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  • 22 Jul
    CHICAGO — For the first time in a
    month Austin
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    , the Chicago Cubs will play after an off-day as they head
    into the stretch run of what they hope leads to their third straight National
    League Central Division title.With their magic number at eight to clinch, the
    Cubs begin a three-game series against their crosstown rival Chicago White Sox
    on Friday fresh off a difficult slate during which they played 29 games in 30
    days. Over that time, the Cubs won 18 of the 29 games and will return to action
    after catching their breath Thursday. They will attempt to use this weekend’s
    three-game set at Guaranteed Rate Field to hold off the second-place Milwaukee
    Brewers.As much as his team may be fatigued, manager Joe Maddon liked how the
    Cubs closed off the long string of games. Despite a 9-0 loss to the Arizona
    Diamondbacks on Wednesday, the Cubs enter Friday’s game having won five of their
    last seven games, which closed out a successful stretch that Maddon was pleased
    with overall.Article continues below ...“That’s a pretty good stretch right
    there,” Maddon told reporters Wednesday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “What
    was it? Eighteen and 11 during that stretch, something like that? Sign me up …
    We’ll take that every day of the week.“I’m really pleased and happy and proud
    how the guys have handled this.”Jose Quintana will start for the Cubs on Friday
    as he faces his former team. Quintana (13-10, 3.95 ERA) had gone five starts
    without a loss before he suffered a setback in his last outing, when he allowed
    two runs over five innings against the Cincinnati Reds and struck out seven.
    Quintana, who spent 5 1/2 seasons with the White Sox before joining the Cubs at
    midseason last year, will start against the White Sox for the first time.The
    White Sox will face the Cubs following an extra-inning 5-4 victory over the
    Cleveland Indians on Thursday. That snapped a three-game losing streak as Matt
    Davidson delivered a 10th-inning RBI single. The White Sox dropped two of three
    games against the Cubs in May, but with some success this weekend, the White Sox
    could provide some assistance to the Brewers in their attempt to chase down the
    Cubs.The White Sox could get first baseman Jose Abreu back after he missed the
    three-game series against the Indians when he was hospitalized with an ingrown
    hair infection in his right thigh. Abreu has also been sidelined recently for
    three weeks following testicular torsion surgery. Manager Rick Renteria didn’t
    rule Abreu out against the Cubs.“Been a tough year (for Abreu),” Renteria told
    reporters this week. “He’s been dealing with it as best as he possibly
    can.”Reynaldo Lopez will start the series for the White Sox. Lopez (6-9, 4.05
    ERA) has won two of his previous four
    starts Colin
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    , including in his most recent outing when he threw seven
    scoreless innings against the Baltimore Orioles. Lopez has surrendered only one
    earned run in three September starts and will look to keep rolling Friday
    against the Cubs, who he will face for the first time in his career. Renteria
    has been impressed with Lopez as he winds down his first full big-league season,
    which has included 175 2/3 innings. He is 2-0 with a 2.85 ERA over his last nine
    starts.“He’s showing you he’s got endurance, strength (and) he’s gaining
    understanding of the situation, how to work and manage the situations, which is
    really big,” Renteria told reporters after Lopez’s last start. “It speaks a lot
    for him because he continues to work and grind and learn.” NEW YORK (AP) — Good
    but unexceptional veterans must realize teams find them less valuable in the age
    of analytics, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred maintained ahead of season
    openers.Players have expressed anger following the second straight slow
    free-agent market, one that saw record deals for top stars and plummeting prices
    for many journeymen.“Obviously what the clubs are saying, the Bryce Harpers, the
    Mike Trouts, these free agents, Manny Machado, they have tremendous value,”
    Manfred said Wednesday.Then he cited the example of a 33-year-old player with a
    1 Wins Above Replacement last season.“That price has been disappointing for some
    players, but that’s the market,” Manfred said. “What we’ve said to the players
    look David
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    , if that’s your issue, you’ve got to tell us. That’s a
    distribution issue. That means some guys are getting too much. Some guys are
    getting too little. We’re largely agnostic on that one.”Manfred was interviewed
    by New York Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay during a breakfast at The Paley
    Center for Media. Manfred said front offices have transformed since the days
    when general managers made decisions based on numbers in the Baseball
    Register.“Now all these clubs have algorithms that you pump in how they perform,
    what their ages (are), and it tells you on a predictive basis what you’re going
    to get from that player,” Manfred said. “Players will say to you, I’ve served my
    six years, right? I’m entitled in free agency to get a multiyear contract at X
    level. The fact of the matter is, what the club is saying is I’m not paying for
    you for what you did the last six years, I want to see what I’m going to get
    going forward. You’re not going to be able to change that.”Players have since
    1976 been able to become free agents after six years of major league service.
    They are eligible for salary arbitration after about 2 2/3 years of service.“The
    single biggest feature of our economic system that allows small-market clubs to
    compete is the six-year reserve period,” Manfred said. “With the exception of
    salary arbitration wins and losses, their cost is fairly predictable, right? So
    that allows those small markets to compete. You start shaving those reserve
    years, what’s happened in other sports, when they’ve moved down the free-agency
    year, they’ve gone to a cap in order to preserve competitive balance. Our union
    has always opposed to a cap.”Manfred rejects claims by the players’ association
    that jettisoning veterans in favor of rebuilding is tantamount to not trying to
    win.“Tanking is my least favorite word in the English language,” he said. “They
    know analytically to go out and sign a $15 million a year free agent, that may
    give them one or two more
    wins ,
    it’s just not worth the investment for those one or two wins. That player is not
    going to make a difference. They’re better off taking that money holding on to
    it and paying the group that they’re bringing along as they start to mature.”On
    the offseason’s other big labor topic, Manfred remains intent on pushing ahead
    with a rules change for 2020 that would require pitchers to face at least three
    batters or end a half inning.“We think less pitching changes makes the game
    shorter and forcing the pitcher to at least pitch to three increases the
    likelihood that the hitter may have an outcome that produces action in the
    game,” he said.Players refused to accept that change for 2019, but baseball’s
    collective bargaining agreement gives management the right to unilaterally alter
    playing rules with one year of advance notice. Manfred regrets that provision
    was agreed to in the 1970s, believing it is difficult for teams to press ahead
    with a proposal that was bargained over inconclusively.“It’s always a mistake
    when you give up a fundamental management right, and it does create leverage for
    the players in terms of what is a game going to look like,” he said.To speed the
    pace of play, baseball plans to shorten inning breaks for the second straight
    season.“Every time you have an inning break during a broadcast, it’s an
    opportunity for the viewer to tune away and maybe not tune back,” he
    said.Baseball also is using the independent Atlantic League for experiments,
    such as increasing the distance from the mound to home plate to 62½ feet from 60
    feet, 6 inches. When Kay suggested pitchers would get injured, Manfred quipped:
    “That’s why we’re doing it in the Atlantic League.”