Archive for May, 2013

Game 53 – Ending The Month on a High Note

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Alfonso Soriano – .180 (WPA)


The Cubs ended the month of May on a high note running their current win streak to five games behind the starting effort of Matt Garza. It certainly feels like the tide is turning and things are beginning to get better. After all, take a look at the records so far each month.

April: 10-16

May: 13-14

There is improvement there, for sure. I said at the beginning of the season that I felt like a realistic goal to shoot for this year was a .500 record. Coming off a dreadful season last year, it was ambitious, but attainable. The month of May shows that I’m right, albeit a small sample size, but what changed from April to May?

It’s hard to say for sure, but there have certainly been things worthy of praising, but there is a lot of improvement that still needs to take place, particularly from the offensive stars in this lineup.

I’d like to think that by the end of July, this team can be at .500. It will be interesting to watch.

GAME NOTES

  • The current five game win streak is the longest for the Cubs since 2011
  • The umpire crew had the unenviable job of working the Royals / Cardinals affair that ended at 3:14am.
  • Friday’s announced attendance of 24,645 was the lowest of the season
  • Scott Hairston’s grand slam was the second in the last two days for the Cubs after Travis Wood hit one yesterday against the Sox.

Jeff Samardzija gets the chance to take the bump tomorrow against Ian Kennedy in an effort to win the series with the Diamondbacks and run the streak to six. He’s coming off his masterful performance against the White Sox so hopefully there is no letdown there.

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3 Up, 3 Down, Hot and Cold in May Edition

Friday, May 31st, 2013

It’s rare that any player will dominate an entire season of professional baseball with no hiccups. This can be especially true for prospects at the beginning of the season, when very young players are often first facing a more advanced level of baseball. On that note, this week we will look at three prospects who had a strong May, and three prospects who struggled this month.

THREE UP

Jorge Soler, OF
21 years old, High A Daytona
May stats (all stats through May 28): 94 ABs, .309/.374/.564, 5 HRs, 11 BBs, 18 Ks

Soler started the season hot, but the back end of his April was not as strong. After being suspended for extracurricular activity involving using a baseball bat in a threatening manner during a bench clearing brawl, Soler was benched after failing to run out a pop fly and had a low BABIP over the back half of the month. May has been much kinder to the young Cuban, hitting for average and power while drawing walks and limiting strikeouts. If Soler had not officially surpassed Javier Baez as the number one prospect in the Cubs system, he certainly did so in May.

Christian Villanueva, 3B
21 years old, Double A Tennessee
May stats: 94 ABs, .298/.356/.500, 2 HRs, 6 BBs, 22 Ks

Of the numerous legitimate third base prospects in the Cubs system, Villanueva probably has the lowest ceiling, but also has the highest likelihood of contributing as a regular in the show. He will never be more than average hitter at the hot corner, but he is excellent defensively there. After a rough April where he just could not get a batted ball to avoid finding a waiting glove, his May was much stronger. While the walk rate is nothing special and strikeout rate is a little higher than you would like, he showed more than enough offense to still be able to slot in as a slick fielding, average hitting third baseman in 2014 or 2015.

Gioskar Amaya, 2B
20 years old, Low A Kane County
May stats: 96 ABs, .292/.382/.448, 1 HR, 12 BBs, 26 Ks

Amaya’s story in April was different than Villanueva’s. His issue was not BABIP, but was instead overmatched by his first taste of full season pitching. That changed in May, when he quadrupled his walk total. While the strikeout numbers were still high, the combination of drawing walks and decent power, especially at a middle infield position, reestablishes Amaya’s fairly lofty preseason prospect status.

THREE DOWN

Ronald Torreyes, 2B
20 years old, Double A Tennessee
May stats: 93 ABs, .172/.248/.258, 1 HR, 8 BBs, 8 Ks

If we were being honest, Torreyes is more of a curiosity than a real prospect. He’s absolutely tiny, will almost certainly never hit for power, cannot play shortstop, and is not a stolen base threat. His one big skill is that he is a contact making machine. But without power or burner speed, the question is how that was going to play out at higher levels. May 2013 might be an indication that the answer to that question is “not well.”

Zeke DeVoss, 2B
22 years old, High A Daytona
May stats: 76 ABs, .211/.319/.211, 0 HR, 8 BB, 17 Ks

Zeke DeVoss is a prime example of why a player cannot just walk their way to the majors. While the ability to get on base is vitally important, at some point  you have to regularly hit the ball with some authority to be  a legitimate prospect. Not only did DeVoss only hit .211 over the month, but he did not have a single extra base hit.

Rock Shoulders, 1B
21 years old, Low A Kane County
May stats: 95 ABs, .200/.315/.453, 7 HRs, 16 BBs, 36 Ks

The greatest name in baseball actually did not have an awful month. Sure, the batting average was bad, but he continued to walk a bunch and hit for power. The big concern is the huge strikeout rate. A 21 year old who is striking out in 30% of his plate appearances in Low A just does not have a great likelihood of ever making it past Double A.

Here is the good news about this list. The three guys I have listed in the Three Up section are all without question Top 15 prospects in the system, and include its best prospect. Meanwhile, the three guys who were in the Three Down were fringe prospects who did not make most Top 20 organizational prospect lists.

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Game 52 – The Wind is Finally Blowing Out in the Cubs Favor

Friday, May 31st, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Travis Wood – .267 (WPA)


As a fan base, often we find ourselves deep in conversation about what is wrong with the Cubs roster. We constantly seek answers and yearn for something different.  With a team that has been haunted so long by infinite obscurity, we- Cubs fans- often have only next year to look forward to. Often we find ourselves in a twilight zone of looking for the next scapegoat for the unlucky roller coaster that many, much longer than I, have been stuck on for so many years.

When the team is playing bad we look to the advanced statistics and say that team just continues to be unlucky.  When the team is on a hot streak you’ll often find the pessimist calling the troops back and tempering expectations because they say we are outperforming.  Look at any comment, most bloggers, and many in the press and you will find those that will constantly state that the team isn’t supposed to be competitive this year.

So why even put a team on the field?

The past three games show why the Cubs field a team.  Games like today show why the game of baseball is so great.  A pitcher, who many thought would be an afterthought this year, belted his second HR of the year; a grand slam for that matter.  Travis Wood, the aforementioned afterthought, also continued his hot streak dominating on the mound.  What were my favorite parts about this game?  It wasn’t the win (that was great and everyone loves to raise the “W” flag).

It was watching Wellington Castillo skipping home with excitement after Wood hit his bomb.  It was watching the guys in the dugout smile, have fun, and build and rally around each other.  It was David DeJesus screaming from first base to second where Wood was standing just to do some sort of gunshot animation.  That’s what winning teams get to do.  They get to exploit the joy of the game and squeeze out more wins.

So although the past three games the Cubs have been dominating a not so good team in the White Sox, you may find yourself asking why is all of the talk of fun so important?  When you are team with a positive run differential and all the advanced stats say you are losing based solely on an unpredictable series of events, maybe fun is the thing that will change it.  I’m not advocating that the Cubs haven’t had fun in the past, but you’ll remember recently when Alfonso Soriano discussed getting tired of losing.  You can remember just the other day when Kevin Gregg got upset about all the talk about deadline deals.  Soriano and Gregg’s comments show that the team wasn’t enjoying what was going on.

Is having fun going to change things?  No, probably not too much.  Yet, when the series of events begin to line up in your favor and pitchers begin to hit grand slams something might be changing. Maybe enjoyment and continuity are the nonrecordable and unaccounted for statistic that may make a difference in a team like this.  A Cubs team that has been dominant with their starting pitching, had a bullpen (although in flux) that has seemed to settle in recently, and had hitters that are driving the ball with authority.

The best thing I found about being a Cub fan is that you will never find more real, diehard fans, who believe in a team.  No matter the situation or naysayers maybe will soon see the year of the Cubs.

The Cubs won this one 8-3 today. They beat a very good pitcher in Jake Peavy.  Maybe, just maybe, the lake wind is changing in our favor.

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GirlieView (05/30/2013)

Thursday, May 30th, 2013

I can’t seem to warm up to this team this year and I don’t catch many games. Instead I’m living vicariously through your recaps and commentary in order to keep up to date. Thank you all for that!

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of 2013 = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • Hire this guy.
  • I have a 50 year-old Mitch Williams closing for the 2014 Cubs. His velocity is definitely down, but his mullet is impressive at a little over three feet long.
  • The Cubs have lurched into second-to-last place.
  • I always love your optimism, Jeremiah.
  • Closest I’ve come to camping was at the Hilton Seattle
  • the underlying work that goes into eating potato salad outside is not worth it.
  • having your little girl grow up to love the Cubs just like you do is the most awesomest thing.
  • You can’t outsmart Lizzie, don’t you know?
  • Jeff Samardzija was a wide receiver at Notre Dame.
  • I had not heard that…where do you get your inside info?
  • pervybigleaguepitcherswhoplayedwidereceiveratnotredame.info
  • if Seymour invites you out to dinner you might want to already have plans and if you do end up at the Subway with him don’t fall for his ‘I forgot my wallet’ bit, he loves pulling that stunt with rookies.
  • Mr Clark, do not wholeheartedly agree with anything the Raker says. He rants and babbles and eats very poorly.
  • we need to all just shut up and let a manager manage his team the way he feels is best. When you get your shot, do it how you want.
  • I’m still evaluating my pitchers solely upon height. Sad to see Volstad go, but Feldman and Shark both stepped up being tall and are pitching quite well.
  • Regardless, the cubs bullpen blows.
  • If we all had the same opinion, you would have to change the title to “BFTB” (Bland From The Bleachers).
  • Everyone wants to be right, some people insist on it, but that doesn’t change that they’re wrong anyway.
  • It’s not a great sign when most of your offense comes from the pitcher two games in a row.
  • Barney needs to start sending me a portion of his game checks. He’s had a huge offensive night 100% of the time when I’ve done the recap.
  • Stewart is a classic ‘Millennial.’ His sense of entitlement is laughable.
  • Marmol, to the others: “OK, so Jackson is the highest paid starter on the team. On the days he pitches, we’ll be awesome. But on the days he doesn’t, we’ll be mediocre at best.”
  • I now understand the title, this was all a ploy to get us talking about cookies to make us happy, instead of talking about the Cubs loss which makes us sad.
  • Crafty one that Cernak kid.
  • and then Jr Raker went yard to deep center for his first walk off bomb of his career.

Lizard

  • The best players are the best because they come in to the game in the tough situations and come through.

Shout Outs

A big shout out to the following contributor who submitted his first (and second!) 2013 Lizzie this time around. We’re happy to have you here!

  • Sean Powell

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson, the Most Valuable Lizzie’er this time around!

Top Ten of 2013 (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Seymour Butts
3. Eddie von White
4. Doc Raker
5. Jedi Johnson
5. Joe Aiello
7. Chuck
8. Buddy
9. Doug S.
10. Jeremiah Johnson
10. Katie
10. Noah Eisner

Chit Chat*

I don’t know whether to thank or swear at the friend who introduced us to a game called Running with Friends (iPhone or iPad) this week. It’s from the makers of the way-more-popular Words with Friends, but it’s completely different. It has nothing to do with words, but rather with running. And bulls. I’m addicted. My user name is elizababble if you’d like to give it a try and need an opponent.**  How about you? What’s your addiction?

* This has nothing to do with baseball.
** I take no responsibility for your lawn not getting mowed because you’re too busy running bulls!

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Game 51 – Wrecked ‘Em? Dioner Killed ‘Em!

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

White Sox 3, Cubs 9

Box Score / Highlights

The Good  Cubs’ backup catcher Dioner Navarro had the kind of day we dream about as children. He hit three homers and walked once, scoring every time he came to the plate Wednesday and driving in six of the Cubs’ nine runs. It was a simply remarkable day at the plate, especially for a guy who came into the game hitting .200 with only three homeruns in fifty-five at-bats.

The Bad  Hard to find anything bad with the game, but potentially bad for the season is Scott Feldman’s ongoing campaign to be this season’s Paul Maholm. Feldman continues to over-perform, holding the White Sox Wednesday to two runs on six hits with seven strikeouts over six innings (my favorite stat–no walks). Is Feldman a long-term building block? Obviously not. But when the Cubs decide to move him and his cheap contract before the trade deadline, he Cubs will be a less interesting, less enjoyable team to watch.

The Ugly  With a seven-run lead in the eighth inning, Carlos Marmol made an appearance in the only situation I can trust him in these days. And while he didn’t completely melt down, he did manage to give up a double, a pass ball, and a run-scoring sacrifice fly. He’s the poster boy for the Cubs’ leaky bullpen, which took another hit Wednesday when the team announced that Kyugji Fujikawa needs Tommy John surgery.

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To Trade or Not To Trade

Wednesday, May 29th, 2013

For the fourth season in a row, the Cubs will be sellers at the trade deadline. This year, however, the Cubs don’t have just one or two pieces that other teams could value. I have started thinking that the Cubs’ front office has noticed two market inefficiencies they think they can take advantage of: (1) the otherwise unwanted starting pitchers who are willing to sign less expensive, short term contracts; and (2) good fielding, left handed hitting outfielders who could be the strong side of a platoon. These, combined with Jim Hendry’s last big move, have left the Cubs with five eminently tradeable assets this season:

Pitchers
Matt Garza, 2 GS, 9 IP, 4.00 ERA, 4.52 FIP, 4.18 xFIP, 12.0 K/9, 7.0 BB/9, 44.4% GB rate
Scott Feldman, 9 GS, 54.2 IP, 2.80 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 7.24 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 50% GB rate
Carlos Villanueva, 10 G, 8 GS, 3.72 ERA, 4.28 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 6.31 K/9, 2.59 BB/9, 45.2% GB rate

Hitters
David DeJesus, 171 PAs, .277/.345/.471, .355 wOBA, 124 wRC+, 8.8% BB rate, 13.5% K rate
Nate Schierholtz, 148 PAs, .288/.320/.496, .348 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 4.1% BB rate, 12.8% K rate

In case you are wondering why some players aren’t noted, I’ll hit on the most commonly tossed about names not present on the list: Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Marmol, and Darwin Barney. Regarding the first two, these are not players who the Cubs will likely get to choose whether or not they can trade for reasonable return. I just do not think the Cubs are going to get serious offers for either in July (and potentially no offers for Marmol), so I did not include them. Regarding Barney, I just don’t think the Cubs are really considering actively shopping the slick fielding second baseman at this time.

Regarding the players I did list, I think the Cubs should trade only two of this season. And both of these players have something a half season’s worth of numbers cannot make up for: reputation. A player with a longer reputation as a successful player will pull more in a trade than someone who may have just arrived to that status. This makes sense, becuase you’d presume a player with that reputation is less likely to just be experience a hot half season. And a team is more likely to receive a return in excess of the traded player’s value for someone with that sort of reputation.

On that note, I think the Cubs should be actively looking to trade Garza and DeJesus. Garza could be the big prize here. While I’ve come to view Garza as a more of a 3 in a good rotation who had one really fantastic year in 2011, it’s clear that others in baseball still see the pitcher with top of the rotation upside who performed extremely well in playoff situations with the Rays.  Garza could add a prospect who would slide in as the fifth best in the Cubs system behind the current big three of Soler, Baez, and Almora, and the number 2 pick in this year’s draft.

DeJesus is what he is: a left handed hitting outfielder who shouldn’t start against same handed pitching, but is well above average as the strong half of a platoon, a plus defender in either corner, and adequate in center. His long reputation for putting up solid numbers in that role should lead to a solid return, although I wouldn’t count on anyone who would make the organizational Top 10 at the end of the season.

Feldman, Villanueva and Schierholtz are another story. Despite doing the exact opposite this year, Feldman has long been known as a guy whose results never met his talent. He has also had injury trouble in the past. Villanueva is viewed as a swingman type, and Major League teams haven’t really figured out how to make the best use out of multi-inning relievers. And this season is Schierholtz’s first extended shot at a starting role.

In my opinion, the Cubs should extend Feldman to what should be a team friendly deal, keep Villanueva until at least this season, and bring Schierholtz back via arbitration in 2014.

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Game 50 – Samardzija Savages The Sox

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jeff Samardzija – .354 (WPA)


Jeff Samardzija
After his May 10th start, I was quite critical of Samardzija’s 2013 form. His last three starts have removed any possible criticism levied against him. Memorial Day against the crosstown rivals was the best start of 2013 for Samardzija – and perhaps of his career. Completely dominant from the first pitch, the Cubs got a complete game shutout two-hitter from the former Notre Dame standout. And all of that on only 108 pitches. The White Sox never threatened; unable to get two runners on base in the same inning until they had 2 outs in the ninth. Best start of the year by a Cub pitcher.

The DH
At the Cell on Monday was the Cubs first taste of an AL park in 2013. With Dale Sveum’s first chance to use the DH, he looked up and down the roster and selected Scott Hairston. Scott Hairston? The Cubs don’t exactly have a readymade DH waiting for these games (unless you count Soriano), but Hairston has started as a DH all of 8 times in his career before Monday. There wasn’t a mountain of evidence screaming ‘you must use Scott Hairston in this situation’ so I’m not going to pretend to know Dale’s thought process. Let’s see who he uses on Tuesday against Chris Sale.

Uniforms
MLB has severe issues with these one-game use uniforms for special days. But the faux camo lettering and numbering that teams donned for Monday’s holiday wasn’t terrible. And when I say ‘not terrible’ I mean there’s no way I would buy anything the players wore, but it also wasn’t so distracting that I felt compelled to turn off the TV. The way he pitched, Samardzija might be looking to wear the camo every time out.

Schedule
A byproduct of the wonky MLB schedule that’s always playing interleague games is this weird stretch that the Cubs now find themselves in (I wanted a sentence as awkward as the schedule). Two games at the Cell, followed by two at Wrigley against the Sox for a disjointed 4-game season series (that’s right, we’re done with the South Siders after Thursday). Then Bob Brenly and the Diamondbacks will be in for 3 games at Wrigley over the weekend, before an off-day on Monday. The Cubs jet to Anaheim for two games with the Angels, an off-day next Thursday and back to Chicago to resume the homestand until June 14. That’s 14 of 16 games in Chicago (12 at Wrigley) over 18 days. Weird.

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Game 48 – A Warning To Johnny Cueto

Monday, May 27th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Wellington Castillo – .380 (WPA)


The Cubs won a good game in 10 today beating the Reds 5-4 on Wellington Castillo double that drove home Scott Hairston. On top of doing to a good team what so many good teams have done to the Cubs this year, things seemed to get out of hand pretty quickly today.  The Cubs kicked the clutch in when it was needed and they may have lost an important piece again in the midst.

Soriano hit a clutch 2R HR in the 8th to bring the game even after Garza was only able to last 4 innings, throwing 96 pitches but striking out a bunch.  Yet, with the game turning out favorably for the Cubby fans, thing did escalate rather quickly.

So today I have two topics that really need discussion:  1) How broken is Fujikawa; and 2) Is Matt Garza going to fight Cueto?

Fujikawa left the game again in the ninth shaking his arm in apparent pain.  This begs the question: How broken is Fujikawa?

48 games in to this tenderly young season we have seen Fuji take a step off the mound, breathe deep, shake his arm, and the trainer sprint out to the mound. That is not good.  Typically with forearm strains, as we have learned over the years as Cubs fans, the prognosis isn’t good, after the first one.  Here we are, number two in the books and looking down the barrel of a significant injury.

I would say regardless of a diagnosis of mild (which at the time of writing the diagnosis hasn’t been made yet) it is cause for concern with the Japanese product.  The scouting report on him coming out of Japan was that he had great command, break, and was an excellent closer, in fact the best in the league over the last few years.  He had a consistent tract record and the only knock on him was that he had some mileage on his arm for a youngish reliever.  I hope that this is something that is caused by him just getting used to a new training program here in the States  If not, the investment, although not huge in dollar amounts, still leaves a glaring hole in an already unstable weakness on the team.  Here is to hoping he turns it around or that the Sanchez kid claimed off waivers from the Cardinals last week figured something out in his one appearance with AAA Iowa.

To tackle the second question: Is Matt Garza going to fight Johnny Cueto? Perhaps.

Matt Garza was hot after the game because of Cueto throwing at DeJesus’ head.  One thing can be said about Matt Garza and that is that he is undeniably one of the best teammates of all time.  He basically said if Cueto wasn’t going to come to talk to him about it he was going to go find Cueto’s locker to talk to him.  The pitch was uncalled for, as any pitch at the head, and Garza wasn’t going to let it go unnoticed.

Garza made statements that would allude to the fact that next time he has Cueto at the plate he would settle the score.  The unwritten code of baseball would say that the next time the Cubs and Reds play, one of the Reds star players gets plunked in the hip and the game goes on, the score settled.  Garza didn’t seem like that is how he intended to settle this one.  Matt made it known that it was a chump move made by Cueto and he took issue with Cueto personally.

This is something to watch for in the future.

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Game 47 – Frustrating Friday Night

Saturday, May 25th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Ryan Hanigan – .318 (WPA)


Friday night started out really nice as the Cubs built an early lead behind Scott Feldman, who has been outstanding of late, only to see that lead slip away and come away with a game one loss.

I was listening to a podcast of Waddle & Silvy on ESPN 1000 yesterday. It was the Wednesday edition because I’m behind and a nerd and like to listen to outdated sports talk. It was the beginning of the show during the cross talk section with Carmen and Jurko and they were briefly discussing Scott Feldman’s success this season. There were mixed views as to if we had seen him peak (I know, we’re still so early in the season) or if he had figured things out as a starter and this is what he had become. It’s exciting to think that the latter may be the case, but on Friday things didn’t quite go his way. To be honest, I don’t know where I stand on Feldman right now. I’ve been kicking around the idea of making him my soap box topic for Monday. What I do know is that this rotation is better than we saw last night. I don’t know what else to tell you. The game was a dud. We have to kick it aside and try to win the other two to win the series. It’s a very winnable possibility with Travis Wood and Matt Garza on the mound to close it out.

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