Archive for the ‘General’ Category

The New ‘Blocking The Plate’ Rule is Stupid

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

If you missed the game, this was the play of the game that really was quite lame. Starlin Castro slid right into the tag and was clearly out, but was called safe because of the new rule.

Here was the press release put out by Major League Baseball almost two months ago that explained the new rule, and a highlight below.

Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the Umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

As a result, the Pirates got the shaft on the call. I’ll be honest. I’m not a fan of the rule, in spite of the fact that it went it our favor today. Call me a meatball, but I like collisions.

Glass Half Full – Despite the loss, we could easily take this viewpoint and make the case for the continued items of encouragement. If you look only at the first four innings, the offense looked great. They were taking advantage of the mistakes the Pirates were making. Emilio Bonifacio stole 2nd base and kept on going all the way to home. Wellington Castillo came up with a key hit to add another run in the 4th inning, which normally you wouldn’t expect. Throw in a nice start by Travis Wood when you scrap the 7th inning and you have a lot of reason to continue to be optimistic.

Glass Half Empty – This game got all the way into the 90% chance to win level and we wet the bed. If I take this stance, which today I do not, my biggest complaint was the bullpen usage. Why is it that Wesley Wright is not getting into a game? He hasn’t pitched all week and the spot that James Russell was inserted would have been the perfect time. Why carry 12 pitchers if you only play 11? I hate bullpen mismanagement.

The Cardinals come to town and the first opponent pitcher on the schedule is Joe Kelly. Let’s take a look at what we know about him.

MLB.com

Kelly showed some rust after a 13-day layoff, though he worked around trouble to allow one run in his 2014 debut. His curveball was sharp, but command of his sinker and changeup lacked. Both pitches should come around with the return of routine.

Wikipedia

Kelly throws a lively fastball that can reach up to 100 miles per hour (MPH) and complements it with a sinking fastball and slider. His sinker is among the prized pitches in the game – it shows dramatic horizontal movement, while paradoxically, not showing the kind of vertical movement (sink or drop) other sinkerballers such as Justin Masterson – and is one of the fastest in the game, at about 93 MPH. He also throws a changeup to left-handed batters and an infrequent curveball. He control of his pitches – including his fastball – receives compliments.

Why the Cardinals Will Win The Series

The Cardinals enter the weekend tilt with the Cubs not quite themselves, having begun the season only 5-4. Led by their three Matts — Carpenter, Holliday and Adams — they’ve flashed some of the balanced offense and strong starting pitching that carried them to the NL pennant last year, but key players like Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta and Shelby Miller have yet to find their form.

The Cubs will have their work cut out for them on Saturday and Sunday when they face the top of the rotation in Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha, so their best chance to take down the reigning NL champs is in the series opener as fifth starter Joe Kelly takes the mound. Kelly’s 1.69 ERA in his first start belies a 4.55 FIP and 4.79 xFIP, so if Cub hitters are patient, they can coax some walks (he had a 3.2 career BB/9). He has a knack for slipping out of trouble, though, by inducing grounders — he had a 16% GIDP rate last year (league average was 11%).

Cub hurler Jeff Samardzija will want to watch out for Yadier Molina, who not only is off to a hot start with three home runs and a .390 wOBA but also hits the Cub righty well (.579 OBP/.588 SLG in 19 PAs). Cardinal left-handed-hitting center fielder Jon Jay, whom newcomer Peter Bourjos has displaced as the team’s default center fielder mainly for defensive reasons, may see more action this weekend with Samardzija and fellow righties Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Jackson due to start. Cardinal manager Mike Matheny has been reluctant to start Jay even when he has a platoon advantage, having opted for the right-handed Bourjos against right-handed starters three of five opportunities. ~ Matthew Phillp (www.fungoes.net)

Playoff Blackhawks hockey is almost here so let’s get excited about that with this song that played all year last year for their cup run.

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Are Platoons the Way For This Team?

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Junior Lake was interviewed by Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago recently and expressed frustration with the fact that he was not being penciled in the lineup each and every game. For Lake, coming off a rookie year that saw him post a .284 / .332 / .428 slash line, you can understand some of his frustration when you look at some of the other options on this roster for the outfield. It’s not exactly a position bursting with talent. It’s a bunch of average guys who could all make the case to start. However, so far this season we’ve seen Rick Renteria use a platoon more than I would have expected. We’ve seen it with Lake and we’ve seen it with Mike Olt and Luis Valbuena at third base. In fact, we’ve even seen it a little at second base with Emilio Bonifacio and Darwin Barney, though that platoon may be sorting itself out on it’s own. However, is the platoon the way to go? In my opinion, a platoon is the way to go when there is an obvious reason for it. It’s not the way to go if you simply want to get everyone in the lineup. So, I wanted to take a look at some of the guys involved in the platoons and see if, from a career splits standpoint, it makes sense.

If you take a look at the splits numbers for Olt vs Valbuena, for example, what you’ll see is that against righties, Olt has struggled a little. However, his numbers are all based on minor league stats for the most part. Valbuena has more Major league at bats, but really hasn’t done much with them. It’s a tough balance for all parties. I understand where guys are coming from. If it were me, what I’d be doing is playing my highest ceiling guys first to give them every opportunity to win the job and run with it and, should they fail or slump, give the chance to the next in line. That said, I feel like Olt has the higher ceiling at third and Lake has the higher ceiling in the OF. Both should be in the lineup more often than they are not.

  • Baseball America recently had an article asking the question “Is the Cubs pitching underrated?“. We hear all the time about the bats that are soon to be making an impact at Wrigley. Guys like Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Jorge Soler all get you excited, but are there names on the mound that the common fan doesn’t know about but should? The general feeling is that while there aren’t a lot of top level guys, there are a lot of arms that could be serviceable. Stockpiling has been the goal of the new regime when it comes to arms, so it appears that people are recognizing and acknowledging that has come to fruition.
  • Joe Kaiser of ESPN Rumor Central had a post about Baez in which he asked if it was time to worry. His premise is the 0-for-9 start at the plate and the recent ejection for arguing balls and strikes. Seriously people. Is there not more to write about? Has media become so easy to access that the quality is severely declined? Wait, let me answer my own question. You’re coming here to read my opinion on something. Isn’t that proof enough?
  • We talked about baseball video games on the podcast a few episodes ago. The new RBI Baseball game is out. If anyone has played it for the iPad, I’d like to hear their review of it.

We talked on the podcast on Monday about the discouraging lack of offense. However, all this week we’ve seen the offense show some life. Tonight was more of the same, which was exciting because we didn’t have Edwin Jackson on the mound keeping it close.

  • Bonifacio continues to light up at the plate. We know he’s not capable of maintaining this pace all season so the question then becomes what to expect from him. It is entirely possible that this is just a breakout, career year for him and the Cubs are the beneficiary of that at a bargain basement price. I am still in the camp that believes he’s going to regress to a league average to below offensive player. If you look at his OPS+ prior to this year, he sits at 79, which is below average. I believe he’s on a hot streak and will show his true colors soon. I’d love to be wrong, though.
  • Jason Hammel has made two starts now for the Cubs and both have been excellent. We know the ultimate plan would be to net a healthy return for him before the trade deadline, but I wonder if that has any effect on a player. When you’ve seen the plan and are constantly asked the questions about how you feel about being on the block, does that change your outlook when it comes to taking the mound or even getting to know your teammates. It’s hard to invest in other guy’s lives when you know you may be on the move any moment.
  • Great to see Anthony Rizzo continue to improve against the lefties. Wandy Rodriguez is not a dominant starter, but he has his moments and Rizzo did just fine against him tonight. Top 10 MVP vote here we come.
  • It’s easy to say this after the fact and look like I’m saying it with the benefit of hindsight, but I was disappointed to see Pedro Strop get the call in the 9th tonight. I felt like Wesley Wright was the better option because of the fact that, as you can see on the bullpen health report, he hasn’t gotten in and needed the work. It was a non-save situation so why not rest a guy like Strop and even Jose Veras and go with Wright?

Well look at this, we’re in line for a potential series win. I’m telling you. This team is going to finish .500 this year. Mark my words. Winning the series is not going to be easy as we face the Pirates ace in Gerrit Cole.

MLB.com reports:

Cole hasn’t been around all that long, but he’ll already be looking for his third career win against the Cubs, whom he beat twice last season, striking out 13 in 13 innings. Included was a Sept. 24 outing in Wrigley Field.

Wikipedia Reports:

Cole features a four-seam and two-seam fastball that he regularly throws between 94 to 98 miles per hour (151–158 km/h), but has been clocked as high as 102 miles per hour (164 km/h). He also throws a slider and a changeup.

Jeff Moore of Baseball Prospectus also had a really nice scouting report article that is free to view and was written last year. For our lazy readers who don’t like to click on links, here is a sample.

Cole’s fastball is one that you can’t teach. It comes out of his hand effortlessly with natural velocity, helping to create the illusion of additional explosion.

Cole throws two fastballs – a four-seam version that routinely averages 96-97 mph throughout the course of a game and can hit as high as 100 mph, and a two-seam sinker, which typically averages 94-96 mph and can get as high as 98 mph.

Cole’s fastball is a true 80 pitch, not only because of the velocity, but also because of his ability to command them both. He throws them both for strikes and locates them well within the strike zone, allowing his velocity to play up even further.

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Commenting On One of the Dumbest Ideas for MLB I’ve Ever Heard

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

I consider myself to be a progressive person in most areas in life, especially when it comes to baseball.  I believe the game needs to constantly look for ways to adapt and change to remain relevant.  You see, I am old. (…okay, okay only 46) Yet I reminisce about a time when the World Series was the most hallowed event in all of sport. In elementary school; every kid watched it, talked about it, and then we would go outside and emulate it after school. In present day, the NFL Pro Bowl routinely gets higher ratings than the World Series. I love the NFL, but the Pro Bowl?

So I get it. Baseball desires to stay significant in the sporting world. MLB revenues are at all-time highs, but the game must continue to grow and attract young fans. Baseball bores my 9 year old son, and many of his friends.  One of the biggest complaints that casual fans have (and even hard-core fans) is that MLB games are too long. MLB games today are averaging around 2 hours and 57 minutes. (up from about 2 hours and 30 minutes in those glorious 70s!)  That’s an average, so most games are going over the 3 hour mark.  I don’t know about you, but I won’t go to a movie if I see that it has a 3 hour price tag on it.  I think we can all agree…we love baseball, but it is just a bit long and shortening the games could be beneficial.

However, we don’t need ludicrous suggestions like the one Buster Olney reported on yesterday. Olney cited a “Major League executive” who suggested shortening the games to 7 innings.  As progressive and open to new ideas as I may be, this idea seems as sacrilegious to me as the Star Wars prequels were. (Damn you George Lucas!)

7 innings…really? I hope the person that suggested this isn’t one of those who are vehemently opposed to a National League DH.  The DH in the NL would be a “tweak” to the rules compared with the seismic shift that a 7 inning major league game would be.  7 innings? That’s for Quakers. (…obscure movie reference)

Why not two outs?  How about starting all hitters with a 1-1 count like they do in Men’s slow-pitch Softball? (not sure why it’s not just 3 balls and 2 strikes…it’s a bit like saying turn it up to 11!….another movie reference)  Of course these ideas are ridiculous (so is a 7 inning game)…but I have to offer several real and some not so real suggestions:

  • During an intentional walk, do we really need the pitcher to throw the four balls? When I coached High School, we could just say “put him on”.  When was the last time you saw something exciting on an intentional walk?
  • For replay… no challenges, no managers coming out to stall… just a person in a control room who watches every play.  If something needs to be reviewed, he turns on a red light on the scoreboard, looks at it, and then makes a ruling.
  • Although I understand the strategy, I hate the “specialist” relief pitchers that have developed over the last 30 years. As with most bad things in my life, I blame Tony LaRussa for this.  These moves make the last few innings tedious to watch.  Bear with me here as this is radical, but how about a limit to the number of active pitchers a team can have for a game?  If a manager only had 10 pitchers to use for a game, then he can’t burn a lefty to face one freaking batter in the 7th inning! I realize there are many flaws (union issues, pitcher usage,) with drastic change such as this. How about a larger roster like the NFL and NHL and then have players who are “scratched” or “inactive” that day? How about a 30 man roster…with 5 players who are inactive that game?
  • A pitch clock? This might work, and umps are already supposed to be speeding this up…but umpires don’t like to be told what to do.

…and now for the really radical (and not really serious… yet still better ideas than a 7 inning game)

  • Step one, fire every Major League Umpire. Step two, offer them their jobs back only if they can pass a “We will no longer be pompous a$$holes who are more important than the game” test. There may be some union issues to deal with.
  • A one minute between innings clock and the pitcher can just start throwing to the catcher if the batter is not up in time. To make up for lost advertising revenue, have commercials “picture in picture” during the game at opportune times.
  • Get rid of the 7th inning stretch (don’t shoot me yet)…except at Wrigley Field.
  • An extra-inning game shall be settled with a home run derby…like hockey does with the shoot-out.
  • Allow players to go into the stands to attempt to catch foul balls.
  • Fire every umpire…oh…sorry…did that one already.
  • Taking a cue from the NFL, let the pitcher and manager communicate via a microphone in the player’s cap.  Then eliminate all mound visits.
  • Instead of trotting after a home run, players can elect to just bow to the crowd and strut back to the dugout.
  • Robot bat boys on hover boards
  • Like a “Get of Jail Free” card, allow each manager 1 automatic out that they can use at any time in the game. Think of the strategy! Do you shut down the rally, or do you save it for the last out of the game?
  • No pick-off attempts on slow-players.

A couple more play-off spots added in MLB? Sure, why not?

The DH in the National League?  I will think about it.

A 7 inning major league game? You are out of your mind.

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Close Only Counts In Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Do you ever feel like you’re so close to something only to realize that you’re either still very far away or, despite how close you are, it doesn’t matter because it means nothing until you reach what you’re aiming at? That’s sort of the way I feel about the Cubs right now. We’re so close to the beginning of competitive baseball that we can begin to smell it. We hear about the prospects that are going to be making and impact and we know they are “close”. Sometimes it’s just hard to have patience, but I assure you, it will be worth it. By the end of next year, I have a strong feeling you’re going to like the status of your baseball team.

Keeping with the close, but not close enough mantra, that seemed to be the theme of this game completely. It looked to be over before we even came to bat as Edwin Jackson gave up four early runs in the 1st. You kind of saw it coming when Starling Marte hit the first pitch he saw with authority down the line and was on base before one minute had a chance to tick away on the clock. The game started at 7:05p CDT and he was on base before 7:06p. The big story will be Starlin Castro, but Jackson’s night really should not and cannot be ignored. What we take from it, I’m not quite sure. There are those on Twitter who are already saying that his signing was “the worst in Cubs history”. Asinine statements like that deserve no comment, but I find it amusing that people will completely ignore the past and look only to the what have you done for me lately matra. I’m not trying to sugarcoat it. The start was bad, with a final line of 4.2 IP, 9 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 4 K. However, his first start was not. Jackson has a history of being a back and forth guy when it comes to success, so you have to take starts like this with a grain of salt and move on.

The game didn’t end after the poor start by Jackson. I mentioned early in the game that I had a feeling that four runs wasn’t going to be enough, and it wasn’t, largely thanks to Castro, who has shown a nice resurgence over the last few games and seems to be adjusting OK to hitting a little lower in the order. Personally, I think the 6th spot is a good one for him. It doesn’t force him to have to take a lot of pitches and it lets him do what he does best as a hitter, which is: See Ball, Swing at Ball. In case you missed this one, it would be worth your time to go back and watch his at bats, if nothing else. One of the at bats, I have no idea how he made contact with the ball, let alone dropped it in for a hit. The other two were critical home runs that were fun to admire. A great night for him got us close, but not close enough.

Other News & Notes

  • Emilio Bonifacio continues to be an impact player at that leadoff spot. He went 3-for-5, raising his average to .515 and even drove in a run. He continues to do things that Darwin Barney doesn’t seem capable of doing. If that continues to be the case, it’s hard to make a case that Barney should be playing much at all.
  • The bullpen, outside of a small hiccup by Pedro Strop, continues to look strong and effective and contributed nicely to keep it close. It’s not fun going to that many guys in the first game of the series, so we’ll need a strong outing tonight for the starting pitching.
  • Rick Renteria got ejected, making him the first manager to challenge a call this year and the first manager to get ejected. What does it mean? Nothing.
  • Gordon Wittenmyer turned in another edition of his semi-regular “I Hate The Cubs” series. Honestly, he used to be one of my favorite beat writers, but it’s always the same thing now out of his mouth. He’s slowly morphing into a clone of Paul Sullivan.
  • For some reason, this is newsworthy.

Wandy Rodriguez

Continuing a successful comeback from a forearm injury, the lefty now looks for his first win since May 26. He was solid last week in a quality start against the Cubs, holding them to five hits and three runs in six innings. ~ MLB.com

It’s not easy to face the same team in consecutive starts. That appeared to be true with last night’s matchup and most likely it will be true tonight.

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Report from Opening Weekend at Wrigley

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

I was fortunate enough to be able to make it to Chicago this weekend for the 100th Opening Day at Wrigley. So, instead of diving in to a particular topic about the team, I thought I’d share my experience for those of you who couldn’t make it.

I don’t teach class on Thursday afternoon or at all on Friday (have I mentioned how awesome it is to be a college professor?), so my wife (who is a teacher and was on spring break) and I flew up on Thursday afternoon. I met my brother and his friends (who were attending their 5th straight home opener) around 10 a.m. on Friday morning to get in line for our bleacher seats. While we were in line, the “unofficial” mascot Billy Cub came by…you may have heard that he’s been in the news lately.

The gates opened a little after 11, and we promptly took our seats in the left field bleachers. Since this was the home opener of the 100th season, so I guess I was expecting something really special to happen before the game. I know the official anniversary is later this month, but I was hoping for something beyond the usual “announce everyone on the clubhouse staff’s name” opening day stuff. Anyway, at least we weren’t kicked out of the park before the game even started.…and it was cool to see some of our fine military folk during the anthem:

As for the game, well, it was a dud offensively, but the pitching staff looked great again. Travis Wood did allow a homerun to Chase Utley, but I can tell you that it was definitely wind-aided – it was one of those rare cold games at Wrigley when the wind was blowing out (to right field). Welington Castillo’s homer, on the other hand, was a line drive right into the teeth of the wind. After the game, we had some fun in Wrigleyville, where I got to meet a few fellow bloggers and some people who I’ve only previously “Twitter met.”

I was also able to catch the game on Saturday. There’s no need for me to recap the game for you – that’s been done elsewhere. What I can do, though, is show you this:

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, that’s our very own C-A-P-S holding up a VFTB sign (check out Joe’s post from yesterday for a close-up). Yes, CAPS, I saw you – sorry we didn’t get to meet in person, maybe next time!

Dear readers, I have to share with you one of the great regrets of my life. After the game on Saturday, I left to go hang with a friend downtown, while my brother and his friends stayed to hang in Wrigleyville. A few minutes after I left, this happened:

Yep, that’s my brother on the left, standing right next to FERGIE FREAKING JENKINS. I’ll never live this one down.

I’m headed to St. Louis to watch the Cubs series for a conference next weekend, so perhaps I’ll have some interesting stories to tell. It’s always fun to enter the lions’ den.

If you haven’t yet, check-out our swell podcast. We just recorded quite a dandy.

Before I go, since we’re all doing it, I thought I’d share some music. This song’s definitely no party anthem, but the musicianship and songwriting are incredible. Every pop singer who lip syncs on TV should be forced to watch this 100 times.

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Bring on The Buccos

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

The Cubs finished out the weekend with a solid performance all around as the Cubs beat the Phillies 8-3 on solid performances from Ryan Kalish and Anthony Rizzo. Kalish got his first hits since September 2012 boosting his average to .286. Kalish doubled and tripled and drew a walk on the day showing great plate discipline with three quality at bats. Villanueva gave a solid effort pitching five innings on seventy one pitches. It was good to see Villanueva get the win as he suffered two losses in relief in the first series of the season he’s going to be a key piece to help save the bullpen and the pitching staff with his durability. Jose Veras continued to struggle not able to notch the save while increasing his earned run average to 16.20 in his two appearances.

 Get To Know Your Opposing Pitcher
Charlie Morton

Charlie Morton is on the bump for the Pirates a career 30-49 pitcher with a 4.66 earned run average. He’s pitched in 110 games including 109 starts over his seven year career and has a WHIP of 1.50 in his career. Morton pitched game two of the opening series against the Cubs pitching six innings in his debut giving up four hits and no earned runs. He also struck out six cubs and walked one which gives him a .83 WHIP for the season.

Why The Pirates Will Win The Series

As the Cubs saw in the opening series, the Pirates are all about pitching. The Cubs already saw Charlie Morton and Wandy Rodriguez – the first two starters of this series – but they are scheduled to get their first look at Gerrit Cole on Thursday. Cole is fourth in the rotation to start the year, but he definitely profiles as a top of the rotation pitcher with his elite fastball and often-devastating curve/slider that can reach the low 90′s. With Morton and Cole on the mound against a Cubs team that has struggled at the plate so far, I like the Bucs’ chances in those two games.

A player to watch at the plate for the Pirates is Pedro Alvarez. He was quiet in the first three games but woke up against the Cardinals over the weekend. He crushed two homers in his first two AB’s on Friday and took five walks over the rest of the series – a sign that he is seeing the ball well. Pedro is an extremely streaky hitter (when he’s hot, he can destroy baseballs out of stadiums and carry a team…but when he’s cold, he’s a strikeout machine) and it looks like he’s ready for a hot week or so.  ~ Brian (www.raisethejollyroger.com)

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Episode 10 – Should Jose Veras Be Removed As Closer?

Monday, April 7th, 2014

This week’s episode of the show, Joe and Sean covered a number of topics related to the opening week of baseball, including:

  • Lack of Offense – Is this what we can expect? If so, what style baseball would be best for this team to be playing?
  • Jose Veras As The Closer – After his rough two outings, Joe and Sean differ in opinion on where to go from here with him.
  • Overall Pitching A Major Strength - Quality starting pitching and overall great bullpen work.
  • The Starlin Castro / Anthony Rizzo Rebound Week 1 – A look at how each performed.

We also addressed several mailbag tweets we received as well as a few over / under questions to close the show out.

Download the Show (45 min / 10.6 MB)

Remember to subscribe to the show on iTunes and email the show with any questions or feedback you might have.

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Show Links

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Surprising Hot Streaks, Playoff Contenders Stumbling & More!

Monday, April 7th, 2014

The MLB season is only about a week old, but we have already hit the ground running with news to catch up on. We’ve milestones (Miguel Cabrera’s 2,000 career hit), historic starts (Emilio Bonifacio’s 8-11 beginning to the season) and even some surprising weather (Oakland having a game rained out for the first time in over a decade).

We’re finally underway, and even though some teams and players haven’t started off the way that we had hoped for, the fact that baseball is back is still more than enough reason to be happy.

Unheralded Players Have Hot Starts

For a player that was brought in during the middle of February, Emilio Bonifacio has certainly turned some heads. Although the Cubs are just 1-4 thus far, Bonifacio has been nothing short of phenomenal.

With 14 hits in 28 at-bats, he has had one of the hottest starts not only of this season, but also in MLB history. It would be unreasonable to expect him to keep up at this pace, but at the very least he should be able to set the table at the top of the order.

He’s not the only surprise player this year, as Charlie Blackmon of the Colorado Rockies has stepped up, too. The 27-year old outfielder is currently hitting .600 (12-20) and has been a fine replacement for Dexter Fowler, who was traded to Houston over the winter.

On the American League side of things, the typically offensively challenged Minnesota Twins have had the blessing of Chris Colabello getting hot to start the year. In the first week of the season, he has nearly doubled his career production for runs batted in with 11, and he’s leading the league in the category.

Unexpected Slow Starts For Playoff Contenders

What a difference that one year makes. Coming into last season, the Boston Red Sox were projected by many to finish last in the AL East. As we all know, they wound up putting all of the right pieces together and rallying to win their first Word Series since 2007.

With that, they came riding into this year with a target on their backs. Thus far, they’ve shown a bit of vulnerability, limping out to a 2-4 start. Even with this start, I fully expect them to contend for their division crown, and I wouldn’t dare let this lower my perception of them.

With all of the high-priced talent that the Los Angeles Angels possess they, too, were expected to be front-runners in their division. After missing the playoffs in each season since 2010, it doesn’t appear that the team is on the right track. They, like the Red Sox, are off to a 2-4 and will be looking to get things going next week.

After losing Patrick Corbin for the year, the Diamondbacks were expected to take a bit of a step back, but I don’t think anyone would have expected this start. Including their two games in Australia, the team has been by far the worst in the league, with a 1-7 record. They’ve allowed 16 more runs than any other team, and it doesn’t seem as if they’ll be able to turn it around.

Surprising Division Leaders

On the other side of the coin, there have been a few teams who have exploded out of the gate. Whether it is because of big free agent acquisitions or young players developing, these teams have certainly shocked the baseball world thus far.

The Seattle Mariners are more than likely the least surprising team on this list, given their signing of Robinson Cano, among others. Their 4-1 start has been solid, but the American League-leading 12 runs allowed is even more impressive. If their pitching can stay on top of it’s game, they’ll be able to hang around for quite a while.

Still recovering from Jeffery Loria stripping down their team before last season, the Marlins were again expected to be cellar-dwellers in the NL East. Due to some explosive hitting led by, you guessed it, Giancarlo Stanton, the team has jumped out to a 5-2 start. While it has made a good early-season story, I don’t think they have the talent to handle Atlanta and Washington for a full season.

Closing out the division leaders is another team that was expected to finish near the bottom of the pack, the Milwaukee Brewers. The return of Ryan Braun and stellar starting pitching has guided them this far, but much like the Marlins I’d be shocked if they kept winning just because of the team’s lack of depth.

This Week’s MVP: Emilio Bonifacio – Chicago Cubs (.500/.548/.571, 5 Runs, 4 SB)

This Week’s Cy Young: Yovani Gallardo – Milwaukee Brewers (2-0, 0.00 ERA, 7 K)

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Six Things I Learned This Week About The Cubs

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Week one is in the books, and while it didn’t turn out quite the way we would have wanted, there were some things I learned as the week came to a close.

Runs Are Going To Be Hard to Come By Unless We Get Extra Base Hits - The more learning about advanced statistics that I do, which is a never ending quest for me, the more I see the value of power when it comes to scoring runs. Power doesn’t have to equate only to home runs, though those are always nice. Power simply refers to extra base hits. One of the stats I’ve been looking more into over the last week or so is ISO. It stands for isolated power. It’s basically a measurement of how well a player or team can hit extra bases. Fan Graphs has a really nice definition on it on their site. The problem I saw with this team over the first week was the lack of extra base hits. Let’s take a look at the games from this week.

Game # Result # of XBH
1 Loss 1
2 Loss 2
3 Win 2
4 Loss 1
5 Loss 1
6 Win 3

It’s early, but what you can at least see with Sunday was that we had a few more extra base hits and scored a few more runs. It doesn’t have to be home runs, but it has to be doubles and triples at the very least and a bunch of them. This team isn’t built for a lot of power at this point so we’re going to need to do the best we can with what we can do, and that is to hit the gaps and slap triples with our speedy guys.

Jose Veras May Need To Be Demoted – I try very hard not to overreact when a player or a team is struggling, but it’s hard to ignore what we’ve see from Veras to this point. It started in Spring Training when, in nine appearances he posted an ERA of 7.00. It’s easy to exaggerate reliever’s ERA numbers since one bad outing can completely blow up a guy’s ERA, but 12 hits in nine innings of work doesn’t strike fear into a batter’s heart. He wasn’t getting guys out in spring. Week one was no different. His implosion in the 16 inning game on Wednesday that cost the Cubs the win coupled with the complete bed wetting on Sunday is about as low a leverage situation as possible has me worried. In the 10+ years I’ve written about the Cubs, I’ve said it countless times that I am not a fan of paying for free agent relievers. I understand that Veras has a good track record, but I can’t help but see visions of failed relievers we paid for that didn’t quite deliver what we had paid for. At this point it’s probably too early for Rick Renteria to make a big statement and remove Veras for Pedro Strop, but I think this week showed us that move may be closer than we think.

I Need To Start Listening To Sean More Often When It Comes To Player Evaluation – We talked about Ryan Kalish on the podcast quite a few times over the past couple weeks and how he (and Chris Neitzel) both believed he would not only make this team, but that he deserved the spot. I wasn’t much of a believer and politely dismissed the notion. In just nine plate appearances this week that joke proceeded to lead the team in RBI with three and post a .286 / .444 / .714 slash line. His day on Sunday was outstanding and he earned his paycheck this week.

In addition to Kalish, we highly debated the likelihood that Emilio Bonifacio would make this roster out of spring training. Based on the title of this section of the post, you can guess which side I fell on in that argument. What is important to realize is that this was one week and that it’s important not to overreact, but both of these guys were a huge and pleasant surprise for me this week and I learned that maybe I don’t know a whole lot about talent evaluation.

Anthony Rizzo Is Improving Versus Lefties – I was please to see Rizzo get all the starts this week in spite of a couple tough lefties on the mound against the Cubs. Rizzo really struggled last year against the southpaws. For him to be in contention for the top 10 in the MVP ballot that I predicted, that will have to change for him this year. This week showed me that it was possible. While he looked horrible on opening day against Francisco Liriano, striking out three times on sliders away, he really rebounded nicely against Cliff Lee with a pair of singles. Since opening day, he’s looked better against the lefties and I think we’ll see improvement continue as we get him more and more at bats. He’s the future at that position so it’s important to let him learn.

Not Everyone Is Buying What Theo & Jed Are Selling – I had a brief banter on Twitter with a follower on Sunday about his frustration with the team just five games in. Needless to say, he’s not buying that this team will be any good. I politely disagreed and challenged him to favorite my tweet and re-evaluate it at the end of next year. I think at that point, he’ll like his baseball team, assuming that team is still the Cubs.

CAPS Is A Super Fan….of VFTB – This guy was at the game this week and this was the sign he held up. Dude can drop the mic and walk off stage without any words. That sign says it all in so many ways.

Carlos Villanueva pitched better than I would have expected. I tweeted this out before the game.

While I wouldn’t say Villanueva was outstanding, he did what he needed to do considering he was going on short rest after being used twice out of the bullpen this week. The fact that he was able to get out of two jams essentially untouched was amazing to me. He is obviously not a long term starting pitcher option, but the ability to have him in the long relief / swing-man role is valuable and today he did a great job.

We touched earlier on Veras and his implosion this week, but outside of him, the bullpen continues to pitch very well. Strop did come in to relieve Veras and promptly throw a wild pitch, but other than that the bullpen was really good again. It’s a completely different feeling when you can watch a game and in the back of your mind not worry as much that any lead we get will be given right back once we get to the pen. Now we just need to figure out a good way to actually get said lead more often and we’ll be cooking with gas.

Rest!!! Rest for our bullpen. Rest for us as fans and writers. You don’t realize it, but it can be quite burdensome when you have to watch a game and then write about it right after. I savor the off days more than you can imagine. Monday we’ll lay low, enjoy an update on the rest of baseball from Brian this afternoon, record a podcast episode and look forward to a series with the Pirates that features two pitching rematches and our first look at Gerrit Cole this season. Should be fun.

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