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5 Things Cub Fans Need To Know on August 24th

Monday, August 24th, 2015

By Jerry Burns

Wrigley Playing Large

Braves 3 @ Cubs 9 — After playing like a pitcher’s park for most of the season, the Cubs are enjoying Wrigley Field’s return to occasional hitter’s haven status. Chicago belted five home runs Sunday, with Dexter Fowler starting the party to lead off the game. Kris Bryant’s two-homer game and Miguel Montero’s three-run blast were the real killers. Kyle Schwarber broke an 0-for-11 start to the series with a solo shot. While I’m naturally wary of a team’s offense being sustained by home runs, it’s hard to argue with the Cubs’ recent run. In their last 10 games they have five games of three home runs or more, three of those at Wrigley, and now have back-to-back big home run outings after hitting four Saturday. They’ll eventually have to generate runs without the long-ball (see: night games at AT&T Park), but let’s enjoy the ride.

Player of the game: Kris Bryant (3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R)

20 Games Over .500

The last time the Cubs were 20 games over .500 was 1945. Put those pennants away, folks, there’s a long way to go for the Cubs to return to the World Series. The most important part of this figure is the Cubs’ four-game sweep of the Braves, which means they controlled their own destiny as the Pirates and Giants played out a four-game set in the Wild Card race. Chicago exits Sunday up six games on the Giants, while training Pittsburgh by three.

Back on Track

After a few rough starts, Jason Hammel returned to first-half form Sunday. The scary thing with Hammel as the Cubs make a playoff push is how bad his second half was in Oakland in 2014. The good news, his year-to-date numbers are very close to his full season numbers last year. From a Saber standpoint, Hammel is slightly better — so far — with a 3.64 FIP and 3.40 xFIP (compared to 3.92/3.57 in 2014). He is also striking out more and walking less. Beyond that, his peripherals: BABIP, ground ball, home run and left-on-base rates are within 4 percent or less of last year, spelling mostly good news. Hammel’s first half of 2014 was the anomaly, and this year he’s been more level throughout. Expect much of the same: Some good, some bad, but a good option for a No. 3 starter if the Cubs find themselves deeper than the Wild Card game.

Down on the Farm

At the big club, Addison Russell left Sunday’s game with groin tightness, begging the question: If he has to be out for an extended time, does Javier Baez get the call? If so, he’ll split time with Starlin Castro at shortstop and Chris Coghlan at second. This has been a trying year for Baez with his sister’s death delaying his season and an injury derailing a hot start. But in 55 games at Triple-A he’s lowered his strikeout rate to 25.2 percent and maintained the same walk rate. Along with that, Baez has hit .304 with 12 home runs, 55 RBI, 15 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 137. Very impressive. I don’t trust him to be the top prospect that Bryant, Schwarber and Russell are panning out to be, but his hot bat would be welcome with this homer-happy squad. And, it might not be a bad idea to make him playoff eligible.

What’s On Tap?

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 22nd

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

by Nate Head

A New Streak Is Born

BRAVES 3 @ CUBS 5 – The Cubs won their second straight game against the Braves yesterday by a score of 5-3. Kyle Hendricks started for Chicago and continued his dreary slump on the mound, giving up three earned runs and seven hits in just five innings. The absence of pregame batting practice hasn’t hindered the Cubs’ offense, as they continued to hit, and as good teams do, took advantage of sloppy fielding from the Braves and benefited from two earned runs off Atlanta starter Shelby Miller. Kris Bryant and Miguel Montero thumped back-to-back RBI doubles in the sixth, and Chris Coghlan belted his 15th home run of the season in the opening frame. Four Chicago relievers (Jason Motte, Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop, and Hector Rondon) combined for four scoreless innings, as Motte notched the W and Rondon the save.

My Player of the Game: Miguel Montero (2-4, 2B, RBI, R)

Hendricks Humbled

For a while there, 25-year-old Hendricks was one of the best fifth man of the rotation pitchers in the league. Lately, Hendricks’ production has begun to spiral downward, as he has given up at least three earned runs in five of his last six starts. Last week, the Chicago Tribune reported that Hendricks has been determined to alleviate his recent woes and amend his apparent mechanics problems by analyzing game film of himself in slow motion. I don’t mean to harp on Hendricks too hard because despite his struggles lately, he has exceeded expectations this year and is certainly an asset at the end of the rotation. On the bright side, the team has won the last five games Hendricks has started in—can’t complain about that.

Playoff Tickets

Chicago’s magical season has officially become surreal. Yesterday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the Cubs’ front office mailed playoff ticket invoices to season ticket holders, who have first dibs on these potentially priceless tickets. Joe Maddon’s team still has 42 games left on the campaign, but there’s no denying it anymore—the Cubbies have a genuine shot at slithering into the playoffs via the recently expanded Wild Card format. Fans immediately raised a brow at the news, and superstitious folks can’t believe Chicago’s brass jumped the gun; because, you know, “the curse.”

Coghlan is Crushing Baseballs

Chris Coghlan has been raking lately. So far in August, Coghlan is hitting a respectable .289/.333/.578, highlighted by a pair of sharply hit triples and three timely dingers. The truth is that Coghlan has been underappreciated all season, likely due to his abysmal .251 batting average. But, if you dig deeper than that, Coghlan’s true impact is brought to light. His versatility on the diamond has enabled Maddon to put out the best possible lineup every game, and his .778 OPS is the second highest of his seven year career, while his .336 SLG is third. Also, who would have thought that Coghlan (who hasn’t surpassed double-digit bombs in a season prior to this year) would be third on the team in home runs in late August?

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THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1933 – Bill Veeck suggests the idea of a mid-summer series of inter league games and proposes a split-season schedule format. Although the Cub president’s concept of games between two circuits receives some support, Senator owner Clark Griffith opposes the proposal, calling the American League a major league not in need of grandiose schemes he deemed as “Hippodrome stuff”.

1982 – The Cubs pay tribute to Ernie Banks when the team retires the outfielder’s uniform number (14) that he wore for 19 seasons. The Hall of Famer, who retired in 1971, is the first player in the 106-year history of the franchise to be honored in this manner.

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on Aug 7

Friday, August 7th, 2015

by Nate Head

Ace Up

Cubs LHP Jon Lester is taking the mound on only four days rest today. On Monday night in Pittsburgh, Lester pitched 1 1/3 innings before the game was delayed and eventually postponed. The Chicago southpaw only tossed 31 pitches while yielding one run to the division foe Pirates. Lester excelled in the month of July, where he posted a 1.66 ERA in 43 1/3 innings. Lester has assured manager Joe Maddon—as well as the media—that he is ready to take the ball again and the Cubs hope he can continue to build on his recent momentum, beginning with this start in game two of a pivotal series against the Giants.

Missing Montero

It feels like Cubs catcher Miguel Montero has been absent from the team for an eternity. Montero suffered a thumb injury in mid-July that put him on the 15-day DL. Recently, “Miggy” began a rehab stint with the AA affiliate Tennessee Smokies, and he clubbed a grand slam last night. According to Carrie Muskat of MLB.com, the 32-year-old catcher could rejoin the team as early as Saturday. Montero’s eventual return has drawn plenty of attention, as many wonder how Maddon can squeeze him into the lineup without taking at-bats from Kyle Schwarber, who has absolutely thrived in Montero’s place. A solution that is gaining popularity is the thought of moving Schwarber to left field and using Chris Coghlan as a utility player. Coghlan can play all three outfield spots, third base, second base, and even first. Coghlan’s versatility enables Maddon to give rest to his young lineup down the stretch while keeping Schwarber’s scalding hot bat in the lineup.

Bring up Baez?

Javier Baez’s surge at AAA Iowa mixed with Starlin Castro’s abysmal hitting has begun to crank up the rumor mill, suggesting the promotion of the Chicago’s 2011 first-round draftee may be on the horizon. Prior to last night’s contest, Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer addressed the matter by denying that Baez is coming to Chicago soon. “We would love to get him going and not just for a week to 10 day hot stretch,” Hoyer said in a report by Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Baez is hitting .306 with 11 home runs, but the playing time rotation is tight. Where would he fit? It’s easy to look at Castro’s plunging stats, scoff, and angrily send a tweet begging for Baez. But, at this point, Starlin’s experience itself is more valuable to the Cubs right now, who already boast four rookies in the lineup in the midst of an aggressive wild card push.

Heated Hammel

Cubs RHP Jason Hammel was visibly frustrated by Maddon’s decision to remove him from the game after just four innings in last night’s 5-4 win. Hammel started the game with three scoreless innings before Brandon Belt hit a two-run home run in the fourth. Hammel’s command was shaky in the fifth, and his night ended abruptly when Maddon replaced him with reliever Justin Grimm after two consecutive walks to begin the frame. Maddon showed that he wasn’t taking any chances and called on his bullpen earlier than anticipated. Five different relievers combined for 5 innings, and Cub newbie Tommy Hunter was the only to give up runs, allowing two in the sixth. “I understand the magnitude of the situation…I just wanted to be out there to clean up my own mess,” a stern-faced Hammel said after the game.

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs To Know for July 24

Friday, July 24th, 2015

by Nate Head

Fresh from a day-off

Coming off four games in three days in Cincinnati, it’s safe to say the Cubs needed a day off. They got one yesterday, hopefully recharging the depleted bullpen, as virtually every reliever on the 25-man was used at some point in the series. Signs of fatigue are popping up at the plate, too. Cubs’ hitters are expanding the zone, taking good pitches, over swinging—the whole nine.

Cubs’ players aren’t the only ones who needed a break. Nail-biting fans of the north siders likely have nothing left on their fingers after riding the turbulent waves throughout this series that produced three games decided by one run. Chicago salvaged a split with the Reds, highlighted by dramatic comeback wins on Tuesday and Wednesday night.

More Schwarber, Please

I’m satisfied with what catcher Miguel Montero has done this year, but rookie Kyle Schwarber is exactly what the Cubs need right now. While Montero has been on the disabled list (thumb) this past week, Schwarber has been one of the few consistent hitters in the lineup. In 13 games this year, the 22-year-old slugger’s stat line is impressive: .409/.447/.705. Schwarber’s defense behind the plate draws plenty of skepticism, and while he’s performed modestly behind the dish so far,the doubt isn’t necessarily unwarranted. A play in the early game on Wednesday comes to mind, where Schwarber took absolutely the worst route possible to an infield fly, which forced Anthony Rizzo to sprint in 90 feet from his position to make the catch. But, like many things in baseball, I assume it will come with experience—or at least hope. Manager Joe Maddon has shown that he is a firm believer in experimenting with lineups and using his whole team, and I expect him to find a way to effectively utilize Schwarber.

Bullpen, keep it up

A dark horse candidate for team MVP right now, the Cubs’ bullpen has been stellar. Believe it or not, Chicago’s relievers rank 4th in the NL in ERA with their collective mark of 3.20 (8th overall), and 2nd in opponent’s batting average (7th). Yes, that includes Edwin Jackson and Pedro Strop’s efforts this season. The bullpen put on a clinic in game two on Wednesday, as the combination of Wood-Strop-Soriano-Rondon-Motte went 7 innings behind starting pitcher Dallas Beeler’s disastrous start, striking out 11 Reds hitters and not allowing a single run. Jason Motte looks like Maddon’s most popular choice to close out games right now, and he has done well in those situations. A new addition to the crew, league veteran Rafael Soriano, is showing he could be a quality addition, pitching a scoreless inning in each of his two appearances with the team.

Castro needs to claw out of slump

Shortstop Starlin Castro’s hitting drought has been hard to watch for me, personally. Castro’s body language after making an out is nearly depressing at this point, as it looks like he wants to split his bat over his knee every time he makes an out. Maddon has stuck by his slumping shortstop, spewing encouraging words to the media when the topic is mentioned. When he’s at his best, Castro is a relaxed free-swinger at the plate. Right now, it looks like he is over-analyzing every pitch and is actually trying too hard to return from his hitting hiatus. Whether it is to attract more teams (maybe just the Phillies) at the deadline or to simply help out the lineup, Castro needs to start hitting. In his career, Starlin has faced just one of Philadelphia’s probables for this weekend’s series, Cole Hamels, and has fared well, going 3 for 6 against the left-hander, and possible future Cub.

Series pitching probables

On the surface, this three game set against the Phillies at Wrigley may not seem very important. However, Chicago is literally clinging to their second spot in the NL wild card race with a mere .5 lead over San Francisco. Philadelphia has the worst overall record in the league at 34-63 and should help bolster the Cubs’ win column. Naturally, the Cubs encounter them on their hottest stretch of the season as they have won five of six games after the All-Star break. Let’s take a look at the expected pitching matchups:

Friday: Jon Lester vs. Jerome Williams

Saturday: Jake Arrieta vs. Cole Hamels

Sunday: Jason Hammel vs. Aaron Nola

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Who Will Be The 2015 Statistical Leaders?

Friday, February 27th, 2015

by John Dewan

In addition to our projected Defensive Runs Saved leaders, which we highlighted in a Stat of the Week a few weeks ago and will be expounded upon in The Fielding Bible—Volume IV to be released on March 1, we provide a spring update to the Bill James Projections each year to account for players who have changed teams and gained or lost apparent playing time as teams have put together their rosters. That update will also be released on March 1, so let’s look at which hitters and pitchers are projected to lead baseball in various categories.

First, here are the projected hitting leaders:

Projected Hitting Stat Leaders, 2015
Stat Player Projected Total
AVG Miguel Cabrera .321
Yasiel Puig .316
Jose Altuve .316
HR Giancarlo Stanton 40
Jose Abreu 38
George Springer 38
RBI Miguel Cabrera 123
Jose Abreu 121
Paul Goldschmidt 115
Runs Mike Trout 131
Mookie Betts 112
Paul Goldschmidt 107

A few of the usual suspects like Miguel Cabrera and Paul Goldschmidt make their way back on to the projected leaderboards, but the 2015 leaders also have some new blood. Jose Abreu was a star in his first season in MLB, smashing 36 home runs and knocking in 107 runners despite a DL stint that held him to 145 games. This year, we like Abreu to exceed those numbers in a full, healthy season.

George Springer hit 20 home runs in his first major league action in 2014 in only 345 plate appearances. We think he’ll come close to doubling his playing time and home run total in 2015. And while Mike Trout has a healthy lead in projected runs scored, we expect Mookie Betts to play well and benefit from hitting atop the powerful Red Sox lineup in route to scoring 112 runs.

Projected Pitching Stat Leaders, 2015
Stat Player Projected Total
Wins Clayton Kershaw 21
Adam Wainwright 17
Felix Hernandez 16
Stephen Strasburg 16
Saves Trevor Rosenthal 49
Craig Kimbrel 47
Fernando Rodney 47
Aroldis Chapman 47
ERA Clayton Kershaw 2.37
Michael Pineda 2.74
Matt Harvey 2.84
K Yu Darvish 248
Clayton Kershaw 245
Stephen Strasburg 237

Clayton Kershaw will lead both leagues in wins and ERA but fall three strikeouts short of the MLB triple crown for pitchers based on our projections. He’s amazing. He’s joined by other elite starters including Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, and Stephen Strasburg at the heads of those lists.

The ERA leaders are particularly interesting. Behind Kershaw, both Michael Pineda and Matt Harvey are coming back from injuries. Pineda was outstanding in 76.1 innings last season, maintaining a 1.89 ERA and a miniscule 0.8 walks per nine innings. He’s been great whenever he’s been healthy in his career, but unfortunately, the healthy stints have been few and far between. Harvey is coming back from Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss all of the 2014 season.

Used with permission from John Dewan’s Stat of the Week®, www.statoftheweek.com.

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