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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 26th

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

by Nate Head

1. Game Notes

Cubs 8 @ Giants 5 – The Chicago Cubs won their sixth game in a row last night by a score of 8-5 against the San Francisco Giants. The bats erupted for ten hits (8 against starter Matt Cain) and Cubs hitters found the seats three times with Kyle Schwarber, Miguel Montero, and Starlin Castro each slugging home runs. Jake Arrieta tallied his league-leading 16th win and his ERA dropped to 2.22 with his six inning performance in which he did not allow an earned run and conceded just four hits and one walk.  Starlin Castro hit the ball on the screws four times, going 3-4 with a single and double and his night was highlighted by a 399 foot dinger to left field. The Cubs extended their lead over San Francisco in the Wild Card race to 7.5 games, and improved to a 5-0 record against the defending champs this season. The bullpen made the game slightly more intense, but the Cubs lead was never in serious danger.

My Player of the Game: Jake Arrieta (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 8 K’s)

2. Arrieta the Ace

Jake Arrieta continued his blistering streak Wednesday night, which at this point, surprised no one. Last night, Arrieta broke Hall-of-Famer (and former Cub) Greg Maddux’s team record with his 13th consecutive quality start. The lone run scored in Jake’s presence was unearned, as a throwing error by the right-hander himself allowed Kelby Tomlinson to cross the plate in the sixth inning. Arrieta’s dominance this month (5-0, 0.54 ERA in August) has given his Cy Young aspirations a boost, but Zack Greinke of the Dodgers is currently the undisputed leading candidate. However, a couple shaky starts from Greinke could open the door for Arrieta—who is not showing any signs of slowing his roll.

3. Cubs add Bonifacio

Emilio Bonifacio has agreed to join the Cubs on a minor league deal, according to reports. Bonifacio (who turned 30 in April) is expected to report to Iowa immediately and is a strong contender to join the big league team in September. Bonifacio was designated for assignment and eventually released by the Chicago White Sox after hitting a nightmarish .167/.198/.192 in 47 games this season. On a team that already has a surplus of middle-infielders, Emilio’s appeal likely comes from his speed. The 30-year-old has stolen bases at an impressive 77.5 percent success rate throughout his nine year career, swiping 165 bags while only being thrown out 48 times. Bonifacio played 69 games for the Cubs last year, hitting .279/.318/.373.

4. Down on the Farm

Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez extended his hit streak to six games for Class A Eugene last night, hitting two home runs and collecting three RBI’s in game one of a doubleheader against Spokane. Matt Szczur hit a home run during a 3-2 win for the Iowa Cubs last night.

Unfortunate news surfaced in Tennessee last night, where the Smokies announced that Cubs No. 3 prospect Billy McKinney will be out for the season with a hairline fracture. McKinney suffered the injury last week by fouling a ball of his leg. The 20-year-old was hitting /285/.346/.420 for the team this season.

5. What’s on Tap?

The Cubs look to win their seventh game in a row, and their sixth straight against the Giants. Let’s take a look at the probable pitchers:


1966 – After seeing a caricature of himself on the scoreboard, an angry Leo Duroucher calls the Astrodome’s press box to have it removed. When nothing is done, the enraged Cubs manager rips the phone out of the dugout wall and tosses it onto the infield.

1972 – Ron Santo‘s three run home run off Ron Bryant proves to be the difference in the Cubs’ 10-9 victory over San Francisco at Wrigley Field. The third inning round-tripper, the first of a pair he hits in the game, is the third baseman’s 2‚000th career hit‚ and drives in his 1‚200th run.

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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?

What’s On Tap?


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, 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 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.

What’s On Tap?

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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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