Chicago baseball report: Cubs, White Sox face a key week for trade deadline preparations

17 July 2023

It’s go time for the Cubs as they enter a pivotal stretch in their schedule to determine which direction the front office takes at the trade deadline.

The Cubs couldn’t secure the series win Sunday with an 11-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox with seven games remaining on the homestand.

The White Sox had one of their best series of the season, taking two of three from the team with the top record in baseball in Atlanta. The Sox continue their longest trip of the season with three at the New York Mets and three at the Minnesota Twins.

Every Monday throughout the season, Tribune baseball writers will provide an update on what happened — and what’s ahead for the Cubs and Sox.

Ian Happ’s power drought and the impact on the Cubs’ top-of-order lineup construction

Consistent power production hasn’t been there lately for switch-hitter Ian Happ.

Since early May, Happ is hitting .218 with a .676 OPS, nine doubles, three home runs and 22 RBIs in his last 58 games (251 plate appearances) entering Sunday. Two of those home runs came June 24 in the London Series. The Cubs aren’t getting the type of power they need from Happ, especially with his frequency batting in the No. 3 spot where he has hit most of the season. He batted fourth in Sunday’s 11-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

“He’s trying to find his timing on the heater right now,” manager David Ross said Saturday. “I think the main thing for him is getting back on the fastball and he does a nice job of having a consistent at-bats and being able to take walks even when he’s not timed up a little bit.

“For him, I think sacrificing some of that plate discipline will be hopefully short-lived for when you get on the timing then you’re back to where you want to be.”

Happ’s 40 walks during that 58-game stretch have helped his on-base percentage sit at healthy .351 in that span. It hasn’t translated to being the run producer the Cubs expected when signing him to a three-year, $61 million extension in early April.

Ross said there have been conversations about moving him higher up in the order because of his walk rate and ability to work the count despite his slump. But then he had his multihomer game in London and seemed to be turning a corner offensively. Ross commended the job Mike Tauchman has done as their leadoff hitter when he’s started and didn’t sound inclined to try Happ there.

“Just because a guy walks, I still like (Happ) walking when he was in the four (spot),” Ross said. “So guys that can get on base is always a positive, I don’t care where they’re at. Not everybody that’s just walking with a high on-base we just need to stick in the leadoff spot.”

When leading off an inning this year, Happ owns a .259/.385/.519 slash line with a .903 OPS, 10 walks, 18 strikeouts and seven extra-base hits, including three homers, in 65 plate appearances.

As trade speculation increases, Sox players focus on what they can control

Last week saw the All-Star break come and go.

The next big date on the baseball calendar is the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

With a record well under .500, there’s been plenty of speculation from writers and analysts around the country that the Sox will be sellers.

The trade deadline is not a subject that comes up in manager Pedro Grifol’s conversations with players.

“What am I going to tell them? I’m going to say, ‘Hey, focus on the game?’ They know they have to focus on the game,” Grifol said before Saturday’s game against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park. “Everybody here is a professional. They’ve been through it. They know it’s a part of it. And until it happens, there’s nothing really to talk about or think about.

“You’ve got to go out there and play and perform. I haven’t spoken to many of the guys about it.”

When it comes to not letting the deadline become a distraction, Grifol said the key is remaining focused on what players can control.

“(There is) really nothing we can do about (the trade deadline),” Grifol said. “We can’t predict what’s going to happen. Things might happen. They may not happen.

“We’ve just got to keep playing our game. Keep going out there and getting prepared to play. Those are things that are out of our control. You can’t focus on (the trade deadline).”

Week ahead: Cubs

If the Cubs are going to make a run to get back to .500 before the trade deadline, this is the week to do it. It’s a chance to avenge their early May sweep in Washington where the Cubs lost the three-game series by a combined five runs, including a pair of one-run losses. That series was part of a road trip that squandered their strong start to the season. The Cardinals continue to be one of the worst teams in baseball, and the Cubs must take advantage of their struggles and impending seller status.

By the completion of their homestand Sunday, it should become more clear what direction the Cubs will take for the Aug. 1 trade deadline.

“Obviously, we’re going to see where we are and our hope certainly is that we can we play well for the next two weeks,” president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer said Friday. “We’ll sort of assess and I don’t want this to be a day-to-day assessment type thing, like, obviously it’s baseball. These decisions are hard. We want nothing more than to play really well over the next two weeks. … It’s a complicated time of year.”

Monday: vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m. Marquee
Tuesday: vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m. Marquee
Wednesday: vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m. Marquee
Thursday: vs. St. Louis, 7:05 p.m. Marquee
Friday: vs. St. Louis, 1:20 p.m. Apple TV
Saturday: vs. St. Louis, 1:20 p.m. Marquee
Sunday: vs. St. Louis, 1:20 p.m. Marquee

Week ahead: White Sox

The Sox were reeling, trailing by four runs in the first inning Friday against the Braves.

Touki Toussaint entered with two outs and issued a walk which loaded the bases for All-Star Ronald Acuña Jr.

“Facing a guy who is red-hot, I knew I had to go after him and limit the damage as much as possible,” Toussaint told the Tribune on Saturday.

The right-hander got Acuña to fly out to right. Toussaint gave the Sox a much-needed boost out of the bullpen, allowing one run on three hits with four strikeouts and four walks in 5 1/3 innings against his former team.

“Critical,” Grifol said of the outing.

According to STATS, Toussaint’s 97 pitches were the most by a Sox reliever since Héctor Santiago threw 100 on Sept. 24, 2019, against Cleveland.

Toussaint has worked as a starter and reliever since joining the Sox on June 21.

“(I) prepare every day like I’m going to pitch,” Toussaint said. “If I don’t, I don’t. If I do, I do. I try to prepare every day and whatever happens, happens.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity and trying to take advantage of it the best I can and see where it takes me.”

He is scheduled to start Wednesday against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

Monday: off
Tuesday: at Mets, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH
Wednesday: at Mets, 6:10 p.m., NBCSCH
Thursday: at Mets, 12:10 p.m., NBCSCH
Friday: at Twins, 7:10 p.m., NBCSCH
Saturday: at Twins, 6:15 p.m., FOX-32
Sunday: at Twins, 1:10 p.m., NBCSCH

This week in Chicago baseball

July 17, 1966: Billy Williams hit for the natural cycle in the Cubs’ 7-2 victory

Williams singled in the first inning, doubled in the third, had an RBI triple in the fifth, homered to center in the seventh and popped out to the third baseman in foul territory. It was the second game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals, who took the opener 4-3 in 11 innings.

Williams was just the fifth Cubs player to hit for the cycle, joining Frank Chance (1904), Frank Schulte (1911), Hack Wilson (1930), Roy Smalley (1950) and Lee Walls (1957).

July 18, 1948: White Sox’s Pat Seerey hit four home runs in a 12-11, 11-inning victory

Seerey hit two mammoth shots off Philadelphia A’s pitchers Carl Scheib, one off Bob Savage and the game-winner off Lou Brissie in the top of the 11th.

July 20, 1933: Babe Herman hit three home runs, including a grand slam for the Cubs

Those swats helped the Cubs to a 10-1 rout of the Phillies at Wrigley Field.

July 22, 1986: Cubs fire ball girl Marla Collins after she poses for Playboy

The Cubs said they did not “authorize, condone or approve” Collins appearing in Playboy. Harry Caray posed with Collins in one of the shots.

Mike Royko, the late Tribune columnist, wrote then of Collins’ dismissal: “Of course it’s hypocritical. But hypocrisy is the very backbone of our sexual moral standards. Many of our most outstanding bluenoses are secret lechers.”

“Would I (pose) all over again? Yeah, sure, yes I would,” Collins told the Tribune in 1999. “I have no regrets. At that time I thought it was very exciting. It did cause a lot of commotion at the end, but all in all …”

Caray was one of Collins’ biggest supporters.

“Harry was a nice guy,” said Collins, who attended the wake and funeral of the Hall of Fame broadcaster. “It was a fun job being the ball girl, even though I knew (it) wasn’t forever.”

July 23, 2009: Mark Buehrle throws a perfect game for the White Sox

When shortstop Alexei Ramirez threw to first baseman Josh Fields to retire Jason Bartlett for the final out in a 5-0 win over the Rays, Buehrle completed the latest achievement in his storied career: the 18th perfect game in major-league history.

“I never thought I’d throw a no-hitter, never thought I’d throw a perfect game, and I never thought I’d hit a home run,” Buehrle said. “Never say never in this game because crazy stuff can happen.”

He became just the sixth pitcher in big-league history to throw at least two no-hitters that included a perfect game. He pitched a no-hitter against Texas in 2007, and he hit a home run at Milwaukee the previous month.

Buehrle’s achievement marked the 17th no-hitter in Sox history and only the second perfect game after Charles Robertson’s gem at Detroit on April 30, 1922. And he joined Frank Smith (1905, 1908) as the only Sox pitchers to throw two no-hitters.

The feat earned a congratulatory call from the First Fan, President Barack Obama.

“(Obama) said he was taking a little bit of credit because he wore the White Sox jacket at the All-Star Game, and I told him how surprised I was that he actually did it,” Buehrle said. “He said congratulations, and it’s an honor. (He said) a lot of people are going to remember this forever.”

Dewayne Wise provided the fielding highlight, robbing Gabe Kapler of a home run for the first out in the ninth inning. Wise, inserted in center field for defensive purposes, sprinted to left-center field in a desperate effort to catch Kapler’s drive.

He leaped above the fence to make the catch and momentarily lost control of the ball before grabbing it for the first out and falling to the ground.

“It was a special moment for Buehrle and Wise,” Kapler said. “They earned it.”


“Honestly, it’s just baseball. That’s why it’s such a great game. You never know what’s going to happen on any given day. Anything unique can happen. They got us in the first game and we came back strong those next two.” — Dylan Cease on taking 2 of 3 from the Atlanta Braves


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