Archive for April, 2013

Game 12: Extra, Extra Cubs Blow a Save and Lose

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

 

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Nick Noonan (.246 WPA)


 

So, I’m not even sure how to start today’s recap. We’ll just get right into the meat of things.

The Wild, Wild Pitch

Once again another impressive pitching performance ruined by the lack of control in the middle innings. I noted on Twitter in the fourth inning that Edwin Jackson, albeit having a good day, had a high pitch count early in the game like Jeff Samardzija did last Sunday. By the time Jackson reached the top of the sixth, he had zero control of his slider, which led to three walks and two wild pitches. Jackson left the game with a 4-3 lead and two runners on base attributed to him. Michael Bowden kindly replicated Jackson’s fun inning with three wild pitches of his own, which improved the total to five in the inning. For the sake of comparison, the Cubs had eight wild pitches in 11 contests coming into the game. They nearly matched that total in sixth.

7th Inning Stench

What happened today? Was Julia Sweeney on something during her interview and whatever she was doing during Take Me Out to the Ballgame? There have been plenty of bad guests for the stretch, but that might be a Bottom 10 of recent memory. Yikes.

Navarr-oh Boy

While Jackson and Bowden were a major part of the issue in the sixth, Navarro had a day behind the plate that he will want to forget. His bat has been zoned in during a couple of recent pinch-hit attempts, but his err…zone was lacking on defense today. Five wild pitches and three passed balls contributed to five of the six runs scored by the Giants in the early innings. Sveum might be hard pressed to trot Navarro back out in the field too much this season. Hopefully nothing happens to Wellington Castillo.

Marmol, Fujikawa, Camp…..Next?

Shawn Camp was the latest Cubs’ pitcher to be victimized by the ninth-inning plague. Camp rolled through the first two batters and then with a 1-2 to Hunter Pence, he left a slider over the corner of the plate. The rest is history. Inferiority in the bullpen is a hard thing to overcome for a team that struggles to score many runs consistently.

Tweet of the Day

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Game 11 – Clevenger Feels the Pain of the Loss

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Santiago Casilla (.571 WPA)


Is it just me or does it feel like the Cubs have been right there with the Giants this entire series? Today was no exception. Let’s get to the notes:

Help in a Pinch – For the second straight game, Dioner Navarro came off the bench in a pinch hit role and drove the ball out of the park. Yesterday’s homer tied the game in the 9th and today’s brought us within a run. It looks a little funny to have three catchers on the roster in Wellington Castillo, Navarro, and Steve Clevenger, but it allows the flexibility for Dale to pinch hit with his backup late in games instead of holding him on the bench to catch in case of an injury to the starter. I don’t recommend the setup of the three catchers on the roster if they are all completely limited to the catcher position, but Clevenger adds versatility with the ability to back up third base as well. Essentially what you want is a position player with the ability to also catch. Unfortunately, today saw Clevenger get hurt. If you didn’t stick around to the very end, you missed the play. He struck out to end the game and has been sent for an MRI to determine if he has some sort of tear or strain of the left oblique. Typically that’s a very slow healing injury so the guess is that Clevenger is probably going to be hitting the DL. That means we get to have roster discussion.

Roster ThoughtsWith Clevenger on the shelf for the foreseeable future, let’s take a look at a few possibilities for replacement. Remember that the 40 man roster is currently full so the replacement would either have to come from that list of names or a spot would need to be cleared to add someone else. In this case, that wouldn’t be hard, considering the probable length of time for recovery for Clevenger. The Cubs would have the flexibility to place him on the 60-day DL to clear a spot. Before we know the extent of the injury, let’s look at possible scenarios:

Option 1 – Play Shorthanded till Tuesday – This is my option of choice unless the MRI shows results quickly. You can get by with a 24 man roster for a day to get you till Tuesday when Darwin Barney is slated to come off the DL. If anything, this allows Brent Lillibridge a chance to sleep a little easier for the next few days as his job was in serious jeopardy had Clevenger not opened a spot on the roster for Barney’s return. Lillibridge has not hit at all and has shown me no reason, other than positional versatility, for why he should remain on this team. If his slump continues, I could easily see his time with the organization come to an end. I see no reason to keep him on the 40 man roster. I’d designate him for assignment, see if you can push him through waivers and assign him to AAA.

Option 2Place Clevenger on the 15 day DL – In this scenario, you recall someone from the 40 man roster and then make a decision as to what should be done on Tuesday with the roster when Barney comes back. This would be the scenario that you go with if you think Lillibridge is done with this team. You let him play Sunday and then DFA on Tuesday. The problem with this scenario is that it’s slim pickings on the 40 man for guys who can play the corner infield position.

Junior Lake – Injured from back in spring training

Ian Stewart – Still making progress, but not ready to return just yet

Christian Villanueva – He’s not ready for a ML assignment yet. He’s not played higher than AA and he’s struggling there so far

Josh Vitters – He was just placed on the 7 day DL down in Iowa with back soreness

Logan Watkins – He’s the last name on the list and he’s the only healthy one with any sort of AAA at bats. He’d be my choice, though I wouldn’t feel great about it. Coming into Saturday’s action, Watkins is hitting .242 / .390 / .424 with and HR. The problem? He’s not had any experience at third base, which would essentially put him as the back up second baseman to Darwin Barney with Alberto Gonzalez backing up Luis Valbuena at third.

Starting Pitching Continues to Be a StrengthThree starts for Jeff Samardzija and all three have been “quality” in their own ways. The last two haven’t been near as good as the first one, but Samardzija continues to shine as the top guy in the rotation and appears to have made the wide decision this off-season when he turned down the contract extension that was offered to him. He knows his value and he knows that should he pitch well this year that value goes up even more. I like watching him pitch. I look forward to the games he starts. When you’re watching team that loses more than it wins, you take what you can get.

Umpire Accuracy RateFor some reason this year I’ve been obsessed with the accuracy of umpire strike zones. As a result, I’ll be posting the correct call rate of the home plate umpire each game I recap. To put it in perspective, we need to establish a baseline. Last season, the average correct call % (CC%) was 87.1%. That is a summary on just pitches that were taken. No swings were involves because the home plate umpire does not have to make a judgement call on those plays. What I find interesting is that the top umpire last year was Chad Fairchild with a 89.7% rate of success. The worst umpire last year was Tim Welke, with a correct call rate of 84.8%. There really isn’t much difference between the two, when you think about it.

Today’s home plate umpire was Vic Cararpazza. He’s one I’ve not heard his name before so I looked to see how he’s done over the last few years and I was pleased to find that he continues to improve each year. Take a look at the data:

That correct call rate continues to climb. Unfortunately today was a rough outing as he posted a CC% of just 84.1%, which puts him at the bottom using our benchmark from last year. A quick look at his strike zone today and you’ll see why. He was consistent vertically, but his zone was wider than you’d like to see and it wasn’t just on one side. Take a look at the called strike rate today.

What’s Up NextI came into this series hoping for a series split. It’s still possible with Edwin Jackson taking the bump against Tim Lincecum. Normally that wouldn’t bode well, but Lincecum hasn’t been his dominant self in a little while so we still have a shot at stealing one before the series with a very good Ranger’s team. Let’s jump on him early and see what happens.

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Game 10 – Darlin’ Starlin Comes Through

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Starlin Castro (.482 WPA)


Yesterday we talked about a frustrating game that could have been won. Today it’s the opposite. Let’s break it down.

Most Valuable Player of the Game – It’s easy to give the MVP in this one to Castro, seeing that he was the Star of the Game from a win probability added standpoint, but I’m gonna go a different direction. Instead, I’m going with Carlos Villanueva who threw 7.1 innings of shutout baseball to notch his second quality start this season. For a guy who was slated for the long relief man out of the pen, he’s been outstanding in the rotation so far in two outings. He’s gonna make it difficult for Dale to decide what to do when Matt Garza comes back from the DL in about a month. He may pitch well enough to put pressure on Scott Feldman to get his act together for fear of being removed from the starting five.

Least Valuable Player – This one’s easy today. With a 2-0 lead going into the 9th, Kyuji Fujikawa came into the game for his first opportunity to close a game since being anointed as the official closer. He got the first hitter, but then the wheels fell off. Three runs later and the Cubs looked to be ready to blow yet another game in rather frustrating fashion. It’s hard to say what should be done with the closer role. I still maintain that I believe the job should be Carlos Marmol’s, not because he deserves it, but because we have to get him right for any sort of trade. I think Fujikawa will be OK in this league, but today was frustrating. He’s not looked good over the last few outings and it’s led to some very wild late innings and has to be frustrating to the starters who see strong outings go to waste when it comes to them accumulating the meaningless “Win” stat.

Defining Moment – This has to go to Dioner Navarro who led off the bottom of the 9th with a game tying solo home run to take Fujikawa off the hook. The home run immediately gave the Cubs the momentum and took the pressure off and placed it on the Giants. Navarro is one of my favorite players on the team. I think he can fill a role as the backup catcher and I believe his numbers will improve. The home run today was huge.

Random Notes

  • Darwin Barney was presented with his Gold Glove award before the game. He’s scheduled to go on rehab assignment this weekend and should be back for next week.
  • Steve Clevenger got the start at third base, which is the first start for him there this year.
  • Josh Vitters (AAA) has been placed on the 7-day DL with a sore back

Up Next

We’re competing in this series and tomorrow we throw our best against one of their best. If we can get a win tomorrow and guarantee a series split, I think we can declare the series a success.

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Game 9 – A Tough Loss

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Santiago Castilla (.247 WPA)


I don’t know what to do with this one. I’m frustrated today. Frustrated that I have to watch the majority of these games on MLB.tv because my television provider doesn’t have MLB Extra Innings. Frustrated that I had to watch us jump out to a five run lead only to give up seven runs in two innings. Today was just a frustrating day and I really don’t know what to write about. I have just a few bullet points that I came away with.

  • I’m growing tired of the errors. This team has looked really bad through nine games in the field. I think we’re better than what we’ve shown, but one of the most frustrating things to watch is a team throwing the baseball all over the place after kicking it all over the place.
  • I definitely like Wellington Castillo a lot more than Geovany Soto (sorry Lizzie)
  • Two starts in and it may be easy to be let down by Scott Feldman, but he got no help in the field, including an error he made on a cover of first base.

Sorry for the brevity of that. Let’s take a look at the umpire strike zone accuracy today and get an update on the farm.

Minor League Note

Brett Jackson

7 games, 31 PA, 7-28, 1 BB, 10 K’s

One week of games is in the book and through Wednesday night’s game, Brett Jackson’s new swing is showing similar (if not worse) results as the old swing.

He has a hit and a walk so far in Thursday’s action, so lets just hope his new swing is going to work from this day forward. ~ Norm Bothwell

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Cubs / Giants – Series Pitching Matchups

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

With yesterday’s rain delay, it means the Cubs didn’t lose the series with the Brewers. That’s a nice little treat. Now it’s time for a four game set against the Giants. Here is a look at the probable pitchers for the series, with scouting reports from MLB.com.

Thursday – 2:20pm EDT – Scott Feldman (0-1, 7.71 ERA) vs Ryan Vogelsong (0-1, 8.44 ERA)

This will be Feldman’s Wrigley Field debut. He threw 102 pitches over 4 2/3 innings in his first Cubs start, and only topped 100 pitches seven times last season. Feldman struggled with his command in his first outing against the Braves. Vogelsong said he didn’t feel too off in his first start. The mixed results over 5 1/3 innings: five runs, nine hits, two walks, six strikeouts and a few bad breaks.

Friday – 2:20pm EDT – Carlos Villanueva (0-0, 1.35 ERA) vs Matt Cain (0-1, 8.38 ERA)

Villanueva prepared for his last start, and it showed. He held the Braves to one run over 6 2/3 innings, striking out six, but didn’t get a decision as Atlanta rallied in the ninth. This will be the right-hander’s first home game. Cain matched a career worst with his nine-run yield in his last start. Each run was scored in the fourth inning. Though Cain’s 8-9 lifetime in April, his 3.14 ERA for the month is bettered only by his 3.00 figure in August.

Saturday - 1:05pm EDT – Jeff Samardzija (1-1, 2.63 ERA) vs Madison Bumgarner (2-0, 1.32 ERA)

This will be Samardzija’s first home start and third of the season. He should be riding high after striking out a career-high 13 batters over 5 2/3 innings in his last outing against the Braves, but he didn’t get the win. The five walks (one intentional) that Bumgarner issued in his last start against Colorado represented a surprisingly high total for him. But he compensated by holding the Rockies to 1-for-5 with runners in scoring position.

Sunday – 2:20pm EDT – Edwin Jackson (0-2, 5.73 ERA) vs Tim Lincecum (1-0, 4.91 ERA)

Jackson was roughed up in his 2013 Wrigley Field debut — allowing five runs on eight hits and five walks in six innings against the Brewers — but he settled down after a four-run first. Six of Lincecum’s seven strikeouts in his last start were swinging, showing he still can be deceptive. After throwing 46 strikes in 91 pitches in his season debut at Los Angeles, Lincecum improved to 61 strikes in 104 pitches in his last outing.

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Recapping the Random – 04/10/2012

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

*Editors note – I wrote all of this before the 7th inning of last nights game.  Just because the Cubs came back it does not change anything….they are still a poorly constructed team that is painful to watch.

Did you really think the Cubs were going to be good this year?

Your first tip should have been the lat strain suffered by Matt Garza when he took the diamond the first day of spring training.  He might as well have done it tying his shoes on day one.  That was your first hint this year would be no different than any other in the last century plus. Yes, I know it may not have been the first day but that’s semantics, it seemed like the first day.  The latest news is we will see him some time in mid-May.  My bet is on June.

The second sign might have been Brent Lillibridge.  As of this writing he is 0-17 with seven K’s.  Guess we shouldn’t expect much from a career .208 hitter, plus that offensive juggernaut Darwin Barney will return to reclaim his rightful position at second base any day now.   That ought to help put runs on the board.

Then there’s Marmol.  You knew I would get to him eventually.  I can’t figure out whether he lost his confidence and everything he tries backfires, or did teams put together enough advance scouting to finally say, “why are we swinging at this guy?”  Think about it, even when he was good, throwing strikes wasn’t his forte, was it? I can’t remember, it was so long ago that he was effective.  I would have to clear out a whole new wing of cobwebs to find those memories.  It is a sad state of affairs when your closer gets booed during opening day introductions.

Oh yes, there are some positives, but the story line so far has been the lack of offense.  The Cubs rate second to last in almost every category (the lowly Pirates are keeping the basement warm.)

At any rate, there is no offense and the pitching is mediocre at best…..looks like 2012 all over again.

So what else has been happening in baseball?  Let’s Look…..

  • First of all, I can’t say this with enough glee, but Tim McCarver is retiring at seasons end.  The stomach churning tandem of the Tim and Joe show on Saturday Fox Baseball will come to an end.  Sometimes I can actually feel them rooting on the Cardinals while doing a Cubs/ Cards broadcast.  Now, if we could just get Joe Morgan to go away…..
  • Small sample size, but Bryce Harper is showing everybody that there is no sophomore slump to worry about.  He hit a home run in each of his first two at bats on opening day and is currently hitting .360
  • While getting shellacked in his second start against the Rangers, Jared Weaver broke his left elbow.  He will be out at least one month.
  • I saved this link and could not wait to share it.  Not a fan of the guy, but sometimes when I need a laugh I check out Jose Canseco’s twitter feed.  The above link is his list of New Years resolutions or whatever…
  • On the topic of Twitter and being entertained…..give @realcj10 a follow.  That would be Larry “Chipper” Jones.  The diarrhea flows and never seems to stop.  Here are a few samples…..

Chipper Jones@RealCJ103 Apr

I got cursed at and called names by a ton of people growing up. Were they fired? Nope! Do I care? Nope! What’s the big deal? Toughen up!

Chipper Jones@RealCJ103 Apr

Yeah, been hit w/ bball equipment on purpose, been dragged around a football field by my facemask and ran suicides til I puked! I ain’t mad.

These tweets were, of course, in reference to the Mike Rice firing at Rutgers.  For those not in the know that care, read here.

To read more about Chipper and his misadventures go here.  I swear there is something about adultery with a Hooters waitress in there.

I like tweets, especially from meat head athletes like Chipper.  I’ll have more in two weeks. Until then…. 

 

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Game 8 – Cubs End Their Losing Streak

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Stars of the Game - Anthony Rizzo, .253 WPA, David DeJesus, .239 WPA

Rally!  Down 3-1 heading into the bottom of the Seventh, I’m sure many were concerned that the Cubs’ general offensive ineffectiveness would continue. But, right after Fergie Jenkins implored the Cubs to get some runs, Castro knocked in Steve Clevenger on an RBI groundout before Rizzo tied it up on a double to right field that also was his first hit against a left handed pitcher this season. Then, in the bottom of the ninth, pinch hitter Scott Hairston knocked in Nate Schierholtz on a sacrifice fly to take a 4-3 lead, before David DeJesus added some insurance for new closer Kyuji Fujikawa with a two run double.

The Bullpen Was Good in a Game We Won! So far, our solid bullpen performances have been limited to games we’ve been down in, although that was largely due to bad performances by Carlos Marmol in the Cubs’ two prior wins. Not tonight, though, as Rule 5 pick Hector Rondon, Marmol (who suddenly has been able to locate his slider a bit since being removed from the closer’s role), and new closer Kyuji Fujikawa combined for 2.2 scoreless innings.

Sacrificing is Still Stupid- Wellington Castillo has been the Cubs’ best hitter so far this season. But after Nate Schierholtz’s double to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Dale Sveum sent Castillo up to bunt Schierholtz, a good runner, over to third. Everything worked out for the Cubs in the end, but in spite of the Cubs giving up an out, not because of it.

Another Solid Performance by Travis Wood- Wood put up another solid line in the elements tonight, going 6.1 innings while giving up only 2 earned runs to go with seven hits, seven strikeouts and three walks. Although one of those earned runs should probably have been unearned and one of those hits should have been an error, as a poor throw by Starlin Castro in the second inning pulled Rizzo off the bag on a grounder by Yuniesky Betancourt that was somehow ruled a hit. I’ll guess that the whomever made that call just felt sorry for Yuniesky Betancourt having to go through life being Yuniesky Betancourt.

While the walks were a bit higher than you’d like, Wood struck out a lot of hitters and really was fantastic from the third inning on (no runs, 1 walk, 2 hits, 3 Ks in his final 4.1 innings). Also, despite the fact that the wind and cold was not exactly conducive to hitting, Wood never gave up a hit that would have been a home run but for said weather.

Rough Second Inning for Castro- Starlin Castro had a rough defensive second inning, making two bad throws. The first was the one that pulled Rizzo off the bag, and the second was a bad throw home to try to nail Jean Segura (by the way, I’d love to have Jean Segura on the Cubs) a couple of batters later. I’d chalk this up to the bad weather, especially considering the awful throw Alex Gonzalez made from third base to second a couple in the bottom of the fifth that led to the Cubs’ first run, but there was an aspect of bad decision making in both instances. In both cases, Castro had a lot more time than he thought to make the throws, but rushed them. He made a couple nice defensive plays later, particularly a very good diving stop and strong throw to get the last out in the eighth to prevent what would have provided the leading run for the Brewers from scoring, but at some point you’d like to see the decision making stop being a problem. Valbuena also had a throwing error in the top of the ninth.

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Game 7 – Late Rally Falls Short

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Martin Maldonado (.223 WPA)


I feel like every day, I come to the table with recaps laced with positivity and today is no different. Look, I know this team is not good right now, but that doesn’t mean you throw the baby out with the bath water and just write the whole team off in these losses. Today there were positives to take and build on, beginning with Edwin Jackson. If you didn’t see the game and simply looked at the box score, I’ll give you the fact that the start doesn’t look all that encouraging, but it was. If you didn’t watch the game, what you failed to see was the fact that after giving up a leadoff hit in the 1st, he got Carlos Gomez to fly out and should have had a double play off the bat of Ryan Braun to end the inning, but the shift was on and Braun beat it. The ball was hit right where you’d typically play your middle infielders, but they weren’t there. He rallied and got the next hitter, Rickie Weeks to hit into a fielder’s choice that left runners one first and second with two outs and it appeared he may get out of the inning unscathed despite the unlucky break. Instead, a passed ball by Wellington Castillo allowed both runners to advance which forced Sveum to called for the intentional walk for some reason in the first inning with the wind blowing out. Now, with no room for error, Jackson walked the next hitter and then gave up the three run double. Did he allow four runs in the 1st? Most definitely he did, but it wasn’t all his fault. Another run crossed the plate in the 2nd and it appeared his day was going to be a short one, but from that point on he pitched great and left still recording six innings of work. It was a start that he could have easily packed in early and just let the Brewers break open, but I give him a lot of credit for battling and giving the chance to at least make it interesting in the ninth.

Keeping with the positive theme, there have been several surprise hot starts so far this season, beginning with Wellington Castillo, who hit a solo home run today and is off to a .389 / .421 / .667 start this year. He’s got a cannon for an arm and may help Lizzie quickly begin to forget that she ever had feelings for that under-performing catcher, Geovany Soto. Also off to a good start is Nate Schierholtz and Michael Bowden. It’s about positive production from the non-stars and these guys are doing that job. We know Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo are going to hit. What we don’t know is who else will step up and so far these guys have done that job.

It was another loss, and that sucks, but be encouraged that things are going to get better.

RANDOM NOTES

  • Norichika Aoki is a royal pain in the rear at the plate. Every time I looked up, this dude was on base. He also plays a really deep right field and at times as as deep as the warning track when it comes to positioning.
  • Milwaukee took 13 of 17 games from the Cubs in 2012, including winning all five series they played. So far, they’re off to a good start toward doing that again.
  • Hunter Wendelstedt got the assignment behind the plate today and I didn’t feel like his zone was all that great. He was routinely calling the low strike, so to his credit he was consistent, but when I look at umpires I want to see strike zone accuracy. Here is a look at his correct call rate:

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Recommendations for the 2013 Baseball Season

Monday, April 8th, 2013

It’s home opening day. I know things haven’t quite been going as well as they could have been, but don’t let that get you down. Instead, let’s take a look at some recommendations for this season.

One of the things I really try hard to stick to is not promoting and “recommending” a product that I didn’t think was a good one. I get so many e-mails from people asking to mention things on the site. I try to spare everyone from that and only let you know about ones I think are worth your time. Let’s take a look at pair I’ve found recently.

Wrigley Field E-Guide – When I got this e-mail, I was a little skeptical. Kurt Smith, founder of Ballpark E-Guides contacted me to see if I’d take a look and promote his guide to Wrigley Field. I figured I’d look at it, find it a waste of time, and promptly delete the e-mail. However, when I looked it over, I was pleasantly surprised. While I would never use this particular E-Guide since I’m from Chicago, I found it really well done and would definitely spend the money on one of the other team’s e-guides next time I visit one of those stadiums. There is nothing worse than going to a new environment and leaving feeling like you missed something. From where to sit, how to get there and what to eat when you’re there, these guides meticulously detail each of these and more. Currently there are guides for 16 of the 30 MLB teams and each is only $4.99. In my opinion, that’s a small price to pay to limit the chances of making a mistake and maximizing the visit to a new park. For info on the guides, please take a minute to visit Kurt’s website, www.ballparkeguides.com and have a look around. If you buy one, be sure to let me know what you think.

Beats by Cubs? – OK, so that’s not the name of this next product, but it’s one I’m enjoying very much. One of my most prized possessions is my 120 GB, iPod classic. The thing goes everywhere with me, including to bed with me. I’m an iPod dork and always have it going. In particular, I like to use it when I’m blogging or just overall piddling on the laptop. The problem is that my family does not want to always have to hear sports podcasts. That’s where the folks at Bigr Audio came in. Usually my listening experience is enhanced by purchasing $0.99 ear buds off E-Bay from Hong Kong, waiting for them to ship and then replacing every few months when they die. When I was asked to preview the Chicago Cubs version of the Bigr Audio headphones, I jumped at the opportunity. Shortly after, this arrived at my doorstep. They are so much better than what I am used to using. They do a good job at cancelling out noise, though they are not advertised as noise cancelling, and they allow me to support my team when I’m at the gym looking like a dork for being the only guy with over the ear headphones on. The pair I have retails for $99 and they have all of the teams fully licensed. Check them out at www.bigraudio.com

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