Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Three Strikes – You Gotta Lose Sometime

Saturday, April 16th, 2016

Video Recap

STRIKE ONE – Where’s the Defense?

I tried to think of the perfect word to describe the Cubs’ defense Friday afternoon against the Rockies; adjectives like ugly, atrocious and sad all came to mind but none of them seemed to do the effort justice. Just know this: it wasn’t pretty. Entering Friday’s game, Chicago had only committed two errors in nine games. The team made four yesterday; Kyle Hendricks, Kris Bryant (x2) and Addison Russell were all culprits. To be fair, I don’t agree with the ruling on Hendricks’ misplay, as I thought it should have went down in the scorebook as an infield single. Bryant struggled at third, as he botched a ground ball and threw a ball erratically past Anthony Rizzo and into the visitor’s bullpen on a bunt attempt. (Speaking of bunts, who taught the Rockies to lay them down with such precision, Ichiro?) Finally, Addison Russell skipped a ball past Rizzo and into the camera well. In his defense (no pun intended), that came after a dazzling stop as well as a few remarkable plays in prior innings.

STRIKE TWO – Where’s the Offense?

In most games the Cubs are trailing during the mid-innings, I have this lingering belief that the offense will string together a combination of walks, bloops and blasts to put themselves right back in position to make a game of it. This was not the case yesterday. The often-potent Cubs lineup gave no indication that they were poised to make a surge in the late innings, even against the rather lackluster arms of the Rockies. The team drew four walks and had four hits—all singles. Chicago had a scoring opportunity in the fifth inning with runners on first and third and only one out. Joe Maddon’s decision to safety squeeze with Hendricks backfired as Soler was thrown out at home and Dexter Fowler flied out to promptly end the threat. The Cubs pushed across their only run of the ballgame in the seventh inning to make the score 4-1 and squandered a promising two-on, no out chance by only managing a single run. Worry not, these types of games happen.

STRIKE THREE – Assessing Hendricks

Kyle Hendricks pitched well enough to give his team a chance to win. As a No. 5, what else can you ask for? Kyle attacked the strike zone his entire outing, throwing just 16 balls in six innings of work. He allowed a troubling seven hits, but they were all singles and for the most part, not hit hard. Hendricks’ sinker was working well and 12 of his 18 recorded outs were via ground balls. Hendricks gave up two earned and struck out five. Overall, I was content with Hendricks’ performance. Maddon on Hendricks post game: “I thought Kyle threw the ball extremely well, a lot of bad swings and well-placed pitches. He did good…we just didn’t have our typical offensive day, or defensive day.”

UP NEXT

Jake Arrieta (RHP) - Arrieta helped himself by hitting his first home run, a two-run shot, in his last start. Pitching-wise, he said his offspeed stuff was “just average” but he did well enough against the D-backs to post his 22nd consecutive quality start.

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Christian Bergman (RHP) - Bergman had his start moved back to Saturday, as he’ll face the Cubs for the first time in his career. This will also be Bergman’s first start of the season.

Scouting note from MLB.com

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Dexter Fowler, Patience at the Plate Help Cubs Get Off to Scorching State

Friday, April 15th, 2016

The Cubs are off to a scorching hot start, their best since 1985. What has been their secret? Well, everything, to be honest, but here is how getting their leadoff hitter back and being more patient has made the Cubs the best team in baseball.

Going into 2016, expectations were sky high for the Chicago Cubs. After a 97-win season, a trip to the NLCS, and a successful offseason, expectations should have been set high. Through eight games, the Cubs have met those expectations head on and have gotten off to their best start since 1985. So, when you dissect the Cubs, what has been there strengths that have helped them get off to the best record in baseball over the first two weeks of the season? Getting a familiar face back and changing the approach at the plate has been the biggest key for the Cubs in 2016.

When Dexter Fowler decided to come back to the Cubs on a one-year deal in late February, the Cubs immediately had their leadoff guy back from their 97-win 2015 campaign. Joe Maddon coined the phrase, “You go, we go,” when describing Fowler in 2015. The centerfielder has proven that he wants to win this year, while taking his game to new heights. Fowler has played in all eight games, while compiling a .423 average, a .559 on base percentage, and a .731 slugging percentage (1.290 OPS; small sample size stats are fun) with a 231 wRC+ (100 is league average), three doubles, a home run, and eight runs scored. The centerfielder has compiled 0.7 fWAR in 8 games, which is 22% of his total fWAR from a year ago. The best asset that Fowler has brought to the lineup is his plate discipline. Fowler has reached base in every game this season, compiling six walks and two HBP in 34 plate appearances, while only striking out seven times. His walk rate is up to an absurd 17.6% (up from 12.2% in 2015) and his strikeout rate is down to 20.6% (down from 22.3% last year). This can be attributed to laying off pitches out of the zone. His swing rate on pitches outside of the strike zone is down from 20% in 2015 to just 17.9% in 2016. With the injury to Kyle Schwarber, Fowler should be in centerfield for the Cubs close to everyday, instead of 80% of the time, like originally thought with a healthy roster. Fowler struggled through the first half of the 2015 season, but really turned in on in the second half. He looks like he is picking up right where he left off, and that is good news for the Cubs.

Fowler isn’t the only Cub that is drawing walks at a crazy rate. Well, everyone is. The Cubs had to address contact hitters in the offseason, due to the lack of production with a runner on third and less than two outs and leading the league in strikeouts. Signing Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist were meant to address that need, and they have produced thus far. Heyward, while only hitting .250, has an on base percentage of .368 and a walk rate of 13.2%, which has been exclusively out of the two hole behind Fowler. Zobrist has been hitting mostly behind Heyward, and his production is also starting strong. The new Cubs second baseman is hitting .290, but more impressive is his .421 on base percentage, his 18.4% walk rate and his 15.8% strikeout rate (which is actually high for him, but well below league average). The top three in the order haven’t been the only ones having a great start to the season. The Cubs have 12 (!!!) players on their roster with a walk rate of over 10.0%. Throw away Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Kyle Schwarber out of that mix, and there are still 9 position players that have over 10 plate appearances that have a walk rate over 10.0%. Just a reminder: the league average walk rate thus far is 8.7% and last year it was 7.7%. The only regular to have a walk rate below 10.0% is Jorge Soler, and his walk rate is just below last year’s league average at 6.7%, which is still respectable. Overall, the Cubs have a combined walk rate of 14.5%, which is nearly three percent higher than the Braves in second place. Another improvement with the team in 2016 is the strikeout total. The Cubs struck out a lot last year. Like, a lot, to the tune of 1518 times, which was the third highest strike out total in a season by a club since 2000. The Cubs, obviously, had the highest strikeout rate in baseball last year at 24.5%. In 2016, the Cubs have only struck out 67 times, which is the 14th lowest total in baseball. That’s a strike out rate of 20.2%, which is the 8th lowest rate in baseball. Quite a turnaround from one year ago. The Cubs also have the highest BB/K rate in baseball, taking 0.72 walks per strike outs, which is a major improvement from last year’s 0.37 BB/K rate. A reason for the big turn around, outside of their offseason acquisitions, has been their lack of chasing pitches outside of the strike zone. As with Fowler, the Cubs have been much better at laying off pitches that are not in the zone. Their swing rate on the pitches out of the zone in 2015 was 30.5%. This year, the Cubs have only swung at 23.8% of pitches outside of the zone, which is the 3rd lowest rate in baseball.

While small sample sizes should be cautioned, the Cubs look like one of the most potent offenses, if not the most potent, in the game. Starting pitchers in games against the Cubs have only reached the 7th inning once. They have compiled 38.2 innings (which is below five innings per start) and have thrown 705 pitches, which is just over 88 pitches per start. Getting to the pitcher early has been a successful formula for the Cubs offense so far in 2016. With high walk rates, lower strikeout rates, and lower chase percentages, the Cubs offense is going to be a nightmare for pitchers throughout the 2016 season.

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Three Strikes: Guess Who’s Coming Back

Friday, April 15th, 2016

 

Video Recap

STRIKE ONE: Curb Your Enthusiasm

In all seriousness, I don’t mean to pee in your corn flakes this morning, but as excited as I am about an 8-1 start to the season, it’s important to take it with a cynical eye just a bit. This team is good. This team is very good and it’s going to be a very exciting summer of Chicago baseball overall with the White Sox playing good ball as well (Note: I don’t hate the White Sox), but step back for a second and look at the teams the Cubs have played so far. We beat an Angels team that is considered to be potentially the worst team in the AL west. We beat the Diamondbacks who some believe will be OK and some believe will be bad (I believe they will be under .500), and now we’re beating up on a Reds team that is essentially tanking and will eventually sell off guys like Jay Bruce, Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips. They don’t want to win. This weekend we open a series with the Rockies (also a bad team). It’s not until Monday when we get the Cardinals that we get our first test of a competent opponent. Let’s hang tight on being the annoying homer fan until we know this is not just a hot stretch against bad teams (it’s not).

STRIKE TWO: My Boyfriend’s Back

Ok, so Javier Baez is not my boyfriend (sorry to Pedro Strop for even joking about that), but I do like watching him play and have looked forward to him getting regular at bats this season in the Majors. Word got out yesterday that he is scheduled to head back to Chicago. It was first expected that he would be on the road trip with Iowa and then Tommy Birch tweeted out that there was a 180 and that Baez was headed back to Chicago.

I could see him activated as soon as today with Munenori Kawasaki headed back to Iowa to take his place. The question will then shift to how to get him in the lineup on a regular bases to not retard his development. He’s kind of a guy without a position.

STRIKE THREE: So Long To Jokisch

A rather curious move (at least it was to me) yesterday as the Marlins claimed LHP Eric Jokisch off waivers from the Cubs. Jokisch was on the 40 man roster, which stood at 40. I find it odd that the Cubs would just up and try to pass a player through waivers at the risk of losing him just for the sake of removing him from the 40 man roster when nothing was forcing the roster move. Baez will return from the DL, but he’s already on the 40 man roster. I’ve seen it speculated that the Cubs just wanted to see if they could slip him through to give them roster flexibility, hoping no one would notice, but I’m not buying that. Teams don’t just randomly not notice that a guy is on waivers. They check that list every day. This one sticks with me, and I feel it’s an indication of something coming. It could be nothing, but I would watch to see if the Cubs add someone in the next day or two.

UP NEXT

Kyle Hendricks (RHP) - Hendricks posted a quality start in his first outing — and got a hit off Zack Greinke. He’d like to improve his fastball command and his changeup vs. right-handed hitters. This will be his first start at home, where he posted at 3.38 ERA last year.

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Chad Bettis (RHP) - Bettis threw seven innings, struck out six and gave up two runs (one earned) while beating the Padres on Sunday. His experience at Wrigley is limited to a scoreless two-thirds of an inning of relief in 2014.

Scouting Report from MLB.com


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1942 – At Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Hiram ‘Hi’ Bithorn becomes the first Puerto Rican to play major league baseball. The Cubs’ right-hander from Santurce makes a relief appearance, allowing no runs or hits during his two innings of work in Chicago’s 4-2 loss to the Redbirds.

1947 – In his National League debut, Hank Greenberg has the lone RBI in the Pirates’ 1-0 win over the Cubs. Pittsburgh bought the slugging first baseman from the Tigers in the off-season for $75,000.

1969 - Jeromy Burnitz is born

1978 - Milton Bradley is born

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Bright Lights, Big Inning

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

You have tickets for the second home game of the year. You are a little concerned about Lackey, who is starting. Your son Joe was supposed to join you, but his job interfered. So you are taking Donna’s son, Will. You will meet Will at your place after work and then you will take the Red Line.

You layer up because Donna warned you that it will be cold. You decide not to take the Cubs blanket. You grab a blue Barbour zip up with a lining. You throw a jean jacket on over it. You cannot find your Cubs logo wool hat, so you grab another and stick a Cubs pin on it.

You catch the el at Clark and Division with Will. The el is not crowded on a Wednesday night at 6 pm, which you think is strange. You get off at Addison. You walk around the ball park and check out the new stuff. There is not that much to see. You notice the McDonald’s is gone. The lot is surrounded by green fencing and you can’t see what construction is underway, if any, on that site. You note the office building on the northeast corner of Waveland and Clark is coming along, but still is open construction. You think it looks about a month away before they will close up the building.

You try to figure out where the new clubhouse is located, but cannot. You guess probably under the old player’s parking lot, but it’s hard to say. You like the new changes to the outside façade.

It’s still early, so you stop at Murphy’s for a beer. You hear Will offer to treat. Nice. You have a Three Floyd’s Gumball Head. You are impressed with Will’s baseball knowledge and good company. You like him, but mistakenly had him pegged as a football guy.

You are anxious to see your new seats. You bought the Rivals Package this season. You will see six games, one against the White Sox and the rest against Central Division teams. You know that you will get in another 3 or 4 games over the course of the season with friends or work colleagues. Your new seats are in the field boxes opposite left field. You moved down from center upper deck, where you have been the last few seasons.

You find a stand in the left field concourse and buy a gourmet sausage and a Green Line. Will has a Green Line too, but goes with a sausage called an Aloha. You approve of the fancy cuisine – it’s a schmancy hot dog and is tasty. You find your seats and they are good. It’s a different angle, but close to the field. You won’t always be able to see the pitch from this angle, but the new scoreboard behind the left bleachers identifies the ones you miss.

You think the ball park looks spectacular. The first thing you notice is the new Rooftop area above the right field bleachers. It looks like a good place to be and you make a note to get tix for there when you can. You bet Donna will like the game from there. You also notice more signage, but you are prepared for that and resigned to it.  You don’t like that the sound system is so loud, but you also think that it is not as bad as last season. Perhaps, you are just farther away from the speakers.

You groan with the rest of the crowd when Lackey starts the game by yielding a double. Your concern grows as he digs himself into a deep hole and gives up a run. But you are comforted when he calmly works himself out of a sticky jam and limits the Reds to only one run scored. You say to Will, that could have been much worse.

You feel a surge of energy as you wait for the Cubs at bat. You feel the excitement of the crowd and sense again this could be a special year. You rise to your feet with the faithful when Fowler starts us off with a double. You marvel as the Cubs bat around and chase Simon who has thrown over 50 pitches and recorded only two outs in the bottom of the first. You are impressed with the Cubs’ patience that enables them to score 5 runs in a half inning playing small ball – though you thought Soler’s sacrifice fly might have been a home run on a warmer day.

You are now cold. The first inning took about 55 minutes. You turn to the two middle-aged guys behind you, whose conversation reeks of Budweiser and baseball knowledge. You say, when they bat around it really f’s up your score card. You get a good laugh from them. Your fingers are cold and your scorecard is not just cramped; it is barely legible. Your pencil markings are indecipherable from the cold.

You buckle down – this is where you want to be, but it is too cold and you may not make it for nine. You hang in there and are gratified when Heyward knocks in two runs to redeem his two strike outs in the top of the first. You feel the game begin to grind a little and then Bryant hooks a solo shot into the left field bleachers. You feel that was what you were waiting for. You turn to Will sheepishly and suggest a move back to Murphy’s to warm up in front of a TV – with the added benefit of catching up on the Blackhawks too. You think he will regard this as a wimpy move. But you are pleased when he is totally on board.

Back at Murphy’s, you size up the Hawks game. You think the Hawks can win the series, but you hate watching when they play the Blues. You do not like the Blues’ goon style of hockey. You say to Will that the Blues are to the Blackhawks what the Knicks were to Jordan’s Bulls. He is 26 and you can’t tell if that means much to him.

On the other hand, you see the Cubs are cruising. You are relieved that Lackey pitched well and that the bats are hot, notwithstanding that you are frozen. Suddenly, you want to be home. You tell Will that you are going to jump on the el and beat the crowd. You can get home for the final inning or so on TV. You hear him order another beer and say that he will take an Uber back to Wicker Park.

 

You get home and watch the final five outs. You feel good about the Cubs. You owe Joe a posting for View from the Bleachers tomorrow. You decide you will write up your evening in the second person – Jay McInerny style. You think Joe might be cool with that.

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GirlieView (04/14/2016)

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely, and/or interesting quote made on the VFTB site by our writers or commenters.
  • Lizard = The best Lizzie.
  • MVL = Most Valuable Lizzie’er: The person with the most Lizzies in the period under review (usually the past two weeks.)
  • Top 10 of the 2016 Season = The folks with the most aggregate Lizzie points YTD (1 point for every Lizzie, 3 points for every Lizard.)

As you already know, this is all completely subjective and according to my whims.

Lizzies

  • Cost me the equivalent of 80 Subway sangwiches for those seats, but when it’s your 7 year old daughter’s first Cub game, you kick down.
  • A cursory review of this week’s Lizzie’s leads me to believe that she never saw the Princess Bride. She should find a way to see it. Good, clean comedy.
  • I used to take little girls to ballgames. The restraining order put a stop to that.
  • I agree about the west coast, though I do like opening week in a warm weather venue.
  • The older I get, the more I prefer watching games on television. More comfortable. Better food. Better booze. Freakin’ PAUSE.
  • I love seeing St. Louis UNDER .500 already
  • I was at the game on Sunday. A few observations. There were some foul balls that were very dangerous, I think MLB should consider more netting for fan protection.
  • I have thought that about foul balls before as well. I wonder why no one ever makes an issue of it.
  • I’ve been too busy trying to figure out how to ban bats since Colvin was impaled.
  • A bat can do a lot of damage, I think bubble wrap would be helpful.
  • After the strikeout to end the 7th, Federowicz tossed the ball to mini-me Realist in the stands. This made her year. He is my new favorite minor league Cub, and I hope he makes the club next season, or later this season when Ross has a grabber legging out a triple.
  • [Fowler]’s the catalyst for this beast of a lineup. If he’s getting on base, this order is going to have a monster year.
  • How fun was that last night? Everyone contributed. A satisfying way to get started.
  • My first cup of coffee in the new season was sensational this morning.
  • If only the game had been on at a reasonable hour (for those of us in the EST time zone), as I was disappointed to have been unable to watch any of it.
  • Mark_in_Alberta has a decent ring to it.
  • But then I would miss any of the EST games which would start while I was still at work. Guess I can’t win either way
  • Split the difference in Winnipeg… Mark_in_Manitoba
  • Simplify – Markitoba
  • Somebody really should track down Jedi now that we’re good.
  • Just imagine what would come of this team if it played at Coors.
  • David Ross clearly spent the winter with Ponce de Leon in Florida.
  • Soler has a huge hole in his swing down and away- he has Sorianocantrecognizetheslideritis
  • Sort of looks like Raker is photobombing Cap and Alec
  • Looks like some holding-my-gut-in action taking place.
  • I am the one closest to the camera, don’t be that guy closest to the camera, not flattering. The Capn is in the middle holding his gut in and Alec Berg is in the grey Santo jersey.
  • I hope you were paying attention to flying objects leaving the field of play as well. Turning your back on the field of play can be hazardous.
  • Not to worry, Raker Jr. was wrapped in bubble wrap as was Mini-Me Cap’n.
  • Jr Raker smelled really funny when we took the bubble wrap off
  • that jersey is 10 years old…who among us wouldn’t have some tightness in the belly in a 10 year old shirt?
  • I am in Phoenix on business, but cruelly will not be able to see any of the games because of other commitments.
  • Call in sick. Head to the ballpark w/ a fake mustache and Goldie jersey. Problem solved.
  • Make a cardboard cutout. No one will know the difference. She has already described you to her co-workers as “dry as dust.” They will be amazed at her apt description in the desert.
  • I was going to suggest his and hers fake mustaches, but okay.
  • There’s gotta be a way to scam 1 game out of the series. Promise her you’ll paint a wicker chair with her, row a boat for her, hug her on a bench, dance with her, sit in a bathtub and watch the sunset with her……am I forgetting anything?
  • Ipecac. It’s over the counter and will make you vomit. This will get you out of the evening engagements.
  • I see an opportunity – “Ask Seymour – Marital Advice for Cubs Fans”
  • Bring your dollar bills.
  • that uppity prick from Texas
  • Nicely written and reasoned. I will, however, be profoundly disappointed if the Cubs fail to go all the way nonetheless.
  • As will Chris, regardless of what he says here.
  • I haven’t read your book, but it’s not bad luck or a curse that has kept the Cubs down. They’ve been a very poorly run team with no vision for a LONG TIME.
  • Fowler re-signing looks genius today.
  • Despite his quick bat, Schwarber going out for the season probably will have the least impact. Last year when Russell got hurt, the whole team suffered.
  • Strop – It’s difficult to take someone seriously when he wears his hat like that – and then loses the lead.
  • We all knew somebody was going down…Thought it would be Cindy Sandberg, though…
  • We can go 161-1 now, still can be a pretty good season
  • now we go home to the cold and windy April Wrigley were manufacturing runs will be paramount. Let’s see if we can win that way also.
  • I would think the emergence of Arrieta as the clubs ace makes life for Lester a lot easier, it takes the spot light off of Lester and allows him to work and make adjustments without the media and fans over reacting.
  • Back to Chicago… hope they didn’t misplace their muffs over winter.

Lizard

  • Good morning. It is Opening Day!

Shout Outs

  • It was the first 2016 Season Lizzie for everyone who had a Lizzie this time around! Big shout outs to Adam Peters, Brad Lyerla, cap’n realist, Confused in Cali, Doc Raker, Doug S, Eddie von White, Joe Aiello, jswanson, Mark_from_Toronto, Seymour Butts, and Sherm! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Eddie von White, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go EVW!

Top 10 of the 2016 Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard)

1. Eddie von White
2. Doc Raker
3. jswanson
4. cap’n realist
5. Seymour Butts
6. Sherm
7. Brad Lyerla
8. Doug S
8. Joe Aiello
8. Mark_from_Toronto

Chit Chat

  • (Just a quick fyi … I had to wrap things up early this week because of some travel commitments. But never fear, I’ll pick up exactly where I left off next time.) Now that you’ve been able to (hopefully) see a few games, who are your favorite Cubs right now? Let’s go with top 3!
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THREE STRIKES: The North Side Offensive

Thursday, April 14th, 2016

Video Recap

Strike One: Early Offense, Early Exit

The Cubs on Wednesday evening scored 5 runs in a 40+ minute first inning that saw Alfredo Simon of the Reds leave after 2/3 of an inning. This feat of scoring five runs had previously taken all 9 of the given innings on Monday evening, which, as mentioned in the preview, was but the first sign that this game would be the photo negative of Monday’s contest. Simon threw over 50 pitches during the inning, which was more than half of what John Lackey pitched total through 6 and 2/3’s innings of work. It was an offensive outburst that saw three walks, five straight batters record RBI’s, and eleven total Cubs hitters. Superficially, this proved to be the solidifying, and winning, inning, as the Reds would go on to muster two runs for the rest of the game. However, throughout the rest of the game, the Cubs forced the Reds to use five more pitchers in relief through long at-bats, and 7 additional walks to the 3 in the first inning, totaling 10 for the contest. John Lackey even had himself an evening at the plate, going 1 for 3 with an RBI single and walk himself. It was an encouraging and fun game to watch, especially after a Tuesday off-day (W-h-a-t?) and the 6+ innings of no-hit ball on Monday.

Strike Two: Sound Pitching

John Lackey exited the game with two outs in the 7th inning, after surrendering 2 runs on 6 hits. It was a solid game. However, what is not shown in the box score are the pitches he made to Brandon Phillips at two pivotal points in the game. Early on, with the bases loaded and nobody out, and the Reds imminently threatening in the 1st inning, he struck Phillips out. During Phillips’ next at-bat, he forced him into a double play that brought the inning to 2 outs with a man on 3rd. Lackey’s hugely pivotal performance in moments such as these – of which there were others sprinkled throughout the game – proved to be the hinges on which the game ultimately swung. In all, and in my opinion, he looked to be the John Lackey the Cubs had expected at this stage in his long and prolific career: not quite as dominating as he once was, but proficient and hard-working, thus keeping the Cubs in the game.

Strike Three: Sell Out With Me, Oh Yeah

The 1990’s ska sensation that was Reel Big Fish could have just as easily written their acclaimed single “Sell Out” about this opening home stand as they did about bands going “corporate” and selling out to “the man.” The environment from afar, and through the TV, has been some of the most exhilarating April baseball that has seen the North side’s Friendly-Yet-Lively Confines in some time. Pat Hughes, Len and JD have all commented on the electric atmosphere, and each game has proven to be a rowdy sell-out, even with the weather more closely resembling an October Bears game than a spring baseball contest. This is only adding to the further excitement going forward, and has already set forth in motion fantasies of just how much more truly ephemeral and magical October baseball has the potential to be. (I did knock on every wooden object in my immediate vicinity, too.)

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Prospect Spotlight: Oscar De La Cruz

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

After Eloy Jimenez at number 10 on the list comes right handed pitcher Oscar De La Cruz. De La Cruz just turned 21 years old a month ago and finished last season at Short Season Eugene. The Cubs signed him as a 17 year-old for $85k out of the Dominican Republic as a pitcher in the fall of 2012 after he failed to get signed as a shortstop. He played his 18 and 19 year-old seasons in the Dominican Rookie League. His first season, which was cut short as he was placed with the team late in the season, wasn’t great, as he posted a 6.55 ERA through just 11 innings. The next season, he showed that his bad start to his professional career was not a true representation of his abilities. He dominated in his first full season putting up a 1.80 ERA and a 3.37 Strikeout to Walk ratio (SO/W) over 75 innings. The next spring, he impressed the Cubs staff so much, they had him skip a level and go straight to Short Season A where he pitched even better, given the competition. Over 73 innings, he had a 2.84 ERA and an impressive improvement in his stuff and control which his 4.29 SO/W proved. It seems that he will start this season still in Eugene, but he should start to move up quickly if he continues his success. His best attribute is his fastball, which can touch 97 mph and has good movement. He also has a curveball and changeup in his repertoire which are still developing but show promise. His large frame at 6’4” 200 lbs. gives him a commanding presence on the mound and hope that he can grow into his body more and add more power to his pitches.

It’s always exciting to see guys like him seem to come out of nowhere and turn into players you can see having an impact at the major league level. At his skill level and age, we likely won’t see him in Chicago until 2018 or 2019. It is also possible that he could end up being sent to the bullpen once he gets to higher levels of the minors, given his skill with his fastball and relatively small bag of tricks. Granted he’s still young, but if his curveball and changeup don’t develop as well as we would hope, or he isn’t able to add any more pitches, he will likely have to be called out of the pen. Still, that 85k that the Cubs spent to sign him is looking like a steal right about now

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Three Strikes – Addison Comes Up Clutch

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

PLAY OF THE GAME

THREE STRIKES

Strike One: Russell’s Home Run - I watched this one on the couch board out of mind by the lack of Cubs offense. At one point, I must have fallen asleep because the game was that boring for our guys. Brandon Finnegan made the lineup look horrible and had a no hitting into the 7th inning. I began wondering if I would see my 2nd no hitter (1st being Jake’s last year) and it was not sitting well with me. After breaking up the no no in the 7th, we got to the pen and that’s when things happened, but nothing was bigger than Addison Russell‘s bomb. You can watch the video above as it was my vote for play of the game. I’m going on record right now and predicting 20+ home runs from Addison this year and a potential gold glove award.

Strike Two: Schwarber Intro – The Cubs want to make him as much a part of the team as possible and it was good to see him take the field for pre-game introductions on opening day. I’m gonna miss that dude this season, but let’s hope he comes back stronger. According to Jesse Rogers the Cubs plan to put Kris Bryant in left field a little along with Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Matt Szczur. Personally, I don’t like the idea of Bryant out there. I’d rather him focus his efforts at third base where I believe he can be an above average fielder due to his athleticism.

Strike Three: Lester Average, Bullpen Good – It wasn’t the best start by Jon Lester yesterday, but thanks to late offense it got the job done. I wasn’t upset with Jon’s start, but it wasn’t what I had hoped for. Thankfully, what’s awesome is that both our # 1 and # 2 were hittable in their second outing and in both starts the Cubs got a win. That’s the key. Keep the offense in the game and let them work. The bullpen, on the other hand, continues to shine. I’m not a fan of the eight man pen, but so far this season they have been great. In seven games this season they lead the NL in bullpen ERA at 1.06 and trail only the Yankees (1.04) for the overall lead in the Majors. It’s early, but it’s been fun to watch.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • The Cubs acquired Giovanni Soto (RP) from the Indians for cash considerations. He’s a lottery ticket with a live arm in the pen that has struggled with his control in the minors, but has posted good ERA’s. It reminds me of someone like Pedro Strop in that the Cubs may see something and want to take a chance to see if they can correct it and turn him into a useful piece for depth.
  • Jen-Ho Tseng (AA) was carted off the field yesterday in a game for the Smokies after taking a line drive comebacker off his left leg.

UP NEXT

John Lackey - This will be Lackey’s first game at Wrigley Field as a Cub. He can only hope the offense comes through again as it did in his first start, scoring 14 runs in a win over the D-backs. Lackey served up six runs in that outing.

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Alfredo Simon - Simon went five solid innings against Pittsburgh in his first start of the season, giving up one earned run on five hits and seven strikeouts in a no-decision. He’s 4-0 with a 1.66 ERA in 15 career games against the Cubs, including five starts.

Scouting Report from MLB.com


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

www.NationalPastime.com

1931 - Former Cubs pilot Joe McCarthy makes his debut as Yankee manager. The future Hall of Fame manager, who is the team’s all-time leader in managerial wins with 1460, guides the club to eight pennants and seven World championships during his 16-year tenure in the Bronx.

1982 - Justin Ruggiano is born

1988 - Bobby Witt ties an American League record, committing four balks in the Rangers’ 4-1 loss in Detroit. The major league record for the most balks in one game is five, established in 1963 by Braves’ right-hander Bob Shaw which included three in third inning in team’s 7-5 loss to the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

1994 - The Philadelphia Phillies traded Kevin Foster to the Chicago Cubs for Shawn Boskie.

2004 - Cubs sign Trent Hubbard as a Free Agent. Funny story about this one. I was at a game in 1995 sitting in centerfield with my buddy Shaun. We were giving it to this guy something fierce during batting practice and he was engaging and kind. When I asked for a ball, he said he couldn’t give me the one that just came into the outfield because it was dirty and he was from this Chicago. He said he would bring one to me and was a man of his word. When he came out to take the field in the bottom of the 1st he brought with him a new ball that he had autographed. Trent Hubbard: Good Guy.

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Road Trip Reflections

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Hello, everybody! It’s wonderful to be back, and writing at “home” after a hiatus again. This is especially due to the fact that it means the Cubs are playing, and it’s the most anticipated regular season in quite some time. (Approximately one year.)

Now, re-introduction of myself aside, we can focus on what was one of the most impressive road trips in recent memory for the Cubs. There are quite a few reasons, too, why this is the case: they were the opening games of the season, which often have the most adrenaline infused into them. They began in interleague play, against the much-talked-about Angels club with more meat in the middle of their lineup than in Sylvester Stallone AND Dolph Lundgren’s cores in Rocky IV. The first series was only two games – though they had played the Angels the day prior to conclude Spring Training – and abruptly moved to the National League for four games. It was a west coast trip, though admittedly, having been in Arizona for the past few months more than likely padded the severity of this blow.

This is all to say, to conclude the trip at 5-1 with all of these conditions rightfully and fairly considered, was surely the best-case scenario for the club. Here, thusly, are my three biggest takeaways from the opening road trip and initial 6 games.

Takeaway #1: The Offensive Pop

After finishing their series against the Diamondbacks on Sunday with a resounding 7-3 victory, the Cubs scored 42 runs over their first 6 games. As of Monday morning, that is good for best in Major League Baseball. Dexter Fowler, with a limited sample size, leads the National League and is second in Major League Baseball in batting average. He also reached base in 13 of his first 19 plate appearances, which came over the first four games. In all, however, what the Cubs offense proved over the course of the week seemed to operate as more a validation than a surprise: there is no real “sure out” located anywhere within the lineup. David Ross, who many considered to be the one easy out and surely still do, himself had an impressive first week after focusing on offense during the offseason. The lone defeat showed the Cubs still have signs of stagnation, but those bouts are surely to be fewer and farther apart with the additions of Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward.

Takeaway #2: Club House is Still a Fun House

The team’s success over these past few years can be traced back, accurately and rightfully, to a few origins, including the roster’s collection of uber-talented young players, the veteran-mixed-with-young player leadership, and Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s tedious plan coming to fruition. However, after this week, in my own opinion, what became crystalline clear by the end of the trip was that Joe Maddon’s influence can not go overstated. “Embrace the Target” and “Try Not to Suck” t-shirts were seen being worn by multiple players, and the camaraderie clearly only strengthened during the offseason, even with the cavalcade of new rookie and veteran talent. The most inspiring portion of the week for me, however, came after Kyle Schwarber’s heartbreaking and season-ending injury. In a conversation with my Mom – a casual Cubs fan who is able to glean most of her information on the club from WGN’s evening news – she pointed out, insightfully, that the team seemed to be genuinely and passionately more concerned about the well-being of Kyle than they were about the well-being of their record. And, after further reflection, one can conclude that this is the exact type of attitude Joe Maddon has successfully imbued into this young, growing clubhouse. By “embracing the target” and maintaining the concept of Levity as the honorary 26th member of the clubhouse, the players are able to consider baseball in the larger context of life, which ultimately is what makes exceptional people and players. This realization, more than anything, is why I am most excited about the coming months.

Takeaway #3: Pitch Perfect 3

The third installment of the wildly successful Pitch Perfect movie franchise finally arrived this past week, and the athletic team featured this time (following the popular – and overrated – appearance of the Green Bay Packers in the second) was the Cubs’ pitching staff. All 6 games featured proficient and efficient pitching from each member of the staff. Though Jake Arrieta had his regular season scoreless streak broken at 32 innings on Sunday, it did come against baseball’s supposed new ironman, Paul Goldschmidt, who was successfully “held in check” for the remainder of the series. Going into Sunday’s game – and, again, with an admittedly small sample size – the Cubs’ team ERA stood at 2.42, which was good for 4th in the MLB. John Lackey seems to still be finding his groove and his footing, but that will come. Jon Lester’s start proved to be the most encouraging for me, as he seemed to be finally settled down now that he’s been paired back up with the “yang” to his “yin”: John Lackey. The bullpen’s success cannot go unmentioned, as well, and it looked as sured-up as had been talked about this off-season. Each game saw the starter keep the Cubs in the game with low early pitch counts and limited base runners. This, by all accounts, is the beginning formula for prolonged winning in baseball.

And now, in the hallowed words of folk music’s trendy, understated Mount Rushmore, Simon & Garfunkel: Homeward Bound!

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