Archive for April, 2012

Farm Report: April 27 – Castillo called up, Peoria led by PJ and Paul

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Triple A- Nashville , Iowa

Nashville and Iowa were rained out on Friday. Welington Castillo will be called up to Chicago to replace the injured Steve Clevenger. In other AAA news, the top two position prospects in the game have been called up; Bryce Harper for the Nats and Mike Trout for the Angels (Bobby Abreu was released, and no, the Cubs shouldn’t sign him). The timing for Harper was just right for the Nats, as they will now have him under control for an extra season…although I don’t expect him to remain up for good, so that’s probably moot. But it does mean that the Cubs can bring up Brett Jackson with the extra year…which won’t happen because he’s just not ready.

Double A- Tennessee 0, Jackson 3

Not much going for the Smokies here. They ran into one of Seattle’s top pitching prospects, Taijuan Walker, who improved to 3-0 on the season. Trey McNutt only went three innings for Tennessee; I didn’t see a pitch count in the box score, so he either threw a lot of pitches, had blister issues reoccur, or they are easing him back. He only gave up one hit and best of all, no walks.
The offense couldn’t do anything against Jackson. They were 0-4 with runners in scoring position and the only extra base hit was Jim Adduci’s 5th inning, two out triple.

High A- Daytona 3, Clearwater 4

Another weak offensive performance despite the three runs, Daytona could only muster six hits in the game. The only extra base hit here came on an 8th inning double by Matt Szczur. Pitching was good, with Eric Jokisch throwing seven innings, giving up three runs (one earned), nine hits, two walks, eight K’s, but two unearned runs given up cost them the victory.

Low A- Peoria 3, Lake County 0

A victory! This one was led by the pitching of Patrick (PJ) Francescon and the bat of Paul Hoilman. PJ threw a gem for six innings, only giving up two hits while striking out eight. The 40th round pick in 2010 has now thrown 27 innings on the year, with 26 K’s and only 4 BB’s and 14 hits given up. He is a bit old for the league, at 23 years old, but has been a pleasant surprise for the organization.
Hoilman now has a 12 game hitting streak thanks to a first inning 2-run homer. The 6’4″, 230 pound, first baseman has put together a good  year, but 26 K’s in 80 plate appearances for a 22 year old in Low A isn’t all that impressive. 19 year old Oliver Zapata continues to hit; he went 2-4, but was caught stealing and picked off.

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Game 20: We Beat Roy Halladay….With Paul Maholm?

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Cubs 5 @ Phillies 1

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Do you ever have one of those days where you get excited about watching a game only to find out that your DVR didn’t record it? That was my night. I took my son to the urgent care and finally got him to sleep around 9p. I settled in on the couch and turned on the TV. What did I find? The game had never started to record for some reason and the channel wasn’t available. I spent the night frustrated and went to be early. As a result, all I know about the game is what you can read from the box score. So, I challenge you guys that watched it to tell me your impressions of what you saw in the comment section. Initial impressions from me:

  • Paul Maholm pitched the way I thought he would when he came over from Pittsburgh. Was he that much different from the other starts or does his box score just look good?
  • James Russell is off to a really nice start replacing Sean Marshall in the left specialist role out of the pen. He was awful at times early last year, but his development has been very quick. It just backs up my theory to develop a pen with organization guys.
  • We continue to see speed on the basepaths. The Cubs have been far more aggressive stealing than we’ve seen in a long long time. What is concerning is the success rate. We’re at 68%, which is just a hair less than the general threshold considered useful. If we’re going to be aggressive with the steals, it’s fine. Just make sure we’re doing it intelligently. Last night Tony Campana had two and Starlin Castro had one and was caught one. 75% on the night is acceptable.
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Phillies Series Preview

Friday, April 27th, 2012


Paul Maholm (1-2, 8.36 ERA) vs. Roy Halladay (3-1, 1.50 ERA)

Maholm is hoping to build off his first win with the Cubs. He held the Reds to one run on four hits over six innings in his last start. He’s 3-2 with a 4.50 ERA in seven starts in his career vs. the Phillies. The way the Phillies are swinging the bats, Philadelphia pitchers have almost no margin for error these days. So Halladay is going to have to be close to perfect in the series opener against the Cubs. Fortunately, he mostly has been.

Randy Wells (0-0, 3.60 ERA) vs. Joe Blanton (1-3, 4.34 ERA)

This will be Wells’ second start in place of Ryan Dempster, on the DL with a strained right quad. In his first game, against the Reds on Sunday, Wells escaped some jams and gave up two runs on six hits and five walks over five innings. Sloppy defense ruined Blanton’s last start last weekend against the Padres at Petco Park, where he allowed six runs (three earned) in six innings. In three starts, Blanton has a 4.00 ERA

Matt Garza (1-1, 3.38 ERA) vs. Kyle Kendrick (0-1, 9.39 ERA)

Garza deserved better in his last start when he gave up two runs over seven innings and didn’t get a decision. He’s struggled on the road, serving up more runs in one start away from Wrigley than three games at home. That needs to change. Kendrick suffered the team’s worst start since 2010 when he allowed seven earned runs in three-plus innings Monday against the D-backs in Phoenix. He needs to pitch much better than that while Cliff Lee is on the disabled list.

Jeff Samardzija (2-1, 4.13 ERA) vs. Vance Worley (2-1, 2.16 ERA)

Samardzija was back on track in his last start. against the Cardinals, striking out a personal high nine over 6 2/3 shutout innings. He’ll miss Wrigley, where he’s given up one earned run in 15 1/3 innings. Worley gutted through six innings Tuesday in a victory over the D-backs at Chase Field. He allowed one run and five hits in six innings, but he had to work for it. But so far he is proving his 2011 rookie season is no fluke.


Despite scoring 15 runs in their previous two games, the Phillies enter this series mired in one of their worst offensive months in over a decade. They are scoring just 3.32 runs per game with a .650 team OPS, good for 27th and 26th in the league respectively. This is a consequence mostly of slow starts by Shane Victorino (.735 OPS), Hunter Pence (.738), and Jimmy Rollins (.524), as well as the need to rely on glove-first players like Freddy Galvis and Placido Polanco. The only qualified hitter managing an .800 OPS is Ty Wigginton. Juan Pierre has hit at the top of the lineup 13 times in 19 games, and while he’s curently enjoying a BABIP-fueled run of single base hit success, his track record hardly merits a spot on a major league roster, much less on that of a putative first division team. It doesn’t help that John Mayberry, Jr., who racked up 296 plate appearances and absorbed over 500 vital innings in the outfield last season, has thus far been unable to replicate his 2011 success. In fact, he hasn’t had any success at all — he’s hitting .200/.200/.244 and has failed to draw a walk.

Underlying the Phillies’ scoring problems are a striking lack of plate discipline and a near-total power outage. Their 5.3% walk rate is tied for last in the MLB with the Pirates, and only 24% of their hits are for extra bases, fewest in the league. Their qualified leader in slugging percentage, Carlos Ruiz, is hardly known for sustainable power with the stick. The hope is that the Phillies can remain reasonably competitive until Ryan Howard (Achilles surgery complications) and Chase Utley (arthritic knees) are able to return to active duty, but it’s not a given that the Phillies will be able to do so, and it’s not entirely clear when either player will be back. Utley is probably the closest, having rejoined the team in Arizona and taken batting practice before the games. Howard has done nothing more strenuous than fielding grounders in a chair. Neither will see the field in this series against the Cubs. And when they do return, they carry no guarantees of effectiveness.

Needless to say, the high point of the 2012 Phillies, as with the 2011 Phillies, is their starting rotation. They enter this series 4th in the league in ERA (2.80), 3rd in xFIP (3.19), and 2nd in K/BB (3.92). The Cubs, though, will be spared most of its toughest components. True, they must first face Roy Halladay, who, despite some lingering (but likely unjustified) concerns about his velocity and pitch selection in the early going, has thrown 30 innings of 1.50 ERA ball and has not allowed a home run. But Joe Blanton, the scheduled starter for Saturday, has not been able to miss bats in his first 3 starts, and in any case is a far cry from Halladay, Cole Hamels, or Cliff Lee. And Lee, by the way, will miss his second straight start with an oblique injury, making Kyle Kendrick the starter for Sunday. Kendrick had a productive season last year mostly thanks to batted ball fortune, and the Phillies unfortunately took that heart, granting him a two year contract extension covering 2012 and 2013. The inescapable truth is that he has one of the worst strikeout skills in baseball (career 10.6% K rate), and theoretically relies on inducing grounders when in fact his groundball rate is entirely mediocre, hovering at or below league average. In hitter-friendly venues like Citizens Bank Park, the results can be brutal.

One thing to watch: in a series of what are likely to be close games, manager Charlie Manuel will probably have several key decisions to make in late-inning, high leverage scenarios. So far in the season, he has adhered to some bizarre protocols in his usage of $50 million reliever Jonathan Papelbon — an unsavory mix of managing to the save situation and giving him work in blowouts. Already Papelbon has sat on the bullpen bench while lesser relievers have made a mess of the most important moments in games. Consequently, the average leverage index of the most valuable reliever on the Phillies is 0.88. Look for that misuse to benefit the Cubs in big spots this weekend.

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Farm Report- April 26: Blowouts and extra inning games

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Triple A- Nashville 1, Iowa 7

The I-Cubs were the only farm team to tally a win in the Cubs’ organization today. Frankie De La Cruz moved to the starting rotation with Randy Wells’ promotion to Chicago and was impressive today, giving up only one run in five innings. The one negative is that he only struck out one hitter, while walking three. Second baseman Adrian Cardenas picked up a double, single and walk, and also tallied four RBIs. First baseman Anthony Rizzo added two hits and two RBIs. The I-Cubs showed a ton of patience, drawing eight walks. Manny Corpas and Blake Parker combined to pitch four scoreless innings of relief.

Double A- Tennessee 2, Jackson 7

Nick Struck did not enjoy meeting Jackson center fielder Denny Almonte.  Almonte hit two home runs off of the Smokies’ starting pitcher. Struck gave up seven runs in five and one-third innings. However, relievers Marcus Hatley and Casey Weathers combined for a scoreless final two and two-thirds innings, including Weathers striking out the side in the eighth. Tennessee’s offense did not do much, only tallying five hits. No one on the offense reached base more than once, although first baseman Justin Bour did hit a solo home run.

High A- Daytona 3, Clearwater 5

The Daytona Cubs lost on a walk off home run in the tenth inning after tying the game up in the top of the ninth. However, starting pitcher Austin Kirk had a strong outing, giving up two runs in six innings, striking out six while allowing six hits and two walks. After a slow start, infielder Ronald Torreyes continued his strong back half of April, collecting two hits and a walk. Outfielder Nelson Perez added a solo home run in the second inning. Matt Szczur got on base twice in five plate appearances, with one hit and one walk. He also stole his eleventh base of the season, although Szczur did strike out twice as well. Ty’Relle Harris gave up the walk off home run in the tenth.

Low A- Peoria 6, Lake County 7

Peoria also lost an extra inning affair on, but this time it was in the eleventh inning and on a sacrifice fly. Starting pitcher Michael Jensen had his first rough start of the season, giving up five runs in five innings. Jeffrey Lorick gave up the save in the ninth and Austin Reed picked up the loss. Third baseman Wes Darvill tallied two hits, including a two run home run. Second baseman Zeke DeVoss added a single and two walks, and center fielder Pin-Chieh Chen picked up a single and a double. Aside from Oliver Zapata’s hot first week in Peoria, Darvill, DeVoss and Chen have been three of the brightest offensive spots in Peoria.  None are top prospects, but all three are legitimate Major League prospects.

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Character Counts

Friday, April 27th, 2012

Last Friday, to surprisingly little fanfare, the Chicago Police Department announced they would not file sexual assault charges against Starlin Castro.  The CPD had been investigating accusations brought against Castro by a woman he met late last September after the end of the regular season.  The investigation took so long in part because Castro spent the offseason at his home in the Dominican Republic, so it wasn’t until he returned to Chicago for the Cubs Convention in January that he was able to sit down with investigators.

Cubs fans everywhere are relieved that the specter of criminal charges and jail time has finally been lifted off of Castro, and that he appears to be free and clear of the situation now.  We’re also hopeful that he’s learned a valuable lesson at this early, pivotal point of his career and life.

The promiscuous, wanton lifestyle of the bigtime athlete is a well-worn cliche at this point, but one with increasingly shocking examples and often dire consequences.  Mike Tyson and Michael Vick might be the obvious poster boys, but there’s no end to the number of ruined careers and shattered lives you can point to as warnings.  Ricky Williams’ career was repeatedly derailed by his drug use.  Josh Hamilton’s was put on hold, costing him several years of his athletic prime.  And Todd Marinovich, Maurice Clarett, Len Bias, and several other young men’s careers never got off the ground because of their off-the-field indiscretions.  The list goes on and on.

And it’s not just young, immature athletes who destroy their careers and lives through their illicit behavior.   Former University of Arkansas football coach Bobby Petrino is the latest walking illustration of Numbers 32:23, “and be sure, your sin will find you out.”

But we shouldn’t have to learn from only the worst tragedies and most grievous examples.  Some players haven’t had their careers interrupted by their misdeeds.  Yet.  The Bears’ new wide receiver Brandon Marshall is almost more well known for his misbehavior off the field than his elite performance on it.  He’s been involved in numerous bar fights–including one that led to the shooting death of teammate Darrent Williams–and was once stabbed by his wife (they’re still married).  Castro’s own situation mirrored that of former Denver defensive back Perrish Cox–one of my favorite college players in his time with Oklahoma State.  He went to trial for sexual assault, and faced up to ten years if convicted.  A jury recently acquitted him, and he has since signed with the 49ers.  Unless they get their lives together, guys like that are moral shipwrecks waiting to happen.

Other players will live with the consequences of their mistakes for years, and perhaps the rest of their lives.  Magic Johnson’s Hall of Fame career was cut short by the results of his promiscuity.  Brian Urlacher had a one-night stand and, eventually, a son with a woman who has routinely dragged him to court–her litigious history is well documented, including some allegations of sexual assault she made against the Lord of the Dance himself, Michael Flatley–and generally made his life miserable ever since.  I expect the results are exponentially worse for the Jets’ Antonio Cromartie, who has ten children with eight different women (and famously struggled to remember all their names on Hard Knocks).

Top to bottom, the sports world is full shady characters, sketchy behavior, and sleazy temptation.  It’s nothing new–we just hear and see more about it today because of Facebook, TMZ, Deadspin, and half a dozen 24-hour sports channels.  Life on the road has always and will always afford people low accountability and high potential for fulfilling their most prurient and nefarious desires.  Let’s face it: for some–maybe many–that’s part of the appeal.

But not for everyone.  There are plenty of guys who can live the life of a star athlete without succumbing to all the accompanying temptations.  It’s not impossible to be famous and a model citizen.  It just takes more effort.  As a society of fans, we ought to do a better job of celebrating quality character and the players who exemplify it.  But that’s not what sells newspapers and drives page views, so we’re likely to keep hearing more about athletes’ deviant behavior to the point where it becomes accepted as commonplace (if we’re not already there).

Like many of you, I’m hoping this episode has scared Starlin Castro straight–that he toes a finer line going forward, because he’s already been face-to-face with the consequences if he doesn’t.  I hope he knows now what many others before him have had to learn the hard way:  that there may not be a stat for good behavior, but it still counts.

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