Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Armchair GM Time

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

I think every fan’s favorite game is armchair GM or manager, and after about 6 weeks of the season, it’s time to give some thought to roster changes that need to be made in order to carry this team forward this year. April saw the Cubs get off to a great start (12-8), but May has been quite a different story so far.

Three catchers:

I have referenced this briefly before, but having three catchers on this roster is not sustainable. Perhaps before some key bullpen injuries to Justin Grimm and Neil Ramirez this idea was workable, but over the course of the last few weeks it has felt more like playing with a roster of less than 25 players, even in spite of David Ross and his heroic 8th inning relief pitching performance. Without looking at numbers, I initially felt that Ross should be the player who needs to go. In conversation, I’ve floated the idea of inserting him into some sort of coaching role so that they can keep him on the team in some capacity. However, after taking a look at his performance so far this season, that seems less like the obvious decision. In short, because while he’s not very good, he’s not actually been as bad as I had thought. He and Welington Castillo have surprisingly different offensive numbers, namely in the OBP category. Ross is at a .400 OBP in 31 plate appearances, and Castillo sits much lower, at .263 OBP in 38 plate appearances. Great emphasis is placed on the fact that Ross is old (38), but Castillo isn’t exactly a rookie himself (28). Along with that, Ross has a 1:1 K/BB ratio, versus Castillo’s 3:1. Castillo offers better power numbers, but it’s neglibible on a team that needs guys in the lower half of the order (not including Addison Russell, of course) to be focusing on not making outs rather than producing runs.

The most beneficial scenario for going from 3 catchers to 2 is for one of them to be traded. Ross being traded is just not a likelihood for many reasons. Age aside, he was brought to Chicago specifically to be Jon Lester‘s personal catcher, so trading him makes little sense given that fact. Generally, Castillo seems like a better option for a trade because he probably has more to offer another team. He has accumulated a 7.8 career WAR (explained here) in 305 career games, while Ross has taken way more than twice as many games (761) to have a WAR of just 8.6. In all, Castillo is younger, better defensively, and offers more power, so he’s a more logical trading piece. He poses the possibility of yielding a return that could bolster the bullpen, whether it’s because he frees a spot for someone to come up from the 40 man or because a major league ready arm is a part of the trade. I don’t have high expectations here, but it’s time to have just 2 catchers.

The 4th outfielder

Joe made reference to the problem of Chris Coghlan in a recent game recap, but after a closer look at his performance so far this season, it’s becoming very clear that he needs to go. Not only because his offensive output is putrid, but because he’s keeping guys like Matt Szczur and Junior Lake from getting chances in the outfield consistently. Coghlan, the 2009 rookie of the year, came to the Cubs last season and put together a season that left many of us, myself included, feeling like he was worth a permanent spot in our outfield. This year, however, has been more like what led the Marlins to let him go to free agency after the 2013 season. Most problematic has probably been the K/BB rate. His 22 strikeouts compared to just 8 walks does nothing to help a team that already has several young players who are striking out at a very high rate. His WAR sits solidly in the negative as well. Health has been an interference for Coghlan in the past, but what we’ve seen this year doesn’t seem to be because of that.

I wrote about Lake last week, and if it were up to me, I’d prefer that Lake was getting regular starts in LF over Coghlan at this point. Coghlan is signed through this year, so there’s a chance another team might take a flyer on him in a spare parts trade. I doubt he’d accept an assignment at this point, so a trade that brings us another arm would be nice.

In both cases, what I’d like to see are Castillo and Coghlan (perhaps even packaged together, but that’s probably not likely) traded for bullpen arms. If nothing else, we need more players who can eat innings in the latter third of a game on a team that has not yet seen many lengthy starts from its rotation. The bullpen will get taxed quickly at this rate and only get worse because of it. Also, more injuries are an inevitability, so the more options Joe Maddon has, the better.

Trading Castro?

I don’t like this idea. It’s definitely a popular one, especially as the Cubs are hosting the Mets this week, a team that is in need of offense and especially at shortstop. I would have been more receptive to the idea before seeing how Arismendy Alcantara and Javier Baez have done this year. For now, having Russell at 2B and Castro at SS is working just fine because neither Alcantara or Baez appear ready to take over at 2B in the even that Castro is traded and Russell moves over. As much as I’d be tempted by a trade that would bring us a quality starting pitcher, sending Castro out of Chicago would have to involve a major piece in return (*cough* Noah Syndergaard *cough*), and there aren’t many realistic scenarios for that out there currently.

So for now, I’m ok with a few small moves to make the necessary adjustments the team needs. It’s early enough that I don’t think we have to look bigger than that so far. In another month or two, depending on how the standings are looking, we may have larger moves to think about, but that’s not the case yet.

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Game 32 Notes – Jake Arrieta is Good and Noah Syndergaad is Gonna Be Too

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Mets (1) @ Cubs (6)

W: Jake Arrieta (4-3)
L: Noah Syndergaard (0-1)

PLAY OF THE GAME

With the score at 1-0, Cubs, Starlin Castro came up with one man on in the 6th and doubled to left field, scoring Jorge Soler. (WPA Added – .190) (Watch Video)

GOOD

  • STARTING PITCHING – I admit that I was starting to worry about Jake a little, but he came out dealing yesterday. It started off a little shaky against the first batter, as he walked Curtis Granderson, but he induced a double play to Addison Russell and we were off and running. When the dust cleared, a line of 8 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 10 K was entered into the box score. For Jake, it was his best outing of the year, posting a game score of 80 and it comes after two rather stinky performances in his last outings. It’s good to see both Jon Lester and Jake put up back to back solid outings in the rotation. That’s what you pay for when you have horses. You pay to get a string of solid outings in a row and that’s how you win series.
  • KRIS BRYANT CAN HIT – See, and you guys were worried about the lack of power so far this year by Bryant. Power comes in bunches, just like hits. Baseball is a sport of streaks. I knew the power would come and for Bryant, it came in the form of home run number three last night. He was actually just a double shy of the cycle. Bryant has now hit three home runs in the last four games, so my guess is that we’re going to see a nice little power streak out of him, which comes at the right time.
  • BLEMISH FREE BULLPEN – That’s a little easier to produce when you only call on them for one inning, but James Russell came in with a five run lead and pitched a scoreless 9th. I actually turned the game off in the 7th (shame on me, but I was tired), so I missed the outing, but as I was going to sleep I wondered if I’d wake up to a win or if the pen would blow it. At the time, it was 4-1, so thinking they may blow it was not out of line. The key right now for this pen is baby steps. If the starters can relieve some of the pressure by working deeper into games, it allows for rest. If the offense can do their part to put the pen in low leverage situations, it goes a long way toward relieving the stress. That should help us see a better bullpen.

BAD

  • I CAN’T GET CHRIS COGHLAN OFF MY BASEBALL TEAM – Since I made the statement that I thought he was useless, he’s actually played well. While that seems like it would be a good thing, I don’t believe it to be a long term solution. I’d rather see him suck and be off the team. If he keeps producing, Joe will need to keep running him out there.
  • NOAH SYNDERGAARD IS GOING TO BE GOOD – Don’t look at his final line. Keep in mind that this was his first ML outing and look at how he did in innings 1-5. He was matching Jake inning for inning. That’s another good arm in the NL that the Cubs are going to contend with, because he’s as advertised and he should have come out after five innings and around 85 pitches.
  • CAN WE NOT COME UP WITH ANYTHING BETTER THAN THIS? - I’m all about making sure pitchers are protected on the mound from the comebacker off the bat. It’s a scary position to play and we’ve seen way to many guys get drilled, but this is not good.

UP NEXT


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1942 – Braves’ pitcher Jim Tobin, en route to a 6-5 victory over the Cubs, becomes the first modern-day hurler to hit three home runs in one game, equalling the feat of Guy Hecker, who hit three inside-the-park round-trippers playing for Louisville in 1886. ‘Ironsides’, who pinch-hit a homer in the eighth inning of yesterday’s contest, would have hit five consecutive blasts, if his first inning fly ball, which was caught against the right field fence, had gone out.

1958 – As a pinch-hitter, Stan Musial collects his 3000th hit in the sixth inning off Moe Drabowsky in the Cardinals’ 5-3 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. ‘The Man’, the youngest player to reach the milestone, is the eighth major leaguer to accomplish the feat.

1969 – With his daughter Jan, along with her classmates, in attendance at chilly Wrigley Field, first baseman Ernie Banks drives in seven runs with two three-run homers and a double in the Cubs’ 19-0 rout of San Diego. Following the consecutive no-run performances by Ferguson Jenkins and Ken Holtzman, Dick Selma adds another, making it the first time in 60 years that the team has shut out its opponents in three consecutive games.

1982 – The Cubs become the first major league team to win 8,000 games when Allen Ripley and Lee Smith combine to shut out Houston in Chicago’s 5-0 victory at the Astrodome. The milestone comes in the 15,337th contest in the 107 year history of the franchise.

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Game 31 Notes – The Mets Can’t Handle Our Dingers

Tuesday, May 12th, 2015

Mets (3) @ Cubs (4)

W: Jon Lester (3-2)
L: Jacob deGrom (3-4)
S: Hector Rondon (7)


GOOD

  • BACK TO BACK JACKS - Our minds tell us that it will be a regular occurrence once this lineup of hitters gets a little more established, but when it happens, it’s fun to see. What better way to start off a series against a hot Mets team than to get your leadoff man on and then see Kris Bryant christen the LF bleachers with a two run shot and Anthony Rizzo follow it right up on the very next pitch with a solo shot to CF? That’s the way to rattle an young SP and get the fans excited about things. It’s going to be fun in the future watching this lineup. In the ideal projection, everyone up and down should have 15-20+ home run power. That is a crazy, scary good offense and one that I would be terrified to face if I were an opposing pitcher.
  • THE BLEACHERS OPENED ON TIME…SORT OF – Last night saw the opening of the left field bleachers, “on schedule”, albeit a delayed on time. It’s going to be really cool when this whole renovation project is finished. Living in NC, I don’t get to Wrigley much, and I’ve not been there since they put the seating area in the batter’s eye. I’m going to wait until everything is complete before I get to the park so I can be completely overwhelmed by how different it looks. I remember taking the bus as a kid, buying tickets the day of the game for the bleachers, and eating at the hot dog place next door that we called “Yum Yum Donuts”. It will be crazy to see how much different it is when the whole Wrigley experience, hotel included, is complete.
  • THE PITCHING – All I ask is that my # 1 and # 2 starters give me six innings of three run baseball with a start that produces seven innings every so often and then the back end and fill in the gaps. Jon Lester was able to give us just that, and really looked pretty good until a couple of solo shots in the 6th that also went back to back, courtesy of Lucas Duda and Wilmer Flores. We’ve seen a drastic improvement from Lester the last few starts. He was 2-0 with an ERA of 1.80 in his three starts coming into the game, and he picked up another win (because we all know that it’s a stat that matters most) in the process of last night’s outing. That said, it was crazy nerve wracking to watch the bullpen, but they came in and got the job done. Justin Grimm pitched a pretty easy 7th inning and was brought back out in the 8th. I liked the move from Joe Maddon today. I didn’t like it with Pedro Strop due to his struggles and early season overuse, but with Grimm it was the right call. Unfortunately, while Maddon’s hook was longer than most managers, he was quick to pull Grimm after the leadoff man reached base on a single. Zac Russcup and Hector Rondon finished things up, despite the fact that I fell asleep in the bottom of the 8th and missed the 9th. Baby steps for the pen. Baby steps.

BAD

  • STRIKE ZONE ISSUES IN THE 6TH – I despise the whole situation between Lester and the home plate umpire, Andy Fletcher, in the top of the 6th. While the calls being made by Fletcher on pitches that were borderline were not going Lester’s way, you have no place to show up and disrespect an umpire by shouting from the mound and clearly berating him. Fletcher would have had every right to toss Lester for showing him up, but he kept his head. The calls we bad and Lester’s response was bad. About the only thing commendable in the situation was Fletcher handling it with poise and not turning it into an ump show. He did a good job just ignoring things.
  • FAILURE TO POUNCE – If I have to nitpick a little on a win, it would be toward Rizzo for failure to pounce on an already dazed Met’s team in the 4th. With the bases load and two outs, Rizzo had the chance to step on the throats a little and drive home a pair of runs at least. Instead, he not only grounded out to end the inning, but he did so right to the pitcher. Not good.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • The Cubs signed Pedro Feliciano prior to the game to a minor league contract. At this point, we are looking for trash to treasure type guys and hoping one sticks in an effort to address this bullpen situation.
  • John Arguello posted a look at 10 players the Cubs could look at with the 9th pick in the upcoming June draft. Take a look at the piece.
  • Crane Kenny visited the booth last night and discussed the new bleachers.

UP NEXT

Game 2 of the 4 game series with the Mets tonight at 8:05p EDT. For the Mets, Noah Syndergaard, the top prospect in their system, makes his Major League debut. Syndergaard was 3-0 with a 1.82 ERA in five starts with Las Vegas this season. All that I’ve read is that he’s the real deal. He’ll be opposed by Jake Arrieta, who desperately needs a good start after struggling in his last few outings.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1955 – After walking the bases full in the bottom of the ninth, Cubs right-hander Sam ‘Toothpick’ Jones whiffs Dick Groat, Roberto Clemente and Frank Thomas to preserve his 4-0 no-hitter against the Pirates. Unfortunately, only 2,918 fans are on hand at Wrigley Field to witness the first no-hitter ever thrown by a black player and the ninth rookie to throw a hitless game.

1956 – At Ebbets Field, Carl Erskine tosses his second career no-hitter when he holds the crosstown rival Giants hitless in the Dodgers’ 3-0 victory. The right-handed ‘Oisk’ also threw a no-no against the Cubs in 1952.

1968 – The Mets play their 1000th game in franchise history, losing to Chicago at Wrigley Field in the first game of a doubleheader, 4-3. The Amazins have compiled a 332-664 record along with four games that ended in a tie during the span, but start their next 1000 games of match ups with a resounding 10-0 rout of the Cubs in the nightcap.

1970 – At Wrigley Field only 5,264 fans see Ernie Banks hit his 500th career home run, but on hand to witness the historic home run is Frank Secory, one of the umpires of the 1953 contest in which Mr. Cub hit his first round-tripper. The second-inning line drive, hit off Braves’ pitcher Pat Jarvis into the left-field bleachers, bounces back onto the field and is given to the Cub first baseman after the ball is retrieved by Atlanta outfielder Rico Carty.

1974 – In a 4-3 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Bronx native Ed Kranepool collects his 1000th major league hit. The James Monroe High School graduate, who will play his entire 18-year career with the Mets, retiring as the all-time franchise leader with 1,418 hits.

1998Mark Grace is the first player to have his home run ball land in the swimming pool, which is located 415 feet from home plate just behind the right-center field fence of the new Bank One Ballpark. The Cubs’ first baseman, who will become a fan favorite in Arizona after signing as a free agent with the club in 2000, will not accomplish the feat again during his three seasons of playing in the desert.

2004 – In one of the most remarkable at-bats in big league history, Alex Cora fouls off 14 consecutive pitches and then hits the 18th thrown to him by the Cubs’ Matt Clement over the right-field fence for a two-run home run which doubles LA’s lead to 4-0. The Dodger Stadium crowd cheered each foul ball as the total started to be displayed on the scoreboard.

2013 – The Cubs and Anthony Rizzo agree to a $41 million, seven-year contract in a deal that could reach $68 million over nine seasons. In January of 2012, Chicago acquired the 23 year-old first baseman and right-handed starting pitcher Zach Cates from the Padres in exchange for right-handed starter Andrew Cashner and outfielder Kyung-Min Na.

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A Look Back at the Top Stories of Week 5 in MLB

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Up-and-coming teams continue to steal headlines early in the season, and rookies are continuing to make big contributions. At long last, there is a discernible winner in a previous trade of believed to be busts, and one team needs a temporary hitting coach. We learned a lot in Week 5, so let’s recap:

Early Season Cinderella Teams 

Every season, there is one Cinderella team that comes out of nowhere and takes the league by storm. Last year, it was the Kansas City Royals. This season, it has been the Houston Astros. And the New York Mets. And apparently the Minnesota Twins. Houston has fallen off a bit recently, though they still figure to be an above .500 team late in the season. The Mets have hovered around the .500 mark for the last week, and lead the National League East by 3.5 games. And the Twins have been incredibly hot over the last couple weeks, winning eight of 10 and pulling to within two games of the American League Central lead. All three of these teams projected to be contenders down the road, but no one would have predicted them to all be playing this well a month and a half into the season. These teams are only going to get better, as they all have elite prospects nearing call-ups.

Jacoby Facing Bizarre Suspension 

It’s rare that a story about an assistant coach garners any attention, as they largely go unnoticed over the course of a game. Blue Jays’ hitting coach Brooks Jacoby has bucked that trend. Jacoby will serve a 14 game suspension for assaulting an umpire in the dugout tunnel following a game at Fenway Park. According to reports, the two got into a heated argument and Jacoby put his hands around the throat of the umpire. Probably the most interesting part is what followed. Hardballtalk, a branch of NBC Sports, reported that a witness, Edwin Encarnacion, claims that he did not see any physical contact. Jacoby in a statement said that the punishment is unfair and biased, and refuses to apologize for any of his actions. If Encarnacion is being truthful, and that umpire fabricated the details of the altercation, this story should be far from over.

Pineda Huge Factor in Yankees Success 

There might finally be a winner in the Jesus Montero-Michael Pineda trade from several years ago. Pineda and Montero were stellar prospects at one point, with Montero expected to be a perennial All Star. Montero’s career has been something of a tailspin, but he is currently having a nice season at Triple-A Tacoma. Pineda, on the other hand, just won his fifth game of the season for the first place Yankees, and has an earned run average of 2.74. On Sunday, Pineda struck out 16 Orioles’ hitters and walked none, en route to a 6-2 victory. Pineda was excellent in limited appearances for New York last season, but his success was overshadowed by his multiple pine tar incidents.

Cubs Still Struggling, Still in Good Shape

Chances are that if you’re on this website, you’re at least somewhat familiar with the Cubs’ recent struggles. Look at it this way: the Cubs have dropped seven of their last 10, all of them division games games, and are still holding on to second place in the Central. After the recent slump, the team ranks 23rd in staff ERA, in the bottom half of the league in quality starts, and 18th in runs. Yet the fact remains, the team is still above .500. The bullpen’s struggles have been well documented, but Jon Lester has drastically improved since the start of the season. His last 20 innings: four earned runs, 20 strikeouts.

Hernandez, Kershaw Reach Milestones 

Mariners’ pitcher Felix Hernandez struck out Sam Fuld for his 2000th career strikeout, making him one of only a handful of pitchers to strikeout 2000 batters before turning 30. At nearly the same time, Clayton Kershaw recorded his 1500th strikeout, which made him one of 12 pitchers to record 1500 before turning 28, according to Baseball Reference.

Rookie Watch

Dodgers’ rookie center fielder Joc Pederson has been tremendous of late, and now leads all rookies in home runs. He is the leader in runs, walks and is second in runs batted in, as well. The rookie leader in hits is Cubs’ right fielder Jorge Soler (33), and is second among rookies in doubles (7). If the season were to end now, Pederson would be the likely winner of the Rookie of the Year award, but the competition will get more interesting with the Mets calling up hard throwing right hander Noah Syndergaard this week.


 

Odd Stat of the Week: Joc Pederson homered for seven straight base hits. The streak came to an end on Thursday, when Pederson finally had a non-home run base hit for the first time in a week, but Pederson made some history. Pederson is tied for fourth on the list for consecutive home run hits, behind Mark McGwire (11), Albert Belle (8) and Marcus Thames (8).

MVP of the Week: The start of the week looked like the start of a cold stretch for Bryce Harper. Then, he finished the week with a 10-16 streak that included six home runs over a four game stretch.

Cy Young of the Week: Big Time Timmy Jim, The Freak, whatever you want to call him, Giants’ pitcher Tim Lincecum was dominant in two starts this week. 14 innings, no runs allowed and 12 k’s helped the Giants two wins over the Angels and Marlins.

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Game 30 Notes – Back to .500 and I Hate Ryan Braun

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Cubs (2) @ Brewers (3)

W: Michael Blazek (3-0)
L: Jason Motte (1-1)

THE BAD

  • THE BULLPEN – It’s hard to pin the loss completely on them, but they let us down again. Zac Rosscup came into the 7th with a 1-0 lead after Justin Grimm got out of the 6th to preserve the lead. Joe Maddon elected to pull Kyle Hendricks after 85 pitches, a ballsy move in my opinion, because he had gotten hit hard the last few batters. They are trained to know when a guy is done for the day, so I trust him, but it seems like such a hard move to make when the pen has been so god awful lately. I was tricked by Grimm’s inning that I even started to type out a tweet asking if fans would still go to Pedro Strop in the 8th to preserve the lead. Literally as I was halfway through typing it on my phone, Rosscup gave up the solo home run to tie the game and then the very next batter gave up another one to cough up the lead. The Cubs would ultimately tie the game and send it to extras, but Jason Motte would piss it away in the 11th. I trusted this bullpen with my heart and they’ve stomped on it and treated it like they don’t care. It hurts, but I still believe they will come back to me and be the faithful pen I believe in.
  • CHRIS COGHLAN – Can we please face it that Coghlan is not a very useful baseball player at this point. He’s on the wrong side of 30 years old, and had a career year last year that has helped him hang around longer than he probably should. I’m tired of him being on my baseball team. Yes, he was the Rookie of the Year for the Marlins and was drafted in the 1st round. There should be talent there, but there just isn’t. He’s hitting .189 on the season and taking at bats away from guys like Matt Szczur or Junior Lake. Neither of them I consider to be stars either, but at least see what you have. It can’t be worse, right?
  • THE UMPIRING – They missed several calls in this game, and while I never blame the umpire for a loss, it’s hard not to notice. What’s the point of replay if you can’t correct an error you might see in the video that isn’t challengeable? Isn’t the goal to get the call right? There were bad strike calls and bad judgement calls. It wasn’t a good day for blue.
  • RYAN BRAUN – I can’t stand this guy. I honestly think he’s my least favorite player in sports. In his first at bat, frustrated that he popped up to the catcher, he got in Miguel Montero‘s way a bit so he could do a dramatic bat flip in disgust. Had Montero not made the play, Maddon probably could have lobbied for interference. The next at bat, frustrated on a called third strike, he flipped the bat in disgust again. Finally, late in the game he made a good play in the field but was over dramatic and dove when it wasn’t necessary. I took a look at the MLB media center and neither of the bat flips are on the highlight reel, so if you want to see them, go back and watch the condensed game. I’m tired of Braun. He should have been ejected for the second bat flip and the Cubs need to hit him the next opportunity they can when it won’t hurt the team.

THE GOOD

  • STROP’S OUTING OUT OF THE PEN – There were some good things. Not only did Strop pitch a nice 8th, but he pitched a nice 9th as well. I can’t say that I agree with leaving him out there to pitch the 9th, given his struggles and over use, but that’s why I sell insurance and Maddon manages a baseball team. It’s good to see Strop do well. Hopefully this will be an encouragement to him and we can begin to see the dude we all love.
  • HENDRICK’S START – It wasn’t dazzling and it wasn’t long, but sometimes size doesn’t matter. Hendricks got in there and did what he needed to do. I was encouraged by the outing and hopefully he can build on it for next time. He’s the 5th guy in the rotation, so expecting much more is silly.

NEXT GAME

The Cubs come home to face the Mets in a four game series. It will see the opening of the left field bleachers, so maybe that will give the Cubs a needed boost from the fans.

Jacob deGrom goes for the Mets. deGrom struck out nine Orioles in his last time out to earn the win. Only Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro have ever faced him and they are a combined 0-f0r-5.

Jon Lester takes the mound for the Cubs. He is 2-0 with an ERA of 1.80 in his last three starts. We could use another good outing to get the series off to a strong start against a really good baseball team.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1955 – With the help of an Ernie Banks grand slam, Chicago snaps the Brooklyn’s 11-game winning streak, 10-8. The bases-filled homer will be Mr. Cub’s first of five on the year.

1998 – Striking out 13 Diamondbacks, Cubs’ Kerry Wood sets a major league record for strikeouts in consecutive games with 33 in two games. The previous record for strikeouts (32) in two starts was held by Luis Tiant (1968 – Indians), Nolan Ryan (1974 – Angels), Dwight Gooden (1984 – Mets) and Randy Johnson (1997 – Mariners).

2000 – Beating the Cubs, 14-8, it takes the Brewers four hours and twenty-two minutes to play a regulation nine-inning game. The time breaks the National League record and ties the mark set by the Orioles and Yankees on September 5, 1997 for the longest non-extra inning game ever played.

2006Hideki Matsui‘s streak of playing in every game since starting his MLB career with the Yankees in 2003 ends at 518 games as the left fielder breaks his left wrist attempting to make a diving catch. The 31 year-old Japanese star established the big league record for consecutive games to start a career, surpassing Hall of Fame infielder Ernie Banks, who played in 424 contests at the start of his playing days with Cubs from 1953-56.

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Game 29 Notes – Let’s Pretend This One Didn’t Happen

Sunday, May 10th, 2015

Cubs (4) @ Brewers (12)

W: Kyle Lohse (2-4)
L: Travis Wood (2-2)


Elation. Agony. Tears. Desperation. All of those things were involved in one way or another in tonight’s game.

The first few innings were fun. The Brewers scored a couple runs, and then this happened:

It was glorious. Beautiful. Picturesque!

And then the game got real ugly, real fast. Travis Wood fell apart, Edwin Jackson happened (I don’t know why he keeps happening), Phil Coke choked, and, as ridiculous as it sounds, the Cubs could not get a handle on Kyle Lohse and the Brewers’ pitching. The Cubs were so disjointed that Anthony Herrera pulled a Junior Lake circa 2014:

The second most exciting part of the evening was when David Ross (yes, the catcher) pitched a 1-2-3 inning. His inning was the most efficient Cubs pitching since the first. Check out his stuff:

The last position player to pitch for the Cubs was John Baker last season. Before that, it was Joe Mather (did you forget about him? I forgot about him.) Ross looked a little bit like a Dad throwing a coach-pitch little game.

Len and JD provided some comic relief between pitches with presidential impersonations of Tricky Dick Nixon and Ronald Reagan (“I am not a crook!” in reference to a missed call and “Tear down this wall!” in reference to KB’s home run.)

Other than that, the game was pretty deflating and frustrating. The Cubs lost to the worst team in baseball. The bullpen is horrendous. The team we had two weeks ago has disappeared into oblivion and we’re back to last season again. I know it is early, and in baseball you just never know, but it’s disconcerting when the team plays this badly against a bad team. The bullpen AND our 4 & 5 starters need some revamping. I expect some DFA’s to happen in the near future. (Edwin Jackson, anyone?)

On the bright side, Dexter Fowler is warming up nicely, and Rizzo has a great stretch at first base. Kris Bryant‘s potential keeps rising. Addison Russell is continuing to give Bryant a run for his money.

They’ll get it figured out. Joe is a smart guy. Theo is a whiz. Let’s leave this one here and keep moving forward.


TOP PROSPECT WATCH

3. – C.J. Edwards  (AA) – 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 4 K

4. – Kyle Schwarber  (AA) – 1-for-4, 1 K

5. – Albert Almora (AA) – 1-for-4

6. – Gleyber Torres (A) – 0-for-3, 1 BB, 2 K

7. – Duane Underwood (A+) – DNP

8. – Billy McKinney (A+) – 0-for-4, BB, K

9. – Pierce Johnson – Injury Rehab

10. – Jen-Ho Tseng (A+) – 3.2 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 1 K

11. – Eloy Jimenez (EXST)

12. – Jake Stinnett (A) – DNP

13. – Carson Sands (EXST)

14. – Jeimer Candelario (A+) – 1-for-4, 1 R, 1 3B, 1 RBI

15. – Dan Vogelbach (AA) – 0-for-4, 1 K

16. – Justin Steele (EXST)

17. – Mark Zagunis (A+) – 1-for-4, 1 2B, 1 R, 1 BB, 1 K

18. – Victor Caratini (A+) – 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 BB

19. – Corey Black (AA) – DNP

20. – Dylan Cease  (EXST)


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Game 28 Notes – That’s More Like It

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Cubs (7) @ Brewers (6)

W: Jason Hammel (3-1)
L: Jimmy Nelson (1-3)

 

THE GOOD

Jason Hammel provided just what the doctor ordered for the Cubs. Coming off a disastrous week overall, Hammel answered the call and provided a strong outing that almost got wasted. When I look at our rotation, I feel like it’s reasonable to hope for a quality start each time out. If we can get that, most nights we should have enough offense to win those games. Personally, I want to see seven innings of three or less runs from Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. I want six with the occasional seven innings from Jason Hammel and then six from the back end of Travis Wood and Kyle Hendricks. Hammel answered that call and kicked in a seven inning outing with only two runs. I’m not sure what it is about pitching for the Cubs that brings the best out of Hammel, but I’m glad he’s back. At the same time, it has to be nerve racking to almost see the great outing wasted by piss poor bullpen work again.

The offense got into the action in the power department and it started off early with a leadoff home run by Dexter Fowler. Jorge Soler, Anthony Rizzo, and Starlin Castro all got into the action as well. What’s cool is that is the norm in the future. This lineup will be filled with power and I think it will be tough to pitch around guys in the lineup.

With his 10 game hitting streak on the line late in the game, the Cubs did enough to get Addison Russell one more at bat late and he made the most of it with a single. He’s now hit in 11 straight. Over that stretch, he’s hitting .333 / .366 / .615 with five doubles, two home runs, and two walks.

THE BAD

The bullpen was straight up ugly. I don’t even enjoy watching them now, and you know I’m a big fan of our pen. No one can get a batter out or have a clean outing. It’s every night that the pen gives up something, and it’s getting very frustrating. It’s turning into a house of horrors out there in the pen and I don’t know how you fix it. I think you have to start with Pedro Strop. He needs to be removed from high leverage situations and allowed to rest a little and pitch on that once or twice a week schedule. Jesse Rogers had a piece on ESPN Chicago in which he quoted Strop and the quotes were alarming.

“I feel like my fastball doesn’t have that life that I need,” Strop said.

Strop stopped short of blaming overuse on his recent struggles, but the fact is he’s on pace for about 93 appearances after pitching in 16 of the Cubs’ first 28 games.

“I don’t want to say that,” Strop said. “I’m kind of used to that. It’s early in the season. I don’t want to use that as a complaint.”

There isn’t any reduced velocity on the fastball this year for Strop, but the usage has declined from the typical 60% use last year to around 50% this year. I think he’s been overused and needs rest to get that sharpness and crispness back on the fastball, which would allow him to trust it more and use it more effectively. The issue is that no one in that pen is getting anyone out right now, so Joe Maddon is forced to try anything. At this point, I think you have to almost go with a rotation of the relievers rather than use them based on situation. Just go with who is next in line for bullpen innings and let these guys rest. Bring them in regardless of where in the game it is or what the score is.

Chris Coghlan continues to struggle at the plate. It makes logical sense that when / if Javier Baez is called up, we should be able to shift Kris Bryant to the OF, whether it’s CF or LF is yet to be determined and slot Baez in a 3B. I just don’t know how much use Coghlan has at this point as even a semi-every day regular.

UP NEXT

Travis Wood takes on Kyle Lohse in game two of the series.

Wood is coming off a rough outing against the Cardinals. He gave up six runs on six hits over five-plus innings, including a grand slam to Mark Reynolds. This is his fourth start on the road. He’s looking for his first win away from Wrigley.

When Lohse is “on,” he is quick and efficient. He was not either of those things in his most recent outing against the Dodgers, who pushed Lohse’s pitch count to 103 in only five innings. He’s worked only one quality start.

MLB.com


TOP PROSPECT WATCH

3. – C.J. Edwards  (AA) – DNP

4. – Kyle Schwarber  (AA) – DNP

5. – Albert Almora (AA) – 0-for-4

6. – Gleyber Torres (A) – 1-for-4, K, CS

7. – Duane Underwood (A+) – DNP

8. – Billy McKinney (A+) – 3-for-5, 2 doubles, 2 R, 2 RBI

9. – Pierce Johnson – Injury Rehab

10. – Jen-Ho Tseng (A+) – DNP

11. – Eloy Jimenez (EXST)

12. – Jake Stinnett (A) – DNP

13. – Carson Sands (EXST)

14. – Jeimer Candelario (A+) – DNP

15. – Dan Vogelbach (AA) – DNP

16. – Justin Steele (EXST)

17. – Mark Zagunis (A+) – 2-for-4, R, BB

18. – Victor Caratini (A+) – 0-f0r-5 with 5 LOB

19. – Corey Black (AA) – DNP

20. – Dylan Cease  (EXST)


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Ups and Downs Illustrate the Uniqueness of Baseball

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Although the season is still young, we’ve already been through some ups and downs with this Cubs team. We had an outstanding April, but May has been a little less kind (at least results-wise…you still have to love the offensive approach and development of the young guys). I’ve thought a lot in the past about how baseball is truly unique among the “big four” sports, and I think this rollercoaster type season is a good illustration of that.

In basketball, although players can have cold shooting nights or games in which they lack their usual mental focus, good players rarely go through prolonged slumps (short of injury). This is because an elite player’s athleticism can take over in this sport. If LeBron is having a cold shooting night, he can always muscle up and drive to the basket, overwhelming his opponent with athleticism, size, and aggressiveness. His height-weight-speed ratio stays the same and is relatively “slump proof.” Also in basketball, good players can make the players around them better. A good point guard can set up his teammates with effective passing and dribble-drives. An elite offensive player can facilitate easy baskets for his teammates by drawing double teams. So, even a player who would be having an off shooting night can still produce if his teammates put him in a favorable position by their play.

In football, the “system” can put players in a position to succeed. In this sport, teammates rely on working together as a cohesive whole to make plays successful. So, a player can often thrive in a particular system and be much less effective in another. Also, a great quarterback can make his receivers much more productive than they would be with an average QB, turning mediocre receivers into borderline Pro Bowlers. Almost any receiver playing with Peyton Manning is going to put up huge numbers. Receivers can also help their teammates by drawing double teams, and a good running game can help receivers get open by forcing single coverage (and an effective passing game can open up running lanes for backs).

Baseball, however, is inherently different. Athleticism, to some degree, is a prerequisite to success in baseball, but great athleticism never guarantees success in this sport. Baseball is a game of discreet skills, and these skills must be developed within their own domains. This is why you rarely, if ever, see an 18-year old drafted right out of high school who immediately starts for the big league club and finds success–much less becomes a star. On the other hand, early draft picks in football and basketball are expected–even counted on–to start for the major league team right away and become not only contributors, but the centerpiece of the team from day one. This just can’t happen in baseball. The skills required to play the game must be developed over time–they are not just the result of raw athleticism.

Another major factor that separates baseball from those other sports is the fact that baseball players take turns on offense. There are no offensive assists, ability to draw double teams, or complex systems that can highlight the batter’s strengths while obscuring his weaknesses. The batter is alone in that box, and his success or lack thereof is unrelated to those around him. Sure, the approach of teammates can be inspiring and a good model for others, but it’s still up to that individual player to produce without any direct help from others…and he must do this facing a pitcher who is pitching to him based on a personalized plan of attack.

To me, the current player who highlights baseball’s uniqueness to the highest degree is Javier Baez. Since he entered professional baseball, scouts have raved about his natural ability, labeling his bat speed best in a generation. He has all the tools you look for in a big-time prospect. However, those athletic tools, which would allow for instant success in other sports–don’t guarantee success in baseball because baseball is skill-based. The skill that Baez still needs to improve upon a great deal is pitch recognition. All the bat speed in the world will do no good if a player can’t recognize the pitch being thrown to him when it leaves the pitcher’s hand. This is why Baez can kill minor-league pitchers who don’t have developed secondary pitches, but he struggles to hit major-league pitchers who have command of their secondary offerings. Some claim that pitch recognition can’t be developed past a certain point, so there is reason to worry that Baez may never produce anywhere near the level that his athletic gifts might otherwise allow.

Baseball is also a game of adjustments. Even when players establish themselves in the major leagues, it’s not enough for them to “keep doing what they’re doing.” Pitchers will make adjustments as a scouting book is established on a player, and the hitter must make adjustments to those adjustments. We’re seeing this process now with Jorge Soler. He’s established that he can hit big-league pitching, but now the league has adjusted to him, and it’s up to him to make the adjustment in return. I have no doubt that he will make the necessary adjustments (we’ve seen some glimpses of an improved approach the last few games)–it’s just a matter of how long it will take. Of course, the best example of a player who has gone through a few adjustment periods and is now one of the best hitters in baseball is Anthony Rizzo. Let’s hope the other young guys can make adjustments as well as he did.

All of these tendencies–adjustment periods, the gap between athleticism and skill–are magnified with a young team. Joe Maddon was brought in as a steadying influence, since he has a reputation for being able keep everyone on an even keel as they make these adjustments and develop skills that allow them to play consistently at high levels. This mental approach to development may be one of the most important factors in overall team success. If the young 2015 season is any indicator–recent tough losses not withstanding–the future looks bright.

 

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Game 27 Notes – Cubs Baseball Can Be Frustrating Sometimes

Friday, May 8th, 2015

Cubs (1) @ Cardinals (5)

W: John Lackey (2-1)
L: Jake Arrieta (3-3)

This has been a very frustrating week of Cubs baseball. It feels like we were a mile high after April only to come to a crashing hault in May. The starting pitchers have let us down, Arrieta adding to that trend yesterday. The bullpen has been spotty and the wins are not coming as a result.

It’s a short and sweet summary of yesterday. Hittable pitching, errors and the inablility to score runs meant the Cubs dropped the series to the Cardinals and head into a weekend series that should be an easy one against the Brewers with a little self doubt. After all, this is a Brewers team that just won the last series we played last weekend.

I’m discouraged, but I know we’re better than this and we will be improving all season. I stick to the prediction I’ve made for the last couple years that 2016 is the year we are legit contenders, but it’s hard not to want to bump that up a year when you see how we started.

Misc Notes

  • Anthony Rizzo saw his on base streak come to an end at 15 games
  • Justin Grimm returned to the mound for the first time since being activated from the DL and was “eh”. He threw a wild pitch that allowed an inherited runner to score, but did get two hitters out on strikes.

  • IOWA CUBS (AAA)Tsuyoshi Wada started and pitched 5.2 innings, allowing just one run and striking out six to earn a no decision. He should be very close to being ready to go, at which point the Cubs will need to make a decision on what to do with him since he has a big league contract and is just on rehab assignment.
  • TENNESSEE SMOKIES (AA) - The Smokies jumped out to a four run lead in the first, thanks to a bases loaded double by Bijan Rademacher, but would lose in a collapse in the 9th
  • MYRTLE BEACH (A+) - Billy McKinney hit his fourth home run of the season in the top of the 10th inning to give Myrtle Beach a 2-1 win. Duane Underwood continues to shine on the mound, tossing seven innings of one run baseball but earning a no-decision. He’s 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA on the year.

THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

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1973 - After Cubs skipper Whitey Lockman is ejected in the 11th inning of a Jack Murphy Stadium contest, Ernie Banks takes his place for the last few innings of the Cubs’ 3-2‚ 12-inning victory over the Padres. The coach technically becomes the first black to ever manage a major league team.

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