Archive for June, 2013

Game 61 – Insert Fog Pun Here

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Brandon Phillips – .293 (WPA)


Javier Baez went 4 for 4 with FOUR (4) homeruns for Daytona tonight. This would be exciting in any case, but it’s even more exciting in that it’s part of a recent upward trend in Baez’s performance. He’s now up to .291/.339/.570 with 13 HR and 44 RBI this season playing in what’s known as a pitcher’s league.

Oh…wait. I’m supposed to be recapping the CHICAGO Cubs game tonight. I guess I thought I’d start off with something positive.

Brandon Phillips almost single-handedly defeated the Cubs tonight. He drove in 6 runs and hit a grand slam in the third inning. Scott Feldman actually pitched decently except for that third inning.

Homer Bailey was dominant tonight, allowing just 4 hits and striking out 8 in 8 innings of work. He missed his spots in a few times, but his stuff was so good it didn’t matter.

Honestly, the fog was the most interesting part of this game. There just isn’t much else to say – the Cubs were dominated by the opposing starting pitcher. They did do the “fake rally” in the ninth again. [I feel like I type “fake rally” every time I do a game recap – but that’s truly because the Cubs always give us a teaser in the ninth.]

Starlin Castro

I don’t want to do a bit on Starlin Castro with every recap, but his development is so important to the future of the club, and so much speculation has been swirling about him lately, I just feel the need to write a bit more. Castro actually had a double (which was just fair – but hey, he’s due for good luck) in the ninth to pair with a hard lineout earlier in the game (he was robbed by Brandon Phillips, of course).  The look on Castro’s face after he hit the double was priceless – he looked to the heavens and let out a big sigh as to say, “about time, bro.”

Relatedly, I was listening to the Fringe Average podcast with Mike Ferrin of MLB Radio Network and Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus today (I highly recommend it if you haven’t checked it out). Parks was discussing organizations’ hitting philosophies and how he disagrees with instilling a “blanket” hitting philosophy on all the hitters in an organization. He said that some hitters are naturally aggressive, instinctive, “see-ball-hit-ball” hitters, and that he believed that it was misguided to try to turn those guys into high OBP players who take tons of walks – this takes away what makes the player great in the first place. Does this sound like anyone we know? After I listened to the podcast, I took to Twitter to ask Jason Parks about how that idea applied to Castro – here’s our Twitter conversation:

@powell_sean @ProfessorParks on latest FA ep. you mentioned not applying blanket philosophy to all hitters. How do you think that applies to Castro/Cubs?

@ProfessorParks @powell_sean I think its very applicable to Castro; he’s an aggressive hitter that makes a lot of contact and doesn’t walk. That’s who he is

@powell_sean @ProfessorParks I was thinking Castro during that segment. Just hope Cubs haven’t tinkered past the point of no return

For the record, I don’t think we’re close to past the point of no return with Castro, since he’s only 23. Even though I would love to see him increase his walk rate a little, we know he’s never going to take tons of walks, so I’d rather have the old Castro who is making contact (and getting hits in the process), even if he’ll never be the high OBP player we thought he might be. Time will tell in this process, but it’s always interesting to see a “national” prospect expert weigh-in on Cub-related matters. OK dear readers, I’m off to sleep – hopefully, I will dream of Baez bombs landing on Waveland Avenue.

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What Ever Happened To…..Tyler Colvin

Monday, June 10th, 2013

One of my guilty pleasures for online reading is “where are they now” type posts. I love to click on posts that show what people who stared in my favorite shows as a kid are doing now. I don’t really know why, because if they did anything noteworthy, I would already know about it. If they didn’t, then what is the point in knowing? Still, I like them. It got me thinking about past Cubs and I decided to make a series out of it. Every now and then, we’ll take a look at some former names to see what they’re up to now.

Tyler Colvin was a player that I really enjoyed following from the time he was drafted to the time he left the organization. He was a guy I had planted a flag on as believing in.

HOW ACQUIRED - Colvin was drafted by the Cubs 13th overall in the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft and was immediately looked at as a guy who was picked higher than he should have been simply because the Cubs could sign him for less money and use the excess funds to sign Jeff Samardzija who was selected in the 5th round that particular round due to the fact that he had not fully committed to a baseball career. That doubt caused him to fall despite the first round talent he possessed. Money was needed to give him the big league deal that would cause him to commit. By drafting Colvin and signing him to a smaller than market signing bonus in the first round, it caused him to forever have the stigma that he wasn’t really first round talent.

TIME WITH THE CUBSColvin would play in the minors for the Cubs from 2006 – 2009 before being called up very late in September of 2009. He started the first game of big league time he saw and went 1-for-3 with a single and a sacrifice fly. 2010 saw Colvin battling for time and never really getting a good shot to start on a consistent, every day, basis. He slugged a very respectable 20 home runs and finished with an OPS+ of 113 despite finishing the season on the disabled list after being hit by a shard of broken bat on his way home after Wellington Castillo doubled him home. The shard would puncture his lung and, in my opinion, end his career as a Cub. 2011 saw a different player. The development regressed dramatically, I believe, due to the mental recovering that needed to take place after the incident the previous year. He would again split time in the outfield, but this time perform extremely poor.

HOW HE LEFT – The end of the 2011 season saw the end of the Cubs career for Aramis Ramirez, which opened up a hole at third base as wide as the one that was left when Santo vacated the position. With Josh Vitters not deemed to be ready to take over his heir apparent position, Theo and Jed set out to find a filler and stumbled upon Ian Stewart who, like Colvin, had worn out his welcome and was on the trade block. Both players had drastically underperformed and were considered expendable. On December 8, 2011, Colvin was traded along with DJ LeMahieu to the Colorado Rockies for Casey Weathers and Stewart.

WHERE IS HE NOW?The 2012 season was a rebirth for the Colvin career. Given 450 at bats for the first time in a big league season, he hit .290 / .327 / .531 with 18 home runs (55 xbh total). It appeared that not only was the trade deemed a complete and utter flop for the Cubs, but that Colvin had finally figured things out. Unfortunately, a poor spring training cause the Rockies to make a rather rash move and start him in AAA. He was recalled by the Rockies on Saturday and is now with the big league team.

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Game 60 – Edwin Jackson Ain’t Bad

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Boxcore / Highlights

Star of the Game- Cody Ransom (.311 WPA)


Edwin Jackson finally did what he is paid to do.  Pitch.  Eat Innings. Win ball games.

Last time he was on the bump I asked whether he really was that bad.  The answer, after looking at some of the more advanced statistics, was that he wasn’t nearly as bad as his ERA and W-L record would lead you to believe.  Most likely resulting from a bad sequence of events and missing pitches at the wrong time.

He came back today and did his best Jeff Smardzjia (not yesterday, but you get the point) striking out 8 over the course of 7 innings. His performance lowered his ERA almost an entire point down to a still inflated 5.76.  The game today saw Jackson work in and out, up and down, and pitch with good velocity consistently throughout the game. That may have been the most surprising element of the game, his velocity.

Today saw Jackson pitch consistently with his fastball at 94-96 MPH with good life.  So where was that towards the beginning of the season? Was a nagging little injury keeping him back?  Was the prospect of a new city swaying his focus?  We may not know.  What we would like to see is Jackson continue to pitch like he did today.

Oh, Cody Ransom.  I almost forgot him. The San Diego Padres forgot about him after giving him only 11 PA. (Okay he had all of 0 hits)  He has since come over to the Cubs in 22 games and hit for .270 batting average, with ten of his seventeen hits being of the XBH variety. (5 HR)  He also has stuck out at a Brett Jacksonesque 34.8%.  Yet, I think I can safely say that I enjoy his place on this team.  He is playing good defense, has been a pretty clutch batter, and definitely provides a veteran presence on the young squad.

Good on him for being the player of the game today.  He only made a diving stop and pretty play.  And he hit the game winning three run HR in the 8th.

One last thing. Carlos Marmol. See boxscore above. 1-2-3. Strikes. I don’t know.

Discuss.

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Game 59 – Shark and the Offense Come Up Flat

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – A.J. Burnett – .302 (WPA)


Ugh. What a dud. I looked forward to this game all afternoon – I got my work in at the gym early, did some chores, and settled down for a nice afternoon of Cubs baseball. Way to ruin my day, guys! At least I had the last day of the draft to obsess over.

Jeff Samardzija has dominated the Pirates in his career with a 0.84 ERA in 5 previous starts. So, you’re probably thinking that he’s going to go out and just crush them again, right? Wrong. Jeff floated everything up in the zone, and the Pirates’ hitters (yes, the Pirates’ hitters) teed off on him all afternoon. His splitter didn’t have the usual devastating downward dive – something was obviously off. I thought he was going to get back on track after he got a double play ground ball to get out of the second inning allowing only one run, but it just wasn’t his day. He wound up with a line of 6.0 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 7 SO, 1 BB.

Of course, it didn’t really matter how Shark pitched today, because the offense did absolutely nothing. The only Cub runs came on Soriano’s 2-run homerun with one out in the ninth (by the way, Soriano was due after a few near-misses in the last couple of games). A.J. Burnett was solid, going 8 1/3 innings and only allowing 4 hits (he did walk 3). I will say that the Cubs offense did run into quite a bit of bad luck. They had several line drive outs and were putting good wood on the ball for most of the game. Perhaps the hitter who had the worst luck – which came at the worst possible time for him – was Starlin Castro

Starlin Castro

So, let’s talk about the topic du jour – the struggles of the Cubs’ shortstop. Over his last 78 plate appearances coming into today’s game, Castro was hitting an atrocious .153/.218/.194 (his 0 for 3 today dropped his season average to .247). He’s taking fastballs right down the middle early in counts and swinging wildly at breaking balls outside the zone after he gets down in the count. Obviously, the Cubs coaching staff has tried to make adjustments to Castro’s approach and instill in him the “selectively aggressive” mindset that is part of the Cubs Way. [For the uninitiated, “selectively aggressive” essentially means that a hitter should look for pitches they can drive early in the count and lay off anything that isn’t what they’re looking for – it sounds simple, but it takes discipline and a great batting eye.] The idea with this method is to turn Castro into an all-around offensive force who has a high OBP in addition to getting tons of hits (and hopefully increasing the power numbers as well). Castro did walk more and hit more homeruns last year than in previous years, but he just hasn’t gotten on track this season in any regard. Some have speculated that he may have too many voices in his ear, and others have suggested that playing on a losing team is sinking his motivation and focus. Dale Sveum seems to think that mechanics are at least part of the issue. Sahadev Sharma did a great piece on this topic (I suggest you read it in its entirety) – http://www.csnchicago.com/cubs-talk/starlin-castro-battling-through-adversity-plate – and he quotes Sveum in the article:

“It’s an everyday battle right now,” Sveum said. “Whether it’s his mechanics are bad or it’s in the head. I’d like to see him back to where he was back in 2010 and 2011 when there was a lot less movement going on. He thinks they’re the same mechanics, but they’re not the same mechanics from when he came up to the big leagues or even 2011. It might look the same, but there’s way more movement when the pitch is being delivered.”

As JD pointed out during the telecast, these mechanical issues are something that have to be worked on over time in the batting cage before games. It’s not like you can tell a guy to stop doing something that’s developed into a habit and it will be fixed right away. If Castro is dedicated to getting better (there’s no reason to think he isn’t), and he maintains his motivation (which will have to be intrinsic, since he’s not playing for a contract), he should be able to make the necessary adjustments and get back to hitting the ball consistently. Today was the smallest of sample sizes, but he hit hard line drives all day. If he keeps that up, those line drives are going to eventually start falling for hits.

As for those that are calling for him to be traded immediately – he’s at his lowest possible value right now, so that makes no sense. Additionally, it’s not like there is a shortstop in the minor leagues pushing him for a spot. Javier Baez, if he even sticks at short (which I doubt) is still in class A ball and is at least 2 years away from the big leagues. I think it’s best that Castro goes through these struggles now in a “lost” season. After all, he’s only 23, and these sorts of struggles are bound to happen in a young player’s career. If he hasn’t put it together in a couple of years when the Cubs are ready to start competing, the team will have to look at other options. Until then, Viva Castro!

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Game 58 – Who Are the Building Blocks?

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Francisco Liriano – .469 (WPA)


Have you ever gotten so excited to watch a game only to be completely disappointed and deflated when it was done? You wonder what in the world you got excited about in the first place. That was the feeling I had coming into today. I hadn’t been able to watch a full game in a couple weeks, being busy with work and what time I did have spent watching the Blackhawks run, so I was pretty excited to DVR Friday’s game and watch it last night. I looked to see what the pitching matchup was scheduled to be and was thrilled at what I saw. The score at home app was ready and I was jacked. As I sit here on Saturday morning and tap the keys on my laptop, I can’t figure out what I was excited about. Was I thinking that the Cubs had miraculously gotten an offense to be proud of? The game left me with a blah taste in my mouth. Not bad, just blah. I came away from the game with two main thoughts, both with the future in mind.

WHO ARE THE BUILDING BLOCKS? – As I watched this team on Friday, I began to look forward to the team on the field in, say, three years. Let’s pretend for a moment that the team at that time is not only competitive, but also a World Series contender. Close your eyes for a minute and think about what that team looks like. Who is on that team? Are there names on that 25 man roster that played in yesterday’s game? If so, who are they? I tried this exercise and I’ll admit, I had a hard time coming up with a lot of names that I felt fairly confident penciling their name in as a building block that would be here when this team is productive. Travis Wood was the first name that came to mind because of how well he’s developed. Keith Law was on the radio the other day saying he still felt Wood was a back end of the rotation starter, but that he was useful. I think that ceiling is too low and see him as a # 2. I can definitely see him being a part of the future team. Anthony Rizzo is another name I came up with, but I actually wondered if he’d be a part of this team not solely due to his potential and production, but rather because Theo and particularly Jed seem to be obsessed with him. He’s the equivelant of what Nick Swisher was to Billy Beane in the Moneyball book. He simply has to be on this team or they’ll wet themselves with anxiety. Beyond that, I was hard pressed to find a name. More and more, I wonder if Starlin Castro will be on this list. I have a feeling he won’t. I just don’t see him fitting the mold of what this regime wants on the field and I think he’d be dealt at some point. Maybe I’m missing the boat, but I see a team right now with a lot of guys who will be used as tools in an effort to acquire the talent to bring this team a winning pipeline of talent, and a lot of organizational fillers right now. It’s hard to see a lot of talent beyond that.

DID WE MISS THE MARKET ON DARWIN BARNEY? – Last year, as we headed into the non-waiver deadline for trades, there were pretty serious rumors that the Tigers were interested and kicking the tires on Darwin Barney, who was busy having a gold glove year at second base. In the end, nothing materialized, but the talk was there. Yesterday saw Darwin (a player I really like) go 0-for-5 out of the leadoff hole with three strikeouts. The performance saw his season numbers dip to .213 / .293 / .335. He’s still able to field with the best of them, so there is value there, but for a team hurting for offense, we may have missed a nice chance to trade a no-hit good field infielder for more building blocks.

GAME NOTES

  • Luis Valbuena very much got jobbed in the bottom of the 8th as he was called out swinging on a pitch he clearly held up and checked his swing. Valbuena turned and pleaded with the home plate umpire, Jordan Baker, to ask the third base umpire for help. Unfortunately, officials these days are too prideful and want to make things about them. They routinely have this in their head that people pay to see blue. As a result, Valbuena takes a seat.
  • Starling Marte completely took a hit by pitch on purpose in the top of the 9th. He never even moves as the pitch hit him on the arm. I thought maybe he’d be called out for it, but unfortunately he wasn’t.
  • Jason Grilli had flat out funk nasty stuff yesterday. That dude had some wicket movement on his pitches. I don’t know much about how pitch f/x works, but I bet it would show some junk being thrown by him.
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3 Up, 3 Down – The Front Office’s First Draft Review

Friday, June 7th, 2013

While The Front Office continues to add talent to the minor league system today in their 2nd run through of the MLB Rule 4 Draft, I thought I’d take a look at the regime’s first draft in 2012. While we can’t make a final decision on the successes and failures quite yet, let’s look at some notable performances thus far. I’ll ignore the first two picks, Albert Almora and Pierce Johnson, as they should be the most successful. And we’ll skip the 3 Down portion since most draft picks don’t amount to much anyway. And me and the wife just had our 2nd baby girl and frankly, I’m just tired. The only real “down” player would be 3rd round pick Josh Conway, who blew out his arm again. So let’s look at some successes outside the Top 50 selections of the 2012 draft:

THREE UP

Stephen Bruno, 2B/IF
7th Round, #224 overall
22 years old, currently in High A Daytona
Career stats: .361/.441/.492 in 370 plate appearances
23BB/63K,  27 doubles, 3 triples, 3 home runs

Bruno has hit. Simple as that. He hasn’t shown much power or patience and his strikeout rate is mediocre so I’m not too high on him as a prospect. But hard to argue that a 7th round 2B hitting over .360 with a .440 OBP isn’t a success. The jump to AA is always a tough one, so we’ll get a better grip on his potential in 2014.

Bijan Rademacher, RF
13th Round, #404 overall
22 years old, Single A Kane County
Career stats: .295/.351/.389 in 356 plate appearances
28BB/53K, 19 doubles, 1 triple, 3 home runs

Also getting a few innings on the mound, Rademacher has the arm for right field, but not the power. He’s making a lot of contact this season (only a 11.7% K rate, down from 17.2% in 2012) and has nearly as many walks as K’s (16 to 18). His power is nearly absent with only 6 extra base hits this year, but he could become a 4th/5th outfielder. Doesn’t sound like much, but wouldn’t it be better to have one in the system rather than spending millions on the Scott Hairston’s of the world?

Michael Heesch, LH SP
8th Round, #254 overall
23 years old, currently in Single A Kane County
Career stats: 79.2 IP, 3.50 ERA, 1.218 WHIP
6.4 K/9, 1.6 BB/9, 0.2 HR/9

Heesch is one of the few pitchers taken that is pitching in full season ball this year. He’s a bit old for Kane County, but shows good control and high groundball rates (52%) that may allow his lack of K’s to succeed as he climbs the ladder. He’s a big dude at 6’5″, 245 lbs and a left handed thrower. John Arguello over at Cubs Den has seen him in person around the 90-91 MPH range with good movement on all his pitches and thinks he has a shot at becoming a big leaguer. For an 8th rounder, that would be a success.

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Day 1 – Draft Recap

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Did you sit through the MLB coverage of the draft last night? Two thoughts: 1) compared to the NFL and NBA drafts, the production value of MLB is, well, er, not as good; 2) Harold Reynolds can go away now, thank you.

Speaking of comparing drafts – Twitter exploded after the Cubs’ first pick with complaints about the Cubs not filling a need. Well, this is where we have to remind ourselves that, unlike players drafted into the NFL and NBA, players drafted by major league teams almost never make immediate impacts on the big league club. It’s about acquiring assets – many of whom will be traded and eventually play for other teams (or never make it to the big leagues at all). Smart teams don’t worry about who is already playing a certain position in their minor league system; they take the best player available – especially if it’s an early pick in the first round. As Jason McLeod said, the Cubs were never going to select a player based on need, and that is the right strategy in MLB.

#2 Kris Bryant

For several weeks now, many Cub fans in the blogosphere have debated whether the Cubs should select Mark Appel, Jonathan Gray, or Kris Bryant with the second overall pick, with many (most) assuming that it would be one of the two pitchers. Before the draft, I felt that I would be happy with any of those three, although I guess I was rooting for Appel just a bit (I suppose the Stanford thing swayed me somewhat). With Appel going off the board to the Astros at #1 overall, the Cubs had their choice between Bryant and Gray. The Cubs elected to go with Bryant, the powerful third baseman out of the University of San Diego. Subsequently, ESPN’s Bruce Levine reported that Appel was #1 on the Cubs’ board, with Bryant at #2 (Jason McLeod said that Gray’s positive Adderall test didn’t cause them to pass on him, although we’ll never really know). Even though the Cubs may have preferred Appel if they had their choice, you can’t be disappointed that the Cubs selected the biggest power bat in the draft – at least the Cubs didn’t make the choice based on signability or other external factors.

In 62 games this season with San Diego, Bryant hit .329/.493/.820 (that’s an OPS of 1.313, folks) with 31 HR, 62 RBI, 66 BB, 44 K, 80 R, 7 SB. I’m going to pause here for a moment so you can read that line again. This is my favorite ridiculous Bryant stat: he personally out-homered 228 of the 296 teams in Division I baseball. The BB/K ratio is excellent. Although we can’t read too much into college stats (especially since he wasn’t playing in an elite conference), all the scouts seem to agree that his power is legit. Read this report from Mike Rosenbaum and allow yourself to drool a little:

“Epitome of a power hitter; presents plus-plus raw power to all fields; chance to boast elite power at maturity with improvements; loose hands and wrists; quick trigger and reaction time; outstanding bat speed; power should always be there even if average isn’t; showcases impressive barrel control through the strike zone; excellent hip rotation creates extension through the baseball; favorable point of contact off a firm front side; generates backspin carry to all fields; power will translate with wood.”

Some scouts have commented that he may hit around .260-.270 or lower in the majors, but, as we all know, if he can walk and hit for that kind of power, he’ll be a great player to have.

Jason McLeod said that Bryant has the attributes of a middle-of-the-order hitter in the major leagues that can play at a high level for many years. Although Bryant’s power would play at any corner spot, he’ll be even more valuable if he can stick at third base. He’s 6’5″ 215 lbs. with room to grow, so I’m skeptical that he’ll stick at third once he matures fully. However, the Cubs will play him at third to start, and he’ll be given an opportunity to stick there – let’s hope he does!

After the Cubs selected Bryant, I got the feeling that they would repeat last year’s strategy of drafting a high-profile position player with the first pick (Albert Almora last year) followed by a tidal wave of pitching selections. It looks like the wave got rolling with their second round pick.

#41 Rob Zastrynzny

With the 41st pick (the second in the second round), the Cubs selected Rob Zastrynzny from the University of Missouri. I really thought that the Cubs would go with Hunter Green out of Warren East H.S. in Kentucky with this pick (Holden did a great overview of him), so I was surprised to see Zastrynzny go here (by the way, Zastrynzny is going to make all of us use copy-and-paste a lot). At first, I was a little bummed – Baseball America had him ranked 76th, he was ranked 81st by Perfect Game (at Baseball Prospectus), and he wasn’t ranked in the top 100 by MLB.com. (Were the Cubs hoping to sign him way under slot in order to pay Bryant over slot, or were they trying to save money for later picks?) However, after reading the Baseball Prospectus (Perfect Game) write-up, I feel much better. Here’s a portion:

“…Zastryzny has seen his draft stock steadily rise through the course of the spring and could hear his name heard as early as the second round. The 6-foot-3, 195-pound southpaw was undrafted out of Corpus Christi, Texas high school despite going 17-1, 0.20 with 198 strikeouts his senior year. He stepped into the Missouri rotation early in his freshman year and has built his upper-80s fastball into a pitch that now tops out at 94 mph with excellent sinking and running life at times. Zastryzny’s best secondary pitch is a low-80s changeup that has very good arm speed and matches his fastball in life and in his ability to spot the ball low in the zone. His third pitch is a curveball that is a workable offering in setting up hitters, but it is not currently a swing-and-miss pitch.”

The key there is that he has increased his fastball velocity to 94 – Zastrynzny definitely seems like a prospect on the rise. A tall lefty who has a moving fastball at that velocity sounds intriguing. I’m legitimately excited about this pick now (as excited as an Illinois grad can be about a player from Mizzou), and I’m looking forward to following his progress. After all, none of the players chosen in the second round are sure things, so this is where the front office guys earn those big salaries.

It will be interesting to follow the rest of the Cubs’ draft starting today. I expect a torrent of pitching selections, with a few position players thrown in here and there (I wouldn’t be surprised to see a catcher selected sometime early on). Although we’ll never hear about most of these players again, it’s a fun time of year for those of use that follow prospects. Enjoy!

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Northside Archives: No Batter, No Batter

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

The Cubs lineup, as currently constructed, has evidenced an obvious problem early this season. It has not one bona fide hitter. This fact holds back the Cubs in almost every series. A couple of guys get on base, and you start looking down the lineup for someone who you could count on to get a big base hit. And you keep looking…and looking…Rizzo hasn’t earned a reputation for that yet, Castro’s prolonged slump sees his average in the .250s – sometimes I think we’re more likely to walk in a run than hit it in with the bases loaded.

And this team is loaded with bad hitters. Guys who are poor to awful at getting hits. It might even be a record setting group before the year ends.

Above .280
Right now, Nate Schierholtz is the only qualifier who is hitting above .280 – you have to go back to 2002 for a Cubs team that had only one player finish the year above that mark. In fact, from 2003-2010 at least 3 qualifiers finished above that mark (with 7 players accomplishing the feat in 2008). It was Sammy Sosa, who at .288 paced the 2002 squad. Most seasons (in large part thanks to Cub greats like Grace, Madlock, Santo, Banks, Sandberg, Williams, etc.) the Cubs had at least one player finish above .300 – so to not have a player crest .280 would be significant. Right now the only non-qualifiers above the mark are Ryan Sweeney and Travis Wood.

All Below .280
But what if Schierholtz drops below .280 and no one moves above that mark? That would be nearly unprecedented in Cub history. You have to go all the way back to 1917 for the last time that the franchise didn’t have a single qualifier finish with a batting average above .280 – 95 years! And it’s possible that we’re headed that way this year. Rizzo, Soriano, Castillo, DeJesus, and Castro could all finish above the mark and I wouldn’t be surprised. But none of them is a guarantee to get there at this point. Schierholtz’s career numbers have it possible that he’ll stay north of .280 – but not a certainty by any means.

Does It Matter?
For one year…no. It’ll be more of a novelty (in 2011 the Cubs had two hitters finish over .300 and it didn’t do them a lot of good). But to validate this rebuilding process, the Cubs need hitters – badly. So it does matter that the Cubs obtain and groom hitters. With Rizzo at the plate and the bases loaded in the 10th inning on Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but think that one run probably wasn’t going to do it. And with two outs, it seemed to be asking a lot for both Rizzo and Soriano to reach base. The Cubs needed a hit. From Rizzo. And thankfully he delivered a bases clearing double. When Kevin Gregg fell victim to Mark Trumbo in the following inning, the point was accentuated. They’re called hitters for a reason – not ‘base-reachers’ – and right now, the Cubs don’t have a single reliable ‘hitter.’

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Game 57 – Extra Inning Excitement

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Cubs 8, Angels 6

Box Score / Highlights

Like Jedi, this two-game series in Anaheim was my first chance to see the 2013 Cubs in person. And while you tend to miss a lot of the game when your group includes four children under the age of four, here’s a few things I walked away with from the Cubs’ extra innings win over the Angels.

Anthony Rizzo is a cool guy; he’s trying to help you. Prior to his single in the ninth inning, Anthony Rizzo had grounded out to first in each of his four at-bats. That’s the kind of night that can get into a hitter’s head; the kind of night that makes him start pressing in the wrong places and squandering late-inning opportunities. But not Rizzo. He came up in the tenth inning with the bases loaded and two outs–the exact kind of game-changing situation so many other Cubs’ sluggers have disappeared in in the past. Instead, Rizzo offered up the biggest hit of the night–a bases-clearing double to right, breaking the tie and giving the Cubs a protect-able cushion for the bottom of the tenth. Put it this way: a lot of hitters can inspire hope. Rizzo inspires confidence. In that situation there’s no one I would have rather step up to the plate (at least while Castro’s mojo is still AWOL).

Viva la Garza. I’ve been in the less-than-optimistic camp when it comes to Matt Garza’s return to form, but he seems to be doing well so far. Wednesday wasn’t the best performance I’ve seen from him, but it was better than serviceable, and therefore, better than what I expected. (Also in the better-than-expected camp: Ryan Sweeney.)

Trumbo in paradise. Much has been said already this season about the Angels’ high-priced roster of underperforming sluggers. What looks on paper to be a partial All-Star lineup has fallen far short of expectations, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a shakeup in the near future. One name that should be in demand is Mark Trumbo. On several other teams, he’d be one of the marquee players. For the Angels he fades into the background, despite his performance. Wednesday night he went 2-for-4 with two homers, driving in a third of Anaheim’s runs for the game and looking every bit the top-shelf hitting talent his teammates are paid to be. With a surplus of OFs and 1Bs who can hit, expect the Angels to shop Trumbo. And if Wednesday night was any indication, expect him to have several suitors.

If I could reach you, I would hit you. I cannot bring myself to trust Kevin Gregg with the baseball in his hands. Even if he’s been one of the Cubs’ most consistent relievers this season, he doesn’t inspire confidence when you watch him on the mound. In fact, he inspires the opposite of confidence. It’s an intense, concentrated worry; like the inescapable  feeling your bladder is about to explode, and you’re a great distance from shelter and a fresh pair of pants. And it’s all compounded by the still-vivid memories of his first, disastrous go-round with the Cubs. Gregg received the win for Wednesday’s effort, but the terminology is deceptive. He outlasted the Angels. Or better still: his ineptitude was overcome by theirs. (On a side note, I hit up the Portillo’s in Buena Park on the way home last night, along with what seemed to be most of the Cubs fans who attended the game. Amidst the crowd was a mildly jubilant, less-mildly drunk Cubs fan who was complaining about our shaky bullpen. He wanted me to know he was pleased we survived an inning of Marmol, even though Marmol never took the mound Wednesday. So I guess congratulations are in order for Hector Rondon, who it seems is officially the drunk man’s Carlos Marmol.)

Trip advisor. Since Southern California is a vacation destination, and there’s a good possibility that some readers might be heading out this way in the coming months, I want to give you a brief heads-up on the baseball situation in the greater LA area. Unless you’re a fan of rampant profanity, territorial aggression, drunken brawls, and a general lack of safety, I’d encourage you to skip Dodger Stadium altogether and instead head down to Angel Stadium. Seriously, the Anaheim crowd is friendly, peaceful, and into the game. None of that seems like an achievement until you’ve visited Dodger Stadium. But I strongly suggest you don’t.

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