Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The Plan: Looking Back and Looking Forward

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Cub fans have been hearing about “The Plan” ever since Theo and company took over the team in October 2011. The Plan has been hotly debated–with staunch defenders (I count myself firmly in that camp) and skeptical detractors. Now that The Plan seems to be coming to fruition, let’s take an overview of what has happened so far, and what might be coming down the road.

Building the Team

Although Theo and Jed never explicitly stated the specifics of their Plan to rebuild the team (because, of course, that would have been ill-advised), we’ve been able to infer the strategy pretty clearly. They have focused on polished, powerful college bats in the first round of the draft, focused on pitching by attacking it with quantity in round 2 and beyond, supplemented pitching with free agency and trades, and found role players and veterans to fill in around the young position players through free agency and trades. So, why the focus on position players early in round 1? Albert Almora, Kris Bryant, and Kyle Schwarber were the three first-round picks made by Theo and Jed the last three years (and Javy Baez was selected with the first round pick the year before Theo arrived). With some good arms on the board, they decided to stock up on position players because (and I’m making educated guesses here): 1) In a climate of decreased offense and power in baseball, power becomes a “market inefficiency,” 2) hitters, especially college bats, are more of a “sure thing” (although that doesn’t really exist) than pitchers, and are less prone to injury, 3) even though the Cubs were loaded with bats, you can never have too much of a good thing, because not all prospects pan-out (more on that later) and you can always use players as trade bait if you truly can’t find a place for someone to play, 4) they actually did think these picks were the best players available at the time. Although the jury is still out on Almora, Bryant is already making a splash at the big league level, and Schwarber has done nothing but tear the cover off the ball since being drafted.

This year, we’ve seen some of the young stars finally come together on the MLB squad. With the call-up of Addison Russell on Tuesday (a reminder, we got Russell for THREE MONTHS of Shark, and we have Hammel back (plus, we still have Billy McKinney, a very nice player in his own right), we have an infield featuring 2 all-stars, 2 players who we expect to make multiple all-star appearances…and they are all 25 years old are younger and on team-friendly, long-term control. What other team can say this? This sounds like a Plan coming together perfectly, if you ask me. This young core has been supplemented with pitching through free agency (Jon Lester, Jason Hammel) and trade (let’s remind ourselves that we got Jake Arrieta, who looks like a true ace, AND Pedro Strop for Steve Clevenger and Scott Feldman–any GM who completes a trade with Theo should be fired immediately!). In the outfield, we landed star-in-the-making Jorge Soler from Cuba (sort of it’s own category) and Dexter Fowler through trade. Oh, and let’s not forget Joe Maddon.

Going Forward

The Cubs still have some issues to address before this team is ready to compete for WS titles consistently.

The Outfield: Jorge Soler is the only member of the outfield I see as a long-term fixture. Dexter Fowler might be signed to a short extension, but I think the Cubs are hoping that Albert Almora turns the corner with his approach and starts looking like the CF of the future. This is a huge year for Almora, but even if he breaks out, I don’t see him contributing to the big league club until mid-2016 at the earliest. He’s still just in AA, and he has a long way to go with the bat. As for left field: it’s possible that Kris Bryant or even Kyle Schwarber take over this position eventually, but the Cubs may look outside the organization this offseason to address this need.

The Rotation: I’m not worried about Lester right now: he’s still in spring training mode (talk to me in a month, though). Arrieta, as I mentioned above, looks like a true ace and a potential Cy Young candidate. I think the Cubs will aggressively pursue a free agent starter this offseason in what looks like to be a stellar FA SP class. I have my eye on Jordan Zimmerman in particular, but there should be tons of great arms available. Adding a top-flight starter to compliment Lester and Arrieta would really make that rotation scary.

Javier Baez: It’s hard to believe that we’ve arrived to this point. Javy Baez seems almost like an afterthought after being one of the most hyped prospects in recent memory just a year ago. With the infield featuring Rizzo, Castro, Russell, and Bryant, it just seems like the Cubs don’t need Baez to work out anymore. Of course, it would be amazing if he did–imagine adding that kind of power to an already crazy-powerful lineup. If he can make adjustments that improve his pitch recognition and reduce his strikeout rate just a little bit, his power, plus his defense in the middle infield, could really make him a valuable player–especially since he won’t be counted on to carry the team. If Baez does pan out, then the Cubs have a great problem. I think they’ll probably move Bryant to LF (despite him playing CF lately!) and shuffle Baez, Castro, and Russell around as needed. Brsides the offense, it would be great to have 3 true shortstops manning the infield. I have to admit that I’m somewhat pessimistic about Baez’s future, but that’s the difference between now and the past: my pessimism for Baez doesn’t affect my optimism for this team.

Historically, the Cubs’ problem has not been not winning the World Series–that’s a symptom of the underlying disease: not making the playoffs consistently. I’m often disappointed when the lottery numbers come out and I find I didn’t win, but then I realize that I never bought a ticket! Playoff appearances are like lottery tickets, and the Cubs’ issue is that they’ve never bought enough of them. This team, with it’s young, long-term-cost-controlled core, is built to compete for the playoffs consistently year to year…and if you buy enough of those tickets, one of them will eventually hit.

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Game 15 Notes – Bad Bullpen Day

Friday, April 24th, 2015

Cubs (4) @ Pirates (5)

W: Radhames Liz (1-1)
L: Brian Schlitter (0-2)
S: Mark Melancon (3)

GAME NOTES

These days, every day of the year is some sort of theme day. There is bosses day, secretaries day, eat pie day, cut your toenails day. For the Cubs, Thursday was “bad bullpen day”. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop and Zac Rosscup were all available in the pen. Instead, we saw Edwin Jackson come into the game in relief of Kyle Hendricks and struggle immediately. To stop the bleeding, we went to Schlitter. On what planet is that a good idea? They proceed to completely give up the lead and we close it out with Phil Coke and Jason Motte. While Motte and Coke did not pitch poorly, they have recently and the game was still a one run game. It just seemed odd that all we saw out of the pen was bad bullpen guys. It had to be a theme day. There is no other explanation.

I predicted that Hendricks was going to have a great game and the Cubs would cruise to an easy win. Unfortunately I was wrong and he left with 5.1 innings of work and a game score of 48. I reiterate that I don’t think the Cubs have a playoff rotation, but I do believe we have a rotation to get us to the playoffs. There is a big difference. It’s why bringing in a front line guy this trade deadline or this off-season is so important. Until then, we look for average starts from our 3-4-5 and great starts from 1-2. If you have any encouragement, be encouraged by the fact that we haven’t gotten good starts from Jon Lester to this point and we’re still doing just fine so far.

Kris Bryant played CF. He came into the game the other night and played center, and it’s apparently where he feels most comfortable among the outfield spots. I don’t see him playing out there other than to give Dexter Fowler a day off, which is what he did yesterday.

In the end, a series split on the road is OK. It’s a series we could and should have won, but I’ll take .500 ball on the road. Up next is a weekend series in Cincy

THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1957 – Three Cubs pitchers walk nine players in the fifth inning of a 9-5 loss to the Reds at Crosley Field. Moe Drabowsky starts the frame with four walks, Jackie Collum adds three free passes, and Jim Brosnan issues two bases on balls to set a new National League record.

1958 – At the Los Angeles Coliseum, Gene Fodge picks up his only major league win as the Cubs beat the Dodgers, 15-2. Outfielder Lee Walls carries the day with three homers and eight RBIs.

1962 – Dodger Sandy Koufax ties a major league mark, striking out 18 batters in a nine inning game as the Dodgers rout the Cubs, 10-2, at Wrigley Field. Indians right-hander Bob Feller established the record in 1938 when he whiffed 18 Tigers.

1998 – Dodger backstop Mike Piazza ties a major league record, hitting his third grand slam of the month. The blast highlights a nine-run second inning which leads Los Angeles to a 12-4 victory over the visiting Cubs.

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Is 2015 a Historic Start for the Chicago Cubs?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

The 2015 season is only two and a half weeks old and the Chicago Cubs have a record of 8-6. They may have played only 14 games…but there has been more joy, excitement, drama and fun than in the previous 3 seasons…combined.  Aside from those four nouns I used in describing the season thus far…just how good of a start has it been? How does it compare to Cubs’ seasons past? Is it even a benchmark worth comparing?

I am 46 years old…actually 46.5.  Most people refer to themselves as “life-long” fans of their respective favorite teams.  I just don’t feel right saying “I have been a fan for 47 years!”…because I haven’t been.  Born in the tumultuous year of 1968…if you would ask me in 1972 or ’73 who my favorite baseball team was… I would most certainly say the Cubs.  I remember arguing with the dreaded Sox fans on my block when I was 6.  However, in my personal timeline of Cubs’ fandom I would refer to these years as B.O. (Before Obsession) I had a favorite player (Rick Monday), and many times I knew if they had won or lost…but that’s about all I could tell you.  I was much more interested in comic books, action figures, and waiting for the ding-ding man to drive down our block.(also known as the ice cream man, Good Humor man or Mr. Softee)

Conversely, 1977 is the season I would declare as Year 1 of my Cubs’ fandom, or A.O. (After Obsession).   I followed every game, could recite all of the player’s statistics, and lived or died with each win or loss. Therefore, the 1977 season has been a point of reference in my previous columns…and in my book as well.  Obviously the older I get, the more of a database I have to analyze from my Cubs “Year 1” or starting point.

As we Cubs’ fans sit here on April 23, 2015…the Cubs’ season has had an exhilarating start! We have 9th inning come-backs, multiple Rookie of the Year candidates, and a winning record.  From my Year 1…I have never seen a season start with as much flare…and with mega-prospects impacting the early portion of a season.   Yet, from a sheer bottom line performance comparison…how good of a start is this?

I realize that 14 games is a very small sample size…but a record of 8-6 looks glorious compared to the last 5 years at this point:

2010- 5-9    2011- 7-7    2012- 3-11  2013- 5-9    2014- 4-10

Yes…Yes I know, it’s only 14 games…yet the beginning of a season is scrutinized much more…fair or not.  A start of 3-11 or 4-10 spurs trade deadline anticipation in late April.

Using my Year 1 of 1977, here are the Cubs best and worst records after 14 games respectively:

1985- 10-4

Ah…a season right in my wheelhouse!  I had finally recovered from the disaster of 1984 and the Cubs looked like they were going to make amends for the massive disappointment of the previous season. The same team that finished one game short of the World Series was kept intact, and things initially looked rosy. The ’85 Cubs stood at 35-19 on June 11th before a (gulp) 13 game losing streak derailed the campaign. Injuries to Rick Sutcliffe, Steve Trout and every other pitcher on the team sent the team spiraling down to a 77-85 finish.  The Cubs would fall even further back in 1986, and the window closed on this incarnation of our favorite team.

1997- 0-14

Oh my…I forgot/repressed this or something. 0 and freakin’ 14! The Cubs opened up with 10 straight games against the eventual World Series Champion Florida Marlins and the powerhouse Atlanta Braves (with Greg Maddux…argghhhh!).  The closest the Cubs would get to .500 was 24-33.  Amazingly, this team only lost 94 games after this wretched start.  The 1997 season was a train wreck in many ways. The Cubs did not have a starting pitcher with an ERA below 4.20.  Sadly, 3/5ths of the rotation (Geremi Gonzalez, Kevin Foster, and Frank Castillo) have all passed away…a tragic and eerie footnote to this putrid season. A fact even more catastrophic about the 1997 Chicago Cubs? -Mel Rojas was the teams’ closer.

If we examine the Cubs’ record after 14 games during their play-off seasons from ’77-14 there is remarkable consistency: 1984- 8-6, 1989- 8-6, 1998- 8-6, 2003- 8-6, 2007-5-9, and 2008- 9-5.  Translated…the Cubs are a lock for the play-offs this year.

I am joking of course, yet history has proven that the Cubs have very little chance when they don’t at least get out of the blocks well.  From 1977 to 2014, 2007 is the only year in which the Cubs would have a losing record after 14 games and finished above .500. Therefore when the Cubs start slow…they are usually dead in the water. A caveat to this would be that the Cubs have only had 9 winning seasons of 38 seasons since my Year 1 of 1977.(…depressing)

Yet in 7 of those 9 winning seasons (small sample size alert…again) the Cubs stood at 8-6 after 14 games. So while I wouldn’t go making any play-off plans just yet…the Cubs, historically speaking, have had a good start.  After finishing 9 percent of the season they are still in the race!

…which is something we haven’t been able to say in a while.

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Game 14 Notes – Late Rally Falls Short

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Cubs (3) @ Pirates (4)

W: Vance Worley (2-1)
L: Jason Hammel (1-1)
S: Tony Watson (1)
HR: Gregory Polanco (1)

GAME NOTES

Is it just me or did yesterday’s game feel different up until the 8th inning? I felt on Tuesday like we were going to come from behind and win the game the entire time. On Wednesday it just seemed lethargic until the 8th inning when things started happening. It was odd. Once the 8th came around, it was as if the switch was flipped and all of a sudden I felt like we were going to win again. Addison Russell had his first really high leverage situation in the 8th with two outs and the tying run on 3rd. Unfortunately, he lined out and disappointed. I think it’s important to remember that he’s not Kris Bryant. Bryant is not human. He’s a cyborg created to destroy baseball and go immediately into the hall of fame. Russell is a normal top prospect that is going to play well and struggle as well.

Yesterday I mentioned that if we can just get five or six innings of three or four run baseball out of guys like Travis Wood, I’d be happy. I lump Jason Hammel in that category along with Kyle Hendricks. They are guys that are not front line guys. They are 4′s and 5′s, but you can win with them and then upgrade this off-season to have another front line guy. Hammel did just about what we needed. I look for a game score of 50+ from those guys. If you’re unfamiliar with what that is and too lazy to click the link, here is a quick and dirty breakdown.

Game Score is a metric devised by Bill James to determine the strength of a pitcher in any particular baseball game. To determine a starting pitcher’s game score:

  1. Start with 50 points.
  2. Add one point for each out recorded, so three points for every complete inning pitched.
  3. Add two points for each inning completed after the fourth.
  4. Add one point for each strikeout.
  5. Subtract two points for each hit allowed.
  6. Subtract four points for each earned run allowed.
  7. Subtract two points for each unearned run allowed.
  8. Subtract one point for each walk.

Basically I just need them to not do anything to lessen the chances to win. Hammel posted a 46 last night and Wood’s score on Tuesday was 50. Just don’t kill us.

We saw the debut of Gonzalez Germen and that dude was nasty. He can stay. Two innings of nasty ball and I instantly feel much better about the pen. I wasn’t all that worried, but more a little concerned. Germen’s outing last night showed me good things are still in store for this pen.

The only odd thing from last night that I wanted an opinion from the reader on was Joe Maddon‘s aggressive style in the 8th and 9th. We saw him completely empty his bench, including pinch running for Rizzo with Travis Wood in the 9th that would have meant Travis would have had to stay in the game and play the outfield had we scored go ahead or tying runs. I’m all for being aggressive, but that just seemed a little reckless.

It’s an early start today as the Cubs go for the series win behind Kyle Hendricks and I think he’s going to be lights out. I’m predicting 7+ innings of 2 or less runs and at least a strikeout per inning.

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Game 13 Notes – Another Comeback Victory

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2015

Cubs (9) @ Pirates (8)

W: Edwin Jackson (1-0)
L: Mark Melancon (0-1)

GAME NOTES

ADDISON RUSSELL CALL UP – I happened to check Twitter as I was sitting in a very boring CE class for my job and didn’t see anything about the call up. Then I pulled up my e-mail and saw the press release. I was just glancing so when I saw Russell, I assumed it was James Russell, who was signed to a minor league deal a week or so ago and had been pitching well in AAA. After a closer look, I was shocked that it was, instead, the real Russell. I’ll be honest, I was, and still am, quite surprised at the move. It seemed to come with no warning and, in my opinion, is too early. He had such limited experience in AAA this year and it wasn’t like he was on the same track as Kris Bryant in the way he was tearing up level after level. I thought for sure that Russell would be a later in the season call up, if for no other reason than to not risk Super Two status. Now that he’s here, we shift our eyes to either Albert Almora or Kyle Schwarber and I would imagine it will be a close race between the two. I don’t want to zoom in so close and look at his debut. I’m excited he’s here and excited more and more about the future becoming the present with this team. Russell is just another part of that.

CORRESPONDING MOVES - Because Russell was not on the 40 man roster, and you cannot be a part of the Major League roster otherwise, a spot was needed. To make room on the 40 man roster for Russell, the Cubs transferred Mike Olt from the 15 day DL to the 60 day DL. When a player is transferred to the 60 day DL, he can be removed from the 40 man roster. It doesn’t mean Olt is done with the Cubs, but I have a hard time seeing him ever finding a meaningful role with this team and I could see him getting traded while there is still some level of mystery as to what he is and can become. It’s just hard to find a place for him at this point. That broken hand came at a horrible time for him. Had it not happened and had he hit OK at third, I think we would see Bryant in AAA or in the Majors playing the OF right now.

YOUNGSTERS AROUND THE HORN - Before the game, ESPN had a nugget saying:

With Russell being called up to play 2B, all of the Cubs infielders are 25 or younger. No team has started an entire infield of players 25 or younger this early in the season since the ’03 Tigers, who finished 43-119.

I don’t think that will be the case with the Cubs this year. This team is just so much more talented, and I get more and more excited each day to watch them. It’s appointment television.

THOUGHTS FROM THE ACTUAL GAME – I’m not a big fan of retelling the game to the reader. If you watched it, you know what happened. If you didn’t, then take 15 minutes and watch the condensed game. What I took away from the game were three things.

1. I think Travis Wood is going to settle in between his really awesome season and his really bad season, and I’m OK with that. – We didn’t sign him thinking he was going to be a front of the line starter. He’s a back end guy and possibly not even a long term answer. If we can get five or even six innings of three run baseball from him with the occasional stinker and occasional gem, I’m good with that. The Cubs are going to bring in another big arm like David Price or Jordan Zimmerman or Cole Hammels, so that puts even less pressure on Wood to be a big arm in this rotation in the future. Last night he did just what we needed him to do.

2. Our Lineup is Going To Be (and kind of already is) Scary Good. – Just about every time through that heart of the order, at least one of the big names made something happen with the bat. It’s so fun to watch. I think these guys are all going to challenge each other and push each other and we’re going to see ridiculous production in the next year or two. Imagine things if Javier Baez even hits his weight and clubs 35+ home runs. Who cares if he has the strikeouts at that point. Hit him 7th.

3. Our Bullpen is Not As Bad As You Think – Don’t worry. I know Jason Motte wet the bed and I know Brian Schlitter needs to be tarred and feathered, but this pen is also missing Neal Ramirez and Justin Grimm, and both were penciled in to be big pieces. It will get better and as long as it doesn’t turn into a loss, it’s OK. Just enjoy another win and look forward to tonight.

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Ernie Banks: A Legacy That Lives On

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

When you hear the name Ernie Banks, what is your first thought? For me, I picture a big grin on his kind face as he holds a bat. I hear the phrase, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame; Let’s play two!” And I think of a perennial, unparalleled optimism and love for the game that spanned over decades and reached thousands, millions of people.

Ernie Banks is the ultimate Cub. Say what you will about other players, but not one of them earned the title “Mr. Cub.” Not one of them came close. No one ever will.

It has taken a lot of years for the Northsiders to unlock the mystery of Ernie’s optimism. Sure, “There’s always next year,” and “This is the year,” but few believed those sayings, and even fewer believed them wholeheartedly. The moniker of Lovable Losers became less of a joke and more of a lifestyle. The team and the fanbase accepted it as normal, with no qualms about anything as long as there was a place to sit and a beer to drink.

Despite the air of contempt among some of the fans, things have been changing right under their noses. There were the obvious changes – the change in ownership, the firing of Hendry, hiring Theo and Jed, trading players, the renovations, etc. – but something unseen has been changing, too.

When Ernie passed away in January my world came to a screeching halt. I never got to see him play, but I got to meet him at the Cubs Convention. His welcoming smile and kind eyes caused the crowd around him to just watch in awe as he reminisced a little bit and talked a little bit about the current team. His love for the game and for the Cubs just emanated from his very being. It was surreal. This man was supposed to live forever! Mr. Cub could not possibly leave us!

He didn’t.

On Opening Night, during the Ernie Banks tribute, there was electricity in the air. It was out in the bleachers, in the Cardinals players and their fans. It was in the whole world of baseball. Ernie’s face was plastered over those new scoreboards, all over the bleachers, all over our TV screens at home, and it hit me – Ernie never left.

He left behind something very special for us, something intangible. It’s not something that you can see, exactly. It’s more something that you feel.

It’s most obvious in the players. The players feel it. Watch them during warmups. Watch them run onto the field. The air about them is different. They hold their heads a little higher. They have a little more spring in their steps. They have a glint in their eyes. They finish plays. They play games until the very last out.

Ernie never left us, people. He is everywhere with this team. And when those bleachers are finished, and we set our happy little (or big) behinds on those seats, Ernie’s spirit will be there, too.

This is our year. Do it for Ernie.

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Game 12 Notes – A Good Win On A Weird Night

Tuesday, April 21st, 2015

Cubs (5) @ Pirates (2)

W: Jake Arrieta (2-1)

This was a long night of baseball and it was filled with some weird incidents.  Instead of waxing poetic about the Cubs first week of the season I will get right into the game notes…

First thing is first, Arrieta pitched a beauty of game, but the way the first inning went, it looked like it was going the other way.  After the first inning he kept the ball from leaving the infield with exception of a hit or two. Kris Bryant had a nice night at the plate going  3-4,  BB, 4 RBI’s (in fairness, he also hit into a double play with RISP and 1 out but we’ll let that pass for now).  Soler went 4-4 making his presence felt yet again.  This team is getting fun to watch people, fun, fun, fun.

  • The first three innings were slower than erosion. There was a 45 minute rain delay to start things off.  A woman was hit in the head with a foul ball behind home plate, it was  fouled straight back and actually hit the net and then hit her while she was being seated in the first row by the usher.  It looked awful and made for a 25 minute delay, last report was that she was okay, which is what’s important.  To cap it all off Arrieta stepped on his own hit and was called out.  That sounds weird and it was the first time I have actually witnessed this, but he took one of those wild pitcher hacks at a pitch and slapped it straight into the ground.  He then proceeded to step on the ball clumsily and was called out. Only a pitcher could accomplish this feat, but if it were a true Cubbie Occurrence Arietta would have sprained his ankle and spent a few weeks on the DL, instead he want on to throw a gem of a game….so we got that going for us.
  • I am wondering if the Pirates want their money back on Jung Ho Kang?  Outside of being unable to hit MLB pitching thus far, he managed to throw a ball into right field that could have started a big inning, but it didn’t because we like to hit into double plays with runners in scoring position.  That being said he has been a disaster since spring training started.
  • Pirate catcher Francisco Cervelli reminds me of Francis (AKA, Psycho) from the movie Stripes…just a thought.
  • So back to that full moon thing, there was a double challenge tonight!  In the top of the 5th Rizzo was called safe on a bang bang play at home.  The play was challenged by the Pirates and they won, he was called out as a result of the challenge.  Joe Maddon immediately re-challenged the play, as it appeared that Cervelli was blocking the plate.  I have to agree, it looked like classic blocking the plate, but Joe West and company did not, he remained out.
  • More strange stuff, Bryant hit the ball and scored on the same play, but it was not a homerun.  The hit itself would have made it to the seats in 90% of the ballparks in the league, but Pittsburgh’s left center field is cavernous.  Literally, I think there is a cave back there somewhere.  Nonetheless, he crushed a 99 mph fast ball and continues to prove he is Major League talent.  Find a highlight for yourself somewhere as it would take me too long to explain what happened.  It’s worth the watch though….
  • In the 8th inning the stadium started to erupt in Hyena calls. The Cubs were at the plate and it went on for most of the inning. I can’t make this stuff up.  The Five Thousand in attendance were having some fun.

THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1959 -At Wrigley Field, Stan Musial breaks up Glen Hobbie‘s no-hitter with a two-out seventh inning double. The 23 year-old right-hander settles for a one-hitter, going the distance in the Cubs’ 1-0 victory over the Cardinals.

1966 - The Phillies obtain Larry Jackson and Bob Buhl from the Cubs in exchange for future Hall of Fame hurler Ferguson Jenkins, outfielder Adolfo Phillips, and first baseman/outfielder John Herrnstein. The pair of right-handers will post a 47-53 record collectively for Philadelphia as Chicago’s new moundsman will win twenty or more games for six consecutive seasons starting in 1967.

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A Look Back At The Top Stories in Week 2 of MLB

Monday, April 20th, 2015

With pitchers and hitters getting over some rust and early season jitters, division races are rounding into form. Some surprise teams, such as the Mets, are flying high to start the season, while others, the Brewers, are dragging their feet. There’s drama afoot, so let’s recap week 2:

Marlins Have Yet to Figure It Out 

Way back before the season started, the Miami Marlins were sort of a hipster pick to contend in the National League East. After a busy offseason, in which the Marlins resigned cornerstone Giancarlo Stanton and acquired Dee Gordon, Mat Latos and Martin Prado (among others), the Marlins looked like a dangerous under-the-radar club. Suffice to say, the Marlins are not playing like the competitive club they hoped to be. At 3-10, the Marlins sit at the bottom of the NL East, behind even the Phillies. 12 games into the season is far too early to write off a team or make any assumptions. Yet, the fact that Stanton is already questioning his team’s desire to play all nine innings is unsettling. Some questioned why Stanton agreed to a long-term deal with Miami when he had previously hinted that he wanted to play somewhere more competitive.

A Fierce Rivalry in the Making

Most will remember the hotly contested American League Wild Card game between the Athletics and Royals last season. The game had the type of feeling that could lead to a rivalry between the two talented clubs. Any chance for a friendly rivalry went out the window this weekend, but the season series between the two teams is going to mean considerably more, now. To summarize, Oakland’s Brett Lawrie slid hard into Alcides Escobar on Friday, spraining the knee of the Royals’ shortstop. A bean ball war erupted and lasted into Sunday, with a multitude of players and coaches being ejected over the duration of the series. Kansas City’s Kelvin Hererra managed to get the last word in by throwing a triple-digit heater behind Lawrie and furthermore, pointing to his head.

Rodriguez Closing in on Mays

Alex Rodriguez continues to near Willie Mays’ career home run total, after hitting number 658 this weekend against the Tampa Bay Rays. Rodriguez is two shy of tying The Say Hey Kid. When signing Rodriguez to the monster contract that they did roughly 10 years ago, the Yankees included bonuses for Rodriguez reaching career benchmarks. Rodriguez is just a few swings away from one of those $6 million bonuses, and the Yankees are reportedly going to try to block him from earning that money. This isn’t news, per se, as the reports surfaced several months ago. Rodriguez had a big week, though, and is right on the doorstep, and the Yankees are nearing a very big decision: bench the hottest hitter on their team, or pay him.

Rookie Watch

The stars of tomorrow are starting to separate themselves from the pack. Diamondbacks’ pitcher Archie Bradley pitched well again this week, going six strong innings and allowing two runs. He has two quality starts in two opportunities. Dodgers’ center fielder has been impressive from both sides for Los Angeles, reaching base at a .438 clip early on. Jorge Soler is off to a similar start, with two home runs and a .275 average. More rookies are on the way, as White Sox top prospect Carlos Rodon will make his Major League debut some time within the next few days, presumably out of the bullpen for the Sox. The former N.C. State pitcher was the third overall pick in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft. The Mets are calling up one of their top prospects, as well, as Kevin Plawecki will take over for Travis d’Arnaud, who will be out indefinitely with a fractured hand.

Injuries Becoming a Story

Injuries, like that of D’Arnaud, were not a big story during the first week of the season, but they definitely surfaced through the second week of action. The most notable ailment to keep an eye on might be to Felix Hernandez, who is pitching through forearm tightness. Why would the Mariners allow the face of their franchise to risk injury in this fashion? Keep in mind that this is the same organization that had Felix throw bunt practice several years ago. Brewers’ center fielder Carlos Gomez recently injured his hamstring, and in the midst of a DL stint. The Upton brothers, whom the Padres acquired both of during the offseason, are both out with injuries. Melvin, formerly Bossman Junior, has the more serious injury of the two, as he is battling a toe injury and is not expected back for several weeks.

Cubs Still Looking Good

The Cubs might not be leading the Central anymore, but with the hype of Kris Bryant making his debut, that has temporarily been put on the back burner. The Cardinals possess the top spot, with the Cubs in second and Pirates in third. Milwaukee is bringing up the bottom of the division, with just two wins in 12 games. Probably due to their lack of success, the Crew are experimenting with batting Ryan Braun lead off. Back to the Cubs, Kris Bryant’s early returns are very encouraging. Bryant is showing unprecedented patience for a rookie in his first weekend of Major League Baseball, and is making pitchers throw strikes. Jon Lester, while not at the high level he is capable of, is making strides towards getting back to his old ways. He allowed three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings against the Padres on Sunday.


Oddity of the Week: For those who haven’t seen Robinson Cano’s base running blunder yet, look it up. Cano was on third with another runner on second. The batter walked, and Cano started to trot home, believing he was forced in. The bases were not loaded, however, and Cano was, as they say, thrown out on the bases like a nincompoop.

MVP of the Week: Nelson Cruz has 6 home runs since Monday. Let that sink in.

Cy Young of the Week: Max Scherzer has been dominant through his first three outings, especially in his last one. Over eight innings, Scherzer allowed one earned run and fanned nine Phillies.

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Game 11 Notes – Lester Threw to First!

Monday, April 20th, 2015

Padres (5) @ Cubs (2)

W: Andrew Cashner (1-2)
L: Jon Lester (0-2)
S: Joaquin Benoit (1)
HR: Will Middlebrooks (3), Yangervis Solarte (1)

BOX SCORE


Game Notes

It was Lester’s third start of the season, and one that matched him up against former Cub Cashner. Both pitched fairly well, but so far I don’t think that it can be said that Lester is pitching up to expectations. Some of this could likely be chalked up to not being able to pitch a full spring, but after a few more starts, there could be reason for concern. I’m resisting the temptation to overreact at this point though. Yesterday he threw just under 100 pitches across 5.1 innings with 4 strikeouts and 3 runs given up. Not a terrible start, by any means, but not what you look for from your ace. His next start likely comes on Friday in Cincinnati.

Though the Cubs scored in the first inning on RBI singles from Jorge Soler and Chris Coghlan, the Padres answered back quickly in the 2nd with a Middlebrooks 2-run home run that was preceded by Padres manager Bud Black‘s ejection from the game. Watching the game, it was a bit unclear as to what exactly caused his ejection, though it seemed like it was because of something shouted from the dugout after a called strike on Middlebrooks. In the 6th Will Venable hit an RBI single to drive in Matt Kemp, a runner put on base by Lester.

In the 7th, Jason Motte gave up a 2 run HR to Solarte that finished up the Padres’ scoring. The Cubs did not score again after the first, though they threatened in the bottom of the 9th, only to come up short and leave 2 runners on base when Jorge Soler struck out to end the game.

In all, though it was frustrating to see the Cubs lose this series (It was Kris Bryant Weekend, after all), it was refreshing to feel like the Cubs could actually win yesterday afternoon and on Saturday, both times in games that would have felt lost long before the 9th inning ended.

General thoughts:

The Bryant call up was great cause for excitement, and brought a level of energy around the Cubs that I haven’t seen or felt in a very long time. Even the Starlin Castro callup in May 2010 didn’t garner this much excitement. Though his first game on Friday was a bit of a disappointment, his performance on Saturday was pretty exciting as a follow up (3 BBs and 2 hits, including an RBI double for his first major league hit). As he gets comfortable at the plate, this offense is going to be even more potent. This also leads me to wonder about the timetable for Addison Russell. He’s had a few starts at 2B over the weekend, and it seems possible that he might come up earlier than expected to fill to void at 2B (with apologies to Arismendy Alcantara and Jonathan Herrera).

Jon Lester threw to first! This was easily my favorite moment of the game. Not only was it impressive that Lester was able to avoid letting his “yips” about throwing to first get in the way here, but I had to admire Anthony Rizzo‘s attention to what was happening and the quick thinking in dropping his own glove so he could catch Lester’s.


This is probably going to become a regular feature hear on the site as it’s too funny not to include. We will highlight the dumb things we find coming out of Cubs “fans” mouths in an effort to poke fun at people that make our fan base look ignorant.

Our first entry came after Kris Bryant‘s debut and it’s a doozy:

Is Bryant officially a bust? 

0-4, 3K, chokes with RISP, can’t believe we paid 6M for this bum! What was Theego thinking bringing this guy up?

What if we miss the playoffs by one game with this guy striking out 75% of the time? Send him back to Iowa where we can get some momentum back. And we thought Baez was bad!! – SOURCE


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1916 - In Chicago, the Cubs play their first game at Weeghman Park, beating the Reds in 11 innings, 7-6. In 1926, the ballpark will become known as Wrigley Field, in honor of William Wrigley, the chewing gum mogul who gained full ownership of the team seven seasons ago.

1946 - The Cubs are shut out by Cardinal southpaw Harry Brecheen in their home opener at Wrigley Field, 2-0. The game is the first in the club’s history to be televised with ‘Whispering’ Joe Wilson doing the play-by-play on Chicago’s WBKB.

1955 - 
At Wrigley Field, Humberto Robinson makes his major league debut coming out of the Braves’ bullpen in a 9-5 victory over the Cubs. The 24 year-old from Colon is the first player from Panama to appear in a major league game.

1967 - 
Tom Seaver, a right-hander the Mets obtained in a lottery drawing among the three teams, gets his first major-league win when the team beat the Cubs, 6-1. The 22 year-old rookie, who will become known as the ‘Franchise,’ goes 7.2 innings, giving up eight hits and one run in the Shea Stadium contest.

1997 - 
In the second game of a doubleheader, the Cubs stop their season-opening losing skid at 14 games, beating the Mets, 4-3. By losing the opener, Chicago set a National League record (0-14) for the most consecutive losses to start a season and has the second-worst record behind the Orioles, who lost 21 decisions before winning a game in 1988.

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