Tagged: Chicago Cubs

Prediction and Preview of the NL Wild Card Game

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On a day that’s only occurred six other times in my 31 ½ years on this earth, the Cubs are hours away from getting their 2015 playoff season under way in Pittsburgh.  As you’ve probably heard by now the game is set for first pitch at 19:08 hrs. Military time on 10-7 or 107 years since the last title.  Let’s try to get past superstitions and try to plant a seed of why this year is different than the past.  Here’s five reasons I’m picking the Cubs to move the Pirates to face their arch nemesis, the St. Louis Cardinals.

  1. Joe Maddon

Maddon has been the talk of baseball all season.  The best move of the offseason, Maddon has made the right moves all season.  Whether it be drawing the media’s attention away from the club when they’d have issues, playing players in different positions so he has as many options as possible, sitting players in a slump to get a spark out of them, or keeping things light around the club house with late arrival days and costume days.  They say managers are responsible for a few wins or loses a season.  Baseball Reference used their Pythagorean W-L formula to calculate the Cubs at 90 wins, so the argument could be made Maddon is responsible for at least seven of the Cubs wins.  Win or lose, Maddon should be manager of the year with how he’s managed this team.

1A.  Jake Arrieta

To say Arrieta has been dominate in the last half of the season would be a true understatement.  In the first half of the season he went 10-5 in 18 starts, giving up 35 earned runs in the process.  In the second half of the season, Arrieta went 12-1 in 15 starts while only surrendering 9 earned runs in those games.  On normal days rest (4 days),  Arrieta is 11-2 with a 1.02 ERA in 16 starts.  In night games, Arrieta is 14-2 with a 1.51 ERA in 20 starts including two complete game shutouts.  In PNC Park this season, he has a 0.82 ERA in three starts this season with 0 home runs and 17 strikeouts.  Lastly, the Cubs ace is 13-1 on the road this season with a 1.60 ERA this season.

Tired of stats?  How about this last goodie:  Against the Pirates, Arrieta is 3-1 in five starts this season with a 0.75 ERA.  It’s the second best ERA he has against a team that he’s faced two or more times.

Feeling better going into this game?  The man has been dominate this season and is well deserved to be in the Cy Young Award conversation.  After listening and seeing interviews with Arrieta leading up to this game, the guy is definitely confident.  Some have even called it cocky, but,on this team, it’s exactly what they need.  This is the biggest reason I’m picking the Cubs.

  1. Starlin Castro

This season Castro has definitely been a hot topic among Cubs fans, whether it be his hitting slumps or his lack of attention in the field.  However, ever since Maddon benched Castro after a pitiful defensive display against the Cincinnati where he had three errors.  Castro has had 17 at-bats against Cole in the last five seasons and has a .353 average with four RBI’s against him.  This could be Castro’s chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Cubs fans and the best news is he’s been hot.  In the last 27 games Castro has hit .369 with five home runs and 21 runs batted in.  The other bright spot about his performance lately, Castro has had only one error since his 3 error game Aug. 31st.  I believe his bat will be alive tonight versus Pittsburgh and he’ll leave the game with no errors.

  1. Defense

The defense has been solid across the board (especially lately with Castro’s head back in the game).  For the 2015 season the eight position players have combined for 85 errors (including Castro’s 24 errors).  The one question a lot of media has brought up yesterday and today is whether having Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber in not at their respective usual positions of third and left field going to cause an issue.  The outfield in Pittsburgh is larger than normal in left and right fields.  The foul line in left is 325 ft. from home plate and left center jumps out to 410 ft. deep which is actually longer than center field (399 ft. deep).  That’ll be the challenge for Bryant and Dexter Fowler to deal with in tonight’s game defensively.

In right, the jump isn’t quite as deep but it goes out to 375 ft. in right center.  Schwarber will have to navigate that on his side of the field along with making sure to not run all the way to the wall if a ball is going to ricochet off the wall.  I believe both guys have the speed and baseball smarts to be able to play well in the outfield.  By the end of the game both may not be in the outfield anyway due to double switches and defensive subs.

The other issue on defense people have been talking about is Tommy La Stella playing third base.  According to Jesse Rogers of ESPN 1000AM, he watched La Stella take several grounders at third base yesterday prepping for tonight’s game.  La Stella only has played 52 innings at third base this season.  Eleven of those games have come since August 26th, and he only had one error in those appearances.

The feeling is that Maddon is trying to load his lineup with lefties to face the right-handed Garrit Cole tonight.  This season La Stella has hit .286 with one home run and 11 RBI against right-handed pitchers.  There probably come a time in the game where for defensive reasons or even just straight up pitching hitting substituting, La Stella will probably exit the game in the 7th inning or later.

  1. Anthony Rizzo

If you’re looking for a side bet heading into these playoffs, bet on who will be hit more in the playoffs:  Anthony Rizzo or every other team’s players?  Rizzo has been hit by a pitch a whopping 30 times this season.  Since he covers the plate so much, I wouldn’t be shock if while trying to jam Rizzo, Cole hits him at least one time.

Rizzo stands the best chance at seeing a pitch over the plate.  He’ll have to do as much damage as he can with those pitches.  He carries a .353 batting average against Cole with one RBI.  If the Pirates decide to shift on Rizzo, don’t be shocked if the bases are empty, and Rizzo actually attempts to lay down a bunt or a chop swing to the left side to try to beat the shift.

This game will come down to cleverness.  Something like Rizzo bunting to the left side could lead to a big inning or even the one run Arrieta needs to carry the Cubs.  The Cubs have a clever manager and young, fun, clever players who would do anything Maddon asks them to do.

Prediction for the game

5-1 Cubs win.  Arrieta goes eight innings with one earned run on 4 hits, 7 strikeouts, and one walk.  Rodon comes into the game in the 9th and will give up one hit, a double-play and a strike out to close out the game.

Opinion: Cubs Fans Should Savor Anger After Monday Loss

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On Friday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs were sitting at 13-8 on the season, Addison Russell had just hit his first career home run, and Jon Lester had pitched a gem of a game and gotten his first win in a Cubs’ uniform.

Everything, as they say, was coming up Milhouse.

Then, in the blink of an eye, everything seemed to unravel. The Cubs’ bullpen began to falter. Their starting pitching vanished. Their offense even vanished over the weekend as they were badly outscored and dropped two straight games to the Milwaukee Brewers. On Monday night, it appeared that they were back on track as they took a 5-0 lead in the first inning, but it all came undone as Travis Wood surrendered four runs and the Cubs ultimately lost the game thanks to some poor work done by their bullpen.

A quick perusal of social media after the game revealed plenty of anger within the Cubs’ fan base, and rightfully so. This was a game that the Cubs by all accounts should have won, and a combination of bad pitching and bad luck conspired against them as they dropped their third straight game and fourth in the last five games overall.

Amid all of that anger though, an interesting fact becomes abundantly clear: it feels good to get this worked up about baseball again.

For years now, a Cubs loss would be met by some eye-rolling and maybe an occasional hand-wringing gesture, but fans got over it. To paraphrase Heath Ledger’s Joker, it was “all part of the plan.” The Cubs needed to lose these games to give their young talent time to develop in the minor leagues, and they got some really high draft picks and made some serious trades as a result as they reshaped the entire roster from top to bottom.

Now, with a group of veterans brought in and the youngsters really starting to come into the big leagues, expectations are on the rise on the north side of Chicago. Every Kris Bryant at-bat is met with breathless anticipation as fans await his first home run. Every diving stop by Starlin Castro is fawned over at length. Every Anthony Rizzo stolen base elicits reminders that he has more steals than the entire Chicago White Sox roster.

These things are part of the allure of baseball, and it’s so nice to have them back.

So before you get too worked up about losing a game to the St. Louis Cardinals in early May, or before you rue the fact that the Cubs could easily be 17-7 or 16-8 at this point of the season, just remember this: how much more fun is it to care about baseball than it was to ignore it and wait for Bears season to start?

From one observer’s perspective, this is a heck of a lot better.

BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK: Hope Springs Eternal

Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.

Drink it in, it always goes down smooth.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock since Monday, you know that Tuesday afternoon the Cubs became the talk of Spring Training, as prospects Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant hit back-to-back-to-back home runs in a preseason game they didn’t even win. Not that wins mean all that much in Spring Training anyway. In the hierarchy of what’s important, they rate far below player conditioning and far above whether an individual is allowed to bring their own food into the ballpark.

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Farrell to Take the Field in Thursday’s White Sox game and Seven Others for a Good Cause

Everyone would remember seeing actor and comedian Will Farrell impersonating Harry Carey on NBC’s Saturday Night Live during his time on the show. Chicago Cubs fans would remember him for the time he read the starting lineups for the club before a game. Now it seems he’s going to take on being a Major League Baseball player.
According to USAToday.com, on Thursday there are eight games schedule for the Cactus League teams and Ferrell is planning to play in all eight of those games for a great cause. In collaboration between MLB and HBO for cancer awareness, Farrell is going to play all nine positions on the field throughout the series of games. He will be helicoptered to each game and will be filmed by the HBO during five of those games.
According to ESPN.com, it’s been confirmed that Farrell will see time in the Chicago White Sox versus San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres versus Los Angeles Dodgers games. His first game will be at 2 p.m. CT and the last one will start at 8:15 p.m. CT. It should make for a very entertaining Thursday in Arizona.

Sporting News’ Cubs Championship Pick Feels Premature

Stay tuned to the blog over the next few weeks, as we prepare for a website relaunch in time for spring training. We’ve got a lot of cool stuff in the works, and we’re hopeful that you’ll want to see it in action.

The Chicago Cubs have made a ton of moves this offseason that have put them in a position to be competitive sooner rather than later, but if one national publication is to be believed, that ability to compete for a playoff spot may come sooner than a lot of us think.

In an article published on their website, The Sporting News revealed that the Cubs are their pick to win the World Series in 2015. That’s right. A team that went 73-89 and finished in the NL Central basement in 2014 is the team that SN is picking to win its first championship in 107 years.

Here is what Jesse Spector had to say about the Cubs, and why the publication picked them to win it all:

“The Cubs have the talent in place to make a quick jump in the standings. Once playoff time comes, it’s just about making the right plays at the right times and getting good pitching performances. Several teams are capable of winning the World Series this year – as the Giants and Royals both showed last year, if you get into the playoffs, you can make some noise. The Cubs are the pick to win the 2015 World Series because, after 107 years, they’re good enough to get there and, honestly, aren’t they due a couple of breaks?”

While we appreciate Spector’s enthusiasm, it’s probably best to pump the brakes just a bit. The Cubs are almost assuredly going to be a lot better than they were last season, but with teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates to jump over in their own division (and not to mention teams like the Nationals, Padres, Giants, and Dodgers to jump over in the rest of the National League too), it’s going to be a tough hill to climb for Chicago to even make the postseason, much less win a championship.

That isn’t to say that Spector didn’t make several good points, such as the potential emergence of Kris Bryant, their hugely-improved pitching staff, and their solid bullpen. Those are all things that could help the Cubs turn around their record quickly, but it still seems slightly premature to crown them as predicted champions.

Of course, what the heck do we know. This team has underperformed for so long that they may just be due to overperform after all.

Cubs Introduce Lester: Five Things We Learned Monday

The Chicago Cubs trotted out their biggest free agent acquisition in nearly a decade on Monday as they introduced Jon Lester to the media.

You know the numbers (6 years, $155 million, $30 million in signing bonuses), but if you didn’t watch the press conference, here are the five most important things we learned about what the Lester signing means for the Cubs.

Lester Hungry for New Challenge

The Cubs’ sales pitch was much different than that of the Boston Red Sox or San Francisco Giants. While those teams could point to past results (Red Sox) or the fact that they have won World Series in three of the past five seasons (Giants), either one of the destinations would have been a safe one for Lester to go to.

As for the Cubs, their pitch was that they are on the verge of something great, but sometimes that isn’t enough to convince a free agent to come to town (see: Masahiro Tanaka). For Lester, it was.

“I believe in the plan they have in place for the future of the Cubs,” Lester said of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. “Leaving a place you’ve already won is difficult, but also relishing the chance of winning a World Series in a place that never has adds that little extra for me.”

Lester’s grasp of history isn’t quite where it should be (the Cubs have won two World Series titles), but his heart is in the right place.

Epstein Feels that Rebuild Was “Quick”

While the last three years have felt like an eternity for Cubs fans, it hasn’t felt like that long of a process for Epstein.

“It’s been a pretty quick rebuild,” Epstein said. “It wasn’t perfect, but thanks to a lot of the good decisions in the draft and trades, and the hard work of our scouts and our player development, we had a competitive team on the field (toward the end) of 2014. If it weren’t for those things, I don’t think Jon Lester would be choosing the Cubs.”

Epstein did also thank Cubs fans for their patience, but the point is clear. He looks at the whole rebuild as a long-term process, and three years really feels like a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term success that he envisions for the team.

Theo, Cubs Occasionally Do Appreciate the Role of Tradition

The Cubs are a tradition-rich team, and while you may be forgiven for thinking that they’ve been ignoring that tradition in recent years, thanks to new signage all over the ballpark and the big renovations occurring, there is still an element that persists in this front office.

When Lester was introduced to the media on Monday, he was given a jersey with the number 34 on it. Lester says the jersey was meant to honor Walter Payton and Nolan Ryan, but it also immediately brought up memories of Kerry Wood, who struck out 20 batters in a game while wearing the number.

According to reports, Epstein texted Wood and asked him for his blessing to use the number, and the former Cubs hurler said he would be “honored” for Lester to wear it.

Kudos to Wood for agreeing to it, and kudos to Epstein for reaching out to the pitcher about using the number. It wasn’t a requirement by any stretch, but it was a nice gesture.

Samardzija, Hammel Played a Role in Recruiting Lester

The Cubs may have traded away Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel during the regular season, but even while they were in Oakland they played a role in selling Lester on the benefits of playing in Chicago.

“I asked a lot of questions to a lot of different guys about different teams and organizations, and I wanted to get their feel for Chicago and what made them happy here,” Lester said. “They weren’t the only guys I questioned, but obviously playing with them I had the privilege of talking to them more often about it.”

Now, both players are back in Chicago along with Lester, although Samardzija will be plying his craft on the south side with the White Sox while Hammel returns to the Cubs.

Love of Hunting Bonded Lester, Ricketts

While Joe Maddon bonded with Epstein and Hoyer at an RV park in Pensacola, Florida, Cubs majority owner Tom Ricketts used a different tactic: talking to him about hunting.

According to Epstein, Lester and Ricketts discussed the sport at dinner in Chicago while the team was courting the free agent pitcher. Epstein also added the helpful mental image of him soaked in deer urine, which he said he was willing to do if it meant that he would land Lester.

So Much For That: Russell Martin Signs with Blue Jays

Yesterday, we brought the blog out of dormancy to discuss the possibility of the Chicago Cubs signing Russell Martin to a contract. A four-year pact would have been a risky move, especially with a $16 million per season price tag, but with Kyle Schwarber still at least a few years away from the majors and Wellington Castillo not exactly making a strong case to remain the team’s backstop, it would have made sense for the Cubs to make the move.

Of course, just because a move makes sense doesn’t mean that it will happen, and the Toronto Blue Jays swooped in and signed Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million. That figure is likely well over what the Cubs wanted to pay out for Martin, who will turn 32 in February, and the added bonus of playing in his hometown was likely what sealed the deal for the catcher to play in Toronto.

For now, the Cubs are going to be forced to proceed in one of two directions if they still want to explore the market for a catcher. They can either sign one of the remaining free agents (Geovany Soto and AJ Pierzynski are the two biggest names still available), or they can pursue a player via trade. Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero has been mentioned, as the team could be looking to shed the remaining three years and $40 million left on his contract.

To be honest, free agency doesn’t sound like the way to go at this point for the Cubs. They have plenty of other needs, most notably at starting pitcher, and overpaying for a guy like Soto would almost be a lateral move to just letting Castillo continue on as the team’s catcher. Making a trade for a guy like Montero could make more sense, as a three year deal worth about $13 million a season isn’t completely unreasonable.

If the Cubs could find the right package of prospects to make a deal like that happen, it’s one that they should strongly consider. He’s a solid hitter, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 72 RBI in 2014, and his skills at limiting stolen bases were also on display for the Diamondbacks, as he gunned out 29% of would-be base stealers (good for fourth in the National League).

Cubs Reportedly Frontrunners to Sign Russell Martin

The Chicago Cubs have generated plenty of buzz already during this offseason, with the signing of Joe Maddon serving as notice that they are serious about becoming contenders sooner rather than later. Their rumored interest in pitchers like Cole Hamels and Jon Lester has only made those notions gain steam, and they are clearly looking to spend some money in free agency.

One player who has reportedly been on the Cubs’ radar has been catcher Russell Martin. In 2014 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin hit 11 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Buccos, and his .290 batting average was his highest since his second year in the league when he hit .293 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His OPS was .832, and he eclipsed the .400 mark in on-base percentage for the first time in his career.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are not only in on Martin, but they are also the “clear frontrunners to sign him”:

The Cubs’ interest in Martin shouldn’t be all that surprising, given their weak stable of talent at the position. Wellington Castillo had a decent 2014 for the Cubs, with 13 home runs and 46 RBI to his credit, but his OBP (.296) and slugging percentage (.389) lag well behind what Martin brings to the table for a potential suitor.

The veteran’s defense and leadership would also be welcomed in the Cubs’ clubhouse, but of course it would cost the Cubs a pretty penny to acquire him. Reports out have suggested that Martin could command in the neighborhood of $13 million in salary, and he’s reportedly asked for a five year contract.

According to Rosenthal, the Cubs would come very close to those demands with their offer. A four-year, $64 million deal would pay him above his asking price annually at the cost of one fewer year, and while there is certainly some risk to signing a guy to a long-term deal as he turns 32 years old, it could be a good move for the Cubs.

Castillo is a solid catcher, but Martin would represent a significant upgrade at the position. It would also help ease the pressure on Kyle Schwarber, the 2014 first round pick that is arguably the Cubs’ top catching prospect. Schwarber is still at least two years away from making an impact in the big leagues, and having Martin around to help him out in spring training and to play the position while he’s working his way through the minors could be a big boost for the Cubs.

Chicago Cubs 2015 Schedule: Five Home Series to Watch

The Chicago Cubs unveiled their 2015 schedule on Monday afternoon, and while things are pretty standard for the most part, there were a couple of things that stood out on the slate.

First and foremost on that list was the fact that the Cubs will open the season against the St. Louis Cardinals on the Monday after Easter. Welcoming a big rival to Wrigley Field for Opening Day has the potential to really get the season off to a rollicking start at the Friendly Confines, and it will be interesting to see what kind of crowds the team draws.

Another interesting decision made by MLB was to once again have the Cubs play six games against the Chicago White Sox in 2015. Those series, which will take place in July (at Wrigley) and August (at US Cellular Field) are both weekend series, and should draw good crowds to both parks.

Outside of those interesting developments on the slate, there are five home series that are worth checking out if you’re going to be buying tickets to see the team at Wrigley next year.

May 25-27: Washington Nationals

The thought of the Cubs going up against players like Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg is one thing, but to see those kind of power players go up against the likes of Javier Baez, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo will be even cooler. Expect some fireworks in this series.

May 29-31: Kansas City Royals

It is going to be an awesome homestand at the Friendly Confines as the Royals follow the Nationals into town. The Royals are in serious contention to win the AL Central this season, and with a young lineup and rotation, they should be in the conversation as one of the top teams in the junior circuit for years to come.

July 3-5: Miami Marlins

The Marlins are a team that has already alienated a lot of fans in South Florida because of their spendthrift ways, but with an opportunity to see Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez roll through the Windy City, Cubs fans shouldn’t miss this holiday weekend series.

August 18-19: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers are only in town for two days, but with pitchers like David Price (who knows if he could be wearing a Cubs uniform in 2016) and Justin Verlander, odds are strong that the Cubs could see some of the best pitchers in the game in those contests.

September 25-27: Pittsburgh Pirates

The last home series of the season will be played against the Buccos, and even though the two teams are on opposite ends of the divisional race this year, it’s entirely possible that the Cubs could still be angling for a playoff spot when the rivals meet again.

 

Soler, Baez Help Boost Cubs TV Ratings

The Chicago Cubs are not only starting to make some real progress on the field, but apparently the emergence of players like Javier Baez, Kyle Hendricks, and Jorge Soler this season has caused more fans to tune into games. Here is what Ed Sherman had to say on the subject:

“With the three young players leading the way, the Cubs’ 6-3 victory over Milwaukee did a 3.20 rating on Comcast SportsNet Wednesday. That means an estimated 115,000 homes tuned into an otherwise meaningless September game for the Cubs.”

The Cubs ended up being the third-highest viewed program in the Chicago area on Wednesday night, and those ratings spikes are coming at a good time. With renegotiation with WGN ongoing for their TV rights, as well as the possibility of a massive new TV deal in 2019, the Cubs are going to be looking to increase their footprint, and this is a good start.

Theo Epstein has also brought up how getting more money from television and other sources will impact the team’s ability to compete when he discussed their plans for the year ahead:

“As we get closer to a new television deal, and as we realize some of the revenues associated with a renovated Wrigley Field, I believe that will only enhance our flexibility.”

With work set to begin on those renovations in the next few weeks, and with players like Kris Bryant and Addison Russell still primed to be called up next season, things are about to start accelerating quickly for the Cubs on multiple fronts, and clearly fans are tuning in to see the progress that the team has made over three lackluster seasons.