Archive for September, 2012

Chet’s Corner: Five Burning Questions for Seasons End

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

With eight measly games left in a season that saw more positives off the field than on, questions remain as to the future of the Cubs.  However, before we drag this potential hundred loss horse out back and shoot it,  let’s take a minute to find some positives.

As always, your input is encouraged.

1)  Who would be your Cubs MVP of the 2012 season?

I am torn.  I want to vote Rizzo but Castro played a full season and turned in another fine performance.  Darwin barney and Shark could make a claim for the spot.  I think I am sticking with Castro here.  If they would give him a regular slot in the lineup I think he would be more consistent.  Bouncing him around did him no favors and he still performed at the plate.

2) If you had to grade Theo, Jed and the crew on their first season in the Cubs front office what grade would you give them?

I am going with a solid B.  I can’t even expand on why, other then to say the effort just looks like a B at this point, but if they moved Soriano and Garza (somewhat out of their control) then the grade could be higher.  Dempster-gate probably was not their fault but better communication may have solved that Braves deal.   In all, the moves they made or didn’t make get them a B.

3)  What is the one area on this team that needs to be addressed between now and through next season?

Pitching.  Third base is weak and needs attention, but the pitching is next to atrocious up and down the system.

4)  How do you feel about Theo’s honest assesment of the teams low expectation’s for 2013?

In a weird way, I liked it.  I also feel that it takes a lot for management to forecast low expectations in any industry, so things must really be bad on the north side from an organizational stand point.

5) Let’s talk about Eric Gagne’s recent admission regarding HGH and his new Biography, what are your thoughts?

According to Gagne, 80% of the Dodgers were using HGH when he played there.  More numbers are going to come out as more and more of the PED era players retire.  The greats may not talk as much, but the fringe guys like Gagne will, especially if they can sell a book in the process.

 

Only eight more games people, hang in there.  Then again, since the front office states next season won’t be much better, look at it as 170 games…that’s a lot of baseball.

 

 

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Game 154: If Not For Rain, It Might Have Been Ugly…er.

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

Cubs 5 @ Rockies 10 (7 innings)

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

The Cubs made Rockies starter Jorge De La Rosa work right from the start. Dave Sappelt’s first career home run to open the contest staked them to a 1-0 lead, which they expanded on by taking advantage of a couple two out mistakes by the Rockies. After drawing a two out walk, Alfonso Soriano moved up to second on a wild pitch and then scampered home when Rockies shortstop Josh Rutledge airmailed first base on a Starlin Castro grounder. Castro would score from first a batter later when Wellington Castro crushed a double to left field.

Unfortunately, the first inning was the peak for the Cubs on a cold rainy night in Denver – aside from their three runs scored, it was also the only inning in which they kept the Rockies off the board. They managed to push two more runs across the plate (a solo home run by Castro in the third and an RBI single from Darwin Barney to score Joe Mather in the fourth), but five runs would prove to be insufficient in the series opener.

Starting pitcher Chris Rusin gave up a solo home run to Colorado catcher Wilin Rosario in the second, but the wheels really started coming off for the Cubs in the third when two former Cubs – D.J. LaMahieu (whose name I still have trouble remembering how to spell) and Tyler Colvin – each tripled as part of a two-run inning. Overall on the night, the former Cubs were 5 for 7 with a combined 5 RBI against their former team.

Play was halted after 6 ½-innings and mercifully never resumed – by that time, a trio of Cubs pitchers (Rusin, Rafael Dolis, and Manny Corpas) had allowed 10 runs on 15 hits. Meanwhile, the Cubs bats had gone quiet. After seven hits in the first four innings, the Cubs were hitless in the fifth, sixth, and seventh.

The magic number to avoid 100 losses remains at 4 with eight games to go.

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Rockies Series Preview

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Tuesday at 7:40pm CT – Chris Rusin vs. Jorge De La Rosa

Rusin had a tough time with command of his pitches in his last start against the Reds, giving up five runs on 10 hits over five innings. Opposing teams are batting .326 off the rookie, who is 0-2 in three road starts. In his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, De La Rosa pitched competitively even without his top fastball velocity Thursday at San Francisco. He allowed six runs (five earned) over 3 2/3 innings with a walk and a strikeout.

Wednesday at 7:40pm CT – Jason Berken vs. Drew Pomeranz

Berken’s second start was much improved as he held the Reds to two hits over six scoreless innings. The righty felt he was able to execute his pitches better and get ahead of the count. He has two more starts to make a good impression for next year. Pomeranz couldn’t establish his fastball in the strike zone against the D-backs, falling behind in counts early. He threw 85 pitches in three innings, allowing four runs on four hits and five walks.

Thursday at 2:10pm CT – Chris Volstad vs. Jhoulys Chacin

Volstad took his second straight no-decision last time out against the Cardinals, allowing three runs in five innings, and hasn’t pitched into the sixth since Aug. 31. He is 1-3 with a 6.86 ERA in four career starts against Arizona. Chacin was aggressive with his fastball in the first inning against the D-backs on Saturday, and was hit hard for three runs. He mixed his slider and changeup in effectively for three shutout innings but came out after 84 pitches in four innings.

Our Take

Have you ever watched a direct-to-video sequel to a blockbuster movie? It can be disorienting. While some of the story lines and characters might carry over from the first film, it usually features a cast of unknown or unpopular actors filling in for the original stars.

That’s how I feel about this current Cubs pitching staff. The guys I recognize I don’t really care to see again, and the rest of them are an interchangeable cast of placeholders and unknowns. And while some of them have performed better than expected (even if only slightly), most of them have shown why we’ve never heard their names before.

I don’t have high hopes for them as they travel to hitter-friendly Coors Field. But at this point, are wins really wins? I’m no fan of tanking the season to gain a better slot in the draft–especially when there’s not a Strasburg-like can’t-miss prospect out there for the taking. But facing off against another bottom-dweller, these games will have an impact on next year’s draft order.

So I guess we look at it from this perspective: wins are wins, but losses could be wins, too.

Series Prediction: Meh.

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Prospect Spotlight: Top Hitting Prospects Not Named Baez, Almora or Soler

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

Norm must have known that I was going to have a crazy week at work this week, because he did half of my writing for me last week! Two weeks ago, we looked at the Cubs’ top prospects, who were all hitters: Javier Baez, Albert Almora and Jorge Soler. But the Cubs have other hitters who look like they could be big contributors in the Majors eventually.

As I alluded to above, Norm talked about three of my five guys last week: Ronald Torreyes, Dan Vogelbach and Gioskar Amaya. As he did a wonderful job describing them, I won’t repeat him. So I’ll just focus on my other two: Jeimer Candelario and Christian Villanueva.

Jeimer Candelario (3B)

2012 Stats
Boise Hawks (Short Season A): 310 PAs, .281/.345/.396, 5 HR, 2 SB, 1 CS, 8.4% walk rate, 17.7% strikeout rate

Candelario started the season extremely hot in June before having a more modest July and August. I still like the fact that he put up fairly strong numbers in Boise as an 18 year old, as Candelario won’t turn 19 until November. He’s a switch hitter with the potential to hit for average and power, and he’s shown a very good walk rate considering his age. There is a real question about his defense, as it isn’t clear if he’ll be able to stay at the hot corner or have to move to left field or first base. However, there are a few years before the Cubs really need to answer that question. Candelario will almost certainly start 2013 at Low A Kane County.

Christian Villanueva (3B)

2012 Stats
High A (most of year with Rangers’ organization, remainder with Daytona Cubs): 520 PAs, .279/.353/.427, 14 HR, 14 SB, 11 CS, 6.5% walk rate, 20.6% strikeout rate

Villanueva is the big piece that the Cubs received in return for Ryan Dempster from the Texas Rangers. The Cubs are loaded with potential high ceiling players who either are at or have a pretty high likelihood of moving to third base: Javier Baez, Junior Lake and Jeimer Candelario lead the bunch, but you also have Josh Vitters who you can’t write off yet despite his awful first stint in the Majors. I don’t think Villanueva has the ceiling of those guys, but aside from Baez he probably has the highest chance of being a useful Big Leaguer for a long time. He’s played well in age appropriate leagues in every season as a professional. I would not be surprised to see him start for a year or two starting in 2014 until Baez is ready. He’ll likely start the 2013 season in Double A Tennessee.

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Offseason Moves to Improve for 2013 and Beyond

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

by Matt Eurich

The first year of Theo Epstein’s reign as the leader of the Chicago Cubs has been pretty much what we expected.  Epstein was able to move some veteran pieces to add to the minor league system, he signed a prized international player, and the team has been abysmal on the field.

Expectations were not high for the Cubs on the field and most fans understood that.  The 2012 season was the beginning of the rebuild for the organization and Epstein has gone on the record noting that 2013 might not be much better (h/t ESPN Chicago): “I think obviously we really care about our fans and we want them to have a great experience, but we’re trying to be transparent about it.  We have a plan and we have a vision and it won’t happen overnight, but given the way of things I think this is the best way to go.”

Knowing that Epstein’s plan won’t happen overnight the upcoming season may be just as gut-wrenching at this season. With a desire to improve the team for the long-haul, what can the Cubs do this offseason to improve itself moving forward?

Move Alfonso Soriano

It seems like a broken record.  Cubs’ fans have been clamoring for management to move Soriano and his terrible contract for years.  In past years moving Soriano seemed completely impossible with him struggling at the plate and a lengthy expensive contract attached to him.  Soriano has played well this season heading into Tuesday’s game against the Rockies with a line of .263/.317/.504 with 31 homeruns and 105 RBI.

Soriano’s average is not what many teams will be desiring, but he has been able to prove that he still has some power and has shown surprisingly good defense in left field this season, leading all NL left fielders with a .996 fielding percentage.

The trade value of Soriano could not be any higher and although the Cubs would likely have to pay a majority of the money that is left on his deal (2 years/$38 million), he could still be a valuable addition to a possible contending team as a designated hitter or left fielder.

Moving Soriano opens up the opportunity to bring up Jorge Soler next season if they feel he is ready to make the jump and if not it would give David Sappelt a chance to play every day.

Move Matt Garza

Many Cubs’ fans were torn on whether or not the Cubs should move starting pitcher Matt Garza.  In Garza’s first season in Chicago in 2011, he finished the year with a 10-10 record and a 3.32 ERA.  Garza was expected to be trade bait for the Cubs leading up to the trade deadline, but an injury sidelined him before the deadline and he was ultimately placed on the disabled list, finishing his season with a record of 5-7 and a 3.91 ERA. 

Garza likely won’t be moved in the winter because of lingering concerns of his injury but if he is able to perform well early in training camp, the Cubs could move him if the price is right.  Before his injury, he was considered one of the top pitchers to be moved and many felt he had the best shot at bringing back quality prospects in return.  A depleted farm system is still a major concern for the organization and moving Garza, for the right price, can vastly improve the system.

Improve Pitching Staff

One of the most pleasant surprises this season was the play of Jeff Samardzija.  Samardzija was given the opportunity to be a starter this season and made the most of his opportunity.  He finished the season with a record of 9-13 but finished with an ERA of 3.81 and accumulated 180 strikeouts.  Samardzija might not nescessarily be the ace in the future for this staff but has made a strong case to being a reliable contributor to the rotation.

If Garza is moved in the offseason the rotation looks bleak following Samardzija. Both Travis Wood and Justin Germano have been hit or miss at times this season and rookies Brooks Raley and Chris Rusin have both struggled in their limited starts

The Cubs will likely look for a couple of veterans starters who could be stop gap for a few seasons and if young enough, an important piece for the future.

Shaun Marcum has struggled with injuries the last few seasons and had Tommy John surgery in 2008.  Marcum has a career ERA of 3.78 and because of injury concerns, he could be available for a cheap price.

After suffering a horrific head injury caused by getting hit in the head from a line drive earlier this month, the future for Brandon McCarthy is up in the air.  Doctor’s say he will make a full recovery and up until the injury he had an 8-6 record with an ERA of 3.24.  The effects of his injury are the big unknown for McCarthy, but if the Cubs were able to sign him to a reasonable three or four year deal, a move to the NL could greatly improve his numbers. 

Once viewed as one of the best young arms in the game, Ervin Santana has struggled with a ballooning ERA and injury concerns in recent years but, like McCarthy, could benefit from a jump the NL.  Santana has two 16-win seasons and a 17-win season under his belt and a career ERA of 4.30.  Santana might have a high asking price given his past success but with youth and an opportunity improve his numbers in the NL, he may be the perfect fit for what the Cubs are trying to do.

Unlike the starting rotation that has seen some good things, the bullpen has struggled all year.  The Cubs’ bullpen currently has the second worst ERA in the majors with 4.58.  Adding young veterans like 29 year-old right hander Carlos Villanueva (7-6, 37 appearances/15 starts, 3.88 ERA) or  29 year-old left hander J.P. Howell (1-0, 53 appearances, 3.08 ERA) would add depth and with a guy like Villanueva, rotation flexibility. 

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Game 152: You’ve Been Marmol’d

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I won’t lie to you, I haven’t watched a Cubs game in over three weeks. I’m not sure if that makes me a bad fan or a smart fan. Either way it is nice to see the team still have some fight in them.

The Cardinals are in the middle of another late playoff push and the Cubs have done their best to play spoiler this weekend. Unfortunately they came up short on Saturday afternoon, but only because of the mystical abilities Carlos Marmol possesses to lose games.

Yes it has been weeks since I turned on my PS3 and flipped to the MLB.TV screen, but it’s nice to see that Marmol and Shawn Camp are doing their “thing.” Whatever that “thing” is. I comically find some comfort that the Cubbies are still the Cubbies.

Anyways enough about my rambling nonsense, let’s get to the game.

 

6th Inning Web Gems

Not sure what was going on in the sixth, but what a fun collection of defensive plays. Darwin Barney got the party started with an impressive over-his-shoulder grab while running out into right-center field. There was a runner on third base, but he wasn’t able to tag up because Barney made an awkward, body-contorting throw back into the infield quickly.

The run was saved once again only a batter later when John Jay lined a screamer up the middle of the diamond, only to have Starlin Castro get a great jump on the play and make the snag. These are the kinds of plays that draw me back to baseball; even during football season.

Following David DeJesus’ homer to right, Barney was robbed by David Descalso on a line drive towards center. Descalso made one of the more impressive plays I’ve seen this year, although take that observation with a grain of salt.

 

Wood is Good

It’s nice to see how far he’s come along this season. I know it still isn’t perfect, but the returns on Travis Wood have been positive this season. Wood started off behind the hard-luck Volstad in AAA due to a bad spring. The record doesn’t spell it all out if you just looked at that, but Wood would be a lot closer to a .500 record if he was on a contending team. Again not an awe-inspiring conclusion, but just something I’ve found as a positive heading into 2013.

For the most part the guy can get limit damage to a minimum. Case in point was the second inning as it could have been MUCH, MUCH worse. I can live with Wood as a three or four guy on a bad Cubs team with him being a possible fifth man once the team starts to compete again. Whenever that is.

 

Marmol’d and Camp’d

We’ve talked about this ad nausea in 2012. There is nothing left to talk about regarding the pathetic nature of our bullpen. Then why would you make an entire bullet point about it Josh?

Great question. The fake reason was to try to get the use of Marmol and Camp’s names as adjectives to catch on. Not sure it is working. The real reason is that as we wind down this forgettable “rebuilding” year, we need to archive truly how terrible the bullpen really was. Just trying to do my part in that.

Sidenote: This was the first I got to see Jaye Chapman since he was called up. Obviously he didn’t pitch well today, but just taking a gander at his innings since he came up he looks pitch-able. I’d say that’s a step up for the bullpen; not all of those guys are pitch-able. (No pitch-able isn’t a word)

 

Fall

This segment is aptly named. The first thing I noticed when going back and watching the game was how many people were wearing sweatshirts. As I mentioned previously I moved to Mississippi from Connecticut in July and haven’t seen any resemblance of a fall season here at the end of September. I actually forgot that people still wearing coats and beanies.

I work for a small NAIA school’s athletic department and was able to do football play-by-play for the first time in my life. As difficult awesome as that was, it was 90 degrees in the booth. I envy you sweatshirt-toting Cubs fans. I envy you and your seasons.

 

 

 

 

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Game 151 – Barney’s Got Big Wood

Saturday, September 22nd, 2012

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

GAME NOTES

  • David DeJesus badly misplayed the first play of the game in center field, which ended up costing the Cubs a run. He wasn’t charged an error, though, because…..welll…..outfielders are never charged with errors when they misplay a ball (Alfonso Sorianowould prove this theory again in the 5th when he took a bad route and took himself out of a position to make the play and didn’t receive an error). He went back on the ball initially, which surprised me because it was a sinking line drive, and then came in too late and attempted a diving catch to no avail. I note this, but overall, I like the fact that DeJesus has been on this team. I just don’t know if he brings the type of production a competitive team needs from a starter. If we had good power coming from the corners, then maybe.
  • I didn’t thinkChris Volstadwas terrible. Don’t take that as an admission that I like him or anything. I consider him a #5 starter and the outing we got from him is about what you can expect from a back of the rotation guy. Were it not for the misplay in the 1st, he would have left the game after five and allowed just two runs. That’s not terrible. What I found interesting was his lefty / righty splits. Typically you tend to be a lot more dominant against hitters who are the same hand as you. For Volstad, it’s the opposite. Righties are hitting over .300 against him while the lefties are in the .280′s. Both are bad, but I found it curious.
  • Since I’ve not watched many full games in awhile, this is the first I’ve seen of Miguel Socolovich since we acquired him. Looking at his numbers, he’s not been impressive. I did like the movement I saw on his pitches, especially on the strikeout of Daniel Descalso. The pitch just completely fell off the table.
  • A big two out rally in the 9th after DeJesus singled to leadoff the inning and then Darwin Barney went deep to tie it up. Admit it, you had to read that sentence twice to make sure you read the name right.
  • Nothing better than seeing a bunch of Cubs run out on the field after a walkoff single in the bottom of the 11th. Call me an old curmudgeon, but I just never see how players cannot be embarrassed to celebrate like that when the team is so bad. I understand it’s fun to win, but it’s embarrassing to see them doing that and hearing the stupid “Go Cubs Go” song in the background and then looking at the standings and wonder if we’ll lose 100 games. Ah, maybe I’m just ready for the season to be over. Carry on with what you’re doing. I guess it is fun to play the spoiler a little and try to keep St. Louis from the postseason.
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Cardinals Series Preview

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Friday at 1:20 pm CT – Chris Carpenter vs. Chris Volstad

This will be the season debut for Carpenter, who was not expected to pitch this year after undergoing mid-July surgery. But with exceptional conditioning work, Carpenter pushed his way through a throwing program so he could return to help. Volstad gave up 10 hits and walked four over 4 2/3 innings against the Pirates in his last start. After opening the year 0-7 with a 7.94 ERA in nine games, he has a 4.76 ERA in nine starts since he rejoined the Cubs in early August.

Saturday at 12:05 pm CT – Adam Wainwright vs. Travis Wood

While some fear he’s getting fatigued, Wainwright is proving otherwise. A two-run homer accounted for the only runs he gave up on Sunday. With his arm slot issues righted, Wainwright said he feels he is back on the right track. The lefty took the loss in his last outing against the Pirates, despite striking out a personal high nine batters. Wood is holding hitters to a .184 average in his last four starts. He’s 0-2 vs. the Cardinals, losing back-to-back starts in July.

Sunday at 1:20 pm CT – Kyle Lohse vs. Justin Germano

Owner of baseball’s best winning percentage (.833), Lohse has lost just once since June 15. He continues to be the most consistent starter on the staff, and Lohse has limited opponents to two or fewer earned runs in 23 of his 31 starts this year. Germano held the Reds to three hits over five scoreless innings, then walked the bases loaded in the sixth in his last start. He walked five in the game after having not issued more than two walks in any of his starts this year.

Our Take

Right now, with most of a losing season behind us, and the specter of 100 losses still hanging over our heads, I think we can still find reasons to celebrate these Cubs. The best possible reason would be if they can help knock the Cardinals out of playoff contention. I’m serious, because I can’t endure another  magical playoff run for St. Louis. The sooner they’re eliminated from the postseason, the sooner I can breathe easy.

I don’t know if Dale is one for making big pre-game speeches to inspire the team, but if he’s been sitting on one, now’s the time to bust it out. Something along these lines ought to do it.

On my list of Cubs priorities, keeping the Cardinals out of the playoffs is just below the Cubs making the postseason. We can still salvage some moral victories, and that would be a big one.

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Game 149: Corpas Can’t Handle Gregorious

Friday, September 21st, 2012

Boxscore / Highlights / Condensed

The Good:

Jason Berken pitched a pretty decent game, giving up only 2 hits in 6 innings pitched.  He held the Reds to zero runs. Pretty darn good if you ask me! Especially for it being so late in the season and the Reds contending for a playoff spot, Berken was phenomenal. Jaye Chapman also pitched extremely well: no hits, no runs, no walks, and a strikeout. These young pitchers are showing glimpses of good things to come! I’m looking forward to their development. And possible trades.

Our top 3 of the lineup each had two hits! David DeJesus is turning out to be a solid, average player. He puts together quality at-bats and plays some pretty great defense. Barney is almost batting .270. Rizzo is batting almost .300. Castro and Castillo also had two hits apiece. Nice show of individuals, but not a good team effort, as evidenced by the runners left in scoring position.

The Bad:

The Cubs lost, therefore the Reds clinched the very first playoff spot of this postseason. Boo.

The Cubs were 1-10 with runners in scoring position. We could not get a man home before the seventh inning, and even then we left a lot of men on.

Manny Corpas surrendered all five of the Reds runs in the seventh inning. All five. In one inning. Seems like Corpas was channeling his inner Chris Volstad.

Summary:

The Reds managed to win even without their trusty manager. He’s in the hospital with an irregular heartbeat. Maybe he staying away from the team is good. Their pitchers might actually have arms 20 years from now if he did that.

Because the Reds won tonight, they clinched the first playoff spot of the year, and the Nationals followed up shortly thereafter, clinching the second playoff spot for the 2012 postseason. Because the Cubs are not contending, it is safe to say I will be pulling for any American League team that is not from Chicago, Boston, or New York. Who is your pick?

Side note: The entire time I was writing this recap, I kept wondering to myself: “Does Berken wear Birkenstock sandals?”

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