View From The Bleachers

July 15, 2016

How the Cubs Bullpen Should Look in Second Half

Filed under: Featured,General — Nate Head @ 6:06 am

For awhile there, it seemed that any pitcher—starter or reliever—on the Cubs had an edge on opposing hitters. Seriously, it felt like any pitcher with a “C” (not the peculiar Cincinnati variation) on their cap could throw a basketball past lineups with ease. Then, an unexpected snag emerged and Cubs starters often found themselves on the wrong side of a crooked numbered inning. Faced with no other choice, Joe Maddon would hand the ball over to his bullpen with hopes of stopping the bleeding, but for the most part, the relievers would only worsen the wound. Looking ahead at the second half, it’s reasonable to assume that the rotation will return to their early season form—crisp and consistent. As for the bullpen, the near future looks rather grim…pun intended.

Below is the winning formula for Lester Strode’s bullpen. It could be more imperative to re-evaluate certain roles than waive guys from the roster. That being said, Spencer Patton and Clayton Richard must be shown the exit.

Long Reliever—Travis Wood

After watching his ERA balloon up to over 5 in May, Wood has began to string a series of solid appearances together to lower his mark to an impressive 2.97. Wood is essentially the lone lefty out of the bullpen—a void that needs to be addressed—but is typically used in long relief due to his experience as a starter.  

Lefty Specialist—?

Someone, anyone, who throws with their left hand and can get dangerous left handed hitters out. San Francisco is stacked with tricky lefties like Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford and many other potential National League teams have at least one lefty who can do damage.

Middle Relief, Low to High Leverage Situation—Justin Grimm

Grimm has been an utter disappointment after materializing as a weapon out of the bullpen a season ago, where he posted a 1.99 ERA in 49 innings of work. 30 innings into this season, Grimm’s era has inflated to 5.34 and his strikeout rate has worsened. Grimm has pitched in high leverage moments a handful of times this year and has actually held his own, but more appearances in lower pressure settings could ease his nerves and get him back on track.

Middle Relief, Low Leverage—Trevor Cahill

Cahill has been OK this season but not as productive as last year. He’s been called upon frequently by Maddon, already logging 41 innings, which is just two frames shy of his season total from 2015. On the surface, his numbers look good: 3.07 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. However, dig a little deeper, and you will see that Cahill’s magic number is three. As in he has allowed three more walks and hits per nine innings than last year.

Middle Relief, High Leverage—Carl Edwards Jr.

This one is a wildcard. Edwards’ sample size is limited (and I mean limited) but the hard-throwing right-hander has prospered in his increased role with the team. In 10.2 innings this season, Edwards has only allowed a pair of earned runs and boasts a .114 opposing batting average and a sizzling 0.66 WHIP. Edwards and Grimm could be used interchangeably, as Maddon could (and should) ride the hotter hand in pressure spots.

7th Inning—Pedro Strop

Say what you want about Pedro, but he’s been one of the brighter spots in the Cubs bullpen. Strop has primarily served as the set-up man for Rondon, and has done a serviceable job. Strop often finds himself in the crosshairs of fans because it seems like all of his appearances come with the game on the line and the severity of a single misstep multiplies in magnitude.

8th Inning—Hector Rondon

As was aforementioned, Strop frequently finds himself in intense moments of a game. While he has generally succeeded, Rondon is better suited for the job. As we know, Rondon has experience as a closer and has done a satisfactory job in the role but has started to falter in save situations as of late. Rondon was 11/11 in saves until June 14th, where he blew one against Washington. Then, he blew one the very next day and two more since then. He’s pitched well, but as of now, his game is more suited for the 8th inning.

Closer—Andrew Miller/Aroldis Chapman

Here’s to hoping we get one of these guys. If it’s Chapman, then it’s a no-brainer to slide him into the closing role. If it’s Miller—the more realistic option, according to reports—then Maddon will have a decision to make between keeping the white-hot Miller in the role he’s excelled at in New York or converting him to a closer.

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July 13, 2016

First Half Awards

Filed under: Featured,General — Elijah Knepper @ 6:32 am

No Cubs games all week. I’m not entirely sure how to feel about that given the recent struggles of the club. Instead of saying things that have already been said about how the Cubs need a bullpen arm, Fowler needs to come back, Heyward needs to figure it out, etc… I think I will take a try at handing out some meaningless first half awards. I will try to be as unbiased as possible, but I am not going to promise anything. So, here it goes.

MVP

American League: Josh Donaldson

National League: Kris Bryant

Like I said, I am going to try to be unbiased. Many Cub-haters would argue that Bryant is not the MVP because of low average, a K-rate in the 20’s, blah blah blah. Bryant leads the National League in fWAR by .8. That is pretty absurd for that number to be that large at the all-star break. As for Donaldson, he is second in fWAR in the AL to Mike Trout. I find it difficult to award the MVP to someone whose team is awful, and that is the reason I picked Donaldson over Trout. FYI, Donaldson has a fWAR 1.1 points higher than the AL all-star starting third baseman (Manny Machado). Bryant’s is 1.8 higher than Nolan Arenado. Cubs’ fans got that one right.

Cy Young

American League: Chris Sale

National League: Clayton Kershaw

This award was a bit tougher for different reasons in each league. In the National League, Kershaw has been hurt for a couple weeks, so he hasn’t pitched. His numbers are still ridiculous, so if you have a problem with Kershaw, just go look at his numbers compared to everyone else. In the American League, no one has astounding stats. I went with Sale because he has won almost all of his starts. He is 14-3 in 18 games started. His ERA isn’t great, but his walk rate is very low, and that is allowing him to pitch deeper into games. The White Sox have struggled to close out games, so any help the starters can provide is huge. Sale provides that help.

Manager of the Year

American League: Terry Francona

National League: Bruce Bochy

The AL Central has 4 teams that could legitimately still makes the playoffs at this point in the season. The Cleveland Indians have outperformed any standard that I had set for them. Francona has led them to a 52-36 record, and a 6.5 game lead in the AL Central at the break. Bochy has done it again. It’s an even numbered year, so the Giants are really good. The Giants are playing some of their best baseball going into the break, going 8-2 in their last ten games. Oh, and by the way, they have the best record in baseball. Bochy gets the best out of his players, that’s all there is to it.

Here are some other awards that I won’t explain, I will just hand out the fake hardware.

Biggest (good) Surprise

AL: Steven Wright

NL: Aledmys Diaz

Biggest (bad) Surprise

AL: Dallas Keuchel, with David Price as a close second

NL: Matt Harvey, with Giancarlo Stanton as a close second

Rookie of the Year

AL: Nomar Mazara

NL: Corey Seager, Aledmys Diaz a very close second

 

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I Love Bryan Adams

Filed under: Featured,General — guest @ 6:29 am

by Cap’n Realist

After the second straight day of attacks on one of my favorite musicians, I feel it’s important to Make A Stand.   These sort of attacks tend to Cut Like a Knife, and though many of you may not be fans, it’s important that he can Depend on Me.  I’m not oven going to make this about the fact that the man is charitable and principled, his defense of LGBT rights and the rights of Canadian First Nations citizens are plenty well chronicled.  This is about the fulfilling experiences that have been brought into my life through seeing his live shows.  He doesn’t have a great singing voice, and that comes through in his recorded music.  It also makes his live shows sound just like him.  It’s a nice shift from the “who is this singing?” I usually experience when seeing a show, especially a rock show.

In the summer of ’85, a 15 year old realist from the outskirts of Chicago and his 16 year old friends made the 90 minute trip to Alpine Valley Music Theater in beautiful Elkhorn, Wisconsin.  The great Bryan Adams was playing with a Euro Band called Cock Robin.  Cock Robin was known for their hit song “When Your Heart is Weak” which, as I understand it, continuously plays on a loop in Seymour’s waiting room.  I digress.  The show itself was fantastic, because as with any rock show, I knew the lyrics and could sing along.  I was 15.  During that show, I met and made out with a Northwestern co-ed named Carrie (or Kerry, or Cari, or Keri…can’t be sure).  Anyway, it was the realist’s first make out sesh, and it was with a college chick.  A One Night Love Affair, if you will. One for the ages.

I never saw Carrie again, but saw Bryan Adams twice more in the 80’s.  In the 90’s, like Sherm and Brad, I decided I was too cool for Bryan Adams, so I spent my money on Third Eye Blind and Chumbawumba tickets.  Fast forward to September 10th, 2001, I met a tall exceptionally attractive woman on a first date in Manhattan Beach, California.  We had a great time for the first half hour or so, but then the conversation lagged.  She asked what type of music I was into.  I couldn’t admit to Chumbawumba at that point, so I muttered “Bryan Adams.”  Turns out SHE LOVED THE GUY!  The next day was extremely tragic for all of us, but we decided to keep seeing each other.   Three months later, we flew to Vegas to see him live at the Paris Casino on New Year’s Eve.  I kicked down for 13th row tickets, the best I could afford.  The first 12 rows of the venue were completely empty, the usual Vegas garbage of hanging on to the best seats as a thank you for the worst gamblers.  After a single song, he stopped the show and asked the ushers to orderly move everyone 12 rows closer.  Initially, they refused, and the head of the casino had to come on stage and meet with him before they’d do it…but he steadfastly said that his fans deserved to be close.  We ended up in the front row. The following 4th of July I got engaged to that woman, and 15 years later, Bryan Adams’ music is something we still agree on.   Unlike 3rd Eye Blind and Chumbawumba, my marriage and Bryan Adams have stood the test of time.   Sure it’s cheesy, and the lyrics are bad, but admit it, you know the words.

“I got my first real six string…

You didn’t come here today looking for an All-Star recap, did you?

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July 12, 2016

I Don’t Know Who Bryan Adams Is

Filed under: Featured,General — Brad Lyerla @ 5:23 am

Yesterday, Sherm wrote that he hates Bryan Adams. I can go Sherm one further. I don’t know who Bryan Adams is. I don’t know what he looks like. I would not recognize his voice. I can’t name any of his songs. I know that he is a rock musician only because the context in which Sherm mentioned him makes that plain.

Am I living under a rock? Sort of. I like jazz. Love it really. When it comes to music, being a jazz fan is analogous to the holy fool living under a rock. The fraction of the population who follow jazz is miniscule. It’s almost like we do not exist at Grammy time (and the rest of the year too, for that matter).

Does that make me an iconoclast? I hope not. My mother wanted me to be liked and accepted by others. I don’t want to let her down. Happily, when it comes to the 2016-version of the Cubs, I will be the last one to attack cherished beliefs. At this much-needed break of the season, I want to remind you of some things that should make Cubs fans happy.

First, the Cubs are likely to make the playoffs. Why? Because they are the best team in their division and one of the very best teams in all of baseball. The team’s performance during the first two months of the season was not a mirage. It was real and it put the Cubs into an enviable position going into the second half. Think of the ’84 Tigers. We all knew that the torrid pace of April and May could not last for an entire year. We all knew that the team would come back to earth. Now that has happened and the season-long race to be champions is on again. May the best team win. The Cubs have the horses to do it, with a few adjustments. Let’s hope that Joe Madden begins the second half by simplifying his lineups. I have written about that in my comments recently and won’t harp on it again now.

Second, the Cubs can trade for a first rate starter if they really want to. All they have to do is agree to include Kyle Schwarber in the deal. It is possible that they can get a deal done without Schwarber. But it seems a near certainty that it can happen if Schwarber is part of a trade. I am not saying that Schwarbs should be traded. I am making a different point. And that is that the Cubs are in a position of strength. They control an excess of high end, big potential talent including Jorge Soler and Javy Baez, in addition to Schwarber. If no deal is done, then I can only assume that the decision-makers for the Ricketts assessed the price as too high. That is not a bad thing. That would reflect a view of the team that is long term and I would sing ‘hallelujah’ over that. Winning it all may take several tries. Look at that squad in Atlanta during the ‘90s.

Third, the thing that the Cubs need first and foremost is relief pitching. If you must need something, then mid-relief pitching is a good thing to need, because there is a lot of it and the price reflects the supply. I do not think we need an elite guy. Hector Rondon is good enough to close for a World Series champion. I do think we need someone who can rotate with Pedro Strop as the set up man. I look for the Cubs to address that in the weeks before the deadline.

Fourth, Anthony Rizzo is getting hot again and Kris Bryant is having multiple base-on-balls games lately. I look for these guys to become even more productive in the second half. Rizzo seems to have put the malaise of June behind him. Bryant has been steady, but needs to be more clutch in the late innings. He seems to be able to make adjustments and I would like to see Bryant develop a more defensive approach after he has two strikes, especially in the later innings. The strike zone he has to protect is huge compared to his teammates. I bet the geography he has to cover is a square foot larger (do the math) than the next closest guy, who is probably Rizzo.

Fifth, Dexter Fowler’s return will give us that guy at the top of the order who we have been missing.

There is more that could be said about the quality of Ben Zobrist, Addy Russell and Wilson Contreras. I could wax poetic too about a rotation that has the talent to go deep in the post-season if we catch a little momentum at the right time. Alas, Joe has me on a word limit, so I dare not go further.

Suffice it to say for now, that I am optimistic about this organization, this team and this particular squad. I plan to enjoy the rest of the season, starting with the All Star game tonight. But, as always, I will cultivate a bit of detachment – just enough to protect my psyche, in case the gods do not smile again this year.

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July 11, 2016

I Hate Bryan Adams

Filed under: Featured,General — Sherm @ 6:37 am

I hate Bryan Adams. It’s true. Summer of ’69? Are you kidding me? I hate the song and I hate him. And today when I decide to NOT watch the game? That song is playing when I get in the car. Now I hate Sirius XM, too.

So. I decide to skip today’s game and have a life. I happen to be near a television at 1:35pm EST, and figure “Well, watching us bat can’t hurt anything.” We score two runs in what should be a 5 run first, but hey, better than nothing. Speaking of nothing, that’s exactly what we got from Heyward and Baez in that inning with two HORRIBLE at-bats to end the frame.

Because I’m a moron, I watch a little more. I leave when the Pirates take the lead. At that point, I’m really just disgusted and don’t want to watch. (I find out what’s happening later, because certain readers kept me in the loop!) So, my wife and I spent the afternoon at a bar. (FYI – you can’t drink it away. I know. I’ve tried)

We can talk about the game, but I don’t want to write about the game. I want to write about the season thus far. Or, I should say, the TWO seasons thus far, because we’ve seen two distinctly different teams this year. The great one and the really shitty one. I’d settle for a good one from this point forward. We can talk about the “triple play, no wait, double play, no wait…one out, oops, tie game” debacle in the 7th…but I don’t want to write about it. I’m tired of plays and the at-bats that suck. It’s been a while since we’ve had something good to talk about.

Stepping back:

If you’d said to me that we’d have a 7 game lead over the Cardinals at the break and the Pirates would be 7.5 back? I’d have been ecstatic. I could not have envisioned a better scenario. Yet, it has HAPPENED, and I’m not happy with it. Why? Well, because it was 14 games two weeks ago. Because we suddenly have forgotten how to play winning ball. Because of whatever.

Yesterday it was posted that Maddon doesn’t know what to do about this…and I agree. The last few weeks he has looked completely lost. I’ve been watching him his entire career and NEVER seen that look. He stands on the dugout steps with his mouth hanging open.

So, here’s my take on 2016 thus far. Sorry it’s taken this long to get to it. We’ll never be like we were those first few weeks, but we are good enough to beat anyone. Just not recently. The pitching is coming back to earth…with a thud. A 6 man rotation is not the answer. Better execution from the 5 we have is the answer. Time for Bosio to earn his $. Fix it. Hendricks (and I can’t believe I’m typing this) is the best pitcher of late because he’s executing his plan. If we hit the playoffs tomorrow? I think I’d start HIM.

Enough of the musical positions. It was cute for a while. It’s not cute anymore, and I believe it’s part of the problem. Hitters need to know where they are playing. I don’t care that Zobrist has made a “career” of journeyman-ism, Bryant is a star in the making and he doesn’t need to be playing 4 positions. Put him at third and that’s that. Let him concentrate on one position and LEARNING to hit in all situations against all pitchers. If you need Baez in the lineup (and I’m not sure we do) then either a) let him play left field or b) put him at 2B permanently and left Zobrist play LF. I mean, hey, why not let Rizzo play LF? Heyward is tall and left handed…so how about giving him some games at first base? Russell could probably catch. C’mon already. Enough. Fix your defense. Guys don’t know who they are throwing to anymore.

Right now? I’d keep Almora in the OF…even when Fowler is back and put Bryant at 3B everyday. That means that Zobrist plays second and Baez is the sub. Period. If Almora can’t hit over the longer haul, make the change. Baez is a rally killer against any righty with a breaking ball, and he’s not THAT great defensively, either.

Leave Heyward down in the order. Forever. In fact, I’d rather see him hit 7.

Winston Churchill once said “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” Whatever the strategy is right now? It’s not working.

So, in summary: 7 game lead = happy. Way they are playing lately = not happy. Summer of ’69 = hated it. Let’s never feel that way again.

Here’s hoping no one gets hurt in the ASG and that they guys who need some rest get it. Here’s to a brilliant second half, as good, I hope, as the first half of the first half.

Churchill also said “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I am pretty sure he was talking about Cub fans.

Enjoy the break.

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