Author Archive

Cubs Win, Blog Update, Cubs Win

Thursday, September 26th, 2013


The season is winding to a close (or it did last week, if VFTB is the center of the Cubs’ universe). And the Cubs got a rather unfortunate win on Wednesday. Unfortunate is probably the wrong word; but I especially hate when Cub wins are roundly celebrated by Cardinal fans. In fact, based on where the NL Central now stands I wish the Cards had clinched against the Nationals. Now the Cubs will very likely be in the visitors dugout when STL celebrates avoiding the dreaded play-in Wild Card game. 40,000 in jorts, baseball’s so-called smartest fans, dusting off the rally squirrel t-shirts, feathering their mullets, fiddling with their lone remaining front tooth, sister/wife at their side ready to celebrate with some Skoal and Bud Light…I hate September games at Busch. When all is said and done, the Cubs will finish with fewer than 70 wins, only a handful of games to show for improvement on last season. And dutifully the vast majority of the Cubs faithful give Theo & Co. a second mulligan…

  • On Monday the Cubs state their intentions for the man with the forearm tattoos. In hindsight, it’s a great thing Theo & Jed didn’t make the mistake of hiring Ryne Sandberg two years ago. It takes a special manager to work through the July Fire Sale Festival. Unquestionably, Sveum was uniquely suited for the job – a delicate blend of spineless, non-descript, and devoid of imagination. Seriously though, how anyone can pretend to judge Dale on anything that’s happened over the last two seasons is laughable. The only thing I know for sure is that he’s better than Mike Quade – but then again, even my four-year-old wouldn’t be hitting Jeff Baker cleanup and playing him in LF.
  • If you missed the Brewers-Braves game last night, you need to watch this video. Total respect for what Brian McCann did; I’m not sure I’d even have had the foresight to consider the move. Carlos Gomez is a clown; I don’t care what you have against a guy – that kind of thing is bush league.
  • So much for an extra wild card adding more suspense. Before the season’s final series begin, the NL playoff teams are set, and two divisions only have one team. In the AL you have 3 teams for 2 spots (where before last season you would’ve had 3 teams for 1 spot…that’s less suspense Bud). Plus, 2 of these teams will be in the “playoffs” for exactly one day.
  • If you were born roughly 2,274 days (or more) after the first scheduled night game at Wrigley, this is only the second postseason in your lifetime that will not include the New York Yankees.
  • After 159 games, I consider this season to be even more lost than last year. At least when 2012 ended there was reason to think some of the franchise’s young stars were ready to cement their status as an everyday fixture for the next decade at Wrigley. Then Rizzo didn’t hit as well, Samardzija pitched much worse, and a bunch of coaches decided Castro should stop doing everything that made him so valuable. Along the way, only Junior Lake added his name to the ‘Cubs of Tomorrow’ plan – and even he has been a weird combination of electric and ineffective. At this point, I could be convinced that any of those players is traded before 2014 ends; and I could also be convinced that any of them would be a 2014 All-Star.
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Northside Archives: Hometown Scoring

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

August 29, 2012: Darwin Barney sits on 113 straight games without an error. It is already the Cubs’ single season record. It is tied with David Eckstein for the longest errorless streak for an NL second baseman (single season). Then…in the 7th inning…this happened.

The official scorer charged Barney with an error on the throw to Valbuena at third. If you’ve played the game at all, you can probably appreciate the scorer’s predicament. If Valbuena picks that cleanly, the tag is simple and everyone raves about the great play by Barney. But regardless of how it appears in replays, that is NOT an easy throw to handle. Barney hurls it sidearm, off-balance, and on the run – those things together are what gives the throw such crazy late movement. On top of this, the throw is coming to Valbuena over the shoulder of Jean Segura raising the degree of difficulty for the catch even more.

But is it really an error to Barney? I say yes. If Barney makes that same tailing throw to Rizzo at first and Rizzo can’t handle all the movement it would almost surely be deemed a bad throw and an error to Barney. It shouldn’t be any different simply because the ball is thrown to third base on a play where a tag is required.

But that night the official scorer changed his original call and credited the error to Valbuena – not Barney. It meant that David Eckstein’s kidney wasn’t the only thing that had been gruesomely wrangled from Eckstein’s possession. Barney would finish that game without further incident, breaking the little guy’s record.

And in a weird, but symmetrical, twist – Barney’s next milestone was the MLB record errorless streak in a single season for a second baseman. Placido Polanco held that streak at 141 games. But on September 28th of last season, Barney came within 3 outs of passing Polanco. Then Barney fielded and hurled this ball towards Rizzo at first. (See, I told you they’d score that an error!) Barney only managed to tie Polanco.

Curiously, Polanco’s streak was extended on August 26, 2007 under similar dubious official scoring changes.

It all begs the question: does every MLB team need their own official scorer? Why allow a clearly biased individual the responsibility of making so many subjective calls? The best answer I can proffer – that’s baseball. No, we can’t have Questec in every park because what if it’s not calibrated similarly everywhere (as if all 94 umpires have the same strike zone! – CB Bucknor might have 30 different strike zones just by himself). No, we can’t review safe or out; only objective things like fair/foul or HR/not a HR (because somehow safe or out is harder to determine than either of those).

That’s baseball; we get mad at pitchers for not throwing it over the plate, then get furious when they throw it over too much of the plate. We want guys to be aggressive on the basepaths, until they get thrown out. And we call it an error unless we can make a valid argument to the contrary – because I think we all know that Barney would still have that error to his credit were it not for his streak.


  • Dale must’ve needed a nap – he got ejected before the Dodgers could even complete one at-bat on Wednesday. I’d love to know if a manager has ever been ‘successively ejected’ (that’s what I’m calling it) on check-swing related calls? Remember, this happened about 10 days ago. The blown call from yesterday wasn’t nearly as horri-awful as the Donnie Murphy one; but still, it wasn’t close. Puig MORE than swung his bat. Just judging from Sveum’s indignation, I wonder if his issue was that Lance Barksdale wasn’t paying attention to Puig’s at-bat (because if he had been, that was an easy check-swing to ring him up on). Or maybe Dale ran out of his Kashi Go Lean and missed breakfast on getaway day.
  • Johnny Manziel is set to serve the most preposterous suspension in the history of suspensions. He will miss the first half of Texas A&M’s first game. Thank you NCAA for giving Bud Selig a new idea – in 5 years when he hears about this story, Bud will have someone suspended for the first 15 outs or 75 pitches (whichever comes first).
  • Aaron Hernandez, it is claimed, was a heavy PCP user (maybe I should say IS, because for all I know he’s still getting the angel dust in jail). He seems like such a normal guy other than that…and the fact that he’s probably killed at least three people…and shot another guy…and has a myriad of crazy-looking tats…including some that adorn his wrists. PCP just seems out of character. *Isn’t Aaron Hernandez just the real-life Demetrius Harris? (The RB from the ESPN drama Playmakers)
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Embarrassing: Umpires, Manager, Shortstop

Monday, August 19th, 2013

If you missed the Cubs this weekend, you certainly missed controversy.

This actually happened.

Joe Torre (in charge of Major League Operations, On-Field Operations, On-Field Discipline and Umpiring) needs to act. Home plate umpire Phil Cuzzi doesn’t need to be making that call; and if he does and the entire Cubs bench looks surprised and angry, would it really kill him to ask for help? It’s this behavior from officials that EVERY other major professional sport has successfully gotten under control. In basketball, football, and hockey you see officials huddle together when one of them has clearly butchered a call. But baseball is more like tennis – some crotchety old guy tyrannically interpreting the rules through his own faulty vision, insistent that he couldn’t possibly need help. If Cuzzi had bothered to consult Chris Guccione at first base, I’m still not sure they’d have gotten it right – that’s how bad umpires are these days, protecting one another until the bitter end. Not until the league starts making examples out of these guys (and I mean firing the worst of them – Angel Hernandez!) will any of them bother to change their ways. Just look at this list – you should only know a couple of those guys by name…instead I know at least a dozen of those guys simply because of an ignominious decision they’ve made at a crucial time. And many of them – like Cuzzi’s ridiculous call on Sunday – could’ve been avoided if umpires were just a little less ‘it’s us against the world’ all the time.

Because of Cuzzi’s absurd punchout, both Dale Sveum and James Russell were ejected on Sunday. I really wish more of the team had forced an ejection – Baseball Tonight will give a few minutes to the bad call, but the Cubs could’ve really put some momentum behind the umpire-hating if they’d gotten ejected en masse. Dale looked intent to get tossed though; but he was probably still sour from Saturday…

When this happened.

If you haven’t yet heard the commentary that accompanies the video that I linked to, you need to watch that. I think it’s the best explanation of exactly what happened on that play – again, terrible umpiring (in my opinion anyway, admittedly this is debatable). You don’t call the infield fly rule as the ball is falling into Castro’s glove in LF. As the announcer says in that piece, the ENTIRE Cubs team relaxed when Castro caught the ball because generally you don’t have to worry about advancing players on an infield fly. Embarrassing play, no excuse to let the guy score but can we please stop pretending as if this dramatically altered the course of the game? The Cubs didn’t score in this game. AT ALL.

You know what will affect winning? Regularly embarrassing your young talent at every chance. No idea what Dale thought he was accomplishing by yanking Castro from the game at the end of that half inning. It solves nothing, it teaches nothing. All it does it put the conversation right back on Castro’s shortcomings (perceived or otherwise); not usually a great tactic for inspiring and encouraging one of your best assets. This was not an Andruw Jones refusal to run hard to a catchable fly ball. And Castro’s response (as it has been EVERY single time something like this happens) was perfect; he takes full responsible, never says anything that sounds like a partial excuse. I thought pulling him from the game was a cowardly move. Exactly when has Dale stood up for Castro? He seems quite happy to throw him to the wolves whenever possible.

I’m of the opinion that a fair amount of Cubs fans just need a team pariah. And in the absence of someone who blossoms into the role like Sammy Sosa, someone who earns it right out of the gate like Milton Bradley, or someone who did a bit of both like Carlos Zambrano, Castro has ‘earned’ the role because basically he rubs people the wrong way. He swings at bad pitches, he has bad posture, he makes a mess of the routine. And for all of this, the 23-year-old is called lazy, disinterested, and a whole lot worse with regularity. Never mind that he has yet to make any excuse for one of these shortcomings, in fact he owns up to it so quickly, I think the media enjoys heaping it on him as quickly as possible (much like they did to Zambrano at times). I’d be curious to know how it’s all perceived by Soler, Almora, Baez, Bryant and the rest of the Cubs’ prospects…because personally, I don’t think there’s a place in baseball where the fans are setup for more unrealistic expectations of the future. I’d love to see Cub fans stop eating their young.


Ryan Dempster beaned A-Rod…who then propelled the Yankees to a come-from-behind win against the Red Sox.

Miguel Tejada says he was banned because MLB won’t give him a medical waiver for a doctor prescribed pill that he needs to take. (This is where Bud Selig tries to explain how Ryan Braun gets to negotiate the terms of his suspension, but Tejada can’t take something that a doctor says he needs…of course this would all shake out the same way if Selig had never owned the Brewers)

I’d be thrilled if I thought this kid would do any hard time…but he won’t.


State of the System

Bullpen

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Tony Zych

Bio: Zych attended St Rita High school in Chicago Illinois, he then attended the University of Louisville to continue on his baseball career. Finally the Cubs drafted Zych in the 4th round of the 2011 draft after trying to draft him in 2008 in the 46th round. Zych was finally coming home to Chicago to start his professional career with his hometown Cubbies. He measures at 6 foot 3 and 190 pounds according to baseballreference.com. In his first year in the Cubs organization, he split time with the Rookie League and the Boise Hawks. Zych’s numbers ended up being a 2.25 earned run average in four games pitched (three games finished) over his span with both clubs. He also registered an eight strikeout to three walk ratio in his first season in the Cubs organization.

2012-2013 Season: After showing success in the rookie league as well as Boise in the short season league the Cubs decided to move Zych to the High A Affiliate Daytona Cubs. Zych pitched in 27 games (24 Games Finished) over his Daytona tenure where he had an earned run average of 3.19 with 36 strikeouts in 36 and 2/3 innings. After registering similar success in the Florida St. League, Zych got the call-up to the Double A Affiliate the Tennessee Smokies. Zych’s number’s at the Double A level were not as encouraging as Daytona as he struggled to a 4.38 earned run average in 20 games. He did however register 28 strikeouts in 24 innings which was good for a better than one strikeout per innings. The 2013 season is where Zych finally broke out, Zych has pitched in 41 games (14 games finished) where his earned run average is below three (2.52 to be exact). He has pitched 50 innings which shows he has been a durable reliever for Double A Tennessee. Most likely Zych will finish out the year with the Smokies and hopefully get some playoff appearance with them and start next season with Triple A Iowa.

Sleeper Prospect- Trey Masek

Masek attended Texas Tech University where he started to make a name for himself with continuance of dominance against Big 12 opponents. This past June Masek was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 5th round of the 2013 amateur draft. Masek measures at 6 foot 1 and 185 pounds which is pretty close to the prototypical pitcher in today’s game. So far Masek has pitched in two different leagues for the Cubs this summer. He first went to Arizona to shake off some of the rest which the draft period attributes to. Masek’s stats with the Boise Hawks consist of 1.20 earned run average in 9 games where he struck out 18 in 15 innings pitched.

Masek was drafted as a starting pitcher but most likely will end up as a relief pitcher in the near future. With his work ethic and high baseball IQ i see no reason for failure at the big league level. Over time I can see Masek and Zych becoming the closers of the future for the Chicago Cubs. Masek will start next season at either Kane County (Low A) or Daytona Cubs (High A) depending on member involvement. In my mind Masek, has the potential to be very dominant in the pen, maybe not so much Miguel Cabrera but a decent OPS and slugging percentage never hurt a player.


by Joe Aiello

I decided to add this section to the morning posts because it’s important to give you, the reader, as much time away from work as possible during the day and the way to accomplish that is to not only make the posts longer, but to get them more interactive by starting a discussion. So with that, let’s get right to it with a topic that is sure to apply to both stat guys and scout guys.

When evaluating players, there are many things that people favor. Some like stats and believe you can make the majority of the decisions based on the numbers, whereas others say stats are helpful, but that it’s your eyes that need to be the guide. If we cater to both groups, I want to know what would be the most important thing you’re looking for.

For stat guys, if you were given one stat and one stat only that you could see on a player, which stat would you choose to use to evaluate pitchers and which would you use to evaluate hitters? Remember, you can’t see the player play and you can see no other numbers other than that one stat. Also, why do you choose the stat you do?

For the scout guys, what one tool do to most value when you see a batter hit and a pitcher pitch? If you’re scouting and somehow can only see one tool for the hitter, what would you most value? Why?

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Soriano’s Binge & Name That Child

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

First off, apologies to our blogfather, Joe – it looks as if he was shouldering the burden of posting for a couple of weeks. In fact, being either 15 or 17 hours ahead (of my usual Pacific time) while I was gone, it would’ve been quite simple to post after the events of the day here in the States had long been put to bed…if I’d had a free moment.

I did, however, have reliable internet capability through one method or another for most of the time I was away. And it was thru these random, brief updates that I would hear of yet another Cub being dumped on a team who fancied themselves in the pennant race. I’ll admit, when I first saw that the Yankees were maneuvering to reclaim the player they’d used to acquire A-Rod – I thought for a second that being nearly a day ahead of the US had given me a portal into some alternate version of the internet.

It seemed too clean…and too easy. And not at all in accordance with the fact that the Tigers need another bat (and another bullpen arm).

But a few weeks later, and for those Cub fans who remember when Soriano would routinely propel the Cubs to a win streak seemingly on his own – the Yankees are getting a taste of that too.

The last two nights, Soriano has piled up 13 RBIs on the strength of 4 home runs. Tuesday night he was a measly 3-for-6 with 6 RBIs, so he followed that up with 3-for-3 and 7 RBIs last night. Ridiculous. The last player to have that many total RBIs in successive games was Sammy Sosa in 2002 (who actually had 14).

It’s actually only happened 8 times since 1920 – so it’s rarer than a no-hitter, a perfect game, a 4-HR game; a 20-strikeout performance is about the only thing that happens less frequently. A couple of good nights for Alfonso, made me wish I really was looking at an alternate internet and his 13 RBIs came in a Cubs uniform.

And Now For Something Completely Different…

That was really just half of a post; the other half is like nothing you’ve seen from me before – but my wife and I are at an impasse. Our third son is due in mid-October, and he’s yet to be named. We have two sons already, Ray & Max. It’s not that we can’t agree, it’s that neither of us has stumbled upon another name that we like. Soon I’m going to start dropping by the hospital on the way home from work to see what other people are naming their children, so give me some help. (There’s no reward because let’s face it, it’s the third child and ‘hey you’ or ‘stop that’ will probably suffice until he’s 14 anyway).


STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Left Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Oliver Zapata

Bio: Zapata was born in the Dominican Republic and started with the Cubs organization at the young age of 17. He got his start with Dominican Summer League where he batted .241/.328/.333 where he also got 14 extra base hits and 33 runs batted in. In 2011, Zapata age 18 spent the season with two minor league affilates with the Cubs (AZL Cubs and Boise Hawks). He combined to hit .278/.383/.412 where his walk to strikeout rate was almost even since he had 32 walks and 33 strikeouts over both affiliates. As with mentioned below Ty Wright he struggled with the second level in the 2011 season after being promoted to the Boise Hawks. His stats at Boise really tell the story .224/.287/.388 compared to the .324/.453/.431 at the Arizona Fall League. Surprisingly after Zapata’s poor season at Short Season Affiliate Boise he still got promoted to the Peoria Chiefs.

2012-2013 Season’s: Once Zapata got promoted to Peoria to start the season he ended up playing the full year there where he put up a sub par line of .225/.302/.282. The batting average worried me at first glance as I would like to see him hit somewhere around the .250 to .260 mark where he can realistically hit. When looking at Fangraphs.com I found that his BABIP or Batting Average on Balls Put in Play was surprisingly elevated at .286 which begs the question is Zapata really struggling this badly. Usually the numbers are flipped where a certain player has an elevated average due to a higher BABIP or a lower batting average due to a low BABIP. Zapata becomes an intriguing case as he fits in neither of those categories. Presently Zapata is at Kane County the Low A Affiliate of the Cubs refining his skills and playing a solid left field for the club. His line has greatly improved since last year where he is now hitting .243/.316/.378. Most likely Zapata will finish out the year at Kane County and be in the discussion for a call-up to Daytona next year. If his average creeps up to the .260 mark I can see him being moved up although with Almora being on the watch list for Daytona we’ll have to keep an eye if their is room for Zapata to play everyday.

Sleeper Prospect: Ty Wright

Bio: Wright was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 7th round of the 2007 amateur draft. Over the course of 2007 Wright jumped right into Short Season A Boise where he contributed a line of .317/.408/.529 which adds up to an OPS of .937. He was able to register 60 hits over 189 at bats, 22 of those went for extra base hits. Another impressive stat Wright had at Boise was his walk to strikeout ratio where it was 23 walks to 22 strikeouts which is unheard of in today’s game at any level. After Wright’s impressive start to his career he earned a call-up to Low A Peoria. Wright played 19 games there and had the line of .284/.329/.378 while stealing 5 of 6 bases.

2008-2009 Season’s: Wright continued his impressive run through the Cubs system as for the next two years he went from Daytona in (2008), Tennessee (2009). In comparison to Wright’s season at Boise he performed just as well producing a line of .300/.371/.411 while contributing 30 extra base hits. Wright also knocked in 72 runs. In 2009, Wright got the call to Double A where he did what he always did just plain hit. The line at Tennessee was .290/.349/.412 while achieving 34 extra base hits and 58 runs batted in.

2011-2013 Season’s: Iowa Cubs left fielder Ty Wright has had an amazing story throughout his six years with the organization. Wright is a loyal player, who has been in the Cubs system since 2007 and still hasn’t got up to the majors. For the past four seasons, he’s bounced between Tennessee and Iowa, filling in where he’s needed and not complaining. Moving on to the 2011 season Wright split the year between Double A Tennessee and Triple A Iowa. He combined on the season to hit .322/.382/.487 also getting 24 extra base hits on the season. The numbers really don’t tell the story as Wright tore it up at Tennessee after getting the second year of experience while he did struggle a bit at Iowa only hitting .240/.284/.309. His 2013 season has been just like his past four season splitting the time between Tennessee and Iowa. The line at both clubs is .260/.319/.396 where he has 28 extra base hits and 48 runs batted in.

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All Good Things Must End

Thursday, July 11th, 2013

Jumping The Shark
If HRH Keith Law ever gets a couple of nights off to watch actual baseball games (instead of scouting T-ball leagues in Cuba), I hope he watched the Cubs the last two nights. On Sunday, Klaw said this:

  • I don’t know if the Nationals discouraged Bruce Bochy and the league from taking Stephen Strasburg — who belongs on merit, and on star power — because they’d rather have him rest for those three days. I’d take any of those four pitchers over Jeff Locke, whose 2.12 ERA is bursting with good fortune, from the league’s third-lowest BABIP to its highest strand rate, and who has never pitched like this before and is unlikely to do so in the second half. The same could be said of Travis Wood, who isn’t even the most deserving starter on his own staff.

At first I thought maybe he started compiling this particular piece on Opening Day and didn’t ever get around to updating his lone sentence on the Cubs. Whatever the reason for his stupefying conclusion, definitive proof of Travis Wood’s All-Star merits were on display Tuesday night. On Wednesday night, Jeff Samardzija’s inconsistent 2013 was equally on display.

Due to the Cubs usually anemic offense, the game was effectively over when each of the first four batters scored before the Cubs recorded a single out. Next up, Edwin Jackson against the Cardinals tonight at Wrigley.

More Cubs News

  • Kris Bryant, the Cubs first selection in the amateur draft, has reached a tentative agreement with the team.
  • Jen-Ho Tseng‘s signing continues the rash of international newcomers. If you know any foreigners who are familiar with baseball, haven’t yet completed high school, and for whom ‘summer in Boise’ isn’t a vomit-inducing proposition – the Cubs are interested in inking them to a deal. Email drunktheo@beenabitbored.com with contact information. (Did they even check to make sure Jen-Ho is a guy?)

Around The League

  • Chad Gaudin found out that what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.
  • John Rocker is still an idiot.
  • Yu Darvish is one of the first to find a convenient way out of the All-Star Game.
  • Kris Benson has a crazy soon-to-be ex-wife.

Other News

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Game 77: Garza’s Gem

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Matt Garza – .198 (WPA)


Maybe Theo & Jed need to threaten to trade all of our pitchers.

Matt Garza
The soon-to-be former Cub was dominant today. The phone is likely ringing off the hook since Garza has now strung together 3 dominant starts in a row. Hopefully no one looks too much into the detail of those starts (his opponents were the Mets, Astros, and Brewers) – because Garza has only one impressive start against a potential playoff team. The good news is that game was against Arizona; right now the Dodgers and Padres are both rumored to be interested in acquiring the Cubs’ righty. There is not a lot of talk that the Cubs and Garza are seriously considering an extension. He is very clearly on the market and extremely likely to be traded. We’re coming up on that time of year when Casey Coleman doesn’t screen his calls.

Starlin Castro
A quick word about Castro – after two days off (and one game off), he now has back-to-back multi-hit games for the first time since May 26 & 27. He had done that 4 different times through the first 41 games. Even after these last two 2-for-5 games, Starlin would need to hit roughly .370 for the rest of the season to get up near his accustomed .300…that’s not going to happen. And of course his paltry batting average has depressed the rest of his batting statistics too – no matter what he does (good or bad) between now and the end of this year, his stats are going to look pathetic. All of them. The slump was (is) too prolonged; he might very well finish with fewer than 150 hits, a sub-.300 OBP, AND a sub-.400 SLG%. That’s not to say the season is a step back for him (far too early to pass judgment on that); but if you want to see improvement, you’ll need to tune in, because it’s going to be hard to see in his final stats.

Time To Deal
During Spring Training, there were (and maybe still are) more than a handful who expected the Cubs to be significantly worse this year. Through 77 games last year, the Cubs were 28-49. Now they sit at 33-44; five wins better (which I’m told equates to 50 runs). But this team will get demonstrably worse in the coming days – just like last year.

Soler Out; Bryant Not In
Cubs’ prospect Jorge Soler has fractured his tibia. It might signal the end of his season. He’s out at least 4-6 weeks, but it could wind up being substantially longer.

And Kris Bryant Scott Boras is playing hardball with the Cubs. It’s Boras, so of course this wasn’t going to get done early; and I could easily believe this story is a Boras plant. But with barely two weeks to go, the tone of the conversation needs to change or the Cubs risk missing out on Bryant.

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Game 69: Samardzija Superb In STL

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jeff Samardzija – .214 (WPA)


Jeff Samardzija
We’re starting with symmetry again for this game. Last time out Samardzija had a lackluster start. On Tuesday in St. Louis, the Cubs spotted him 4 runs before he took the mound. He did (almost) everything else and eventually those runs proved to be enough. Tonight Samardzija was throwing strikes early and often. Only six strikeouts on the night, he benefited from a host of called strikes and four double plays; the last of which came after he had exited but sealed the victory in the ninth.

Dale Sveum
We got an inside look at Sveum’s thoughts late on Tuesday. What I’d like to know is why he stubbornly manages this team as if they were just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill baseball team. One of the great dangers for the 2013 Cubs is the bullpen. Dale, understandably, has no idea who is going to perform well and who isn’t on any given night. Case in point, Kevin Gregg just pitched in 4 straight games last week, performing well in each of them. After a couple of days off, tonight his scoreline looks fantastic – his performance was anything but…and I don’t entirely put that on him. Look down there – this bunch is mediocre (and that’s being charitable). Stop treating them like an average bullpen – DO NOT FORCE THEM TO MOP UP UNNECESSARILY AFTER A STARTER! Yes, Samardzija was great tonight. But he’d thrown 103 pitches through eight innings. It seemed an obvious situation to let the closer start the 9th with a clean slate. Yes, that requires that Dale has to sit Samardzija almost certainly against his will. But that’s what Dale is paid to do…raising the degree of difficulty unnecessarily is not helping the bullpen. Frankly, Gregg was lucky to get the twin-killing that ended the game, he looked shaky and Freese (the hitter) was the winning run. Moreover, what starter on this team has ‘earned’ the right to beg successfully for another inning? None of these guys is a Hall of Famer, none are even All-Stars…if Dale can’t look any of the current starters in the face and tell them to take a seat what good is he going to be when (if) this team ever gets a star who HAS earned the right to put themselves back into the game (it happened at least one other time earlier this year with Feldman).

Someone had suggested that perhaps Marmol’s let down against the Mets had given this team a hangover – if it has, Dale has utter disregard for it. Letting Samardzija start the ninth is exactly the kind of crap that sets your team up to fail. Quade used to put his everyday players (either in the field, or in the lineup) in curious positions where they weren’t most able to succeed. Dale has created a habit of using his pitchers in a way that is unfavorable to them. Yes, they’ve still sucked – but he could do more to set them up NOT to suck. Whether it’s Edwin Jackson – who despite being nearly a full run better during night games for his career, can’t buy a night start anymore; or games like tonight, where with an obvious setup to the closer, Dale lets Samardzija create a mess to be cleaned up. Tonight the Cubs were lucky in the 9th, the next time it might not go so favorably.

Still…
I don’t want to end it on that – it was a really great game from Samardzija. When the Cubs tagged Wainwright for 4 runs in the first I was pretty sure we’d roll over on offense for the remainder of the night. What I was less sure about was which Jeff Samardzija was going to appear on the mound. He’s been a rollercoaster ride this year. Cynically, I thought Samardzija’s night hinged on the result of the bottom of the 1st – either he shut them down and used that to catapult him to success; or he gave back a couple right away and spent the rest of his night fending off scrappy rallies every other inning. What I loved is how he stayed down in the zone with runners on base, it’s a big part of why managed to throw so few pitches – the double plays were huge for him. Great win for the Cubs, very nice to see the good Jeff Samardzija on the mound.

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Game 64: Bullpen Bails Out Samardzija

Friday, June 14th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Julio Borbon – .365 (WPA)

Castro
Last time I recapped a game, I focused on Castro – today’s game lends itself to a Castro discussion as well (plus I like the symmetry).

If you are ‘glass half full’ with Castro – this game had plenty for you. He had three hits, and made two outs while hitting the ball hard (and to the opposite field). He was totally screwed out of his 7th inning at-bat – down 1-2 after seeing three balls, the umpire saw it differently. He narrowly missed ending the game with a HR in the 9th (a double instead), and he swiped two bases – one led to the Cubs’ first run, the other to the game-winning run. But for me, none of that mattered. He was aggressive while only being slightly reckless at the plate. He flailed wildly to strikeout in the 7th, and weakly popped out in the 11th, but other than that most of what he jumped out (ball or strike) he hit solidly. He was aggressive from the start, swinging early and often at anything out over the plate. I was pleasantly surprised.

If you are ‘glass half empty’ with Castro – this game had plenty for you. He came into the game on pace to make 18 errors this year, after the game his pace was 23 errors. He was swinging early in counts at breaking pitches, and even had a couple of chances to work a walk that he wasn’t patient enough to get. His 9th inning double could’ve been a triple if he hadn’t Soriano’d it; semi-jogging until it fell short of the basket. And with an RBI ready at second base to tie the game in the 7th, Castro had his worst at-bat of the day. (My heart really isn’t in this paragraph, because I don’t buy into any of that; but Castro’s detractors surely do).

No surprise where I land. His first error forced Samardzija to throw a single extra pitch (Bruce ended the inning on the next pitch). His second ‘error’ is the kind I can live with. He was deep in the hole with the speedy Cozart running; just to field it, whip it over to first and beat Cozart was impressive. The fact that it pulled Rizzo slightly off the bag even though it beat the runner is why Castro was hung with an error. It’s a very good play if he makes it; ultimately it didn’t cost the Cubs anything (some shortstops wouldn’t even attempt a throw that quickly, and by the time they looked up to see Cozart blazing down the line, they might just eat the ball). Overall, I liked the aggression from him today.

Samardzija
The so-called Shark is back to his usual, inconsistent self. Nothing fearsome about him on this day, tagged for 5 runs in 6 IP and 10 hits while only striking out 6 and walking 4. Yuck. Most distressing, he can’t keep his pitch count down. Dale was kind enough to send him out for the 6th inning (an opportunity I didn’t think he’d earned, and he proved me right by coughing up another run) even though he’d already thrown 97 pitches through 5 innings. Having to throw almost 20 pitches per inning isn’t going to get it done. After three great starts, he’s now had three mediocre starts. He can thank the bullpen for bailing him out on Thursday.

Marmol
You could go down the line in the Cubs beleaguered bullpen, everyone did their part on Thursday. But I’m singling out Marmol. The cartoonish slider was dancing all over the place, and Marmol was close enough to the strike zone to make it effective. He recorded three strikeouts and a lot of uncomfortable swings.

There was a lot more to this game – the sun helped DeJesus botch a play, the Reds weren’t exactly impressive in the field, Soriano got thrown out trying to stretch for a double, and the bottom of the Cubs order came up big repeatedly. But most importantly, the Cubs broke the Reds stranglehold on Wrigley Field and finally got a win at home against Cincinnati.

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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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