Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Three Strikes – Rain Out Theater

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Strike One

It is after midnight and the rain steadily continues to fall in Chicago. While this may be a good thing for the flowers, it is not what fans were hoping for as Jon Lester’s start tonight was rained out and will be made up on Wednesday as part of a split double header at Wrigley Field. Check the website, as they say, to see the new times of the games.

Strike Two

Even with no game tonight, it was a great day for Ben Zobrist who was named National League co-player of the week, an honor he shared with the Mets Bartolo Colon. Zobrist had a monster week. His slashline was .360/.455/.880. He went 9-for-25 with four homeruns and drove in 15 RBIs, with at least one RBI in six consecutive games. It’s Zobrist’s first Player of the Week award as a Cub. He won in 2008 and 2011, both as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays.

Strike Three

With the Major League draft just one month away, Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that the Cubs will focus on pitching in this draft. The problem is that for the first time in the Theo Epstein era, the Cubs do not have a high draft pick. In fact, this year the Cubs first pick comes at the 104th overall slot in the draft. This is the price of success folks, and will be a challenge for Theo and Jed’s quest for sustained excellence. We will continue to follow this story.

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Oh, Those Yips

Monday, May 9th, 2016

After the beautiful week of baseball Cubs fans just enjoyed, the image from last week that stands out in my mind is Jon Lester tossing his glove to Anthony Rizzo to retire Francisco Cervelli in the second inning of Wednesday’s game. Lester had made a similar play on Clint Barmes a few weeks earlier during the San Diego series at Wrigley.

Twice in the first thirty days of the season? What are the odds?

My immediate thought was Lester did it intentionally as a technique for coping with his tendency to choke on the throw to first. I am still not convinced that “the toss” on Cervelli wasn’t done purposely for that reason, though the replay does show the ball genuinely is stuck in the web of the glove. However, if you study the various clips of the play that come up when you google ‘Lester glove toss’, you might convince yourself that in the first instant when Lester gloved the ball, he pushed it further into the webbing as he turned and ran towards Rizzo at first.

My goal here is not to stir up controversy about what happened in the Cervelli play. Rather, I am interested in something about which there can be no controversy. Lester has a classic case of ‘the yips’ on the throw to first and everyone in the league knows it. That causes me to want to know what are ‘the yips’ and what is their cause?

Lester, of course, is not the first major leaguer to develop the yips. Most fans recall Chuck Knoblauch’s problem. It almost ended his career. Mackey Sasser, Steve Blass and Steve Sax are other good examples. These were highly accomplished major league baseball players. They had been playing baseball for decades and had overcome many competitive hurdles to climb to the major leagues. As a big leaguer, each was among the most highly accomplished players in the world. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they could not make a simple and basic baseball play that each had performed tens of thousands of time since childhood. There was no injury involved. It was solely in their heads. What a mystery. How is such a thing possible?

When you first see it, it is almost comical. I will never forget Matt Garza’s first home start for the Cubs. I was at the game with my friend Blair Campbell. It was early in the game, maybe even the top of the first. Garza made a nice play to glove a dribbler. He calmly turned to first with plenty of time and promptly chucked the ball into the third row of the stands. It sailed 8 feet over the first baseman’s head.

I spit beer while Blair laughed/blurted, “what the hell”. It was so startling. There were no words. Later, we learned that Garza had been struggling with this problem off and on for some time. I do not recall hearing of it beforehand.

Which is possible. One of the superstitions surrounding the yips has been to avoid speaking of it, at least directly. It is possible that I had missed the news that Garza had the yips because often the yips are spoken of only in whispers.

This is especially the case in golf, where the yips might be even more prevalent than in baseball. In golf, it is the highest breach of etiquette to mention the yips to a player who shanks an iron or can’t pull his putter back to attempt a putt. So too in baseball, when mentioned at all, the yips are rarely called by their right name. That’s why the press does not report that Lester has the yips. Instead, we read about his ‘problem throwing to first’ or his ‘mental block’.

There is a surprising amount of research on the yips. I have read only a tiny fraction of what has been written. But I am confident that anyone would enjoy Sian Beilock’s Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To. Dr. Beilock is one of the world’s leading authorities on the psychological phenomenon of “choking”. She was on the faculty at the University of Chicago when she wrote her book.

As I understand it, ‘the yips’ are a subset of choking. Choking happens when the brain ceases to operate optimally due to stress. There are a variety of reasons why this can happen. With the yips, the problem is specific. The yips refer to an inability to perform a simple mechanical athletic skill because of a brain malfunction. In the case of the yips, the malfunction is that the thinking part of our brain, which requires a lot of bandwidth, has taken over from the more primitive parts of our brain. In essence, we are thinking when we should be doing.

When it happens, it is mostly involuntary, but there are things that can be done to retrain the brain to address the problem. Dr. Beilock is not writing specifically for ball players, but her advice would seem to apply to Lester. First, she recommends to practice with stress. This helps the brain acclimate to the circumstances so that the stress of the moment is less likely to catch the player off guard. Perhaps, Lester should practice his throws to first with someone yelling in his ear not to screw up and someone else using noisemakers to jar his thoughts.

Second, the player should distract himself when performing what should be a simple mechanical act. She suggests counting backwards by threes, as an example. This reduces the available memory for the front of the brain (the thinking part) and that will allow the more primitive part to take over. Consider a golfer trying to make a smooth stroke with his putter. The front of his brain must be engaged to read the green and calculate the speed, but at the moment the stroke is executed, the primitive brain should take precedence. Counting backward by threes allows that change to happen.

The golfer Tom Watson recommends silently humming to oneself while executing certain golf shots. He liked to hum “Edelweiss’ to himself. He explains that it helped his timing. But maybe without realizing it, he was letting the cortex/medulla of his brain take over the swing?
It seems to me that Lester could learn from this. He needs to think and take stock of the game situation in order to make decisions about where to throw and when, but when he executes the throw, he has to stop thinking and just hit the target. I don’t know much about country music, but there must be a song he could hum to himself just as he begins his delivery of the ball. That has to be much easier than the ‘stick the ball in the glove and toss the glove’ move that he has begun to use (and which won’t work for holding runners, in any event).

Let me conclude by saying that I love Jon Lester and his role in our rotation. I have great confidence when he takes the mound and I am glad that Theo and Jed signed him. His issue with the throw to first can be addressed and that would further solidify his standing as one of the best left-handers in the big leagues.

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Three Strikes – Baez Has a Word to Your Mother

Monday, May 9th, 2016

Hero & Goat

WPA Leader and Loser

HEROJavier Baez (+.267 WPA)

GOAT - Anthony Rizzo (-.242 WPA)

Video Recap

The recap wasn’t ready on MLB.com for embedding yet, so instead you get to watch the play that ended the game off the bat of Baez.

I had someone else scheduled to write the Three Strikes post yesterday and they had something come up, so I pose to you three questions.

Strike One – Should Baez Play Everyday at Third Base?

We’ve seen him get some time and look really good over there. Assuming Ben Zobrist will continue to be the everyday second base option, that would leave left field and third base for Baez. Ideally you want Baez to play left and Kris Bryant at third…or do you? What say you?

Strike Two – Will Jake Give Up 5+ runs in a start?

We saw Jake Arrieta show his human side again. Will we see him give up 5 or more runs in a start this season?

Strike Three – Will the Cubs break the regular season win’s record of 116?

Make the call now. Will it happen? Yes or No?

Jon LesterLester will try for his first win at home on Monday when he opens the Cubs’ series against the Padres. Lester is 0-1 with a 2.21 ERA in three starts at Wrigley Field this season. He’s 3-0 with a 0.92 ERA on the road.

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Cesar VargasNo Padre has ever opened his career by allowing one run or fewer in his first four starts. Vargas — who has thus far been defined by his composure and ability to induce weak contact — gets a chance to do so against the Cubs.

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The Importance of Depth, Versatility, and Maddon’s Brilliance

Friday, May 6th, 2016

Before we get to baseball, I want to give a shout out to the bossman, Joe. We’re all glad you’re doing better–here’s to a speedy and full recovery.

OK, back to the best team in baseball.

“Depth is everything in the modern game.”–Theo Epstein.

Recent events have clearly illustrated the truth behind the prez’s words.

After being remarkably healthy last season, the Cubs have had more than their share of injuries in 2016. Kyle Schwarber, seen as one of the main cogs of the offense, went down 3 games in. Miguel Montero, the starting catcher, is on the DL. This is a double-whammy, since Schwarber’s injury was a blow to the catching depth as well. Jason Heyward, the big free agent prize from this past offseason, has missed games with a wrist injury (which has, apparently, contributed to his slow offensive start). One of the actual depth pieces, Matt Szczur, who has been playing very well, is on the DL himself. For most teams, these kind of injuries would derail the season from the get-go. As for the Cubs?

They’re 21-6.
[Update: 22-6]

How has this been accomplished? Depth, versatility, and the brilliance of their manager, Joe Maddon.

Theo and Jed have said many times that they spend the bulk of their time “worrying.” Worrying about injuries, ineffectiveness, unforeseen circumstances, etc.. They dream up worst-case scenarios and build the organization around those. So, when Schwarber went down, I guarantee that they had asked themselves: “What if Kyle goes down with an injury, what do we do then?” The contingency plan was already in place. It’s this ability to see beyond the immediate circumstances and think long-term that makes Theo and Jed so good at what they do.

Versatility goes hand-in-hand with depth. It’s no accident that the Cubs roster is loaded with players who can play well at multiple positions. This team had many “Ben Zobrists” before the actual Ben Zobrist even joined the club. Kris Bryant has played both corner outfield spots in addition to 3rd base (in fact, I think it’s time to consider Bryant an outfielder, at least for now), Javier Baez has already played all 4 infield positions, and we know he can handle the outfield as well. Heyward subbed in for Dex in CF last night (after a BS ejection). Tommy La Stella has seen time at both 2nd and 3rd. Zobrist, of course, can play all over, including spending time in RF lately. You don’t have to have as many actual players if those players can play multiple positions. This is all by design.

Of course, Joe Maddon is the perfect manager to maneuver these chess pieces. I’ve always been a Maddon fan, and I was thrilled when the Cubs hired him, but I’ve been even more impressed than I thought I would be. They guy just gets it. I think the key attribute that makes Joe so successful is his ability to think independently and critically–he doesn’t just do things or make decisions because it’s “conventional wisdom” or “tradition.” He does many things that no other manager has done or would do, yet they seem to work well. As a teacher, I try to get my students to think critically about their practice–if we examine what we do with a critical eye, and we find real evidence that it is working, then we should continue those practices with even more confidence. However, if we aren’t afraid to question traditional practices, and we find better ways of doing things, we should have the courage to go against the grain and do what’s most effective. I think this is where Maddon really makes his mark.

Take batting practice for example. The Cubs are known to take the least amount of batting practice of any team in baseball. Yet, they have the most runs scored in all of baseball. Joe has said that batting practice is “the most overrated thing we do.” During his introductory press conference, Joe said that he thinks guys are swinging too much. Now, this goes against conventional thinking. If someone is struggling at something, they should work on it more, put in more hours, until they get better, right? Not necessarily so. As a musician, I know that practicing more can actually strengthen bad habits, and that sometimes it’s best to step away for awhile and attack things with a new approach. The same can be said for hitting. This is why Joe said that he wants his guys to have interests outside of baseball and not get to the park too early before a game (how many times has a coach told you to spend less time at the park/gym?). Last year, when Addison Russell was struggling at the plate, did Joe demand that he get to the park early and take extra batting practice? No. He assigned Russell a book to read and quizzed him on it every day to make sure he was reading it. Why? He wanted Addy to get out of his head at the plate and stop worrying and over-thinking. Russell’s numbers at the end of the season improved.

Another bit of conventional baseball wisdom is that moving guys around defensively will hurt their offensive game. While there’s no doubt this is true of some guys, Maddon has said several times that he thinks moving guys around on defense can actually help their offense. Why? If a player has to focus on defense, he is thinking less about offense, and his mind is free to relax and react at the plate. Have you seen Kris Bryant’s numbers since he’s been moving around to the outfield? I’m not saying that this defensive move has caused his offense to improve, but there’s no doubt it hasn’t hurt it, and he’s provided more value to the team overall by being versatile defensively. Here’s another fun fact that may go against intuition: after moving players all over the field, the Cubs are well better than average defensively!

Something as seemingly silly as the themed road trips may actually be helping this team play better on the field. In the pregame interview the other day, Joe talked about how having to wear those silly suits out in public helped players realize that it doesn’t matter how they look–they need to get over and forget about the superficial things and focus on what’s important…and Joe believes that really carries over to the field. Once players (or any of us) can let go of the silly distractions in life and focus on what’s important, we’re able to focus and perform at a higher level. “Never let the pressure exceed the pleasure” isn’t about not being serious in your work–it’s the opposite. It’s about not letting distractions that don’t really matter (like appearance, old-school “rules” of the game, the media, taking oneself too seriously) go and focusing in on the present task at hand. You just don’t hear baseball managers speak with this sort of depth and sophistication on big-picture ideas like this.

I hope everyone is taking time to really enjoy this team. We haven’t seen our guys play like this in a long time, maybe ever.

Have a great weekend. May your “W” flag fly high, may your brats sizzle on the grill, and may your cap look as cool as Pedro Strop’s.

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Three Strikes – Back From the Hospital

Friday, May 6th, 2016

My apologies for being a little quiet the last week and a half. It’s been a time for my family, which I’ll elaborate on at the end of the post. After all, this is a baseball site, not a personal site.

Hero & Goat

WPA Leader and Loser

HEROKyle Hendricks (+.329 WPA)

GOATTim Federowicz (-.051 WPA)

Video Recap

Strike One – Roster Moves

It’s been a few days and we’ve seen a couple of moves that I wanted to touch on. On Tuesday the Cubs placed Matt Szczur on the 15 day DL and selected the contract of Ryan Kalish, who had been playing in Iowa. It’s a temporary move as Kalish isn’t a long term answer even off the bench. It’s good to see him get back to the Major’s though. There was a nice little piece on what he’s had to overcome to get back, so it’s always nice to see those stories, but my guess is that his spot on this roster is not a solid one, especially since we had to make room on the 40 man roster to add him. I haven’t seen how long Szczur is out for, but my prediction is that before the end of the year, we will see Albert Almora as the call up instead of someone like Kalish. Almora is hitting .330 / .364 / .495 early for Iowa and has long been expected at Wrigley. The sample size is small and he needs to get more time in AAA before this front office will consider him, but I can see him making some sort of debut before the end of the season.

Miguel Montero also went on the DL recently and is eligible to return from the DL as soon as Tuesday. Joe Maddon was asked about Montero before the game yesterday and didn’t know if he’d come straight back or if he’d hit the minors for a few rehab games first. I worry a little about back issues as they tend to linger and can be completely debilitating. If you’ve never hurt your back, consider yourself lucky and just know that it’s hell. I’d rather see Montero come back slowly. Having him out has be realizing how vulnerable we are at that position. You can’t possibly expect David Ross to catch every day at this point in his career, though he’s done a fine job in the time he’s gotten in there, and Tim Federowicz sucks. That leaves Wilson Contreras, who ideally is the catcher of the future and not the catcher of today in a very important season. You would have to guess that if something ever happened to Montero, the Cubs would have to go out and get a guy that can share time with Ross and lead behind the plate, knowing they can sacrifice offense for good defense, framing, and handling of a pitching staff.

Lastly, Neil Ramirez went to the bereavement list as his grandmother passed away. Hats off as we show her respect. Hurry back, Neil.

Strike Two - Love Me Some La Stella

I tweeted the other day that I wanted to see Maddon do what he can to get Tommy La Stella in this lineup as much as possible. I like this little dude and how he plays the game. It seems like every time I look, he’s stroking a line drive double and doing things to make this team successful. We didn’t get to see much of him last year as he battled injuries, but Maddon had high praise for him and mentioned that the player he would trust most to come off the bench cold and get in the box with no warm up swings was La Stella. Watching him at the plate, he just seems to get it, and he’s becoming one of my favorite Cubs. Thoughts on La Stella so far?

Strike Three – Dusty Returns

I don’t miss Dusty Baker at all. I understand that he took this team closer than any team in my lifetime, but he does things that continually make me scratch my head. Yesterday he said this:

“Sometimes people appreciate you more when you’re gone than when you were here.” –Dusty Baker

Sorry Dusty. I’ll take Maddon.

Bonus Strike – Health Update

A big shout out to Liz for keeping the ship afloat while I was out. She was so kind and helpful, as she always is. For those of you not connected with me on Facebook, which is basically everyone, I had some health issues late last week.

On Wednesday of last week I came home from work early with a horrible headache. I felt awful and ended up sleeping most of the rest of the night and feeling very disoriented and had a fever. I didn’t go to work the next day, but the fever was gone. That afternoon, my wife noticed that my right leg was all red. I hadn’t noticed it since I was so out of it. It hurt very bad to put weight on it. I told her that I had a physical scheduled for Tuesday and that if it didn’t improve by then, I’d let them know. Friday morning it was worse and I could barely walk on it. I went to the urgent care to have them take a look and they diagnosed with cellulitis. They gave me a high powered antibiotic in my buttocks and sent me to the hospital for IV antibiotics. The plan was to be there for the day to get my IV and go home. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I was admitted to the hospital on Friday and was finally released on Wednesday. During that time, I had a horrible pain in my stomach that they diagnosed as a gall stone, so I had my gall bladder out on Tuesday, during which they found a hernia which was removed as well. I’m out of the hospital, but very sore. I’m on pain meds and oral antibiotics and get to go back to work Monday. It’s been a tough week.

John LackeyLackey went eight innings in his last outing, his longest start since last Aug. 15 when he went 8 1/3 against the Marlins. He is six strikeouts shy of 2,000 in his career. He’s 1-0 with a 3.86 ERA in four career starts vs. the Nationals.

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Max ScherzerIn his best start of the season, Scherzer struck out a season-high nine batters and scattered four hits in seven shutout innings to help guide the Nationals to a 6-1 victory and a three-game sweep of the Cardinals.

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Looking Into the Shadows at Jon Lester

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Jake Arrieta boasts a solid stature (thanks to Pilates sessions) and his outings on the mound are typically as sturdy as an oak tree. Arrieta’s “tree” is tremendous in height and stands tallest in baseball’s pitching forest. On a sunny day at the Confines, Arrieta’s oak casts a tantalizing shadow that inflects a sense of fear into opponents.

If you look closely—you nearly have to squint—a new fixture is blossoming under Arrieta’s massive shadow. The fixture has been there before, as high as Arrieta, before it shakily succumbed to a downward spiral. It has a name.

Jon Lester

Lester was acquired by Chicago Cubs’ brass Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in December 2014. The deal was for six years and worth a groundbreaking 155 million dollars. The mid-December move followed the signing of manager Joe Maddon and seemed to be the cherry on top of Chicago’s savory offseason ploys. Lester was courted by a handful teams that all hoped to reel in the two-time World Series champion and immediately improve their starting pitching rotation.

Arrieta had just came off a career-high 2.53 ERA in the ’14 campaign but took a backseat to the prized (and expensive) addition Lester, who was named the Opening Day starter. Excitement was flowing on the north side. The Cubs finally had a “go-to” guy in the rotation that could put the team on his back every fifth day. But it wasn’t Lester. The 32-year-old southpaw’s first season as a Cub was sluggish—his lackluster 11-12 record and 3.34 ERA fell short of hundred million dollar expectations. In his first eight starts as a Cub, Lester posted a 6.20 ERA in 78 innings. It is common for Cubs fans to lash out at a struggling player (whether it is on Twitter or from the rowdy Budweiser Bleachers at Wrigley) but for the most part, Lester dodged the bullets of slander.

It is fair to say that Arrieta’s dazzling Cy Young season eased the severity of fans’ scrutiny towards Lester. Jake’s record-breaking performance removed the tense pressure off Lester’s shoulders as he braved the task of carrying the daunting weight of being the ace of a staff. Let’s put it this way: members of the Cubs’ faithful would have been at Jon’s neck if they weren’t in the midst of a remarkable 97 win season. Throughout the turbulence, Lester remained humble and never projected the blame onto someone other than himself. The phrases “it was my fault” and “I need to be better” began to sound like a broken record after one of his outings.

Turns out, he is better. This season, the Cubs are rolling and jumped out of the gates to a sizzling 20-6 start. Everything is going right: the hitters are raking, the defense is sharp and the pitching is superb. Chicago’s pitching staff leads the MLB in team starters’ ERA. Mr. $155 is doing his part (and then some) for the league’s leading staff.

In his sixth start yesterday, Lester notched his third win and lowered his season ERA to a miniscule 1.58 in a 6-2 victory over Pittsburgh. He pitched 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball to secure the season sweep over the NL Central foes, striking out five and scattering eight hits. Lester’s stuff hasn’t been dominating, as teams are putting balls into play and getting on base against him. But, when faced with a jam, Lester hasn’t crumbled, his edgy competitiveness remaining firm and winning out against hitters. Lester has finessed his way out of no-out, bases-loaded situations in consecutive starts. Lester’s ability to shimmy out of dangerous situations has been fun to watch—moments of emphatic fist pumps and inaudible yelling on his walk to the dugout unscathed were noticeably fewer and far between just a season ago.

Lester’s confidence is imperative to his game. When he’s dialed in, you can tell by his eyes, which are sharp and focused with the precision of a laser. A pitcher gains confidence by stringing together a few quality starts, which was scarcely accomplished in Lester’s debut season with the Cubs. For the first time in his career, Lester strung together quality starts in his first five outings and missed a sixth by a single out yesterday. Lester has gone at least seven innings and given up exactly one earned run in four of his six starts this season. To say he has been “good” would be a drastic understatement. But people are saying it, anyway. Thanks, Jake.

If Lester can keep chugging away at this pace, he will solidify a manager’s dream 1-2 punch at the front end of a rotation. First, you get the explosive movement of Arrieta cutters that he shoots to the plate with pinpoint accuracy. The next day, you get the craftiness of a left-hander who’s been on the big stage before with a fully-loaded arsenal of pitches. Boom, just like that, series win.

Lester has been spectacular on the mound this year and is showing the form of a man the Cubs shelled out a fortune for in late 2014. The only concern that remains is his stark inability to throw the ball to a base (yes, home is a plate). But, hey, at least Lester is resourceful, illustrated by two different occasions in which he tossed his whole glove to Anthony Rizzo for an out.

Jake Arrieta has garnered the majority of fanfare, but that’s OK for Lester, who is thriving in his No.2 role under the shadow of the reigning Cy Young award winner. He just needs to continue doing what he does best and remain healthy. Skipper Maddon and pitching coach Chris Bosio seem to have a grasp on Lester’s strengths, judging by the effectiveness of their game plans each time Lester has taken the hill.

Just don’t forget to water him, Boz.

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Three Strikes – Lester, Offense carry Cubs to sweep of Pirates

Thursday, May 5th, 2016

Hero & Goat

WPA Leader and Loser

HERO - Ben Zobrist (+.227 WPA)

GOAT - Tommy La Stella (-.069 WPA)

Video Recap

Strike One – Lester Battles

Throughout this series, I heard it said many times that this Pirates offense was very explosive. It seems as though every time the Pirates had a rally, it was quickly killed by the Cubs’ pitching staff. On Wednesday, that story held true as Jon Lester was able to work through a couple jams in route to his third victory of the season. Lester has become a bit of an escape-artist as of late. Today, in the 4th inning, Lester, again, was able to work out of a bases loaded, no out jam. After David Freese singled, Starling Marte walked, then Francisco Cervelli hit a single to Kris Bryant in left field to load the bases. On a 3-2 count, Lester was able to strike out everyone’s favorite cooler-killer, Sean Rodriguez. Josh Harrison then popped out to shallow right, and Gregory Polanco also struck out on a 3-2 count. Lester would exit in the bottom of the 6th with runners on first and second. The bullpen, as we have come to expect, was mostly sharp for the rest of the game, leading the Cubs to their 20th victory of the season.

Strike Two – Baez Impresses

After going 3-5 today, with his two outs being an RBI groundout, and a lineout, Javier Baez is forcing Joe Maddon to continue giving him playing time. His versatility is even more of an asset as the Cubs continue to have bad luck with injuries. In this series with the Pirates, Baez was 5-12, with 3 RBI’s and 0 strikeouts. Baez has showed an uncanny ability to battle off tough pitches, and get hits on pitches that I believed only Vladimir Guerrero could reach. Even on Tuesday, Baez went 0-5, but his defense was unbelievable and he was hitting the ball extremely hard. On the year, Baez is hitting .341, with only 9 strikeouts. Baez should continue to see playing time almost every day as long as he continues to handle the bat well, and dazzle us all with his defense.

Strike Three – Offense Works

For the third and final game in this series, the Cubs did not allow the Pirates’ starting pitcher to make it into the 6th inning. I saw several people on Twitter commenting on how they believed the Cubs’ offense would feast on Juan Nicasio. While they didn’t necessarily feast, they certainly forced him to work, and were able to get in his head. Though there were not able to get on the board in the first two innings, the Cubs forced Nicasio to throw 50 pitches through the first two innings. Nicasio relies heavily on his fastball, and I figured it was only a matter of time before someone jumped on a first pitch fastball. After Anthony Rizzo reached on an “error” by Andrew McCutchen, Ben Zobrist jumped on one of those first pitch fastball, and sent it over the right field wall. The Cubs continue to work deep counts, but also are very aware of when to be aggressive early in counts. I saw today that last season, the Blue Jays led the MLB in walks with 570. This season, the Cubs are on pace for over 850 walks. To me, that is absolutely absurd. We all know about the crazy run differential, but 850 walks might be just as impressive. While I wouldn’t generally expect both of those trends to continue, it seems as if it is in these Cubs’ hitters DNA to work deep counts and take their fair share of walks.

Kyle HendricksHendricks held the Brewers to two hits over five innings in his last outing, and was lifted for a pinch-hitter. Manager Joe Maddon admitted there was no reason to pull Hendricks, but he needed to try and score at that point.

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Joe RossThrough the first month of the season, Ross has been as good as advertised. On Saturday, he held a hot-hitting Cardinals lineup to one run in six innings, leading the Nationals to a 6-1 victory at Busch Stadium.

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Three Strikes – Welcome to Pittsburgh!

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Joe is still under the weather so although I’m not able to devote as much time here as he is I can at least give us a place to chit chat each day. I know you guys will keep the conversation rolling. (Thank you for that!)

  • Strike One – The Cubs beat the Pirates last night 7-2 at PNC park in lovely Pittsburgh, PA. Jason Hammel (4-0) got the win and Gerrit Cole (2-3) took the loss in the Cubs first trip to Pittsburgh since that great Wild Card game last year! Full coverage here.
  • Strike Two – Jake Arietta was named NL Pitcher of the Month for April. Yay Jake! Details here.
  • Strike Three – Smack dab in the middle of an impressive time for him, Matt Szczur pulled a hammy. MRI results are pending. Details here.

Tonight we’ve got Jake Arietta going up against Jonathon Niese at 6:05pm CT. Enjoy your day, enjoy the game, and let’s all send up some good thoughts for Joe. Thanks everyone!

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Recap and Look Ahead

Monday, May 2nd, 2016

Last I spoke to our Big Toe Joe he was a bit under the weather, and since I’m not sure who’s assigned to write what I thought I’d at least get something posted until he’s back! Let’s take a brief look back at the weekend’s baseball and a look ahead to the coming week.

Friday, April 29: Cubs 6, Braves 1

  • Jon Lester battled with Aaron Blair but neither got a decision. Tied 1-1 in the 8th inning, Matt Szczur hit his first career grand slam which put the game out of Atlanta’s reach.

Saturday, April 30: Rainout. Makeup date not yet scheduled.

Sunday, May 1: Braves 4, Cubs 3 (10 innings)

  • Addison Russell sent the game into extra innings with an RBI single in the bottom of the ninth, but Hector Rondon couldn’t hold the lead and the Cubs lost a close one in 10.

Monday, May 2, 6:05 pm CT: Cubs @ Pirates

  • Probable starters: Jason Hammel/Gerrit Cole

Tuesday, May 3, 6:05 pm CT: Cubs @ Pirates

  • Probable starters: Jake Arietta/Jonathon Niese

Wednesday, May 4, 11:35 am CT: Cubs @ Pirates

  • Probable starters: Jon Lester/Juan Nicasio

The Cubs head back home on Thursday for a four game series with the Washington Nationals.

Please chat among yourselves while our fearless leader is MIA. :-)

 

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