Archive for October, 2012

Game 161: EMBARRASSING

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Astros 3 @ Cubs 0

Box Score / Highlights / Condensed Game

EMBARRASSING
What was so embarrassing? You mean besides the entire season? Oh, from Tuesday night only? Fine, I’ll pick just one thing. This play. That’s the encapsulation of the season right there. The Cubs surrender a run but have the batter dead to rights between 1st and 2nd. I’m sure this is an insult to most of VFTB’s readers, but baseball fundamentals, nay the childlike understanding required for a game of ‘pickle’ demands that you CHASE the runner hard back to the bag (preferably the one they came from). It’s not hard, you just have to run fast, directly at the runner, and ready to throw the ball. It requires only a modicum of athletic prowess and zero baseball specific skill (unless a 15 foot toss is considered a baseball skill). What does All-Star shortstop Starlin Castro do? Casually jog towards the runner half-heartedly. His HR trot is more deliberate. Darwin Barney, he of the defensive renown, makes an equally stupid if not as obvious error. On the other side of the run-down, Barney needs to hold his ground virtually until ball is in his glove. If he starts closing the distance between him and the runner, he increases the possibility that the throw won’t be in time, and/or that the runner will have an easier time sliding past him. Which is exactly what happened. Castro takes his sweet time unloading the ball without driving the runner back to Barney; Barney gets a full head of steam essentially permitting the runner to sidestep at the moment he receives the ball and tries to swipe a tag all in one motion. It was an utter failure on all points. Ideally, Castro is the one running hard at the runner (not Barney), the runner is being forced to sprint at Barney (not vice versa), and the ball is delivered at the moment when it’s too late for the runner to reverse course with Barney merely needing to hold his ground and make the tag (the opposite of that happened, the runner merely needed take a step back to avoid the tag).

TOTAL FAILURE
This final series against the Astros (unless the Cubs do something unprecedented tomorrow – like pitch a perfect game while striking out all 27) will be remembered, at least by me, as an unmitigated disaster. Just appalling that after such a bad season, we get a freebie against the one team against whom we’d had decent success and in two straight games we can’t score a run. ONE RUN. ONE FREAKIN’ RUN. The Astros team ERA is 4.58 – they have 106 losses. 106! I’m not even talking about whether we should be winning these games, I’m merely talking about scoring a single solitary run.

The season ends tomorrow by the way.

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Prospect Spotlight: Arizona Fall League

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

For our final prospect spotlight of the season, we’re looking at the Cubs’ farmhands who have been sent to join the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League for the next couple of months. Before I list the players, I just wanted to note that I think the AFL gets a lot more recognition than it probably deserves, especially for offensive players.

To start, Arizona is an offensive environment. These are the same locations that Cactus League games are played in. Beyond that, most top pitching prospects don’t end up in Arizona, as the top starting pitching talents in the minors have generally hit their organizationally imposed innings limits by the end of their respective minor league seasons. The best pitchers in the AFL tend to either be guys who are coming back from injuries or recent high level college draftees who didn’t have their arms destroyed in the College World Series.

Hitting prospects don’t have inning limits. So you generally have better hitting prospects against lesser pitching prospects in an extremely offensive environment. So take all hitting numbers with a grain of salt.

The following are the Cubs who are going to the AFL for the start of the season, with links if I’ve written about them recently.

Pitchers: Dae-Eun Rhee, Kevin Rhoderick, Nick Struck, Tony Zych

Hitters: Javier Baez, Matt Szczur, Rubi Silva

I’ve written about Baez and Szczur recently, so you know that Baez is one of the top three prospects in the Cubs’ system, and that I think Szczur is most likely a fourth outfielder. Rubi Silva isn’t anyone to get excited about, as he spent his age 22/23 season putting up fine but not special numbers in High A and Double A. He also walked in less than three percent of his plate appearances. Combine all the facts above, and he’s essentially a non-prospect.

The pitchers aren’t much to write home about either. Dae-Eun Rhee looked like he might have been taking a step forward in 2011, but stalled this season in Double A. Kevin Rhoderick and Tony Zych are relievers, although Zych does have the potential to be a late inning guy. Struck was probably the best pitcher in the Cubs’ upper minor leagues this year, putting up a 3.18 ERA and 3.75 FIP for Double A Tennessee while striking up more than 7 per 9 innings and walking just over 2.5 per 9 innings. But, at 5’11″ and 185 lbs, Struck is not that projectable, and he’s the sort of guy who is going to have to get every ounce of his talent to be more than a back end of the rotation starter in the Majors. Those are fun guys to root for, but not good guys to bet on.

As I intimated at the beginning, this will be my final minor league post of the season. I’ll be continuing to write for the site, but over the offseason will be focusing on other items (although the prospects will be involved in some of those post, I’m sure.)  Thanks to all of you who read and posted over the course of the season.

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Game 160: Spectacular Futility (or How We Lost Our 100th Game Without Even Trying)

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

Astros 3 @ Cubs 0

Box Score / Highlights

In retrospect, maybe losing 100 games doesn’t mean that much to the Cubs. They sure played like it didn’t matter Monday night. It was another frustration-filled evening in which the offense flat-lined and the pitching betrayed us. No one who has watched them this season can be surprised at how they lost this game.

What did surprise me was how little effort they seemed to put into the loss. Most of the Cubs’ hitters had extraordinarily deep and wide strike zones tonight. Check that–swing zones. Plate discipline was not in season, as at least a couple hitters expanded their zones to roughly the size of a Smart Car. And when they only managed to put three runners on all night (the first two reached in the first inning), it was not a night to swing early and swing often.

So when you tune in to tomorrow night’s game (assuming, of course, that you’re either tied to a chair and forced to watch or incapable of finding something less painful to do), something will happen that hasn’t occurred in roughly 50 years–two 100-loss teams will face off. Will the Cubs continue to slink into the offseason, or will they muster some kind of fight to close out the year?

If you decide to watch the game, let me know how it turns out.

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Astros Series Preview

Monday, October 1st, 2012

Probable Pitchers

Courtesy of MLB.com

Monday at 7:05pm CT – Lucas Harrell vs. Jason Berken

Harrell leads all Major League rookies with 187 2/3 innings pitched and is second among NL rookies in wins. He hasn’t won in his last six starts, though, going 0-2 with a 3.22 ERA. His last win was Aug. 21. Berken was roughed up in his last start against the Rockies, giving up six runs on nine hits over four innings. He had trouble keeping the ball down, which can be a problem at Coors Field. This will be his last chance to make a good impression.

Tuesday at 7:05pm CT – Bud Norris vs. Chris Volstad

Norris snapped a personal 12-game losing streak Wednesday, holding St. Louis to two hits and striking out seven in a season-high 7 1/3 scoreless innings. In his previous 18 starts, he was 0-12 with a 6.17 ERA. Volstad gave up seven runs on 10 hits over three innings against the Rockies in his last outing and deviated from the game plan, according to manager Dale Sveum. This is Volstad’s last start.

Wednesday at 1:20pm CT – Edgar Gonzalez vs. Travis Wood

The veteran has done a nice job since the Astros picked him up from Mexican league. He’s 3-1 with a 4.15 ERA in five starts with the Astros and has been unbeatable on the road. He’s 3-0 with a 2.81 ERA in three road starts. Wood seemed “tired” in his last start, according to manager Dale Sveum. Wood says he’s fine. The Cubs want to see more life in his pitches in his final game. He has two wins in his last 12 decisions.

Our Take

Welcome to the big finale. The Cubs need to win three straight games to avoid the century mark for losses. And they’re facing the perfect opponent to pull it off in the Astros. If you had to win three games to save your life (and choosing to play against the Cubs somewhere in the NL West isn’t an option), wouldn’t you choose to play the Astros? I like our chances, at least inasmuch as they wouldn’t improve against another team. It really comes down to a question of who is already looking ahead to the offseason, who is too tired and broken-down, and who is hoping to maybe win a job with their team next season.

Series Prediction: A sweep for the Cubs, and an unexpected win for my optimism.

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