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.
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.
Over the past several seasons, the Chicago Cubs haven’t really been in a position where they’ve had to jettison players to make room for others, as their young talent was still spread out throughout the minor league system.
Beginning next year however, some of those decisions are going to start popping up. Kris Bryant is all but a shoe-in to start the year as the Cubs’ third baseman, Arismendy Alcantara will either be playing second base or center field for the north siders, and players like Albert Almora and Billy McKinney will soon be vying for outfield spots for the team.
All of those youngsters coming up through the system are obviously great for the club, but the news isn’t as good for players like Luis Valbuena. He has 16 home runs and 46 RBI in 540 plate appearances this season, and he’s already got career highs in both of those categories. He does strike out a lot, with 97 punchouts this season, but he does walk quite a bit, and his .325 OBP isn’t exactly terrible when you consider the amount of power that he provides at the dish.
Valbuena once again showed off his value on Monday afternoon as the Cubs tried to knock the Milwaukee Brewers out of first place. After watching Starlin Castro strike out looking to lead off the eighth inning against Brewers reliever Jeremy Jeffress, Valbuena deposited a 1-1 pitch into the center field bleachers to give the Cubs a critical insurance run. That breathing room allowed Hector Rondon to come in and nail down the save against the heart of the Milwaukee order, and the Cubs were able to knock off their rivals to the north 4-2.
Valbuena’s bat is a really good asset for the Cubs, and his glove is as well. With plays like the one he made Sunday afternoon against the St. Louis Cardinals (he took a step back on a sharply hit grounder, picked it cleanly, and started a 5-4-3 double play), Valbuena is capable of turning a game with the leather too.
Unfortunately for him, none of that is going to matter when the 2015 season comes around. The fact of the matter is that Valbuena might be too talented of a player to simply use in a utility role, and the Cubs might be better off trading him away. There are plenty of teams who could use a slick fielding third baseman with the potential to hit 20 home runs a season (the fact he’s under team control until 2017 is another selling point), and the Cubs could enrich their pitching rotation or bullpen if Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer play their cards right.
Losing Valbuena would stink, especially considering how much he’s done for the Cubs while they’ve been mired in mediocrity while waiting for their youngsters to make it to the big leagues, but it would be equally unfair to him to make him a bench player as other players come into the fold. Trading him would be the most fair way to go about things, and both parties would benefit in the long run from that kind of move.
Ever since the Chicago Cubs were eliminated from the 2008 playoffs by the Los Angeles Dodgers, every new season has come complete with a ton of disappointment for fans of the team. Whether it was the acquisition of Milton Bradley, the complete meltdown of Carlos Marmol, or the wasted last few seasons of Alfonso Soriano, there has been plenty for Cubs fans to be sad about in recent years.
Beginning in 2012 however, Cubs fans began to see signs of life. Whether it was the decision to trade for Anthony Rizzo in 2012, draft Kris Bryant in the 2013 MLB Draft, or the trade that netted the Cubs Addison Russell in 2014, or the signing of Jorge Soler, the Cubs’ front office has made a ton of moves that have strengthened the team for the long-term.
Obviously, those moves have come at a cost, but the benefits are finally beginning to show themselves with the emergence of Javier Baez on the scene for Chicago. Fans who have tuned out because of the lean years that have followed Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer’s arrival in the city find themselves glued to the TV once again as Baez has gotten off to his torrid start, and in equal measure the fans who have ridden out this rough road are being rewarded for their patience with the way Baez has arrived on the scene.
Perhaps more importantly than just the call-up itself or the way he’s started his career with the team, Baez has already shown he is capable of changing the way fans perceive the team. Against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday night, nobody would have blamed fans for tuning out from the game after Hector Rondon blew his fourth save opportunity of the season by surrendering a run in the bottom of the 11th inning. If they decided to stick with the game though, they were instantly rewarded when Baez ripped an opposite field home run to give the Cubs back a lead that they would never relinquish.
On Thursday afternoon, a similar thing happened for the team as they won yet another game. Leading 4-2 in the top of the 8th inning, Pat Hughes and Ron Coomer were discussing how important it was for the Cubs to get an insurance run or two in the frame (perhaps remembering the Rondon and Wesley Wright struggles in Tuesday’s game). Sure enough, Baez strode to the plate, and somehow muscled a ball that was below his knees over the right field fence to make it a 6-2 game.
With just those two games, Baez has shown that his potential isn’t just as a power hitter; his potential could also be to be the opening salvo in a barrage of new weapons that are making their way to the North Side. A player who can do the things Baez has already shown himself capable of doing has the power to turn around a team’s entire mentality, and Baez’s no-quit attitude and prodigious power are already yielding positive results for the Cubs.
If he can keep this up, and if the Cubs continue to stick to their plan in terms of stockpiling bats, then the fans at Wrigley are going to have a lot to cheer about in coming seasons. Needless to say, the opening act has been a sight to behold.
The Chicago Cubs are being really cautious with their most prized prospects, but one guy that’s been lighting up the minors this season will get a brief two-game stint with the big league club over the next few days.
That’s because infielder Arismendy Alcantara will be called up to the Cubs to take Darwin Barney’s spot on the active roster. Barney will be leaving the team to be with his wife for the birth of their third child, and Alcantara will start the Cubs’ remaining two games against the Cincinnati Reds.
Alcantara has played 88 games so far this season for the Triple A Iowa Cubs, and he’s been, in a word, excellent. His batting average of .308 and his OPS of .892 are both impressive, and his 45 extra-base hits are a great sign as well. Add to that his 21 stolen bases and his ability to play both middle infield spots and center field, and you have a player that has Cubs fans legitimately excited.
Of course, Alcantara will only be up for two games (although there’s no rule that says he can’t be called up if the Cubs do end up trading Barney before the trade deadline), but there’s still reason for Cubs fans to be optimistic. The team on the field at the big league level is struggling again after the Jeff Samardzija trade last week (although to suggest that one has to do with the other is silly), but the Iowa Cubs have been a treat to watch. Guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant continue to rake against the pitching at that level, and even though he isn’t as highly touted as either of those players (or Addison Russell, for that matter), Alcantara is a guy that could very well be in the Cubs’ plans well into the future.
Getting to finally get a brief glimpse of him against big league pitching is definitely something to look forward to, and the hope has to be that he gives Cubs fans something to cheer for in his brief stay with the team. He is an intriguing player, and he’s the first of the team’s many big-time prospects to get a whiff of the big leagues.
The Chicago Cubs have some of the most highly-touted prospects in baseball, but arguably the biggest at the moment isn’t going to be donning a uniform for the North Siders any time soon.
That’s because Kris Bryant, who currently has 19 HR and 51 RBI for the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in West Tennessee, likely won’t be called up by the team despite his torrid hitting. His OPS is a completely ludicrous 1.160, and his slash line (batting average, on-base percentage, slugging) is a remarkable .353/.460/.700. Those numbers are essentially video game numbers, but Bryant is proving that his prodigious power is all too real.
GM Jed Hoyer is excited about the numbers, calling them “fun to see,” but as Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reported last night, it’s all but certain that Bryant will not get a big league call-up this season.
“We probably want to see him there a little longer,” Hoyer told Levine. “He has only spent two months at that level, and he has been skipping through the system without a lot of time at one level.”
Levine also added this statement to the end of his piece:
“Sources indicated the Cubs want Bryant to hone his skills for an entire minor league season.”
This kind of attitude isn’t one that’s likely to sit well with the Cubs’ legion of doubters (you listening, Mr. Telander?), but if one is looking at it from a purely logical standpoint, then it’s obvious why the team would want to wait. They’re currently in last place in the NL Central, and calling Bryant up into this quagmire would put way too much pressure on him and could potentially hurt his development. Hoyer and Theo Epstein have both said that they feel like they rushed Anthony Rizzo to the big leagues, and they don’t want to repeat that mistake with Bryant.
It’s a completely understandable emotion, and one that makes strategic sense. Letting the youngster get more seasoning, especially in the field, is a smart idea, and in the end it will make him a more well-rounded player.
The Chicago Cubs got a nice look at their future on Wednesday night, as Mike Olt slugged two home runs and Javier Baez added another in an 8-7 loss to the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, Arizona.
Olt is having a nice spring so far for the Cubs, with three home runs and six RBI to his credit in 21 at-bats. He is also hitting .333, and his OPS of 1.095 is one of the top marks on the team in the early going.
Mesa – The Chicago Cubs looked downright awful against the Colorado Rockies on Tuesday afternoon in Arizona, but that isn’t what struck me most about the game. In my first dispatch from spring training here in the desert, here are a couple of thoughts that I had about the two teams:
-Luis Valbuena may drive some people crazy with his lackluster production, but he did a couple of things right in this game that really intrigued me. For starters, there was the way he worked the count in his first at-bat of the game, despite his team being down five runs. Instead of trying to cream the first pitch he saw, Valbuena instead patiently worked the count, and ended up coaxing a walk out of Jorge de la Rosa, who up until that point had been virtually mistake-free in the game.
One of the things that is keeping the hopes of Chicago Cubs fans high during their current rebuild is the bumper crop of prospects that they have waiting in the wings, ready to come into the picture over the next few seasons.
Two of those players who have gotten the most attention are shortstop Javier Baez and third baseman Kris Bryant. Both players have gotten off to remarkable starts to their minor league careers, and both could potentially find their way onto the Cubs roster toward the tail end of the 2014 season if they play their cards right.
Cubs fans aren’t the only ones taking notice of the duo’s abilities, however. Multiple media organizations, including ESPN and Baseball Prospectus, have both praised their talents up and down, and to that effect, BP released a list of players who have the most exciting skill sets as they make their way towards the major leagues.
When it comes to power, Baseball Prospectus says that Baez has the “top power in the minor leagues,” and describes their rationale for coming to that decision:
“Among the prospects in the game with elite raw power, Baez takes the cake because of his ability to translate that power to game situations. Despite being an ultra-aggressive hitter, Baez’s ability to consistently make contact allows him to tap into his raw power and could lead to him dropping 35-40 bombs a year in the majors. Elite raw power is rare, but the ability to bring that type of raw from batting practice into games is even rarer. Of the players considered for this list, Baez is clearly the best bet to actualize his top-of-the-scale raw power, and he could begin doing that as soon as this summer.”
Projections aren’t necessarily indicative of future success, but considering the success that BP has had in terms of its mathematical prowess, this news has to be welcome for Cubs fans optimistic about Baez’s eventual arrival on the north side. His power numbers in high-A and double-A last season were stellar, with 37 home runs, 111 RBI, and 20 stolen bases (while only being caught four times) in 130 games. He also scored 98 runs, and racked up 34 doubles.
His strikeout numbers were high, with 147 to his credit, but his OPS of .920 more than makes up for the high strikeout total.
Needless to say, there are plenty of reasons to be bullish on Baez’s prospects as a major leaguer, and this is just one more piece of evidence to support that thought process on the part of Cubs fans. If Baez can become an everyday hitter in the team’s lineup in the near future, then it could very well have a positive impact on the entire squad that Rick Renteria will be able to field.
Having a guy capable of that kind of power in the middle of the lineup allows for other guys to hit in areas they are more comfortable in, and that can only be a good thing on an offensively challenged club like the Cubs.
Every year, Baseball Prospectus comes out with their PECOTA projections, and fans of MLB teams eagerly flock to the website to check out how their favorite team will fare in the upcoming season.
For those looking for a bit of a primer, PECOTA is a mathematical formula that stands for Player Empirical Comparison and Optimization Test Algorithm. Nate Silver, formerly of the New York Times and now a partner with ESPN with 538.com, invented the formula back in 2002, and introduced it in 2003. It uses proprietary formulas, but some of the components include batting average, home runs, and RBI, as well as other advanced statistics like Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and EqA (Equivalent Runs Average), and it’s used to determine how players will perform in a given year.
Baseball Prospectus then takes the data that the computer spits out about players and uses it to determine what each team’s record will be in the upcoming season.
For the Chicago Cubs, PECOTA projections have them improving this season to 71-91, an improvement of five wins over last year’s 66-96 campaign. For Chicago White Sox fans, PECOTA is projecting that the team will improve dramatically, going 75-87 in the AL Central race.
The Cubs are forecasted to finish in the basement of the NL Central again in 2014, with the Cardinals winning the division and the Pirates experiencing a significant drop-off in finishing behind the Milwaukee Brewers. For the Sox, they are forecasted to finish fourth in the AL Central, four games behind the Kansas City Royals and 13 games behind the division champion Detroit Tigers.
Going into deeper detail, the Cubs are only projected to score 641 runs, the third lowest total in the National League and third lowest in the Majors behind only the Mets and Marlins. The Cubs are also projected to give up 732 runs, the second highest total in the NL behind only the Colorado Rockies.
Last year, the PECOTA projections had the Cubs finishing at 77-85 before the season began, and the team seemed well on its way to coming close to that mark before tailing off at the end thanks to a combination of regression by Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, as well as trading off of several pieces that were helping the team to stay afloat.
This season, the PECOTA projections are much more modest about the Cubs’ chances for success, and there is a good reason for that. The Cubs didn’t exactly light the world on fire with their acquisitions over the winter, with Jose Veras being the only big piece that they added. Add to that the fact that guys like Javier Baez and Kris Bryant are more likely to be September call-ups than May reinforcements, and you can see that the Cubs aren’t going to make any big steps forward, or at least realistically feel that they can do so.