Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 31st

Monday, August 31st, 2015

by Chris O’Reilly

No-Hit, No Problem

Jake Arrieta single-handedly ended – literally – the Cubs’ recent road woes on Sunday evening, pitching an absolute and utter gem of a game, en route to a 2-0 victory. While the Cubs’ offense could only muster a mere 2 runs, this happened to be more than enough for the newfound ace. These two runs also came in the first inning, on a Kris Bryant two-run shot. Arrieta struck out 11 on 116 pitches, and was aided in moments by the Cubs’ defense. Starlin Castro reacted with shortstop-like reflex on a line drive to second base to preserve the no-hitter in the bottom of the 7th, and Addison Russell beautifully played a slow groundball up the middle to conclude the bottom of the 8th. With an end to a road trip that saw the Cubs eek out 8 runs total since scoring 8 against the Giants on Tuesday, the offense did manage to provide a semblance of optimism going forward in the form of 13 hits.

Back Home with Perspective

The Cubs return home after a west coast road trip against two of the top teams in the NL not only this year, but in recent memory. A 2-4 record due to a struggling offense and being outpitched in all but two games is a superficial evaluation of what really transpired. While these were certainly factors, and it is absolutely fair to assert these as reasons for the struggle, perspective must be kept. Clayton Kershaw, Jake Peavy, and Madison Bumgarner have all won the Cy Young Award within the last 8 years; all faced the Cubs this week and all, mostly, dominated, as they do most opponents. As a corollary, however, the Cubs were given a glimpse into their own bright future on Sunday evening with Jake Arrieta’s dominant performance.

Playoffs Ahead

The Cubs, despite their 3-4 record this week, have managed to remain 5.5 games up on the Giants for the second Wild Card spot heading into the last day of August. They remain 5.0 games behind Pittsburgh for the first spot, and second place in the NL Central, and 9.5 games behind the Cardinals for first place. It looks to be the Cubs’ spot to lose, and with Joe Maddon’s encouragement and near-requirement of onesie-wearing on late night team flights, the loss does not seem overly likely.

Farm Boys

With the coming roster expansion on Tuesday, September 1st, it is expected that Javier Baez will be amongst those in the first wave of call-ups with Emilio Bonifacio and Quintin Berry. Bonifacio helped the I-Cubs complete a sweep of Sacramento by going 4-5 Sunday with 2 doubles, 2 runs, and 2 RBI’s.

What’s On Tap?

The Cubs begin a home series with the Cincinnati Reds, with Kyle Hendricks (6-6, 4.11 ERA) aiming to rebound after a series of difficult starts against Michael Lorenzen (3-8, 5.46 ERA).

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 30th

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Trouble in California

The Cubs have been struggling recently, losing four games in a row against the Giants and Dodgers on the road. The combination of poor pitching and a slumping offense are to blame for the string of L’s on the schedule. In these last four games, the Cubs have been outscored 22-4. Today, the Cubs lost by a score of 5-2. Jon Lester was responsible for all 5 runs with 4 of them coming in the 7th inning. The offense was terrible for the Cubs once again, as they could only muster 6 hits the entire game. The first run was a result of a sacrifice fly by Addison Russell to score Kris Bryant. The second run was a gift from Dodgers starter Matt Latos, when he was called for a balk in the 5th inning. Even with the loss Dexter Fowler picked up where he left off before his injury time off, getting on base 3 times.

Regression

This was bound to happen at some point. This month, and also the last 10 games have not been good for Kyle Schwarber. This month Schwarber is hitting .235, and in the last 10 games he is hitting .132. It seems that pitchers are starting to figure Schwarber out, and how to most exploit his weaknesses and inexperience. An even more alarming stat is his strikeout rate the past 10 games, which is an eye popping 37%. Growing pains are to be expected with young players, but the Cubs are going to need his offense to come around again for them to be competitive come playoff time.

Wild Card Chase

After this week, the Cubs are now 6 games behind the Pirates for the first wild card spot. Also the Giants are making a comeback, as they are now 4.5 games behind the Cubs for the second wild card spot. This race is heating up fast heading into the last month of the season, and its going to be a huge task for Joe Maddon to get this team to focus on the goal of making the playoffs, and to not get overwhelmed by the pressure of each game down the stretch.

Down on the Farm

The biggest story from yesterday came from Tennessee. Smokies’ shortstop Ryan Dent went 4-4 with 2 home runs to pace the offense, while Pierce Johnson went 7 full innings striking out 8 and allowing 1 earned run in a 5-3 win.

What’s on Tap

Despite the Cubs recent struggles, the chances of avoiding a sweep are quite high. Jake Arrieta will have a chance to make his case for Cy Young against Alex Wood of the Dodgers in prime time on ESPN.

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 29th

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

Dodgers Bust Out The Claw

I’m not sure if you realize this, but Clayton Kershaw is really good. Last night he put his hard hat on and went to work, turning in 8 innings of work with 14 strikeouts. His only real blemish was a home run to right center by Anthony Rizzo in his second time at bat. Being on the west coast, I think fans miss seeing guys like Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner unless they pitch on the national stage, which is a shame. I know being on the east coast, I don’t stay up for west coast sports. It’s just too late. Watching the game last night, it was amazing to see how many Cubs hitters left the batters box literally shaking their heads in disgust and amazement at the stuff being thrown up there by the Claw.

Rizzo Continues to Impress Me More and More Each Game

In his first at bat, Rizzo struck out swinging and was one of the hitters leaving the box shaking his head. In at bat number two he crushed a ball deep out of the park to tie the game at one. I’m amazed at how he’s gone from being a guy who was platooned against lefties, especially tough lefties like Kershaw, to being someone who is one of the best hitters in the game against lefties. Who does that? I don’t know about how you feel, but I think when all is said and done, Rizzo will be the heart and soul of this team and will be an MVP at least one year before his career is done. His defense has gotten better each year and his bat just continues to shine.

Going on Record Now

I just want to remind everyone that I asked for this move to NOT happen.

Down on the Farm

We’re nearing the end of this section. I’m actually working on a post that will go up Monday afternoon talking about the potential call ups as of September 1st.

Andres Santiago turned in a really nice performance for Tennessee (AA). He went eight innings and allowed just two hits and no runs while striking out six and not walking anyone. I have to be honest. I’ve never heard this guys name mentioned before, so I wanted to check him out and see where he came from. He’s 25 years old and was originally drafted back in 2007 when he was just 17 years old. Nothing to see here, but last night he had a gem.

What’s On Tap?

I still feel good about winning this series and coming away from this six game stretch with a .500 result. We have the two big horses on the mound in the last two games of the series and their opposing starters, while decent, aren’t as good as ours.

Bonus Nuggets

  • Starlin Castro has cleared waivers. It’s hard to believe no one would even claim him to talk trade as I can’t imagine the Cubs would just let him go for nothing. Not good news for his value in a trade this off-season.
  • Peter Gammons noted that Pro Scouting Director Jared Porter is leaving the Red Sox to join the Cubs
  • Ryan Theriot is now following me on Twitter

 


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1918 – At Wrigley Field, Lefty Tyler tosses a gem as the Cubs edge the Reds, 1-0. The victory clinches the National League pennant for Chicago, which will end the season 10.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants.

1966 – Getting the Cubs’ 4-2 win in relief, Robin Roberts becomes the first and only pitcher to beat the Boston, Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves. The future Hall of Famer gains his third career big league victory against the Boston Braves on Independence Day in 1948.

2002 – At Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Mark Bellhorn becomes the first National Leaguer and joins Carlos Baerga as the only other switch-hitter to homer from both sides of the plate in the same inning. The Cub infielder connects off southpaw Andrew Lorraine to start Chicago’s 10-run fourth-inning and then goes deep again with a three run homer with two outs off Jose Cabrera.

2012 – Thanks to official scorer Bob Rosenberg changing his ruling, Darwin Barney establishes a National League single-season record when he plays in his 114th straight errorless game at second base in the Cubs’ 3-1 loss to Milwaukee at Wrigley Field to break the mark set by David Eckstein, who had accomplished the feat playing for the Padres in 2010. After Barney originally received an error for his toss to the third base, the retired sportswriter changed his mind and gave the error to third baseman Luis Valbuena for mishandling the throw.

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5 Things for Cubs Fans to Know on August 28

Friday, August 28th, 2015

1. Game Notes (Cubs lose, 9-1)

I think we all knew that this was going to be our toughest matchup of the series. Madison Bumgarner is about as challenging of competition as you’ll get in the National League, so the Cubs needed to strike early and strike often. They did strike early, on a Starlin Castro RBI base hit, but then they went ahead and stopped after that. The sad reality is that this means we dropped the series against the Giants, but it still leaves us in a fairly comfortable lead for the second wild card spot at 5.5 games ahead of the Giants. The Dodgers won’t be much easier to face, so grabbing two games from them this weekend would really be nice.

After seeing Castro do so well on Wednesday night, it was nice to see him get another hit yesterday afternoon. He drove in the team’s only run in the top of the 2nd inning and was one of the just 3 hits the Cubs mustered, along with Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo.

Defensively, I thought it was interesting to see Bryant start the game in RF and then move to CF and for Jonathan Herrera to get a start at 3B. Castro also seems to be sticking at 2B ever since being benched, and so far he’s handled it pretty well.

Lastly, I think objectively you have to just appreciate Bumgarner’s performance. Similar to getting bested by Chris Sale not that long ago, when Bumgarner gets 12 strikeouts, you have to appreciate something about that.

2. About Haren…

I will be blunt and say that I had very little expectation about the Dan Haren trade when it happened, other than solidifying the back end of the rotation, but after watching his starts since coming to Chicago, I’m beginning to feel disappointed. No trade is foolproof, but this is not going well. Yesterday’s start was at least the first time he’s pitched 6 innings since becoming a Cub, but up until then, he’s proven to be a bit of a burden on the bullpen, averaging closer to 4.2 innings in his first 4 starts here. I’d rather see the back of the rotation starters strive to eat innings, and even if they give up a few more runs than Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta do, at least they are keeping our bullpen from being overused, especially down the stretch. If I can glean a positive from yesterday’s start, it’s that he at least crested 6 innings and managed 4 strikeouts. If he can replicate this kind of performance with regularity, I’ll be much happier, because it was really James Russell who put the nails in the coffin in the 8th inning.

3. Cubs trade for Rodney

Pedro Strop hat critics be on high alert, Fernando Rodney was acquired for cash considerations yesterday. To me, this is about as low risk, high possible reward of a trade in late August that you can hope for. Sure, Rodney has had a very rough 2015 (I won’t scare you with the specifics), but there’s hope for redemption with a new team, and with Jason Motte likely done for the year, especially after this trade, it’s good to have another arm that might, just might work out. I’m not even sure how you form an opinion liking or disliking this move at this point, because if he pitches badly, they’ll be done with him, but if he pitches well, the Cubs have successfully bolstered their bullpen in a time when that’s especially important.

4. Down on the farm

These seasons are soon ending, and a few of these players will be joining the Cubs with roster expansion next week, but there’s still plenty to follow. In Iowa, the AAA Cubs are 6 games behind Oklahoma City, so their season is essentially done. In Wednesday’s game, Javier Baez played third base and went 2 for 4 and drove in 2 runs. Baez was back at second yesterday.

In high A Myrtle Beach, the Pelicans are in a tight race with Salem and benefited mightily from an excellent pitching performance from Jen-Ho Tseng on Tuesday night, in which he went 7 innings. He gave up just 2 runs and struck out 9 that night.

The South Bend Cubs are long out of their race, but a roster that features Ian Happ and Gleyber Torres is fun to watch no matter what. The short season Eugene Emeralds are also worth keeping an eye on, with both Eloy Jimenez and Donnie Dewees hitting well lately.

5. What’s on tap?

The Cubs start their weekend series tonight (9:10 pm central start time) with another very tough matchup. They’ll face Clayton Kershaw who, despite losing his last 2 starts, has still pitched phenomenally. Like Bumgarner, try to strike early, but get more runs on the board as early in the game as you can. At the very least, long at bats are a good thing here.

The Cubs will send Jason Hammel to the mound, who looked much better in his most recent start against the Braves on August 23.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

 1971: The Cubs honor their longtime fan favorite with ‘Ron Santo Day’ at Wrigley Field. With 34‚988 there to honor the veteran third baseman, he goes 1-for-3 and scores a run, but it isn’t enough when Atlanta spoils the special day, beating Ferguson Jenkins and the hometown team‚ 4-3.

1990: Ryne Sandberg becomes the first second baseman to hit 30 home runs in consecutive seasons when he homers to deep left field off Bill Gullickson leading off the fourth inning in the Cubs’ 5-2 victory over Houston at the Astrodome. ‘Ryno’ will finish the season with 40 round-trippers, the most in the National League.

2001: Alex Rodriguez becomes the ninth player, and the second shortstop, in major league history to hit 40 home runs in four consecutive seasons. The first shortstop to reach the plateau was Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, who accomplished the feat from 1957-60 for the Cubs.

2008: The Cubs game against the Phillies at Wrigley Field becomes the first contest to be played with the use of video replay available to umpires to make calls in regards to fair or foul home runs, balls in or out of the ballpark, and fan interference determinations. The new technology, which doesn’t need to be employed in any of the three ballparks going online today, will be used used by all major league clubs starting tomorrow.

2012: Starlin Castro agrees to a seven-year contract extension with the Cubs, which includes a club option for an eighth season in 2020. The 22 year-old shortstop, already a two-time All-Star, became the youngest player in National League history to lead the circuit in hits when he collected 207 last season.

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5 Things a Cub Fan Should Know for August 27th

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Time To Start a New Streak

The Cubs offense fizzled on Wednesday night as they managed just 2 runs against the Giants that both came in the first inning on a Kris Bryant 2 RBI single. The game was tied at 2 going into the 6th inning, but some shaky defense in the outfield and a couple of hits later, the Giants took a 4-2 lead that would end up as the final score. Chris Denorfia misplayed a liner to center field, left his feet, and let the ball go by all the way to the wall resulting in a triple to start the inning. The Cubs did have opportunities in the later innings to score runs but couldn’t get that timely hit with runners in scoring position.

A couple of interesting notes from the game:

Joe Madden went with a very unique lineup that featured Kyle Schwarber leading off and Starlin Castro batting second. Also, toward the end of the game, Maddon put Bryant in center field. It may have just been need based, but it was certainly an interesting move.

Player of the Game: Kris Bryant (2H, 2B, 2 RBI)

September Roster Expansion

We are just a week out from roster expansion, which leaves a lot of questions and tough decisions for Cubs management. It is well known that Javier Baez should get the call-up, but who else? Newly signed Emilio Bonifacio should be called up as a runner, Matt Szczur and Mike Olt should come up for depth, and I’m sure a few pitchers will be brought up as well. Look for Schlitter, Soriano, and Wada as guys who have been there before. I think it would be great to see Carl Edwards Jr. get a chance to test out the big leagues in a relief role for the last month of the season. Some experience will be good for him as he is sure to be called up to stay sometime next season.

The Fight to Catch Pittsburgh

The Cubs have won 21 of their past 26 games right? Then why does it seem like we can’t gain ground on the 1st wild card spot held by the Pirates. Well as frustrating as it is, the Pirates have been rolling lately as well. In that same 26 game stretch, Pittsburgh is 18-8. We have actually gained 3 games on them, but it has taken an entire month to do so. The Cubs have some very important series remaining against the Pirates and the Cardinals. The best way to catch those teams is to take advantage of those matchups and win games head to head against them.

Down On the Farm

The Tennessee Smokies  had a great offensive night led by Albert Almora and Dan Vogelbach. Both players hit a home run and a double, and Almora drove in 4 of the Smokies 8 runs.

Javier Baez continued his streak of great hitting by going 2-4 with 2 RBI’s in a winning effort by the Iowa Cubs. The pitching staff combined to allow just 1 earned run in the win against Fresno.

What’s On Tap

The Cubs have a tough matchup today as they have to face the Giant’s ace in Madison Bumgarner. The Cubs will counter with Jason Hammell. Hammell with have to bring his best stuff with him to the ballpark if the Cubs are to have a good chance of winning the series in San Francisco.

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs to Know on August 26th

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

by Nate Head

1. Game Notes

Cubs 8 @ Giants 5 – The Chicago Cubs won their sixth game in a row last night by a score of 8-5 against the San Francisco Giants. The bats erupted for ten hits (8 against starter Matt Cain) and Cubs hitters found the seats three times with Kyle Schwarber, Miguel Montero, and Starlin Castro each slugging home runs. Jake Arrieta tallied his league-leading 16th win and his ERA dropped to 2.22 with his six inning performance in which he did not allow an earned run and conceded just four hits and one walk.  Starlin Castro hit the ball on the screws four times, going 3-4 with a single and double and his night was highlighted by a 399 foot dinger to left field. The Cubs extended their lead over San Francisco in the Wild Card race to 7.5 games, and improved to a 5-0 record against the defending champs this season. The bullpen made the game slightly more intense, but the Cubs lead was never in serious danger.

My Player of the Game: Jake Arrieta (6 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 8 K’s)

2. Arrieta the Ace

Jake Arrieta continued his blistering streak Wednesday night, which at this point, surprised no one. Last night, Arrieta broke Hall-of-Famer (and former Cub) Greg Maddux’s team record with his 13th consecutive quality start. The lone run scored in Jake’s presence was unearned, as a throwing error by the right-hander himself allowed Kelby Tomlinson to cross the plate in the sixth inning. Arrieta’s dominance this month (5-0, 0.54 ERA in August) has given his Cy Young aspirations a boost, but Zack Greinke of the Dodgers is currently the undisputed leading candidate. However, a couple shaky starts from Greinke could open the door for Arrieta—who is not showing any signs of slowing his roll.

3. Cubs add Bonifacio

Emilio Bonifacio has agreed to join the Cubs on a minor league deal, according to reports. Bonifacio (who turned 30 in April) is expected to report to Iowa immediately and is a strong contender to join the big league team in September. Bonifacio was designated for assignment and eventually released by the Chicago White Sox after hitting a nightmarish .167/.198/.192 in 47 games this season. On a team that already has a surplus of middle-infielders, Emilio’s appeal likely comes from his speed. The 30-year-old has stolen bases at an impressive 77.5 percent success rate throughout his nine year career, swiping 165 bags while only being thrown out 48 times. Bonifacio played 69 games for the Cubs last year, hitting .279/.318/.373.

4. Down on the Farm

Cubs prospect Eloy Jimenez extended his hit streak to six games for Class A Eugene last night, hitting two home runs and collecting three RBI’s in game one of a doubleheader against Spokane. Matt Szczur hit a home run during a 3-2 win for the Iowa Cubs last night.

Unfortunate news surfaced in Tennessee last night, where the Smokies announced that Cubs No. 3 prospect Billy McKinney will be out for the season with a hairline fracture. McKinney suffered the injury last week by fouling a ball of his leg. The 20-year-old was hitting /285/.346/.420 for the team this season.

5. What’s on Tap?

The Cubs look to win their seventh game in a row, and their sixth straight against the Giants. Let’s take a look at the probable pitchers:


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1966 - After seeing a caricature of himself on the scoreboard, an angry Leo Duroucher calls the Astrodome’s press box to have it removed. When nothing is done, the enraged Cubs manager rips the phone out of the dugout wall and tosses it onto the infield.

1972 - Ron Santo‘s three run home run off Ron Bryant proves to be the difference in the Cubs’ 10-9 victory over San Francisco at Wrigley Field. The third inning round-tripper, the first of a pair he hits in the game, is the third baseman’s 2‚000th career hit‚ and drives in his 1‚200th run.

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5 Things for Cubs Fans to Know on August 25

Tuesday, August 25th, 2015

1. Game Notes (Cubs win, 2-1)

The next time the Cubs drop a few games in a row, remember days like the last four or five that we’ve had. Sometimes all it takes is a game or two to remind us that we really are watching a very good team, and one that is surpassing preseason expectations significantly.

Against the Indians yesterday afternoon in a makeup game from June, Jon Lester returned to form and battled well enough against Corey Kluber to keep the offense in the game so a win was possible when it got to the bullpen. After what was by far his worst start of the season in his last start, Lester came within one out of pitching a complete game, eventually surrendering the ball to Hector Rondon after giving up the first run of the game in the top of the 9th inning on a Carlos Santana RBI. Rondon earned the win because of a Kris Bryant game winner in the bottom of the 9th (further perpetuating the reality that pitcher W/L is a useless and arbitrary stat, but that’s another subject).

2. Check the standings

The Cubs are now 21 games above .500 at 72-51 before they’ll start their series tonight against the Giants in San Francisco.

Pittsburgh has a series in Miami this week, so they aren’t likely to lose a lot of games, and they won yesterday to keep themselves 2.5 games ahead of the Cubs in the division.

The Cardinals are in Arizona to start this week, so they aren’t likely to drop in the standings either. The reality is that the Cubs have a tougher series ahead of them than either of these teams, so it will be tough to gain ground in the division.

Thankfully, the Cubs have a 6.5 game lead over the Giants in the wild card race, so even if they have a poor series against them, they should be able to stay ahead.

3. Injury updates

I was a bit surprised to see Jorge Soler head to the DL yesterday (and especially that he will likely be out for a month), and not Addison Russell. After Russell was pulled on Sunday, I wondered if the Cubs would put him on the DL and give Javier Baez a chance to come up and play 2B for a while. Baez is coming up with roster expansion anyway, so a callup a couple of weeks early doesn’t seem outlandish. With Soler out, we will probably see a lot of Coghlan and Denorfia in RF. This also means that Kyle Schwarber will have to stick in LF for the most part. Oh, and that will mean a lot more of Starlin Castro and/or Jonathan Herrera in the lineup.

Jason Motte was also sent to the DL with a strained right shoulder and it is also being reported that he could miss a month as well. While it is frustrating that these injuries are coming during a stretch in which the Cubs will play a lot of games against the Pirates and Cardinals, but on the bright side, this means that both will be back (hopefully) in time for the last week or so of the regular season before the playoffs begin.

4. Down on the farm

Speaking of Baez, he went 4 for 4 with a double and a homerun last night in a 9-0 win over the Freso Grizzlies. Recent acquistion Trevor Cahill pitched the 9th inning effectively, giving up just a walk and getting a strikeout to finish the game.

Otherwise, 2015 second rounder Donnie Dewees has his average up to .274 after a 1 for 2 night last night and going 2 for 4 the night before that. Also in Eugene, Eloy Jimenez hit a homerun last night to drive in both of the Emerald runs last night. His power has been showing quite a bit in his last 8 or 9 games.

5. What’s on tap?

Tonight starts a stretch of games on the west coast for the Cubs, with an important three game series in San Francisco first. Jake Arrieta (15-6, 2.30) will start the series tonight against Matt Cain (2-3, 5.66). I expect that we might see Starlin Castro get a start at second tonight, with Russell possibly sitting because of a lingering injury from Sunday, or because of the impending birth of his child. But don’t forget about the possibility of Tommy La Stella making a return as well, as he could be a very viable option for second base as well.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1922: After a building a 25-6 early lead, thanks to scoring ten runs in the second inning and another 14 in the fourth, the Cubs need to hold on to defeat Philadelphia 26-23. The slugfest, which sets the major league mark for most tallies scored in one game and the most hits with a combined total of 51, ends with the Phillies leaving the bases loaded in the ninth.

1969: Joe Niekro is traded by the Cubs, along with Gary Ross and Francisco Libran, in exchange for right-hander Dick Selma. The 22 year-old never became a favorite of Chicago skipper Leo Durocher due to his insistence of throwing a knuckleball, the signature pitch that will result in 221 career victories.

 

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5 Things Cub Fans Need To Know on August 24th

Monday, August 24th, 2015

By Jerry Burns

Wrigley Playing Large

Braves 3 @ Cubs 9 — After playing like a pitcher’s park for most of the season, the Cubs are enjoying Wrigley Field’s return to occasional hitter’s haven status. Chicago belted five home runs Sunday, with Dexter Fowler starting the party to lead off the game. Kris Bryant’s two-homer game and Miguel Montero’s three-run blast were the real killers. Kyle Schwarber broke an 0-for-11 start to the series with a solo shot. While I’m naturally wary of a team’s offense being sustained by home runs, it’s hard to argue with the Cubs’ recent run. In their last 10 games they have five games of three home runs or more, three of those at Wrigley, and now have back-to-back big home run outings after hitting four Saturday. They’ll eventually have to generate runs without the long-ball (see: night games at AT&T Park), but let’s enjoy the ride.

Player of the game: Kris Bryant (3-for-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI, 4 R)

20 Games Over .500

The last time the Cubs were 20 games over .500 was 1945. Put those pennants away, folks, there’s a long way to go for the Cubs to return to the World Series. The most important part of this figure is the Cubs’ four-game sweep of the Braves, which means they controlled their own destiny as the Pirates and Giants played out a four-game set in the Wild Card race. Chicago exits Sunday up six games on the Giants, while training Pittsburgh by three.

Back on Track

After a few rough starts, Jason Hammel returned to first-half form Sunday. The scary thing with Hammel as the Cubs make a playoff push is how bad his second half was in Oakland in 2014. The good news, his year-to-date numbers are very close to his full season numbers last year. From a Saber standpoint, Hammel is slightly better — so far — with a 3.64 FIP and 3.40 xFIP (compared to 3.92/3.57 in 2014). He is also striking out more and walking less. Beyond that, his peripherals: BABIP, ground ball, home run and left-on-base rates are within 4 percent or less of last year, spelling mostly good news. Hammel’s first half of 2014 was the anomaly, and this year he’s been more level throughout. Expect much of the same: Some good, some bad, but a good option for a No. 3 starter if the Cubs find themselves deeper than the Wild Card game.

Down on the Farm

At the big club, Addison Russell left Sunday’s game with groin tightness, begging the question: If he has to be out for an extended time, does Javier Baez get the call? If so, he’ll split time with Starlin Castro at shortstop and Chris Coghlan at second. This has been a trying year for Baez with his sister’s death delaying his season and an injury derailing a hot start. But in 55 games at Triple-A he’s lowered his strikeout rate to 25.2 percent and maintained the same walk rate. Along with that, Baez has hit .304 with 12 home runs, 55 RBI, 15 stolen bases and a wRC+ of 137. Very impressive. I don’t trust him to be the top prospect that Bryant, Schwarber and Russell are panning out to be, but his hot bat would be welcome with this homer-happy squad. And, it might not be a bad idea to make him playoff eligible.

What’s On Tap?

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5 Things a Cub Fan Needs To Know on August 23

Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

by Nick Dorey

Comeback kids

BRAVES 7 @ CUBS 9 – What a wild 3rd straight victory for the Cubs. All hope of a victory seemed lost after a five run fifth inning for the Braves given up by Dan Haren and Travis Wood. The Cubs answered right back with a rally of hits resulting in 3 runs to cut it to a one run game. The next inning Addison Russell hit a solo home run, his second in as many games, to tie the game at 7. In the eighth inning, Miguel Montero and Jorge Soler hit back to back home runs to give the Cubs a 9-7 lead, which the bullpen would not give up. Dexter Fowler was key for the Cubs in this game by getting on base 3 times and starting the Cubs first inning with a triple to set the tone offensively. One of my favorite parts of this season is the mindset that the Cubs play with everyday. Even being down 7-3, they never counted themselves out and fought hard for the win.

Player of the Game: Fowler (3-5, 3B, 2R)

Earning his payday

Fowler is heading to free agency in the offseason, and he has been showing why he deserves a big paycheck from whoever chooses to sign him. Since the all- star break, his offensive numbers have been off the charts. He is hitting .308 with a .447 OBP, and an OPS of .989. Not only have his numbers been great, but he has shown his leadership ability and how his patient approach at the plate can be contagious in the clubhouse. I truly believe that his veteran leadership is a big reason for the success of the Cubs rookies this season, and I think other teams are taking notice as well.

Rookies who rake

Yesterday the Cubs got two more home runs from rookies (Soler and Russell), raising their MLB leading rookie home run total to 43. Understandably so, the youngsters have been much better in the second half of the season, especially with the addition of Kyle Schwarber. Of those 43 home runs, 19 have come in the second half. The rookies have a combined 451 at-bats in the second half, which comes out to 1 home run per 23.7 at-bats. In the first half the rookies hit home runs at a rate of 1 per 32 at-bats.

Down on the farm

Gleyber Torres is continuing to show why he could be the Cubs best infield prospect. He has been in a bit of a funk lately, but he is still putting up numbers far above expectations. Torres is only 18 years old, batting .296 with a .357 OBP at Low-A South Bend. He doesn’t hit many home runs but he could add some power as he grows into his body. He doesn’t project to be ready for the majors for a few years, but with the log jam at the middle infield positions in the Cubs organization, Torres may be interesting trade bait sometime in the next couple years to add a piece to improve the major league club in the next two seasons. If the Cubs do keep him, he is athletic enough to play second base, shortstop, or third base. Having promising young players like Torres is evidence of the Cubs plan to contend for many years to come.

What’s on Tap?

Today the Cubs look for the sweep at home against the Braves. Jason Hammel will take the mound for the Cubs and Matt Wisler will be facing him on the Braves side. Hammel will be looking to improve on his last few starts and hopefully go a little further into the game. I like the matchup tomorrow against Wisler as he has really struggled this year against lefties. This season, lefties have hit .347 with a 1.018 OPS against Wisler, so look for the top of the Cubs lineup to be stacked with lefties (as it has been recently).


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1906 – At American League Park in Washington, D.C., the White Sox win their 19th consecutive game, beating the Senators, 4-1. In 2002, the A’s will string together 20 straight victories to establish a new American League record, but will fall one short of the major league mark established by the 1935 Cubs.

1998 – With his 50th and 51st dingers, Cubs’ slugger Sammy Sosa joins Mark McGwire (53) of the Cardinals in hitting 50 home runs, making it only the second time two National League hitters have reached the plateau in the same season. Pirates outfielder Ralph Kiner and Giants first baseman Johnny Mize each hit a league-leading 51 round trippers in 1947.

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