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Game 50 – Samardzija Savages The Sox

Tuesday, May 28th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Jeff Samardzija – .354 (WPA)

Jeff Samardzija
After his May 10th start, I was quite critical of Samardzija’s 2013 form. His last three starts have removed any possible criticism levied against him. Memorial Day against the crosstown rivals was the best start of 2013 for Samardzija – and perhaps of his career. Completely dominant from the first pitch, the Cubs got a complete game shutout two-hitter from the former Notre Dame standout. And all of that on only 108 pitches. The White Sox never threatened; unable to get two runners on base in the same inning until they had 2 outs in the ninth. Best start of the year by a Cub pitcher.

The DH
At the Cell on Monday was the Cubs first taste of an AL park in 2013. With Dale Sveum’s first chance to use the DH, he looked up and down the roster and selected Scott Hairston. Scott Hairston? The Cubs don’t exactly have a readymade DH waiting for these games (unless you count Soriano), but Hairston has started as a DH all of 8 times in his career before Monday. There wasn’t a mountain of evidence screaming ‘you must use Scott Hairston in this situation’ so I’m not going to pretend to know Dale’s thought process. Let’s see who he uses on Tuesday against Chris Sale.

MLB has severe issues with these one-game use uniforms for special days. But the faux camo lettering and numbering that teams donned for Monday’s holiday wasn’t terrible. And when I say ‘not terrible’ I mean there’s no way I would buy anything the players wore, but it also wasn’t so distracting that I felt compelled to turn off the TV. The way he pitched, Samardzija might be looking to wear the camo every time out.

A byproduct of the wonky MLB schedule that’s always playing interleague games is this weird stretch that the Cubs now find themselves in (I wanted a sentence as awkward as the schedule). Two games at the Cell, followed by two at Wrigley against the Sox for a disjointed 4-game season series (that’s right, we’re done with the South Siders after Thursday). Then Bob Brenly and the Diamondbacks will be in for 3 games at Wrigley over the weekend, before an off-day on Monday. The Cubs jet to Anaheim for two games with the Angels, an off-day next Thursday and back to Chicago to resume the homestand until June 14. That’s 14 of 16 games in Chicago (12 at Wrigley) over 18 days. Weird.

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Northside Archives: Persona Non Regatta

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

Ian Stewart isn’t part of the Chicago Cubs. I find that to be an encouraging phrase. His career stats are .232/.319/.417. Gross. His best year was .259/.349/.455…for an OPS+ of 102…in Colorado. The Cubs knew all of this when they traded for him in December 2011. For some reason they thought they’d plugged a hole. I’ve never liked Ian Stewart. He’s the crumpled lottery ticket from last night’s drawing. The Cubs were the hobo thinking they’d found someone else’s accidentally discarded treasure.

Ian Stewart is part of the Iowa Cubs. I was fine with until Tuesday. In fact, I’d gone so far as to wish for him a long career as part of the Iowa Cubs. Now I’m not so sure. Stewart has been talking about his string of 2013 decisions that now finds him rotting on a AAA bench. The quote I like the least, “the only issue I had — and this is even hard to say, because they had Ransom and Valbuena up there swinging the bat — was that I still think there was an opportunity to be given to me, even if it was for a week or a few games. I still think that option was there, and I would’ve liked to have been given a chance. I could’ve started playing well, and they know what kind of defense I bring.” Really?

Ian Stewart was terrible before he was hurt. I’m racking my brains, trying to conjure up the period of Stewart’s injury-shortened 2012 season that made him think he was somehow a lock for the 3B position with the Cubs. And yes, he really thinks that. “I signed back here with the notion and the thinking that I was going to be the third baseman (in Chicago). Whether that was for one year or a few years, I didn’t really know. That was the feeling that I had coming back here and the impression that I was given.” Someone’s delusional here, either Theo & Co. for thinking Ian Stewart was going to be serviceable just by virtue of being healthy – or Stewart, for thinking that his .201/.292/.335 in 2012, or his .156/.243/.221 in 2011 (in Colorado!) was leading anyone to believe he was one of the 30 best answers at 3B in the whole world.

Ian Stewart was terrible after he was hurt. Stewart only played in 55 games before hitting the DL in 2012. He started Spring Training with an injury to his quadriceps in the earliest of intrasquad games. This injury lingered and lingered until eventually he started 2013 on the DL. When he was healthy the Cubs put him on a rehab assignment that is limited to 20 days by MLB rules. During those 20 days, Stewart was part of the Iowa Cubs. At the end of his assignment he’d piled up 4 hits in 44 ABs. The Cubs waived him, and because of his ridiculous $2-million price tag (and the fact that he can’t hit), no one claimed the 28-year-old Stewart. In a total of 62 ABs through yesterday at Iowa, he now has 9 hits (my TI-81 says he’s on a 5-for-18 tear since being dropped from the Cubs 40-man roster).

Ian Stewart dealt with this entire situation horribly. I said earlier that I changed my mind this Tuesday about his future at Iowa. I want the Cubs to dump him. Now. Pay the man and let him forge his own path elsewhere. Why? He doesn’t have a successful attitude at the moment. I’ll let him prove that.

  • “If I wanted to stay with the Cubs and accept my assignment here, they were letting me know I wasn’t going to play a lot here.
  • I don’t know if that was a way to get me to take my free agency, because there’s money involved in all of that.
  • It wouldn’t really make sense for me to take a release or ask for free agency, because then I’d be giving up my contract, and that doesn’t make sense for me financially or for my family.
  • I would say there’s times in guys’ careers where they think about doing something else. I would lie if I didn’t say that crossed my mind, but my wife is such a great support system. She knows this is what I was born to do, to play ball, and she reminds me of that every day, even when I’m struggling.
  • I need to play to get everything figured out, and if I end up staying here the whole year, then it is what it is.”

So to recap, Ian knows he’s not going to play, but also knows that he needs to play. He’s thinking about doing something else, but needs his wife to talk him down. He says he was born to play baseball, but he’s taking $2 million so he doesn’t have to play baseball.  Not exactly the example to set for those impressionable prospects in the minors.  I much prefer the example Kerry Wood set when faced with the fact that his career was obviously coming to a close.

Ian Stewart must know this is the end. This is it. If he doesn’t impress someone this year, he’ll be ‘retiring’ because no one wants him. Just like Randy Wells. The mere fact that he’s unwilling to give up his remaining 2013 contract in order to chase a better opportunity tells me that he already knows there isn’t a better opportunity. If the off-season started tomorrow, no team would give him more than an invite to Spring Training – the reverse lottery ticket if you will. The Cubs have already demoted Brett Lillibridge who impressed in exactly the situation that Stewart will be hoping for next year…and Stewart now sits behind both Josh Vitters and Lillibridge for playing time at AAA. He needs to hope for catastrophic injuries or that somehow another team thinks he can fill their need.  Not on a 40-man roster, not playing at AAA, there aren’t many paths left that lead Stewart back to the bigs. You’re not at a yacht race.

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Game 43 – Wood Not Enough

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Juan Lagares – .349 (WPA)

Travis Wood
You may have heard, Travis Wood has been really good in 2013 so far. I don’t care if peripheral stats tell you it won’t last (like there’s anything that can be done about it one way or the other anyway). On Sunday he pitched his 9th quality start to begin the season. Enjoy it! The Cubs haven’t had someone do that since Mordecai Brown in 1908. Not Greg Maddux. Not Fergie Jenkins. Not Rick Sutcliffe. Not Charlie Root. “The quality start is a meaningless stat” perhaps you’ll say. I would largely agree-it’s an arbitrary threshold-6 IP and 3 ER doesn’t exactly get me excited. But Wood is averaging 6.2 IPs and less than 2 earned runs allowed per start. THAT gets me excited. And of course it’s unlikely to last for 35 starts, but that’d be true of almost anyone not named Clayton Kershaw.

On Sunday, Wood was very good again. Wrigley wasn’t exactly a pitcher’s park in the series finale; evidenced by the fact that the Cubs’ southpaw deposited a home run onto Waveland against the Mets. He gave the Cubs 7 IP, surrendered 3 ERs, but also contributed a 2-run HR of his own. It was the rest of the lineup that had difficulty against the Mets.

Middle Of The Order
Castro & Rizzo were the void in the Cubs’ lineup. They were a combined 0-for-8 and 0-for-4 with RISP. Twice Castro hit a sacrifice fly with DeJesus standing on 2B, while Rizzo struck out 3 times. I’m not going to belabor the point, but the Cubs seem to have scattered success at the plate. With 4 doubles and 2 HRs the Cubs should’ve been able to cobble together a bit more than 3 runs.

Part of the reason for that struggle to score was this play. Sweeney hit a sure double into the RF corner, former Cub Marlon Byrd horribly misplayed it at first and Sweeney understandably wanted to take advantage by turning it into a leadoff triple to start the 4th inning. Byrd recovered well, and the relay was on target, but even in real time it looked to be late.

Sweeney biggest problem was his awkward slide. But there’s a time-tested practice of umpiring that says if the player is going in headfirst and gets tagged on the shoulder, he’s probably safe. Third base umpire Manny Gonzalez would’ve done well trust 100+ years of umpiring. Instead he allowed his eyes to fool him. Whatever he thought he saw, he didn’t; Sweeney was safe and the Mets announcers even thought it was a bad call before seeing a replay.

I don’t understand why Sweeney and then Sveum (or even third base coach David Bell) had no argument. He’s leading off the 4th inning of a scoreless game – certainly it’s worth an argument? Instead no one protested and the Mets quickly retired the next two batters.

This is part of the game that’s becoming increasingly obnoxious to me. The camerawork and technology of 20-30 years ago wouldn’t have provided quick help in many situations. But today, a call such as this could’ve been overturned before Sweeney even got back to the dugout. MLB needs to find a way to expand and hasten the replay process.

And don’t take this a complaint that the Cubs were somehow screwed out of a win against the Mets. Nothing with the Cubs is nearly that cut & dry (zero confidence they would’ve driven Sweeney in from third – less than zero confidence the bullpen would’ve held a lead that might’ve been given to them). Besides I do believe these bad breaks tend to even out over the course of 162 games. It’s just an unnecessary detriment to the game; I don’t want to see a guy trot around the bases if the ball went foul; I don’t want to see a guy trot back to the dugout if he’s safely slid into a base. What’s your suggestion for instant replay changes in 2014?

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Game 38 – Wood Good Again

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Travis Wood – .278 (WPA)

Travis Wood
My last recap wasn’t terribly complimentary of Jeff Samardzija. Conversely, I have nothing but great things to say about Travis Wood. If you had to pick today, he’s the Cubs’ All-Star and it’s not really close. Even if Castro or Rizzo (or anyone else for that matter) winds up being selected for the team, Wood is making a strong case that he belongs. Eight starts in 2013, eight quality starts. He has surrendered 3 earned runs one time; it’s been 0, 1, or 2 in each of the other seven starts. He’s thrown more than 100 pitches just twice, even though he’s AVERAGING 6.2 IP. He’s been phenomenal; perhaps his best performance was Monday night against Colorado.

Not only did he pitch 7 innings, no runs, and only two hits; he was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored. The Rockies haven’t had difficulty hitting LHP in 2013, either. Sporting a .277 team average against lefties, it didn’t matter; they couldn’t get to Travis Wood.

Timely hitting has returned to the Cubs in recent days. They were 6-for-18 on Monday with RISP, including some unlikely hits from the aforementioned Wood and Darwin Barney. Six different Cubs had 2 hits apiece and DeJesus and Castro each reached base on 3 occasions. It all led to nine runs, which was more than enough with Wood on the mound.

You may see that Marmol gave up a run in the ninth that cost the Cubs the shutout. I say he had a good outing though – it was a solo HR, and in part it was because he was throwing strikes. Of his 16 pitches, 11 were strikes – and with a 9-run lead, I can forgive a solo homer. It was the first run he’s given up since May 4th, and that means he’s only given up 4 runs total since being demoted from the ‘closer’ role.

Kyuji Fujikawa also pitched. He also threw strikes. And he has also looked good lately – returning to the Cubs on the 10th.

The Cubs are 12-13 since staring 4-9 and currently on pace for 68 wins. The Rockies were their fifth different opponent in 8 days, with a weekend trip to Washington coming awkwardly in the middle of a homestand. With the next 5 at Wrigley and then a trip to Pittsburgh, the Cubs are again set up nicely to rack up a few wins. When you get a good start like the Cubs did on Monday night from Travis Wood, it makes you a bit more optimistic…

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Game 35 – Desmond Harpoons Samardzija

Saturday, May 11th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Star of the Game – Ian Desmond – .299 (WPA)

Jeff Samardzija
I’m talking about one thing, and one thing only from this game. I don’t like what I’m seeing from Jeff Samardzija this year. He’s become a combination of Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano. He doubled in the 3rd and came around to score and tie the game; but then he couldn’t really settle in for the fourth or fifth innings. Classic Zambrano. Five of the seven runs he gave up came with two outs, and while only 5 of his 7 runs were earned, the 2 unearned runs came as a direct result of a comebacker that he booted. It should’ve started a double play, instead the Cubs couldn’t record an out on the play. After getting the 2nd out he gave up a two-run double.

Tonight Samardzija was more efficient than he’s been recently, but he was also hit harder than he’s been all season. It is the third time in 2013 he’s given up 4 runs or more. And in his eight starts, only twice has he gone more than 6.0 innings. Classic Harden (so is the inefficiency with his pitch count). In fact, Friday night marked the second time that the Cubs’ “ace” only went 5 innings. It’s not that Samardzija has been horri-awful; it’s that he hasn’t been any better than scrap heap signings Scott Feldman or Carlos Villanueva (truthfully, he’s not even pitching as good as they are). Travis Wood is the Cubs’ ace through 6 weeks of baseball – but here’s what is so troubling:

“Felt good. Felt about as best as I could all year,” Samardzija said. “That’s the frustrating part of it, when you’ve got your pitches and you feel good and you get that outcome.”

So Friday night – by his own assessment – was Jeff Samardzija with his good stuff. His ‘good stuff’ gets battered around the park by a lineup that is missing a couple of its biggest bats? No Bryce Harper, no Jayson Werth – the Cubs had reason to feel good heading into the game. Even more so if Samardzija had his good stuff.

But the wheels came off early, and the Dread Pirate Jeff could never right the ship (that’s how out of whack he was, the idioms don’t even make sense).

There is a huge market for Jeff Samardzija at the moment. He could bring the Cubs a massive haul in a potential trade. And such a trade could be terribly risky for the Cubs to make – he could yet become a superstar. But such a trade could be terribly risky for the Cubs NOT to make – he’s looking more and more like the right-handed Rich Hill. One fantastic year, everyone projects him as a front-of-the-rotation starter. Hill was 27 when he had his ‘breakout’ season too. Their numbers are eerily similar for those seasons (Hill in 2007, Samardzija in 2012); in 2008 though, Rich Hill got injured and by 2009 he was out of options and playing for the Baltimore Cubs.

I’m not saying it’s time to trade Samardzija – but it’s certainly time to stop listing him as an untouchable.

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