Archive for September, 2013

The Last Three Weeks Still Matter…Kinda

Friday, September 13th, 2013

I am finding it increasingly more difficult to watch this team and it’s making it near impossible to write about them. I have a few things in the works for the off-season already that are Cubs related but not necessarily this team related, however, I don’t want to burn those ideas now and then be struggling for writing material when there won’t be bad baseball to discuss. I am sure everyone here is feeling the same lack of inspiration that I am. It’s hard to follow a bad baseball team and recycle the same thoughts day after day after day. With the minor league season coming to an end, there’s even less to talk about.  Yet there’s still meaningful baseball to played for some of the Cubs players and I want to tackle the little things I’ll be watching as the season winds down.

1) Has Starlin turned it around?  Sveum has said recently the past few weeks were the best Starlin has swung the bat all year, but Castro followed that comment up with 3 straight 0-fers. He’s seeing more pitches than ever (usually a good thing) and his defense has went from abysmal to pretty good since the end of June but he’s still hitting in the low .240s (even after a very solid July hitting near .300 for the month).

2) WTF Jeff Samardzija…  You got many people to label you the ace of the staff (myself included) after a dominant start to the season where you ranked top 15 in nearly every major pitching statistic and then you put up a terrible 2nd half which has seen your numbers skyrocket beyond mediocrity? Also what’s with the home/away splits? You’re overall numbers on the road are nothing short of dominant yet you’ve become completely incompetent at home?

3) The roller coaster that is Junior Lake. Up, down, up, down, up… down? Depending on where you set your arbitrary end points you can make any argument you want about Lake this season. Take away those first 7 games, and he’s been below par. Look at only August and he was “meh,” but look at his numbers since Aug 1st and he’s been very good after a very hot start to September. His batting average on balls in play is still not maintainable, but since those first 7 games, it’s at .337 and with his speed that is a reasonable number; yet he’s only hitting .254/.298/.352 in those 34 games.

4) How does Scott Baker perform over these last few starts? We just paid him 5M to rehab this year, so we should have the inside track in resigning him if we want to. We have a vacant rotation spot so Baker’s last couple weeks are very important for evaluating him. Keep an eye on his pitch repertoire and velocity because he was only a 3-pitch pitcher in his first start relying heavily on sinkers and sliders with an average velocity sitting at only 88mph.  When Baker was good, he had a healthy 5 pitch arsenal including a changeup and curveball to go with a low 90s velocity.

Links for your viewing pleasure

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Love and Other Stuff

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

For the first time in, well… ever, I have a serious girlfriend. We’ve been dating for a while now, and I’m happy to blame her for a considerable amount of my recent silence here on VFTB.

Being in a serious relationship has forced me to ask all kinds of questions I’ve never had to consider before; it’s also revealed just how few good answers I really have. One of those questions–and perhaps the only one pertinent to this blog–is “How do I talk this woman into caring about the Cubs?” And frankly, I didn’t have a clue where to start.

Some of us were born Cubs fans, while the rest chose to jump aboard one of the many doomed bandwagons along the way. But when it comes time to sell someone else–especially someone you care deeply for–on a team as historically snake-bitten as the Cubs, where do you begin? How do you look your significant other in the eye and knowingly invite her into our world of dashed hopes, frustrated plans, and annual depression? Wouldn’t it actually be more loving to encourage them to cheer for another team?

Obviously we don’t have a rich championship history to draw on. But even the history we do have is a fairly mixed bag–really, who’s attracted to endless stories about near-misses and late-season collapses? We’re also a little short on colorful characters these days. Apart from Ernie Banks, are any former Cubs legends all that endearing or engaging? We love them because they’re our guys, but would a stranger to the team really want to hear Billy Williams or Fergie Jenkins wax eloquent about the good old days? And the current roster isn’t much better when it comes to catching and holding the interest of the casual fan.

In the end, Wrigley Field might be the team’s only selling point. However, it is an extraordinarily strong one. How many Cubs fans point back to their first visit to Wrigley–that first plunge into the intimate sea of green ivy and grass–as the moment they fell in love with the Cubs? How many die-hard fans started out as casual bleacher bums during their college days? How many lifelong fans fell in love with the team on endless summer afternoons spent in the stands? I’m convinced if you could take someone to Wrigley Field, you could get them to love the Cubs. Or at the very least, tolerate them.

As it turns out, my girl is a pretty good sport, so she didn’t take that much convincing. So far I’ve dragged her to three Cubs games during their recent West Coast trip, and they managed to win two of them. I told her she’s good for the team, and that I need to take her to as many more games as possible. We’ll see if she buys it.

Elsewhere, the Cubs broke out the bats Tuesday night behind Edwin Jackson, pounding the Reds for nine runs on four home runs, including two from Welington Castillo and one from Jackson himself. You can see all the highlights of the drubbing here.

Jesse Rogers thinks we might be on the other side of Starlin Castro’s extended slump. Hooray!

Pete Ricketts is running for Governor of Nebraska. The article also serves as a good primer for any fans not up on all the Ricketts’ political leanings.

And finally, the Cubs have released their schedule for the 2014 season. Am I the only one who, despite this dumpster fire of a season, looks at this and starts making plans for next summer?

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Wood finally beats his former team. Cubs shutout the Reds 2-0

Tuesday, September 10th, 2013

by Rob Willer

The Travis Wood trade has been an interesting one for both ball clubs over the past two seasons. Sean Marshall was a workhorse for many years in the Cubs pen and was due for a hefty raise as a reliever. The Cubs maximized his value and traded him to the Reds for Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes. Torreyes was traded to the Astros this year for international slot money which has proven to be quite valuable as it helped the Cubs sign some very impressive international talent. Sappelt has bounced around from the majors and minors this year and seems to be a fourth outfielder at best for his career recently designated for assignment. The real get in the trade for the Cubs was Travis Wood.  The 26-year-old Wood has enjoyed a breakout campaign with the Cubs thus far in 2013, pitching to a 2.79 ERA with 6.3 K/9, 2.8 BB/9 and a 33.7 percent ground-ball rate. He was 0-4 in his career against the Reds which of course included three losses this season against the pesky Reds. The Reds now are 13-4 against the Cubs this season. Wood went seven innings allowing six hits and fanned seven. Wood got his 22nd quality start and it was a beauty.

Kevin Gregg gave up a double in the ninth while earning his 31st save in 35 chances. Just think about that for a second Kevin Gregg has 31 saves after the Cubs got him for literally nothing probably one of the best in season moves this year. Pedro Strop continues his stellar performance out of the pen pitching a scoreless eight. His 2.93 earned average with the Cubs is very encouraging. Overall with the Cubs Strop has appeared in 29 games and turned in 26 scoreless relief outings.

Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena homered off Bronson Arroyo (13-11), who had won his last four starts against the Cubs. These would be the only runs of the game for each team as the Cubs would muster enough offense to get their all-star a win. The Reds squandered a perfect chance to be with in a game of first with 17 games to go in the regular season. After last night’s loss the Reds sit at 2 games back of the National League Central Leading Cardinals. If you look at the top three teams in the National League Central their playoff efficiency percentages range from 99.0 to 99.8 tough year to compete folks. Side Note: The Pittsburgh Pirates have clinched an above .500 season for the first time since 1992. Another astonishing stat that 21 years have passed since they finished above .500. We are only in our second year of the Epstein rebuild folks if we can above .500 in 2015 I’ll take it.

It was the Cubs’ sixth shutout this season which kinda surprised me that they had that many as team. The Cubs go with Edwin Jackson (7-15), who leads the NL in losses. Yippee 19 million dollars for 15 losses. Can’t wait for his second year under contract.

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September Call Ups – A “Thank You”

Monday, September 9th, 2013

I finally have another chance to write.  To share some of my thoughts.  It has been one crazy Summer.  In the midst of it all I got an opportunity to join this community and I can’t say thank you enough for welcoming me to it.  I used my writing as a way to draw my attention away from studying for the bar when I needed an absolute break.  Well, thank you.  It was helpful, I passed the NC Bar, first try.  Thanks for reading my stress relief and helping me stay sane by discussing something I love with others who are just as, if not more, passionate. I promise I will tie this in.

With all the yucky lovey-dovey thank yous out of the way let’s get to the Chicago Cubs.

So here is what has been the burning thought on my mind recently.  September call-ups- are they a thank you or are they a try out?

The Thank You-

During September you see a lot of guys get the call who have worked their butts off in the Minors all season; most who have toiled their for quiet a while. At times you will see the prospect for the proverbial “cup of coffee” but mostly it some of the older minor leaguers in a kind of see-what-you-got-left deal.  I wouldn’t say this is really the try-out, this is more of a thank you.  A reaching out to some of the folks who hung around and took a little stress off.  The guys that were always there just-in-case.  Well, for the most part that scenario didn’t pop up and their was no reward during the season.  So here comes September.  Let’s call it Christmas in September for the career minor leaguer.

I believe in and understand the role of September expanded rosters.  It gives some of the veterans a chance for a breathier and allows for teams in contention to really try to make a one last ditch effort for a push to the playoffs.  Cool. I get it and like it.  I even like the idea of the thank you; most years.  Not this year.  Show me prospects.  Show me something juicy.  I have waited impatiently all season whilst a minor league team was passed off for major market professional baseball team.  So no thank you to the thank you.  Give me the other alternative.

Current “Thank You” Callups- JC Boscan, Donnie Murphy (although he did come earlier), Darnell McDonald, Brian Bogusevic

The Try Out-

This is what September is about when your team has looked like a pile of dog excrement in one way or another for the majority of the season.  Don’t get me around there is a lot of promise on the horizon.  Unfortunately, my MLB.TV subscription that I paid for this year doesn’t offer rain-checks for when the team takes off.  So here is to the future.  Cheers.  Now put some of them on the field. I like the influx of young arms brought up.  I like acquisition of Daniel Bard although we won’t see him this year.  I can even understand the Scott Baker call-up (although worse case scenario I see us paying him 5 million to rehab all season and he signs with someone else in the off season).  Alberto Cabrera should be pitching. Justin Grimm should be pitching. The same for Rosscup and Chang-Yom Lim.  So why am I complaining?  Mostly because as my wife will tell you, that is what I do.  I am a pie in the sky type of guy.  I just wished everyone else was.

Here’s my pie in the sky.  Mike Olt seeing a little time.  Josh Vitters playing a little outfield (if he was healthy).  Heck, show me some Szczur.  I know that last one is a stretch.  Bring them up and let them travel; see what the life is like.  Let them watch the top tier guys as they go through the hardest of the grind day in and day out.  Give them a big league at bat against a really scary pitcher.  Why not?  Who is going to lose playing time that it is significantly going to affect their development? No one (that was an easy answer).

The way I see it “Try  Outs” are better than “Thank Yous”.  Give me more prospect, less last hoorahs.

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Racks on Racks on Racks? The Cubs Financial Sitch

Friday, September 6th, 2013

We heard from two of the Cubs’ leaders this week in regard to the team’s financial situation….well, it doesn’t sound too rosy. On Sunday, Theo Epstein gave an interview to WSCR in Chicago and, among many other things, gave his thoughts about the team’s ability to spend on free agents:

“We simply don’t have the payroll flexibility that we would need for a quicker talent infusion given some of the limitations and timing of our business plan and the realities of a lot of circumstances surrounding the ball club right now.”

That sounds bad, doesn’t it? Obviously, we don’t know just how much this is a bit of posturing to put pressure on the stakeholders involved in the renovation discussions – or how much is a hedge in case 2014 is as long a season as it appears it will be. Given the popularity of the Cubs – and how valuable the franchise is overall – it may seem obvious that the Cubs could have a top-end payroll if they wanted it.

Well, things may not be so bad. Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts spoke to Gordon Wittenmyer on Wednesday, and he said that the long-term rebuilding strategy, not money, is the main reason that the Cubs won’t be going after high-priced free agents this winter. From the Wittenmyer piece:

“I know it’s not a money issue,’’ Ricketts said of the methods the baseball department is using to restock the farm system and overhaul the organization — and the consequent results at the big-league level. “You can’t just throw money at the problem. We have to build the organization from the ground up. And that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Despite these quotes from the front office (or perhaps because of them) we still don’t really have a clear picture of the team’s finances. For me, it actually doesn’t matter at this point, and here’s why: spending big on free agents this off-season isn’t going to do anything for the long-term development of this team into a consistent winner. First, I don’t see any young, big-time free agents becoming available this off-season that would really be the kind of player that could help turn a franchise around. Second, the timing isn’t right: it would be better to sign a major free agent or two to compliment the young “core” (whatever that winds-up being) so that the team is ready to compete top-to-bottom when they’re ready – we’re not there yet. Third, and this is a secondary concern, I don’t want to block any up-and-coming prospects before they have a chance to show what they can do in the big leagues.

The one free agent I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cubs pursue (in fact, I would love it) is Japanese right-hander Masahiro Tanaka. Tanaka is considered by most scouts to be the best Japanese pitching prospect since Yu Darvish, and he has top-of-the-rotation potential (some have said he may have the best splitter on the planet). He’s only 24, so Tanaka would fit the mold of a player who could be in his prime when the Cubs young “core” is ready for the bigs. I’d love to see the Cubs go all in on him (and if they don’t win the bid…please, please don’t let it be the Dodgers!).  John Arguello over at Cubs Den seems to think that the Cubs will be in on Tanaka, so we’ll see.

OK, Cubs fans, I have a question for you. All of us that read, and especially post (and especially write articles!), for Cubs blogs are obviously die hard fans who have stuck – and will stick – with this team through the tough times. However, even Job had a limit, so the question is this: when, if ever, will you throw your hands in the air and stop caring about this team? I’m not asking if any of you would ever stop being fans of the Cubs (I doubt any of you would say that), but will there come a time when you’re just going to refuse to put in any emotional investment? I know that I haven’t been watching all the games lately. My classes have started back, so I’m busier than I was most of the summer, but I’ve also grown a little weary. Moreover, I’ll have to admit that even though I root for the Cubs to win every game I watch, I’m actually hoping that they lose when I don’t watch. I want the better draft pick next summer (although I always hope that Castro and Rizzo have good games). So, when will it be for you? Middle of next season? 2015? Will you ever stop checking Cubs blogs or keeping up with the farm system? I’d love to hear what you think.

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