Author Archive

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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Game 73: Three-run Leads are Hard to Hold

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

 Box Score /Highlights

I turned the game off in the bottom of the fifth inning after the Cubs went up by three runs and Travis Wood pitching like his normal 2013 self. With a project of building my wife’s kitten a cat “castle” awaiting me on the back deck, I felt safe leaving the fate of the game in Wood’s very capable hand. He was facing the Astros, although I don’t feel we are in any position to be overlooking any team aside from maybe the Marlins.

If Joe’s proposition of yesterday’s win only counting as half of one, does this mean that a loss on Saturday counts for two times a loss? I guess that only seems fair, especially in a game where the Cubs looked like the better team for the majority, which isn’t saying much. That’s like saying the Bills are a better team than the Jaguars.

Wood had only given up a pair of hits at the time my television went into the rest position, but a couple of two-out singles in the sixth inning put him in a vexing situation. Wood has looked comfortable getting out of the few jams he’s pitched into this year, but J.D. Martinez hit his seventh homer over the year over the left field wall to tie the game at three.

According to ESPN.com, Martinez’s home run was the exact distance as Nate Schierholtz’s knock in the bottom of the fifth, just to the opposite side of the field. Both were registered as 406 feet and started my mind wandering about determining distances on home runs. Just how accurate are these numbers and who are the people calculating them? Is this part of the NSA’s new deal? Watching every home run and feeding government-funded information back to media groups for higher taxes?

Okay that was a joke, I am sorry.

In a roundabout segway to Schierholtz, Katie’s man-crush be darned, seemingly every time I look at a box score he has done something in the run-scoring categories. There has been at least one guy over the last few seasons that has been a solid, bargain pick up that can be flipped for something before the deadline. As much as I like Mr. Nate, I think he becomes that guy this year like Maholm was last year. If the Cubs’ brass sells high on a few pieces in July, the team will be unwatchable by August 1st, but I think they are already at that point for some of you.

Back on track, Kevin Gregg got his first loss as a Cub in 2013 on a pair of sacrifice bunts in the top of the ninth. Ronny Cedeno stuck it to his former team with a squeeze play back to Gregg to score Justin Maxwell from third and the rest is history.

In other news, the Blackhawks won at home to make it 3-2, just in case you haven’t heard. This makes CAPS sad because a few months in Boston has made him a Bruins fan according to his Facebook page. Poor CAPS.

Would you rather have the ‘Hawks win Game 6 on the road or Game 7 at home? Does it matter? Discuss.

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