Dan's Dugout: Cubs Win Deadline Derby, Keep Division Lead • Latino Sports

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Dan’s Dugout: Cubs Win Deadline Derby, Keep Division Lead

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Theo Epstein, not one to rest on his own laurels, knows how to play the trading game.

He’s already pulled off the impossible, winning world championships with both the Cubs and Red Sox, but seeks another this season.

Like Merlin the Magician, Epstein is adept at pulling rabbits out of hats.

Lefty starter Cole Hamels is pitching like a kid again

When presumed pitching ace Yu Darvish went down for the count, he reached across league lines to land Cole Hamels, a former World Series MVP, in a waiver trade.

When injury also claimed former National League MVP Kris Bryant, Epstein snatched former postseason standout Daniel Murphy off  roster of the restructuring Washington Nationals.

He even turned a pauper into a prince by grabbing a journeyman relief pitcher named Jesse Chavez. His ERA in his first 19 games as a Cub was 1.07. That’s no typo, folks. And it helped enormously when closer Brandon Morrow was out for a spell.

Hamels, a lanky lefty who once pitched the Phillies into the World Series, gave up four runs in his first six starts under Joe Maddon. That’s a 0.69 earned run average — much more than even Epstein was expecting when he peeled off a package of prospects to get him.

As for Murphy, who went unclaimed by every other National League team, he hit .306 with a .551 slugging percentage in his first 10 days as a Cub. Installed as the leadoff man, Murphy made the Cubs refuse to lose. Hotly pursued by the revived St. Louis Cardinals and revamped Milwaukee Brewers, the North Siders refused to relinquish their comfortable grip on the National League Central title. They won 10 of 11 with Murphy in the lineup, even though they often lifted him for defensive reasons in the late innings.

These are not the Chicago Cubs of Goat Curse vintage. These Cubs are athletic, versatile, and resilient, led by surprise slugger Javy Baez, on pace for a 30-homer, 100-RBI season. He stepped up when Bryant went down. And Murphy’s arrival made it possible for Maddon to move Anthony Rizzo, an RBI man, out of the inappropriate leadoff spot.

To be sure, the Cubs have pitching too. Jake Arrieta and John Lackey are gone but Jon Lester and Hamels give the club a pair of elite lefthanders that can stymie the lefty-heavy Atlanta Braves, likely champions of the NL East unless the Philadelphia Phillies can catch them in the final weeks.

Maddon keeps his men loose by moving them all around the diamond. Bryant plays the infield and outfield corners when healthy, Ben Zobrist plays second and the outfield, and Baez has seen considerable action at short since Addison Russell was sidelined by injury. Ian Happ also moves around more than a pawn on a chessboard.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon is trying to erase two challengers

When the Cubs won the World Series in 2016 after a 108-year drought, the champagne tasted especially sweet. They came within a whisker of repeating last year, losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL Championship Series, but believe they’ll be back this time around.

If they do win the pennant, they’ll face formidable American League opposition — no matter who emerges victorious in the Junior Circuit. The Houston Astros, hoping to defend their 2017 trophy, could be dethroned by the Boston Red Sox, owners of the best record in baseball, or even the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, or upstart Oakland Athletics.

The Cubs are convinced Murphy will rise to the occasion again, as he did in 2015 with a .328 batting average and seven postseason homers. They’re still wondering how he sneaked through waivers. But they’re not complaining.

They have no time for that. The owners of the National League’s best record, they just keep on winning.

 

 

 

About Dan Schlossberg

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ has produced 35 baseball books, including autobiographies of Ron Blomberg, Al Clark, and Milo Hamilton. Also a broadcaster, he is the host and executive producer of Braves Banter and Travel Itch Radio and a contributor to Sirius XM.

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