Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Game 2 Notes – Jake Arrieta Owns the Cardinals

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

Box Score

After two days off, it feels good to be back to baseball. Oh wait, we have another day off today. I can’t stand the MLB schedule early in the season.

And You Were Worried That Jake Arrieta was a Fluke – OK, maybe it was me that was a little apprehensive about jumping on the Arrieta bandwagon. I guess I have just been burned by going all in on things with a small sample size, but if yesterday is an indication of what is to come from Jake, we completely hosed the Orioles in the deal for Arrieta. In case you have forgotten, the Cubs got Arrieta and Pedro Strop from the Orioles in exchange for Steve Clevenger and Scott FeldmanYeah, that’s not a bad deal at all.

While Jake didn’t have his flat out nasty stuff, he was really good. He struck out seven hitters, three of them looking over his seven innings of work and only allowed three hits. When you watch the game, you could make that case that he was never really even in trouble in any of the innings. I still think Jon Lester will have a better year than Arrieta, but I think that trade is going to be a huge one for the rebuild of this team. It will be one of the trades you look back at as a major factor in the Cubs winning the World Series.

So, Are You Worried About the Offense, Then? – In 17 innings off offense, the Cubs have managed just two runs and sit at 1-1. While it’s incredibly frustrating to see an average of one run a game, you can also turn it around and make the case that the Cardinals, a team most consider the favorite to win the division, is averaging just 1.5 runs per game. I’ve seen some on Twitter that are quite worried about what we’ve seen in the first two games offensively, but it’s too small of a sample size to truly know if it is a problem. That said, what’s the cure for an offense that’s ailing? A trip to Colorado, of course, and that’s just what is on the docket for this weekend.

Miscellaneous Nuggets

  • The Cubs announced that C.J. Edwards will begin the season in the bullpen in AA. Edwards did not pitch a lot of innings last season, so the Cubs are being cautious with perhaps their best arm in the system. My guess is that he’ll be in the pen for a good part of the first half of the season in an effort to keep the workload down. His frame is so tiny that there are still doubts on his ability to be a heavy workload starter. Given the ability of Theo and Jed to find quality starting pitching (see Arrieta, Jason Hammel, Feldman, etc), I could easily be please with Edwards turning into a great late inning arm.
  • The Cubs came to agreement on a minor league deal with James Russell. He was released by the Braves and will begin the season, most likely, with Iowa. The move gives the Cubs another option out of the pen from the left side in the event that Phil Coke wets the bed. Right now, everything in that bullpen is majestic.
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2015 Cubs Minor League Preview

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Even with the excitement surrounding the young talent that is already on the major league roster, the Cubs minor league system is still generally agreed upon as the top ranked system in all of baseball. It can be a challenge keeping track of which player is at each level, especially as the season begins, but we’ll take a look at what each roster looks like at the start of the season:

Iowa Cubs – AAA

The roster that is most likely to experience early change (buy your tickets now if you want to see Kris Bryant play in Des Moines), but also the one with plenty of reasons to watch even after the end of this month.

Who to watch:

Bryant: Of course. And although he won’t be here long, look for him to get some time in LF in preparation for spending time there when he’s called up. That call up would happen, at the earliest, somewhere around April 17, but the Cubs have not given any indication as to when they plan to bring him up. That does give him time to play in the first to series with Iowa, but both are on the road, so if you live near Memphis or New Orleans, get tickets!

Javier Baez: Perhaps a surprise to see him in Iowa, but especially after a rough spring (.182/.237/.236, 21 Ks), it is necessary. It’s hard to predict how long he’ll stay in Iowa, but it’s expected that he’ll return to the majors at some point this summer. Look for him, of course, to work on reducing his K rate by focusing on pitch selection.

Addison Russell: He’s the one who is most likely of these three to spend all or most of the season in Iowa. Speculation is already abounding that he may one day force Castro out of the SS spot, whether it’s because Castro takes a different position or is traded, so the timing of Russell’s call up may hinge on Castro’s fate. Don’t be surprised if we see Russell with a similar fate to that of Bryant next spring. He’s young enough (21) that the Cubs can afford to wait on him for another year.

Opening Series:

The Iowa Cubs don’t play at home until April 17, but they’ll open their season against Memphis for a four game set starting tomorrow.

Tennessee Smokies – AA

Like the AAA brethren, the Smokies have a roster with plenty of reason to watch. This would be a team to follow very closely, as some of these guys are likely to make their debuts in the coming years (2016 is really going to be fun.).

Who to Watch:

Kyle Schwarber: The Cubs first rounder last year made a quick rise through the system (moved through 3 levels), and could continue doing the same, depending on what the Cubs want for him defensively. This could be a season that he spends entirely in AA to focus on being a full time catcher, or if the Cubs do explore other defensive options, he could move up more quickly. Either way, he hits like crazy (1.061 OPS, 18 HR overall last year)

C.J. Edwards: I’ve mentioned him before, but the biggest test for Edwards this season may be whether or not he can stay healthy for a full season. He has the potential to have an impact on the pitching staff at the major league level very soon, but injury problems have interfered so far. He made just 10 starts in AA last year, so he could be in Tennessee all season.

Dan Vogelbach: If ever there was a reason for me to want to embrace the DH in the NL, it’s this guy. He can absolutely mash, but given that he’s a first baseman and Anthony Rizzo has that spot pretty much locked down for the next several years, there’s really nowhere for Vogelbach to go at this point. The 2011 2nd rounder could be a valuable trade piece at some point, but there’s not specific expectation that that will happen at this point.

Note: Albert Almora will be in Tennessee as well, and is a worthy candidate for a bounce back year in 2015.

Opening Series:

The Tennessee Smokies begin their season with a 5 game series against Mississippi before coming home next Wednesday, April 15 to play 5 games against Pensacola.

Myrtle Beach Pelicans – A+

This is the first year that the Cubs’ High A affiliate is in Myrtle Beach, after ending their relationship with the Daytona franchise. The roster in Myrtle Beach is absolutely loaded with 9 highly ranked prospects starting the year there.

Who to Watch:

Billy McKinney: Acquired from Oakland last year when Jeff Samardzija was traded, McKinney is proving to be a solid outfielder. Oakland took him in the first round in the 2013 draft out of high school, and he’s put together some noteworthy numbers during his 2 seasons in the minor leagues (.283, 14 HR, 95 RBI in 181 games overall), and those averages are down slightly because of an adjustment to high A ball last year while he was in Stockton. Since joining the Cubs’ system, he’s hit significantly better.

Jen-Ho Tseng: Tseng has been a topic of conversation here before, but he looks to be a high ceiling pitching prospect in a system that’s heavy on offensive talent. His experience in the minors isn’t extensive, but he had a very impressive year in Kane County last season (2.40 ERA, 0.867 WHIP, 85 Ks in 105 innings)

Duane Underwood: Another second rounder that the Cubs took out of high school in 2012, Underwood showed distinct improvement from 2013 to 2014, even while moving from low A Boise to A level ball in Kane County. He pitched twice as many innings, and still lowered cut his ERA practically in half (from 4.97 in 2013 to 2.50 in 2014).

Opening Series:

This is basically the team that won the Midwest League Championship while in Kane County last year, so they’ll be fun to watch. They open their season at home tomorrow with a 4 game series against Wilmington followed by 3 games against Salem.

South Bend Cubs – A

Formerly the Kane County affiliate, South Bend has a few spots of real talent, including a very young shortstop who provides ample reason for excitement. Four Winds Field has also been under construction this past offseason and it looks like a place worthy of a mini road trip if you live near northwest Indiana.

Who to Watch:

Gleyber Torres: The 18 year old shortstop spent most of his season in 2014 at the rookie ball level in Arizona, with just a 7 game appearance in low A Boise. But what a 7 games: an OPS of 1.254 and 11 hits in 28 at bats. Granted, the sample size is small, but the ceiling is very, very high here.

Jake Stinnett: The Cubs picked him in the 2nd round last year after he opted not to take the Pirates’ offer when they drafted him in the 29th round the year before. His rooked ball numbers were perhaps a little scary (don’t look, trust me on this), but when he made the move to low A Boise, he pitched like the Cubs are hoping he can: 0.789 WHIP, 7 Ks in 6 innings.

Gioskar Amaya: This 22 year old Venezuelan has been in the Cubs’ system since he was 17, and the Cubs have moved him somewhat slowly through their system, having him spend full seasons at Kane County in 2013 and Daytona in 2014. He looks to be a solid defender in the middle infield who will probably always hit pretty well, but offers some speed on the basepaths as well, with 73 stolen bases in his minor league career so far.

Opening Series:

The South Bend Cubs open a 3 game series at home tomorrow against Bowling Green. They’ll play Kane County this season, but at home, so there won’t be a chance to check these guys out in Chicagoland.

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Yesterday’s Cubs News – Wiener Edition

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

I’m not sure why it is that MLB schedules a day off right away after a team’s first game. It’s quite annoying to come off the high of opening day each year only to be greeted with an off day kick to the seeds the very next day. As a player, I’d be quite frustrated as well given that they give the teams a limited number to begin with. Using one this early is like burning a timeout in the NFL before the first play is even called. What I love about baseball is that you can take a loss and know you have the opportunity to get right back on the horse and try again tomorrow. This setup kills that right from the start. MLB schedule makers…get off my lawn.

I Can’t Go To The Bathroom and my Wiener Isn’t Covered - It’s sad that this regime added a non-baseball embarressment to their resume on Sunday night. We’ve seen Ron Santo memorabilia thrown away. We’ve seen incorrect photos used for murals. It’s been one PR nightmare after another for the business side of the team (I’m looking at you Crane Kenny). Sunday was yet another example and it was on display for the world to see. In addition to the bleacher project not being completed in time for the national showcase of opening night, Cub fans were treated to ungodly lines to the bathroom with some waiting over an hour and finally relieving themselves into a cup or leaving the stadium completely. To not plan for the bathroom situation is an epic fail. The Cubs have said they are bringing in temporary bathrooms, but when you failed on opening night and on national tv, that is hard to forgive. To make matters worse, people had to deal with other wiener problems as they ran out of hot dog buns. For goodness sakes, guys, how does this crap happen and how does it always happen to us?!?!?! Get your mess together. Cubs baseball ops were left, like Cubs fans, standing with only their wieners in their hands.

We Pay You $155 Million and You Can’t Throw to First?!?!? - I’m not going to lie. I knew that Jon Lester didn’t throw to first base on a pickoff attempt all last season. I just assumed that he subscribed to the Greg Maddux philosphy of ignoring runners to focus on matters at hand, the hitter. Now, it’s coming out that perhaps he has a severe case of the yips. Time will tell if this is a big deal, but I’d have to imagine that playing in a division that features guys like Andrew McCutcheon and Billy Hamilton could pose a problem when a team knows Lester isn’t throwing over there. Maybe I’m just being a negative Nancy here, but this concerns me a little.

Is Jordan Walden a Cheater? – If you didn’t see the pitching by Walden on Sunday night, it was a strange delivery that he had. Apparently he’s done it for awhile, but I wonder if it isn’t against the rules. Take a look at the image of his delivery in this photo from 2011. (Credit SB Nation)

Look at the last part of the motion. When he delivers the baseball, he clearly has neither foot in contact with the pitching rubber. Now take a look at Rule 8.01 that addresses pitching windups.

8.01
Legal pitching delivery. There are two legal pitching positions, the Windup Position and the Set Position, and either position may be used at any time.
Pitchers shall take signs from the catcher while standing on the rubber.
Rule 8.01 Comment: Pitchers may disengage the rubber after taking their signs but may not step quickly onto the rubber and pitch. This may be judged a quick pitch by the umpire. When the pitcher disengages the rubber, he must drop his hands to his sides.
Pitchers will not be allowed to disengage the rubber after taking each sign.

(a) The Windup Position. The pitcher shall stand facing the batter, his pivot foot in contact with the pitcher’s plate and the other foot free. From this position any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration. He shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in his actual delivery of the ball to the batter, he may take one step backward, and one step forward with his free foot.
When a pitcher holds the ball with both hands in front of his body, with his pivot foot in contact with the pitcher’s plate and his other foot free, he will be considered in the Windup Position.
Rule 8.01(a) Comment: In the Windup Position, a pitcher is permitted to have his “free” foot on the rubber, in front of the rubber, behind the rubber or off the side of the rubber.
From the Windup Position, the pitcher may:
(1) deliver the ball to the batter, or
(2) step and throw to a base in an attempt to pick-off a runner, or
(3) disengage the rubber (if he does he must drop his hand to his sides).
In disengaging the rubber the pitcher must step off with his pivot foot and not his free foot first.
He may not go into a set or stretch position—if he does it is a balk.
 
(b) The Set Position. Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when he stands facing the batter with his pivot foot in contact with, and his other foot in front of, the pitcher’s plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of his body and coming to a complete stop. From such Set Position he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitcher’s plate with his pivot foot. Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as “the stretch.” But if he so elects, he shall come to Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter. After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption.
Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01(b) without interruption and in one continuous motion.
The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to “beat the rule” in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete “stop” called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a “Balk.”
Rule 8.01(b) Comment: With no runners on base, the pitcher is not required to come to a complete stop when using the Set Position. If, however, in the umpire’s judgment, a pitcher delivers the ball in a deliberate effort to catch the batter off guard, this delivery shall be deemed a quick pitch, for which the penalty is a ball. See Rule 8.05(e) Comment.
(c) At any time during the pitcher’s preliminary movements and until his natural pitching motion commits him to the pitch, he may throw to any base provided he steps directly toward such base before making the throw.
Rule 8.01(c) Comment: The pitcher shall step “ahead of the throw.” A snap throw followed by the step directly toward the base is a balk.
(d) If the pitcher makes an illegal pitch with the bases unoccupied, it shall be called a ball unless the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise.
Rule 8.01(d) Comment: A ball which slips out of a pitcher’s hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base.
(e) If the pitcher removes his pivot foot from contact with the pitcher’s plate by stepping backward with that foot, he thereby becomes an infielder and if he makes a wild throw from that position, it shall be considered the same as a wild throw by any other infielder.
Rule 8.01(e) Comment: The pitcher, while off the rubber, may throw to any base. If he makes a wild throw, such throw is the throw of an infielder and what follows is governed by the rules covering a ball thrown by a fielder.

What am I missing? Why is this motion allowed?

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The Year That Will Be in MLB

Monday, April 6th, 2015

Story-lines to watch for 2015

The Great Service Time Debate – Despite the player’s union agreeing to the current service time standards in the most recent Collective Bargaining Agreement, the MLBPA is threatening litigation over the way that Kris Bryant’s situation has been handled. Bryant’s situation is certainly not a new one, but due to Bryant’s stature as a potential face of Major League Baseball, the service time conundrum has become a hot button issue. With more media outlets and executives weighing in by the day, this seems like a topic that will remain on the table long after Bryant receives the call to Wrigley. Though it is extremely unlikely that any changes will be made this year, the arguments for each side will undoubtedly provide interesting new perspective.The Tommy John Epidemic – The frequency of ulnar collateral ligament injuries and subsequent need for Tommy John surgeries is on a massive upswing, and actually reached a new high in 2014. As Julien Assouline points out in a FanGraph’s article, upwards of 90 surgeries were performed in 2014. Some of the game’s biggest stars on the mound, such as Jose Fernandez and Yu Darvish, have gone under the knife, and more are certain to follow in 2015. Intriguing to watch will be the research and technology being developed to prevent the injuries. James Andrews and Kevin Wilk have developed a phone app, Throw Like a Pro, to educate pitchers on how to pitch safely. Pitching coaches in some college programs are working on revising how their pitchers throw, whether it means decreasing velocity or throwing fewer breaking balls. This should carry over to professional baseball, if it hasn’t already.

The Cuban Craze – Recent years have seen a dramatic influx of high impact Cuban talent in Major League Baseball, and it seems that we’ve barely scratched the surface of what is to come. Fernandez, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu are just a few of the players to have already reached superstar status in a very short amount of time. Yasmany Tomas, Jorge Soler and Yoan Moncada are believed to be stars in the coming future. Rob Manfred explicitly stated earlier this year that he wants to develop an international draft, changing the way that teams have become accustomed to signing international free agents. One reason for him desiring a change could be that the barriers in place act merely as speed bumps (look at what Theo Epstein did in the 2013 signing period, and expect more of that until the system changes). The logistics of an international draft seem incredibly complicated, though progress should be made towards Manfred’s goal in the coming season.

The New-Look Padres – General Manager AJ Preller’s first offseason as a member of the San Diego Padres has been among the most interesting that baseball has seen in years. Acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, James Shields and most recently Craig Kimbrel, Preller has done everything in his power to take a 77 win team and turn them into…well, no one really knows what. They are easily the most polarizing team in the sport going into the 2015 season. On paper, San Diego should contend for the NL West and likely end up with a wildcard spot. In reality, as we have seen in the past with teams going crazy (albeit not this crazy) in free agency, they could go down like the Titanic. James Shields adds to an already solid rotation, though that might be balanced out by having a laughably bad defense. Put your bets on where this team ends up.

Clayton Kershaw’s Playoff Woes – The Claw is without a doubt the best pitcher in the game. Even as a Felix Hernandez adorer, I can admit that Kershaw is leaps ahead of the King. Kershaw’s 1.77 ERA in 2014 was astonishing, and the Dodgers are banking on him only getting better. Kershaw’s fatal flaw has been his playoff success thus far, as he’s gotten shelled in the past two post seasons. In his last 22 innings, Kershaw has allowed 18 runs and 24 hits. Chalk it up to Cardinal’s devil magic, or whatever other theory you may possess, but it seems like adjustments could be on the way. Is Kershaw tiring out at the end of the regular season, and consequently not as effective? It seems odd that after dominating in his outings against the Cardinals in the regular season, Kershaw is suddenly human against them as soon as the playoffs roll around. Barring drastic injuries, the Dodgers are almost certainly headed to the playoffs again this season. Seeing what the Dodgers elect to do with their ace will be very much talked about.

Upcoming Milestones

500 Home Run ClubDavid Ortiz needs 34 home runs to join the exclusive 500 home run club. Though he is 39 and nearing the end of his career, keep in mind that Big Papi hit 35 in 2014.

400 Home Run ClubAdrian Beltre needs five home runs to join the 400 home run club. At 36, Beltre seems like a long shot to ever reach 500, though 400 is still a fantastic accomplishment. Miguel Cabrera is 10 shy of the 400 home run milestone. Even though Miggy has drawn some injury concerns heading into this season, he should have no problem eclipsing the 400 mark. Aramis Ramirez sits 31 dingers away from 400, and with the combination of this being his last season, and his steadily declining power numbers, it seems unlikely that the former Cub hits the milestone.

2000 Strikeouts – Felix Hernandez is just 49 strikeouts from 2000 for his career, and he ins only 29 years old. If that isn’t incredible, I’m not sure what is.

200 Wins - Blue Jays pitcher Mark Buehrle needs just one victory to reach the 200 win club.

3000 Hits - Alex Rodriguez is sitting at 2,939 hits, and unless the Yankees do something to prevent him from reaching the mark, A-Rod should become the newest member of the 3000 hit club.

2000 RBI’s – Rodriguez needs 31 runs batted in to join the three other players in Major League Baseball history to drive in 2000 runs. He would be joining Cap Munson, Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron. Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial and Ty Cobb narrowly missed entry into the 2000 RBI club. A-Rod’s legacy is certainly an interesting one.

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Game 1 Notes – If You Can’t Hit, You Can’t Score

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Box Score / Video Highlights

One of the biggest reasons I get frustrated by baseball is also the reason I love baseball. We spend all off-season and all spring training hyped up for opening day. All day I thought about the game tonight only to be let down by the result. I hate that the MLB season is so ridiculously long, but I love that because it’s so long, games like tonight aren’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It’s as if the “baseball gods” used this as a quick kick to our Cub fan nuts for thinking this team was going to win the World Series. It’s a reminder to slow our roll and remember that the division title still passes through St. Louis.

This year I want to keep our game notes short and sweet and focus more on the discussion about the games in the comment section.I’ll pick three or four notes to touch on and let you guys take it from there.

Jon Lester‘s Cub Debut – We knew going into the start that he was going to be on a pitch limit of some sort after experiencing dead arm issues in spring training. Overall, while he wasn’t completely stretched out and he did have some issues early, I thought he looked OK. He missed bats and nearly managed a quality start. This is a small hiccup for what his career with the Cubs will be. I think he will be a lot sharper in outing number two and I’m excited to have him here.

Hitting (or lack thereof) With Runners In Scoring Position – When you go 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position, you can’t really expect to win a ballgame. You can look at that problem tonight in one of two ways. The negative is that we couldn’t score, however the Joe Maddon viewpoint would be that we routinely put ourselves in a position to score, but the hits didn’t come to finish the job. Tonight the hits didn’t come, but they will. This offense should be much improved over last year.

I ♥ our bullpen - I’m going to admit that I actually looked up how to make that silly little heart icon, but I really do love our pen. I was drunk on their kool aid last year and I’m even more inebriated this year. This is going to be a top 5 pen in all of baseball when it comes to ERA and tonight we saw a taste. Phil Coke, a late addition to the team was a rockstar in the 5th inning, getting both Cardinal hitters out on strikeouts to bail out Lester. Then, the combo of Jason Motte, Neil Ramirez, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon came in to add four innings of scoreless baseball to the box score. When all was said and done, 4.2 IP with just two hits and 5 K’s for the pen tonight. I love it.

In the end, it wasn’t the result we wanted on opening night, but it’s a long season. Take the day off tomorrow, watch the National Championship game and be ready for Jake Arrieta on Tuesday.

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2015 Cubs Opening Day Roster Announced

Sunday, April 5th, 2015

Here is a look at the Cubs 2015 Opening Day roster:

 

PITCHERS (12 + 3  DL)

18-Tsuyoshi Wada, LHP (15-Day DL)

27-Phil Coke, LHP

28-Kyle Hendricks, RHP

30-Jason Motte, RHP

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

34-Jon Lester, LHP

36-Edwin Jackson, RHP

37-Travis Wood, LHP

38-Jacob Turner, RHP (15-Day DL)

39-Jason Hammel, RHP

46-Pedro Strop, RHP

49-Jake Arrieta, RHP

52-Justin Grimm, RHP

54-Neil Ramirez, RHP

56-Hector Rondon, RHP

 

CATCHERS (3)

3-David Ross

5-Welington Castillo

47-Miguel Montero

 

INFIELDERS  (6)

7-Arismendy Alcantara

11-Tommy La Stella

13-Starlin Castro

19-Jonathan Herrera

20-Mike Olt

44-Anthony Rizzo

 

OUTFIELDERS (4 + 1 DL)

8-Chris Coghlan

15-Chris Denorfia (15-Day DL)

24-Dexter Fowler

41-Matt Szczur

68-Jorge Soler

 

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10 Bold Predictions for the 2015 Cubs Season

Saturday, April 4th, 2015

If you were here last year, you remember I ran this before the season and I felt like I did pretty well. That just means things are going downhill this year, so let’s get it over with. (View the 2014 edition)

1. Jorge Soler will lead the team in HR – I’m coming out of the box firing with this one. It’s easy to say that it will be Anthony Rizzo or even Kris Bryant, but I think Soler is flying under the radar and I think he’s going to be a great player, if he can stay healthy. He’s struggled with leg issues in the past, but if he can avoid the injury bug, his bat is for real.

2. The five starting pitchers with the most starts will combine for 900 innings. – Last year, the five guys with the most games started were Travis Wood, Jake Arrieta, Edwin Jackson, Jason Hammel, and Jeff Samardzija. They combined for a total of just under 700 innings. My thinking here is that Jackson sucked, Wood sucked and Hammel and Samardzija both were traded. If everyone is healthy, the rotation should be improved this year and I think 900 IP is doable.

3. Tommy LaStella will start more games than Javier Baez at the Major League level this season. – I want to believe in Baez. I want to believe that he will use the demotion and go be ready to come up and crush it, but more and more I’m worried that he’s going to be the one who fails to reach the ceiling that has been set for him. I think LaStella can be a solid everyday guy that won’t wow you, but also won’t kill you and I think his versatility gets him more starts.

4. The Bullpen will finish in the top 5 in MLB in ERA – I put a lot of pressure on our pen last season, but I think it’s going to be even better this season with the addition of Jason Motte. In my opinion, that’s a signing that has flown under the radar.

5. Mike Olt will play well enough to push Bryant to the OF - It’s a make or break year for Olt and I think he’s going to step up to the plate and knock it out of the park. Guys ranked that high on everyone’s prospect boards are there for a reason. They have talent. They don’t usually just completely stink. This year we’ll see Olt jump into the conversation as one of the future core.

6. Welington Castillo will be on the team for the entire year – I don’t think it will be a three catcher system the entire season, but I also don’t think that Jed and Theo like what the market is for Castillo at this point. It’s been said that they want him as insurance. It’s tough to see his trade value increasing with Miguel Montero in the starting role, but strange things and injuries can happen. I just don’t see the Cubs being offered enough in return to move him.

7. Starlin Castro will have 200+ hits – He’s done it before and has said he would like to play in all 162 games this season. His 162 game average so far in his career is 185 hits so to think he can’t eclipse 200 this year is silly. He’s going to be surrounded by talent. That tends to cause guys to raise their level of play and I think we’ll see that from Castro this year.

8. The right field bleachers will not be open until August – Nothing about this renovation project has been on time and I think the bleacher renovation will continue that trend. They have said right field will be ready by June, but I think something causes a delay and it doesn’t happen until August.

9. Kyle Hendricks will lead the team in pitcher wins - Granted, it’s a dumb stat, but I am a believer in what he can be. I think he’s going to show good things this year and will surprise a lot of people. I don’t think he’ll be the most dominant pitcher on the staff, but I just have a feeling he’s going to rack up some wins.

10. The Cubs will win 85 games, but miss the playoffs by 3 games – There are people everywhere that have gone hog wild picking the Cubs to win the world series, cure cancer, and establish world peace in 2015. I’m not going that far. I do think this team will be a fun year to watch, but I think the real fun begins in 2016.

 

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Catching the Faint Whiff of Optimism in the Air

Friday, April 3rd, 2015

I blame my wife. Because of her, I have largely missed—or been spared, depending on how you look at it—the majority of the Cubs’ last two seasons. I haven’t had to watch them find new and exciting ways to throw away winnable games. I haven’t suffered the emotional and mental anguish of repeated late-inning collapses. I haven’t wallowed in loss after frustrating loss, desperate for October’s arrival and the end of the pain. Marriage is the best.

That’s not to say I’ve been totally disconnected from the Cubs—I’ve looked in from time to time to see how Castro and Rizzo were doing, or to remind myself who the starting outfielders were. And I’m still a season ticket holder, so it’s not like I could ignore them altogether. But for the most part, the Cubs have been less like an immediate part of the family. For the last several months they’ve been more like a distant relative—the only time I hear from them is when they need money.

But this season is different, and you already know why. This Cubs team, unlike the last few squads, has more than just a faint whiff of hope and optimism about them. Like a high school freshman trying to mask the stench of mid-morning gym class, these Cubs are drenched in the sweet perfume of high-ceiling potential and—here’s the kicker for me—competitive relevance.

Like most of you, I don’t have spectacularly high hopes for 2015. What I want to see more than anything else from this year’s team (and beyond) is simply that they’d be playing meaningful games late into September (and, perhaps, beyond). The Wild Card play-in game, the NL Central crown, and the World Series are all fine goals, and I’m thrilled that the players and the media are mentioning them without sarcastic smirks. But I’ll happily settle for consistent competitiveness that keeps us relevant throughout the season. And I’ll wait to start making my postseason plans until that’s the new norm.

Here’s a few other things I’m looking forward to this season, in no particular order:

  • Several writers have referred to the hiring of Joe Maddon as the best free agent signing of the offseason. I didn’t closely follow his work in Tampa Bay, but I know his reputation, and I’m eager to see what he does with the hand he’s been dealt. He won’t have to do much to be the best Cubs manager since, well . . . in a really long time.
  • I’m also interested to see how the Rick Renteria situation backfires on us. I’m thrilled we’ve got Maddon, but I concerned the way things went down with Reteria may come back to haunt us. Doubt me if you must, but just remember we had this conversation when a few months from now he inevitably takes a job with St. Louis.
  • I know the baseball world is foaming at the mouth for Kris Bryant, and that once his stay in service time purgatory is over, his every at-bat will be must-see TV. I got a chance to see him in person this spring, and the hype not unmerited. But I’m equally excited for a full year of Jorge Soler. Both guys possess Asgardian power, and Soler’s plate discipline has many people thinking he’s actually the better candidate for Rookie of the Year. Either way, I’m ecstatic at the prospect of watching the two of them treat us to a season-long home run derby.
  • Is Jon Lester an ace? And what’s it like to have one anchoring your pitching staff? I can’t wait to find out.
  • Anthony Rizzo is 25 years old. So is Starlin Castro. In spite of that, they’re now the veteran leaders, and two of the longest-tenured Cubs this season. While the youngsters (relative term) are getting the headlines, much of the burden still falls on those two. After bouncing back to form last season, what next step is there for either of them to take?
  • Is there an adjustment that can fix the gaping holes in Javier Baez’s swing, and is he capable of making it? Or is he just the next Corey Patterson?
  • It sounds crazy, but I like he idea of breaking camp with three catchers on the roster. I understand what Miguel Montero brings to the table, and that his familiarity with David Ross might make a huge difference in Lester’s performance. But I’m glad the Cubs didn’t simply dump Welington Castillo—that he was able to show he still has some value to the team. It’ll be interesting to see how they juggle all three guys in the early going, and how they feature Castillo if they still think of him as trade bait. And yes, if nothing else changes, I fully expect his value to plummet right around the time the Cubs are ready to promote Bryant.
  • I’m on record as being a big fan of the super-utility player, and it seems that the Cubs believe they have one in Arismendy Alcantara. I haven’t seen enough to know if he possesses DeRosian talent, but Maddon clearly likes the flexibility he affords, and I look forward to how the Cubs will exploit it.
  • While I can’t fully articulate why, I like Chris Coghlan. I thought he was a pleasant surprise last season, and in spite of the supposed benefits of a platoon, I’m rooting for him to win the left field job outright.
  • I’ll confess I have only a passing familiarity with our bullpen. I honestly might struggle to name more than two or three of our relievers without peeking at the roster. But I hear good things. And while it will be strange adjusting to an effective bullpen, I’m going to make every effort.
  • Finally, I’m looking forward to Opening Day. The sense of anticipation that surrounds this Cubs team had been noticeably absent for the last few years. The last couple seasons have been little more than sad inevitabilities. But now, finally, we’re looking ahead to legitimately exciting possibilities. Whatever the season holds, I’m happy to be happy for the start of baseball again. That’s not much, but it’s something. And it’ll have me paying attention to these Cubs in a way I haven’t for a while now. I can’t wait for Sunday to get here. Let’s play two.
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GirlieView (04/02/2015)

Thursday, April 2nd, 2015

GirlieView Definitions

  • Lizzie = A funny, timely 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 2014-2015 Offseason = 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

  • Having talent but having the decision of where to place that talent on the field is a great problem to have.
  • Cub baseball will already have a push in the opening weeks. His arrival late April will be another.
  • The conniption fit is created by BorASS and the media, knowledgeable Cub fans don’t mind keeping Bryant down for 9 games to start the 2015 season.
  • The spreadsheet says stick with the plan keep him in Iowa for 15 days
  • This competition should be handicapped, it is much harder for a dork to be funny than say someone with the last name of Butts.
  • That’s just a pen name. His Christian name is Peter Seymour Buttocks.
  • I am going on vacation for a week. I will have to have a flurry of witty comebacks when I come back. I have no intention of conceding to Jswanson or Raker or Butts.
  • It is not difficult for a dork to be funny. You are that way naturally, that’s why you’re a dork.
  • Looks like Seymour, Jedi and I will be having a Bushmills over at Don and Charlies tonight to celebrate our co MVL’s. Jedi, let’s meet at 4PM, Seymour’s electric car starts running out of juice around 5:30.
  • I have a strange feeling that Emily Litella could break the tie.
  • One game in the NCAA books, and this guy has a perfect bracket!
  • …and now I don’t.
  • You should write a book.
  • how does one have a tired arm half way through spring training?
  • Too much porn… like there is such a thing.
  • adding is hard
  • Adding an out to the inning every time someone is walked on 4 pitches with runners on base. Could you imagine, Carlos Marmol would of had 8 out innings. Base coaches would have to really be on their mental toes, “Freeze on a line drive with 1 or no outs, run on contact with 2 outs unless we get 4 outs then freeze on a line drive with 2 outs. Run on anything with 3 outs, half way on a flyball with 3 outs in a 5 out inning. “OK that is to confusing, the formula is (Outs Per Inning – 1) run on anything, (Outs per Inning – 2) or less we freeze on a line drive, half way on a flyball and run on a force play.” Where Starlin Castro standing on 1st base replies, “Que?”
  • What about this simple change – wouldn’t come into play often, but “if you walk a batter intentionally, you must face the next batter” so that the manager can’t use the intentional walk to both take the bat out of a hitter’s hands, AND allow the guy in the bullpen more time to get ready for the next guy. Just a thought.
  • How about cyclist outfits. There would then be no doubt about who is playing hard and who is not.
  • I searched and searched but I can’t find your height listed anywhere, even your FBI most wanted picture doesn’t have it.
  • Im a little leary of any Cubs pitcher with the name Ed in his name. Edwin has not helped our namesake.
  • How about guys that post at VFTB?
  • Those guys are solid. They won’t let you down.
  • I’m just curious if Pierce’s parents are funny or sort of dumb.
  • I do not see Sammy coming back. He has always been a me first guy, thus he will never admit fault.
  • it is good to see fans thinking this way, and honestly, something in me is caring again about the Cubs fortunes, but let’s not get crazy, we ain’t goin’ to the World Series!
  • The Cub fan (AKA, damaged pessimist) in me realizes, as you should, we may not go to the post-season this year or next, but take some solace in the fact that there is a plan in place, it is working, and Cub baseball matters again, and that’s a good thing.
  • The Cubs have not won a World Series because they have not been good enough to win a World Series.
  • The goal is to put together a long string of seasons where you look at a team and say “that team has the talent to win the World Series.” The way you get to and win series is by getting to the postseason repeatedly, and then hoping that one year the postseason crapshoot falls in your favor.
  • I think the Ricketts have been a blessing in disguise for this team. I don’t think many people thought that on day one, and the jury is still out for some, but I am happy.
  • Aside from hiring the right people, they’ve stayed out of the baseball decisions.
  • Carlos Pena…Carlos Villanuevstache…Carlos Theriot
  • Well, that could not possibly work out badly.
  • Baez’s problem is a complete lack of approach and pitch recognition
  • I want Szczur, I think the extra z gives him the edge.
  • Having the highest consonant to vowel ratio in MLB has got to count for something.

Lizard

  • The reason that ballpark was irresistible is because even though your life is changing at breakneck speeds, baseball remains constant.

Shout Outs

  • Big shout outs to Katie, and Trevor DuBois for their first 2014-2015 off-season Lizzies!!!! Thanks for being here!

MVL

  • Congratulations to Seymour Butts, our Most Valuable Lizzie-er this time! Way to go Doc!

Top 10 of the 2014-2015 Offseason (one point for each Lizzie, three points for the Lizard). These are the final standings for the off-season. Congratulations Eddie!! Next time we’ll start from scratch again. Here are the full standings.

1. Eddie Von White
2. Doc Raker
2. jswanson
4. Seymour Butts
5. Doug S
6. Jedi
6. Noah Eisner
8. Dork
9. Jerry in Wisconsin
10. Joe Aiello
11. cap’n realist
12. SBardo
13. Chet West
14. Mark From Toronto
14. Sean Powell
14. Sherm
17. Buddy
18. Jared Wyllys
18. Katie
20. Andy Rooney
20. Bryan
20. Kac
20. SouthKakalakiCubsFan
24. Andy
24. Chris Neitzel
24. Emily Litella
24. Kizzfastfists
24. Ray Brettman
24. Trevor DuBois
24. Troy’s Mom

I wanted to thank everyone for playing along with the Lizzie game, then I remembered you don’t “choose” to play along. You’re in it whether you want to be or not! But thanks just the same!

Chit Chat

  • What are your Opening Game plans, any? I’m sure we’ll all be watching, but does anyone have any special plans or traditions?
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