Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Morning News: Off Days on the West Coast are Wonderful

Thursday, April 7th, 2016

Last night I went to bed early to catch up on sleep. It felt good to go to bed around 9:30p and I feel refreshed and ready to go for the start of the series with the Diamondbacks tonight. Since there was no game last night, we’ll just touch on a couple of quick things and then Chris Neitzel will be back this afternoon with a post talking about why he won’t be disappointed if the Cubs don’t win the World Series this year.

  • The Cubs released a press release stating that the marquee, which was undergoing a facelift, will be ready for opening day. The release did not have any photos, so anyone in the area please feel free to take a few and post them in the comments. From what I’ve read, the work on the park, including improving the clubhouse, has gone quite smooth this off-season. It’s going to turn the Cubs clubhouse into one of the best in baseball, compared to the fact that they have had the worst in all of baseball for some time. I don’t know how much that affects overall team performance, but the old clubhouse couldn’t have been good for moral. Whenever you’re in a cramped space and asked to do things it adds stress. This should be a good thing.
  • The minor league rosters were released and games got under way. There are a lot of guys that have graduated from this system, but it’s still a top 10, and in some publications and top 5, ranked system in all of baseball. I’m most excited to follow Pierce Johnson, Billy McKinney and Albert Almora because they are very close to call ups this season. It should be a fun year to follow the farm. Last night just one team was in action, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans and they won 2-0 behind a masterful tandem start of Jake Stinnett (4 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 6 K’s) and Tommy Thorpe (5 IP, 1 H, 2 BB, 9 K).
  • Some of our comment crew were in attendance for the series in LA and sent on a photo from their time at the park. Here’s Cap’n Realist, Doc Raker, and Al Berg at the game Tuesday night.

Series Information

Thursday - John Lackey (RHP) vs Rubby De La Rosa (RHP)

FridayJason Hammel (RHP) vs Robbie Ray (LHP)

Saturday - Kyle Hendricks (RHP) vs Zack Greinke (RHP)

SundayJake Arrieta (RHP) vs Shelby Miller (RHP)


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

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1991 – The Philadelphia Phillies traded Chuck McElroy and Bob Scanlan to the Chicago Cubs for Mitch Williams

1972 - The Montreal Expos traded a player to be named later and Dan McGinn to the Chicago Cubs for Hal Breeden and Hector Torres. The Montreal Expos sent Bill Kelso (June 24, 1972) to the Chicago Cubs to complete the trade.

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Morning News: Was Last Night a Showcase for Matt Szczur?

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

I’m turning into an old curmudgeon. I keep coming back to being grumpy that the start of the baseball season, a season that could potentially be one of the greatest seasons I’ve ever witnessed for the Cubs, is on the west coast. When you’re on the other side of the country and games start at 10p, it’s just too late. Last night, only game two of the season, I found myself dozing off and eventually falling asleep toward the middle to late innings. I had to watch the rest of the game this morning. I don’t like that and it needs to stop. I am calling my congressman and campaigning and lobbying for the end of west coast baseball or even the end of the west coast all together. At the very least, let’s get rid of time zones and just have them adopt eastern time.

Cubs 6 @ Angels 1

Box Score / Highlights

STRIKE ONE – Crooked Numbers

This is a fun offense to watch. Last night we scored another six runs in the span a total of just two innings and made it look easy doing so. While game one was not primarily due to the long ball, four out of six came from home runs last night. The biggest key is that in two of the three home runs there was a man on base, producing a crooked number. Ken Harrelson always mentions crooked numbers and how he likes them, along with how he likes Yaz. He remarks “I LOVE crooked numbers”, and I tend to agree with him. This lineup figures to produce a lot of crooked number innings and make for a very fun year.

When I look up and down this lineup, I see a meat grinder for pitchers. We may not get you the first time through, but we’re going to get you. There are no easy outs in this lineup, with the exception of David Ross, and even he produced and flexed his old man strength last night with a deep drive off the wall to center. This lineup is going to make the pitcher work and we’re going to see at least one inning every game where it lasts longer than it should for the other guys. Just imagine what would come of this team if it played at Coors.

STRIKE TWO – Following Suit

Jon Lester got the game two start, and I think it’s become clear that he’s slotted in where he belongs, in the two spot. When you watch him pitch compared to Jake Arrieta, it’s clear who the better pitcher is. That’s not to say Lester is bad, but I think the debate about who you would want in a big game is over. Lester is the two.

Last night he followed Jake’s lead and gave the Cubs seven strong and under 100 pitches. It was the perfect scenario. I think we’re going to see a great year from Lester in 2016. With John Lackey in the fold to push him, his buddy and someone who is just as competitive and Lester, I think this year we’re going to see all we paid for. Last night Angels hitters really couldn’t do much against him with the exception of a pair of hits that led to a run in the 6th. At that point he was on his third time through the order so a blemish is to be expected. Overall a great outing leading to another easy night.

STRIKE THREE – Showcase Game?

We talked yesterday about Matt Szczur and the fact that he made the roster out of spring training due to the fact that Javier Baez was on the DL to start the year. Baez is eligible to come back soon and then the roster crunch begins. At this point Szczur is the odd man out and being out of options means the Cubs would probably lose him to the waiver system if he were placed there to get him back to AAA. Last night leading up to the game, I saw everyone talking that Kyle Schwarber was going to be in left field again even with the lefty Andrew Heaney on the mound. Instead we saw Szczur in left in what is probably best described as a showcase opportunity. Given the fact that he played well in game one, it makes sense to give him the start over Schwarber and see what he can do in hopes we could show him to the league. Once again he did not disappoint.

I’ve made it clear that I would like to see the Cubs elect to keep Szczur instead of possibly trading him this early in the year. You never know when an injury is around the corner and he’s versatile enough to play all three outfield spots. Instead, I’d rather see Jorge Soler optioned to AAA to make room, at least for a little bit, for Szczur to play himself out of a spot on the roster. If he does, perhaps he can get through the waiver system at that point.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

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1937 - Phil Regan was born

1975 - The Oakland Athletics traded a player to be named later and cash to the Chicago Cubs for Jim Todd. The Oakland Athletics sent Champ Summers (April 29, 1975) to the Cubs to complete the trade

1987 – Cubs sign Dickie Noles as a Free Agent

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Morning News: Cubs Pressed the Easy Button

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

I moved to a new house last week. It’s a lot like getting a new phone or a new computer. Suddenly everything is all at the factory defaults and all your customizations are not there. The muscle memory you’ve developed with where things are has been reset and it takes a little while to get those things back to normal. For example, I’ve been used to a riding mower for my yard. The house we moved to has less grass so I got a self-propelled mower. The sounds makes it seem like it would be akin to the self-driving Google cars and would just mow the lawn for me. I regret to inform that is not the case, but I’ll get used to it.

For the Cubs, even though the season and standings had reset, it was back to normal from day one. Let’s get right to it.

Cubs 9 @ Angels 0

Box Score / Highlights

I’m going to try a format I used in the past for these morning posts. We’re going to try to make them quick and focus on three points (we’ll call it three strikes).

STRIKE ONE – Jake Did Jake Things

Jake Arrieta had a blister right before his final start of spring training and, I’ll admit, I was a bit worried that perhaps it would be an issue that would cause him to at least struggle out of the gate in 2016. He put all those fears to rest on Monday night as he flat out dominated the Angels. The game plan worked to perfection as Joe Maddon was able to get seven innings of basically stress free baseball out of him and replace him in a low leverage situation for the pen. 89 pitches was all Jake threw and they were definitely low stress pitches. He even made facing Mike Trout easy.

I think this will be the norm. We saw last year that Arrieta ran out of gas. I think Jake has taken the steps needed to be ready for that load this year, but we’ll see the Cubs not push him so hard this year.

STRIKE TWO - Spark Plug at the Top

A late edition to the Cubs in spring training was the addition of an old friend. When the Cubs announced that they had brought back Dexter Fowler on a one year deal, I was ecstatic. He’s one of my favorite members of last years team and he provides such a spark at the top. People talked about how he improved the defense with his return, which is false but that’s a conversation for another day. Instead, what Fowler brings is a spark out of the leadoff role. I looked for the team’s record when Dex gets on base in some way as it was big point of conversation last year, but I couldn’t find it. What I do know is that Maddon told Dex last year that when he goes, the Cubs go. That was the case last night as he started the game off with a double and scored and the Cubs never looked back. In the end, he reached base four times in five plate appearances and scored three of the Cubs nine runs. He’s the catalyst for this beast of a lineup. If he’s getting on base, this order is going to have a monster year.

STRIKE THREE – Making the Most of Limited Opportunity

We talked about Matt Szczur yesterday and how he may have an issue with staying on the roster when Javier Baez returns from his injury. Being that he’s out of options, Szczur really needs to maximize any opportunity he’s given in the next week or two to make sure he makes his case to stay. He did just that last night. He got into the game late and finished it out in the 9th with a bases clearing double. It’s fun to root for a guy to overcome the odds, so I’m pulling for him. Personally, I’d like to see the Cubs option Jorge Soler to give him regular time as that time probably won’t be available in the Majors. He still has an option year remaining and would probably benefit from being out of the spotlight in the cold Chicago spring months.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

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1993 – On Opening Day, Greg Maddux, signed as a free agent in the offseason, allows no runs and scatters five hits to his former team over 8 1/3 innings. Mike Stanton gets the last two out in the Braves’ 1-0 victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

2003 – To show support for the U.S. troops in Iraq, the White Sox announce all active military members showing a military ID will be given free admission to most home games at U.S. Cellular Field. The free passes will not be available during the Cubs series scheduled for June.

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Morning News: Let the Games Begin

Monday, April 4th, 2016

It’s Opening Day, or at least for the majority of the teams in Major League Baseball. This year MLB did something a little different and started the season with a triple header on opening day. I was hungry for baseball so I watched all of the Cardinals / Pirates game, and a couple innings of both the Rays / Blue Jays game and the nightcap with the Royals / Mets. It was good to have baseball that mattered yesterday, even if it wasn’t involving the Cubs. Now we can get things going.

Opening Day Roster Announced

The Cubs sent out the final roster yesterday, but no announcement as of this writing what the lineup will look like tonight. Here is a look at the Cubs 2016 Opening Day roster:

 

PITCHERS (13 + 3  DL)

13-Aaron Brooks (15-day DL)

28-Kyle Hendricks, RHP

32-Dallas Beeler, RHP (15-Day DL)

33-Clayton Richard, LHP

34-Jon Lester, LHP

37-Travis Wood, LHP

39-Jason Hammel, RHP

41-John Lackey, RHP

43-Adam Warren, RHP

46-Pedro Strop, RHP

49-Jake Arrieta, RHP

52-Justin Grimm, RHP

53-Trevor Cahill, RHP

54-Neil Ramirez, RHP

56-Hector Rondon, RHP

59-Zac Rosscup, LHP (60-Day DL)

 

CATCHERS (3)

3-David Ross

12-Kyle Schwarber

47-Miguel Montero

 

INFIELDERS  (5 + 2 DL)

2-Tommy La Stella

9-Javier Baez (15-Day DL)

17-Kris Bryant

18-Ben Zobrist

27-Addison Russell

44-Anthony Rizzo

61-Christian Villanueva (15-Day DL)

 

OUTFIELDERS (4)

22-Jason Heyward

24-Dexter Fowler

41-Matt Szczur

68-Jorge Soler

 

I like that Ramirez made the team out the pen. I still have high hopes that he can be a shut down late inning type guy if he can work through some inconsistency this year. We’ve seen flashes of it in the past, so we know it’s in there. Now it’s just a matter of getting it back out.

Szczur will get his shot to make an impact before Baez comes back, and he’s out of options so it may be now or never for his relationship with the Cubs. Munenori Kawasaki was also added to the 40 man roster yesterday and optioned to Iowa. He made enough of a splash this spring with the club to earn a roster spot and may get a chance to be a call up early should something happen to an infielder. Other than that, the roster was basically all set before opening day was even close. Now it’s time to show what the roster can do.

About the Angels

No one is really talking much about the Angels this year. It seems to be an afterthought when picking who will win the division. Their main addition this off-season was a trade for Andrelton Simmons with the Braves. They paid a steep price tag, so we’ll see if the addition of a slick fielding, no hitting shortstop is worth it’s price. Looking up and down this roster I see a stud in Mike Trout and an aging star in Albert Pujols. That’s about it. We obviously know that any team can be any team on any day, especially in baseball, but I see the Cubs winning this series and getting off to a good start on a west coast trip. Have I mentioned that I hate west coast baseball? Being on the east coast, tonight’s game is going to start after 10p, which means it’s going to end anywhere from 12:30a to 1:30a. That’s too late for an aging veteran like me, but we’ll make due since it’s a year of excitement.

It’s All About You

This is the 13th season of Cubs baseball for VFTB and I’ve always tried to make it about you, the reader. I don’t consider this a news outlet, but rather a fun place to come to and talk Cubs baseball in a mostly civil way. So, I ask you now, what types of things would you the reader like to see this year? Let me know in the comments what things you enjoy and don’t enjoy.


THIS DAY IN CUBS HISTORY

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1911 - The Most Valuable Player award is introduced and sponsored by Hugh Chalmers, an auto manufacturer. The first winners of the MVP, selected by a vote of one baseball writer representing each franchise in the league, will be Tigers’ outfielder Ty Cobb and Frank Schulte of the Cubs.

1994 – On Opening Day at Wrigley Field in the Cubs’ 12-8 loss to New York, Tuffy Rhodes, who has hit only five round-trippers in his first 280 major league at-bats, becomes the first player to homer in his first three at-bats of the season. The three solo home runs, all off Mets right-hander Dwight ‘Doc’ Gooden, will account for nearly half of the outfielder’s total for the year when he finishes the campaign with only eight round-trippers.

1994 – Prior to the Cubs’ 12-8 Opening Day loss to the Mets at Wrigley Field, Hillary Clinton becomes the second first lady to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the baseball season. Bill’s wife then joins Harry Caray in the broadcast booth and sings “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” with the beloved announcer during the seventh inning stretch.

2008 – Carried by his momentum avoiding the pitch, J.R. Towels does a hand stand at home plate after getting hit above the knee during the second inning in Houston’s 4-3 win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field. The Astros catcher’s fourth inning two-run homer is accomplished with the backstop standing on his feet.

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Baseball Books Are My Spring Training

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

I have my ticket for the April 13 night game against Cincinnati. It is our second home game this season. My son will join me for the game assuming his job doesn’t interfere. With only a few days to go, I am really jones-ing to be back at the ball park.

I bought the Rivals Package of six games. It includes five games against Central Division teams and one game against the White Sox. My seats are in the field boxes outside third base. I moved down from the center upper deck where I have been the past few seasons.

The package fits my schedule and gets me into the ball park at good intervals during the season. Plus, if the past is a predictor, then I will make it to three or four more games outside the package with friends and work colleagues as the season progresses.

Like all of us, I have been following spring training here on View from the Bleachers as well as in other media. I like what I see and look forward to an entertaining season. But this year, while waiting for spring to end and the season to begin, I found myself reading baseball books. I did not plan this with any purpose, but in the past few weeks I have read: George Will’s A NICE LITTLE PLACE ON THE NORTHSIDE, Carrie Muskat’s FROM BANKS TO SANDBERG TO GRACE, and Harper Scott’s science fiction fantasy HOW I HELPED THE CHICAGO CUBS (FINALLY) WIN THE WORLD SERIES.

These books put me in the right frame of mind for what is guaranteed to be a fascinating, and possibly historic, season for the Cubs. I suppose that means that my personal spring training this year has been reading baseball books. It also seems like a good time to write about my favorite baseball books. So here we go. Excluding reference books, my three favorite baseball books are, in order:

BALL FOUR by Jim Bouton

Jim Bouton had been a talented young right-handed pitcher for the Yankees in the early 60s. He enjoyed two sterling seasons as a starter in New York’s rotation in ’63 and ’64. He is probably best known for winning two games for New York in the ’64 World Series against the Cardinals. Although the Yanks lost the Series that year, Bouton performed well and received much acclaim for winning both of his games and the second one mostly on guts without his best stuff. But he flamed out badly the next season and by the end of the decade, he had lost his fastball completely and was trying to reinvent himself as a knuckleballer.

In 1969, he found himself on the Seattle Pilots during their one year of existence in the Major Leagues. (They became the Brewers the next season.) He kept a diary of the season and that diary, interweaved with many entertaining stories from his time on the Yankees, became BALL FOUR.

BALL FOUR was controversial from the start. Bouton was a free thinker in an era where baseball (and sport generally) was still dominated by authoritarian managers and coaches, who considered anyone not of a like mind to be a malcontent.  Bouton made little effort in his book to hide that he was bitter that his pitching career had gone badly after his magical seasons in ’63 and ’64. In particular, his depictions of Joe Schultz and Sal Maglie, his Seattle manager and pitching coach respectively, are unsparing and savagely sarcastic. Schultz and Maglie were, to put it mildly, skeptical of Bouton and his theories on the knuckleball.

But the part of the book that drew the most criticism was Bouton’s reminiscences of Mickey Mantle and his drinking, a part of Mantle’s life that was largely unknown to the public. Bouton’s stories are kind to Mantle (and drinking buddy Whitey Ford) who Bouton clearly looked up to. These stories are genuinely funny and are recounted in the book purely for the humor. But they struck a raw nerve inside baseball and Bouton was attacked by then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who tried to discredit BALL FOUR. Bouton refused to recant any part of what he had written and for a long while was treated as a pariah by the Yankees.

BALL FOUR marked a turning point in baseball writing. It inspired many insipid copycat books. For an example of an especially bad one, you might want to read Joe Pepitone’s JOE, YOU COULDA MADE US PROUD. Pepitone’s story is tragic in a wholly self-inflicted way. But the writing is manipulative and the execution lacks the originality and humor of Bouton. BALL FOUR also inspired a TV sitcom on CBS in which Bouton was cast as the lead. The show was cancelled mercifully after only a few episodes.

I loved BALL FOUR when I first read it back in the early 70s and I still love it today. I cannot recommend it strongly enough.

MONEYBALL by Michael Lewis

MONEYBALL is Lewis’ tour de force on the travails of Billy Beane and his Oakland A’s, a small market team seeking to compete against much richer franchises that seemed to dominate the standings in the American League year after year. Beane found a secret weapon in sabrmetrics which he used to replace old-school baseball scouting methods in order to draft and trade for players who were less expensive, but productive enough to allow the A’s to make the play-offs in 2003 and 2004 with a pay roll that was about one third of the Yankee’s.

Beane’s switch from old-fashioned scouting-based player evaluation to analytics-based evaluation was revolutionary and makes for a fascinating story. MONEYBALL addresses baseball on the field and in the front office with sophistication. The movie based on the book is excellent too. I suspect that most View from the Bleachers followers have either read the book or seen the movie or both.

MEN AT WORK by George Will

I meant to read MEN AT WORK 20 years ago, but got around to it only recently. It is excellent notwithstanding that it shows a tiny bit of age. Will is a conservative pundit of great influence today. But back when this book was written in the late 80s, he was widely regarded as the most influential journalist in America. Political journalism then was still a dignified craft. It caught me by surprise when Will published a major baseball book in 1990.

Will’s main theme is that baseball players are intelligent and thoughtful about their craft.  According to Will, success in baseball is not just a matter of athletic talent. It requires committed and patient study to master the craft of baseball.

He organizes his book into sections corresponding to the principal activities of baseball: managing, pitching, fielding and hitting. His archetype for each is: manager Tony La Russa, pitcher Orel Hershiser, shortstop Cal Ripken and hitter extraordinaire Tony Gwynn. Will spent hundreds of hours interviewing each in order to write MEN AT WORK. Will also includes a good deal of baseball history, baseball statistics and wonderful anecdotes from other sources too.

The lone weird thing about reading MEN AT WORK today is that Will, understandably, cites statistics that we no longer much use. Aside from that minor distraction, this excellent and thoughtful book is a joy.

Honorable mention: The Boys of Summer, Shoeless Joe, A Nice Little Place on the North Side, How Life Imitates the World Series, Veeck as in Wreck and The Summer Game.

Special mention: Banks to Sandberg to Grace. Carrie Muskat’s interviews that touch on Buck O’Neil’s time as the first Afro-American coach In the big leagues are especially interesting.

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GirlieView (03/31/2016)

Thursday, March 31st, 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 2015 Off-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

  • I just want to thank my supporting cast for serving up some serious Lizzie assists. Although most of my Lizzie comments come from my genius some of them are assisted by others which I believe put me into the MVL category this fortnight.
  • What you are not seeing is that this is Spring (nee Winter) Training for Lizzies as well. We see a lot of obvious Lizzie pandering from those who will likely be in DesMoines come opening day. Established Lizzie veterans are just stretching out the fingers with the odd dick joke
  • Hey man, I added some insightful commentary around Trey McNutt’s camp.
  • Unsurprisingly, Johnson pitched hard tonight. Hit hard too.
  • Joe [Maddon] will have his hands full managing his lineup and keeping everyone sharp and focused during a full season. I cannot wait to see it unfold.
  • The Cubs are looking to be a playoff contending team for the next 3-6 years. That is something I have not seen in my lifetime.
  • We have 8 games in AL parks where the Schwarber question is easier to answer.
  • I’ll take an overcrowded outfield over an “undercrowded” any day. I think Maddon is smart enough to get the most out of it.
  • my phone autocorrected Maddon to Aladdin, granted Aladdin would make a damn fine manager too (he’s always one step ahead).
  • This year, Montero faces the pressure of seeing his job hang in the balance if he doesn’t produce.
  • Watched him yip from great yip seats … Got to see Lester dominate and then look like a toddler trying to field a ball. Dinner and a show.
  • It seems like every other day some Cardinals player, coach, front office member, or someone affiliated with the Cardinals organization has said something like, “Everyone needs to stop talking about the Cubs”, then they go on to talk about the Cubs.
  • The Cubs showed the world last year that they are capable of beating the birds when the playoffs are on the line and that means something to us the Cubs fans but it even means more to the Cardinals fans
  • St Louis has a chip on their shoulder , a smaller city less noteworthy than Chicago, Boston, New York, LA or even Peoria. Losing to the Cubs in the playoffs and then losing Heyward to the Cubs has got to really increase the size of that chip. Enjoy it Cubs fans, enjoy it.
  • Cardinals fans claim to be the greatest fans in baseball, yet they care more about their rival than they do their own team.
  • I do not care to speak about nor think about the Cardinals or their fans this season. Let’s talk about Cubs baseball, and let them talk about the Cubs and how classy and well informed the Cub fan base is.
  • I agree with the cap’n. If it doesn’t make your life better, ignore it.
  • I love when the scoreboard tells the fans to make noise. How dumb are your fans when you need to tell them when to cheer.
  • the Cubs are projected to have the third most valuable rotation in baseball this season
  • Rooting for Johnson and McNutt.
  • Did you try your shorts?
  • Still one short of Trey.

Lizard

  • Our problem, if we have a problem, is not too many outfielders, but too many good hitters and not enough at bats to go around.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout out to Noah for his first 2015 Off-Season Lizzie!!!! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to jswanson, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go jswan!

Final Standings of the 2015 Off-Season (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard) – Next time the standings will start fresh for the regular season! Congratulations Sherm! (There is no prize. LOL)

1. Sherm
2. jswanson
3. Doc Raker
4. Doug S
4. Eddie von White
6. Seymour Butts
7. Jared
8. Bryan
9. Brad Lyerla
10. Nate Usher
11. cap’n realist
12. Bartz
12. Joe Aiello
14. Sean Powell
15. Jerry in Wisconsin
16. Bilyuds
16. Elijah Knepper
16. Jedi
19. Buddy
19. Nate Head
19. Sue Draper
22. Adam Peters
22. Chet West
22. Chicago1908
22. Chris O’Reilly
22. Dork
22. Noah
22. theguz7

Chit Chat

  • We’re very close to regular season baseball! The Cubs are in Las Vegas to take on the Mets in their final two pre-season games. How ironic, huh? Both games will be televised, tonight’s on CSN at 7:05pm (central) and tomorrow’s at 3:05pm (central) on WGN. They have an off-day Saturday before Sunday’s opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers (this game is currently not scheduled to be televised live, though it’s set to be re-played on ESPN2 at 9:00pm central). I am not a fan of opening the season on the west coast. I mean no offense to my wonderful PDT friends. This is a direct function of my age, since I don’t make it much past 9:30 on any given night. I probably won’t see a regular season game until Saturday the 9th. Mid-season west coast trips are fine with me, because I’ve had my fill and can stand a few days Cubless. But I’ll feel left out next week. How about you?
  • Correction: The Cubs aren’t playing the Dodgers to open the season, they’re playing the Angels. And, Sunday’s game is considered a Spring Training game. First regular season game is on Monday, April 4 vs. the Angels and it is televised on ESPN2 (and ABC7 in Chicago.)
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3 Cubs Prospects That Have Shined During Spring Training

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Every spring there are prospects that shine during spring training when the regular team gets rest. Coming off a year where the Cubs won 97 games and appeared in the NLCS, the minor league system may get overlooked. There is still plenty of high end talent in the minor league system, and the kids are proving themselves in camp.

The Cubs minor league system has gotten a ton of praise during the rebuilding process. The organization has consistently been ranked in the top five in all of baseball over the past two or three years. The high end talent, like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, have been the blue chip pieces that have helped that ranking. However, the high end talent in the system have graduated, so the ranking has taken a hit coming into 2016. Falling out of the top ten in farm system rankings doesn’t mean there isn’t talent in the farm system.

Spring training is a chance for the younger players to showcase their talents in front of the major league coaching staff. Every year there are players that breakout in spring training and are not known to the common fan. To some fans, this is the only look that they’ll get at these young players. For a small sample sake, here are three players that have shined in Arizona and are names to keep in mind going into 2016 and beyond.

John Andreoli

The 25-year-old outfielder has been around seemingly forever, even beating out the Theo Epstein era, as he was drafted in 2011. Andreoli has made the most of his second spring training invite. In 39 plate appearances, the outfielder has compiled a .303 batting average to go along with a .359 on base percentage, a 1.086 OPS, four home runs, and nine runs driven in. The four home runs might stand out to people because Andreoli only hit five all of last season at AAA Iowa. Another interesting stat about Andreoli is two stolen bases this spring after 33 steals a year ago. The outfielder is known as one of the fastest players and one of the best base stealers, if not the best, in the Cubs organization. His speed shows, as one of his home runs was an inside the park home run this spring.

Andreoli has been sent back to AAA Iowa’s camp and is going to be there to start the season. It is hard to see Andreoli’s role on the 2016 big league Cubs team. However, a September call-up is not out of the question. Also, his speed could be a major asset to the Cubs come postseason time, a la Quintin Berry last October. If there are injuries during the season, Andreoli could end up getting an early call and can be a very serviceable 5th outfielder.

Jeimer Candelario

The young third baseman has been making a name for himself during spring training. In 38 plate appearances this spring, Candelario has hit .361 with a .395 on base percentage and a 1.117 OPS while hitting three home runs and four doubles. One of the things to like about Candelario is his plate discipline. In those 38 plate appearances, the 22-year-old has only struck out 13.2% of the time, which is actually higher than his 2015 rate of 11.5% in AA Tennessee. While his walk rate is 5.3% in the spring, last year in AA Tennessee, Candelario had a 12.1% walk rate.

Third base has a solid foundation in the Cubs organization, as National League Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant has the hot corner locked up for the next 6+ years. Candelario seemingly is blocked by Bryant. Baseball Prospectus didn’t rank Candelario during their top 10 list for the Cubs, but his spring has put the young third baseman on the radar of many teams. With the position blocked and a huge spring, Candelario will garner a lot of attention in July from other teams if the Cubs decide to trade for a cost-controlled starter at the deadline. For now, Candelario will begin the season with AA Tennessee, but should be making his way to AAA Iowa sometime over the summer.

Willson Contreras

The 23-year-old catcher might not be a household name to Cubs fans yet, but he will be in the next few years as the organization sees him as the catcher of the future. After winning the Southern League batting title in 2015 with AA Tennessee and an impressive showing in the Arizona Fall League, Contreras continued to impress in Spring Training. In 21 plate appearances, Contreras hit .313 with a .476 on base percentage and a .976 OPS, while hitting three doubles and walking five times. Small sample size alert, but that’s a 23.8% (!!!) walk rate, and only against one strikeout.

As with Candelario, Contreras also has a very discipline approach at the plate. Last season in AA Tennessee, the catcher walked 57 times (10.9% BB%) and struck out only 62 times (11.9% K%). That is almost a 1.00 BB/K rate, which is incredible for a catcher, even at the AA level. That rate was the 7th highest in the Southern League among hitters with 250 or more plate appearances. As previously stated, Contreras is the Cubs catcher of the future, and with good reason. Contreras was ranked as the 57th best prospect in baseball and the number one catching prospect by Baseball Prospectus. The plan looks to be that he will split time with Miguel Montero in 2017 and take over full time catching duties in 2018. For now, however, the catcher is headed to AAA Iowa to get a full season in the Pacific Coast League and possibly could see some time with the major league club in September.

Spring training might be just a tune up period for most of the players who are locks to make the big league club, but the minor league players are working their tails off to impress their coaches. The Cubs system, while taking a massive hit with the graduating players, still has so much talent beyond the three players listed. The 2016 Cubs should have enough storylines, but keep these three players in the back of your head. Their names could come up at some point in 2016 and you can bet that their big springs had a part to do with that.

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Obsessed

Thursday, March 24th, 2016

Obsessed: to preoccupy or fill the mind continually, intrusively, and to a troubling extent; to be preoccupied with or constantly worry about something. It seems like every other day some Cardinals player, coach, front office member, or someone affiliated with the Cardinals organization has said something like, “Everyone needs to stop talking about the Cubs”, then they go on to talk about the Cubs. For the longest time, I thought that it was just the fans that were obsessed, but after the NLDS last year, it has felt like the entire Cardinals’ organization has become obsessed with the Cubs.

Being from Southern Illinois, I live right in the heart of “Cardinal Country”, and I think that is one of the reasons why I am not a Cardinal fan. Besides the fact that my dad and brother were both Cubs fans, I saw how the Cardinals fans interacted with fans of other teams, and how they acted towards other players, coaches, etc… As fellow Cubs fans, I’m sure you’ve all heard some Cards fan say “Yeah, you may have won that game, but by my math 11 titles is more than 2 titles”. Or, “Cubs: Completely Useless By September”. Or the one that seems to be the most popular where I am from, “It’s all right, anyone can have a bad century, right?” I would like to think that if something was happening in baseball that was significant, most of the Cubs faithful would recognize it, and appreciate it. Take, for instance, Bryce Harper’s season last year. Where the Nationals did not live up to the pre-season hype, Bryce Harper clearly did. The Nationals’ slugger hit .330, with 42 homers and 99 RBIs. He led the league in OBP, Slugging percentage, and OPS. He was tied for the National League lead in home runs, and led the National League in runs scored. He won the MVP unanimously. I think most Cubs fans could recognize that Harper was in a league of his own. Yet, if you asked 100 Cardinals fans: Would you trade Yadier Molina for Bryce Harper, straight up? An alarmingly high number of them would say no. It is that arrogance, that insanity that makes Cardinals fans so unbearable to talk baseball with. Before social media, and even until the 2013 or 2014 season, I always just assumed that it was just Cardinals fans that had this obsession and they were just like that because they had been good. I mean, I won’t deny it, the Cardinals have built a great organization. They develop players incredibly well, and the players on their teams know their respective roles. However, as the Cubs have gotten better, as the buzz has shifted away from the Cardinals being the dominant team in the NL Central, it has become more evident to me that not only are the Cardinals fans obsessed with the Cubs, the players are, too.

“What it comes down to is that: he didn’t want to play there after myself, and Yadier and Matt were gone, on such a long contract. It really comes down to a personality trait to me. The person that we want to give that kind of money to, that big money to, he needs to be a person that wants to be the guy that carries the torch…” –Adam Wainwright

By now, we all know he was talking about Jason Heyward shortly after Heyward had just inked his new deal with the Cubs. (On a side note, another reason I don’t understand Cardinals fans is because they don’t realize that 181 is less than 200. Someone is going to have to explain that to me.) This was really the beginning of a long line of comments back and forth between the Cubs and the Cardinals. The Cubs players, especially Jason Heyward, were very respectful, and very factual when asked about any comments made by Cardinal players. It has seemed like since Wainwright made these comments, him or another Cardinal player, coach, or executive has made comments about how people need to “stop talking about the Cubs” weekly. Recently, I listened to an interview where Wainwright was asked about where he viewed himself in terms of fantasy pitchers. He said top 3 because he is so consistent. He went on to claim that he was joking, and I am sure he was. And then he said, “All you Cubs fans need to just calm down”. To which the interviewer asked, “Cubs fans still tweeting at you?” Wainwright replied, “Oh, yeah.” Well, Adam, if you have a problem with it, check Jason Heyward’s mentions.

I realize these last couple paragraphs may have come across as complaining or whiny. That’s okay. One of the main reasons why I am writing this article is because I know what will happen on the field. I know that when Jason Heyward comes to bat for the first time in Busch Stadium, he will be booed, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets hit. But from what I have seen and heard from Heyward, he won’t let his emotions get the better of him. He might smile, and trot to first base. It is well known that the Cardinals are heavy on retaliation. If you need proof, just pull up the footage of Dan Haren hitting Matt Holliday at Wrigley Field late in the season in a 3-2 ball game with the tying run on second base and the Cardinals players and fans going crazy. Then, later, after the Cubs had taken an 8-3 lead, with 2 outs in the bottom of the 7th inning, Matt Belisle “let a pitch slip” out of his hand behind Anthony Rizzo, and was quickly ejected. Rizzo was able to slip out of the way, but it was evident what Belisle was trying to do.

All this being said, I try to stay mellow about the entire situation because of the simple fact that the Cubs, for the first time in quite some time, have a sizeable talent advantage over the Cardinals. The only thing that Cards have going for them is that old Devil Magic. In their weekly article about the Cubs, Cardinal first baseman, Brandon Moss was quoted as saying, “You know, you can’t win the World Series in the offseason. You win it on the field.” Cardinals players can obsess, and cite all the clichés they want, because on the field, the advantage goes to the Cubs.

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Prospect Spotlight: #10 Eloy Jimenez

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2016

I loved last season. As a lifelong Cubs fan it was amazing to see the team have so much success with such a young lineup, which consisted of a few top prospects that made the jump to the big leagues. With all the hype surrounding players like Kris Bryant, Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber, the typical baseball fan would probably assume that the Cubs farm system would be depleted of talent. The fact is the Cubs still possess a top-5 farm system, which should make every Cubs fan excited about the potential for sustained success on the north side. Here’s a chance for everyone to get to know each of the Cubs top 10 prospects. Let’s start with number 10, Eloy Jimenez.

Jimenez was an international free agent signing by the Cubs back in 2013 out of the Dominican Republic as a 16 year old. He started playing baseball when he was 9 years old, and was discovered by a major league prep coach at age 14. He was part of the same international class in which the Cubs signed Gleyber Torres (more on him in the future). Jimenez was considered the prize of the 2013 international crop, and his signing bonus showed it. He was paid the highest signing bonus that year, which totaled 2.8 million. His best attribute is his impressive raw power, which goes hand in hand with his large frame. He stands at 6’4” and 200 pounds with plenty of room to add strength and develop his power. He has also shown the ability to be patient at the plate and has a strong arm. Unfortunately, he hasn’t exactly lived up to the enormous hype yet. He struggled mightily in his first professional baseball season. Jimenez spent the 2014 season in rookie ball and slashed an unimpressive .227/.268/.367 with only 3 home runs in 150 at bats. In 2015, he was moved to short season Eugene, where he greatly improved to .284/.328/.417, but still with only 7 home runs in 252 at bats. It is important to note that Jimenez is still only 19 years old, and has plenty of time to grow into his body to develop his power. This season, he will likely start the season at Low-A South Bend, where given his age and level of development, I would expect him to stay for the whole season. He could potentially make the jump to High-A Myrtle Beach towards the end of the season if he is able to make big strides in his power and approach.

The future for Jimenez all depends on the work he puts in to his game, but he has all the natural tools to be an effective player in Chicago. His most likely landing spot on defense is in right field given his limited mobility. With his current age and skill level, Jimenez figures to be in the minor leagues for another 3 years at least, but he seems to be worth the wait. It’s not a bad thing to have a player of his potential as your 10th best prospect if you ask me.

13 days to opening day.

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