Author Archive

Should the Cubs Add a Villain?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2016

Celebration of the Cubs looking like the Cubs of two week ago lasted long into the wee hours of this morning for this guy. In my glazed-eye state, unsure of why I was still awake, I stumbled upon the final few moments of MLB Network’s late night show with none other than the “great” Harold Reynolds.

Reynolds and Eric Byrnes were discussing players who should be on the move come late June or July when the name Ryan Braun comes up. The Brewers are bad and kind of direction-less after losing Prince Fielder and CC Sabbathia a few years ago, leaving Braun to carry them to a handful of last-place finishes. Moving Braun for younger pieces makes plenty of sense.

The conversation carries on with each former player offering a team Braun would make sense on, including the Indians and Mariners. Byrnes briefly interjects with a notion that Braun would make sense in either league, but his familiarity with the National League could make him a fit with a team like the Phillies.

I shake my head to my cat, Ella, but Byrnes corrects himself by saying that would only make sense if the Phillies surprisingly good start continued further into the season. He adds as a final note that Braun would not be a great add for the top teams in the NL because of their depth in the outfield, to which I do concur and begin to reach for the remote to head to bed.

Since we enjoy hot takes on the interwebs and the fallout from them, I offer to you a hot take from someone other than me.

In what had to be a weird out of body experience or maybe it was just the shandy, Reynolds seems to correct Byrnes in saying that a top team in the NL could be interested in Braun because of his offensive prowess.

At this moment I begin to yell internally, ‘DON’T SAY IT HAROLD.’

He did. He says the Cubs could use Braun and that he would be an upgrade over anyone in their outfield currently.

HOLD THE BUS.

What?

Yes, I assume you are having the same reaction as me in this moment.

Okay, now that we’ve briefly recovered from such a thought, let’s quickly break it down. Putting aside all ill-fated thoughts about the former* PED user for the Brew Crew, Braun is obviously a great offensive player. He’s made six all-star games and has a lifetime average just over .300, something the Cubs don’t currently have in their outfield.

I’m not going to compare Braun to Dexter Fowler because there’s no way he could play center well with any consistency. In theory you could move Jason Heyward to center, but that just seems like spinning tires for the sake of doing so.

Braun is a better offensive player than Heyward at this juncture and few would doubt that, but what Heyward provides from the depths of the outfield make up for a few of his deficiencies. The Cubs top two outfielders have combined for 156 putouts, three assists and no errors through 44 games, as well as a 1.0 defensive WAR through the first quarter. Heyward’s .6 mark is only lower than David Ross (.8) and Addison Russell (.7).

Braun is essentially average at .1 in 36 games played. He’s not a liability like he was at times during his transition into the outfield earlier in his career, but he’s not even upgrade on Soler despite posting better numbers this year. Soler’s one errors in more limited chances hampers his early-season score, but Braun cannot match the arm strength in left or right.

So essentially it all boils down to offense in Harold’s rhetorical world, but at what cost? The Cubs offense has had its fair share of letdowns this season, including the most recent stretch of futility that cost them a couple series in succession. Soler has been one of the most frustrating of the bunch, often over-swinging on breaking balls away and low. Frustration with Soler is warranted, but he’s one of the lower salaried members of the lineup and was supposed to keep working as a rotational player this year.

Braun would be an upgrade in the lineup over Soler, but where does he fit in reality? Second? Third? Sixth? It would create an embarrassment of bats, but at what cost?

Even if you could get a good deal for a bat like that, would fans ever be able to get over the fact that he’s been an NL Central villain for the better part of eight years?

What say you?

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The Zobrist Domino Falls

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Of course.

All it took was the getting the old VFTB podcast team reassembled to get the stove bubbling over in Wrigleyville. Sean made his triumphant return on Tuesday to set me up for the easy finish on Wednesday after arguably the busiest offseason window for the Cubs in recent memory.

Lester Watch was all the rage last winter and for good reason, but it may take a few years to fully comprehend just how impactful Tuesday’s Zobrist domino really is in both a micro and macro-level.

David Price and Jordan Zimmerman set off the pitcher market pretty early into free agency, but Ben Zobrist had been the biggest jam in the position player market cog to this point. Unpacking its repercussions both in Chicago and across the league is a challenge I’m not sure I am up to on a grand scale, but away we go.

Zobrist to a National League team made a ton of sense from the very beginning, but it was going to come down to opportunity and preferred position. The Mets posed an interesting threat to the Cubs for the utility man’s services, but the Daniel Murphy conundrum likely kept the Mets from committing to Zobrist at second base—his preferred spot in the infield.

This is me quasi-speculating on that idea, but it wouldn’t be surprised to see the Mets quickly re-sign their postseason GOAT now that Zobrist is locked up.

While the Price-Maddon connection was pumped up throughout the season, Zobrist was always the more likely former Ray to join the organization. I mean, it was far from guaranteed, but there were too many factors that made it a perfect marriage before all this mess even started.

First, obviously Zobrist played for the quirky manager for a few seasons and excelled as an everyman. Second, Zobrist is from Illinois and played for NAIA Olivet Nazarene just an hour south of the city. We have seen a hometown connection for players across the four major sports at an increased rate as guys want to move closer to family. Third, he brings some of that World Series veteran swagger like Jon Lester. The Cubs youth eventually caught up with them in NLCS and a few more high OBP veterans could have made a difference in changing momentum in that series. Lastly, he can play anywhere. We know how much Theo and Joe like the flexibility.

Bringing Zobrist on board further clouded an already clouding infield situation, but Cubs fans received a quick response to that dilemma.

Within minutes—seconds even—Cubs news turned over from Zobrist to full-fledged Starlin Castro rumors. The rumblings of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Castro had cropped it since late Monday, and alleged assurances Castro wasn’t going anywhere ended up just being empty noise.

Keeping both Baez and Castro on the roster in 2016 would have only made sense if Chicago decided to focus solely on holes in center and in the rotation. Baez has yet to settle on a position in the pros due to his youth and is more controllable, which made him a bit more valuable than Castro to both the Cubs and other teams in all likelihood. Trading Castro to New York does not protect Baez from being moved in the coming days, but it certainly lessens the probability there.

With Zobrist in place as the probable opening day second baseman, Castro was rendered expendable by the Cubs after losing his shortstop spot in the middle of the year. Castro was equally loved as he was hated on the Twitterz, but it is sad to see the end of an era after essentially “growing up” with a guy who debuted two years before his 21st birthday.

He immediately improves the second base position for the Yankees, but most importantly he relieves a jam for the Cubs and gives Chicago a pitcher for the back end of the rotation or long relief.

I’ll admit I know very little about Adam Warren despite living in Boston-New York rivalry territory. The Cubs have done pretty well at plucking low-cost pitchers during the Theo era and Warren immediately helps from a consistency standpoint, regardless of what role he settles into. He’s notched 70-plus innings in each of the last three seasons and had a career worst 3.39 ERA in his rookie season in 2013. That’s far from bad in a power-hitting AL East.

At the very least, Warren provides Jason Hammel insurance and the Cubs could use plenty of that.

Brendan Ryan is the other player coming back for Castro. Whatever. Go research the 33-year-old spring fodder for yourself if you feel so inclined.

So where do we go from here?

The Shelby Miller price tag was too high and it’s hard to see the Cubs involved in any other pitchers now that they have a combination of Jake Arrieta, Lester and John Lackey in tow. A few more bullpen arm signings should be expected before the turn of the New Year.

Jason Heyward is the elephant in the room and most people are probably on board with that notion considering what that lineup would look like. The Cubs have the spot and future cash pipeline to pay Heyward a pretty penny, especially after not joining the literal “arms race.” He fits in between the clunky youth of Schwarber and Soler in the outfield well.

Alex Gordon has had his name crop up since the World Series ended, but all that does is likely push Soler out the door. Cubs don’t really need any corner outfielders unless they have a secret plan for Schwarber that no one outside of the organization knows.

If you look at the outfielders on the market, Heyward is the only high-price guy remaining who makes sense for the Cubs. Re-signing Dexter Fowler or Austin Jackson might be the follow up options should they whiff.

And as we depart, let us dream about what an Opening Day lineup would look like for the Cubs in our dream scenario.

1. Ben Zobrist    2B

2. Jason Heyward   CF

3. Anthony Rizzo   1B

4. Kris Bryant    3B

5. Kyle Schwarber  LF

6. Jorge Soler   RF

7. Miguel Montero   C

8. Jake Arrieta  P

9. Addison Russell   SS

Yup.

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Random Thoughts from an August Day Game

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

So, I missed my post time earlier today and the craziness of college athletics preseason has already turned me into Robin Williams’ (RIP) character from the horribly directed 90’s children cult classic Flubber—a forgetful buffoon.

In hopes of restoring the trust between writer and reader, I bring to you a few random thoughts from a meaningless August game.

  • Those two weirdly placed home-and-home series with the Rockies has helped get the Cubs out to a six-game lead in the race for being the worst team in the National League. The battle between the Rockies and Rangers to be the worst team in the league will be fierce over the next month. Barring epic collapses, neither preseason favorite (Astros and Cubs) will be blessed with the title of MLB’s worst at the end of 2014.
  • Leave it up to Edwin Jackson to be the guy who breaks a streak of seven straight games with a quality start. I’m still unsure if I’m surprised that Jackson hasn’t been DFA’d yet, but in a season that has been over since the first week of April, it makes sense just to let him try for the occasional win. I wasn’t completely opposed to the Jackson signing at first, but we can strike it up to Theo’s only really poor move thus far in his three-year tenure. Jackson didn’t last five full innings…..again, but his poor performance made room for my next point.
  • Jacob Turner made his Cubs debut, pitching 2.1 innings of no-hit ball out of the ‘pen. Turner was sharp and his velocity on his fastball continues to stay around the 93 mph mark. A week later, it still amazes me how clueless both the Marlins and Rockies were regarding Turner, especially with the quality of players given in return for controlling the 23-year-old for a few more years. Turner relied on the two-seam fastball a lot—17 times—14 of which went for strikes and three were whiffs. The two-seamer topped out at 94 on the gun, which is good news for the Cubs depending on how they use him the rest of the season. I said on twitter last week this deal could be one of the most important Theo makes when the “rebuilding effort” is all said and done. It’s a strong statement, but Turner has that type of talent.
  • Meanwhile the Cubs’ hitters made Brewers Mike Fiers look like a Cy Young candidate. Fiers has been very good in three starts this year, but 14 strikeouts in six innings of work is awesomely depressing to watch. To put it in perspective, Fiers had 15 TOTAL strikeouts in 22 innings of work last season for the Brew Crew. 15. Javier Baez must have lost a bet to Fiers before the game because he was swinging at the high cheese with enthusiasm and grandeur all afternoon. He finished with the infamous Golden Sombrero. Anthony Rizzo seemed to be the only guy who could put the fear in Fiers, going 2-for-3 with a double against him.

Other News

  • Rob Manfred was elected as the next Commish of baseball with a 30-0 election. Good thing baseball voters aren’t involved. That would get complicated. I am also pleased Tom Werner was not elected, because I can only take so much of this.
  • When did MLB Singles by Match.com become a thing? When did baseball dating become a thing? Are there happy endings between Cubs and Cards fans who meet through this weird baseball dating site? The internet, where baseball and farmer dating happens.
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Building a Bullpen

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In an alternate universe* where I am the youngest general manager in Major League Baseball history—take that Theo—I find the building of a bullpen to be the most fascinating of activities.

While starters get the big-money contracts and deadline buzz, bullpens are pieced together with some strange concoction of failed starters, big-stuff young guns and a handful of oft-travelled veterans. Sometimes they work and sometimes they fail miserably, but no team can survive a season without the band of merry gentlemen coming out of the pen to (hopefully) preserve the occasional tight win.

I’m a bit of a sucker for good relief pitchers, as evidenced by my unnecessary hogging of holds leaders and surprising save-by-committee-competition winners in my friends-only fantasy league every year. But how exactly does a (real) team catch lightning in a bottle and create a group of pitchers that will eek out late-inning wins rather than give up the traumatic gopher ball in the closing moments?

There are two general trains of thought when it comes to building a pen, at least in my experience: developing or buying. Both strategies are rather self explanatory with developing bullpens focusing on mid-level arms in the draft and buying bullpens getting put together with a flurry of back-page trades or free-agent signings.

While I would love to spend the next three years of my life studying what strategy is better is a stand-alone recipe for success—my day job will come calling eventually—so I’ll tell you what I THINK I know.

I think the answer lies somewhere in between the two strategies. Okay fine, maybe this is a copout of a response, “Surely no team builds a bullpen solely one way or the other,” you say. I’ll give you that, but every team has a different identity in how they build their pen, whether their focus is international players or live arms or whatever redeeming quality a front office may want.

The teams with the best bullpens know how to get the most of the guys in their system, while also supplementing them with an assortment of wily vets. The problem with building a bullpen is that, by nature, they are volatile from both performance and longevity standpoint.

Mariano Rivera’s and Lee Smith’s don’t just grow on trees anymore. Injuries, contract demands and lack of sentimentality among players have led to shortened careers or 10-stop careers. For many relievers, this is the life you live. Just ask a guy like Latroy Hawkins.

Only closers get the somewhat royal treatment that starters receive, but even their shimmer as a high-priced cog for teams is fading. My buddy Dave, who I probably reference way too much, always rags on teams who spend big money on closers in free agency. “Teams should instead,” he says, “focus on building up their closer spot from within and spend money elsewhere.” It’s hard to look at the contract doled out to traveling closers in recent years and disagree with his sentiment.

Middle relief is an underappreciated art—that is until something goes wrong. However, I tend to find that the most beloved Cubbies in recent years have been of the mid-inning-eater variety. James Russell and Sean Marshall are two guys that instantly come to mind, as solidly developed guys who have been the glue holding a middling pen from falling completely apart. On the flip side, the Cubs have had their fair share of over-priced closers take a shot at becoming a fix in the role. Unfortunately few, if any, have worked out in the team’s favor in trying times.

The late-night heartburn caused from too many agonizing Carlos Marmol and Hawkins’ blown saves has been relieved a bit after the early-season release of Jose Veras—another example of a FA closer not working out. Sure the Cubs are still losing games at an exorbitant rate, but the losses seem to be piling up more because of a youthful offense in comparison to gauge-your-eyes out collapses.

Chicago’s makeshift bullpen in 2014 has been far from perfect, but their current rank of 17th in ESPN’s relief category is a drastic improvement from their ranks of 29th and dead-last in 2013 and 2012 respectively. Interestingly enough, the Cubs bullpen this year is still seeing time in plenty of pressure situations because of the low ERA numbers on an individual basis from the rotation. Despite an offensive power outage, many of the guys coming in during the middle innings have seen a large number of toss-up scores.

The record might not be any different in 2014, but again, there are many reasons for why this is the case that most educated fans understand. But it is interesting to see the improvement in the pen, despite a lot of question marks surrounding the future of its makeup.

Currently, not a single player in the pen has a set-figure salary following the season. Carlos Villanueva is an unrestricted free agent and a probable goner, while everyone else minus Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter is arb-eligible. There is the hope, as always, that most of these deals will get done sooner rather than later and the Cubs have shown that arbitration needs to be avoided at all cost. Who can blame them, arbitration is a bit awk(ward for you oldies).

Wesley Wright and Russell could both be moved by the time this article is posted, which changes the dynamic of the unit a bit for the remainder of the year.

Hector Rondon and Pedro Strop will be mainstays in the back half for the time being, as are probable cheap options Justin Grimm and Brian Schlitter. Outside of that the Cubs will probable see another offseason of turnover in the middle of the pen. Management will need to decide if they see Chris Rusin and freshly acquired Felix Doubront as back-end starters or middle relievers.

The continued improvement of the young relievers in their system has been one of the least talked about goals for the team. A farm full of big bats will be able to mask many deficiencies with the staff, as well the likelihood of adding a top-flight pitcher by the time Opening Day in 2016 rolls around. However, figuring out the right collection of players in the bullpen, both current and future, will have a lasting impact on how high the arrow can actually go up for the franchise.

 

*EDITOR’S NOTE: This universe actually exists in the program called Out of the Park Baseball and not in Josh’s delusional brain.

So what say you VFTBr’s, what does your bullpen look like in two years?

 

 

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Radio vs TV

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

After the VMA snafu on Sunday night I began to look for older music from some of the performing artists at the award show. (Disclaimer: Miley Cyrus was not one of those artists). I knew of Macklemore’s connection to his hometown of Seattle and was pleasantly surprised when I came across a song written as a tribute to Mariners’ great radio announcer Dave Niehaus, who passed away following the 2010 season.

Niehaus had one of the most recognizable voices on the airwaves for decades and was the original announcer for the M’s until his death. He finally was bestowed with the honor of the Ford C. Frick award in 2008, which is given to only the most deserving of baseball broadcasters.

Macklemore’s song “My, Oh, My” recounts the 1995 season where the M’s made the AL Championship Series over the Yankees. The first time listening to the song, it gave me chills hearing Niehaus’ call as Ken Griffey Jr. crosses the plate to send them to the ALCS.

Calls like that are why I grew up dreaming about getting into sports radio. Calls like that are why I was okay with leaving the TV due to mom’s enforced bedtime so I could crawl into the cozy sheets and turn on the radio. Calls like that paint us a picture of a beautiful game that HDTV can only provide on a surface level.

I spent much of my summer observing a good friend Kyle Tait, who is the play-by-play guy for the Mississippi Braves. Kyle’s still learning the tricks of the trades—only three years out of undergrad at Georgia Tech—but sticky Friday nights wouldn’t have been the same without the deep voice of baseball coming through my Apple earbuds.

My grandfather was my idol growing up because of his tireless work ethic and the way he treated people. He told me that radio would always been an important medium because of the craving to be engaged with senses other than sight. As much as television advances have dominated the attention of the general population, I think there is some truth to his ideals.

Experiencing a game with the reliance on someone else painting the picture to you is something that cannot simply be replicated by high-quality picture. Radio allows you to imagine the smells of peanuts and beer, while at the same time picturing the way the bright lights shimmer off of the individual blades of grass in centerfield.

Some of the greatest calls and broadcasters of all time didn’t have the luxury to rely on a television crew to capture the game’s descriptions. They forced themselves to be the eyes and ears for those not lucky enough to be at the game.

I think of the movie Angels in the Outfield where a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt and his buddy from the orphanage J.P. are outside the California Angels ballpark listening to the call of their floundering Halos. The raw emotion they felt with the twists and turns of the game are the experiences everyone should want to feel when listening.

What say you VFTB family, do you enjoy listening to games on the radio or is TV really the better media?

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Book Review: The Art of Fielding

Monday, August 12th, 2013

Fun weekend all around for the Cubbies. As nice as a sweep would have been for the boys in blue, taking two out of three against the Cards while playing with a lineup full of dudes I know nothing about is impressive.

I haven’t watched a Cubs game since the final day before the All-Star break—not because I don’t want too, but because I’ve been in between moves once again—and my daily glances at the box scores have provided many a “who in the world is (insert player name)? I caught a few glimpses of the game yesterday peeping in the windows of local bars, while parading down a long stretch of road in my new place.

The series win was not only sweet because of the opponent, but also because it provided the somewhat lovable Pirates a chance to put a few more games between them and the redbirds. Unfortunately the Buccos decided it was a prime weekend for them to get swept by the Rockies in Denver.

Since topics of the offseason and next year’s prospective team/lineup have already been rehashed a bit, I thought it would be a good change of pace to talk a little “bookworm.” Some of my favorite pieces on the blog over the years have been reviews, critiques or observations from baseball/sports books and it may be fun to get back into that business.

Once every month or two, I’ll try and get something out about a baseball book that I’ve recently read. Reading is one of my favorite pastimes away from work and it doesn’t happen nearly enough considering my weekly workload. In the few weeks between finishing my last job, moving 1,300 miles and starting a new job, I was able to finish “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach.

The novel is the first for Harbach and it was published in late 2011, so I’m a little late to the game—so to speak. The book was recommended to me by a friend who is a baseball lover and a high school English teacher—he told me that this is one of the best sports books he has ever read.

So I took his word for it and did a little research about the book beforehand. I’m a little weird when it comes to picking books in a bookstore, because there are so many good things to read. Most of my reads come from personal recommendations or being force fed by close friends—an idea which I will incorporate into the post later.

“The Art of Fielding” outlines the story of a small-school college baseball team, who stumble into an unknown, but incredible baseball prospect. The book’s hero is a shortstop who challenges for the NCAA record for most games in a row without committing an error—a record that is currently held by the boy’s childhood hero.

The story is told through the eyes of three important characters in an interesting weave of differing emotions and ideals. The topic of baseball is the front door of the book, but the story outlines the complexity of human relationships and how we deal with different personalities. Tragedy and joy are prevalent throughout, in a roller coaster that toys with your own emotion.

While the book is long-ish, it basically reads itself from cover to cover.

For the sake of being cheesy, I’d give the book 4 ½ gloves out of five. Definitely worth the read if you enjoy good baseball fiction, especially if you like a reasonably priced e-book.

I want to give YOU, VFTB fan club, the choice to pick my next read: Francona or The Summer of Beer and Whiskey. Vote in the comments.

  • Starlin had a day that was normal for him over the past two years—3 for 4 with an RBI. He’s managed to      creep that BA over .250 finally, but 2013 cannot end fast enough for the guy.
  • A month without the Mr. Hyde version of Edwin Jackson officially ended, as the Cards tagged Jackson early. Only three more years (maybe) of miserable starts.
  • What’s the point of coming back in a game if you are going to give the lead back?

STATE OF THE SYSTEM
Right Field

by Rob Willer

Top Prospect: Jorge Soler, 21, RF  Jorge Soler the prize of the international free agent pool for the Cubs signed right out of Cuba for 9 years and 30 million. Soler has a patient approach at the plate and a rare combination of big, raw power with a quick, short swing. He profiles as the prototypical corner outfielder who slots into the heart of a strong lineup.He stands 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Soler runs better than one would think for his size. Due to his athleticism most scouts believe he will last longer even with his great size compared to the likes of big power hitters that eventually run out of gas. Coming into this season Soler was ranked the 34th ranked prospect by Baseball American and the 42nd by MLB.com.

2013 Season: So far this season at High A Daytona Soler has contributed a line of .283/.383/.467 while hitting eight home-runs and driving in 35 runs. Soler’s walk to strikeout ratio is surprisingly very good as he was at 38 strikeouts to 21 walks through 55 games. The big issue is that Soler was injured on June 14th for what is being described as a fractured left tibia. Initial reports suggested that Soler would be out four to six weeks. This in turn would have placed his return to be late July/Early August but the fracture hasn’t competently healed yet. According to Carrie Muskat the MLB.com beat writer for the Cubs has reported that Soler will undergo tests Monday to decide whether or not if he can play in the Arizona Fall League. Albert Almora of the Kane County Cougars also is being reported as a candidate for the Arizona Fall League. We’ll keep you up to date later on in the month on who will be on the roster for Arizona in the fall.

Sleeper Prospect: Rubi Silva, 23, was the Cubs top position player prospect out of Cuba before Jorge Soler came aboard.  Silva is a great athlete who can play all 3 OF positions and 2B. Silva started off his Cubs career by skipping Rookie Ball and Short Season A jumping right into Low A Peoria in 2011. 2011 was a mixed bag for Silva as he absolutely tore up Low A Ball by producing a line .300/.319/.400 while contributing seven triples three homers and 16 doubles. After 95 games the Cubs thought Silva was ready for Advanced A Daytona where pitchers are more refined and the competition jumps considerably. Silva played the final 29 games at Advanced A Daytona where he chipped in a line of .229/.250/.362 not the numbers Silva was looking for on the season. There weren’t many positives at his stint at Daytona in 2012 as he only walked three times but struck out 22 times showing poor plate discipline.

2012 Season: After his struggles at Daytona Silva spent 111 games at Daytona and boy did it make a difference after his line turned in a .302/.322/.412. Silva really worked hard that off-season to get back to where he was pre-promotion to Daytona in 2011. Some other note worthy stats for Silva include 15 doubles, 11 triples and three home-runs while driving in 61 runs. From first glance it seems Silva has great speed due to the double digit triples and his power seems non existent as he only hit three home-runs. After he turned in a successful season at Daytona they promoted Silva to Double A just like they did in 2011 when promoting him to High A after a hot start. Silva did fairly well at Tennessee in the 20 games he played for the Smokies. He had a line of .263/.277/.413 while also hitting three triples in less than 80 at bats.

2013 Season: Silva continued to develop this year at Double A Tennessee picking up where he left off at the end of the 2012 season. Silva’s up to date stats include a line of .294/.313/.493. We see first off the dramatic change in slugging percentage as he jumped 80 points from last year. In his first two seasons Silva combined to hit 10 home-runs over 253 games across 995 at bats. In 106 games and 402 at bats Silva already has hit 13 home-runs to go along with 27 doubles and seven triples. He has turned in all-around great season and seems very deserving of his third call-up in three years. Stay Tuned as I move across the outfield to center for tomorrow’s piece.

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A Cubs Fan Walks Into a Bank

Friday, July 12th, 2013

…..Would be the name of the story if anyone ever wanted to document how my day started on July 11, 2013. My wife and I found out we are moving back to the Northeast in a few weeks, so we found ourselves sitting on a flower-printed couch in the middle of a small Jackson, Mississippi bank.

One of the customer service guys–for the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Seymour–called us over to his desk and immediately commented on my Reed Johnson jersey tee. Yes I still wear that once every few weeks. Before I could counter with the friendly, “Oh are you a Cubs fan too?” conversation, he magically whips out a Cardinals mug from some unseen compartment in his desk.

“Seymour” was a nice guy and knew his baseball, but some part of me said that I should not be banking with a division rival. On the way out he wished me well and said he hopes the Cubs turn around their season. A subtle knife in the back to take home.

Unbeknownst to my suddenly forgetful brain, the Cubs and Cards were set to play a four-game set starting tonight and I was in charge of the now-defunct recap. Usually this spells doom, especially since I get shackled to Edwin Jackson starts more than anyone it seems, but my childish glee was in full effect as the text updates rolled across my iPhone screen.

Anthony Rizzo’s RBI-hit times two during the first three innings was enough for Jackson, as he matched a season-high seven innings pitched. The Cubs shutout St. Louis only one day after giving up a season-high runs in a game against the Angels.

Still Chicago has won five out of six games with three more against their St. Louis arch rivals leading up to the All-Star break. If the Cubs improbably sweep the Cards, they will only be five games under .500 entering the break. One can dream can’t they?

In a season that has been downright miserable to watch at times, winning games like Thursday make games like Wednesday worth skimming over watching. “Seymour” was probably none too happy with today’s result, but the earlier interaction made the game more enjoyable to follow along.

Newsworthy?

  • New ESPN wonder boy Yasiel Puig was not named as the vote-in player representative for the National League, with that designation going to Freddie Freeman. Puig’s month-ish time in the league has been nothing short of magnificent, but I think the fans made the right call.
  • In a pretty horrible, but not uncommon mistake. A kid was accidentally called a “Home run Hitler” in his school yearbook. That’s unfortunate.
  • PETA has found a new organization to be upset with

The teams are back in action tomorrow afternoon at 3:05 CT with Carlos Villanueva going against Joe Kelly.

 

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Game 78: Predictably Depressing

Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

Sometimes I’m convinced that the team looks at our recap schedule and decides to put on their weekly tease game for the ones I have to write up. Last week Travis Wood had a pretty solid lead and the team blew it over the second half of the game. The game with the Brewers on Tuesday also contained a three-run lead, before getting smashed in the second half of the game.

So what happens on Friday night? Much of the same. The Cubs held a fairly commanding 4-1 lead through 6.5 innings with Wood giving up only a handful of hits and looking sharp. But then the baseball plague of doubt started to creep into my brain like Stephen King’s The Mist. The feeling is equally as awful as the book/movie too.

Extra base hits started to pile up for the Mariners as Wood exited the game and top-reliever James Russell entered. Russell was hit hard from the moment he stepped on the mound and was ultimately responsible for the game being tied at four in the eight inning. Raul Ibanez’s “triple”–although Bogey severely misplayed that ball in left field–was the capstone to the comeback for the Mariners.

About this time my cable thankfully cut out due to some nasty thunderstorms coming over from Texas. It was okay that I was going to bed before the game was over because I already knew the end result.

At about 4’o’clock this morning I woke up by a message on my phone and fatefully saw the “Seattle defeats Chicago in 10” text from Bleacher Report. I sighed, rolled over and fell back asleep.

Interesting Note

According to a graphic on last night’s telecast, 42 percent of Cubs runs come from the home run. That seems awfully high for a team that doesn’t seem to hit a ton of balls out of the yard. However, that preconceived notion is actually not true at all. The Cubs with two dingers last night have 84 on the season and that total is the best in the NL Central.

The Cubs kind of scored all of their runs off of round-trippers. Soriano and Navarro hit long bombs in the seventh to give the Cubs a three-run lead they could blow. Ryan Sweeney continued with his hot bat and smacked a triple into the triangle corner down in right field. Endy Chavez misplayed the ball and then rushed the throw toward third, allowing Sweeney to score. It was scored a triple and advance home on the error. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a play like that.

Sizing up Wood

THIS is the guy I thought we were getting when the team traded with the Reds. Wood was the faster riser to the bigs of his draft class and had a sound rookie season, but a couple of underwhelming seasons later he was expendable. It’s amazing that Wood was not even guaranteed a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training, but the team would probably have another 5-6 losses on the board if he didn’t earn the spot. He has easily been the most consistent pitcher in the rotation and if the Cubs somehow decide to move forward with Shark, Garza and Wood, they could be a winning team assuming the lineup comes together. That likely won’t happen, but Wood has still been one of my favorite players to watch in 2013.

If you could choose one of the three pitchers to build around right now and trade the other two, who would you pick to stay?  Discuss

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Game 75: Basement Dwellers Unite

Wednesday, June 26th, 2013

Box Score / Highlights

I either need to A) stop signing up for recaps altogether or B) stop recapping games in which Edwin Jackson pitches.

With both the Cubs and Brewers tied for the fourth place in the Central, somebody had to fall back into the basement by the end of the evening. The game got off to a good start for Jackson when Nate Schierholtz added his 11th round-tripper of the year for a 3-1 advantage.

But Jackson selfishly decided to pull within a loss of Cole Hamels for the MLB lead in the category, falling to 3-10 on the year. Jackson gave up a solo shot in the second and couldn’t miss a bit during a five-run fifth for the Brew Crew.

The Cubs had a couple of doubles off of Kyle Lohse, but they couldn’t put together any multi-hit innings after Schierholtz’s home run.

Cody Ransom got the start over the struggling Starlin Castro and performed status quo for the position this season. He was 0-4, but didn’t commit an error as the first Cubs’ player other than Castro to start at short for almost 300 games.

Not much that Dale Sveum has touched has turned to gold this season, but maybe the decision to sit Castro for a game will get him kicked started. Nothing else seems to be working. Young players go through slumps and Castro’s won’t have much staying power in the second half.

Or will it?

JJ covered the breaking news of Carlos Marmol and Ian Stewart getting the double ax on Tuesday. Stewart finally got his wish of an unconditional release, but I don’t know what team would be crazy enough to give him a full-time gig in the bigs. If he was unhappy in Iowa, what AAA club is he going to be thrilled going to? The unfortunate end of a once-promising career.

Marmol was DFA’d and who know how that will play out over the next 48 hours. I can’t see a team crazy enough to make a move for him, but I guess we shall find out if a team like Detroit truly had interest in the first place.

As the dead weight is released from the roster, which players of more value are going to be traded over the next month?

Discuss.

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