Archive for July, 2012

Game 96: Discussions on Trades and Paul Maholm’s Gem

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

Admit it, it’s hard to watch the game and not think about the trade deadline. I find myself constantly checking Twitter to see if there are any new rumors, especially regarding the Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza situation. Because of that, I feel compelled to talk about it despite the fact that it has nothing to do with tonight’s game.

The are a lot of mixed feelings right now toward Dempster. Suddenly, a guy considered a fan favorite has drawn the scorn from Cubs fans who consider his decision to be childish. Even on this site there are mixed feelings. To be honest, I don’t know what the right feeling is because I can understand both sides.

On one side of the argument, it’s understandable to see Dempster’s side. He’s played by the rules and earned the no-trade clause because of a rule that was collectively bargained by the players and the owners. Why should he be expected to suddenly waive that right? Imagine if you worked for Apple, and you had worked for them for a long time and were happy there. Suddenly they come to you and say they’ve decided to move you to IBM and you have to move to another state. My first reaction would be to ask what’s in it for me, to which the reply, “nothing, but it helps us as an organization and since you’ve been here for so long and care about the company, you’d want to see that, right?” Stop and think about that conversation for a second and look at it in that context. It would be absolutely unheard of. Why is it any different when it comes to baseball?

The other side of the argument is that Theo and Jed spoke with Dempster, expressed the desire to move him for pitching and asked where he preferred. He gave them two particular teams with the Dodgers being preference number one. As a result, the first team that was called was the Dodgers and there was rumors that a deal was close on Thursday night. That fell through so the Cubs moved on to the Braves (Dempster’s # 2 team). Nowhere in these discussions did they come to Dempster with a team not on his list and try to put pressure on him to accept. As a result, you can argue that he should accept the deal to the Braves considering it was a team on his list and to not do so and drag discussions out is selfish.

No matter which way you feel, I think you’re justified. The problem is that this has brought out the worst in Cubs “fans”. A quick check of the #Dempster tag reveals the following:

  • “I don’t care if it makes you look bad. Threaten to bench Ryan Dempster for the rest of this season.”
  • “I’m good with demoting Dempster to closer too. He’ll shit himself under the pressure as normal and it’ll help the #Cubs improve draft-wise.”

This person falls into neither category so I cannot defend his position. Ultimately, I believe the deal will happen with Atlanta, followed by a Garza deal to LA shortly after. Maybe that’s me being optimistic, but I think it’s still going to happen.

Turning our attention to the game itself, there was talk that tonight’s starter, Paul Maholm, may not leave Pittsburgh because he would be acquired by the Pirates to fill a need in the rotation for them. There were rumors going around that they were interested, but those rumors have all but died as it was announced late in the game that the Pirates had acquired the services of Wandy Rodriguez. Maholm continues to pitch well for the Cubs, which makes him that much more attractive to teams looking for a starter down the stretch at a cheaper price than Dempster or Garza. He’s signed through this season with a team option for 2013 at a rate of $.65 million with a $500K buyout. Based on how he’s pitched, the value on the trade market should still be there for Maholm and I would be surprised if he’s a Cub after the deadline.

Offensively, five runs of offense was more than enough for Maholm. Alfonso Soriano continues to swing the bat well and keep the potential for him to be traded on the table. He’s been more than acceptable offensively to go with the fact that, believe it or not, he’s been average to above average defensively. In case you didn’t know, he’s not committed an error all season. From a defensive metric standpoint, he basically grades out at league average in most of the categories. His value this year has been strong and it’s been clear that he’s not the problem, aside from his contract, this season.

Tomorrow afternoon the Cubs will go for the sweep of the Pirates, a team I believe is over-rated. I’ve taken to Twitter the last few days and proclaimed that I believe they are the third best team in the division at best and that they will not make the playoffs this season.

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Pulling For The Underdog

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

 

 

Everybody loves the Cubs; The underdogs, the Lovable Losers. What’s not to love? The Cubs have team history that is filled with iconic players like Ernie Banks and Ron Santo, and announcers like Harry Caray – it doesn’t matter where you go or who you talk to, people recognize those names. Wrigley Field is a travel destination of baseball fans around the world. There is only one thing that Cubs are missing: A World Series championship in the Modern Era.

To some, it’s a joke. To others, it’s a dream. Regardless of their lot in life, people want to see the Cubs win. Even Cardinals’ fans, in the deepest recesses of their rotten hearts, would like to see the Cubs win one just once.

Everybody pulls for the underdog at some point. The Cubs just happen to be the perennial underdog that is just out of reach of the goal, regardless of the talent of the players on the field or the reputation of the coaches in the dugout. Even the strongest fan base in baseball cannot pull them out of the mire of perpetual losing.

Baseball fans, regardless of the team, respect the Cubs’ fan base and its unconditional loyalty to the team and the players. It is a fan base that allows Mark Prior, Kerry Wood, and Carlos Zambrano grace the backs of fans from all walks of life. It is fan base in which kids still dream of being Sammy Sosa, hitting a home run off the Budweiser rooftop across Waveland. It is fan base that seems to remember and love everybody, except for their own underdogs.

Even to this day, everybody loves Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, even though Wood is newly retired and Prior is attempting a comeback with the Red Sox organization. Sammy Sosa is a household name, even after the corked bat episode and the strange skin-lightening incident. Mark DeRosa won the hearts of the lady Cub fans, and they were livid when he was let go.

But what about the underdogs of the Cubs? The men that epitomize who the Cubs are? These are the guys that work hard to help pull the team together behind the All Star players. A few of them are recognized, but the rest become punchlines in jokes or float off into oblivion.

Most fans remember the likes of Moises Alou and Corey Patterson, Sosa’s supporting cast in the outfield in ’03 and ’04. Patterson, the up-and-coming prospect and Alou, the veteran left fielder. But who remembers Kenny Lofton?

Lofton batted .327 in 2003. In the NLCS he batted .323. Kenny was great for the Cubs, and a few people can be seen sporting his jersey around Wrigley Field any given afternoon.

The Cubs finished the 2004 season at 89-73. By then, Patterson and Lofton were beginning to fade into the background. Todd Hollandsworth was the new name in the outfield. In one of his first games as a Cubbie, he made a leaping catch against the ivy, expecting the wall to absorb some impact. Little did he know that under the ivy is solid brick. He came away bloodied and bruised, with a .318 average that year. Unfortunately, now he is pounding his head against the metaphorical brick wall as his less than stellar announcing abilities are scrutinized by Cubs fans across the nation.

Midway through 2004 and into 2005, the infield was graced with Nomar “Nomar Curse” Garciaparra. With all the excitement over Nomar, Todd Walker got overlooked. Most people seem to forget about him, yet he hit .305 that year.

And let us not forget Adam Greenberg, the aspiring young ballplayer that embodied the spirit and desire to win that every Cubs player has. And, much like the Cubs organization, he experienced an ill-fated, unforeseen turn of events that ended his season in an instant.

The underdogs. The guys that make the Lovable Losers so lovable are forgotten more than they are remembered. Even the underdogs, the mediocre players, have bursts of greatness that rival those of the star players. But once the burst dies down, their efforts and contributions are forgotten like leftovers that are left in the fridge too long: the good moments are forgotten, and the not-so-good moments are fresh in everyone’s memories.

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Prospect Spotlight: Jorge Soler

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Usually I use this space to talk about at least a few prospects at a time.  However, it’s rare occurrence for someone who could be a No. 1 prospect in an improving farm system to make his professional debut. And we’re going to have it two weeks in a row. Late last week, Cuban phenom Jorge Soler debuted with the Arizona Rookie League Cubs. And first round pick Albert Almora started his professional career in the Arizona League on Monday night.

How good are these two guys? Well, heading into this season a lot of optimistic Cubs fans were envisioning a future starting outfield with Brett Jackson and Matt Szczur manning two of the three positions. After bringing Soler and Almora into the system, it isn’t clear that Jackson or Szczur will have an available position by about 2015.

As of writing this piece, Soler has only played in two games and had 7 plate appearances, so the statistics don’t really tell us anything, although Soler’s Rookie League statistics won’t tell us anything (he SHOULD be above the talent at the level), and he should only be in Mesa for a few weeks.

This is also the first truly live pitching and competitive baseball Soler has faced in more than a year, so it would not be a surprise if his timing is off a bit. However, as Joe let us know yesterday, Keith Law saw Soler in person at his debut and liked the swing. It’s good to hear someone’s initial description include both explosive hands and the ability to generate power with his lower body.

Soler hit his first professional home run on Sunday, which was definitely of the crush it and get out of the park quickly variety. A video is available here. Hopefully it will be the first of many as Soler quickly moves through the Cubs system. I’ll look at Almora next week, but will also provide a brief update on Soler when we’ll at least have double digit plate appearances to look at. Also, for those of you who may be wondering, the guy Soler knocks in with that home run is 2011 second round pick Dan Vogelbach.

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Game 95: The Shark Climbs Back Onto His Horse

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Cubs 2 @ Pirates 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Game

  • I don’t really like to call Jeff Samardzija The Shark, or even worse, just Shark. It seems like an unearned nickname–the kind this guy might give himself. (Perhaps I’m just unaware of the species of shark known for sporting skeevy facial hair and losing sight of the strike zone for weeks at a time–after all, I’m no Jacques Cousteau.) But whatever you want to call him, it looks like Jeff has sorted out the problems that plagued him throughout June. Monday night he pitched what might be his best game of the season. While he only posted 5 Ks and 1 BB, he was economical and highly efficient with his pitches–through 8 innings of work, he only threw 99 pitches, 71 of them for strikes. In fact, the only Pirate to reach base against Samardzija was Andrew McCutchen, first on a walk, and then in the 4th on a grounder that pulled Anthony Rizzo toward second base. If Samardzija had immediately broken for first base, it probably would have been an out and he could have kept his no-hitter alive. On the other hand, he looked as sharp as he’s looked all season, and his momentary mental lapse really only cost himself, so it’s a little hard to beat him up too much over it.
  • And since he wasn’t pitching a no-hitter, Dale pulled him after the Cubs added a run in the top of the 8th. Samardzija looked fairly unhappy, and who wouldn’t be if the game of your season–nay, of your young career–was resting in the unstable, untrustworthy hands of Carlos Marmol? Early on, it looked like Marmol was trying to breath life back into the Pirates, or at least make the last outs interesting. He did manage to complete the save–even striking out a pair of batters–but he still gave any Cubs fans in attendance or watching on TV that shaky, uneasy feeling that the wheels were about to fall off again.
  • The game was actually an all-around pitchers duel, with Erik Bedard recording 11 Ks and surrendering only 2 hits. Bedard actually looked as strong or stronger than Samardzija Monday night, but he burnt himself out too soon, throwing a season-high 113 pitches through only 7 innings. (The Cubs showed a little more life against the Pittsburgh bullpen, but still not much.)
  • But really, the Cubs only needed one hit to beat Bedard and the Pirates. It came off the bat of Alfonso Soriano in the 4th inning, as he doubled in Starlin Castro, who had walked to lead off the inning. The two Cubs repeated the scoring performance in the 8th, tacking on another run off a second Soriano double. Other than their tandem, there wasn’t much offense on either side of the diamond Monday. Fortunately for the reeling Cubs, it was all they would need to get back into the win column.

Everything Else

  • Rumors swirled most of Monday that the Cubs had traded Ryan Dempster to the Atlanta Braves for Randall Delgado. For all I know at this hour, the deal still could go through, in one of it’s various iterations (at one point, Jair Jurrjens was also part of the deal). But as of right now, Ryan Dempster is still a Cub. While I’ve seen no direct confirmation of these details, it seems the deal fell apart when it came time to get Dempster’s approval–one popular theory is that he balked at Atlanta’s insistence that he sign an extension. It’s an understandable demand on their part–Delgado was listed by some as the 46th or higher MLB prospect going into the season, so they’d be giving up a lot for Dempster’s remaining starts. On the other hand, Dempster has pitched well enough that he could get a sizable deal in free agency. Either way, blocking Theo & Jed‘s deal might be the best way to get himself in hot water with his current team. We’ll see if the deal survives or if it falls apart within site of the finish line, like this guy (at the 0:20 mark).
  • One interesting side note: the barrage of news surrounding the rumored Dempster trade was partially kicked off by WGN’s own Len Kasper with this tweet. While there had been other reports that the talks had ramped up with the Braves, Len was the first “source” to bid Dempster farewell. I’d love to know how their next conversation went.
  • Just the rumor of the Dempster deal was enough to kickstart the MLB’s trade machine into high gear. The Tigers traded prospects Jacob Turner, Rob Brantly, and Brian Flynn to the Marlins for Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez (they also swapped compensatory picks). That would have been the deal of the day, if not for the Yankees afternoon trade for Ichiro Suzuki. New York sent D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to Seattle, while Ichiro made the short walk to the visitors’ clubhouse (the Yankees are in Seattle this week).
  • While the deal for Dempster stalled out, it did help establish a better idea of what they might be asking for Matt Garza, who could also be on the move this week. The primary trade candidate for him seems to be the Dodgers, who will apparently have to part ways with Zach Lee and others to obtain Garza. There’s also some interest in Paul Maholm from his former team, the Pirates. He’s schedule to start against them tomorrow and again next week, and I doubt they’ll let him make both those starts if they really want him back.
  • Whatever happens, don’t expect another motionless day from the Cubs. There was a flurry of trade activity on Monday, and I’m sure it frustrated Theo & Jed no end to miss out on it. I can’t see that happening two days in a row.
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Pirates Series Preview

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Monday at 7:05pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija vs. Eric Bedard

Samardzija needs to keep his pitch count down. In his last start against the Marlins, he was pulled after throwing 97 pitches over five innings. He has one win in his last eight starts. Bedard came out of the 11-day layoff surrounding the All-Star break sharp on Tuesday, holding Colorado to two runs in the longest (6 2/3 innings) of his last six starts. Remarkably, a sixth win would match his most since 2007.

Tuesday at 7:05pm EDT – Paul Maholm vs. James McDonald

Maholm, who pitched seven seasons with the Pirates before signing with the Cubs this offseason, makes his second start in Pittsburgh this year. He took a no-decision on May 26, but is riding a four-game winning streak in which he has an 0.89 ERA. After not giving up more than three runs in any of his first 16 starts, McDonald has allowed four-plus in three of the last five. He hasn’t had his putaway slider of late, but he has become a fierce competitor who doesn’t give in.

Wednesday at 12:35pm EDT – Ryan Dempster vs. Kevin Correia

Dempster’s scoreless-innings streak was snapped in an eight-pitch span in the first inning vs. the Cardinals on Friday as they scored three quick runs. He recovered, and gave up three hits after that. He’s 0-1 vs. Pirates this year. The righty, who could win only on the road last season, has a superior record (4-3) at PNC Park. Correia will try to add on to his career-long streak of five straight wins. But he has needed support for that: He has a 4.05 ERA across the stretch.

How to Pitch to the Big Boys

Each series we’ll take a look at the top power hitters in the opposing team’s lineup to establish how to get them out and minimize the damage. Power doesn’t always mean home runs. It can also mean doubles and triples. To examine that, we’ll focus on Isolated Power. The heat maps show each player’s isolated power based on area of the zone. If you’re not familiar with the stat, Isolated Power or ISO is a sabermetric baseball statistic which measures a batter’s raw power. The formula is Slugging Percentage minus Batting Average, which removes all the singles that are included in SLG%. The final result measures how many extra bases a player averages per at bat. By limiting extra base hits, you drastically increase your chance to win the game.

Our Take

by Jeremiah Johnson

The MVP of the weekend was an easy choice. Vicki Santo was eloquent, funny, charming, and gracious as she gave Ron’s Hall of Fame speech on his behalf Sunday. I assumed the honor/duty would fall to Pat Hughes, but after listening to her speech yesterday, I’m very glad she spoke for both Ron and his family. I’ll spare you a long-winded description, but let me recommend you check it out for yourself (you can view her speech here). Just know that as the cameras panned the crowd for Cubs fans, there weren’t many dry eyes to be found.

These three games against the Pirates are the figurative chance to get back on the horse after a no-show weekend in St. Louis. The Pirates could use a little more pitching for the run to the postseason, and they have been scouting Paul Maholm. Don’t be surprised if he makes his start Tuesday from the other dugout.

No further word on the Dempster rumors, but while he’s playing a game of Trade or No Trade with the Braves, the Dodgers look like they’re ready to move on Matt Garza.  Losing two of those guys would be a major shakeup–losing all three would constitute a full-on midseason overhaul. We’ll see what we get back in the deals, but we can probably expect that one of the periodic strengths of this team (the starting pitching) is going to change significantly over the course of the week.

Check back here regularly for the latest trade news.

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