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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.

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)

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.

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.

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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Game 56 – Bullpen Blows (Another Lead)

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Albert Pujols – .455 (WPA)

Castro’s Body Language
The Cubs All-Star shortstop was moved down to 7th in the order on Tuesday night, in a bid to get him going at the plate. This is the first Cubs’ game I’ve attended in 2013, and I don’t like Castro’s lack of aggression. In previous seasons he’s been, at times, recklessly aggressive. I’ve always thought it was a big factor in what made him so effective – the game comes naturally for him, and yet recently on TV and last night in person, it looks like Castro is thinking way too much. For several weeks he’s been uncharacteristically NOT dynamic. Hopefully something soon will jolt him into that old version of himself that plays the game a bit recklessly.

I know it’s terribly popular to rip Sveum anytime he takes the ball from one pitcher and passes it to another. Either it’s too soon, too late, not the right incoming pitcher, the list of complaints is long. Tuesday night is a good example of why that type of Monday morning quarterbacking is preposterous. Scott Feldman was really good, but through six innings he’d thrown 95 pitches. I figured we’d see someone new to start the 7th – but who? Well Dale probably had just as much trouble picking a reliever, so he let Feldman pitch to the first two batters of the 7th before inserting Russell to mop up the mess. With a 1-run lead, he called on the Carlos we hate to love. Villanueva gave up the deciding 2-run blast to Cub nemesis, Albert Pujols.

Plenty of fans have been griping about the recent use of the Carlos we love to hate. Marmol has been bad so far in June. Against the Angels, the other Carlos was just as bad. But what’s Dale supposed to do? Gregg is the defacto closer – even if the guys in front of him seem to guarantee he’ll never get another save opportunity. Parker, Putnam, and Rondon are all still wearing their MLB diapers. Dale probably has very little feel for what pitches they throw in which situations, let alone what he might expect from them in a given matchup. That leaves two Carlos’ and your situational lefty who has regularly been doing an inning of duty. It’s a no-win proposition most nights; and my overriding concern after the 6th ended was how the Cubs could patch together 6 outs to get Gregg a freakin’ appearance (let alone save opportunity). But they couldn’t, and it didn’t at all surprise me. When you eat the rancid meat, don’t be surprised if you’re doubled over in front of the toilet at 3am…do you really think Dale is brimming with confidence when he makes a move? He knows he’s pulling the ham of questionable toxicity out of the fridge and trying to piece together a meal that won’t make him vomit.

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