Archive for the ‘General’ Category

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.


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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Northside Archives: Houston’s House of Horrors

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

This is an excerpt from the latest edition of my book; “Beyond Bartman, Curses and Goats: 107 Reasons It’s Been 107 Years”…available next month.

“Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!”

If you are a child of the 1970s, you may recognize the above chant from the The Bad News Bears: Breaking Training. The movie was the 1977 sequel to The Bad News Bears which starred Walter Matheau as Morris Buttermaker and Tatum O’Neal as Amanda Wurlitzer.  Neither Matheau nor O’Neal reprises their roles in the sequel…which is just one of the many reasons it is inferior to the original.  The second “Bears” film featured the team on a chaperone-less trip to the Houston Astrodome.

Inexplicably, the Bears are the California champs, even without their star pitcher Amanda Wurlitzer.  The Bears are to square off with the Texas champ, the Toros, at the Houston Astrodome…prior to an Astros’ contest. Unfortunately, with the beloved Bears trailing…the game is halted due to a time limit set so that the Astros game will start as scheduled. The Bears’ manager walks on the field and starts to chant “Let Them Play!” Soon, the entire crown joins in…apparently more eager to watch the little league contest than the Astros. Even Astros’ players Bob Watson and Cesar Cedeno join in, “Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!”  The powers that be relent, the game continues and the Bears miraculously win.

The Chicago Cubs of the 1960s and 1970s did not fare as well as the Bears did in the “Eighth Wonder of the World,” as the Astrodome was often referred to. Essentially, Cubs’ fans should have been shouting in unison, “Don’t Let them Play!” or “Don’t Play There!”

From 1967 thru 1972 the Chicago Cubs finished over .500 for six straight seasons.  Yes, you read that right…six straight winning seasons.  During my lifetime the most consecutive winning seasons I have witnessed is three.  The success of ’67-72 shouldn’t be two shocking; the Cubs did employ four future Hall of Famers during this era.  The Cubs’ manager during this stretch was Leo Durocher (addressed in Chapter 8). Durocher was not a fan of the Astrodome.

In May of 1966, Leo and his Cubs made their first trip to the Astrodome…and the Cubs were swept and outscored 18-5. The field conditions were less than optimal and Bleacher Reports’ Al Yellon (with the help of baseball historian Ed Hartig) recently unearthed some of Leo’s thoughts on the new “Eighth Wonder of the World”. Leo termed the artificial surface “nylon,” added that the Astrodome was “a $45 million stadium with a ten cent infield” and labeled the Astros a “bush league” organization (“bush” was the term used to describe the minor leagues at that time) This incident started a petty feud between Leo Durocher and the Astros; Leo tore the bullpen phones off of the walls, the Astros mocked him on their scoreboard, and the two sides exchanged pieces of sod via mail.  1966 would prove to be just the beginning of troubles in the Astrodome for the Cubs and their manager.

On July 5, 1967, the Chicago Cubs arrived in Houston only a half game out of the pennant chase. They left Houston on Sunday evening 3.5 games out of first place in the National League. The Cubs were swept by the Astros…again… this time of the four-game variety.  The four game series dropped the Cubs almost four games in the standings.  The Cubs would rally in July of 1967 to pull within a game of the National League lead. Unfortunately when the teams met at the Astrodome for a two game series in September of ‘67, Chicago was 11.5 games back out of first place.  The deficit would be 13.5 when the Cubs left Houston two days later.  In a season (1967) in which the Cubs won 87 games, they were 2-7 in the Astrodome.

1967 was more the norm than the exception for the Chicago Cubs’ performance in the Astrodome.  During this phase of rare Cubs’ greatness (1967-72) the Cubs’ record was 14-28. (during the 60’s the Cubs were 14-27…ah… consistency!)

As the 60s changed to the 70s, the Cubs’ performance in the Astrodome stayed constant…it was bad.  Let’s take a look:

  • The Cubs were 2-4 in the Astrodome in 1970 and 19 71 and 1-5 in 1972 dis-respectively.
  • On their first road trip of the 1971 season the Cubs lost 3 out of 4 in Houston.
  • In April ’72 they would be swept by the Astros in the dome…losing two in extras innings.
  • In 1974 the Cubs dropped their first game in the Astrodome by the score of 18-2.  The Cubs wouldn’t suffer any more losses of that magnitude…yet they would lose every game they played in the Astrodome that year (0-6).
  • The Cubs’ first trip to Houston during the summer of our country’s bicentennial in 1976 resulted in a four game sweep.  The Cubs would split the other two Astrodome contests to salvage a 1-5 record.
  • The Cubs won a thrilling 7-6 thirteen inning game in their first game at the Astrodome in 1978!-then lost the next five to go 1-5 for the year.

The Cubs finished the 1970s with a 20-40 (.333) record in the Houston Astrodome.  Hence for the first fourteen years of its existence (1966-1979) the Cubs had a record of 34-67. (.336)  The Cubs had winning records in the ‘dome (4-2) in 1969, 1973 and 1977…three of the fourteen seasons.  A winning record on the road is something very few teams are able to accomplish, but consistently playing at a .336 clip in one place over 100 games is a trend that validates inclusion on our list of 107.  A .336 winning percentage over a typical 162 game major league season would end in a 54-108 record… a dreadful performance.

1999 was the last season that the Houston Astros played in the Astrodome, before moving to “The Ballpark at Union Station”…which later became “Enron” Field. (insert own Enron joke) The Cubs fared a tiny bit better during the 80s and 90s going 49-70 (.411) before the Astros left their world famous dome.  The Cubs final Astrodome record comes in at 83-137…a .377 winning percentage.

“Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!”

I realize that I am dating myself with the Bad News Bears references, and I will confess that the ORIGINAL remains my favorite baseball film. While the sequel was disappointing…at least the Bears won in the Astrodome.

…something our favorite team could rarely do.

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Game 26 Notes – A Win is a Win

Thursday, May 7th, 2015

Cubs (6) @ Cardinals (5)

W: Jon Lester (2-2)
L: Lance Lynn (1-3)
S: Hector Rondon (6)

I said yesterday that there was still hope for this series since we had the top of the rotation left to pitch. While last night’s outing from Lester wasn’t as good as it could be, it got the job done behind the bats and we’re in line for a series spit on the road against one of the best teams in the NL.

When you look at a long season and just try to focus on playing .500 ball on the road and winning 2 of 3 at home, the task doesn’t seem as daunting. That works out to be almost 95 wins. That gives you some leeway since, if you’re a good team, you’ll probably be better than .500 on the road and not quite that good at home. It balances out and the goal should be 90 wins. After dropping the first two games of the series, we really needed a good outing from Lester and we needed the bats to step up. We got 1.5 out of those 2 requests.

It was good to see Lester work seven innings. I think Dave Martinez probably had to deliberate what to do in the 7th with two outs and a runner on second. Lester had just allowed that hard hit double to Matt Holiday and Mark Reynolds was coming to the plate. Do you stick with Lester to finish the inning, knowing Reynolds had struggled that game, but that Lester’s pitch count was around the 100 pitch mark and the pen had struggled lately. Or, do you take your chances and go to the bullpen. I think he made the decision I would have made, but i would have had to think long and hard about it. I think I would have been tempted to bring in a right handed reliever in that situation, but I would have had no idea who to bring in. Most likely, I would have gone to Jason Motte in a big situation, to stick it to his old team. Thankfully, Lester got the job done and turned it over to the bullpen for the 8th and 9th.

The once deadly combo of Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon came in for the last two innings and, once again, shook me to the core. I’m not sure what is wrong lately. The only thing I can think of is that they’ve seen much too much taxation without representation and they need to start a revolution. They’ve just been overworked and it’s not Maddon’s fault. When your starters aren’t working deep into a game, what can you do? Hopefully the return of Justin Grimm, who was activated before the game from the DL will help shore up those late innings. Also recalled was Matt Szczur. Junior Lake was optioned to AAA and Anthony Varvaro was designated for assignment. The 40 man roster was left at 39 with Varvaro being designated so you would imagine a corresponding move is coming.

Finally, can I be that old man and complain about this play? Starlin Castro does not need to be playing around. He could have confused Rizzo on that play.

  • Prior to the game, Joseph Ortiz was assigned to AAA Iowa after clearing waivers. Ortiz was designated for assignment earlier, so it’s good to see he was able to remain in the organization. He even got into the game and pitched a scoreless inning of relief in the 8th.
  • Dan Vogelbach went 3-for-4 with 3 RBI and continues to show that he’s figured out AA.
  • Gerardo Concepcion was promoted to AA and Zach Cates was demoted to High-A Myrtle beach. Cates has struggled this year so far.
  • Albert Almora was activated from the DL and went 2-for-3


1969Willie Davis, furious with the Wrigley Field Bleacher Bums because of their continual verbal abuse of him, tells his Dodgers teammates that he wants to hit a home run in the middle of the group, which he does in the sixth inning to tie the score. The LA center fielder exacts a bit more more revenge on the heckling horde when his 12th-inning two-run round-tripper proves to be the difference in the 4-2 defeat of the Cubs.

2008 – In the Reds’ 9-0 victory over the Cubs at Great American Ball Park, Jon Lieber joins Phil Norton (2000) in becoming only the second hurler in franchise history to allow four homers in one inning. Joey Votto, who will hit three round-trippers during the game, Adam Dunn, Paul Bako and Jerry Hairston all take the Chicago starter deep in the second inning.

2010 – Starlin Castro, the first major leaguer to be born in the 1990′s, becomes the sixth Cub in franchise history to hit a home run in his first big league at bat, going deep off Homer Bailey in Chicago’s 14-7 win over Cincinnati at Great American Ball Park. The 20 year-old rookie shortstop also becomes the first player to compile six RBIs in his first game in the majors when he delivers a bases-loaded triple in addition to his second inning three-run blast to deep right field.

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Junior Lake Debate: Frustration, or Future Star?

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

For all of the excitement the Cubs farm system has garnered in the past few years, it is inevitable that some – possibly most – of the prospects that are making our minor league system a force to be reckoned with will not pan out. They may experience some success, but their future as a regular member of the Cubs lineup doesn’t seem likely. In all likelihood, some of these will end up being those perpetually frustrating AAAA players (I had high hopes for Micah Hoffpauir. Remember him?) One of these, I hate to say, is probably Junior Lake.

Lake is already showing signs of this, as he has now had temporary visits to the majors in both 2013 and 2014 and started this 2015 season in AAA Iowa before being called up just last week. Lake has been a part of the Cubs system since his days with their Dominican program in 2007, when he was just 17 years old. Though he has put up numbers throughout his time in the minors (.271, 49 HR, 275 RBI, 121 SB in 646 games) that suggest he could be a decent regular in the Cubs outfield, that has not translated sufficiently when he’s made his visits to the major league team. Part of the problem had been his approach, and because of that, it didn’t look like he would be an option to man LF with any permanency.

He has athleticism and natural ability that keeps him on the radar, but does the kinds of frustrating things that keep him out of the lineup regularly. But as soon as you feel like you want to give up on him, he does something like launching a dazzling 400 foot homer.

All of that said, Lake has made adjustments particularly during this past Dominican Winter League season. This caught my attention largely due to the fact that I was starved for some baseball to watch during the dregs of winter and was tuning in, but also because of the fact that one of the people I follow on Twitter was calling attention to changes in Lake’s stance. Stan Croussett (@Crewsett – an essential follow, btw). Back in January, he tweeted a series of pictures showing changes in the stance:

I am by no means a batting stance expert, but it can be agreed on that the right alterations can change the strike zone for a player, giving him more hittable pitches and an easier time working counts, and it can also increase his ability to get to pitches that were previously unhittable or at least challenging to put in play. It’s too early to tell what kind of a difference these changes will yield for Lake, but the hope is that he can work better counts and avoid at bats where he looks lost or beaten. Stan was kind enough to share some thoughts via email, and to quote him:

“Lake is consistently looking for his pitch to hit, usually a meatball over the middle of the plate or a low-and-inside fastball. He consistently lays off of throwaway pitches that are made so he can get himself out (easily any free swinger’s Kryptonite). I have watched Lake’s games [during the Winter League season] maybe three or four times per week and can count on a single hand the number of times he’s looked fooled on pitches. Pitchers are getting him out, but they’re doing so on good pitches.”

He’s had just 14 at bats since his callup to the majors this year, so it’s too early to see what the difference his approach is having on his performance at the plate. My hope is that he’ll get consistent enough looks at the plate to what what I think he’s capable of. At his best, he could make for a regular in LF who can hit around .260 and provide 15-20 HR power. Even a bit below that level, I think he can still make for a very quality 4th OF. Otherwise, we could be looking at the latest rendition of the AAAA player and can only hope that he can provide the spark at just the right time when he’s called upon.

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Game 25 Notes – Another Night of Frustrating Baseball

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

Cubs (4) @ Cardinals (7)

W: Mitch Harris (1-0)
L: Edwin Jackson (1-1)
S: Trevor Rosenthal (9)

I struggled with what to write about this game. My guess is that there are those out there right now who are ready to jump ship and be done. I can understand the frustration when we’ve lost the last four games, and really should have lost the last five, three of them to the Brewers, however I would encourage you to subscribe to the theory that no team is ever as good as they look when they are winning and as bad as they look when they are losing. Right now the Cubs and the Cardinals are on opposite sides of that spectrum and it’s magnified since we’re playing each other. While I believe the Cardinals are a good team (they always are), I don’t believe there are this good. I also don’t believe we are this bad. I believe this team, with the amount of young talent on the roster, will struggle at times but will get better consistently as the season plays out. Hang in there.

Kyle Hendricks turned in a start you would normally be somewhat OK with given that it comes from your 5th starter, 5 IP, 4 ER, however when your bullpen has struggled and has been used as much as it has lately, we need to have a better outing from him. Normally you could dismiss the first two losses of the series as a product of the back of the rotation and know you have a chance to salvage a series split with Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta on the mound to close the series out, but the way things are going right now, both need to pitch a complete game for us to not be worried from the 7th inning on.

In an effort to provide some level of stability to the bullpen, the Cubs made a series of moves prior to the game. They selected the contract of James Russell and recalled Anthony Varvaro, who was recently claimed off of waivers from Boston. Both were in uniform, but only Russell got into the game and he promptly fell right in line and allowed a run. To make room for them on the roster, Chris Denorfia was placed on the DL with that aggravated hamstring and optioned Germen Gonzalez to Iowa. Matt Szczur was also called to the team, but not activated. He should be activated sometime this week and one of the pitchers will be sent back down. Common sense would say it would be sooner rather than later because you can’t keep playing with this short of a bench.

If we have to look to the positive, I’ve been encouraged lately by the play of Addison Russell at the plate. He started off struggling pretty bad, but has since rallied and raised his numbers dramatically. He reached base three more times, including two doubles, last night. I still maintain that he was called up too soon, but I would love to be proven wrong.

Hey, it sucks to be where we are right now, but the good thing about baseball is that every day is a new game. You don’t have many off days to sit and think about it. We need to get back on the horse and work on trying to salvage a series split. It starts one game at a time and it starts with the guy we paid big money to. It’s important for him to be the stopper. Hey, if nothing else, remember that the left field bleachers are opening on Monday. At least we have that.

  • Javier Baez (AAA) was ejected from the game after a home run he hit early in the game was overturned and changed to a foul ball.
  • Carlos Pimentel (AAA) put together his second good start in a row, going six innings, allowing 3 H, 0 R and striking out 7.
  • Cubs minor league pitcher of the month, Jeremy Null, posted another great night: 8 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 K. So far on the year, Null is 3-0 with a 0.59 ERA and a WHIP of 0.76. He’s a product out of college and he played really well last year in rookie ball. My guess is that he’ll see a promotion very soon to Myrtle Beach.


1906 - At Pittsburgh’s Exposition Park, the Pirates become the first team to cover the grass to prevent it from getting wet during a rain storm. A canvas tarp is used to keep the infield dry for tomorrow’s contest against the Cubs.

1994 - The Cubs’ 10-1 victory over the Pirates ends Anthony Young‘s 27-game losing streak as a starter and snaps Chicago’s record 14-game drought at home. The hard-luck pitcher, who set a major league record with 27 consecutive losses while pitching for the Mets, 14 as starter and 13 in relief, had also made 27 consecutive starts without a win, despite 13 quality starts among those game in which his teams posted a 4–23 record.

1998 - Cubs’ rookie Kerry Wood ties a major league record with 20 strikeouts in a nine-inning game as he one-hits the Astros, 2-0. In addition to matching Red Sox fireballer Roger Clemens‘ feat (Mariners-1986 and Tigers-1996), the 20-year-old Texan breaks the National League record of 19 strikeouts in a nine-inning game shared by Steve Carlton, David Cone and Tom Seaver.

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Minor League Update: The Next Great Prospect

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

In 2013, the Cubs were on the forefront of a strategy that pretty much every large market team in baseball has since copied: blowing past their international amateur free agent spending limit. While this greatly limited the Cubs’ ability to add similar prospects in 2014 and resulted in a significant taxes, it so meant the Cubs were able to acquire much of the best talent in that class. The Cubs added two of the best prospects in that class that season in shortstop Gleyber Torres and outfielder Eloy Jimenez.

Torres in particular has excelled in the early phase of his professional baseball career. Before we get into Torres’s particulars, it’s worth noting the risk and reward of signing these young international free agents out of countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela: teams get to sign them at age 16. The advantage to this is that MLB teams get to put players in their farm systems with professional coaching at age 16. The disadvantage is that teams have to pay the best prospects a considerable sum of money when they’re still in the midst of puberty. If a team projects a lot of power from a 16 year old who just stops growing, odds are that prospect will be a bust.

Torres tore through rookie ball and the short season Northwest League last season. Torres playing in those two leagues as opposed to the one of the Cubs’ Dominican or Venezuelan Summer League teams as a 17 year old last season was already aggressive. This season, just four months after turning 18 (a.k.a. the age of a high school senior), Torres was sent to full season A ball in South Bend. He is nearly three and a half years younger than the average player in the Midwest League.

Despite the age gap, Torres is destroying Midwest League pitching this season, batting .349/.443/.434, good for a 168+ wRC+ (68% better overall offensive performance than league average). He is walking in 13.4% of his plate appearances, and striking out in only 17.5%. Plus, he’s a true shortstop with the realistic potential of being plus defensively, and has stolen 8 bases while being caught just once.

If Torres has one downside, it’s that he hasn’t shown much power this season, and projects to have average at best power in the Majors. However, the Midwest League is not only known to play as a pitcher’s league, but that can be especially true in the cold weather Aprils of a league entirely encompassed in the upper Midwest. Additionally, most players are not done growing, especially strength-wise, at age 18.

Even if Torres tops out as more of a double hitters offensively, though, a plus defensive shortstop who can get on base and then cause havoc once he’s there? Yes please.

Torres’s excellent play so far has likely already propelled him into midseason top 100 prospect lists, and he might be forcing a promotion to the High A Carolina League sooner rather than later. If he keeps this up, the Cubs will soon have a new top 25 middle infield prospect everyone is talking about.

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Game 24 Notes – All Those Runs and We Still Lose

Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

Cubs (9) @ Cardinals (10)

L: Pedro Strop (0-2)
S: Seth Maness (2)

I got home from last night’s softball game, a game in which I had two hits, two RBI, scored a run, and had a putout at catcher on a popup near the plate, and turned on the game about 45 minutes into it. I was not expecting to see a 6-4 score that early. It was just a weird game.

Travis Wood‘s outing was not what I had hoped for. I mentioned in my last Wood start recap that I was hoping for another decent start to be able to pair them up back to back. Instead we saw a stinker so the roller coaster continues. He posted a game score of 34, which is well below the minimum of 50 that we’re looking for. It’s frustrating when you never really know what to expect, and even more frustrating when your offense puts up five runs to start the game before you even take the mound and you still find a way to help the team lose that game. I still believe that Wood has value and will be part of this rotation when we are in the playoffs or win the World Series, but right now he needs to get back to back decent starts working, because right now it’s hard to remember that this was the guy that was an All Star not too long ago.

Chris Denorfia got a boo boo. Actually, he re aggravated a prior boo boo. As he was rounding 2nd and headed to 3rd, you could see him tweak something. He seemed to be in fairly bad pain as he bent over on 3rd once the play was finished and was lifted from the game. Shortly after that, Matt Szczur was removed from the lineup down in AAA. Most likely he’ll be headed to St. Louis to be available to join the team tonight. We probably won’t see an announcement on the move until later this afternoon, once the Cubs have a chance to evaluate the pain he’s in today, just to be sure, but Carrie Muskat was tweeting after the game that he was headed to the DL.

Our bullpen is really pissing me off. Not only have I gone on record as saying they will be a top 5 pen in the Majors, but I’ve publicly praised guys like Pedro Strop and Zac Rosscup. For the second straight game, Strop completely broke down. Rosscup was sent in to get him out of the inning, but when you come in with the bases loaded and no outs, it’s a hard position to be in. Still, he didn’t have to let all the runners and one other score. I would guess that we are not far away from seeing James Russell being added to the 40 man roster and recalled from Iowa. To make that happen, someone will need to be removed from the 40 man. My guess is it would be Phil Coke, since I don’t see anyone that would realistically be transferred to the 60 day DL. The Cubs also have Justin Grimm who could be back as soon as this series and Tsuyoshi Wada who is basically ready to return and would have to be added to the ML roster once his rehab time is expired. There are going to be some interesting roster decisions in the next week or two. If I’m Phil Coke, I’m watching my back.

Prior to yesterday’s game, the Cubs announced that Dan Vogelbach and Jeremy Null were the hitter and pitcher of the month respectively in the organization. Vogelbach hit .362 / .470 / .594 during the month of April with seven doubles, three home runs and 13 RBI. He also drew 14 walks and only struck out 10 times.

Null went 2-0 with a 0.79 ERA in 22.2 innings of work for South Bend. He struck out 23 hitters and did not issue a single walk. For those unfamiliar with Null, he was selected in the 15th round of the 2014 draft out of my alma mater, Western Carolina University.


Eric Jokisch (AAA) – 6 IP, 4 hits allowed, 1 ER, and 5 K’s

Matt Szczur (AAA) – 1-for-2, but was pulled from the game and should be called to join the Cubs in St. Louis for tonight’s game.

Justin Grimm (AAA) – 1 inning of relief work that saw him strike out two hitters and walk one. Hurry back, Reaper.

James Russell (AAA) – 1 inning of spotless relief. Phil Coke better be watching his back.

Pin-Chieh Chen (AA) – 2-for-2 with 1 R, 1 HR, 1 RBI, and 5 walks

Jacob Rogers (A+) – 3-for-5 with a home run, 4 RBI and a walk.



1999 - Beating the Cubs, 13-6, the Rockies become only the third team in the 1900′s to score a run in every inning. The Cardinals also accomplished the feat against the Cubs in 1964, and the Giants scored in every frame against the Phillies in 1923.

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

Monday, May 4th, 2015

The National League Central continues to get more interesting by the day, and a former N.L. Central team is turning heads in the American League. Alex Rodriguez has finally reached the 660 home run milestone, bringing the bonus conversation to the forefront. A lot happened in week four, so let’s recap:

Rodriguez Ties Mays’ Home Run Mark

Alex Rodriguez officially tied Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run list, taking Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa deep to left in the eight inning of Friday night’s tilt. The Yankees, who have said all along that they will not be paying Rodriguez bonuses for historic statistical benchmarks, are holding pat following the home run. Jack Curry of the YES Network explained on Twitter that the wording of the agreement gives the Yankees the right to decide whether to pay, or not pay, the former superstar. Rodriguez has two weeks to file a grievance, and assuming he opts to file it, this would appear to be the start of some very interesting court battles.

Cardinals Nearing Walk-Off Record 

It was announced on April 27 that Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright would be out for the remained of the season with a torn left Achilles. Since that date, the Cardinals are 6-1, taking three of four from the Phillies, and sweeping the Pirates. Each game of the Cardinals/Pirates series ended in a walk-off victory for the hometown Cardinals. This seems to happen once every one or two seasons, meaning it is a pretty rare occurrence. The last team to accomplish the feat was the Rangers, who did so against the Angels in 2013. The record for most consecutive walk-off wins is five, which the Astros set in 1986 when they walked-off against the Mets and Expos.

Astros an Early Season Cinderella 

Pat yourself on the back if you picked the Astros to have the best record in the American League through the first few weeks of the season. For a couple years, the Astros have been a popular “They could be dangerous in the future” team. This did not figure to be that year, though. Houston is now a half-game behind only the Cardinals for the best record in baseball, sporting an 18-7 mark and a seven game lead over the second place Angels in the AL West. The Astros are getting production at the top of the order, with second baseman Jose Altuve getting on base regularly (.407 OBP), and off season free agent signing Evan Gattis supplying the power (six home runs). Oft-traded former prospect Jake Marisnick is off to an illustrious start with the Astros, hitting .382 with a .427 on base percentage through 22 games. Also of note, Dallas Keuchel has allowed just three runs through a team leading 37 innings.

Brewers Cleaning House

When an organization has basically no elite prospects, and the parent club is dead last in baseball, often times a fire sale will take place. The Brewers are reportedly the latest team to elect to make everyone available to trades. Milwaukee has a surprising amount of talent considering where they sit in the standings. Injuries have been a huge problem for the Brewers offensively thus far. Carlos Gomez returned this weekend, and saw action for the first time since April 16. All Star catcher Jonathan Lucroy will likely be out for another month with a broken toe. While the offensive struggles can be attributed to injuries, it is hard to excuse being in the bottom five in the National League in errors and starting rotation earned run average. Reports of the Brewers clearing house came just prior to the team announcing the termination of head coach Ron Roenicke’s tenure with the team. The timing of the firing is somewhat bizarre, as it came immediately following the Brewers’ first series victory of the year.

Rookie Watch

Rookie Watch: Archie Bradley couldn’t do much to help his cause in the Rookie of the Year race this week, as he was struck in the face by a line drive in Tuesday’s game against Colorado. He wins some points for being a good guy, though, as he visited a 14-year-old in the hospital that was also hit in the face by a comebacker, according to Fox Sports Arizona. Kris Bryant is no longer hitting over .300, but his on base percentage is still the second best on the team at .418. To the surprise of most, Addison Russell launched his first home run before Bryant. Russell has struggled out of the gate, but has had several clutch at bats, including a bases clearing double late against Cincinnati. Joc Pederson continues to excel for the Dodgers, flashing the glove in center and serious ability at the dish.

Cubs Stumbling, Still in Good Shape

On one hand, the offense that figures to be one of the best in baseball is suddenly ice cold. The Cubs have scored six runs in the last 40 innings. With the firepower that the team has up and down the lineup, this should be a short slump. On a more positive note, Jon Lester continues to get significantly better with each start. Most recently, Lester went seven strong innings against Milwaukee, allowing just three hits and no runs. The Cubs are one of just two teams in the NL Central with an above .500 record, and sit four and a half games behind Saint Louis after losing this weekend’s series against the Brewers.

MVP of the Week: This nomination could go a number of ways this week, but the most deserving candidate is Astros’ second baseman Jose Altuve. Leading the week in hits and stolen bases are valid credentials.

Cy Young of the Week: The Brewers are a dumpster fire, they deserve something. Mike Fiers get the nomination this week after striking out 18 batters and allowing just two runs in his two starts in the last seven days.

Odd Stat of the Week: It took 52 hitters, but Nationals’ pitcher Tanner Roark finally recorded a strikeout. Going into Sunday’s games, only nine currently active pitchers (that have pitched at some point this year) had yet to strikeout a batter. Roark has faced considerably more hitters than anyone else in that company, though, and adding to the intrigue is the fact that he had previously been a starter that averaged roughly seven strikeouts per game.

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