Archive for June, 2012

Prospect Spotlight: Boise Hawks Edition

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

The biggest knock on the Cubs’ farm system coming into this season was that, aside from Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson, the real high ceiling talent was in the very low minor leagues. A quick look through our own preseason Top 20 had eight players who had not played above a short season league prior to the start of the season. While Javier Baez’s call up to the Peoria Chiefs added a major infusion of excitement and talent to the Low A squad (he is currently hitting .317/.419/.556), I would argue that the Boise Hawks’ roster top to bottom is the most exciting in the system, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  While they do not have a truly top tier prospect like Baez, they do have several players who could easily find their way into organization Top 20s, and perhaps Top 10s, with strong showings in the Northwest League this season. Below are just the three Hawks that I think are most interesting to start the season.

Jeimer Candelario (3B)- Candelario is my current top prospect on the Hawks. Following a great Dominican Summer League performance last season (.337/.443/.478), Candelario was expected to spend his age 18 season with the Arizona Cubs. Following a solid showing in extended spring training (.308/.368/.481), though, the Cubs decided to send him straight up to Boise. Especially considering his young age, Candelario, who is a switch hitter, has shown impressive patience at the plate and power. There are questions regarding whether he will be able to stay at the hot corner long term, but Candelario is one of the higher upside hitters in the Cubs’ system.

Marco Hernandez (SS)- Hernandez started the season with Peoria, where he followed a horrid April with a much better May. Hernandez was sent down at the end of May, though, when Baez was called up to the Chiefs. My guess would be that it was always the plan to have Hernandez come down when the Cubs were ready to have Baez make his full season debut, since the Cubs will allow Baez to play shortstop until he proves he cannot and so much of Hernandez’s value is tied up in his ability to play shortstop. On that note, Hernandez is likely the best defensive shortstop in the Cubs’ minor league system. Hernandez has shown some ability to get on base and above average contact skills, but it is his defensive ability at shortstop that makes him a real prospect.

Shawon Dunston, Jr. (CF)- Dunston, the son of the former Cub and 1982 No. 1 overall draft pick of the same name (aside from the Jr. part, of course), was the Cubs’ 11th round pick last season and was one of a handful of later round players the Cubs signed for well above slot value after last year’s draft. Defensively, he should be able to be a plus center fielder, with plus speed and a strong arm, the latter of which at least you’d expect considering who his dad is. He was considered fairly raw for a draft prospect who had a father who played in the MLB, and at least Keith Law thought he would have been better served by playing college ball at Vanderbilt. But Dunston put up pretty strong numbers in extended spring training (.295/.339/.466), with the power being the pleasant unexpected surprise. Baseball America, though, did note that the Cubs believe Dunston will develop average or better power in time.

Other players to watch include 1B Roderick “Rock” Shoulders (and for more than just the name!), SS/2B Gioskar Amaya, LHP Wilengton Cruz, RHP Tayler Scott and RHP Hayden Simpson (if only to see the train wreck continue).

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Game 67: The Cubs Turn The Power On

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Cubs 12 @ White Sox 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Matt Garza threw a strong 6 innings, surrendering 3 runs on 5 hits.  Even that looks worse than it really was–the 3 runs came on homers hit by AJ Pierzynski and ageless wonder Paul Konerko.  Other than those two mistakes, Garza looked dominant on the way to his first win since April 29.
  • Shawn Camp and Manny Corpas combined for 3 innings of quality relief, allowing only 1 hit and no walks and striking out 3 Sox to seal the win for the Cubs.  As rare as the offensive outburst was for the Cubs, it was nice to get some actual relief from the bullpen.
  • And about that offensive outburst–the Cubs put up season highs of 5 homeruns, 15 hits, and 12 runs tonight.  Everyone in the lineup contributed to the win.  David DeJesus didn’t get a hit, but he did get hit by the pitch twice in the 7th (although replay showed the first one was more of a dramatic performance than an actual HBP), and came in to score the first run of that inning.  Starlin Castro hit out of the second spot tonight and had a huge game–3 hits including a 2-run homer.  In a possible (probable) foreshadowing of things to come, Bryan LaHair got his first start of the year in RF.  He made the most of it, pounding a 2-run homer in the 3rd to give the Cubs a lead they would never surrender.  Alfonso Soriano hit fourth as the DH, and hit a 440 foot bomb to dead center field.  He now has 4 homeruns and 10 RBIs as a DH–a new team record.  Steve Clevenger (starting at 1B) and Darwin Barney both singled in runs and scored in the Cubs’ 6-run 7th inning.  Luis Valbuena has been a pleasant surprise (for the most part) at 3B, and he continued to pry the job away from the already-forgotten Ian Stewart with another excellent game, putting up 3 hits, including a 3-run bomb to wrap up the scoring in the 7th.  Geovanny Soto made a nice return from the DL, with 2 hits including his solo homer in the 6th.  And Fast Tony Campana even got in on the action with a hit and, of course, a stolen base (his 24th) ahead of Castro’s homer in the 5th.  Tonight was easily the most complete performance any Cubs lineup has put together all season.  It was a pleasure to watch, and that’s not something we’ve been able to say much this year.
  • Special thanks go out to the White Sox for starting Zach Stewart tonight.  The Sox long relief man took the hill to give Chris Sale and Jake Peavy some extra rest.  Who can blame the Sox for underestimating this Cubs lineup?  I’m just glad we took advantage of the situation.
  • Also need to give a big thank you to the wind, which registered at as much as 41 mph during the game.  It was hard to tell which hitters benefited most from it, but it was certainly a factor.

What Went Wrong

  • Nothing comes to mind right away, and I’m not inclined to go digging for dirt after a win like that.
  • Oh wait, now that I think about it–it’s always unpleasant to see the ever-odious Pierzynski have any success.  I don’t care that we gave up the homerun to him–I just wish I didn’t have to see it happen.
  • Since I’m apparently padding out this section with gripes that are only vaguely game-related, I’ll point out that The Cell was only about 80% full tonight.  I can understand Cubs fans not wanting to make the trek to the Southside just to have insults, profanity, and garbage hurled at them for 3+ hours and watch the Cubs lose.  But why didn’t more White Sox fans–who love nothing more than when the White Sox win AND the Cubs lose–show up for the game?  Weird.
  • Your umpiring crew for this series: Dan Iassogna, CB Buckner, Bill Miller, and Dale Scott.  Expect fireworks at some point, and not just the stupid ones they fire off after each White Sox homer.
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White Sox Series Preview

Monday, June 18th, 2012

After another disappointing weekend (in a long string of them), the Cubs head down to the Cell for three against the White Sox.  With the BP Cup already out of reach and pride a fading memory of the past, what do these Cubs have left to play for?  Probably their jobs.  Ryan Dempster might be gone before his Wednesday start.  Matt Garza’s got the attention of a few teams, but the high asking price might keep him with the Cubs for a while longer.  And almost no position player can feel safe with the team routinely dropping winnable games.  A series win on the Southside would help steady the team in more ways than one–we’ll see if they can pull it off.

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Monday at 8:10pm EDT – Matt Garza vs. Zach Stewart

Garza posted his eighth quality start in his last start, but it was another loss, and he has not won since April 29. Expect to see more scouts in the stands as the right-hander draws interest heading toward the Trade Deadline. The White Sox changed their rotation to start Stewart on Monday, pushing back Jake Peavy an extra day. Stewart will be making his first start of 2012. He started 11 games in 2011. Stewart has allowed 11 earned runs in his last 12 innings.

Tuesday at 8:10pm EDT – Travis Wood vs. Jake Peavy

This will be Wood’s fifth career Interleague start. He lost to the Tigers in his last outing, but had good fastball command, and the lefty was mostly able to get out of jams. He has never pitched at U.S. Cellular Field or faced the White Sox. Peavy gave up just a Carlos Beltran homer and three other hits over seven innings during a 1-0 loss to the Cardinals. And he accomplished that feat while battling the flu. Peavy makes his second start of 2012 against the Cubs.

Wednesday at 8:10pm EDT – Ryan Dempster vs. Gavin Floyd

After going 18 starts without a win, Dempster now has won three in a row. He also extended his scoreless inning streak to 22, the longest by a Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano’s 22-inning stretch in May 2004. Floyd’s struggles continued Thursday against the Cardinals, allowing five runs on eight hits over 4 2/3 innings. He is 1-4 with a 10.38 ERA over his last six starts, during which he has reached six innings just twice.

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

First of all, no one is sadder than me that we couldn’t get some more Notes from the Enemy out of the rabid White Sox fan we heard from last time.  I don’t know why he was unavailable for comment–perhaps he’s too busy plotting an upcoming on-the-field umpire assault?  Whatever the reason, his helpful insight and keen analysis is sorely missed.

As for me, I can’t really makes sense of the White Sox performance so far this season.  On paper, most people pegged them to be the 3rd of 4th best team in the AL Central.  Instead, they’ve been surprisingly competitive, and owned first place since the end of May.  They made that climb into first in part on the back of the Cubs, who folded against them in a 3-game sweep earlier this year at Wrigley.  You remember–it was during our 12-game losing streak, or as I like to call it, our first 12-game losing streak.

I’ll be surprised if Dempster is still around to make his start on Wednesday.  The way he’s been pitching, there’s no reason for a team in need of a starter to wait until the trade deadline.  Although the one reason he might make his start Wednesday is that he could end up with the White Sox, who are rumored to be interested in his services.

But what worries me about Dempster’s inevitable departure is what we’ll be left with in his absence.  Randy Wells seems like the most obvious choice to fill his spot in the rotation, but who takes his spot in the bullpen.  I can handle most of what’s wrong with this team–the poor hitting, the untimely mistakes, the sketchy decision making, and the injuries–but I’m one more lousy reliever away from completely losing it.

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Game 66: Camp + Russell = Loss

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Red Sox 7 @ Cubs 4

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Franklin Morales: Making a spot start for Josh Beckett, everyone knew Morales wouldn’t be pitching deep into the game. Morales needed to be efficient, and the Cubs were happy to oblige. Throwing only 80 pitches in 5 innings of work, Morales was able to strikeout 9 Cubs – seemingly all on pitches out of the zone. The box score says he only threw 15 balls, but in truth Morales made a living out of the zone. It was a lineup epidemic, no one was immune. Apparently, ‘get to the bullpen early’ wasn’t part of the gameplan.

Starlin Castro: A HR short of the cycle, and the only real threat in the lineup tonight. He also made an 8th inning error that led to a run (must…not…antagonize).

Pitching: Paul Maholm was decent, Shawn Camp was awful, James Russell was only slightly better, and Jairo Asencio just doesn’t look like he belongs in the big leagues. Your 2012 Cubs!

Heading To The South Side: The next three games provide another opportunity for Soriano to reclaim his natural position of DH. With reckless rampant speculation that the ill-tempered Anthony Rizzo is poised to join the Cubs by the end of the month, perhaps we’ll see LaHair trolling the outfield at the Cell. (There was some lots of sarcasm in that paragraph; I’ll let you figure out where).

National TV Games: I’ll try to walk this line as best as possible. It’s not just the ESPN Sunday Night broadcast, it’s virtually any nationally televised game. Long gone are the days when most people only received a single televised baseball game every week – but you wouldn’t know it from watching a national broadcast. The Sunday Night crew spent large portions of their broadcast rehashing old headlines that largely had zero bearing on last night’s game. I’d almost rather have Joe Morgan back, making up more stories in which he’s the hero; ALMOST! It’s mid-June, there was an NBA Finals game on at the exact same time as the ESPN Sunday Night game – I’d venture a guess that not many people were tuned in and clueless about who Theo Epstein is and what move he made during the offseason – it’s a Red Sox-Cubs game! This isn’t the NFL; ESPN Sunday Night Baseball doesn’t have an overwhelming amount of casual fans tuning in.

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Game 65: A Rally Goes by the Wayside

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch the game with my father (a Red Sox fan), which was a pleasant change from the norm of being tortured by watching Cubs games by myself. Unfortunately the Cubs didn’t come through for me, but I suppose the old man needs some kind of present from me for Father’s Day and this game is “my” contribution.

Usually after losses I find myself being frustrated by something in particular that the team as a whole just struggled with during the game. Tonight was the probably the first game I watched this season where I felt good after a loss. Neither starting pitcher had a fantastic outing and neither offense was overwhelmingly effective either. But for some reason I just felt good about how the team performed tonight. Maybe Joe is right and I’m coming to terms that this team won’t be good for awhile, but they are making the necessary moves to be contenders in the future.

The Good

  • Luis Valbuena hit his first home run as a Cub tonight which cut a four run deficit to one. Valbuena took a tailing fastball to deep left center with the wind blowing out. It’s unfortunate that no one else was able to take advantage of the breeze. I thought for sure that LaHair was going to save the day with some last inning heroics with the weather conditions how they were.
  • Manny Corpas has looked pretty good since coming up to the big league club. He does get wild from time to time, although not nearly as bad as Carlos Marmol. I thought he pitched a solid two innings to end the game giving up one hit and one walk while striking out one. We can always use some consistent innings eaters in the bullpen, although I’m still being cautiously optimistic about Corpas.
  • Clevenger came in to the game in the 9th and screamed a liner into center for a single. I wish we could combine his bat with Welington Castillo’s defense to make a starting catcher. The two are starting to make Geo seem a little bit more expendable.

The Bad

  • Jeff Samardzija wasn’t his normal efficient self for the second straight start. His pitch count was high from the get go, constantly battling with batters to get routine outs. His 108 pitches through five and a third definitely isn’t anything to be proud of. He continues to leave his curve ball over the plate once his pitch count starts inching closer to 100. The Saltalamacchia homer was an example of that.
  • Tony Campana and Bryan LaHair both battled in their sole at-bats only to come up short.
  • Darwin Barney’s line out in the 8th should have been a hit in my opinion. It did look like Daniel Nava got his glove under the ball, but I’ve watched it a dozen times and I swear it bounces off the grass. The way I see it is that the web of Nava’s glove scrunched down instead of going under the ball. My wife disagrees with me, but that’s because of her Boston bias.

The Ugly

  • Soriano not running on that “line-out” to Will Middlebrooks was awful. So awful that I hope he wastes away on the bench for a week or is traded for a turkey sandwich on rye (hold the mayo). Plays like that make me kind of miss Marlon Byrd. I know the guy wasn’t the same after the “Aceves” to the face, but he would have hustled that ball out. Soriano deserves every boo that was directed his way for the remainder of the game.

Happy Father’s Day to all you dads. Hope you get to enjoy a day of rest without having to help out too much with the grilling duties. I will also pray that none of you get another ugly fish tie from Great Aunt Matilda, those always end up being hideous.

Which leads me to my last question. Worst Father’s Day presents? Discuss.

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Game 64: Write Your Own Recap

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

I’m going to be honest with you and let you know that I didn’t get to see this game. I got tied up at worked and forgot to go online to set the DVR to record it. It’s hard to write a recap on a game you didn’t see so those that saw it, let’s get some discussion going in the comment section.

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The Coming of Anthony Rizzo

Friday, June 15th, 2012

by Elizabeth Rudisill

By now, if you haven’t heard of Anthony Rizzo, you must be living under a rock.  The Cubs acquired Rizzo and Zach Cates in a trade with the San Diego Padres for pitcher Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyuong-Min Na on January 6, 2012.  Rizzo was originally drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round on the 2007 First-Year Player draft out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fl.

Through June 13th, his numbers are:

PA H 2B 3B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
244 81 16 1 22 57 .367 .426 .747 1.173
 

The categories in which he is not on top for the team, Steve Clevenger is, and he is currently up with the big club.  Rizzo also has 20 walks and two stolen bases on the year.  The 23 year old first baseman has committed seven errors, but has played a solid first base for the first part of the season.

Rizzo’s stat line is very impressive and he is no question a rising star.  With this said, the question I pose to you is this.:  What is the difference between being a superstar and being a fan favorite?

Before, after and sometimes even during the games, the majority of the Iowa Cubs players interact with the fans by signing autographs, chit-chatting and finding out where the “hot” spots are in town.  Players (mostly the relief pitchers since the bullpen is directly on the playing field like it is in Chicago) will sign balls, baseball cards, hats, ticket stubs and casts protecting healing extremities until it’s time for them to go to work or wander back into the clubhouse after a long game.  For the most part, they enjoy this and you can see it in their eyes.

I have not once witnessed Anthony Rizzo sign one autograph.  I have not once witnessed Anthony Rizzo interact with a fan.  I have not once witnessed Anthony Rizzo turn his head in acknowledgement when a fan yells his name as he walks back to the clubhouse across the field.  But I digress.

This past Saturday night was the annual MDA Jersey Auction night at Principal Park.  Fans place bids for a player’s jersey and if you are the highest bidder, you get to go on the field after the game and the player will give you the jersey right off their backs and autograph it for you.  I was fortunate to get two of them last year and it was a great experience.  One of the jerseys I got was from Chris Robinson, a long time catcher and fan favorite for Iowa.  Chris stayed on the field and talked to me for a good five minutes after the game.  He knew how much it meant for me to be in that moment.  Saturday, Rizzo’s jersey was auctioned off for nearly $400.00 (highest one).  The gal who bought it had the same opportunity to go on the field to receive her purchase and “experience”.  This is what happened.  She approached Rizzo as he was walking toward the clubhouse and happily “flagged” him down to let him know she was the one who got his jersey.  Rizzo kept walking, taking off his jersey as he was walking.  The gal said something along the lines of hey, I spent a lot of money on this, can I get you to autograph it for me?  Reluctantly, Rizzo autographed it in a split second and handed it to the fan.  Coincidentally it dropped to the ground as she reached for it.  He did not attempt to pick it up and continued heading for the clubhouse.

Is being a superstar or a fan favorite based on statistics or how you carry yourself as a player?  Do you think his actions are justified?  Would you spend $400.00 for a signed jersey autographed by Anthony Rizzo?

He has proven he has the talent to play big league ball, but to me, he’s still not a big leaguer.

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Red Sox Series Preview

Friday, June 15th, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Friday at 2:20pm EDT – Ryan Dempster vs. Daisuke Matsuzaka

Dempster was the only pitcher to win on the Cubs last 10-game road trip. He has not given up a run in his last 15 innings, and has 1.06 ERA on the road. All he needs is a little offensive support. The righty held his own in his first start back from Tommy John surgery, giving up five hits and four runs while striking out eight in a five-inning stint against the Nationals. This is Matsuzaka’s first career start at Wrigley Field.

Saturday at 7:15pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija vs. Jon Lester

Samardzija couldn’t get a feel for his split-finger pitch in his last outing against the Twins, who feasted on his fastball. The right-hander served up a season-high eight runs over 3 2/3 innings. He called it a “learning experience.” Lester hasn’t gotten into a sustained groove yet this season. The lefty pitched well in his last start, giving up three runs and striking out nine over seven innings. This is his first career start at Wrigley Field.

Sunday at 8:00pm EDT – Paul Maholm vs. Josh Beckett

Maholm didn’t get a win in his last outing against the Tigers but deserved one. He struck out a season-high seven and took advantage of the wind blowing in. He earned the win in his one career start vs. the Red Sox. The righty gave up four runs in the first two innings of his last start, then didn’t allow a hit over the last five. Beckett walked one and struck out five over that seven-inning loss to the Marlins. Beckett is 0-3 in three career starts at Wrigley.

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

The Red Sox come to town severely under-performing.  Last year they took a historic nose-dive to end the season and miss the playoffs.  This year they’ve played poorly from the start, offering their fans no illusions about postseason glory.  While they’re not parting off the team (yet), they’re also in a kind of rebuilding mode, albeit a much less dramatic or lengthy project than the Cubs have undertaken.

Boston, like most of the squads we’ve faced, is a better team on paper than the Cubs.  However injuries and slow starts have kept them consistently beatable.  The Cubs’ new-found love of seeing pitches ought to help them get into a bullpen that has looked lost and surprisingly ineffective at times this season.  And with Dempster, Samardzija, and Maholm on the mound, we’re trotting out three starters who have been fairly effective this season, and who the Red Sox won’t have had much experience against.  If the Cubs’ bats are at all productive and the starters don’t fall to pieces early, we ought to have a shot at taking this series.  Maybe even the sweep.

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Game 63: What Can You Do?

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Tigers 5 @ Cubs 3

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

What Went Right

  • Not much, but here goes…
  • Lil’ Darwin Barney collected two hits in a losing effort.
  • Travis Wood didn’t crap the bed, allowing three runs in 6.2 IP.
  • I had a great lunch today. Of course, even the worst meal I ever had was pretty good.

What Went Wrong

  • Justin Verlander didn’t get lost or abducted by aliens on his way to the ballpark.
  • I didn’t expect the Cubs to score many runs today, but they walked ZERO times against Verlander and Jose Valverde.
  • It’s frustrating to lose to the Tigers when their 2-3-4 hitters go 2 for 12, but that’s what happened.
  • Austin Jackson was a wrecking machine, picking up three hits and three RBIs.
  • Little elves didn’t come over and restock my fridge with beer. I keep waiting and waiting. Not sure what the problem is.

He’s Not Human

This just in…that Justin Verlander guy is pretty good. Many of you know that my wife is a lifelong Detroit fan, so we catch a lot of Tigers baseball via the MLB Package. I’m not sure how many of Verlander’s 213 career starts I’ve seen, but it’s a bunch. For me, he’s the most enjoyable player to watch in all of baseball.

Verlander’s stuff is undeniable, but the way he competes every single time he takes the mound is always a sight to see. My only fear is that Jim Leyland will break the seemingly unbreakable Verlander.

Hopefully Verlander is this generation’s Nolan Ryan, because the Tigers ride him like a mule.  For those of you who care about the Hall of Fame, here are some of Verlander’s comps at age 29:

  • Mike Mussina
  • Ramon Martinez
  • Barry Zito
  • Jack McDowell
  • Mark Mulder

If he stays healthy, Verlander should pile up career numbers better than anybody on that list, even the very underrated Mussina.

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