Archive for May, 2014

Friday Cubs Trivia

Friday, May 30th, 2014

This year we saw a really weird occurrence where Jeff Samardzija pitched out of his mind and had zero wins to show for it. There were stats galore about if it had even been done before. I haven’t posted much about it this season, but I’m a big fan of Baseball Reference and their play index tool. I used that to come up with some questions. See if you can guess when the last time these events happened and by who.

Q. When was the last time a position player pitched for the Cubs in a game?

A. Click here for the answer. Prior to that, you have to go all the way back to here.

Q. When was the last time a Cubs pitcher gave up 9 runs or more and still got a win?

A. It’s happened four times, but the most recent was here. Poor Samardzija.

Q. Who was the last Cub hitter to qualify for the batting title based on number of plate appearances, but hit under .200?

A. Mike Olt has hope because this guy did it in 1981

Q. Who holds the Cubs record for most games falling a single short of the cycle?

A. This guy has done it twice. Here were the individual games.

Hopefully that was some fun for you on this Friday. Here’s hoping for a series win against the Brewers this weekend.

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GirlieView (05/29/2014)

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

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 the 2014 Season = 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. Let’s get to it!

Lizzies

  • I know umpiring is a tough job and perfection is not expected but a little humility would go a long way.
  • I saw a 4 top of umpires at Chrissy Ruth’s steak house, the porterhouse was outstanding.
  • I’ll be honest though, I went to bed last night with the Cubs up 7-2 and can’t say I was sure they would get the win.
  • Pre O.C. Raker would probably not have driven a Toyota minivan off the lot and told his buddies he had a SUV.
  • No minivan’s in the Raker household, ever. Mrs Raker does not care for minivans.
  • It is always good to know who the boss is.
  • The only difference between your SUV and a minivan is a sliding door and a bunch of Cheerios mashed into the upholstery.
  • The ghost of Marmol continues to haunt me.
  • Why 8 bullpen arms? The Cubs are so devoid of major league hitters why have an extra position player when the extra bullpen guy hits just as well as anyone else in the line up. This way we have an extra arm and an extra automatic out all in one.
  • I assume the playoff odds increased based on Monday’s game since last night sure didn’t insprire any additional hope for me.
  • Going from .9 to 1.2 is no small deal. Let’s enjoy it.
  • Don’t kid yourself, we are really at -218% which is on the wrong side of a snowballs chance in hell. 1.2% means we should of at least won one world series in the past 100 years and we all know the answer to that.
  • Baker to Rawlings for one box of gamers.
  • “This also depresses me that this is our topic – Trades and Smokies
  • At least batch cooking and spreadsheets are interesting. No wait that depresses me too.”
  • We know more than we want to know.
  • I’m thinking Hammel goes first, not that it’s what I want.
  • The Cubs just may have found their third baseman going forward as they move into their window of competing.
  • Heard from one of my brewers freinds today that Bob Ueker introduced him on the broadcast with “his era is just over 2 touchdowns”
  • Long time no hear………………the Cubs are having a losing season so far just to bring you up to speed….
  • Sorry for being away so long. Bob Brenly and I have been following Mister Mister around the country on their latest tour of state fairs. They rock.
  • I guess when I think of the “complete game” era, I think of the 50s and earlier. The time when bringing in a relief pitcher was an insult to your manhood.
  • Interesting fact: Rizzo has approximately 25% of the team’s walks so far this season.
  • Anthony Rizzo has shown tremendous maturity and patience at the plate, Shark is pitching out of his mind, Mike Olt has shown RIDIC power, and some of the young bullpen arms look outstanding.
  • This is an article that warms my heart to see, both because Casto is so much better but also all the statistical evidence. There almost should be a spreadsheet attached.
  • Keep an eye open for our missing Johnsons on your travels.
  • To sum up: Castro is getting better with age.
  • A very diverse Cubs site with other topics ranging from food to fitness, personal grooming to star wars, musical preferences and spreadsheets. I’m bracing for what’s next.
  • We need to quit wasting time on star wars themes and get back to our basic premise… dick jokes.
  • That’s a funny name…who is he?
  • I bet this ends well.
  • I’ve shoveled non-colloquial shit. It takes time. At least we’re not talking about a bunch of dudes on the fast track to Japan and Trey McNutt, even though those are some of the best things to talk about.
  • where is trey?
  • Post-op. Goes by Deuce now.
  • Impatience is for the masses that didn’t understand the organizational dysfunction of the Milton Bradley era.

Lizard

  • Being a Cubs fan is a lifestyle choice that I gladly make every day.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout out to Luke Jett for his first 2014-season Lizzies this week! Yay!

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Thanks for being here!

Top 10 of the 2014 Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. jswanson
2. Doc Raker
3. Seymour Butts
4. Eddie Von White
4. Joe Aiello
6. Doug S.
7. Chuck
8. Dork
9. Chet West
10. Jerry in Wisconsin

Chit Chat

I’ve asked this a few times now but for me it changes often and maybe for you too! Who is your favorite Cub right now? Is this a change from the beginning of the season?

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Resetting What it Means to be a Cubs Fan

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

In the summer of 1984 I was 15 years old.  Summer of ’84 saw Ghostbusters, The Karate Kid and the Chicago Cubs have their best season in almost 40 years.  It was glorious! We had Ryno, Zonk, the Sarge, the Bull, and Rick Sutcliffe went 16-1. The ’84 squad is my favorite inclination of the Chicago National League ball club and will possibly never be topped. In the end…they lost…and I truly cried.

In 1989 I was in college and the Cubs surprised to win the National League East. I didn’t expect the Cubs to beat the Giants in the NLCS, therefore I took the loss healthier than in’ 84. (no tears)

In the 1990’s, Greg Maddux was my favorite player. $500,000 and a horrid front office decision kept him from being a Cub for life. The Cubs let one of the best pitchers in the history of the game walk away in his prime. This one stung for quite a few years.

In 2003 I was 35 years old with a family. The loss to the Marlins caused me a sleepless night…bordering on a nervous breakdown. If you have read my book you also know that this was a catalyst for a more mature life change…and lead me to writing that book.

In the 2000’s, Mark Prior and Kerry Wood were to be the next Koufax and Drysdale, or at least Glavine and Maddux…that didn’t work out quite as expected.

Are you depressed yet?

If I sent some of you scurrying to get a prescription for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, I apologize…that was not my intention. To the contrary, recalling these tragic events will begin to serve my point.

What are your earliest memories of being a Cubs’ fan? I remember getting teased from Sox fans in my neighborhood…or kids who really didn’t declare a team.  If they did root for a non-Chicago team it was the Yankees, or Dodgers…or another perpetual winner.  The kids would torment me about the loser Cubbies, and I didn’t really know how to fight back.  The Cubs have been losers more times than not…what was I supposed to say?  Almost 40 years later I realize that hidden within my Cubs’ love were qualities that would lead to accomplishments in life.  Reflecting back, I have had more success than many of those neighborhood kids. Is the reason the fact that I am a Cubs’ fan? No…but it plays a part.

I don’t give up.  In fact, this is the coping strategy I use to deal with stress in my life.  We all have days where “life kicks our a$$”.  As I am lying in bed at night after one of those days, I say to myself; “You got you’re a$$ kicked today…but tomorrow, you are going to scrape yourself up…and go in and fight again” Many times, I will get my a$$ kicked a second straight day.

Now before you view this as self-serving back-patting, allow me to elaborate in relation to being a Cubs’ fan.  I consider myself to be a Rockyologist. I have seen every Rocky film multiple times. (eh, Rocky V only 3-4 times) I am an absolute sucker for them, never mind the fact that all 6 are essentially the same story re-hashed.  Out of all 6 Rocky films I have one favorite scene that will never change.  You might presume it to be a fight scene or one of the many training montages. Nope…simple dialogue from a scene from Rocky II:

Apollo Creed is meeting with his advisors regarding strategies to lure Rocky to fight him again, after narrowly winning by decision in their first bout. Apollo insists on drawing Rocky out of his “retirement”, Apollo’s trainer and closest confidante Tony Duke suggests they go after “new meat”.

APOLLO: “What are you afraid of Tony?”

DUKE: “….Honest?”

APOLLO: “Yeah, honest.”

Duke looks back at the other advisers and approaches Apollo at his desk and speaks quietly…

DUKE: “He’s all wrong for us baby…I saw you beat that man like I never saw no man beat before…and the man kept COMING AFTER YOU! We don’t need that kind of man in our lives.”

Cubs’ fans…that’s us! How often have we had our hearts ripped out of our chests? We have had our hopes and dreams obliterated and snatched away when they were close enough to feel and touch.  We have ridden emotional roller coasters that constantly crash into a fury of despair.

…but we don’t stop.  We keep coming back…keep coming after it.  Others may scoff at this as naivety or stupidity…and our own insecurities have let that define us.  Resilient, irrepressible, tough…these are words we never hear used to describe Cubs’ fans…but we are.

I bet some of you could tell a story of a relative who has passed…a Cubs’ fan “up to their dying days.” I heard these stories all the time when I was at the Cubs Convention this year.  People who spend their whole lives dreaming, hoping…not giving up. Cubs’ fans should wear this as a badge of honor; instead we get labeled as Lemmings with paper bags over our heads that plunge into season after season.  Change the narrative!

“Yes, I am a Cubs fan…I will never give up!”

Next time a fan of a team that resides approximately 7.1 miles south of Wrigley derides you for rooting for “losers”….simply say:

“Yeah, I am not going to quit now. Quitting is the easy thing to do…that’s why some teams can’t get fans to show up to their games”

I know other fans have suffered greatly (I see you Cleveland!), but no team has endured the history of the Cubs.  Embrace it! Market it! Instead of using “Committed” and showing a guy with a Cubs tattoo on his head…present an older fan who has been through it all…and he or she will never give up.

There are great fans in all of sports, and I find it silly when the title of “best fans” is attempted to be quantified.  Cubs’ fans are not better fans than any other fans…yet our history differs from any other team.  There is no team that has missed as often as the Cubs…but generation after generation keeps coming back.

Some of you may find this corny, cheesy or whatever other food related reference to infer a naïve world view.  That’s fine… call it whatever you want…but I observe people quit in life often, in many avenues of their lives.

Cubs’ fans don’t…and instead of embracing the lovable losers’ moniker…we need to embrace a new image. “Wait ‘til next year” is a punch line used on the Cubs’ quite frequently.  Here are a few alternatives I would prefer:

We’ll be back.

Knock us down, we’ll get back up.

100 Years of Resiliency!

Still fighting!

You think 95 losses will get us down…Hah!

Okay…so that last one is kind of a joke.

I will finish my Cubs’ Psychology lesson with one final thought. Remember that neighborhood kid I mentioned that would root for the Yankees, or any other winner? Well, even an arm-chair psychiatrist like me can figure out why some kids do that…they are afraid…most likely of losing. Say what you want of Cubs’ fans…but we are definitely not afraid of losing!

Neither is Rocky…and that’s what makes him dangerous. Cue the theme music!

Da da da da dada da dada da..da da da da dada da dada da

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How Are the Top 5 Prospects Doing?

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

Heading into the season, near unanimity existed regarding the identities of the Cubs’ top prospects: shortstop Javier Baez, third baseman Kris Bryant, center fielder Albert Almora, right fielder Jorge Soler, and right handed pitcher C.J. Edwards. Some publications put Edwards higher than Soler, some put Edwards behind all the position player prospects, but these were the Cubs’ top five prospects. Now, with nearly two months of play, behind us, how are they doing, and when can we expect to see them in Wrigley Field? Just as a note, all of my estimated times of arrival for theses prospects presume that the Cubs do not do something crazy like win 20 of 25 games to get back into contention. Of course, should the Cubs miraculously end up competing for a postseason spot, the timelines for at least some of these prospects, particularly Baez and Bryant, could speed up to improve the Major League team for a stretch run.

Javier Baez
Triple A Iowa Cubs, Age 21.
.225/.287/.437, 7 HRs, 33.5% K rate, 7.2% walk rate, 4 SB, 1 CS

Had this posted prior to May 17, just ten days ago, Javier Baez’s 2014 season would have been an unmitigated disaster. Through May 16, Baez was batting .145/.230/.255 with just 3 home runs and a 36.9% strikeout rate, looking wholly over matched as the youngest player in the Pacific Coast League. In the past ten days, on the other hand, Baez hit .439/.444/.927 with four home runs and a much more manageable 24.4% strikeout rate.

It’s possible Baez’s struggles were due in part to an early season injury. After struggling in his first few games of the season, Baez appeared to be turning it around early before going on the disabled list due to a badly rolled ankle, and struggled even more greatly upon his return. On the other hand, Baez may have been destined for a fairly extended struggle in his first season in Triple A. He had starts upon his promotions to both High A and Double A before making the adjustments that eventually allowed him to dominate the Florida State and Southern Leagues, and his approach, which involved swinging as hard as he could at any pitch he thought he could make contact with, was one that more advanced Triple A pitchers could take advantage of. There’s also the distinct possibility that this is just a hot streak, as opposed to Baez making real adjustments.

Either way, Baez’s extended early season struggles lead me to believe that Baez will not see the Majors until early to mid-2015. The extremely elevated strikeout rate, plus the extreme extent of Baez’s struggles through mid-May, give the front office more than enough reasons (or excuses, if you’d prefer to phrase it that way) to leave Baez in Iowa to get a full season of playing time at Triple A, and it’s unlikely the Cubs’ would add Baez to the 40 man roster in September, in turn removing someone else, to burn MLB service time in games that, for the Cubs, have a strong chance of being rather meaningless.

Kris Bryant
Double A Tennesse Smokies, Age 22.
.337/.431/.641, 14 HRs, 27.9% strikeout rate, 11.8% walk rate, 6 SB, 2 CS

If any prospect in the Cubs’ system has been close to a complete success, it’s Bryant. Not much could be said about Bryant beyond what the statistics already show you. Bryant is tied for the Southern League lead in on base percentage, leads the Southern League in home runs by 4, leads the Southern League in slugging percentage by more than 100 points, and leads the Southern League in OPS by nearly 130 points.

Bryant’s sole issues in his first full professional season have been an elevated strikeout rate and defensive issues at 3B. Bryant will always strike out a fairly high amount, but is a more complete hitter who can get around that issue as opposed to Baez, who has a greater chance of striking out too much to every reach his power. While prospect comparisons are dubious, I have been thinking something along the lines of a right handed Jim Thome as far as the contact/walks/power are concerned. Bryant has also made far too many errors at 3B, and the Cubs may be looking to move him to an outfield corner.

Which is precisely what I think the Cubs will do when they promote Bryant to Triple A in the next 45 days or so. As with Baez, I do not think the Cubs will promote Bryant to the Big League club this season, but he will an every day player in Wrigley Field sometime early of mid-season 2015. Meanwhile, I’d expect to see Bryant manning right field in the Pacific Coast League over the last two months of the season or so.

Albert Almora
High A Daytona Cubs, Age 20
.266/.287/.364, 2 HRs, 10.5% K rate, 2.2% BB rate, 3 SB, 3 CS

No one’s start has me more concerned than Almora’s. His offensive struggles in  the extremely pitcher friendly Florida State League is not exactly a surprise because Almora lacks elite power, but precisely due to that lack of power Almora needs to be able to get on base to succeed offensively. It’s not that Almora is Emilio Bonifacio as far as power is concerned, but he’s more a guy that will top out around 15 home runs at his peak.

A 2.2% walk rate is not going to allow Almora to get on base enough, even with the extremely low strikeout rate. The word on Almora when he was drafted in 2012 was that he had an extremely advanced approach at the plate. At some point, that approach will have to lead to Almora getting on base much more than he is now, or Almora will no longer be a top prospect.

I find it unlikely that Almora will get a mid-season promotion to Double A Tennessee this season. As such, best case scenario is likely an early to mid-2016 debut in the Majors, and that is dependent on Almora getting on base at a much higher clip than he currently is.

Jorge Soler
Double A Tennessee Smokies, Age 22
.333/.407/.625, 0 HRs, 18.5% K rate, 11.1% BB rate, 0 SB, 0 CS

That batting line on Soler looks really nice, right? The problem is that he compiled it in only seven games due to a couple of leg injuries leading to a pair of disabled list stints, including one he is on right now due to a hamstring pull. The injuries are of the minor variety, but his career to this point has been hampered by such relatively minor injures. He needs to show he can stay on the field.

If Soler can get healthy, stay healthy, and produce, he could still be looking at a mid-2015 promotion to the Majors.

C.J. Edwards
Double A Tennessee Smokies, Age 22
4 GS, 20.2 IP, 2.61 ERA, 3.03 FIP, 8.71 K/9, 3.48 BB/9

Heading into the season, no one questioned Edwards’ stuff, which is top of the rotation quality. However, they did question whether his extremely thin frame could hold up to a starter’s work load. He started the season pitching quite well. Not as well as he pitched in 2013, but quite well nonetheless. Unfortunately, Edwards then felt some tightness in his right shoulder, and has been shut down since April 20.

The good news is that Edwards’ issues are not structural (in other words, they’re muscle related instead of joint and/or ligament related) , and Cubs’ brass indicated that, had Edwards been an MLB veteran as opposed to a young prospect, this is the sort of discomfort he likely would have pitched through. The bad news is that this adds fuel to the fire that Edwards’ future is in the bullpen, reducing his value in any trade, and that Edwards will not be back with the team until after the All Star Break (although it’s unclear whether the team was referring to the Southern League break in mid-June or the MLB break in mid-July).

Edwards was a pitcher some thought could see some time in the Cubs’ bullpen later this season. That is likely out the window at this point. Edwards could see the big league club as a reliever sometime in 2015, though, and potentially move into the rotation in 2016, if all else goes well.

Next time, we’ll look at a handful of the Cubs’ less known and less heralded prospects, including the two prospects most likely to make meaningful contributions on the Major League roster in 2014: right handed starting pitcher Kyle Hendricks and switch hitting second baseman Arismendy Alcantara.

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World Champs Struggling, Big Names Come Back & More!

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Another week, another load of baseball news to wrap up. This week was no different, and there were certainly some out-of-the-ordinary stories that deserved some attention.

Red Sox Sink Deeply Into Slump

To say that things haven’t went how the Red Sox expected this year would be a drastic understatement. They currently sit in last place in the AL East (one of the weaker divisions in baseball this year) and are on a horrific losing streak.

They’ve lost 9 games in a row, including a heart breaker against the Rays on Saturday in which they led at one point 5-0. They went on to lose that game in 15 innings, and that game serves as a good example of how their season has went as a whole.

Injuries have played a role in this, with Xander Boegarts and Shane Victorino both missing extended time this season. Overall, though, the team has just been completely incapable to string hits together.

The team didn’t lose it’s 28th game until June 14th last season, and they’re digging a hole that will be incredible difficult to get out of. Signing Stephen Drew was a step in the right direction in my mind, but more than a few players are going to have to get hot for them to have a chance this year. Do you think the Red Sox will end up making the playoffs?

Cubs Defeat Tanaka

THE CUBS HANDED MASAHIRO TANAKA HIS FIRST LOSS SINCE 2012!

Two Aces Return To Form

Unfortunately to start off this season, we had two of the best left-handed pitchers in the game put on the shelf after just a few starts. Both are obvious Cy Young contenders, and they each showed that as they made their way back from injury.

First, Clayton Kershaw returned to his award-winning form after getting roughed up last week. Against the Phillies, Kershaw threw 6 innings of 2-hit baseball, and struck out 9 batters on his way to his third win of the season.

Over in Chicago, Chris Sale came back with a bang after suffering a flexor muscle strain back in the middle of April. In 6 innings against the AL East-leading Yankees, Sale racked up 10 strikeouts and surrendered just 1 hit for his 4th win of the year.

It’s truly enjoyable to watch both of these guys pitch, and the fact that they’re only 25 (Sale) and 26 (Kershaw) makes it even better. What are the odds that each of these two win the Cy Young in their respective leagues this year?

Olivo Takes Notes From Tyson

Miguel Olivo, a career major leaguer, has found himself toiling in the minors over the past couple of seasons. Understandably, this shot to the ego could be a bit frustrating, but his actions towards a teammate were completely unexpected.

Olivo, who was playing in AAA for the Albuquerque Isotopes (Los Angeles Dodgers affiliate), reportedly got into an altercation with infielder Alex Guerrero, who the team signed for $28 million this past offseason.

While clubhouse fights aren’t all that uncommon, the fighting style of Olivo was certainly out the ordinary. In a page taken straight out of the Tyson vs. Holyfield playbook, Olivo bit a piece of Guerrero’s ear off.

Of course, the Dodgers released him. At 35-years old, this might be it for the veteran backstop. While he had a pretty solid career that spanned a few organizations, he’ll undoubtedly be remembered for this incident. Is this the weirdest story from baseball this year?

Fielder Done For The Year

The baseball world was stunned this offseason when the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers completed a trade that sent Prince Fielder to Texas straight up for second baseman Ian Kinsler. So far, the early returns heavily favor the Tigers.

While Kinsler has become a steady bat at the top of the lineup for the World Series favorite Tigers, Fielder has gotten off to a slow start, hitting just 3 home runs and batting a lowly .247.

If the reports coming out lately are true, this season will be getting even worse for Prince. It is being reported that he will need season-ending neck surgery to correct a herniated disk in his neck, which is a big blow for both him and the team.

The Rangers have struggled to keep pace in the competitive AL West, and the loss of Fielder might cripple their chances of making the playoffs. After being expected to be one of the biggest bounce-back players of 2014, it’s safe to say that things haven’t gone Fielder’s way. Is there any way that he can return to the level of play that he was at in Milwaukee?

This Week’s MVP: Michael Brantley (.419/.500/.742, 2 HR, 7 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: C.J. Wilson (2-0, 0.59 ERA, 10 K)

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