with his arm sliding by home plate trying to touch it with his hand," Borzello said. "I just feel like [the rule has] obviously helped the offensive side. It's protected the catchers, which is obviously the reason they put the rule in, and I understand that, and I get it. But it's working against [the catchers]."

Torre stood up in the visitors' clubhouse, and he did a demonstration.

"What we were told," Baker said, "was that if our left foot is in fair territory, not touching the base line, then we're offering a lane for the player to slide. If the ball is thrown and we make a read on that ball, and that ball takes us into the base line, then we won't be found at fault for trying to block the plate."

And Baker did just that in the fifth inning on Friday. The Orioles had two outs and runners at second and first when Caleb Joseph lined a single to right. Ryan Sweeney threw a strike home to Baker, who was perfectly positioned and made the tag on the runner, Chris Davis.

The Orioles challenged the call, but Baker said he knew he was in the right place.

"When the ball is hit to the outfield, you have time to walk up in front of home plate and look down at the ground and find your bearings and set yourself in the right position, and then wait for the ball to be thrown," Baker said. "That's exactly what I did.

"I walked up, I looked and made sure my left foot started inside that line," he said. "Once the ball was in the air, the ball took me a little bit into the line, and I was 100 percent confident after the conversation we had [with Torre] that I was in the right place, and I knew they weren't going to overturn the play.

"If I had messed that one up, then we would've really been unclear. I feel like we're in a really good place now as far as understanding where we need to stand."

Castillo agreed.

"I think it will help me in the future because now I know exactly where I need to be and we'll have no problems," Castillo said.

Baker and Castillo both are in favor of Rule 7.13.

"I think it's helped reduce injury on plays at the plate, for sure," Baker said. "The only criticism I have of the rule is that, because we can't stand in the base line, the baserunners don't have to stay in any sort of lane, either. They can slide around and hook slide. If they can hook slide and we can't stand in the lane, they're not using the lane that we're giving them.

"In the future, one of the things they could do to make this rule more fair is that if we're not allowed to block the plate, they're not allowed to hook slide around home plate," he said. "It would be just like third base or second base, where you have to slide to the base. And if you go past, you're out."

The Dodgers' Yasiel Puig took advantage of the extra space in the sixth inning on Aug. 1, when he dove around Castillo to score on a wild play at the plate.

On Friday, Baker talked to crew chief Fieldin Culbreth. He's also discussed it with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, and any other catcher he can find.

"It's simple when you know, 'This is where you get to stand,'" Baker said. "Maybe one day they will draw some sort of new chalk line in front of home plate that will be the catcher's position, like a goal box in soccer. I know that would make a lot of baseball purists angry, I'm sure. But if that's what it's going to take to get the rules right, let's do it. I think uncertainty is the biggest enemy here."

Players knew about Rule 7.13 in Spring Training. Why weren't the details made clear then?

"I think we were all a little foggy on the [rule]," Borzello said. "Now, it's almost seeing the plays happen and saying, 'Wait a minute.' It had to happen visually, and I think maybe for them as well. I'm just watching plays at the plate happen and saying, 'We have to be able to do more than this.'"

And now they know.

{}
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Wada flirts with no-no as Cubs finish sweep

Lefty has career-high eight K's, gets first big league hit vs. former team

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Wada flirts with no-no as Cubs finish sweep play video for Wada flirts with no-no as Cubs finish sweep

CHICAGO -- On Friday, Jake Arrieta beat his former team, the Orioles. On Sunday, it was Tsuyoshi Wada's turn.

Wada set a career high in the U.S. with eight strikeouts and gave up only a home run by Steve Pearce over 6 1/3 innings as the Cubs beat the Orioles, 2-1, to sweep the Interleague series.

"That's a first-place team, so this is good for us," Cubs catcher Welington Castillo said of beating the American League East leaders.

Wada, 33, whose career single-game strikeout high in Japan was 15, walked Adam Jones with two outs in the first, then retired the next 16 batters he faced. Pearce ended the lefty's no-hit bid with a leadoff home run in the seventh, hitting Wada's 90th pitch over the left-field bleachers. Wada was then pulled one batter later.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria knew Wada had a no-hitter going, as did Wada, as did the 32,774 at Wrigley Field.

"In my mind, he was going to keep throwing until someone got a hit," Renteria said. "He gave us a great outing."

Wada smiled when asked by a reporter in English about a possible no-hitter. Some things don't need translating.

"I knew a no-hitter was going on, but I tried not to focus on it too much," said Wada, through interpreter Ryo Shinkawa. "The pitch count was getting to me and fatigue was a factor as well."

Wada credited an improved fastball, and also Castillo for calling it when needed. Orioles manager Buck Showalter had liked Wada when they first scouted him.

"[What made him tough was the] same reason we had interest in him when he was healthy -- good fastball command [to] all four quadrants," Showalter said. "Late life, like a lot of pitchers who come out of there have. You kind of throw away the radar gun. He's got a little late hop. Enough changeup. Spun a few balls, but basically fastball-changeup."

In 207 starts in Japan, Wada had never thrown a no-hitter, and he was vying to become the first Japanese pitcher to do so in the U.S. since Hideo Nomo. Nomo accomplished the feat twice, most recently April 4, 2001, for the Red Sox against the Orioles.

The crowd gave Wada a standing ovation when he was lifted. He had a little extra motivation against the Orioles.

"I knew a lot of the players on their team, and I feel I let people down by not being able to be a factor on the team," Wada said. "I tried to be the player who they thought they acquired. I tried to prove that the player they felt they got was what I did today."

Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez retired the first eight batters he faced before Wada's infield single with two outs in the third. It was Wada's first Major League hit, and it came against the first Major League team he signed with. The lefty, who pitched nine seasons for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in Japan, spent two seasons in the Orioles' system but never made it to the big leagues. He injured his left elbow in 2012 Spring Training and needed Tommy John surgery. Wada signed a Minor League deal with the Cubs last December.

Wada got some run support in the fifth. With one out, Arismendy Alcantara smacked his fourth homer of the season, lining a 2-1 pitch into the basket rimming the right-field bleachers. It was only the second hit off Gonzalez. Chris Coghlan doubled to open the sixth and scored one out later on Anthony Rizzo's opposite-field double to go ahead, 2-0.

With the win, the Cubs improved to 9-8 in Interleague Play this season and posted their second sweep. Chicago also took all three games against the Red Sox in Fenway Park, June 30-July 2.

"Pitching always sets the tone," Renteria said. "All in all, it was a really clean series."

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Chicago kids bring smiles, joy despite loss

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Chicago kids bring smiles, joy despite loss

CHICAGO -- No tears.

Not a single one.

At least not of the variety that washed down the face of Josh Houston on Sunday, after he allowed a home run that might have sunk his team. And certainly not of those from the real-life losses that have been an epidemic in too many Chicago neighborhoods from gang-related crimes.

When South Korea's Jun Hyeok Yun fielded a grounder from Jackie Robinson West's Ed Howard and flipped the ball to second for the final out, a wild, improbable and triumphant three-week ride for Chicago's Little League champions had ended.

The United States champions lost to a team from Seoul by an 8-4 score on Sunday in Williamsport, Pa., in the Little League World Series Championship game. But if you thought these kids were defeated, you didn't see Marquis Jackson bounce out of the dugout with a smile on his face to congratulate the champs. Teammates like Brandon Green, Jaheim Benton and the irrepressible D.J. Butler -- the 4-foot-9, 77-pound center fielder known as "the voice of reason" -- weren't far behind.

Scoreboards always show winners and losers. But it's up to the people who play the games to determine whether the outcomes define them, and these kids were too smart to dwell on one game that got away.

That's life, or at least we say that all the time. But it's really just sports, and you learn that early in too many inner-city neighborhoods.

As proud as Chicagoans were of these 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds in victory -- after all, they had rallied from four runs down late in the regional final in Indianapolis and then won four elimination games before huge crowds at Lamade Stadium to claim the U.S. title -- it was just as satisfying to see how they carried themselves when the magic finally shifted to the other dugout.

While the kids from Seoul planted flags on the mound and posed before the championship banner, the ones representing the soul of Chicago hugged and congratulated each other in front of the first-base dugout. They would have been the first team comprised exclusively of African-Americans to win a Little League championship, and surely there's a movie treatment already in the works about their journey.

The kids and their coaches are headed home to a parade on Wednesday, and you shouldn't be surprised to see the city take a break from the daily busyness of business to celebrate along with these relentlessly positive ballplayers and their families.

Baseball parades are hardly everyday events in Chicago. The one for the 2005 White Sox marked the first championship for one of Chicago's Major League teams since 1917. The thirst for success never goes away, and the kids from Jackie Robinson West were showered with civic support as it played deeper and deeper into the Little League World Series.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn both attended a watch party on Saturday at the Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center on 119th Street, between the neighborhoods of Morgan Park and West Pullman, which was built by the Salvation Army through a $1 million donation from the White Sox. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler donated $15,000 to the JRW Little League and sent along signed jerseys. Colorado Rockies closer LaTroy Hawkins and players from the Cubs and White Sox made donations so some parents and family members could make the trip to central Pennsylvania to cheer their little men along.

Television ratings from the weekend won't become available until Monday, but it's possible that the American final on Saturday and Sunday's championship game may have been the most watched baseball games in Chicago this season. The Jackie Robinson West opener against a team from Lynwood, Wash., on Aug. 15 drew a 2.4 rating.

There's a universal appeal to watching Little League Baseball, which was nicely summed up by Michael Byung-Ju Kim, the father of one of the South Korean players. He called it "the innocence of youth combined with the thrill of sport,'' and that's about right.

For all of us, real life comes along quickly after Little League. It will for these kids, too. But you can't help but wonder where they're going from here.

While Chicago has long been considered a breeding ground for basketball stars, with Michael Jordan providing the inspiration and playgrounds offering the opportunity, this has been a decade of major progress on the baseball front.

All you have to do to see it is look at Curtis Granderson Field on the Illinois-Chicago campus, the sparkling new stadium that is surrounded by youth fields -- all the result of the Mets' star giving back to his alma mater -- or, a little more subtly, the Amateur City Elite program that was dreamed up by White Sox area scout Nathan Durst and funded by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf.

It creates an opportunity for 100-plus kids from neighborhoods like those that that feed the Jackie Robinson West Little League team to get year-round coaching and the chance to play travel baseball and experience the showcase circuit. It sends a dozen or more of its alums off to play college baseball every year, and two of those guys went all the way to the College World Series this summer. Diminutive outfielder Ro Coleman played as a freshman on Vanderbilt's championship team, while Corey Ray helped Louisville advance to Omaha.

For dreamers like Durst and Kenny Fullman, the Chicago police officer who coaches baseball at Harlan Community Academy High School and like many others has worked tirelessly in the ACE program, it has to be a validation to watch Chicago kids -- their kids -- go toe to toe against the best teams in the world.

About half of the Jackie Robinson West All-Stars have participated in ACE, including slugger Trey Hondras; Howard, the slick-fielding shortstop whom Hall of Famer Barry Larkin nicknamed "Silk;'' Houston, who came through a big hit in Saturday's rally; and Jackson, the ebullient all-around player who always seemed to be in the middle of the action.

Fullman sees education as a big part of his program, saying there are "kids in this program [who] have never been out of their neighborhoods, unless we took them somewhere.''

They're going places now, that's for sure.

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Renteria, Hyde grab grounds crew worker from under tarp

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Renteria, Hyde grab grounds crew worker from under tarp play video for Renteria, Hyde grab grounds crew worker from under tarp

CHICAGO -- On Tuesday, the Cubs grounds crew was shorthanded and couldn't get the tarp on the field fast enough to handle a sudden downpour at Wrigley Field. On Saturday, the crew was quick and efficient, but needed help from Cubs manager Rick Renteria and bench coach Brandon Hyde, who pulled a worker out from underneath the tarp.

Rain halted play at the start of the third inning Saturday between the Cubs and Orioles, and as the crew was pulling the tarp across the infield at Wrigley Field, one of the workers stumbled and fell, and was caught underneath. The crew didn't stop, and the tarp was pulled over him.

Renteria and Hyde saw what happened from the dugout, and went to the worker's aid.

"I just didn't think it was good for him to be under the tarp and just reacted," Renteria said Sunday. "Brandon went in there and lifted it and got him out."

Weren't they nervous going under there?

"I didn't think about it to be honest with you," Renteria said. "The guy needed to get out of there."

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Wright, Jackson proud of Chicago's LLWS team

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Wright, Jackson proud of Chicago's LLWS team

CHICAGO -- No matter how the Jackie Robinson West Little Leaguers did in Sunday's championship game against South Korea, they are winners to the Cubs players.

"Win, lose or draw, they should enjoy the experience," Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson said Sunday.

Jackson and fellow Cubs pitcher Wesley Wright were among the Major League players who contributed money to help pay for the families of the Chicago team to go to Williamsport, Pa., to watch the Little League World Series, which wrapped up Sunday. However, the Jackie Robinson West team came up short, losing in the finale, 8-4, to South Korea.

"I'm excited for them and this opportunity," Wright said Sunday. "I'm so happy for them and their families, and the way they've represented their city and their families on a grand stage has been amazing to me. They're 12-year-olds, and I'm just really proud of how they've persevered through that game [Saturday], and they lost the lead late and kept fighting. They've been an inspiration to me and a lot of people in the U.S."

Jackie Robinson West rallied to beat Nevada in the U.S. championship and advance to the final. The Cubs' rain delay on Saturday was almost perfectly timed so the players and fans on the concourse could watch the game on television.

"It's fun for them -- and it's motivation," Jackson said. "You watch the news and the parents say they've already had kids sign up for next year's team. It's always fun watching the little kids play, especially when they come back to win. You see the emotions go from crying to mad to excitement and full of joy, and then the other team is just the opposite. It's an emotional game at every level, and the higher you go, the more you have to control it."

The win Saturday was especially sweet for the Jackie Robinson team, which had lost, 13-2, to Nevada earlier in the week.

Jackson and Wright have enjoyed more than just the Little Leaguers' skills. It's also nice to see positive headlines about Chicago and the South Side, where the team is based.

"I'm not from Chicago, but I am African-American, and I know there are a lot of African-Americans predominantly on the South Side and some of the headlines that come out of there can be tough at times," Wright said. "I'm glad these kids can overcome some of the tough obstacles and be successful, whether it be on the baseball field or in life. I just want to be able to help mentor them in any way I can, whether it's baseball or life in general. I'm just really proud of them."

Jackson agreed.

"It's definitely a positive outlook on the city," Jackson said of the Little League program, which he did participate in as a youth. "Instead of the headline being something negative, you can have a bright spot in the city. It's definitely energizing to pick up the paper and see a positive headline. It's fun for the city and motivation for the kids at home.

"This is where it starts. When they come home, they'll be looked at as celebrities in the city. It should encourage more kids to play. The more you're in activities, the more you're out of trouble and [sports] keep you occupied."

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Renteria comfortable with short bench

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Renteria comfortable with short bench

CHICAGO -- The Cubs have carried 13 pitchers most of the season, but manager Rick Renteria said he hasn't been hampered by the short bench.

"You have as many options as you have," he said. "I still think carrying the arms in the 'pen has served us well to do some of the protecting we've had to do over the course of the season. The guys we've used have done a nice job coming off the bench."

On Saturday, pitcher Travis Wood subbed as a pinch-runner.

"You just have to be creative," Renteria said.

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Grimm, 'pen spotless in Cubs' rain-soaked win

Righty tosses 3 1/3 scoreless frames in game delayed by three hours

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CHICAGO -- The Cubs weathered yet another lengthy rain stoppage in Saturday's 7-2 win over the Orioles to bring their delay tally this week to nine hours, 40 minutes.

"It's tough," left fielder Chris Coghlan said. "But we're really young, so that helps us out."

The three-hour, nine-minute delay on Saturday, in between the second and third innings, forced manager Rick Renteria to turn to the bullpen earlier than planned. But the four relievers, led by winning pitcher Justin Grimm, tossed seven shutout innings and allowed just four batters to reach base.

Grimm tossed his longest outing of the year, 3 1/3 hitless innings with three strikeouts and a walk.

"What a great job, Grimmer, picking up [starter] Kyle [Hendricks] there and giving us four innings," Renteria said. "He kept his pitch count down throughout. We were obviously watching it. We wanted him to give us as many innings as he could to get us to the back end and the guys who were available to us. Tip your cap to him because he really did a great job."

The right-handed Grimm was watching the Little League World Series in the clubhouse during the delay when he was informed that he'd be replacing Hendricks, who allowed two earned runs on five hits in two innings.

"[Pitching coach Chris] Bosio came up and said: 'Hendricks, you're down. Grimm, you're in,'" Grimm said. "My heart just started beating really fast. I was like: 'All right, here we go.'"

Wesley Wright followed with 1 2/3 innings, striking out two. Rookie Neil Ramirez tossed a one-hit eighth and rookie Zac Rosscup sealed the win in the ninth.

Coghlan's three-run triple in the second gave the bullpen the cushion it needed to hold off the first-place Orioles. It was the highlight of a four-run, four-hit inning for the Cubs.

Coghlan was 0-for-15 with six strikeouts and one walk against Orioles starter Bud Norris to that point.

"Guys were reminding me," Coghlan said. "I guess they had it on a stat sheet. Yeah, it was good to be able to get that -- big situation."

Javier Baez overshadowed three strikeouts with a solo home run in the seventh, a line drive to right field. Baez also homered Friday, registering home runs in back to back games for the first time in his career. His seven homers are the most by Cub through 19 games since Mandy Brooks in 1925.

Chris Valaika chipped in with an RBI single in the sixth after taking over for Luis Valbuena at third base. Logan Watkins had an RBI double in the eighth.

Hendricks' streak of quality starts ended at six due to the delay, which he knew was coming after the grounds crew told the team the delay would last at least two hours.

"You never want to come out, especially only going two innings," said Hendricks, who boasts a 1.19 ERA at Wrigley Field. "As a starter, we're not really used to that. You definitely want to go out there. It's just not the smart thing, especially after a delay like that."

The Cubs secured their third series win of August, and on Sunday will go for their first sweep since July 2. Chicago's final 11 series, including this weekend's against Baltimore, are all against contending teams.

"They're a good, solid aggressive bunch and they're trying to establish themselves in their organization," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "Their intensity level is always going to be good. They've got a lot of things to establish and prove, as we do."

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After tough road, Rondon finding success as closer

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CHICAGO -- Cubs closer Hector Rondon picked up his 20th save in Friday's 4-1 win over the Orioles.

"It's obviously a tremendous accomplishment," manager Rick Renteria said.

Rondon was a 2012 Rule 5 Draft pick who the Cubs acquired from the Indians, the team he signed with as an amateur free agent in '04. The right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery on his pitching arm in 2010, then fractured the same elbow a year later.

Rondon was never officially named the closer this season, but he worked his way into the role. Kevin Gregg earned 33 saves in 38 opportunities as the Cubs' closer last year.

"[Rondon] is a young man who is really chipping away at the role," Renteria said. "He's had some hiccups along the way, obviously, but he continues to develop his slider, his mix of pitches, in order to get guys off his fastball, because there was a point in time there where guys were just looking for his fastball and taking advantage of him and not allowing him to get through that particular inning.

"He's made adjustments and it's a good story. All the paint has actually been chipping away and getting better."

Rondon has a 2.86 ERA in 51 games entering play Saturday. Without his five-run outing on June 23 against the Reds, his ERA would be 1.99.

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Pair of reviews favors O's in rainy tilt vs. Cubs

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CHICAGO -- A pair of reviewed calls went in the Orioles' favor on Saturday at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs prevailed with a 7-2 victory in a game that saw a three-hour, nine-minute rain delay.

A seventh-inning crew-chief review regarding MLB rule 7.13 that prohibits catchers from blocking the plate without possession of the ball confirmed umpire Chris Segal's call that Anthony Rizzo was out at home.

With one out in the seventh and a 6-2 Chicago lead, Rizzo tried to score on Ryan Sweeney's grounder to first, but first baseman Steve Pearce threw to catcher Nick Hundley, who tagged Rizzo.

Rizzo had doubled with no outs and reached third when pinch-hitter Matt Szczur grounded out to short. The review lasted one minute, 20 seconds.

Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged a call in the eighth when Logan Watkins was ruled out at third on a 5-3-5 double play. The call stood after a two minute, eight second review.

{"content":["replay" ] }

With players' support, Chicago team in LLWS final

Jackie Robinson West to play South Korea in championship game Sunday

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With players' support, Chicago team in LLWS final play video for With players' support, Chicago team in LLWS final

Major League Baseball's players may be many years removed from their days of playing Little League ball, but they haven't forgotten their roots.

On Saturday, Chicago's Jackie Robinson West defeated Las Vegas, 7-5, in the United States final, advancing to the Little League World Series championship. They'll take on South Korea on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET.

And while the 13 boys from the South Side of Chicago have done their part on the field, they've had some big league assistance off of it.

In addition to a showering of support on social media, a group of Major Leaguers, organized by Colorado's LaTroy Hawkins, donated money to help send some of the Little Leaguers' parents to Williamsport, Pa., to watch their sons play.

Among the other MLB players who supported the team were the Braves' B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, the Cubs' Wesley Wright, the Tigers' Torii Hunter, the Dodgers' Carl Crawford and the Nationals' Ian Desmond.

"Those kids are excited because their families are there," Hunter said. "Think if their families couldn't afford to get there. They'd have no support. Nobody screaming for them, nobody yelling for them." 

Jackie Robinson West became the first entirely African-American team to play in the U.S. championship game and is now the first to advance to the world finals. The squad is also the first member of the Urban Initiative, which aims to support Little League programs in low-income, inner-city neighborhoods, to make the Little League World Series since 2002.

"They've kind of had their backs against the wall in other aspects of life and they found an outlet and they're striving for greatness in it," Desmond said. "That's what every kid wants: an outlet and somebody to show some compassion for them. And it seems like that's what those coaches have provided."

In the L.A. clubhouse prior to Saturday evening's game against the Mets, all eyes were on baseball's young stars.

"It definitely reminds me of my [Little League] team," said Crawford, who shared a Skype session with the boys earlier this week. "We didn't ever reach a level that high, but just the fun that they're having, the excitement that they're bringing to the game and making people want to watch them."

Chicago's finals win Saturday came against the same Las Vegas team that had trounced them, 13-2, just six days earlier. It was their only loss in the Little League World Series, but according to Desmond, the loss was exactly what they needed.

"I don't want to say they got arrogant, but sometimes in this game you get a little comfortable, and I think that might have been a wake-up call for them," Desmond said. "So I'm happy to see them win. I'm rooting for them. And I want to see them go all the way."

"Just to be able to help them and be a part of that, I'm pretty honored," B.J. Upton said.

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