Cubs’ right-hander Joe Nathan remembers all the “positive vibes” in the Detroit clubhouse two years ago when the Tigers landed the best pitcher on the market at the trade deadline: David Price.
Two months later, the Tigers’ five-game lead in their division had shrunk to one as they eked out a playoff berth, before losing in the first round to Baltimore, despite Price pitching well in his playoff start.
“Obviously, you’ve still got to go get it done on the field,” Nathan said, “but when you see something on paper and see what it can be, it’s pretty exciting.”
For all the non-baseball headlines Aroldis Chapman has made this week, that’s where the players in the Cubs’ clubhouse are when it comes to the “game-changing” trade Monday for the 105-mph closer.
“He’s a difference-maker,” said starter John Lackey, a key member of eight playoff teams. “It gives confidence to the clubhouse for sure.”
“Huge,” said catcher David Ross, praising the front office. “They’re making a statement.”
Next up – and the most important part of the biggest acquisition of the summer trading season so far – is how the team responds to that statement.
The Cubs have made high-profile deadline trades in the past with exceptional results (Rick Sutcliffe won a Cy Young Award in 1984 in less than half a season) and fizzled results (Nomar Garciaparra in 2004 was a non-factor).
Neither of those teams won the World Series, of course. The 2004 team didn’t make the playoffs.
“Regardless, it’s up to us,” said veteran catcher Miguel Montero, whose Cubs lost three of four entering – and 20 of 32 — until Wednesday’s 8-1 win over the White Sox.
“It’s up to us to win this. We’ve got to play better baseball. [The front office exec] don’t play for us. They’re not going to score runs for us. So it’s up to us.”
Montero has lived both sides of the trade-impact spectrum. In 2008, his Diamondbacks made the splashy move to acquire Adam Dunn, who hit well down the stretch for a team that didn’t get to the postseason. In 2011, Montero said under-the-radar acquisitions of infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald were big parts of a playoff run – because “they fit perfectly.”
It’s hard to see Chapman in a baseball sense as anything but a perfect fit – the All-Star, shutdown closer that transforms a so-so bullpen into a potential force, with 97-mph closer Hector Rondon moving to the eighth inning, hard-throwing Pedro Strop to the seventh and so on.
“Once you put him at the back and kind of move the other guys down, everybody looks a little bit better in that other role,” Lackey said. “I think we’re in a great situation right now.”
As long as Lackey and the rotation can trend closer to its early season performance than midseason performance, and Montero and the lineup can score more than three earned runs total they’ve managed against starting pitchers the last four games (entering Wednesday).
“There’s definitely no guarantees,” Montero said. “And in the playoffs it’s whoever gets hot at the right time. Right now we’re not even in the playoffs yet. We’ve still got a long way to go.
“I don’t want players to take anything for granted. From my own experience, playing against the Cardinals, they’re a good team in August and September. That’s when it really counts, because they carry it over to the playoffs. Same with the Giants.
“So you don’t take anything for granted,” Montero added. “We have a good lead. But let’s keep it up. And keep on going.”
No matter how much greater the assumptions or how much higher the expectations after adding Chapman.
“Expectations are whatever,” Lackey scoffed. “I’m trying to win it all.”